"KELSO'S SWING" [CHAPTER 23]
Against Player’s, winner of only one game, Kelso roosted partially hidden behind a tall bush on the stairway above the hoop courts that led into a neighborhood on a bluff over looking the main drag parallel the beach. He had a full view of the ball field. Marstrulavich had no message for the girls as they warmed up and played pepper. He gave no signs from the third base coaching box and seemed lackluster in his body movement. He did no positioning of fielders, little clapping and encouraging or instructing. As Kelso predicted to himself, Marstrulavich did as little as possible, hoping for the best.
The girls were distracted and frazzled and sloppy. They were down 9-3 in the fifth inning when Callahan’s and Murphy’s showed up for the late game. Kelso observed Spike checking out the scoreboard, then Marstrulavich at third. It was 11-4 when Kelso walked down to Murphy’s and had a beer and a shot with Eli, who asked how his girls were doing. Kelso told him he was punishing his girls for back-biting and whining and leaving them to the mercy of Marstrulavich. Eli guffawed and bought him a shot. Kelso hung around, until Murphy’s players came in, fresh off a victory over Callahan’s. It took Kaycee about ten minutes to discover Kelso as she chummed with a couple local guys. He quickly signaled Eli to send her down a drink on him. Eli complied, pointing across the bar at Kelso. Kaycee did not look over right away, but stared at the drink for a few seconds and then glanced up at a grinning Kelso, who lifted his own drink in salute. Kaycee shook her head in a manner indicating disgust and perhaps disdain at Kelso’s overture and turned away from the drink as if it carried a disease.
Kelso finished his drink and walked to the door, hovered there until Kaycee snuck a glance at his former position, and quickly ducked out.
When he reached the Tides, he lurked in the alley and peered through the smoked windows to spot his team jumbled near the poolroom. Their posture was slouchy though Jill appeared intense as she talked with Bobbi, who nodded repeatedly. Beth had Lacey in a corner, Monica behind them. The alliances were in motion. Marstrulavich was not on his usual stool, so Kelso continued across the street to the Sunset and found Marstrulavich at the far end of the bar hunched over a Jack on the rocks. He was fairly drunk, and Kelso knew when Marstrulavich was drunk he could go from cantankerous to downright rancorous in a heartbeat.
“Don’t you ever fucking make me coach those bitches again,” he snarled at Kelso, without looking at him as he sat down beside him.
Kelso ordered a beer and a shot. “What was the final score?”
“Thirteen to six. They fell apart. I gotta coach a team I don’t wanna coach, never wanted a fucking thing to do with in the first place, and then I gotta explain where you’re at, did you quit…?” He downed his drink. “They can’t play without you! They’re dependent on you! They’ll never win another game without you! You sonofabitch, don’t you EVER pull this bullshit again! I’ll walk off, swear to God. I’m tellin’ yah right now, if your dad knew you walked off on those girls, deserted ‘em, he’d kick your goddam ass. Shame on you. This is one of the worst nights of my life! I couldn’t bear being with those girls in the Tides. The game, it was torture, and Jill, is she one pissed off bitch!”
“Yeh, well, she’s the one started this whole thing. She’s the one begged me to get into this goddam mess. Well, she can have the spineless clown Mark back, so Beth can run things.”
Marstrulavich appraised is friend. “Jesus, you’re hammered.”
“Goddam right. Fuckin’ women…nothin’ but grief. All of ‘em, even Stella, and she was a good one.”
Marstrulavich ordered and paid for shots of Jack. He stared straight ahead at Kelso in the back bar mirror. “And another thing,” he said. “Bobbi’s divorcin’ Bart. She was a mess tonight. She was bawlin’ on the mound. She’s mad at you, too. they’re all pissed off at you.”
“Where’d yah tell ‘em I was at?”
“I tole ‘em there was nothin’ wrong with you, that you were gettin’ drunk and feelin’ sorry for yourself like a big goddam baby.”
Suddenly, Jill was at Kelso’s side, hands on hips, eyes narrowed. She looked him in the eye, and then said, very slowly, very icily, “I hope you feel good about yourself. You really hurt us. Every one of us. How could you? Some of the girls are crying, right now. Shame on you.”
She turned and marched out. Kelso sighed, shook his head, downed his shot, signaled the bartender for another. Marstrulavich lit his cigar, which Kelso puffed as two new shots arrived. Marstrulavich picked up his shot and said, “You better go across the street and apologize.”
Kelso picked up his shot. “Bullshit,” he said. They downed their shots. “They wanted me, they got me, and all that goes with it.”
“Those girls got feelings, Kelso. They’re good girls. They’d go to war for you. You let your miserable selfish feelings get in the way of theirs, just like you always did with Stella. That’s why you’re alone and unfit for human consumption.”
Kelso took a good slug of his beer. “Well, we got one more game and that’s it. Maybe they won’t ask me back. Good riddance. I don’t need this aggravation.”
“Oh yes you do,” Marstrulavich said, watching a smoke ring from his cigarette dissolve before him and float toward the back bar mirror. “They’ll ask you back.”
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