The Louisville Slugger Ash Pro, the official bat of Major League Baseball, 33 inches long, 30 ounces heavy (-3 length/weight ratio), medium barrel, long taper, thin handle, medium knob, pro cupped end, pro grade timber, unfinished and flame treated.
* * *
This was the kind of weather he liked: cold, windy, crystal clear skies. On days like these the world seemed presented in sharper focus. Everything suddenly became very clear-cut when you strode through a near-deserted housing estate and the wind was so dry and biting that it threatened to blow you into dust. There was none of that muddled conscience of a humid summer heat, the casting off of inhibitions or sudden uncharacteristic changes of heart that seemed to go hand in hand with days spent baking on hot grass and sand. This was decisive weather. This was weather that did not abide the fence-sitter. This, he thought, was the right weather for the day that was in it.
He grabbed at the collar of his coat with his right hand, nuzzling his chin into his red scarf. Walking there, head bent, one hand up about his neck, the other ramrod straight and down by his side in an overcoat so big it never even reached the cuff, he looked almost like a determined old amputee. There was no spring to his step, no swing to his arm. He walked with a kind of purpose you rarely see in such uninhabited locales. The houses around him sat almost entirely empty, their bay windows and frosted glass doors yawning out onto unseeded lawns. Had he not been so intent upon his task, the thought might have occurred to him that but for the handful that stood defiant, that desperately attempted to assert themselves as “homes” by way of a line of juvenile laurel or box along their borders and a lone car parked in the drive, these houses for the most part resembled long winding lines of the lobotomised, standing to non-attention, gawping mindlessly as they faced one another and waited to be filled and emptied, dressed and undressed, interested not in the “how” or the “why” but only the “when.” In contrast to these comatose giants his quick stride leant him something of the demeanour of an ant. He walked on, unawares, set to, hell-bent.
* * *
Their echo lingered even after the large double fire doors had swung shut with a heavy clunk. The hall was ringing with it. He walked out towards its centre, kicking stray balls towards the gear closet as he went. Each one was struck just so, so that it would roll lazily up towards the crash-mat that leaned against the far wall, its impact leaving a small indent in the mat’s blue lining, and then roll back a foot or two to rest there on the baseline for easy collection and storage.
He came upon the last ball and stooped to pick it up. Bouncing it three times, he walked slowly up towards the 3-point line and set himself: feet shoulder-width apart, right slightly in front of left, right hand cupped underneath the ball, left leaning lightly against its side in support. He bent his knees, bobbed up and down on his toes, stared intently at the hoop, focussing, the whistle clinking lightly against his chest. And then, in one fluid movement, he shot, arm locked out, wrist flicked, feet never once leaving the ground, his whole body pointed and arched out towards the net as he leaned back on his toes and fell - actually fell - back onto the hardwood floor, keeping his eyes locked on the ball as it traced a long arc up, up, up, and then silently fell just short of the rim, landing with an uninterrupted thud onto the court below. The sound rang out. He could taste the remnants of the roast beef sandwich of an hour past rising in his throat. The ball trickled towards the door, knocking once on its burgundy façade before coming to a rest under the battered pommel horse in the corner. The place was so empty.
As if in answer, the door opened a crack, and out popped a dark pony-tailed head. She looked about the room, her eyes finally landing on the figure sitting splay-legged on its far side trying to bore a hole in the wall off to her right. ‘Oh,’ she said. He looked up.
'Kindez,' he cleared his throat and began to pick himself up.
She stepped inside, her severed head growing 4 feet of white cotton polo and navy blue tracksuit bottoms. She began moving sideways towards the benches that ran along the near wall. ‘Sorry sir, I forgot my jumper.’
'Alright then, quickly now.' He walked towards the corner, making a bee-line for the horse and the offending ball hiding under its belly. Fishing it out, he turned back out to the room at large, stepping blindly into the girl's path as she made for the door.
'Sorry sir, I…' she made to go around him. He moved in the same direction, blocking her again. They moved back and forth like this once more, three times, four, until they both began to laugh awkwardly.
'Hate it when that happens, don't you?' He stood still now.
She smiled up at him briefly and gave a small laugh through her nostrils. She took a decisive step to her left, he one to his right.
'Have a shot, Kindez' he said, presenting the ball.
'But sir, I-'
'Just have a shot.'
'Sir, I have to get to class.'
'… I'm not very good, sir.
'There's no one else here, Kindez.'
* * *
'Hello… Mr. Mendel, isn't it?'
'Nice to meet you, have a seat.'
'Now let's see, Mendel, Mendel… ah here we are, “Attentive and compliant. Takes instruction well. Shows good ability at most sports and excels in track and field in particular. Punctual and well behaved in class. Could benefit from extra-curricular training.” A glowing report by all accounts, Mr. Mendel. I wish I had forty others like her.'
'I'm sure the other teacher's have said no different.'
'She seems to be coping nicely.'
'She surely does.
'Did you have any questions for me, Mr. Mendel?'
'No, nothing important really'
'I'm afraid I don't understand.'
'Did you ever play any sport as a child, Mr. Carrington?'
'Well of course, I-'
'I used to play baseball.'
'Strange one, I know. Not often you hear of people doing a thing like that in… in…. well, in a place like this. But that’s just me, Mr. Carrington; I’m a strange one.’
'I was never a big man, but I tell you I was fairly handy with that bat.'
'I could fairly do some damage, if you know what I mean.'
'Mr. Mendel, if we could just get back to your daughter-'
'Oh, my apologies. Please.'
'Well unless you have any questions…?'
'Do you know what I'd do if anyone were to ever lay a hand on my daughter, Mr. Carrington?'
'Mr. Mendel, what are you-'
'Purely hypothetical now. No need to worry.'
'What I'd do is, I'd take my old bat – I keep it under the bed see, for burglars and things, you know – I'd take it, and I'd go to their house, and I'd knock on the door and I'd wait for them to answer. And when they answered, do you know what I'd do? Well, Mr. Carrington, I'll tell you what I'd do: I'd beat them. I'd beat them to within an inch of their life. I'd beat them until they forgot what it was like not to be in pain. And then I'd keep going. Because, as I'd be the first to admit, if there's one thing I tend to lack when I get going it's restraint, Mr. Carrington. I know, I know, it’s a terrible thing to have a temper, and I do try to keep a lid on it. But sometimes you just can’t help yourself… Sure you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?’
'… I don't appreciate being talked to this way.'
'Talked to what way, Mr. Carrington? Sure I'm only having a friendly chat, am I not?'
'… I don't appreciate being threatened. And I sure as hell don’t appreciate being accused of… of-‘
'Accused of what, Mr. Carrington?'
'You know exactly what… Mr. Mendel.'
'Hang on there 'til I finish my little story, Mr. Carrington.'
'Don't worry, I'll be out of your hair in no time.'
'This is the good bit see. This is the bit that really gets me, to tell you the truth. You see, what I'd do before all this… this unpleasantness, what I’d do is I’d actually go and talk to the little bastard, and I’d tell him what I was going to do to him. I’d tell him I’d come to his house of a Saturday, or maybe a Sunday even. You know, one of those days he’d be lounging around in his jocks and scratching his balls, like. One of those days he wouldn’t exactly be mentally prepared to confront a homicidal maniac on his doorstep, ha-ha.’
'I'm calling the guards.'
'Oh no need for that Mr. Carrington, I'm nearly finished. See, what I'd make sure to mention to the fella' – or the lady for that matter. Sure we're living in dark times these days, Mr. Carrington – what I'd make sure to mention is that this might happen next week, it might happen next month, it might even happen next year. I wouldn't even know myself, you know the way. It'd happen on whatever day I thought was right for it, you get me? And who knows when that kind of notion might take hold of man.'
'Get out of my office, right n-'
'Everyday he'd wake up and he'd be thinking to himself “is today the day he's coming? Is today the day I'm going to die?” And that's the real scorcher here, Mr. Carrington, that's the thing that really tickles me. Gives me the jollies so it does. Sometimes I'll be sitting there reading the paper of a morning and the thought will just pop into my head and I'll just start laughing to myself. The wife thinks I'm going mental so she does. But you and I know it's because if anything like this were to happen – and god forbid it ever should – your man would be out there pacing back and forth in his dingy little house wondering how long he had left, and I'd be the one putting the fear into him. Isn't that just a lovely thought now, Mr. Carrington? Isn't it just?'
'You stay safe now, Mr. Carrington.'
'I'll be seeing you.'