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Flashback: Sox Populi

A short story for opening week
By JAMES MCLINDON AND SCOTT BURRIS  |  April 27, 2009

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This article originally ran in the April 14, 1989 issue of the Boston Phoenix

The October wind plays tricks on a man when the last breeze of summer meets the first chill of winter in the stands at Fenway Park. When other teams in other parks are playing out the World Series, the air in the Fens hangs heavy with failed hopes, and the vapors of a malevolent frustration issue forth to poison the dreams of the Olde Towne's troubled sleep. The ballyard looks almost innocent in the wan Indian-summer sun, though an unearthly chill often falls on those daring enough to pass beneath the shadow of the grandstand. When night falls and the harvest moon is full, even the hardiest bleacher bum, on a solitary midnight errand, will cross to the far side of Brookline Avenue and pull his cap brim low over his eyes, remembering the ghoulish stories of those who went too close to Fenway at Series time.

I kept my distance from the "friendly confines." The Sox had done things to me that no ball club should ever do to a fan. Even now, driving past the park at dawn, I was stung by the knowledge that tonight would bring the seventh game of a Sox-less World Series. Maybe it was better this way. After all, the Sox, when it really counted, always crumpled like a drunk under a billy club. Take the '88 playoffs. Please. This team had broken so many hearts so many times over so many years that rumor had it the boys at Mass General were perfecting a cardiac zipper.

So what did I care? The name's Long, Francis Xavier Long. I'm night watch-commander of Area D--the South End, Allston-Brighton, and the Fenway. I'd spent 20 years in this neighborhood sending the vermin who tried to destroy it--murderers, dealers, pimps--to jail. But they were nothing compared to my biggest failure. Tom Yawkey died in his bed.

I had just spent a long night at a murder-suicide scene. I'd figure out the who, the when, the how... And the why? You never quite dope that out, but a sawbuck says she just decided she couldn't live with him or without him and reached for the Ginsu.

I was counting on 10 minutes in the station and I'd be off like a prom dress for a couple of nightcaps and some shut-eye.

No such luck. As I wheeled onto Warren Avenue, I saw Tommy Des Peres, the deputy night watch-commander, waiting for me on the station-house steps. His back was straight; his eyes were clear and bright; his hands, clasped before him as if in prayer, were steady. Something--I wasn't sure what--was wrong. Then it hit me like a blackjack: he was sober.

"Tommy," I said, "What the hell's happened?"

Tommy hadn't spent four hours off the sauce since the Carmine Hose teased us in '86. He'd gone on the wagon when a guy named Henderson seemed to break the curse of generations with one swing of white ash, but then... why talk about it? You couldn't change the fact that now he was a haunted alcoholic, drinking to forget in one of the most rundown precincts in Beantown. And me? Why was I here? I could tell you it was 'Nam. I could tell you it was Rosalita. Anything but '86. All I knew was I needed filth, hopelessness, and corruption to feel truly alive, and I didn't have the pull to get assigned to the State House. Area D was second best.

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  Topics: Flashbacks , Baseball, John McNamara, Sports,  More more >
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