Maverick Jansen woke to the sound of a jack hammer tearing down his hotel room door. Hungover again. He buried his head deep under the pillow to block out the world. It didn’t work.
“Mav. Get your ass up and unlock the damn door.” Luke Garibaldi, catcher for the Idaho Outlaws of the United States Baseball League, had just rocketed to the top of Mav’s shit list. But he was also quite possibly his last friend on Earth,
The pounding started again. Like someone was doing a tap dance on his skull; a really bad, fucking annoying tap dance.
“C’mon bro, it’s Luke, I need to show you something. Let me in.”
Throwing his pillow across the room, Mav ripped the sheets off and stood. His world tilted. Damn. He’d lost himself in another bottle of eighty-dollar whiskey. He needed to break the habit, but the demons of the day had won as they typically did, and he’d drunk until he passed out. It was the only sure way of keeping the nightmares at bay.
“Someone down the hall is calling security. C’mon, Mav.” True concern laced Luke’s words and he wasn’t one to cause a scene, but Mav wasn’t ready to face anyone. Not even his best friend.
“In that case shithead,” Maverick shot back. “I’m going back to bed. You’re on your own. A charmer like you can fend for yourself.” He grabbed his head and cursed. Yeah, he maybe shouldn’t shout yet. Not at least until the marching band left.
Despite Mav’s poor performance on the mound last year and now being on the disabled list, their new team owner, Thomas Scott, was standing behind him. He still couldn’t get over the fact that he was still on the team after the league’s winter meetings. He thought for sure he’d be traded or let go after the disaster at the division championships.
But that second chance hadn’t cured his frequent trips to the bottom of the whiskey bottle.
“What the hell, Luke? I’m ten feet away from you, not back in Boston.” Maverick yelled. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and used words his momma never taught him.
He heard a heavy sigh come through the door. “Man, the last thing you need is security riding your hide. Open up.” Luke paused. “Please? I have news and it’s not good.”
“Alright … alright, hold your goddamn horses you citified cowboy.”
Bracing his pitching arm against the wall next to his bed in the five-star resort bedroom overlooking Lake Coeur d’Alene, Mav thought about moving towards the door, but that’s as far as he got.
Damn, it hurt like hell to think.
He took a deep breath and stood up. “Hang on. Let me throw some pants on.” He stumbled around in the darkened room searching for his sweats.
Luke was right. He sure as hell didn’t need hotel security up in his business. Squinting at the clock he thought it said four-ten, but was it morning or afternoon? He made his way towards the door before Luke could begin another round of rat-a-tat-tat.
“Mav, I swear to the good Lord above, if you don’t come open this door, I’m knocking it down.”
Shit. Again with the dramatic crap. Maverick had had enough bad news in the last few months to last him two lifetimes. The desperate tone in Luke’s voice slammed into him reminding him of when his world exploded three months ago.
The fear of what awaited him on the other side of the door turned his blood ice cold as memories assailed him. Maverick’s stomach clenched, the nausea he thought he had under control, reared its ugly head.
“Now, Maverick. I’ve seen your package in the locker room. If I wasn’t impressed then, I sure as hell won’t be now. Open…the damn…door.”
Maverick hopped on one foot as he finished pulling on his sweats. “This better be good Luke, because I was having the best wet dream of my life before you showed up.” Not really, but he needed one more moment to steady himself.
Ready or not he threw the deadbolt and flung open the door to let in the only person in the world who still gave a shit about him.
* * *
Luke brushed past him and started talking a mile a minute. “Slow down man, I need coffee to keep up with your motor mouth.” Maverick held an arm over his eyes as the glare from the hallway assaulted him.
“Mav you need to see this. Some asshole taped you going off on our ex-owner, the league and the commissioner. It’s all over YouTube and I just saw one of the network channels use it as a tease for the lead story on the evening news.”
“What are you talking about, Luke? When? I haven’t been anywhere except here at the hotel for the past two days.”
He dragged his sorry ass back across the room and sat in a lounge chair and put his feet up. Luke was looking pretty fuzzy, so he closed his eyes and prayed. When was he going to get a break so he could heal in peace?
“Yeah, well it wasn’t filmed since we’ve been in town. Remember when we hit O’Shays Pub right after it was announced the team was sold and the new owner would be moving us to Idaho?”
“Wait a minute, wasn’t that the night that crazy girl and her friends followed us from the restaurant and she kept trying to get me to, uh… kiss her?”
“Yup a kiss and then some. I think she said she wanted to have your baby.” Luke scratched his chin and zoned out for a second. “Too bad we left after that. Her friend was hot.”
“Luke, focus. Get your head out of your pants and get back to the reason you nearly tore down my door.” He had a gut feeling this conversation was not going to end well.
“Hey, look who’s calling the kettle black Mr. Bad Boy of Baseball.” Luke held out his smartphone to Maverick. “Press play, bro.”
“Call me that again and you’ll be eating this phone.” Mav hated the nickname the press had stuck on him his first year in the show. He took his friends phone and sat forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. A lump the size of a cement truck materialized in his gut.
He so fucking did not need any more drama in his life.
He watched his image appear in the smoky shadows of his favorite pub in Boston. The one he and most of the single players hung out in after home games. He watched himself rant on the league for letting the new owner move the team to “Hicksville”. He cringed as he listened to his stupid-ass-self complain there were probably “only two traffic lights and not even an Applebee’s.”
Between his f-bombs and hand gestures, it wasn’t hard for anyone to know what he thought about what he considered the “doom” of the team. It also wasn’t hard to guess what the woman on his lap wanted from him.
Damn, damn, damn.
The video ended and Mav tossed the phone back to Luke. “How many hits did you say the video got?”
“I didn’t, but it’s going on four hundred and fifty thousand.” Luke plopped his large frame down in the chair across from him and looked as sick as Mav felt. “It’s also on the local news and the tabloid shows are tearing apart every word you said. They’re throwing out crazy theories and talking about your “purported” drinking problem.”
What the Hell? He wasn’t a drunk dammit. Well, not yet officially—maybe. Even he knew he was walking a fine line with his current love affair with premium whiskey. He leaned forward and hung his head in his hands. God, he needed something for the drum solo playing in his head.
“Hey, do me a solid and grab a water bottle out of the mini-fridge would yah?”
Damn. Maverick never considered someone would tape him in O’Shays. That was a safe haven for the team where the patrons left them alone and treated them like one of the gang.
“So, don’t you think you need to call your agent and see what you should do?” Luke tossed him the water bottle.
“I would, if I hadn’t fired his ass last week.” Mav took a swig of the water and wished he hadn’t. It rolled around his stomach. What his body really craved was the only sure thing that would cut through the fog of the morning after, coffee—strong and sweet.
“What is with you? You need someone to handle this crap. You can’t do it all on your own, plus work on rehabbing your arm.”
“Yeah, well he was skimming, Luke, and all because I trusted him to handle my accounting too. So no, I don’t need some slick ‘yes-man’ pretending he cares about my career so he can get his hands on my endorsement money.”
Mav tried to ignore what looked like pity on Luke’s face. “Listen, don’t feel sorry for me, I’ve had enough of that from everyone since the accident. Besides, it was effing satisfying when Jerry realized he wasn’t dealing with some rookie ballplayer who doesn’t know a capital expenditure from depreciation. I guess the MBA I earned to please my father paid off after all.”
“Okay, so now you have no one to call, other than T.S.” Luke pointed out. “And man, our new owner is not going to be happy with you. Bad timing Mav, cause I know you want to get off the DL by the time we report to spring training.”
Mav stared at his buddy. Yeah, for starters getting off the disabled list would go a long way in putting his career and his life back in order. And not letting Luke down was a close second. Baseball had brought them together; pitcher and catcher in the beginning, then friends and now—brothers. They’d been through a lot and Luke was the last person he wanted to disappoint. He needed to man up and act like this situation was fixable. No big deal.
“So, what’s your first move?” Luke asked.
“I could be wrong here, but I think this is going to blow over in a day or two. I mean there’ve been plenty of players complaining about the move to Hicksville… I mean Pineville. My comments just happened to have been recorded when I wasn’t aware.”
“You mean drunk.” Luke smirked.
“Not drunk, dammit. You were there. Sure I had a few, but I was far from drunk.”
Mav stood up and began to pace the room. Who could he reach out to for help when everyone he trusted was either dead or had given up trying to get him out of the hell he’d placed himself in?
Luke moved out of his way. “Okay maybe not shit faced drunk, but you’d had a few. How will you handle the fact you had a half-naked woman on your lap while you were railing against the commissioner and our joke of an ex-owner for selling the team?”
Another valid question he didn’t have an answer for “Yeah, that’s something I’m going to have to work on.” Mav groaned and rubbed the knots from his neck. “But first I need to get some decent coffee and a hot shower. What time is it anyway?” Mav asked.
His entire body ached. He’d need more than a couple aspirin to shake the hangover this time. He stood in front of the sliding glass doors and watched the heavy rain drops plop onto the lake. The storm which the local forecaster promised had arrived.
“Four-thirty.” Luke answered.
“In the afternoon?” Mav turned away from the view he’d grown to enjoy since he’d been in Pineville. No answers would be found today among the white caps.
“Yeah, in the afternoon. The party’s in less than an hour.”
He’d forgotten about the event their new owner had set up to introduce his players to the city’s movers and shakers. The one bright spot of the evening would be meeting the directors of the Children’s Club. The Outlaw’s had chosen the organization to work with as part of their commitment to community outreach.
“Jeez, Mav. You really need a keeper. Plus, you have to come up with an explanation for T.S., the USBL…oh and, let’s not forget the tens of thousands of local community members who’ll be buying tickets.”
“Thanks, but I’ll pass.” Luke grinned.
“You’re a real comedian Luke, but right now you’re the only one still speaking to me, so help me out and call room service for some decent coffee while I shower and try to come up with a plan. Otherwise, we both might be out of a job by tomorrow.”
“Wait. What? Why would I be out of a job?” Luke asked. His Oklahoma drawl held a hint of panic.
“Because cowboy, your mug is in the background of that video grinning like a fool.”
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