Benji’s sister doesn’t come home last night, and this morning they find a body in the first-base dugout. That’s why Benji’s not here, and there’s cops everywhere and police tape stretched across the dugout steps. Radios squawk. People murmur. They stand by their cars holding onto their folded lawn chairs, hands over their mouths, like they don’t know what to do. In the meantime, we have to sit around with our gloves while they decide if the game should be cancelled. It’s pretty rotten. We need Benji. I trust having him next to me in the infield. He’s the only guy we got who’s got quick enough hands to play in at third so I can cheat toward the hole. Nothing hit on the ground gets by us.
Coach tells us not to wander off too far. The Dairy Queen is up the hill. Me, Spike, C.J., and Donleavy all go. We follow a trail of flattened Blizzard cups with Dennis the Menace on them up to the parking lot. I ask Spike if he’ll spot me.
What I really want is a dip but I’m trying to quit. Turns out girls aren’t into guys with flakes of chaw in their teeth. So I gave the rest of my chaw to Donleavy two weeks ago, and he’s still working through the tin, because Donleavy’s a fucking fraud, he only dips when people can see him dipping, just to get them to tell him how disgusting he is. That part of the act gets old pretty quick.
The first practice of the season, Coach told us anyone caught dipping was benched. Before you take that first pinch, he said, think of all the big leaguers who have had their careers cut short by cancer of the mouth.
Some smartass asked him to name one.
Anyway, I’ve got bigger problems. Already I’ve put on five pounds because now whenever I want a dip, I eat. It’s affecting my game. My uniform pants are already so tight it’s taken a step off my range up the middle. Last week I let two balls to my left get past me, then got thrown out trying to score from second on a single. It felt like I was towing a horse trailer.
Outside the DQ they have a sign they change every day; today it’s “lordy lordy look whos 40 happy bday gary love maureen allie & amanda.”
Kimmy and Deirdre are already in line. When they see us they give us hugs like we’ve all crawled out of rubble after an air raid. Kimmy looks like she’s been crying, maybe both of them. Spike holds onto Kimmy a little too long, and she lets him.
Did anyone even know her?, someone finally asks. The machines behind the counter whirr. A few of us shake our heads. Trina only went to a few of our games, and the ones she did she’d only stick around long enough to see Benji’s first up. There was the one time, on opening weekend, when Benji’s dad grilled hamburgers for the whole team but Trina ditched early because she had decided like that day that she was a vegetarian and called us all savages for chowing down on our bloody burgers, do you know they torture those cows so much they’re insane by the time they slaughter them?
That’s when Benji reminded her that her car had leather seats, and she got pissed, so she took off. It was pretty funny.
After remembering all this I could go for a burger, but that’s a lot to ask Spike to cover for.
She was kind of a cunt, Donleavy says. His cheek is lumpy with my chaw; he hasn’t learned yet how to tuck it into his lip.
Deirdre whales him on the arm. Asshole. Way to speak of the dead.
Donleavy has to go spit. He says he’s good, you guys go order. This is another part of the act when you dip, the having to leave the room bit. C.J. goes with him, making the case to anyone who’ll listen that he should be the guy to fill in at third.
When the game is called we all go to Deirdre’s. Me and Spike have our bikes with us and ride slow alongside the girls. C. J. and Donleavy trail behind on foot. Kimmy hops on back with Spike. He takes off and tries to pop a wheelie in the middle of the street to get her to scream, and she does. It’s a shriek that bounces off the houses like a referee’s whistle in a gymnasium.
I look at Deirdre and she shakes her head, no way, and I’m relieved. Bad enough my bike wouldn’t hold up to the end of the block, her and me together would be like grizzly bears at the circus. Nobody needs to see that.
Who was she fucking?, Donleavy asks. That’s always the first guy they wanna talk to. He’s plopped down in a bean bag chair, using my empty Blizzard cup to spit. He spits like a cartoon character, with a puh that echoes in the cup.
We’re in Deirdre’s basement. She’s got a sweet setup down here: oversized Naugahyde sofa, Sega Genesis, Ping-Pong table, large-screen TV, minifridge stocked with Pepsi and Mountain Dew. Her folks are the kind of folks that give her the sun and the moon because she’s an only child and they’re never home. As though to apologize.
I’m curious what games Deirdre’s got for the Sega, but before I can ask, Spike commandeers the remote and finds the Twins-Tigers game on TV.
Fuck baseball, they’re going on strike anyway, I say, and Spike flips me off. He’s on one end of the sofa, with Kimmy already cozy next to him. I settle for the shag carpet and use my glove as a pillow.
Bigger question is who she’s not fucking anymore, Spike says, gesturing with the remote.
Do they even know how she died? I ask. We all look around at each other.
Strangulation, C.J. says finally. He’s slouched down at the other end of the sofa, across from Spike and Kimmy. It’s the first thing he’s said since we left the DQ, and the way he says it, you can tell he’s been working it out in his head the whole time.
We all turn toward him, and just how the fuck do you know this, Lieutenant Columbo?
C.J. holds up his hand and counts off. Stabbing leaves a blood trail all over the place. Shooting? No one’s going to get their hands on a gun in this town without everyone finding out. What else, suffocation? Not as easy as the movies make it look. Remember she was kinda tall. It would be hard to get leverage unless she was drugged out or something. So what’s left? All you’d need is a phone cord.
The fuck, dude, I say. You’re scaring me.
C. J.’s been on this death kick all spring, ever since Kurt Cobain shot himself. He wasn’t even a fan.
Deirdre comes down from the kitchen with chips and salsa and sets them between the two of us on the floor. I’m not hungry after the ice cream, but there they are anyway, and it’s nice to have something in my hands. I crawl over to the minifridge and help myself to a Pepsi.
C.J. keeps going: Obviously she was killed, transported, they dumped the body. Those dugouts are open-front, the field’s not far from the street. If the struggle had happened there the neighbors would’ve heard it, right? And why the dugout? Why not dump her in the woods like a normal person? You don’t leave her in the dugout unless you want her to be found right away. This is Saturday, everyone knew there was a game today.
Ecstasy is my bet, says Donleavy. I hear that stuff makes you useless. Puh.
Wasn’t she on the basketball team?, Kimmy says.
For a year then quit, says Deirdre. Coach Neshek was ripshit, remember?
C.J. holds up a finger. Guys, let me finish. Only reason you wanna rub out a chick like Trina—short of her running into some random psychopath at the wrong place and wrong time, and I wouldn’t put that past anybody around here—is either raging jealousy or her knowing something you don’t want anyone else to know. So Donleavy’s right. Who was she fucking? Maybe she was knocked up, that got her kicked off the team and they just said she quit to save face? Or did she have something on dykey Coach Nutsack there ogling girls in the showers? Or was it just your classic Friday night out gone horribly wrong, a Billy-please-I’m-not-that-kind-of-girl kind of thing?
It’s no secret Trina was that kind of girl, Donleavy says.
Fuck you. My point is, you don’t just kill a chick like Trina just to kill her. I mean, Jesus, that’s so boring.
The Tigers are getting trounced again—13-0 after three—so Deirdre puts in a movie. Reservoir Dogs (C. J. knows all the lines by heart), then Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Around midway through Pee-wee must be when I fall asleep, because when someone shoves me awake, the local news is on and there’s Trina’s face on TV. It’s the same photo as you see in Benji’s living room.
They made an arrest, C.J says.
What time is it?, I ask. I have a crick in my neck and my mouth feels like sandpaper.
A little after six.
Donleavy says, D, where’s your phone? I’m calling Benji.
No, not now, says Deirdre. Either he’ll call us or we’ll see him at the funeral.
Who’d they get?
The news would rather fuck around than tell us right away. They show the field, the dugout and tape, the onlookers standing around. Then they cut live to a woman standing in front of Benji’s house, saying that just a half-hour ago police apprehended and charged with a single count of first degree murder one twenty-year-old Franklin Roosevelt Emerson of Harper Woods. Known to everyone in the neighborhood as Plato.
Plato who has ears the size of satellite dishes. Who hangs around the ballfield at all hours, hollers your name from behind the bleachers when you come to bat. Plato who has such a sweet tooth that he’s the reason the Dairy Queen is always cleaned out of Dilly Bars by the fifth inning. Plato who smartened up and got a job climbing poles for Michigan Bell.
Plato who, it turns out, has quietly been smitten with Trina for years. The police, the reporter says, found her underwear in his utility truck.
The ballfield looks strange on TV. The people they interview are people I’ve seen at the games but I couldn’t tell you what their names are. Of course, all they say is the bullshit they’re supposed to say, such a nice girl, always with a hello for you, would hand over her fucking kidney if you asked. Then Coach Neshek is interviewed with mascara streaked down her face, and it’s more of the same with her: such a tragedy, can’t believe it, couldn’t ask for a better kid.
It’s stupid, because they won’t ever tell you where Trina’s demons were hidden, and that’s all that people want to know now that she’s dead.
Donleavy says, Channel Four’ll have better coverage. Whitney, where’s the remote?
Spike had it last, I say.
But when we all look over to Spike, he can’t answer, because his mouth is filled with Kimmy’s tongue. She’s got a blanket over her, and you can’t see Spike’s hands. The blanket is moving in the flicker of TV light.
The fuck’s sake, dudes. Get a room.
Hey Whit. How ‘bout you scarf down another bag of chips and shut the fuck up?
I push myself up off the floor. Spike can’t move with Kimmy on top of him. Honestly I could pound them both, just for the way they make their shit everyone’s problem. But as I scramble toward them my foot clips something. It’s Donleavy’s dip cup. Dennis the Menace goes flying and a stream of Donleavy’s tobacco spit projects across the carpet, soaking a brown stain into the shag fibers.
The police are gone when I go back to the park, except for a detail cop idling in his cruiser. The tape is still up. I walk my bike up the hill to the Dairy Queen.
Outside a guy is switching out the letters of the sign with a suction-cup stick. “happy anniv fran & lar 50 gol yr.” The other side is already changed over: “prayer vigil for trina young ludlow field june 5 8pm.”
Someone skids to a stop behind me. It’s C.J., with Spike’s wheels.
You took off fast, he says.
They were pissing me off.
Spike and Kimmy? It was only a matter of time with them.
All of them, I mean.
Deirdre says you owe her folks a new rug.
The fuck? It was Donleavy’s dip.
It was your foot, though.
I hop on my bike and we ride on.
What we gonna do if there’s a strike? It’s gonna suck with no baseball.
I dunno. Shoot hoops. Read books. Find girlfriends. Fuck baseball, the Tigers suck anyway.
I’m gonna ask Coach if I can play third on Wednesday. I got the arm.
Oh yeah? Do you have the hands? The footwork? Coach is worried you’ll take a bad hop in the teeth. Benji, man, he’s got the hands.
Yeah, well shit, Whit, how’m I supposed to know if they don’t play me?
We could work on grounders. We need a field. The high school maybe.
Right now? It’s getting dark.
For a few minutes, even. Fuck, I don’t want to go home. I was planning on playing ball today.
Photo by Matt Hintsa