Dubler positioned himself five
feet from the bag, pounded his
fist into his glove, and leaned forward on the balls of his feet.
Nakamura’s pitch was inside.
Murphy turned on it, hammering
the ball down the third base line. Dubler stuck out his glove. He couldn’t field
it but managed to knock it down. After a mad scramble, and with no time to look
back the runner at second, he launched his throw to first base. The ball sailed
wildly over Arroyo’s outstretched glove into the stands.
Dubler, hands on his hips, kicked
at the dirt, and stared
at the ground.
“Batter to second base,
and the runner on second will score,
giving the Monarchs the lead,” the radio announcer told his listeners. “Dubler’s
having a tough game. Struck out twice, and that’s his third error in as many
A series of boos filled the air
as the Dragons’ fans registered
their displeasure with Dubler’s performance. But in the front row, a man in a gray
suit and a fedora smiled.
“One out in the bottom
of the ninth, and the Dragons have
men on first and second,” the announcer said. “Finally, a chance for Dubler to
redeem himself. He’s oh for four on the day with three strikeouts. Last time up
in the seventh, he tapped a weak grounder to second.”
Dubler walked toward the batter’s
box, his face etched with
grim determination. The fans greeted him with a Bronx cheer.
The first pitch was a fastball
high and inside, sending
Dubler to the ground.
“Ball one!” called
Dubler stared down the pitcher
and gritted his teeth.
The second pitch broke early,
and in the dirt. Dubler,
appearing to be badly fooled, swung and missed. The spin on the ball sent it
bouncing away from the catcher all the way to the wall. The runners advanced to
second and third. With first base open, the opposing manager called for an
intentional walk, taking the bat out of Dubler’s hands.
He walked sullenly to first base
and felt the pit in his
stomach grow. Before he had time to formulate a plan, Gorman crushed the first
pitch over the left field wall for a game-winning grand slam.
Twenty thousand happy Dragons’
fans celebrated deliriously.
The man in the fedora didn’t.
Dubler sat in front of his locker,
his head drooping.
“Don’t be low. We
won!” Arroyo slapped him on the shoulder.
“You had a tough game, amigo. But that’s okay, we’re here to pick each
Dubler looked up and managed
a weak smile.
“Tough game, Dubler.”
Carolyn Rodgers, the blond reporter
from the cable station, thrust a microphone in his face. “What happened out
Dubler slapped the microphone
away. “Why don’t you talk to
Gorman? He’s the hero.”
“Hey guys!” shouted
Simmons. “Who’s up for a little fun tonight
at Engine Forty-Nine? First round’s on me.”
The clubhouse roared with approval.
“How about you, Dubler?”
Dubler shook his head. “You
guys go on without me. I think
I might be coming down with the flu.”
Scott Blackbell, the Dragon’s manager,
pointed a bony finger at Dubler. “Next time, you’re feeling sick, let me know. Don’t
pull that ironman crap on me.”
“Sure thing, Skipper.”
Dubler avoided the remaining
reporters, showered, and picked
at the food from the post-game spread. When there was no one left in the
clubhouse, he grabbed his bag and walked to his truck.
In the gloom he saw a small figure
lingering near his
F-250. Was it some kid waiting for an autograph? Security was supposed to keep
them away. As he got closer to the truck, he recognized Louie in his trademark
fedora. Dubler swallowed hard.
“Hey there, Mr. Baseball,”
Louie said. “You really let me
Dubler shook his head. “Did
you see the game? I did my
worst without being obvious about it.”
“Oh. I saw. But this is
the third time you’ve been a
disappointment. My friends are out a lot of money, and they’re not happy.”
“Look, I’ll do better,
or rather worse, tomorrow,” Dubler
said. “It was a really tough game.”
“Things are going to get
a whole lot tougher.” Louie pulled
out a stainless-steel semi-auto pistol and fired twice into Dubler’s chest.
Dubler fell to the ground, his
eyes filled with disbelief.
“You play baseball, you
know the rules. Today was your
third strike,” Louie said. “And now you’re out.”
James Blakey’s fiction has appeared in Mystery Weekly,
Crimson Streets, and Over My Dead Body. His story “The Bicycle
Thief” won a 2019 Derringer Award. He lives in suburban Philadelphia, where he
works as a network engineer for a software consulting company. When James isn’t
working or writing, he can be found on the hiking trail—he’s climbed
thirty-eight of the fifty U.S. state high points—or bike-camping his way up and
down the East Coast. Find him at www.JamesBlakeyWrites.com.
If Charles Addams, Edgar Allan
Poe, and Willy Wonka sired a bastard child it would be the fat asthmatic by the name of Michael D. Davis. He has
been called warped by dear friends and a freak by passing strangers. Michael started drawing
cartoons when he was ten, and his skill has improved with his humor, which isn’t
saying much. He is for the most part self-taught, only ever crediting the help of one great
high school art teacher. His art has been shown at his local library for multiple years
only during October due to its macabre nature. If you want to see more of Michael’s
strange, odd, weird, cartoons you can follow him on Instagram at mad_hatters_mania.