Monday, March 31, 2014

Billy Saddle, the Baseball Novel, Chapter Forty-Eight: The Assist from the Mist

David has become a little obsessed with this idea of the single visual flash. Reading a book on brain function, he learns that writers sometimes receive entire novels this way.
This has been the year of the visual flash. Narrow the scope to the Nygaard outfield and he still has quite a handful: Larry collapsing in left; Billy firing his desperate shot from right; Pablo beyond center, dangling from a tree-branch; Derek’s hands covered in blood.
This little slide-show comes to him on the darkness of the stage, as he waits for more. First is Isaiah in the world’s largest tuxedo, caged by a spotlight as he plays the opening of “Nature Boy,” following the first phrase with a digression of tonal spelunking. In truth, their singer is not healthy enough for a full performance; it’s Isaiah’s genius that has made this evening possible.
The cavework continues for a couple minutes as Isaiah works his way along the quirky melody. When he arrives at the final resolve, he worries the chord down the octaves, plants a double-note with his left hand, and gives a nod. David kicks in with the bass, the stage manager raises a spot on a red leather armchair, and a voice rises from the dark, weathered by a thousand visual flashes. As the melody rises and falls, the singer crosses the stage. He sounds the final line as a silhouette, then sinks into the chair and smiles.
“You were probably expecting a white dude, huh?”
This gets a laugh, but also the hum of a curious beehive.
“My name’s Jon Hendricks, and I’m here to introduce my friend. Would you please welcome to the stage, after an extended run in the ICU of Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, EMI recording artist Billy Saddle!”
Billy rolls into a spot at stage right. The audience rises, clapping, shouting, whistling, stomping. For five minutes. Billy crosses to the center, stands from his wheelchair and embraces Jon, both of them smiling and weeping. It's ridiculous.
But it is Billy, and there is a job to do. He settles into the armchair, wipes his face with a handkerchief and nods to Isaiah. The song is “Dancing on the Ceiling,” which may seem an odd choice, until you hear the words. The singer goes to bed each night and finds his lover dancing overhead. For a man who spent the summer in bed, whose new wife is a dancer, it’s note-perfect.

The after-party is a modest affair, although Charley has made sure to send up some champagne and appetizers. David is feasting on crab puffs when he sees Billy alone on the balcony, and goes out to join him.
“This is the spot, you know.”
“The spot?”
“I proposed to Joyce, right here.”
“Hallowed ground.”
David grabs a teak chair and pulls it over so he can talk at Billy’s level. They peer through the bars of the railing at a dark ocean.
“I hear this is your new home.”
“Yep. 24-hour security. Bodyguards on call for field trips.”
David’s still a little shaken by Billy’s fragile appearance – though he knows that the healing process will take a while.
“So maybe I shouldn’t even say this, but won’t that be a little confining?”
Billy puts his hands on the railing and plays a little roll.
“Well, let’s look at my choices. I could do the undercover Jack Kerouac thing, but then I’d have to give up the trio, the audience, and Joyce.”
“Wouldn’t Joyce come with you?”
“I think I’ve put Joyce through enough. But see, it’s all in the way you look at it. A lot of people think the blues are confining: the twelve bars, the 1-5-4 chord pattern. But it’s that very structure that allows you to improvise so freely. So I will stay in my voluntary prison and have myself one hell of a time. Besides, it’s pretty generous of the casino.”
“Oh, I think Charley knows which side his bread is buttered on. You are a hot property.”
Billy laughs. “What a life! The more bad shit happens to me, the more valuable I become. Why, if I could survive a tsunami, or a fire, I’d be a billionaire!”
“Well do me a favor and don’t. By the way, we saved your life by going to a ballgame.”
“No kidding! I thought I smelled hot dogs.”
Billy scratches at his soul patch a recent addition.
“I was having that damn dream – the one where Frankie keeps me from grabbing the ball. It was running on a loop, over and over. And can you imagine, if he had done that, how boring my life would be?”
David smiles.
“Really? That’s really how you feel?”
“I’ve done the time, I’ve faced the artillery. Now I want the biggest fucking payoff in history! And Pasco Fernandez. I still can’t believe that. I worshipped that son-of-a-bitch.”
“Well. You just did him a huge favor by not dying.”
Billy laughs his way into a cough, then puts a hand on his ribcage.
“Man! I got so much spackle in there, I can’t even laugh. Well, I’m sorry to say it, but fuck Pasco. That’s what you get for believing in curses.”
“I’m right there with you. I was afraid you’d pull that Christian forgiveness shit on me.”
Hell no. Forgiveness is for people who deserve it. How’s the team?”
“Called it a year. Too much bad juju.”
“Aw, that’s a shame. Probably giving it up myself – for good. It was awfully nice to prove that I could play. But now I’ll be too busy touring with my jazz band.”
A sneaky smile spreads across Billy’s face as the comment unfolds inside David’s brain.
“Umm… bega pardon?”
“Assuming you teachers still get the summer off.”
David goes to slap Billy on the shoulder, then realizes he can’t.
“Man! It’s always something with you, ain’t it?”
“It certainly is.”

With all the chaos surrounding Billy, David has managed to go the whole summer without peeking at the golf course. As he and Abbey pass beneath a sign reading Blaine’s Mini-Golf, he expects to be assaulted with primary colors. Instead, he finds that Pablo and Thomas have taken the natural approach. Devil’s Tower looks like Devil’s Tower, Marilyn looks like Marilyn. And the greens are actually green, surrounded by lawns of freshly installed sod.
“Wow!” says Abbey. “It’s so… tasteful.”
“Yeah. What’s with that?”
They start at the clubhouse, which is done up like a classic Scottish tavern, with dark varnished tables and old prints of golf courses. Over the false hearth is a painting of a stern-looking man in a ‘50s-style suit, his dark eyes boring through the viewer.
“So that’s Howard,” says Abbey.
“He does a good job of hiding his inner child.”
“Hiding? Hell, holding it ransom.”
“Further explaining why Thomas was so puzzled about this.”
An adjacent plaque gives the history of the course’s creation, but of course they already know it. What’s more intriguing to David is a nearby display holding two dozen children’s books.
“’The Redemption of Rusty Littleman.’ For God’s sake. When did they have time to do this?”
Abbey smiles. “The Falters are clearly a breed of supermen. Why do you think I was so eager to get ahold of your genetic material?”
“Boy! There’s a sexy come-on.” He reaches down to speak to Abbey’s growing belly. “You hear that, Billy? No pressure.”
They hear the echo of an amplified voice, and head outside to find Pablo on a small platform next to the first tee. David notices a small ceramic figure on the front counter.
“Hey! It’s Rusty.”
“Future golfers of America!” says Pablo. “Before we open up the course, we have a small presentation. Allow me to introduce the son of the course’s creator, Mr. Thomas Blaine.”
Thomas boards the platform and accepts his applause.
“Thank you. I don’t want to keel the little ones from their tee-times, so let me just express my gratitude to Mr. Laney, to Gerry Kolder and his miracle workers, and especially to Pablo for taking such great care with my father’s buried treasure for public display. If he were here today, I think he’d be having a great time, even though he’d be doing his best to pretend that he wasn’t.”
He pauses for laughter.
“In developing the ideas for presenting this course, we wanted to pay tribute to the unique qualities of Ocean Shores. At the same time, we found ourselves in the presence of a growing folk legend, a man by the name of Billy Saddle. The legend grew even larger a couple of months ago, when Billy was shot during a softball game. He survived that shooting, in large part, due to the heroics of our own Pablo Falter.
This brings a round of shouts and applause. Pablo gives a modest wave.
“Billy and his band will be playing later, but right now we’d like to turn your attentions thataway, where Pablo has a little presentation.”
Pablo stands beside some tall object beneath an artist’s drape. Billy’s there, too, resting in his wheelchair as Joyce sits next to him, holding his hand. Equipped with a cordless mic, Pablo handles the sendoff like a TV reporter.
“Thanks, Thomas. In researching miniature golf courses, we found that many of them feature a 19th hole, which offers players the chance to win a free round. With ours, the player shoots the ball onto a game board very much like a pachinko machine. If the ball lands in the center of nine slots – Bingo! Free game. The board is contained in a glass-walled pedestal. On top of that pedestal, we have this…”
Naturally, Isaiah’s on drape assignment. He grips the fabric as high as he can and pulls it away to reveal a life-size bronze of Billy, about to unleash a throw.
“The Assist from the Mist,” says Pablo. “Taken from a photo by my little brother Derek. The artist is Hal Renagan, a sculptor from Seattle. We’re hoping that this will be the play that Billy will be remembered for, and not any other baseball-related incidents.”
Billy gets up from his chair, sidels over to the statue and stares at himself. Then he turns with a smile.
“That is one handsome son-of-a-bitch.”
“And now,” calls Thomas. “The moment you have all been waiting for. Blaine’s Mini-Golf will be donating all proceeds from this opening weekend to our local music-in-the-schools program, First Notes. We have selected a member of that program, six-year-old violinist Sara Kipler, to be our first golfer. Ready, Sara?”
A curly-headed blonde with Shirley Temple dimples drops a pink ball onto the starter’s mat. She takes a healthy cut and sends the ball through the temple gate. It rolls along the angled slopes of Macchu Picchu, takes a rapid charge at the hole, then lips out as everybody groans.
But the ball’s not done. Its flirtation with the cup flings it leftward against a concrete border, which knocks it right back toward the target. By now, the crowd is shouting, but it’s not enough. The ball comes to a stop at the very edge of the cup. The crowd laments.
Thomas hands his mic to Gillian, walks to the green and studies the situation. He folds his legs till he’s on all fours, ducks his head to the greensward and blows as hard as he can.
The ball drops. The crowd goes wild.

Photo by MJV

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