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War, Voyages, Adventure

Bruce Stirling's prose and poetry appear in a number of literary journals. His story "Woman Want" was co-winner of the 2007 Fish-Knife Award for Short Crime Fiction.

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Say Goodbye To Omaha For Me

It was a try out. Just a try out. But Murphy knew what he had to do: Keep his mouth shut and let his bat do the talking. That’s what he kept telling himself. Over and over. But his turn at the plate had yet to come.

“Hey, lock jaw. You awake in there?”

Murphy cringed at the sound of that hayseed twang.

“Look at us,” Holmes said, jawing a wad of chew. “Couple of bush league hacks trying to crack the big time. Shee-it.”

He leaned in, so close Murphy could smell booze and butts.

“Guess what, Toto?” Holmes said. “We ain’t in Omaha no more.”

He spat, a limp brown gob that dribbled down his jersey front.

Murphy turned away. Keep your mouth shut, he told himself. Just keep your mouth shut and everything will work out right.

Holmes leaned in again.

“Them two ladies you seen me with last night,” he said. “After I got ‘em all liquored up, I took ‘em back to my room. And goddamn if they wasn’t all over me like flies on...”

“Holmes!” Coach Hayes cried. “You’re up.”

Holmes winked at Murphy.

“Watch this,” Holmes said.

He grabbed a bat, grabbed his crotch then ambled up to the plate. Even in that slick new jersey he looked washed up. He nailed a few fouls, his bat slow, his gut hanging low. He struck out and returned to the dugout.

“Fuckin’ pitcher,” he griped. “My farts got more sting.”

Murphy could care less. Just keep your mouth shut, he told himself. Keep your mouth shut and everything will work out right.

Coach Hayes looked down the bench. Murphy jumped to his feet, hoping for a chance, the name called not his.

Shadows crept over the field as hopeful after hopeful took the plate, all of them striking out. Jones from Spokane. Reese from Peoria. Mack from Bridgeport.

Murphy paced the dugout. He’d never wanted something so bad, the name called not his. He sank back on the bench. He couldn’t believe it. Holmes was stretched out sleeping.

A grin rose on Murphy’s lips. Holmes was going down, back to Omaha and the bus, back to all them greasy burgers and flea bag motels.

Coach Hayes approached and said, “Murphy, right?”

Murphy jumped to his feet.

“Up from Omaha?” Coach Hayes asked, checking his list.

Murphy nodded.

“Tell me, Mr. Murphy,” Coach Hayes said. “How would you rate Sleeping Beauty there?”

Murphy just shook his head.

“You think you’re better than Sleeping Beauty?” Coach Hayes asked. “Is that it? Is that what I’m hearing?”

Murphy nodded.

“Okay, kid,” Coach Hayes said. “Show me your stuff.”

Murphy ran for the plate. All day on the bench and he was ready to explode. The pitch came, a fastball. Murphy blasted it over the centerfield fence. Like an old pro he sauntered around the bases, a crowd of his own making roaring in his ears.

Back on the bench Holmes was joking with Coach Hayes.

“She did what to who?” Coach Hayes cried.

“I swear to God!” Holmes said.

“And to think I almost married her!” Coach Hayes replied.

The two laughed till they cried. Finally, Coach Hayes looked to the field.

“Okay!” he said. “Let’s call it a day!”

He headed down the tunnel.

A smile crept across Murphy’s lips. Coach Hayes had seen him hit. He was sure of it.

Holmes bit off a fresh piece of chew.

“You know,” he said. “Whoever said silence was golden don’t know shit from shinola.”

Murphy gathered his things. His bat had done the talking. There was nothing left to prove. He was about to leave when he drew a bead on the outfield. A suit was marching straight for them.

“Who the hell’s that?” Holmes said.

The suit stepped down into the dugout and held up a ball.

“Whoever hit that last ball,” the suit said, “smashed the windshield of my car. My nice new Cadillac. Now I want to know. Who did it? Who hit that last ball? You?”

He eyed Murphy. Murphy was a wall of silence.

“It was me,” Holmes said. “I hit that ball. What of it?”

“That ball sailed clear over the scoreboard,” the suit said. “Nobody’s ever done that. Nobody. Not even Babe Ruth.”

“Well, yeah,” Holmes said, all smiles. “It surprised me too.”

Outraged, Murphy pushed forward.

"You lying bastard,” he said, jabbing a finger at Holmes. “You didn’t hit that ball. I did. You struck out.”

“Here we go again,” Holmes said, winking at the suit.

Murphy turned to the suit.

“I can prove it,” Murphy said.

He grabbed his bat off the bench and held it up.

“See?” he said.

“See what?” the suit asked.

“The mark on the barrel,” Murphy said. “Proof I hit that ball.”

“I see no mark,” the suit said. “I see nothing but a brand new bat.”

Confused, Murphy searched the bat for the tell-tale mark. But his bat was clean—not a scratch on it—nothing but his initials inked so small inside the label.

“Is this what you’re looking for?” Holmes said, holding up his bat.

Around the label Holmes had scrawled his name in big black letters. Above the label, on the meat of that brand new barrel, a ball mark—the only mark—stuck out like a black eye, the point of impact so deep it had cracked the wood beneath the finish.

Murphy paled. In his rush to the plate, he’d grabbed the wrong bat.

“You should be ashamed,” the suit told Murphy.

Murphy turned away.

The suit fixed on Holmes.

“What’s your name, son?” the suit asked.

“Holmes, sir. Roid Holmes the third. Up from Omaha.”

“Mr. Holmes,” the suit said, “my name is Parks. J. P. Parks. I own this ball club, and never in my life have I ever seen a ball hit so far. Congratulations. You, sir, just made the team.”

The suit handed the ball to Holmes then headed down the tunnel.

Holmes studied the ball hit so hard the laces had tore. He tossed it at Murphy, lost that stupid bumpkin grin and said, “Say goodbye to Omaha for me.”

Holmes headed down the tunnel, whistling Dixie.



Say Goodbye To Omaha For Me by Bruce Stirling
originally published June 9, 2008

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