Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Baseball Thief (Short story)


This is a Fiction Short Story published a while back...

Jimmy Gaines swatted his pant leg with his cane when he saw the Plexiglas-encased 1939 baseball signed by Babe Ruth was missing.

"Kenny! Kenny, where are you? You and that damn monkey will be the death of me. Kenny!"

Jimmy stuck his head out the window overlooking the back alley.

"Kenny!"

"Yes, sir?" Kenny stood shirtless, batting a tennis ball against the alley wall.

"My Babe Ruth ball—"

"What?"

"My ball!"

"Yes, sir?"

"Oh, for goodness sake. Get up here, will you, please!"

Jimmy limped to his easy chair and set his cane against the TV table. He could hear Kenny banging his way up the three flights of stairs.

"Yes, sir?" Kenny barged into the room, pulling his shirt on over his head.

"Take a look over at my memorabilia hutch."

Kenny turned around and stared at the glass enclosed shrine, framed photos of baseball players, service metals from the Marines, a 1967 Red Sox jersey worn by Carl Yastrzemski.

"Notice anything missing?"

"No."

"My Babe Ruth ball!"

"Huh?"

"It’s missing." Jimmy raised an eyebrow. "You wouldn’t know anything about that?"

"No."

"Just because I let you come up here, tell you stories, and let you bring that monkey up here—"

"You said I could bring Milo on a leash."

"What I didn’t say is that you could help yourself to my memorabilia."

Kenny stood back, eyes wide.

"Honest, Jimmy. I wouldn’t take any of your stuff."

Jimmy leaned back in the chair. "That’s not the first thing I’ve noticed missing. I’ve had other stuff taken from my collection. I thought perhaps I’d misplaced them."

"What?"

"A few of my service ribbons."

"You’re blaming me?" Kenny took a step toward the door, his hand on his chest.

"Now, don’t get in a huff. Perhaps that monkey of yours."

"Milo couldn’t take anything without me knowing it."

"Maybe, he gets loose. Runs around the yard, sees an open window and makes his way in."

"No."

"You don’t watch him every minute do you? Monkeys are infamous for their curiosity, is all I’m saying."

"Maybe there’s a thief in the building," Kenny suggested.

"That’s exactly what I was thinking."

"It can’t be Milo. He’s a good monkey. What about Buddy Brown? He’d take anything."

"Buddy Brown from down the street? Hardly. What would he be doing way up here in my old apartment? No, Kenny, it’s somebody we know, with access to this building. Someone with a key."

"Gee."

Jimmy leaned in at the boy. "'Gee' is right."

"Who, besides me, has a key?" Kenny asked.

Jimmy’s eyes locked onto Kenny’s.

"You still think it was me?"

Jimmy eased back in his chair, putting his gouty foot on the ottoman.

"So, that’s it, huh? You think I’m a dirty rotten criminal!"

"Kenny!"

"You think I’d do a thing like that? After I help you all the time? Well, forget you!"

Kenny walked to the door. "You’re a mean old man!"

"No! Kenny, wait! Don’t leave. Please!"

Kenny stood with his hand on the door handle.

"I haven’t been myself lately. I’m sick, Kenny. You can understand that."

"That doesn’t make me a criminal. I thought we were friends!"

"We are, Kenny. We are friends. Please don’t run off."

Kenny put his hand to the back of his neck and stared at Jimmy.

"I haven’t been sleeping well, you know. Up all hours of the night. Feel like I’m not getting any sleep."

"Why don’t you take some pills?"

"I have, Kenny. I have all these pills the doctor gave me."

Jimmy reached into his robe pocket and pulled out a fist full of small prescription bottles. Kenny took a few steps into the living room.

"What are they for?"

"Oh, for everything under the sun. It’s no fun getting old, Kenny. You're lucky you have Milo to keep you company. I’m all alone up here. Except for visits from you and the monkey."

Kenny took another step into the room.

"Oh, I have my memories, the First Marines, Korea, my medals and all. But they are poor company on a cold night. Remember that story I told you about winning my Purple Heart? About getting shot."

"Yeah, tell me about Korea again!" Kenny stood at attention, did a smart salute. "Captain Jim Gaines, reporting as ordered, Sir!" Kenny took a bullet in the stomach and fell to the floor, crawled slowly over to Jimmy. "I’m hit. You gotta help me, Doc!"

Jimmy howled with laughter, picked up his cane and shot Kenny.

"Oh, you got me!" Kenny sprawled out on the floor, dead.

Jimmy sat quiet for a second. A tear glazed his eye as he watched the boy pop to his feet. He wiped his eye with his index finger and sat up straight.

"You know, I’ve been thinking, Kenny. Since we know it couldn’t be you and that stinky monkey of yours."

"Milo!"

"Yes, Milo. Why don’t we set a trap?"

"What kind of a trap? Like one the marines would do?"

"No. I’ve got something better in mind. You know how they are always monitoring babysitters and ATM machines with cameras?"

"A hidden camera! Cool!"

"We can set it up over there." Jimmy pointed to a bureau above the memorabilia hutch. "I’ll leave out something shiny for them to try and take."

"And then we play it back for the police!"

Jimmy slapped his good leg, laughing out loud. "Something like that."

"We’ve got a video camera I can use."

"Excellent. We’ll set the trap tonight. You bring the camera, I’ll set up the loot."

"Deal!"

They shook hands. Kenny winked and Jimmy nodded in agreement.

"Show me again how you die."

Kenny took a hit to the chest and fell to the floor in a lump as Jimmy howled with laughter.

That evening they positioned the video camera and set it on slow record. Jimmy left the door of the memorabilia hutch open.

Jimmy had a rough night of sleep. He tossed and turned until nearly 3:00 a.m. when he finally passed out from exhaustion.

The next morning, when he noticed his Purple Heart medal missing, he felt dubious—like that morning was an evil Christmas. His heart sunk when he rewound the tape and watched the images that appeared in the view screen. At first it was just black, then as the monkey pulled away from the screen, he could see Kenny, Milo riding his back, as he poked around in the memorabilia. Milo turned and shot a big-toothed grin at the camera.

Jimmy stopped the tape, sat down hard on his chair, and slapped his cane on the floor. The boy is all I’ve got, he thought. How can I lose him now?

When Kenny came upstairs with Milo riding his back, it was as if they’d stepped out from the video viewfinder. Jimmy sat stony faced and silent as the guilty pair entered the apartment.

"I’m glad you’re awake, Jimmy. I was worried about you," Kenny said, as Milo ran down his arm to the floor.

"Worried? Why?"

"I was afraid you’d hurt yourself."

"Oh, really?"

"Man, you can sleep!"

Jimmy sat up, smacked the cane on the floor. Milo let out a yelp and ran up Kenny’s arm.

"I saw the tape, Kenny. I saw you and that stinking monkey of yours helping yourself to my things."

"How could you?"

"It’s on the tape."

"We tried to wake you. I yelled and yelled. I shook your arm. We couldn’t wake you up!"

"What are you talking about?"

"I’ll show you." Kenny grabbed the videotape out of the camera and plugged it into an adaptor for the TV and turned it on. Milo and Kenny appeared on the screen as before, but when they stepped aside, Jimmy walked into the picture, took the Purple Heart and walked away with it. The camera followed Jimmy as he put the medals into a box, slid it under his bed, and crawled under the covers. Kenny’s voice could be heard asking Jimmy to please wake up, but Jimmy was like a stone.

"Oh," Jimmy said. "I know that box. It was a gift from my wife. To hold my keepsakes. Kenny, I don’t know what to say. It was me the whole time?"

"That’s okay, Jimmy. We all make mistakes. My dad sleepwalks sometimes, after he has a few beers."

Kenny took the bottles of medicine from his pocket and looked at one in particular.

"Thanks, Kenny. For not running away when I thought it was you."

"That’s all right, Jimmy. I know how it is."

Milo ran up Kenny’s arm and pulled something from his back pocket. The Babe Ruth ball fell to the floor. Jimmy and Kenny locked eyes.

"Oh, yeah. I was gonna hold onto this until you woke up."

Kenny handed Jimmy the ball.

"Thanks, Kenny. You’re a true friend."

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