“May I have another Code Green?”
Getting an order from Marcus can be a little startling. His baritone splits atoms.
“Certainly,” says Zelda. “Hey, where’s Blondie? I haven’t seen her for a few days.”
Marcus bites his lip and leans in confidentially.
“On a semi-regular basis, Maggie tires of the starving-artist life and heads off to harvest a crop of dinners and jewelry from a circle of rich nerd-boys. Drives me fairly mad with jealousy, but I can’t say that I would be opposed to the idea of a sugar mama myself. Anyways, she’ll be back once we start shooting. For Maggie, screen time is like heroin.”
Zelda takes Marcus’s money and smiles. “I’ll have that for you in a couple of minutes.”
She assembles the Code Green blend: fair trade Colombian, slices of Granny Smith apples, pistachios and a sprig of mint. She glances at Edward, drilled in on his laptop, dressed in threadbare black and gray, doing his best to cloak all that terpsichoreal talent. Before the thought can work its way any further, Jackson Geary bursts into the coffeehouse.
“Miss Curve! Awesome to see you.”
Zelda looks at him and has not a thing to say. “Code Green!” she calls. Marcus comes to fetch his drink.
“What would you like, Jackson? Istanbul?”
“Sure.” His smile fades. “Miss Curve, you’re not miffed, are you?”
She looks at him again, but feels like she’s looking at a chimera. Jackson is a brilliant piece of light and color, but he’s not really there.
“Jackson, are you… Why don’t you dance the way Gigante dances?”
Jackson smiles. “Okay, you caught me.” He lowers his voice. “Gigante is performed by two guys. He’s more the dancer, I’m more Mr. Yuk-Yuk.”
“And will you tell me the name of this other performer?”
“Tito Fuentes. East Side kid. Hell of a talent.”
Zelda studies him for another second, then exhales. “Yes, he is. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”
“Not sure that anyone would care. By the way, thanks for yesterday. That was fantastic.”
She feels the blood speeding up all over her body. “Anytime, Jackson. I’ll have that Istanbul for you in a few minutes.”
He smiles and turns to greet Edward.
The Giants are getting good and pounded. They bring in a new pitcher, he gives up runs, they bring in another, he does the same. Z and Z have a lot of time to talk.
“So you thought it might be Edward?”
Zelda laughs. “The absolute last person in the world I would wish it to be. I’ll tell you, though, he’s a freaky-good dancer.”
“I just cannot picture that.”
“Something’s bugging me, though. This other guy who plays Gigante. Tito Fuentes. Why does that sound so familiar?”
“Tito Puente,” says Zarita. “Famous Latin bandleader.”
“Oh! Yeah, that makes sense.”
The batter drives one deep to center. The crowd groans, but the fielder catches the ball at the fence for out number three.
Zelda rubs her hands together. “Twelve to one. We’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em!”
“What the hell are you smokin’?”
“I am high on eternal optimism. Hey…”
A song comes up on the PA. “Pumped-Up Kicks.”
“That’s funny. That’s the song that Edward…”
Gigante leaps to the dugout roof, shoots out both arms and furls them backward in a wave. He joins his hands together and works the wave further, his arms weaving in and out like ribbons.
“Hey Z,” says Zarita. “Check it out.”
She holds up her iPhone. It’s a picture of a ballplayer from the ‘70s. Second baseman. San Francisco Giants. Tito Fuentes.
When Jackson walks in, Zelda’s on the case. She circles the counter and stops him at the condiment table, placing a hand on his chest.
“What’s my favorite candy?”
Jackson laughs. “Hello, Miss…”
“Curve, right. What’s my favorite candy?”
“M & M’s?”
“Okay. Try this one. Of the fifty-seven qualities that a woman looks for in a man, how many do you have?”
Jackson gives the question what appears to be actual consideration, then smiles. “I like to think about forty.”
Zelda slaps his chest. “Wrong! What Giants second baseman held the National League single-season record for fielding percentage until Ryne Sandberg broke it in 1986?”
“Tito Fuentes! You asshole.”
Jackson looks around nervously. “Can we talk outside?”
“By all means.”
Zelda heads into the courtyard, slapping her thighs in an agitated manner. Jackson grabs her by the elbow and marches her into a walkway.
“Just walk. This is dicey stuff.”
“You bet it’s dicey stuff.”
They pass Lisa’s Tea Treasures.
“Wait a minute. You slept with me! Why did you sleep with me?”
“Because you’re hot, you were all over me, and I’m heterosexual. Now, do I take it that Gigante has been flirting with you?”
They pass Buca di Beppo.
“Yes. He gave me some Red Vines, and a poem.”
They near a row of palms trees wrapped in lights.
“Edward wrote you a poem?”
“Yes. God help me.”
They stop at the rows of flowers outside Trader Joe’s. Jackson holds a hand to his forehead.
“This is huge! You have no idea. But. Shit! Listen, he can’t know that I slept with you.”
“I can see how embarrassing that would be.”
People are watching. They keep walking, past the Sports Basement.
“Look, you’ve got problems, I’ve got problems. But Edward… Edward has been through a kind of hell that I can’t even imagine. The fact that he’s even alive is amazing. The fact that he’s interested in a female is a goddamn miracle. So be nice, okay?”
She stops in front of Togo’s Sandwiches. “Be nice? Be nice?! Why didn’t you just tell me it was Edward? What’s the big fucking secret?”
Jackson puts a hand on her shoulder – which, at the moment, is a dangerous move. “Look. Something happens when he puts on that suit. You’ve seen the difference.”
“The reason it works is because no one knows it’s him under there. And it may be the only thing that’s keeping him alive. So please, don’t let on.”
Zelda feels roundly insulted by the whole situation, and is dying to be selfish. Sadly, she has a conscience. She grits her teeth.
“Thanks. Now, take a breath and let’s play normal.”
“Fine, whatever. I need to get back to work.”
They walk along the plate-glass window of the coffeehouse. Zelda shakes her head, trying to clear the cobwebs. Jackson stops at the corner.
Zelda now lives in Bizarro World. She gazes out the window, longing for Edward’s appearance. She dreads the arrival of Jackson, who looks more haggard each day – a combination of anxiety for his best friend and working every inning of a six-game homestand. And it’s all Zelda’s fault.
Today, the Giants are on a bus headed for Visalia, but Jackson arrives, anyway, at the end of Zelda’s shift. They adjourn to Boswell’s, to his usual table. He takes a long pull from a wheat beer.
“That is the drink of a thirsty man,” says Zelda.
Jackson places a hand on his forehead and rakes his fingers through his hair.
“Tired man. Exhausted man. Yaknow, when they first hired me, I used to do full games all the time. I must have been crazy.”
He gazes into the distance. Zelda has nothing to contribute. She taps her finger to a humpa-dumpa country song on the jukebox. Jackson takes a deep breath and plants his forearms on the table.
“There are many things about Edward that I can’t tell you, but I think the whole Gigante thing is fair game. Two years ago, I was cruising a farmer’s market in Los Gatos when I saw him. I could tell something was wrong, but Edward’s tricky. He manages to stay clean enough that you wouldn’t know right away that he was homeless. I bought him a cup of coffee, and eventually he told me his sad tale.
“I learned his hangouts, and I would sort of accidentally on purpose run into him. After a while I talked him into joining me at the stadium. His expressions are hard to read, but it seemed like he enjoyed it. I started taking him once or twice a week, and I made a habit of ordering too much snack food so he would have to eat my leftovers.
“One day, about the fifth inning, I started feeling sick. Tight stomach, fever, dizziness. It felt like food poisoning, and I certainly didn’t want to throw up inside the suit, so I retreated to my break room and took it off. Edward looked pretty concerned, and asked if he could do anything to help. ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Put on the costume and walk around a little.’ I was half-joking, and half delirious.
“I went to the staff restroom and spent a couple innings worshipping at the toilet, then I cleaned up, bought a Sprite and felt much better. When I worked my way back to the stands, I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. The team was having this tremendous rally, and every time we scored Edward would run up and down the steps, high-fiving everyone. At the end of the inning, they played our comeback song, ‘Back in Black,’ and he started to dance! And you’ve seen him dance.
“That costume has a transformative effect. For one thing, it allows you to do things that, in ordinary life, would be considered rude and intrusive. And they love you for it! But with Edward it’s more than that. It bestows superpowers, and it brings back the goofball that I knew in high school.”
He stops, as if the telling has worn him out.
“Does your boss know about this arrangement?” Zelda asks.
Jackson gives a weary smile. “My boss is one awesome dude. Edward prefers to stay off the grid, so Augie lets me pay him out of my wages. He also lets him use the team showers, which is much appreciated by the other guy who wears the suit. God, Zelda, we’ve just got to find him.”
The look of worry in Jackson’s eyes is enough to make Zelda fall for him all over again – but then, that’s how all this trouble began.
“I wanted to show you something,” says Jackson. He fiddles with his iPhone. “That’s Edward at our ten-year reunion.”
Standing between Jackson and some blond rocker dude is a fresh-scrubbed, clean-shaven Edward, wearing a devilish smile, his dark eyes gleaming in the afternoon sun. He’s got one hand on Jackson’s shoulder, and uses the other to shoot a finger-pistol at the camera, as if he’s got the future in his back pocket.