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After forever, p.16
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       After Forever, p.16

           Krystal George
 
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CHAPTER 8

  The afternoon was perfect. At the stadium, Bottles ate as many hotdogs as he wanted and got to meet all the players, including manager, Joe Kiski. The boy was in awe, but once the game started, he was all business.

  As games go, it was one for the record book. It was tied at zero, going into the seventh inning. Both teams had hits, but no runs. The first drawing was held after singing ‘Take me out to the Ball Game.’

  “Will the holder of ticket number: Section 237, seat 14 come to the main concession stand to claim your prize.”

  By then, Myers and Joe Kiski discovered most of the prizes were missing. Luckily, Joe had some extra photos in his office and the drawings went off without a hitch. The only prize not immediately available was the signed baseball originally on display.

  Kiski had an extra one, but he was going to give it to Bottles.

  “The boy will have to wait. Who could have taken the stuff?”

  “I don’t know, Joe, but it wasn’t the boy. He was with me.”

  “We’ll have to question him.”

  “I know, Joe. I know. But wait until after the game. Let the boy enjoy himself.”

  The game continued. Eighth inning, no score. Ninth inning, no score. Tenth inning, the tide changed. The muskrats had nothing. Then the Raccoons were up. A couple of singles had players at first and second. Left fielder Jeff Smithers, stole third. The next two batters struck out. Then ‘Ranting’ Hank Rickles strode to the plate.

  He swung at the first pitch. Strike one. He swung at the second pitch. Strike two.

  Bottles couldn’t contain himself. “Relax, Hank.,” he yelled out. “Relax.”

  The batter smiled at the boy and settled in. He was not going to fall for another fast pitch. Ball one. Ball two. Ball three, a full count. The winning run was at third base.

  Rickles settled the bat on his shoulder and stared at the pitcher, who wound up and released the ball. It flew fast and straight. Rickles waited until the last possible second and swung.

  THWACK!

  Rickles knew. Bottles knew. Everyone knew. They were on their feet. It was a home run. The ball sailed over the far wall. Smithers stepped on the home plate. Kemper rounded third and ran home. Rickles jogged around the bases, stepping squarely on home plate.

  The game was over. Three zip. Game one went to the Raccoons.

  Bottles, meanwhile, knew he had to get home. Not bothering to change, he hopped on his bike and pedaled as fast as he could. His other clothes were in the basket on his bike.

  He put the bike down the cellar steps and ran through the house. Locking his bike in, he hurriedly changed and looked to see what chores he had to do. He didn’t see anything, so he went down to his room and locked the door.

  He heard his aunt and cousins upstairs.

  “Ralphie?” his aunt screeched.

  He waited for her second scream, then went upstairs. Faking a yawn, he asked, “Who won?”

  “We did,” Biff said.

  “Were you here the whole time?” she squinted at him.

  “No,” he confessed. “I hung around outside the back wall and watched until they sang Take Me out to the Ball Game. Then I came home. I’m sorry. I had to watch some of the game. Did you win anything?”

  “No,” Jimmy slapped the table. “Wish we did.”

  Bottles shook his head. “Why?”

  The boy sneered at him. “Because we’d have something and you wouldn’t.”

  Bottles shrugged. “Well, you don’t. I’m going to bed.” He turned and left them standing in the kitchen.

  Near noon the next day, Bernie Myers and Joe Kiski paid Bottles a visit. The boy was on the porch. He waved and stood to greet them.

  “Bottles,” Mr. Myers began. “I have some bad news. There was a theft.”

  “Did someone rob your store?”

  “No, son. Not exactly. Someone stole the photos and the baseball yesterday. Where did you put the box?”

  His eyes opened wide. “What? How? When? I put the box in the back seat exactly like you said to.”

  Joe asked, “Did you see anyone lurking around?”

  “No, sir. I went back inside the store to see if there was anything else to carry. You know,” he addressed Bernie, “like you asked me to. Who would steal baseball stuff? Unless…”

  Bottles stopped and looked towards the house.

  Myers caught the glance. “You don’t think?”

  Bottles shrugged.

  In a louder voice, Myers said, “Bottles, I’m afraid you’re going to have to talk to the police.” He held the boy’s arm.

  “Wha—what? I didn’t. I wouldn’t.”

  “Sorry son. You have to come with us.” Joe added.

  Louise and the boys heard the noise and went out on the porch.

  “What’s going on here?”

  “Aunt Louise—they think I stole a baseball and some pictures.”

  Jimmy nudged his brother. “So that’s where these came from? He accused Bottles. “I can’t believe you’d stoop so low to steal from your friends. You should be arrested.”

  Biff handed a bag to Bernie.

  Myers opened it. Inside were the missing items. “Where did you find them?” He asked the boys.

  “They were in his bike basket.”

  “I see,” Kiski said. “And you’ll swear to that?”

  “Yes sir. Found them last night.”

  Bottles eyes narrowed, but his lips turned into a grin. “Oh really? When last night?”

  “After you went to bed.” Biff turned to Jimmy. “It was after he went to bed, right?”

  “Yeah. That’s right.”

  “Hmmm. That’s strange. I locked my bike in the cellar last night. My bike is locked up every night. You couldn’t have found them in the basket because they weren’t there.”

  The boys looked at each other. Biff punched Jimmy in the arm. “You are so stupid.”

  “Do you have a telephone?”

  “Of course,” Louise said. “It’s on the wall by the cellar door.”

  “May I use it?” Not waiting for an answer, Myers walked into the house. Everyone followed.

  “Mable? Ring the police chief for me.”

  Jimmy looked at his brother. They started to sneak out, but Joe had a firm grip on both of them.

  “No you don’t, boys. You’re not going anywhere.”

  The phone rang. “Bill, it’s Bernie Myers. You had better get out to Bottles’ house. I think we caught ourselves a couple of thieves.”

  Joe turned to Louise. “Do you know where your brother is?”

  She nodded meekly. “He sent a letter with his contact information.”

  “Get it for me.”

  He took the letter from her hand and picked up the phone. “Mable, ring up Hudson 67948.”

  The next half hour was a blur to Bottles.

  Bill Owens, Raytown’s police chief drove up in his police car, with the red light flashing. After sitting the brothers down, they confessed to stealing the baseball merchandise and revealed their plans to frame their cousin. They confessed to stealing Bottles money. They even confessed to other minor thefts that had not yet been discovered.

  He drove off with the boys in the back of the police car, leaving Louise in tears.

  Bottles dad called back and, after a conversation with Joe Kiski, which included a job offer, he decided to return home on the afternoon bus.

  Bernie Myers and Joe Kiski apologized to Bottles for even doubting his integrity.

  Everyone left, leaving a stressed Louise and a very relieved Bottles alone at home.

  The boy felt sorry for his aunt and poured her a glass of cold lemonade. “Here, Aunt Louise. Maybe this will help. Do you want a boloney sandwich? I’m going to have one.”

  She looked at her nephew. “Thank you, Bottles, for the lemonade. But let me fix lunch for the two of us. You sit right here.”

  He sat at the table and watched his aunt. He wanted to say something, but words es
caped him. They ate in silence.

  “Why don’t you go lay down Aunt Louise, I’ll do the dishes.” Bottles finished, then went outside to wait for the afternoon bus. When he saw his dad walking up the drive, he ran to greet him.

  Life went back to normal for Bottles. He went back to collecting empties to cash in. He moved out of the cellar and back into his old bedroom. With his dad working at the ball field, the boy spent a lot more time there and eventually became a full time bat boy.

  Louise became a changed woman. She moved into the small bedroom. The cousins spent time in the system for their theft. While there, they were charged with several unsolved crimes in Pottsville.

  As endings go, everyone lived happily ever after.
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