It was raining the night Sheriff T. Joe Trumbo walked across the field to the far diamond behind McCreary High School where Wally Bass waited on deck.
“T. Joe,” Wally said from the bench.
“Figured you’d be here.”
“No where else to go.”
Trumbo sat down next to his friend. Wally looked at him. “I ever tell you I like the beard?”
“No, but thanks. Ellie fucking hates it.”
“Hides the scars though.”
“We all heard about that. Shrapnel they said.”
“At the time,” Trumbo said. “Not so much now.”
Lightning arced over the cornfield. “Burnham’s field catches fire you going to stay here with me or run back to the cruiser?”
Trumbo pulled Pall Malls from his coat. “We’ll both go back to the cruiser.”
Wally stood and pushed his face into the fence. “He’s not gonna make it, is he?”
Trumbo cupped his hands and lit a cigarette. He rose and handed it to Wally. “Graveyard dead before the ambulance even hit the highway.”
“Like to say it’s a shame—“
“But it’s not,” Trumbo said. “Everybody hated that sonofabitch.”
“Since middle school.” Wally lowered his head, blowing smoke toward the ground. The rain and the wind stole it, pushing it through the chain links.
Trumbo joined his friend. He wiped the rain from his face. “Kindergarten at least. Prick made me eat dirt every fucking day.”
“Don’t suppose that changes anything?” Wally watched the smoke fade across the diamond.
“Him making me eat dirt? ‘Fraid not. Prosecutor never went to school with him.”
“Where are the state boys?”
“You do that for me?”
“You wouldn’t think about walking back to the cruiser and taking about a ten minute nap, would you?”
Wally grinned and smoke seeped through crooked, brown teeth. “Be plenty of time to make a run down to Daddy’s farm.”
“It’s not your daddy’s farm anymore.”
He looked back out over the diamond. “No, it’s not,” he said.
“You can finish your smoke though. Can’t smoke in the car.”
“You can still smoke over at the County Line Bar.”
“Probably make a lot more business now.”
Wally shrugged. “Mostly the same crowd—steal the pennies off a dead man’s eyes.” The rain slowed. Wally’s cigarette didn’t. His hands shook, but his face hid the panic. “You know it was just about money, right? Never would have gotten involved with that shit if it weren’t.”
“You don’t have to explain anything to me, Wally.”
“I do, though. I want you to know it was just about the money. We ain’t seen each other at all since you been back. But I want you to know.” He looked at his smoke. It had burned to the filter. Wally made a face, dragged and dropped it. He held his hands up.
“Put those down. You can walk.”
Wally nodded and followed Trumbo back across the tall, wet grass to the parking lot. “You like being Sheriff?”
Trumbo shrugged. “It’s alright. A job. Only reason I won is cause I’m a veteran. Folks in this county’d vote in your dog if they thought he’d been in the service.”
“My dog’s dead, but mostly, I think its cause no one knew you was a democrat.”
“That did help.”
Wally opened the back door. Trumbo touched his shoulder. “You can ride up front.”
“You’re not that interested in re-election are you?”
Trumbo laughed as they both climbed in the car. He started the engine and turned on the wipers.
“Maybe one last favor?” Wally asked.
Trumbo chewed on his moustache. “What’s that?”
“Hit a few balls?”
“In the rain?”
“It’s nothing now. Moving north. Couple a minutes it’ll be clear. Fuck, we played in the rain when we was kids. And in the dark too.”
“Tell you the truth?”
“I fucking hate baseball.”
“I do—I fucking hate baseball.”
“Why’d you play?”
“What the else was I gonna do? Not big enough for football. Not good enough for basketball.”
“Wrong color too.”
“No reason for that.”
“Its how I feel.”
“Don’t go saying how you feel when I get you back. Won’t do you any good considering who you shot.” Trumbo sighed. “We ain’t got a bat or balls.”
Wally pointed through the driver’s side window. Trumbo wiped it clear and Wally said, “Pole shed is right over there. You could fart and knock that lock off.”
“Tell ‘em I fucking did it. I don’t care. What’s five more years?”
They both sat back and listened to the wipers.
“Remember we’d call ghostman?” Wally asked finally. “When we couldn’t find anyone else but us to play?”
Trumbo looked down at the mud on the floorboard. His feet were wet and cold. “I fucking blame Nintendo,” he said. “Sam doesn’t ever want to go outside since I bought that Playstation.”
“And it’d be just you and me. And one of us would hit the ball and make our run to the base. And we’d say ghostman on first, ghostman on second, or ghostman on third.”
“Kinda creepy if you think about it.”
Wally picked at the cuts on his hands. “I don’t know. After you left for Afghanistan and Ford closed down, I’d come down here and hit balls around by myself. That’s about when Abby first got sick. Mom would come down and stay with her for an hour or two. Just had to get out of there for a bit. I had me a whole goddamn team of ghostmen.”
“I got some bolt cutters in the trunk,” Trumbo said.
“You’re up first.”
* * *
Trumbo handed Wally the bat.
“Hope you got more than one uniform,” Wally said.
Trumbo walked to the mound and wiped the ball against his trousers. “County pays for dry cleaning.”
Wally took a few practice swings. “If I had known about your leg, I might have just made a run for it.”
“No you wouldn’t,” Trumbo said, tossing the ball.
Wally bunted and ran to first. Trumbo hustled, snatched the ball and turned. “Ghostman on first,” Wally said.
Trumbo waited for Wally to return to the plate. He gripped the ball hard in his hand. He jabbed it at his friend’s chest. Wally froze. “Bunting’s for pussies,” he said and laughed.
Wally slapped his back. “Got me a run didn’t it?”
Trumbo headed back to the mound. “I’m a lousy pitcher and you chicken out with a bunt.”
Wally cleaned the bat on his coat. “It’s cause you’re a lousy pitcher I had no choice but bunt.”
Trumbo flung the ball hard. It sailed across the center of the plate, hit the fence and splashed in a puddle. “Strike,” he said.
Wally shook the ball dry and tossed it back. “I wasn’t ready.”
“Strike,” Trumbo said again.
Wally hefted the bat. Pointed at the Sheriff. “Fuck you, Trumbo. Let’s see your busted ass run after this one.”
Trumbo feinted a throw. Wally swung. “Strike two!”
“That’s fucking cheating!”
“This is prison rules!” Trumbo yelled and then quieted. Across the diamond their eyes locked and no one liked what they saw.
Wally tapped the bat against his boots. “Should get used to prison rules,” he said softly.
Trumbo pitched the ball slow and straight. Wally cracked it with his bat and Trumbo was off, stepping high through the mud and into the grass. He reached for the ball and slid, landing on his ass and coasting past the ball.
Wally scrambled toward second.
Trumbo grabbed the ball. “You better run your ass, Bass!”
Wally gave him the finger and rounded toward third. “Catch me, Copper!”
Trumbo hit the diamond full-tilt. Pain fired through his right leg with every soft, muddy thump of his boot.
Wally tagged third and stopped.
Breathing heavy, Trumbo slowed.
Wally darted off third.
“Stay on your toes!” Wally yelled and changed direction.
Trumbo turned back toward base, running harder.
When he closed, Wally took off again.
Trumbo reached with the ball. Wally sidestepped and spun backward, hopping onto the base.
“You’re out of shape, Sheriff. You really aren’t hoping for re-election.”
Trumbo doubled over. He breathed heavy. “You’re a bastard, Bass.” Righting himself, he walked slowly back to the mound.
Wally called from behind him. “T. Joe? Thanks for this.”
Trumbo kept walking. Breathing kept him from talking. He waved the ball over his head.
“No, I mean it.”
Trumbo stepped on mound. Took one more deep breath, and managed, “It’s fine. Now get your ass back to home.”
Wally didn’t move.
Trumbo waited and breathed. “Wally?”
“Ghostman on third,” he said.
Trumbo waved toward home.
Trumbo turned third. “Ghostman on third, gotcha. Now—home plate.”
“No. Ghostman on third,” Wally said and reached into his coat.
Trumbo dropped the ball. “Wally? Don’t.”
“Ghostman on third,” he said again, pulling the hammer back.