Sunday WildCard – The Kildaran Chapter 24

That’s right, only one chapter this week. It’s a bloody long chapter! Eighteen manuscript pages, and a bunch happens.

Well, okay, so there are a lot of events in the chapter, not all of which are consequential, but there are lots of little details in there. I worked hard to get those details right, whenever I put them in, so if you go back and research when the Red Sox played Tampa Bay to open the season at Fenway you’ll find that yes, Dustin Pedroia hit a homer in the first inning and Jason Varitek later. And the Durgin-Park restaurant, before it closed this year, was known for having waitresses be rude to the customers, and there was a stall in the Pru which sold Russian nesting dolls.

It was a fun chapter to write; hope you have fun reading it!

Don’t forget to poke around the site and find other bits of goodness. There’s even a page of freebies somewhere around here.

CHAPTER 24

Boston, MA

April 9

The flight to Logan early the next morning took little more than an hour. Getting from Logan to their hotel took longer. To be honest, they mostly spent that time waiting for their water taxi. It was much cooler than Washington, but still a sunny and pleasant morning.

“This is Boston?” asked Kat, looking back at the airport.

“At the moment, we’re in East Boston. Across the harbor, that’s Boston.”

“Oh! Michael, you’re teasing me!”

“You betcha,“ he laughed. The water taxi, a small, covered launch, finally arrived, and they carefully boarded, Hughes first, Mike last.

“Long Wharf,“ said Mike, and they were off.

“What is Long Wharf?“ said Kat.

“That,” Mike answered, pointing at a vaguely pyramid-shaped brick building.

“You can see it from here. Actually, that’s our hotel.”

“Right on the water?”

“Right over the water. Built on the old Long Wharf. We’ve a couple suites on the top floor. Jack, can you get us checked in?”

“Sure. Why me?”

“We’re going to head across to Faneuil Hall. Meet you there.”

Without pause they walked past the hotel, across Atlantic Avenue, and they were there. Mike talked along the way.

“Faneuil Hall was built in the 1700s by a wealthy merchant as a gift to the city. During the years leading up to the revolution, and all through it, the Hall was the meeting place of the Sons of Liberty. These days they’d be called a terrorist organization. Back then, they were the leaders in planning and justifying the revolution. Of course I’m biased, since it was our revolution.”

They passed under an arch and Quincy Market stretched before them, three brick colonial buildings, replete with shops and restaurants of all types. Slowed to a crawl by window shopping, Hughes quickly caught up with them.

“It reminds me of the bazaar,” said Stasia an hour later. “All the booths and little shops. Not as much haggling, though.”

“I’m glad you’re comfortable,” said Mike from behind the bags.

Good thing there aren’t any real high-end stores, he thought, or we wouldn’t make it back to the hotel.

As it was, Stasia and Kat had still managed to spend several hundred dollars on small items they thought would be appreciated at home.

“I’m going to bring this all back to the hotel, then we’ll have lunch. Meet you in front of Durgin-Park in fifteen minutes?” He waited for a nod, then headed off.

He found the room at the hotel quickly and even more rapidly inspected it. While not nearly as elaborate or tradition-soaked as the Hay-Adams, it was pleasant, airy, and the south-facing windows opened onto their own balcony. At the appointed time, Mike was back at the North Market Building. Kat and Stasia were looking at the menu; Hughes was watching the gathering lunch crowd with an anxious air.

“This may be the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, Jack, but I don’t think they’re violent,” he joked, though he quietly approved of the man’s professionalism. “Ladies. Ready?”

“Starving,” admitted Kat. The hostess brought them inside to a table along the wall. Unlike most restaurants, this level of the Durgin-Park was a single large room with communal tables. As they watched, three groups were brought in and seated, all at the same table. When one member objected, the waitress wasted no time in telling him just what he could do about it.

“This is where we brought ya, and this is where you’ll sit. Or you can take yourself out, I don’t care.”

Stasia and Kat were surprised to see the other patrons smiling at this treatment.

“It’s part of the legend of this place,” explained Mike. “Story is, the original owners, back in the 1830s, would encourage the wait staff to give back to the customers more attitude than they’d receive. Glad to see some things haven’t changed,” he finished as their waitress approached.

“You want a drink?” she asked without preamble.

“You have Mountain Tiger?”

“Yeah, we do. You got the money?”

“Four Tigers. Then a plate of fried soft-shelled crabs, and two  New England clambakes. You got that, or you want me to repeat it?”

She actually smiled.

“Been here before, eh? Got it, sweetie.” She walked off.

“Jack, you had Mountain Tiger before?” Hughes shook his head. “This’ll be a real treat, then.”

In Keldara Georgian, he added, “Don’t tell him that you think it’s the slops, right?”

“No, Michael,” Kat said in the same language. “We want the foolish Americans to keep buying our swill!” But she said it with a smile.

The beers arrived, along with huge pieces of warm cornbread, which neither Stasia nor Kat had ever tried before; Kat enjoyed it, but Stasia found it too sweet for her taste. Then came the lightly breaded, spicy crabs, quickly devoured by all, once Mike showed the girls how to handle them, and the clam chowder, another new experience for the women. Both seemed to enjoy the soup, and as she chased the last spoonful around the cup, Kat asked, “What is a New England clam bake?”

Before Mike could answer, the waitress returned, with help.

She was carrying a huge plate, and her trailer carried another. They were piled high with steamers still in their opened shells; bright red lobsters, drawn butter, baby boiled potatoes, and corn on the cob. They set the plates down, and the waitress said, “Still hungry? Or this scare you?”

“Got any crackers?” asked Mike.

“Just this,” she replied, pulling out a small hammer. “Crackers are for wimps.”

Mike tied the cheesy, but necessary, plastic bib around his neck, picked up the hammer, grabbed his lobster, and gave the crusher claw a good rap. The shell shattered; he passed the hammer to Kat while he finished breaking it open, pulling out the meat. She attempted to imitate his swift, firm blow, but barely managed to crack the tough shell. She tried again, harder, and missed the claw entirely. The loud thunk was largely drowned by the noise of the now-crowded restaurant, but she blushed furiously anyway. Mike decided not to comment.

All too soon, the lunches were gone. The steamers weren’t too popular with the women, and the boiled potatoes were universally ignored, but the rest of the meal was polished off.

That was a New England clam bake,” finally answered Mike. “Tradition says it’s supposed to be done on a beach, with rocks and seaweed, but I don’t think they do that here. It was a way for early settlers to cook a number of different foods at once with the limited kitchen hardware they had.”

“It was very good, Michael,” said Stasia. “I haven’t had lobster since the Bahamas. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.”

“Yes, delicious!” added Kat. “Especially the lobster! Would it be too difficult to get at home?”

“It won’t be easy,” hedged Mike. “The best lobsters come from this area of the world. But I’m sure we can manage to get some, sometimes.”

“Now where?” said Hughes.

“We have about six hours before the game. I thought we’d take the time to walk across town, through the Commons and the Public Gardens, maybe along Newbury Street. It’s a good day, so the observation tower in the Prudential ought to be open.”

He was right; it was a good day to walk. As they passed through the city, he pointed out as many landmarks as he could remember: Government Center in Scollay Square, along Beacon Street, past the State House with its golden dome; into and across Boston Common, just beginning to green, but with early-season sun worshippers dotted along the hill; across Charles and into the Public Gardens. There, they explored for a while, searching.

“When I was a kid,” explained Mike, “There was a book, called Make Way for Ducklings. It was set here, in the Public Gardens, and I had heard that bronze statues of the ducks were placed somewhere in here.”

Along the way, they crossed over what announced itself to be “The World’s Shortest Suspension Bridge” over the pond. Finally, in the northeast corner, by the gate at the corner of Charles and Beacon, they found it. Nine bronze ducks, one about three feet tall, the others each about a foot tall, stretched in a long line across old cobblestones.

“They all had names,” said Mike. “That has to be Mrs. Mallard,” pointing to the largest statue. “One of the chicks is Jack, and another was Quack, but I’ll be damned if I remember the rest.”

“Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack,” supplied a grinning Hughes. “My mom used to read that book to me, and since one was named Jack…”

Kat sat on Mrs. Mallard’s back. “Mike, come here, stand behind me. Stasia? Will you take our picture?”

*

Thirty minutes later, Kat was leaning back into Mike’s arms in the observation deck of the Prudential. Stasia reacted to the shops on Newbury Street like a cat to catnip. Kat, fortunately, had resisted, so it was left to Hughes to follow Stasia along the boutique-lined street.

“Just make sure they can have it delivered to the hotel!” was all Mike could get out before she had run across the street, dodging traffic, Hughes close at her heels.

The Pru was just a short distance away. They entered through the shops on the ground floor, making a quick stop at l’Occitane (“Finest soaps in the world,” promised Mike, without mentioning that, the last time he had been near a l‘Occitane location, it was in danger of being nuked) and a cart selling Russian nesting dolls, called matryoshka. Inspiration had struck him, and he had a quick, whispered conversation with the attendant, who then selected four of the dolls for Mike to examine. He looked at all, then bought the second and tucked it away. They bought their tickets and were soon up the elevator to the 50th floor.

“Why do you bring us to Boston?”

“For a ballgame,” he answered immediately.

She faced him. “Really why.”

He turned her back and wrapped his arms around her slim waist.

“For all its problems, for all of the idiocies of its people and politicians, this is the birthplace of America. The Declaration wasn’t signed here, and the war wasn’t won here, I know. But down there -”

He pointed to the Old South Meeting House.

“The first real act of rebellion started, the Boston Tea Party. Just there -”

He pointed again, this time to a street corner.

“The first blood was shed for freedom, the Boston Massacre. Off in that direction -”

And he turned her to the northwest.

“Lie Lexington and Concord, the first battlegrounds. Bunker Hill, you can see the monument, looks like the Washington Monument? And Old Ironsides, the U.S.S. Constitution? Down there, still in fighting trim, ready to defend this country against her enemies.”

He stopped for a moment.

“By American standards, this is an old city. And she wears her history well. Not even the revisionists dare to touch what the Bostonians have preserved. I want you to feel some of that, because if the Constitution and Bill of Rights are, historically, this country’s heart, then here is the country’s soul. Nothing politicians do can change that.”

Kat was silent, briefly. Then, turning, she put her hands behind Mike’s head and kissed him thoroughly.

“Thank you,” she said when she finally released him. “I begin to understand. Mostly. I think. But one thing I do not.”

“Yeah?”

“Baseball.”

“Oh, crap.” He took her hand. “Come on. If I have to explain baseball, I need a drink.”

*

“ …so that’s the Infield Fly rule,” Mike finally concluded.

They were two floors up, in the aptly named Top of the Hub restaurant. He was on his third Tiger, while Katrina was making do with a Coke, as she’d been carded and, being under twenty-one, wasn’t old enough to drink here. Mike thought about telling the server that Kat had probably drunk more in her life than he had but refrained.

“Ah. Even if he drops the ball, the batter is out.”

“Yeah.”

She sighed. “It is confusing.”

“Yeah, it is. It’s the ‘national pastime,’ though, and you’re going to see it in one of the oldest parks in the country, a century old.”

“My Family home is older than that!”

“Different culture, different rules, remember?” He looked at his watch. “Hungry?”

“A little.”

“How about some pizza?”

She made a face; pizza hadn’t caught on in the Valley, despite the Chief’s efforts. It could be because Adams insisted that he make the dough and sauce himself, from scratch, only made two kinds, cheese or pepperoni, and the results usually ranged from disgusting to inedible.

“Not like the Chief makes. I promise you.” He paid for the drinks and they headed for the lifts. “This will be the real deal.”

And so it was. A short ride on a Green Line trolley got them to North Station, and a five-minute walk brought them to Regina Pizzeria. Mike called Stasia before they entered.

“Done shopping yet?”

“I think, yes,” she said. He could hear the smile in her voice. “A bigger plane might be needed.”

“Sure hope not. Did you pick it up?”

“Yes, it was ready. They were reluctant to part with it without a proper sizing, but they understood the need. If you need it altered, they will do it tomorrow for you.”

“Great. We’re at Regina Pizzeria, in the North End.” He explained how to get there. “See you soon.”

The interior was a Hollywood set designer’s dream. Tables of all sizes were scattered through an oddly shaped room. The yellow walls were covered with photos, menus, signs, and awards. The smell of the brick oven hung heavy in the air.

They managed to get a table, explained that two more would be coming, and ordered, drinks first, then the pizzas.

As they waited for the drinks, Kat asked, “What did you have Stasia pick up, Michael?”

He was prepared for the question; he’d figured she’d be listening in. “I thought we should bring some copies of the duckling book back for the Keldara kids.”

I’d better get some on the plane! he thought.

The drinks in hand, talk turned to the next day.

“The show I want to bring you to isn’t until Thursday night, so we can spend another day here in Boston if you want, or we can just head to St. Louis. There’s more to see here, and I’m sure there’s plenty to see there, too.”

“I think I would like another day here.”

“Suits. Oh, there you are,” he said to the approaching Stasia and Hughes. “Finished stimulating the local economy?”

“For now,” she replied, sitting. “Though there are a few shops I would like to return to.”

“Katrina and I were just discussing that, and I think we’ll stay here another day. Jack? Any problems on your end with that?”

“None at all. As I said, I’m assigned to you as long as you’re here, so where you go, I go. Not often I get this kind of duty, either, and I’m enjoying it!”

Just then, the pizzas arrived. The crusts were browned and irregular from the hand-tossed dough.

“I ordered their Classico and something called a Giambotta,” Mike said. “The Classico is the one with pepperoni, mushroom, and artichokes; the other one has pepperoni, sausage, salami, mushrooms, peppers, onions. They say they make the dough, sauce, and sausage here, if that matters to you. Dig in.”

He took one of the oversized slices from the Giambotta, folded it, and took a bite. A smile of contentment spread across his face.

“Ahhh.”

Pizzas demolished and bill paid, Mike said, “Well? How do you feel about pizza now?”

“If the Chief could do half as well…!”

“I must get their recipes! Then give them to the Chief, no, Mother Savina.” said Stasia, standing.

“I’ll be back,” and off she marched, a determined look on her face.

“Got to admit, this is the best pizza I’ve had in a long, long time,” added Hughes. “Wonder if they deliver to DC?”

The conversation flowed as they waited for Stasia. After ten minutes, Mike was about ready to go search for her when she reappeared, an envelope in hand.

“You got them?” he asked wonderingly.

She nodded.

“All three? Dough, sauce, sausage?”

She nodded again.

He looked at his watch. “Really quick for a blow,” he commented in Georgian.

“Michael!”

*

The cabbie dropped them in Kenmore Square.

“Close as I can get, folks, unless you want to sit in traffic ten minutes. But the park’s about two minutes’ walk that way,” he commented. They chose to walk.

The crowds were like nothing the ladies had ever seen. Even DC paled by comparison with the waves of humanity heading for the old park that day. Hundreds and hundreds, thousands, dressed in team apparel – even a few in the visitor‘s uniforms – colors clashing as the teams would soon, with a universal, anticipatory feeling, gave the walk almost the air of a festival. Over the crowd, Mike tried to answer questions.

“How many will there be?” asked Stasia nervously.

“It’s Opening Day, and this team usually sell out, so thirty-six, thirty-seven thousand.”

“All to see a game?” she squeaked.

“You have to remember, Stasia, about baseball and the Red Sox, in particular: the fans are loyal. The English ‘fan’ comes from the same root as ‘fanatic,’ and these people prove it. Every year, every game, they come out to cheer on their home team.” He chuckled. “I’ve heard it’s even worse, now they’ve actually won the Series.”

“Series?” asked Kat.

“World Series. They’ve won a couple times this century. Before that? 1918 was the last time they had won, and some people said -” His explanation of the Curse of the Bambino brought them past the entrance gate, and disbelieving looks to their faces.

“Are they really so foolish?”

“Seriously? No. Probably not. But it made for a hell of a story and a great excuse for all the years they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.” He stopped in a quieter part of the concourse. “Everyone got their ticket? Good. Stasia, stay with Jack. Kat, you’re with me. We’ll meet at our suite.”

“Suite?” asked Hughes.

“Yeah. We’re in the Legends Suite, upstairs.”

Mike and Kat began to wander around the concourse, chatting.

“Shouldn’t they be sitting down?”

“Coming to the game is an event, almost a religious experience, for some of these people. They call themselves the ‘Fenway Faithful’ and ‘Red Sox Nation.’ Being here is important to them, and they take their time and wander around, doing what we’re doing: looking, talking, maybe meeting someone they know.”

“What is there to look at? All I see are people selling things, food, drink, toys?”

“That’s part of it They’ll look to see what they want to get for a souvenir, or what beers they carry, or -”

“Do they sell our beer here?”

“I don’t think we can get a Tiger here, not yet anyway. Maybe sometime soon. As I was saying. People also just want to see who else is here, how they’re dressed. Can’t you feel it?”

She had to admit, there was something about the atmosphere that was different. She concentrated and it came to her.

“They’re all smiling!” she said suddenly. “Everyone! Why? They can’t all have such good lives?”

“You’re right, they can’t. But here, and now, especially today, they can. It’s Opening Day. The whole season, and baseball has a long, long season. It runs six months of the year and mostly outdoors. The season is stretched out before them. Today, anything is possible. Last year? Forgotten. Tomorrow? Not here yet. Right now, for these few hours, everyone here can dream about being part of something special, something memorable, something that they can tell their kids, ‘I was at Fenway when…’ It’s unique, and it’s priceless.” He paused as they reached a table and sat down.

“Among all the major sports, baseball is unique for the way the game is played. Baseball is the only sport that isn’t ruled by a clock; instead, they use outs, and innings. There’s no set time a game will last. It could be an hour and a half; it could be four hours. It’s timeless. Baseball is the only game where the defense controls the ball. In baseball, you don’t score a run with the ball itself; it’s the action of a player that causes the run when he crosses home plate. And you don’t have to be a freak of nature to play it. Sure, it helps to be strong, and coordinated, but you don’t have to have hands the size of oven mitts to hold the ball or be the size of a sumo wrestler. It’s a game for ordinary people to take time out from their working lives and enjoy.” He noted the movement of the crowd. “I think we should head up.”

A few minutes’ walk, and a quick elevator ride, brought them up to the suite level. A well-dressed attendant checked their tickets at the elevator and welcomed them with a smile.

“Just down the hall. You can’t miss it,” she said.

They didn’t. They entered the suite and Kat gasped. It was a large room, with off-white walls and wood paneling. A luxurious dark blue carpet lay across the floor. At the back was a full bar; along the wall, clever alcoves allowed a variety of seating; and at the front, floor-to-ceiling windows that opened out onto a private seating section and Fenway Park. There were a number of people already in the room. Two were obviously attendants in uniform. There was also an older, dignified-looking black man, and the rest were guests, chattering and laughing. Stasia and Jack were absent.

One of the attendants came up and said, “Good evening, sir, ma’am. My name’s Eric, and I’m one of your hosts today, and Meghan, behind the bar, is the other. Welcome to the Legends Suite at Fenway Park.”

“Thanks,” answered Mike, looking around.

“First visit to the suite?”

“First time in Fenway,” Mike said. “Both of us.”

“Then we have to make it memorable for you! Meghan,” he called to the other attendant. “We’re going on the tour. Back in a bit.”

Mike tried to object, but the young man waved him off.

“Seeing Fenway from the inside isn’t something to miss,” he said. “We’ve missed batting practice, but maybe I can get you into the clubhouse. Let’s try there first.”

Leading the way out, he pulled out a radio. “Clubhouse, this is Legends.”

“Clubhouse.”

“Hey Tim, I’ve got two VIPs up here who’ve missed BP. They have time to visit the clubhouse?”

“If you get your ass right down.”

“On our way.” He faced Mike. “Good news! We can do a quick clubhouse tour. They usually close up a half hour before game time, so we’ve got a few minutes.”

“Clubhouse?” said Kat.

“Where the players wait before the game,” Mike explained.

Down the elevator, through the crowds and a locked door that stated, “Authorized Personnel Only,” down a concrete corridor, the old walls soaked in tradition and a strangely familiar musty odor, and they were at the clubhouse. He opened the door, and a wave of sound washed over them, music, voices, laughter.

“I don’t know how many you’ll get to meet, it’s pretty crazy in here just before a game, but, oh, there’s Mike Lowell, he’s usually pretty good. Hey, Mike!” he called across the room.

The player, a spare man with a pepper-and-salt goatee, warm eyes and an inviting smile, replied, “Eric! What brings you down here?”

“Some folks I’d like you to meet. Mike Lowell, this is Mike -”

“Jenkins,” supplied Mike smoothly. “And Kat Devlich, my fiancée.”

“Always happy to meet another Mike,” quipped Lowell, coming across and shaking hands. “And the pleasure is all mine, Miss Devlich.”

“You are a player?” asked Kat.

Lowell looked quizzically at Mike.

“Her first game,” he supplied.

Lowell nodded. “Yes, I’m the third baseman for the Sox. Or at least I am as long as this hip holds up,” he added ruefully.

“That sucks,” said Mike knowingly. “Hope it doesn‘t slow you up too much.”

“Tito’s got me in the lineup, so I’m off to a good start.”

“Good luck out there today, man.”

“Thanks. Papi!” Lowell called. A very large black man turned from his locker, which was blasting music. “Come say hello!”

Shirt unbuttoned, the player came over. If anything, his smile was even bigger than Lowell’s.

“Mike, Kat, meet David Ortiz. We call him Big Papi. David, Mike Jenkins and his fiancée, Kat Devlich.”

Kat looked up at Ortiz, who dwarfed her much more petite frame.

“He is big,” she said in Keldaran.

Ortiz laughed loudly. “I’m not so scary once you know me,” he said with an accent.

“Dominican?” said Mike.

“Si,” he replied, engulfing Mike’s hand. “You know the island?”

“Spent some time there, doing this and that.”

“What d’you do now?”

“Make beer, Mountain Tiger.”

“The best!” exclaimed Ortiz. “Can’t never get enough of it, though. Did you know that, Mikey?”

Lowell had to shake his head.

“You make the Tiger? Man, I knew I liked you for some reason!” He grinned. The players were starting to gather equipment; the clubhouse buzzing with anticipation. “Hey, we’ve got to run, got a game to play, you know. You going to be around after the game?”

“For a day or so,” said Mike, shaking hands again. He dug in a pocket. “We’re in the Legends Suite tonight, and then around the town tomorrow. My sat phone’s on there, you can give me a call if you want.”

“What I want is to win this game!” yelled Ortiz, drawing a ragged cheer from the departing players.

“Might, at that,” said Lowell.

“If nothing else, I’ll get a couple cases of Tiger sent down here. I warn you, it might spoil you for anything else.”

“With this crew? I’ll take that chance,” laughed Lowell. “Good meeting you.”

With that, Lowell and Ortiz turned away to make their final game preparations.

The rest of the tour flew by. Eric showed them the ancient manual scoreboard, with graffiti and signatures adorning the concrete walls; the red seat in the bleachers where Ted Williams hit the longest home run in Fenway history, pushing past other fans to get them right up to it.

“Five hundred and two feet,” he said, as proudly as if he’d hit it himself. Next he took them to the Players Club, where the World Series trophies were displayed and had their pictures taken; and finally back up to the suite.

“Sorry I couldn’t show you more, but I didn’t think you’d want to miss the first pitch,” he said as they reentered the room.

“No problem,” said Mike. “It was something else.”

A quick glance revealed Hughes and Stasia, seated with two other people at a table. “Looks like our friends are back.”

“Great! If you need anything else, just let me know,” said Eric, then drifted off into the crowd.

“Where have you been?” demanded Stasia. “We got lost!”

“Lost?”

“Yeah,” Hughes said. “We ended up on the broadcast level somehow. A guy named Remy brought us back down, once we explained we were looking for the Legends Suite.”

“Why did they call him Rem-Dawg?” asked Stasia.

“No idea,” admitted Mike.

“I think he’s one of the television announcers, though. Named Jerry Remy.” He shrugged and sat. “Rem-Dawg, huh?”

“You met Remy?” said the man. He was probably in his sixties, with curly hair and beard which had turned nearly white, glasses, and a look about him that said, “I may be retired, but I’m still serious.”

“I guess so.”

“Michael, please meet our new friends. This is Lewis Barry, and his wife, Marilyn.” The woman smiled a greeting. “Lewis, Marilyn, Michael Jenkins and Katrina Devlich.”

Mike reached across to shake Lewis’ hand. “Please, call me Mike. Stasia and my mother are the only people who ever say ‘Michael.’”

“And I’m Lew. Pleased to meet you, Mike. Anastasia was telling us that you’re in beer?”

“Not as often as I’d like,” and they all laughed. “Yeah, I’m a partner in the company that makes Mountain Tiger beer.”

“I’ve seen it here and there but have never tried it. Pretty expensive stuff.”

“We think it’s worth every penny. Plus, we have to export it from Georgia, the country, and that runs most of the cost up.” By now, Mike had left his original cover story of a retired widget-maker behind, it having been too vague and too open to incorrect interpretations. “What do you do, Lew?”

“I’m retired, now, but I was a buyer for an appliance retailer for years.”

“And you, Marilyn?”

“Retired, too, after my second career as a lawyer.”

“Second career?” asked Katrina.

“I was a teacher after college, but I stopped teaching when I had my sons. I went back to school after they left home, got my JD, and worked for the public defender’s office for a few years.”

“You stopped work, and then did something else? Wasn’t that difficult?”

“Some. But the law had always interested me, and I wanted to do something for the common good.”

Mike tuned out the women’s discussion and turned to Lew.

“What do you think about the Sox’ chances this year?”

*

The game was, well, baseball. When the second baseman, Pedroia, hit a home run in the bottom of the first, both Kat and Stasia retreated into the suite, covering their ears, deafened by the roar of the crowd. And when Varitek, the catcher, hit one in the bottom of the sixth to put the Sox up 5-1, the roar nearly split Mike’s head.

In between, they talked with Lew and Marilyn, Lew explaining many of the finer points of the game to Stasia and Kat, nibbled, with Lew insisting they each have a Fenway Frank, and relaxed. At one point, when the television which was tuned to the game had a shot of the announcers, Stasia practically leapt out of her seat, saying, “That’s him!” and pointing.

“That’s Remy,’ confirmed Lew.

They met Jim Rice, who was the ‘Legends’ host for the evening. He sat down with them for quite some time, talking mostly to Lew, who had been a Sox fan since the early Fifties.

It took some persuading, and a considerable tip, but Mike finally convinced Eric to find and bring back a case of Tiger from outside the park to share with the other guests in the suite. All agreed that it was the best they had ever had, even Lew.

The final highlight was in the eighth inning, when a pair of boxes arrived and were presented to Mike and Kat. Attached to one was a card, which read, “For the couple who gives us beer, something to remember your friends on the Red Sox.” Inside were a pair of team jackets, each embroidered with their names. Surprisingly, they fit.

“I’ve gotta send them that beer now,” said Mike, admiring Katrina.

The game ended with a win, and music started playing.

“What’s that song?” said Stasia.

“’Dirty Water’ by the Standells,” said Lew. “It’s from the Sixties. The Sox have adopted it as their victory song; they play it after every home win.”

“Like, what was it, ‘Sweet Caroline’?”

“Something like that.”

With a few more words, Lew and Marilyn left, declining an invitation for a round of drinks (“No, we have a long drive back to Maine”). Eventually, they were the last ones in the suite, still talking.

“I think it’s time to go,” said Mike, finally. “What do you think?”

“It is different,” ventured Stasia.

“I understand what you were saying, Michael. At least, I think I do,” said Kat. “I enjoyed it, though.”

“What about you, Jack?”

He had the decency to look sheepish as he admitted, quietly, “Tell the truth, I’m a Yankees fan.”

*

The crowds leaving the park were almost worse than going in, having had nine innings‘ worth of beer and a Sox victory to buoy their spirits. There weren’t nearly enough cabs, and the queues around the Green Line stops were ridiculous. They walked south along Yawkey Way and through the Fens to a much less crowded station, Mike and Katrina wearing their new jackets. At the end of the walk they jumped on an almost-empty trolley and enjoyed the ride back toward the hotel. Unfortunately, this line didn’t quite get them to the hotel, and they ended up walking another easy half-mile through the deserted Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

At the hotel, Mike said, “I’m not ready to hit the sack. Anyone want to hang out with me?”

Stasia spoke first. “Not I, Michael. The game was exhausting!”

Hughes said, “I might -”

An elbow interrupted him. “That is, I might turn in too.”

Kat missed the byplay; Mike didn’t.

“Katrina?”

“I’ll keep you company. For a while, at least.” Taking her arm, he guided her into the Oceana’s lounge.

“Still open?” he asked the lone bartender, sitting down.

“Yes, sir, for quite a while.”

“Kitchen?”

He checked the clock behind. “A little while yet.”

“Oysters? Kat?”

“I’ve never tried them, but I will.”

“A dozen oysters, and a shrimp cocktail, just in case.”

“Very good. And drinks?”

“No more beer tonight, Michael,” said Kat.

“What’s your best drink?” he asked.

“I’d say the Wicked Good Mojito. Or would the lady prefer something sweet? I make a mean Chocolate Milkshake Martini.”

“Ooh, yes!”

“Those sound good. Mojito for me, martini for her.”

“Right away.” He turned to pull liquors off the shelf.

“How’d you like the baseball game?” Mike asked.

“A little confusing, but fun! I’m glad we got to meet the players. Everyone was so excited, though. And loud!”

“I told you. Fanatics,” he grinned. The drinks were placed before them.

“Cheers,” he toasted, and took a sip. “You’re right, that is wicked good. How’s yours, Kat?”

“Very sweet, just what I wanted.” In Keldaran, she added, “Why did he not ask for my age, like the other place?”

In the same language, he replied, “Not too many minors come in here trying to get a drink, most likely. Or maybe you look older to him. You want me to ask?” he finished, mischievously.

“No!”

They sipped their drinks then, talking over the game. Kat showed an amazing grasp of the basics, but some of the details she had questions about. The barkeep, who introduced himself as Will, joined in, and shortly an animated discussion ensued until the food arrived.

“They aren’t cooked!” she said, looking at the oysters lying in their shells.

“Nope. Best way to have ‘em,” answered Mike, picking one up. “Try one. Just put the shell to your lips, tip it up, and let it slide in. Like this.” And he demonstrated.

Nervously, she took one.

“I’ll try,” she said, and popped it into her mouth. Her face wrinkled in displeasure, but she swallowed.

“Eww!” she exclaimed, taking a hasty drink. “Yuck! Salty, slimy, how can you eat them?”

“It’s an acquired taste,” he admitted.

“One I shall not be acquiring, then!”

“Suit yourself. More for me. You can enjoy the shrimp.” Those were much more to her liking, and the food disappeared quickly. When the plates had been cleared away, Mike said, “I have something for you.”

“Did you pick me up a souvenir?”

“Sort of,” he replied, taking a wrapped box from his pocket.

“What is it?” she said, shaking it slightly. It rattled.

“Open it.”

Eager as a child at Christmas, Kat tore the paper off and opened the box. Out came the matryoshka Mike had bought earlier in the day, a colorful depiction of a black-haired Russian peasant girl on the outside.

“Oh, how adorable! We played with these as children, though ours weren’t this new, or this detailed,” and she opened the first doll. The second nesting doll was similar, with a brown-haired girl.

“Keep going,” urged Mike.

The third doll had blonde hair, and the fourth had red hair.

“Like me!” she said.

“Yes, just like you. Go on, open that one.”

“One more, yes?” The fourth doll was only a couple inches tall. She pulled it apart, and gasped. “Michael!”

Inside was a ring, a deep blue sapphire, set in white gold and flanked by two diamonds on each side.

Taking her hands in his, Mike said, “In America, it is customary for the bride-to-be to wear an engagement ring before her wedding. I realize that we won’t have a particularly long engagement, but I thought you deserved a ring.”

“It’s beautiful!”

“Try it on. Here, this finger,” holding her right ring finger. The ring slid easily down.

“One very important thing.”

“What?”

“On our wedding day, you’ll move the ring from this hand to the other before the ceremony. Then I’ll place the wedding band on the same finger.”

“This is really going to happen, isn’t it?”

“It is.”

She wrapped herself around him. “I love you so much, Michael.”

“I love you, Kat.”

Published by gaffen620

Author of The Cassidy Chronicles. Lives in Colorado with many dogs, cats, and one very patient wife.

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