"Don't hurt him, [Bad Cop]," Tommy said. After all these years, he still read from the script.
"I'll talk, whatever you want," the boy cried. Our eyes met and locked. Now I understood the terror percolating through the station like a giant Mr. Coffee of fear. His was a face few men could look at with a steady heart. My own ticker clutched like a BoSox short reliever's. The sunken eyes, the hollow cheeks, the greenish color--I'd seen it before, in 'Nam. It was the face of a Marine back from his hundredth day on point, a face ravaged by fear, by betrayal, by hopelessness--by the Red Sox.
"Why don't you tell me about it, son?"
Something in my wise, kindly tone of voice touched him, and he spoke, slowly and fearfully but steadily.
"I was sitting around the house last night watching the Series, and... and it was okay, but I couldn't help thinkin' about the Sox, how things might have been." A dark shadow of pain crossed his face. "None of us are askin' for a dynasty. But is it too much to want another 1918 before I die? Just one winner?" He wept.
If it were only drugs, or crime, or mental illness -- but rooting for the Sox... It's always their unrequited hopes that hurt 'em the worst. "It's okay, son. It's not too much to ask."
"I had to get outta the house. I just had to. You'll think I was on somethin', but I felt like Ned Martin was broadcastin' inside my head, tellin' me to take a seventh-inning stretch. Outside, it was even stronger. I found myself walkin' toward Fenway. I didn't want to go there." He was breathing hard. "I'd heard the stories, but I had to go there. I had to!"
"Sure you did, son."
"When I got to Kenmore Square it was wicked dark, dark as the American League cellar. All the streetlights were off. But even though there was no one there, I wasn't alone. There was a crowd around me. I was being jostled, pushed on toward the bleacher gate against my will. An invisible hand tried to lift my wallet. And the sound! I knew it was just car horns on the Turnpike but I swear it sounded like the organ in the park.
"I wanted to cry out for help, but my mouth felt like it was full of cotton candy." He scraped an unseen sugary tar off his lips. "Under the bleachers, there was daylight filterin' down the ramps, and an usher was there takin' tickets. Wait, I have the stub." He searched through his pockets.
"There was nothing on him but an old Sparky Lyle baseball card," Tommy said.
"I don't care what anybody says," the boy sniffled, "Sparky was the greatest."
Sure he was, I thought. So was Babe Ruth, so was Cecil Cooper, so was Bobby Ojeda--once the Sox traded them.
"I know I had that ticket," the boy said. "I must have dropped it in the bleachers. Ya gotta go back to look for it!"
"I believe you, kid," I lied. "Just tell me what happened."