Having diligently put down many pages this week (fourteen pages so far in total work, which is pretty good considering how little time I can actually devote to writing), I wanted to give you a little sneak peek at an upcoming short story I’m putting together under the working title of “The Mob.” Enjoy!
I hate the quiet.
That’s what happens to you when you spend a good deal of your life living in the city, with its endless noises filling your ears. You get used to the multiple honks of car horns, even at two in the morning, though with enough time passing by you learn to sleep through them. You pat your leg in cadence with the rhythmic clacking of wheels on rails when the elevated train passes by, transporting the incarcerated passengers to their daily imprisonment in various employee stations and cubicles. You soak in the rumble of motors running upstream and downstream on asphalt river beds, and at times you’ll catch yourself grinning at the less than pleasant shouts from the pilots of the four-wheeled vessels, especially when their vociferous comments are accompanied by gestures of equal offensiveness.
You hear it all, see it all, and before you know it, it’s nothing more than background noise taken for granted. Just part of the canvas of the artwork called daily life in the city.
But when it gets quiet—when it gets really quiet—it’s like your entire world has been misplaced.
And I need to find that world again, find it soon.
I’m atop my apartment building right now, exposed to a crimson September sun in a cloudless evening sky, staring at the other structures, straining to hear something, anything at all, that tells me that everything’s returning to normal. I’m looking down at the street, hoping to spot pedestrians walking, jogging, talking to each other, texting a friend or loved one with one hand while stuffing a sandwich into their mouth with the other. I want to see the automobiles flow through the veins and arteries of the downtown area again, sustaining the various restaurants, attractions, and other businesses with a steady inflow of people.
But the scene below me is still, silent, quiet.
I was just getting back from the doctor’s when it started, sometime around three or so. I had the day off; Angelo was good enough to give me one without throwing a fit about being shorthanded at the deli that day. I couldn’t blame him if he had given me grief about it, seeing as how the college kids he hired didn’t always report at their scheduled times. But he knew me well enough to know that I rarely needed a sick day, and the sinus infection that plagued me wouldn’t be shaken by my usual routine of horseradish, tabasco, and hot tea.
Good ole’ Angelo.
I had dropped my keys while in the hall. With a whispered curse, I reached for the star-shaped configuration of silver and bronze metal atop the plush burgundy carpet. That’s when Sheryl Carlton opened her door.
“Frank!” she exclaimed. “Did you hear about it? About what happened at the baseball field?”
I looked up at her, blinking. She was an older, well-rounded woman: a little plump and curvy but still retaining an attractive feminine shape. Her hair was kept to neck-length on the sides and back, while the top blossomed out and over with artificial blondness. Something about the silhouette of her head made me think of a pumpkin. Her body was clad in a dark blue dress, the attire completed with nylons and shoes colored with the same shade as her clothing.
“Baseball field?” I questioned.
“Oh, it’s terrible!” she cried, her hand over her mouth. “It’s crazy down there! I was listening to the game and they said it’s mass confusion and chaos!”
Another door opened behind me. I whirled around, my fingers tightening around my keychain. The familiar whisker-peppered ebony face of Stan Rutherford appeared.
“You talking about what’s going on at the Wolves game?” he inquired.
“Yes!” she answered.
“Terrible thing going on there,” he answered, shaking his hairless scalp. “It’s on right now. Just can’t believe something like that’s happening.”
“Something like what, Stan?” I asked.
He looked at me from over the thick rims of his bifocals. “You didn’t hear about this? Aren’t you working today?”
“No. Had a doctor’s appointment. Angelo gave me the time off.”
“I have to call Tim,” Sheryl began, “see if he’s alright.”
She headed back into her apartment, failing to shut her door. I turned back toward Stan. “So what happened?”
“Bottom of the fourth inning, Rogerson was up. Hit a deep ball to right field that got away from the fielder’s mitt, so Rogerson was trying for three. Slid into third at the same time the ball got there. Umpire called him out. Coach Martinez blew up, ran out on the field with a baseball bat in his hand and started screaming at the umpire. Didn’t get more than five words out when the ump ejected him from the game.
“Well… that’s when it started happening. Martinez took that bat and did exactly what he was threatening to do with it. Laid that ump out cold.” Stan rubbed a set of bony fingers across his wrinkled cheeks. “I don’t even know if the ump’s alive.”
My jaw fell open. “That’s terrible!” I answered. “No wonder you two are—“
“No-no, Frank,” Stan interrupted, waving me off. “That’s not the worst of it. That was just the beginning.”
From somewhere in her apartment came Sheryl’s voice in short, frantic phrases. “There’s more?”
“Much more. By that time the crowd was worked up, furious. As soon as Martinez clocked that ump, they snapped. Started coming down the bleachers and storming the field, every single one of ‘em hollering and screaming, looking like they were hoping to kill somebody in the process.”
Stan glanced back into his apartment as he spoke. “I’ve never seen so many people look and act like that before. Not like this. I’ve seen angry people and I’ve seen people so worked up that they’ve been ready to tear someone limb from limb, but never have I seen an entire baseball stadium of fans react like that.”
I frowned, shifting my eyes to the window at the end of our hall. Blue sky between a pair of skyscrapers stared back at me. “So what’s going on? Are the police stepping in?”
“Don’t know, but I figure they’re gathering at the ball park now. They have cops at the game directing traffic and stuff, so I’m sure somebody’s calling it in.”
I responded with a nod. Stan used to run a small store in that area, about a block from the stadium. Old age and arthritic joints forced him into retirement three years earlier; he sold the place off and made plans with his wife to get an RV and tour the country. Her death six months later prevented that from happening.
Sheryl returned into the hallway. “Tim said the police are starting to blockade the area,” she announced. “His supervisor told everybody in his office to go home for the day.”
“He coming here?” I asked. She nodded.
Stan jerked a thumb back toward his open door. “You two wanna come in and watch this with me?” he asked. We agreed.
We followed him in, greeted by stray clutter and the pungent smell of Ben Gay. “Pardon the mess,” Stan began. “Usually I’m good about tidying up.”
“No apologies necessary,” I replied. “You should see my place.”
“Yeah, but you’re young. You have an excuse to be messy.”
I laughed at that.
Stan’s couch had to be the biggest contradiction in the history of furniture. Never before had I ever encountered something so ugly and yet so comfortable. The plush, velvety surface was composed of haphazard browns and reds spattered all over an otherwise cream material. At first glance it made me think Stan had lost a wrestling match with his coffee maker just before we had arrived, but a closer inspection made me rethink my comparison; the image of untreated scabs came to mind.
“Coffee, you two?” Stan asked. We both said yes; I had to bite back a smarmy comment about the couch design. Wasn’t the time for it.
We turned our attention to the television, taking in the initial bird’s-eye view of the scene, a boiling, bubbling mass of bodies contained within the cauldron of the stadium. From an unseen vantage point, a newscaster was repeating the chronology of the events, or what little he knew of them. As the throng circulated in random patterns amongst each other, another new voice (one who had apparently been there already; I had no idea who, as Stan’s preference of local news station didn’t match my own) broke in, stammering as he speculated about the reason behind the sudden outbreak. Neither of the men put together any persuasive conclusions.
Stan returned with our coffees, sitting on the other side of Sheryl. “Still have a hard time believing it was just a bad call that started all of this,” he muttered.
“Why not?” Sheryl asked. “I’ve seen people fight over petty things before. Watched two grown women get into it over a purse sale one Black Friday.”
“Day after Thanksgiving,” I clarified. “But Stan’s right, Sheryl. You might be able to explain a few people getting upset about it, but an entire stadium emptying onto the field like that?”
“Haven’t things like that happened before in Europe? With their soccer games and such?”
“I don’t know,” Stan began. “I mean, never been there myself, but from what I’ve heard they only storm the field after a game’s over. Can’t say I’ve ever heard them do anything like that for a bad call.”
“Neither have I,” I added, shrugging. “Could be wrong, but…”
An occasional closeup humanized the vigorous, seething multitude. The faces we saw composed a microcosm of the city’s diversity, expressed in various ages and ethnicities composed of both sexes. Cheeks and foreheads ranged from the plump and round to the taut and shriveled. Hair, both real and artificial in coloring, topped most heads, brilliant bleached blonds mingling with black brunettes, while bald scalps stuck out like desert islands among wavy seas, some serving as ports for baseball caps. Naked eyes appeared alongside those looking through glasses both clear and darkened. It was a typical Wolves baseball crowd.
But despite the variety in appearance and makeup, one common thread held together the multitude, a shared trait beyond their circumstances and location. Each and every one of them, from the youngest child to the most elderly senior citizen, carried the same expression on their faces.
Rage. Pure, unabated rage.