Each week SportsGrid presents the latest chapter in our ongoing fiction series, Meaner Creatures. Minor League Baseball mascots are being murdered in increasingly brutal and macabre ways, and it’s up to a veteran sportswriter, a mysterious drifter and the gorgeous daughter of one of the teams’ owners to solve the mystery. Today, Chapter Ten: Hudson, We’ve Got a Problem.
Our story so far …
Chapter One: Bring Me The Head of Gobbles The Turkey.
Chapter Two: Dangerous Pants.
Chapter Three: May I See Some ID, Senor Beaver?
Chapter Four: Elephant Parking Only.
Chapter Five: The Funeral of Blowie the Whale.
Chapter Six: An Awful Idea From A Fallen World.
Chapter Seven: Meet The Destroyers.
Chapter Eight: Surf ‘N Turf.
Chapter Nine: Fire In The Hole.
What they’re saying about Meaner Creatures:
“Hilarious, masterful romp by one of America’s most gifted sports writers. Also a cautionary tale: if you can’t handle the heat, don’t dress up like a mascot.” — Matt Richtel, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Cloud and A Deadly Wandering.
“A story so frightening and intense, it could only be told in installments.” — Will Leitch, senior writer for Sports on Earth, and author of Are We Winning: Fathers and Sons and the New Golden Age of Baseball, God Save The Fan, Catch and Life As a Loser.
Chapter Ten: Hudson, We’ve Got A Problem
Sometimes the man searched his pockets for a cigarette, forgetting that beavers don’t smoke. Or have pockets.
He’d been in the mascot suit now for most of three days – since walking out of the county courthouse building. He’d attended the funeral of a mascot whale, in which most of the attendees were also wearing costumes. He’d taken a cab ride to Destroyer Stadium, paid for with a $10 loan from a costumed squirrel, and had talked his way into one of the equipment rooms, where he’d discovered how Gobbles the Turkey had met his demise.
Gobbles had been garroted by a device originally devised to cut precious gems: modified to fit inside the turkey’s head and slice a human neck by remote control. Oh, and the man had realized all this in a dream.
The stadium above was beginning to fill for that evening’s game, and the beaver – Dennis the Beaver, as he was known at his own stadium – took a seat on a folding chair in the back of the room to wait things out. He couldn’t leave now – that would attract too much attention. Beaver or man, he was sure both mugs were tacked up at the post office by now. He’d have to do his sleuthing late at night from now on.
Dennis leaned back against the chair and found himself wishing he had a cigarette. Somehow that comforted him. Because Dennis the Beaver had no idea who he was or why he was involved in any of this, and the notion that he was a smoker at least provided him with some sort of clue. I smoke. Well, that’s something. Perhaps he had hit his head when he landed in the forest on that paraglider, or maybe he was just insane. He didn’t know. But he knew he needed a smoke.
Dennis removed an imaginary cigarette from a doesn’t-exist pocket and began to fake smoke. There was a poster on the wall behind him of long-retired catcher Hudson Kornfeld, who had been the longest-serving Destroyer to have never made the majors. Next to that was another poster, of Kornfeld being fired from a cannon at a Destroyers game.
Interesting move. Well, a baseball career’s gotta end sometime.
Suddenly the door handle began moving back and forth.
I locked the door behind me, so he can’t get in.
Then the sound of a key in the lock.
Dennis had no time to get out of the suit, and as he looked around for a place to hide, the door swung open. There, outlined by a hallway light, was DiMaggio Brickey. The reporter let out a slight gasp of surprise, mixed with amusement, with highlights of what-the-crap. It’s not every day one walks in on a six-foot beaver smoking an imaginary cigarette.
“Are you lost?” asked Brickey, recognizing the AeroJets’ mascot. Brickey didn’t know then that they had both ended up there for the same reason – to examine the turkey head.
Dennis, thinking a stadium employee had stumbled upon him while looking for a mop, or a place to view porn, decided the best thing to do would be to beat a hasty retreat. But that’s when he heard the police radio in the hall outside.
“I’ve escaped from sheriff’s lockup and you’ve got to hide me,” declared Dennis, desperation in his voice and a bag of fertilizer near his tail. “I’m investigating the Gobbles murder – they think I did it but I’m innocent. If you work here, you must know a way out.”
It was the first proclamation of innocence from a man in a beaver outfit that Brickey had ever heard. And somehow he believed it.
“I don’t work, I write for a living,” said Brickey, closing the door behind him. “Get in the electrical closet. I’ll get rid of the cops.”
It was the seventh-inning stretch, and as the crowd limbered up and then made their way to the concession stands, Randy Philpott made his appointed rounds. As the new Gobbles the Turkey, Philpott was doing his best to win the crowd, but it was tough going. The fans new something wasn’t right – this Gobbles was clunky and not very good. Although the costume was the same, the antics left a lot to be desired.
While the original Gobbles had endured equal parts adoration and abuse, the new one was virtually ignored. And this rankled Gobbles – Philpott – more than anything. He had been ignored and ostracized his entire life. And now he had his dream job, but it was more of the same.
This would not stand.
So Gobbles the Turkey made his way behind the center field fence to where the fireworks display had been set up, and prepared to make certain adjustments to the show. That’ll show ‘em.
Everything was ready for the post-game extravaganza, which would be done up big, as owner Grip Arnot had decreed. The launching canisters were packed and carefully covered in tinfoil, and it was all watched over by a single attendant. The man didn’t prove to be much of an obstacle to Gobbles, who told him that he saw some kids with matches over behind the rental trucks.
The attendant pulled out his cell phone and rushed toward the parking lot, out of sight.
Gobbles then opened a nearby storage bin and pulled out a black duffle bag, and began extracting items. First, a half-dozen grenades, which he cradled like Easter eggs. He brought them to the canisters and began lifting the foil and placing them inside, one-by-one.
Then, his baby – the rocket launcher. He hoisted it to his shoulder and made his way to the scaffolding that supported the scoreboard. He began to climb.
Arnot had served in ‘Nam, and wanted this night to be an ode to explosions and gunpowder — the best birthday party America ever had. Gobbles would make sure that all of his wishes came true.
As Brickey guided Dennis through the corridors beneath Destroyer Stadium, the two compared notes. Dennis’ arrest in the woods. The baseball left on Brickey’s laptop with the ominous message. Arnot’s mysterious daughter. The fact that the blood-stained turkey costume was in an equipment room at Destroyer Stadium and not in police evidence lockup.
They emerged through a side door and made their way through the parking lot toward Brickey’s car. The air was cool and crisp, and seagulls were circling overhead – somehow they new when the game was about to end, and that meant it was time for lunch. Indeed, it was the top of the ninth, and the home team was ahead.
As they got into his car, Brickey looked at Dennis. “Get out of that costume,” he said, checking his cell phone. “We’ll go to my place and try to work out our next move.”
He drove out of the stadium’s main gate and turned onto the access road, and that’s when he saw the police lights.
Dennis was still half-dressed as a beaver. Fortunately it was the bottom half.
“Cover yourself with this blanket and keep quiet,” said Brickey, pulling over. “Let me do the talking.”
It was the city police, and after a rather long interlude the officer slowly approached the car. He peered inside, then stepped back and began talking into his shoulder speaker. He then stepped back to the car.
“May I see your license and registration?” the officer asked Brickey.
Brickey fished for his wallet.
“You leave a game early one time, and your editor calls the cops.”
Unamused, the officer studied the license.
“Would you both step out of the car?”
Brickey froze, and briefly considered driving off. He then considered the absurdity of that, and the headline that night which would include some play on words about a sportswriter and a fugitive beaver. Even if exonerated he wouldn’t hear the end of that — he’d have to quit his job and move to Greenland, which had no sports, or aquatic mammals.
Just then the loudest explosion he had ever heard rocked the nearby stadium, sending a plume of smoke and fingers of fire into the sky. That was followed closely by streaming fireworks – the kind of display that teams usually saved for the grand finale of their shows, but was now batting leadoff.
And there were other explosions that no one had ever heard during a fireworks display, and now fans could be seen running, some screaming, from the stadium exits. People were rushing about in the parking lot and some were already in their cars, throwing them into gear and barely missing other fans.
It was pandemonium, and the cop dropped Brickey’s license, accidentally kicked it, tripped, then got back into his car, accelerating toward the stadium with screeching tires. Inside, Randy Philpott had touched off the fireworks display a bit early, adding a few personal touches from his own Tea Party doomsday cache of weapons. The rocket launcher was the most dramatic touch, but the plastic explosives and the grenades were quite devastating as well.
Somehow Brickey thought to reach down and retrieve his license, but before he could start his own car, one final Independence Day feature played out. There was another explosion, and there in the early night sky, amidst a burst of twinkling red, white and blue lights, seemingly suspended above the stadium, was Kevin “Postal” Hall. He flew majestically, arcing in front of a low-hanging, nearly full moon, screaming in unbridled ecstasy.
Hall had finally done it — he had climbed into the largest fireworks mortar and had used his knowledge of the procedures to launch himself above the stadium amidst the explosions, like Hudson Kornfeld before him, only without a sensible exit strategy. Eventually he reached the downward portion of his arc, and plummeted toward a dozen or so mattresses which he had hastily arranged before the game and which he missed completely, screaming with unbridled joy all the way.
And that was the end of the Destroyers’ outfielder. But he died as he had lived, as a human fireworks display.
Brickey and Dennis both watched Kevin Hall drop out of sight behind the rim of the stadium, and as smoke and flame and various screams circulated around them, the sportswriter nodded a silent salute. He then started his car, and the two drove slowly toward town.
Next Week: Chapter 11, Unusual Items.
Art: Sean Panzera.