Each Thursday 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 Eight: Surf ‘N Turf.
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.
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 Eight: Surf ‘N Turf
Kenny the Lobster was the most paranoid creature in the sea.
The faint glow of a cigarette was the only light in the cold basement room of 125TH Street Stadium, and Kenny took a final drag before flicking the stub into a bucket. He fished another out of a soft pack on a stool beside him, and then took up a match — scratching it on his lobster suit and watching the flame spring to life. That was one of the advantages of being a mascot crustacean — you could light matches anywhere on your body. Kenny lit the cigarette and let the smoldering match drop to the concrete floor.
Kenny sat propped against a wall with his lobster head on the floor beside him. One hand was ungloved in order to light and hold the cigarette, the other was covered with an enormous lobster claw. His real name was Kenny Turkle, and he looked quite comical sitting there in the bowels of the Minor League stadium, looking as he did like delinquent seafood. But he wasn’t due to make an appearance in the game until the fourth inning, and he wasn’t about to leave the safety of the generator room until absolutely necessary. And even then he would insist on being escorted to the field by two security guards.
Mascots were dying in increasingly gruesome and species-specific ways, and Kenny had no intention on becoming tomorrow’s headline. Simply stated, the lobster was scared out of his shell.
Kenny spent most of his waking hours turning it over in his mind. The Destroyers’ turkey mascot had lost its head. The featured mascot of his own team, the late, beloved Blowie the Whale, had been harpooned by a metal rod at a construction site. And just the day before a visiting mascot duck was found revolving slowly and fatally on a rotisserie in the front window of a local hofbrau. If a mascot lobster surrounded by hot tubs wasn’t next on the killer’s menu, he just wasn’t trying.
Under normal circumstances Kenny Turkle would have resigned, set the costume on fire and fled to a non-baseball-playing location such as Spain, or to play it safe, Greenland. But he was under contract to the Japanese corporation that owned the Vancouver Fighting Fish, and he was broke. So he had to be Kenny the Lobster, at least for a little while.
But that didn’t mean he couldn’t take precautions.
First, he disabled all of the hot tubs in the clubhouse — there were three of them — because he was convinced that was the way the killer would play it. A giant lobster and a number of containers of steaming hot water was just too perfect — if I were the killer, thought Kenny, I couldn’t resist that one. Next he insisted locking himself in the stadium basement at all times, unless it was absolutely necessary to come up to the field. Following the game he would quickly shed his costume — again under the watchful gaze of security — and hustle to his car, where he would be sure to get home before dark. For night games he considered sleeping in the basement, but so far had not done so. But he had security walk him to his car.
The Fighting Fish had an array of nautical-based mascots, among them a clam, several children dressed as sardines who raced around the warning track during the seventh inning of weekend games, and a blowfish. Spiny the Blowfish was circular, adorned with tiny fins and thick blowfish lips, and ran around the stadium annoying players and umpires. The team billed him as the only baseball mascot that was deadly poisonous if not prepared by a trained Japanese chef.
Despite the dangers, Kenny Turkle couldn’t afford to lose this job. It wasn’t just the money — Turkle was fresh out of prison when he landed the gig a year earlier. Apparently the Japanese owners were not savvy to U.S. background checks, and all that Kenny needed to do was pass a short audition to make sure he was limber enough to wear the suit and jump around a bit.
Kenny Turkle had done seven years for commercial robbery and assault. Why he decided that it would be a good idea to break into a church and steal bicycles meant for underprivileged children was never explained. But if that wasn’t enough to prompt the judge to throw the book at him, the other circumstances were. Kenny surprised the elderly security guard — a man who looked and moved more or less like a hobbled Captain Kangaroo — and had beaten him so badly with a flashlight that the man was forced into assisted living. That made it robbery, and it was Kenny’s landmark 20th, but only the second in which he had been caught. Kenny was a right bad’un, as Dickens might say, and the state had decided that he needed a long vacation from law abiding humans.
So he did seven years of an 11-year sentence, was released back into the wild and almost immediately landed a job with the Double-A Fighting Fish. Being a mascot didn’t pay much, but Kenny’s needs were simple: he had government assisted housing, was eligible for food stamps and made enough to purchase his beloved classical music CDs and keep himself well lubricated with alcohol. A favorite pastime was listening to Franz Schubert while gulping bottom-shelf bourbon, then lapsing into a stupor until it was time to stumble back to the ballpark. Plus, he got to wear a costume, so rarely had to show his face, which was still all over the Internet he was sure (it wasn’t). On days off he would take the bus downtown and case buildings, like the old days, and battle the temptation of pulling off another robbery. But the cons always outweighed the pros, until about a month ago, when he actually began making more serious plans to knock over The Apple Store.
Then the mascot murders began, and Kenny became a recluse — literally a man hiding in his own shell, tucked away in the darkened stadium basement as if under a rock. As the days crawled by he became increasingly nervous and fidgety, and was up to two packs of cigarettes a day. He rarely emerged from his dingy apartment, and when he did it was only for work.
Sleep, when it came, was fitful, and the dream was always the same: Kenny, in full lobster costume, with pincers taped closed, was being lowered into one of the team’s training hot tubs. The water was so hot as to be boiling, and Kenny screamed, but no sound came out. And as he descended into the steaming liquid a shadowy figure was tipping a large salt shaker into the tub. That’s when he would awake, sweating and shivering, and nervously check the locks on his apartment door. He would also check his refrigerator and throw out all the butter. Then it was back to bed to try and fall asleep once again.
But if he did manage to doze off, it was a fitful sleep — the sleep of the damned.
A beaver hailing a cab is a marvelous thing — one of nature’s true wonders. As the vehicle stopped and Dennis hopped in, he realized that his plan was bold, and probably foolhardy. But beavers are also nature’s architects, and as fate would have it this one needed to reconstruct his past — and quickly.
“Get me to Destroyer Stadium as quickly as you can,” said Dennis, closing the cab door behind him. The cabbie didn’t hesitate a bit, as Portland was teeming with costumed mascots on this day due to the funeral. He started the meter and they were on their way.
The man in the Dennis Beaver costume had no idea who he was, or why he was arrested after falling out of a tree in the middle of the woods. All he remembered was awakening in a tangled mess of paragliding equipment; a struggle with an entangled eagle; a missing pair of pants; and two sheriff’s deputies who took him into custody and accused him of murdering a turkey and a whale. Those would be the late Gobbles the Turkey, former mascot of the Portland Destroyers, and Blowie the Whale, late of the Vancouver (Washington) Fighting Fish. That he was suspected of their murders was a tidbit that the man overheard on the police radio on the ride from the woods to the sheriff’s office.
It made little sense, though. How does a stranger who obviously just plummeted to earth deep in the wilderness figure in a couple of high-profile murders a few days before? And according to the news, the police actually had no real leads on the killers. What was the sheriff’s department hiding?
At length they arrived at the stadium, and Dennis poured himself out of the back seat. He paid the man ten dollars — a loan from a costumed squirrel — and made his way to a rear entrance. There was a game that afternoon but not for about three hours yet, and fans had not yet begun arriving. But Dennis suspected that mascots didn’t use the main entrance anyway. If he couldn’t get in, the alternative would be to ditch the suit and pay for a ticket, which meant possibly being identified. At length he found a door marked “Official personnel”. Dennis knocked.
A portly security guard opened the door, and upon seeing Dennis, his eyes widened and he flashed a smile.
“Dennis the Beaver!” said the man said brightly, opening the door wider. “What brings you here?”
“Mascot reunion,” mumbled Dennis, stepping inside. “Um, all the local teams will be represented.”
The guard raised an arm in a high-five gesture, and Dennis obliged.
“I’m a big fan of the AeroJets!” he said, beaming. “Have a good time!”
Dennis made his way down the concrete corridor, looking for a room that might contain a certain murdered mascot’s last remains — namely, his costume. Dennis had also overheard the deputies say that the costume of Gobbles the Turkey was not taken into evidence, but was left at the stadium. Dennis wanted to check out that costume. How does one lose one’s head in the middle of a stadium full of fans, with no visible way that could have been done?
After opening a couple of doors and finding nothing, Dennis came across one that read “Gobbles the Turkey”. Wow. He had his own dressing room.
Dennis stepped inside, closing the door behind him and locking it.
The room was littered with equipment, stuff obviously stored there since Gobbles’ demise. But piled in in one corner was Gobbles’ costume — a mound of feathers topped with a turkey head. As Dennis approached, he removed his own beaver head. He could see small traces of blood around the opening of the Gobbles head, which was smudged and dirty. Dennis reached down and picked it up.
How does one lose one’s head with no visible means of decapitation?
Dennis took the head in his paws and turned it slowly, staring, as if in a dream. He sat heavily onto the concrete floor, staring into the turkey’s vacant eyes. Why this surprised him he didn’t know, but he half expected the turkey to look back at him. There was no sound in the room save for the hum of the stadium’s air conditioning system, as Dennis turned the head slowly, lost in deep thought.
A tall man in a white suit was smoking a cigarette in a holder, speaking to an unseen man across the table at the cafe. He removed the cigarette from his lips and tapped the end into an ashtray.
“It is a beautiful day,” he said, looking off in the distance. “Can I get you something else to drink?”
“No thank you,” came the response.
There was a pause, and at length the smoking man said: “In South Africa there is a method of cutting diamonds called The Brillantschliff,” he said. “In English, ‘The Brilliant Cut’. It is most exact method of obtaining the sharpest definition of a gem, the device being made of a string of smaller diamonds — the most precise cutting instrument known to man.”
The long man took another puff of his cigarette.
“That is, until recent times,” he said. “Now, the finest gem cutters use laser beams.” It was amusing how the man phrased it, as if describing a 1960s sci-fi movie plot. “Lasers can be used to manipulate the stone in any way the gem cutter desires, and are relatively cheap and easy to use.” The long man waved his hand dismissively.
“But one can always tell. Show me a diamond, and I can tell. It cheapens it, somehow. It is an unholy device.” The man removed the cigarette from the holder and snubbed it out. “The old ways are the best ways.”
Dennis turned the turkey head slightly, tapped it with his paw, and grimaced. He then unzipped his suit, and shrugged to get his arms free. Using his bare hands he felt at the base of the head, until he noticed a protrusion. He pulled at the fabric until it began to give way, and felt a metal object. With some difficulty he pulled apart the fabric and began pulling on the metal, which he found encircled the entire neck opening beneath the fabric. It was something that could easily be mistaken for a part of the costume — as some sort of supportive brace. But he knew that if he placed an object inside the circle, and could figure a way to turn it on from a remote location, that something would be burnt to cinders. Or, severed at the neck.
An unholy device indeed.
Basement room of a Minor League baseball stadium. Various police officers, detectives and a photographer are gathered and milling about the room. An officer at the door is restraining players and other baseball personnel from entering the room.
CLOSE ON A HALF-SMOKED CIGARETTE, SMOLDERING ON THE CONCRETE FLOOR.
Somewhere in the background, Schubert’s “The Arpeggione Sonata” is playing.
CAMERA PANS UP, CLOSING IN ON OFFICERS. TWO OF THEM MOVE, REVEALING A HOT TUB.
CAMERA CLOSES IN TO EDGE OF TUB, WHICH WE SEE IS EMPTY.
Funny. I would have thought he would have boiled him.
Not funny, Clark.
You do know who this guy is, don’t you?
Kenny the Lobster?
AKA, Kenny Turkle. The flashlight robber. I happen to know the guy he bludgeoned into a vegetable.
CAMERA PANS UP FROM HOT TUB, REVEALING A MAN IN A LOBSTER SUIT, WEDGED BETWEEN TWO LARGE METAL SUPPORT BEAMS — ONE OF WHICH HAS BEEN UNBOLTED FROM ITS MOORINGS AND CRISSCROSSED WITH THE OTHER.
Cracked lobster. Eww.
Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
NEXT WEEK: Chapter Nine: Fire In The Hole.
Art: Sean Panzera.