Life is short / Give it your all / Keep your focus / On the ball / Be aware of all the detours in your way / And never be afraid when it’s time / To walk away.
Three games remained in the regular season. The Los Angeles Dodgers were in town, division champions already, seven games ahead of the Giants and twenty-one and a half over the Loggers. Naturally, in Portland, it was raining. According to the forecast, they might just get that night’s game in. Riggs Hellams had a meeting with the general manager, Philip LaRouche. LaRouche had been supportive. He wasn’t Riggs’ type, but, then again, he couldn’t think of any GMs who were anymore. It was as if they were all playing in rotisserie leagues. They had incredible access to numbers, and they came to love the numbers so much that they forgot about everything else.
Hellams liked that other word better. Fantasy. Fantasy baseball. LaRouche was the boss, though. Hellams played by his rules. When asked his opinion, he gave it, but, whether he liked the company policy or not, he followed it.
LaRouche began the meeting by kissing Hellams’ ass. This wasn’t unusual. He believed in “positive reinforcement.” He had all these sayings he called on over and over again, regardless of how many times he’d used them. For instance, say, about anything, “We’ve got a problem,” and LaRouche, about anything, would answer, “It’s not a problem. It’s an opportunity.”
Well, be that as it may, Philip, the problem is that the toilet’s running over, and somebody’s gonna have an opportunity to mop up some shit.
Riggs didn’t say that, but his expressions gave him away. They generally communicated more than his vocal chords.
Even though the only conferee was Hellams, LaRouche had insisted they meet in a conference room, one prepared in advance with legal pads, writing instruments, pastries and coffee. Maybe LaRouche had two meetings. Maybe he was just giving Riggs access to the coffee and rolls. Maybe he was a creature of habit. Maybe every word spoken in his office was recorded, and he wanted freedom from electronics. Hellams was just speculating. He didn’t really want to know.
“Congratulations, Riggs. You’re something,” LaRouche said. “Whatever you’re doing with Leland, it’s working. He’s been a man possessed for the past two weeks.”
“He’s had his ups and downs,” Riggs said. “Don’t give me the credit. I expect it’s more a coincidence than anything else.”
“Modesty gets you nowhere in this business, Riggs. One of these days, you better learn how to take credit for what you do.”
Hellams ignored him. “Kid’s a great talent, Philip. He’s still crazier than hell.”
“Leland Mortenson’s a free spirit,” LaRouche said. “That plays well in the Northwest. The teen-aged and college kids feel like he’s one of them.”
“The only way that works is in lieu of a winning team. Without a winning team, it won’t work long.”
LaRouche opened a file folder and shuffled some papers. Riggs wondered if he was really looking for information or just pausing for effect. Wasn’t much to him that was unrehearsed.
“We’ll never have the payrolls of our competitors,” LaRouche said. “We’ve got to make wise decisions.”
“And you’re going to make a big play of signing Leland Mortenson to a long-term contract.”
“Yes. That’s one of the reasons we brought you up from Tri-Cities,” LaRouche said, “and, by the way, while I’m thinking of it, congratulations on the team winning the championship.”
“Ah, I was just slowing them down. Rashad Harper deserves the credit, before I left and afterwards, too.”
“Nonsense. You really are self-deprecating.”
Riggs wasn’t completely sure what that meant but thought it must mean he was modest.
“I want to offer you a contract, too,” LaRouche said.
Ah. The paperwork.
“How does three hundred thousand dollars sound, Riggs?” LaRouche smiled.
“It sounds like three times what I’m making now.”
“You’ll be the bench coach. Associate manager to Gary. I already met with him about it. He’s excited. Fifteen thousand-dollar bonus if the team finishes above .500 next year. Another five grand if we make the postseason.”
“That’s very generous, but there’s a problem, Philip.”
“It’s not a problem, Riggs. It’s an opportunity.” Bingo.
“All right, Philip. You and Gary brought me up here to find out what’s wrong with Mortenson. I know. He’s not the only one needs some adjusting.”
“Now, look, this is between you and me, right? Nothing said in this room leaves it. I don’t tell anybody. You don’t tell anybody, and what I say doesn’t get held against me, right?”
“Of course. Goes without saying.”
“Nothing in this game goes without saying, Philip. You’re the boss, okay. What that means is, you ask me what I think and I tell you. If I don’t do that, I’m nothing but a yes man. But you’re the boss. What you say goes. You tell me to do something I don’t agree with? I do it, but don’t hold it against me if I answer your questions honestly. Don’t hold it against me if I say what I think.”
“You just articulated what makes you invaluable to this organization.”
“The rules here don’t apply to everybody,” Hellams said. “At least three players – Mortenson, Leonard, Woodward – don’t have to worry about drug tests.”
“That’s impossible,” said LaRouche with a dismissive wave.
“No, it’s not. They know when they’re coming. Know why?”
“Because Les Jacklin is their agent. All three. Jacklin owns ten percent of the ballclub.”
“Where’d you get that idea?”
“Because it’s in the name of his brother-in-law, Jackson Mulroney, and Mulroney is the CEO of Cheshire Research – nice name, don’t you think? – and that’s who oversees the team’s drug testing, and I bet the real head of that is Les Jacklin, too.”
LaRouche bit his lip. He looked guilty.
“As I said, where’d you get this?”
“I’ve just got my sources,” Hellams said.
“The person is in law enforcement, Philip.”
“Being a private investigator is sort of beyond your responsibilities with the club.”
“There weren’t any conditions set when you summoned me. You just told me to try to fix what was wrong with Mortenson. I believe the words you used were ‘whatever it takes.’ Now we already agreed. This is between you and me, and I don’t mind Gary (Sjakich) knowing about it. I’ll never mention it to a soul. We also agreed that you’d hold nothing I say against me, and that, regardless of what I think, what you think, or say, goes. You can fire me right now, Philip, and I’ll never say a word to anybody even about that. You have my word, and my word is all I’ve ever offered and all that’s ever mattered to me.”
“I’m not going to fire you, Riggs.” LaRouche picked up the paperwork. “I’m trying to promote you.”
“And I’m trying to decide if this team can win when things aren’t entirely on the up and up.”
“What you’re telling me is the first I’ve heard of it.”
“Well, let me take this here contract with me,” Hellams said. “I better let my agent look over it.”
Riggs Hellams’ “agent” was a country lawyer in Opelika, Alabama, who, under normal circumstances, made sure his taxes were properly prepared.
“Let’s get the season over with,” Hellams said, getting up. “I’ll be back in here Monday morning, and we’ll get everything settled.”
TO BE CONTINUED
If you’re enjoying this short story, undoubtedly you will also enjoy my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, both of which are available from www.neverlandpublishing.com and www.amazon.com, where Kindle versions of both are available. To learn more about me, you might also take a look at http://www.montedutton.com.