Tale of the Toppled Hurler: A Peter Hartwell Story
by Bruce A. Kauffman
c 2017 All rights reserved.
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His last adventure saw Peter Hartwell tied up and locked in the back seat of the Fat Man’s Infiniti and about to roll into the Charles River. Russell, the Fat Man’s compadre, shows up at last with a girl in tow. Wary about a witness, the Fat Man puts then kibosh on sending Hartwell to the watery grave. Now Hartwell and the Fat Man are taking off in the Infiniti…
Russell threw me into the back of the Infiniti and hopped into my Mustang. The fat man squeezed into the driver’s seat of the Infiniti and we took off. The Mustang was rocking from side to side as we left. Light opera came over our radio. It was “The H.M.S. Pinafore” by Gilbert and Sullivan.
“That’s Mario Lanza singing,” the fat man said. “You must remember Mario Lanza? Somewhere around here there’s a whole channel devoted to him and all the others he influenced…Bonnie Raitt’s father, John Raitt? Did you see ever see a picture of Lanza with his family? His son…? The guy looks just like you.”
“Mario Lanza’s son?” I said. “Can you tell from the picture if his personality is as pleasant as mine?”
The fat man pulled down his visor and opened a flap that lit up a mirror. I could see him examining his immaculate teeth. Orange and turquoise flashed in the distant sky in pastel, the colors tamped down by the low, dark clouds brooding overhead. We were coming up on the big HoJo’s sign beaming the colors onto Commonwealth Avenue.
When the operetta ended, the fat man started punching the radio dial like he was playing the piano in a honky-tonk bar. The stations whirred by thick and fast, carving out a melody only he could hear. There was fifties rock, jazz standards, divas of gospel, CNN, radio novelistas, classic vinyl.
“So Mario Lanza’s son,” I said. “A good looking guy?”
“Quite handsome,” the fat man said.
“You and your boy Russell,” I said. “More than just cellmates at Billerica?’
The fat man veered sharply into the HoJo’s driveway and brought the car to a stop behind the dumpster in the rear lot.
“You know,” I said to him, “you’re a very attractive man. And your teeth are just perfect.”
I’d never been gay before, but if it would get me out of this jam, it was all systems go. He wriggled out of the car, leaned over, and pulled the driver’s seat forward as far as it would go. It gave him just enough room to maneuver his girth into the back. The car shook as he plopped down beside me.
I held my bound wrists out to him. “Nothing but the best for you,” I said. “Two hands.”
With an outstretched arm and a grunt, he leaned way forward and opened the glove box. Breathing laboriously, he backed toward me. I shifted to avoid being sat on. Exhaling loudly, he produced a Swiss army knife and sawed my hands free.
He was unbuckling his belt when the knife fell to the floor. We both lunged for it like gridiron foes after a fumble. I emerged from the pile with the knife, rose up and plunged it at his heart. The blade bounced back at me as if off a trampoline, his fleshy shield impenetrable. He grabbed my wrist and twisted until I dropped the weapon.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “That was wrong.”
“I wouldn’t be worried about right and wrong and I’m sorry just now,” he said, “because you’re about to be gone. Even if I have to pull the trigger myself.”
“Whenever you’re ready,” I said.
The fat man fished a roll of duct tape from a pocket of his jacket, held it up with a sorry smile, and rolled the tape around my wrists. Then he reinforced the tape around the ankles. He pulled the lever that pushed the driver’s seat as far forward as it would go and blobbed his girth out the door, shutting it behind him. Headlights lit us up. Seconds later, the car door opened again and Marie fell in.
“We meet again,” I said.
She turned her purse upside down and picked a loose cigarette from the clutter. She was sifting through the contents when the door opened again and a white bag flew in, landing on the floor below me. I nudged the bag toward her with my nose.
“I know I had a lighter in here somewhere,” she said.
Being in a car filling up with smoke with the windows sealed tight was not how I wanted to die. I asked her to please refrain in the car.
“Then where would I smoke it?” she said.
“I smell bacon,” she said.
“It’s my Willie,” I said. “Unless the duct tape comes off, you’ll have to feed me.”
“Feed you?” she said.
I held up my bound hands. The fingers of my left hand were ensconced in the palm of the right, all of it a ball now in a stream of duct tape. She bent over and retrieved the white to-go bag from the floor board, lending me a pleasant view of her firm breasts. When she surfaced, she became entranced anew with the array of junk that had tumbled from her purse.
“Excuse me,” I said. “My last meal, if you please.”
“I could swear I had a lighter in here somewhere,” she said, pawing through the detritus.
“Marie?” I said. “Marie?”
“Excuse me…?” she said.
“My Gillante, please.”
She raised her eyebrows in recognition, apologized and dug into the white bag. Out came the sandwich. The cheese clung to the wrapping paper, which was adorned with the word, “Gee!”
There was a drawing in orange-colored ink of him delivering a pitch, the style distinct: back arched like a bow, the kick almost up to his waist, his eyes unwavering, trained on the target. You could see his number on the back of his jersey. Number 44, Willie “Gee” Gillante, hero, Hartsdalian, dead.
My stomach proved to be too queasy for the full meal and I invited Marie to finish my Gee and fries. She shook her head no, noting that the recollection of Bucky Dent’s home run had pretty much done her appetite in.
At my urging, she turned the purse upside down again to shake loose anything still lurking there, like a Swiss army knife. The effort produced a stray, bent, unsmoked cigarette, which she slipped between her lips. She re-inspected the stuff on the seat, sighing. She looked at me, took a deep breath, lifted my bound wrists to her mouth and chomped down on the ball of tape with her incisors. It made little difference.
“Got a light?” she said.
“No,” I shrugged. “Sorry.”
“I need a light,” she said.
I heard Russell yelling at the fat man. “After I whack this butt wipe, I quit.”
Marie banged hard on the window with her fists.
“I need a light,” she yelled out. “Roll down the freakin’ window.”
“What?” It was Russell’s voice. His tone was taunting.
She unfogged the window enough with her hand that we could see both Russell and the fat man, nearly toe-to-toe, halfway between us and the dumpster.
“My partner does not want anybody smoking in his car,” Russell called out.
Marie took off a shoe and smashed it against the window. Then there was a click, an unmeshing. Marie leaned over the back of the driver’s seat and jerked the door handle up and scrambled out. I lunged for my side, flung the door open and rolled onto the pavement. A second click sounded to re-lock the car. I writhed every which way to loosen myself from my duct-taped cage. I managed to pull myself up by the door handle and hopped furiously to the driveway and across the front lawn to the HoJo entrance.
“Stop, you fuck,” Russell called out.
Smiling at the hostess, I nodded toward the men’s room and, before she could object, sped that way, a ribbon of gray tape snaking behind me and making a swishing sound across the floor. The handicapped stall was empty and I went in, pulled the latch shut, balanced my feet on both sides of the toilet seat and examined the transom window. It was open half way and held in place with chains that were bolted to the frame. Below were the shrubs and bushes along the side of the driveway that led to the back lot.
I heard the men’s room door open, followed by Russell’s unmistakable voice, mean and gravelly: “Get the fuck outta there or I’ll blow your head to pieces,” he said.
“Finally,” I replied.
I pulled on the window chains until they broke from the fasteners. Russell was on his back now, halfway under the stall door. I boosted myself up, thrust my head through the window frame, and started wriggling. Russell leaped up and grabbed at my cross trainers. I kicked at him and, grunting loudly, thrust my torso through the window and fell, landing in a heap on the pavement below. I hid in the shrubbery.
Russell’s footsteps came on fast. He was rustling the bushes as I crawled away on all fours toward Commonwealth Avenue. At the sidewalk, I burst into as full a sprint as the tape would allow. “Someone,” I called into the night, “Dial nine-one-one.”
A bullet whizzed inches from my right ear. I dodged and weaved. I turned down an alley and spread myself against the side wall of a building. The Infiniti veered in my direction but passed me by. Then it made a hard u-turn and stopped right in front of me, blocking my way. Russell jumped out and pointed his gun at the space between my eyes. He stepped toward me, turned me around and marched me through the Infiniti’s passenger side door and into the rear seat, where he taped me up and left.
The fat man revved the car up and headed out of town. With a traffic, it was only minutes before we got to Braintree and onto Route 3 toward the Cape. “May I interest you in some dessert?” he said.
Bruce Kauffman was a longtime North County Times editor and writer with emphasis on business and sports. He now operates a writing consultancy and authors creative works. This is is from his latest effort, a work in progress, exclusively at The Grapevine. For more visit Oceanside Scribe.
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