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Sunday WildCard – The Kildaran Chapter 24

That’s right, only one chapter this week. It’s a bloody long chapter! Eighteen manuscript pages, and a bunch happens.

Well, okay, so there are a lot of events in the chapter, not all of which are consequential, but there are lots of little details in there. I worked hard to get those details right, whenever I put them in, so if you go back and research when the Red Sox played Tampa Bay to open the season at Fenway you’ll find that yes, Dustin Pedroia hit a homer in the first inning and Jason Varitek later. And the Durgin-Park restaurant, before it closed this year, was known for having waitresses be rude to the customers, and there was a stall in the Pru which sold Russian nesting dolls.

It was a fun chapter to write; hope you have fun reading it!

Don’t forget to poke around the site and find other bits of goodness. There’s even a page of freebies somewhere around here.

CHAPTER 24

Boston, MA

April 9

The flight to Logan early the next morning took little more than an hour. Getting from Logan to their hotel took longer. To be honest, they mostly spent that time waiting for their water taxi. It was much cooler than Washington, but still a sunny and pleasant morning.

“This is Boston?” asked Kat, looking back at the airport.

“At the moment, we’re in East Boston. Across the harbor, that’s Boston.”

“Oh! Michael, you’re teasing me!”

“You betcha,“ he laughed. The water taxi, a small, covered launch, finally arrived, and they carefully boarded, Hughes first, Mike last.

“Long Wharf,“ said Mike, and they were off.

“What is Long Wharf?“ said Kat.

“That,” Mike answered, pointing at a vaguely pyramid-shaped brick building.

“You can see it from here. Actually, that’s our hotel.”

“Right on the water?”

“Right over the water. Built on the old Long Wharf. We’ve a couple suites on the top floor. Jack, can you get us checked in?”

“Sure. Why me?”

“We’re going to head across to Faneuil Hall. Meet you there.”

Without pause they walked past the hotel, across Atlantic Avenue, and they were there. Mike talked along the way.

“Faneuil Hall was built in the 1700s by a wealthy merchant as a gift to the city. During the years leading up to the revolution, and all through it, the Hall was the meeting place of the Sons of Liberty. These days they’d be called a terrorist organization. Back then, they were the leaders in planning and justifying the revolution. Of course I’m biased, since it was our revolution.”

They passed under an arch and Quincy Market stretched before them, three brick colonial buildings, replete with shops and restaurants of all types. Slowed to a crawl by window shopping, Hughes quickly caught up with them.

“It reminds me of the bazaar,” said Stasia an hour later. “All the booths and little shops. Not as much haggling, though.”

“I’m glad you’re comfortable,” said Mike from behind the bags.

Good thing there aren’t any real high-end stores, he thought, or we wouldn’t make it back to the hotel.

As it was, Stasia and Kat had still managed to spend several hundred dollars on small items they thought would be appreciated at home.

“I’m going to bring this all back to the hotel, then we’ll have lunch. Meet you in front of Durgin-Park in fifteen minutes?” He waited for a nod, then headed off.

He found the room at the hotel quickly and even more rapidly inspected it. While not nearly as elaborate or tradition-soaked as the Hay-Adams, it was pleasant, airy, and the south-facing windows opened onto their own balcony. At the appointed time, Mike was back at the North Market Building. Kat and Stasia were looking at the menu; Hughes was watching the gathering lunch crowd with an anxious air.

“This may be the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, Jack, but I don’t think they’re violent,” he joked, though he quietly approved of the man’s professionalism. “Ladies. Ready?”

“Starving,” admitted Kat. The hostess brought them inside to a table along the wall. Unlike most restaurants, this level of the Durgin-Park was a single large room with communal tables. As they watched, three groups were brought in and seated, all at the same table. When one member objected, the waitress wasted no time in telling him just what he could do about it.

“This is where we brought ya, and this is where you’ll sit. Or you can take yourself out, I don’t care.”

Stasia and Kat were surprised to see the other patrons smiling at this treatment.

“It’s part of the legend of this place,” explained Mike. “Story is, the original owners, back in the 1830s, would encourage the wait staff to give back to the customers more attitude than they’d receive. Glad to see some things haven’t changed,” he finished as their waitress approached.

“You want a drink?” she asked without preamble.

“You have Mountain Tiger?”

“Yeah, we do. You got the money?”

“Four Tigers. Then a plate of fried soft-shelled crabs, and two New England clambakes. You got that, or you want me to repeat it?”

She actually smiled.

“Been here before, eh? Got it, sweetie.” She walked off.

“Jack, you had Mountain Tiger before?” Hughes shook his head. “This’ll be a real treat, then.”

In Keldara Georgian, he added, “Don’t tell him that you think it’s the slops, right?”

“No, Michael,” Kat said in the same language. “We want the foolish Americans to keep buying our swill!” But she said it with a smile.

The beers arrived, along with huge pieces of warm cornbread, which neither Stasia nor Kat had ever tried before; Kat enjoyed it, but Stasia found it too sweet for her taste. Then came the lightly breaded, spicy crabs, quickly devoured by all, once Mike showed the girls how to handle them, and the clam chowder, another new experience for the women. Both seemed to enjoy the soup, and as she chased the last spoonful around the cup, Kat asked, “What is a New England clam bake?”

Before Mike could answer, the waitress returned, with help.

She was carrying a huge plate, and her trailer carried another. They were piled high with steamers still in their opened shells; bright red lobsters, drawn butter, baby boiled potatoes, and corn on the cob. They set the plates down, and the waitress said, “Still hungry? Or this scare you?”

“Got any crackers?” asked Mike.

“Just this,” she replied, pulling out a small hammer. “Crackers are for wimps.”

Mike tied the cheesy, but necessary, plastic bib around his neck, picked up the hammer, grabbed his lobster, and gave the crusher claw a good rap. The shell shattered; he passed the hammer to Kat while he finished breaking it open, pulling out the meat. She attempted to imitate his swift, firm blow, but barely managed to crack the tough shell. She tried again, harder, and missed the claw entirely. The loud thunk was largely drowned by the noise of the now-crowded restaurant, but she blushed furiously anyway. Mike decided not to comment.

All too soon, the lunches were gone. The steamers weren’t too popular with the women, and the boiled potatoes were universally ignored, but the rest of the meal was polished off.

That was a New England clam bake,” finally answered Mike. “Tradition says it’s supposed to be done on a beach, with rocks and seaweed, but I don’t think they do that here. It was a way for early settlers to cook a number of different foods at once with the limited kitchen hardware they had.”

“It was very good, Michael,” said Stasia. “I haven’t had lobster since the Bahamas. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.”

“Yes, delicious!” added Kat. “Especially the lobster! Would it be too difficult to get at home?”

“It won’t be easy,” hedged Mike. “The best lobsters come from this area of the world. But I’m sure we can manage to get some, sometimes.”

“Now where?” said Hughes.

“We have about six hours before the game. I thought we’d take the time to walk across town, through the Commons and the Public Gardens, maybe along Newbury Street. It’s a good day, so the observation tower in the Prudential ought to be open.”

He was right; it was a good day to walk. As they passed through the city, he pointed out as many landmarks as he could remember: Government Center in Scollay Square, along Beacon Street, past the State House with its golden dome; into and across Boston Common, just beginning to green, but with early-season sun worshippers dotted along the hill; across Charles and into the Public Gardens. There, they explored for a while, searching.

“When I was a kid,” explained Mike, “There was a book, called Make Way for Ducklings. It was set here, in the Public Gardens, and I had heard that bronze statues of the ducks were placed somewhere in here.”

Along the way, they crossed over what announced itself to be “The World’s Shortest Suspension Bridge” over the pond. Finally, in the northeast corner, by the gate at the corner of Charles and Beacon, they found it. Nine bronze ducks, one about three feet tall, the others each about a foot tall, stretched in a long line across old cobblestones.

“They all had names,” said Mike. “That has to be Mrs. Mallard,” pointing to the largest statue. “One of the chicks is Jack, and another was Quack, but I’ll be damned if I remember the rest.”

“Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack,” supplied a grinning Hughes. “My mom used to read that book to me, and since one was named Jack…”

Kat sat on Mrs. Mallard’s back. “Mike, come here, stand behind me. Stasia? Will you take our picture?”

*

Thirty minutes later, Kat was leaning back into Mike’s arms in the observation deck of the Prudential. Stasia reacted to the shops on Newbury Street like a cat to catnip. Kat, fortunately, had resisted, so it was left to Hughes to follow Stasia along the boutique-lined street.

“Just make sure they can have it delivered to the hotel!” was all Mike could get out before she had run across the street, dodging traffic, Hughes close at her heels.

The Pru was just a short distance away. They entered through the shops on the ground floor, making a quick stop at l’Occitane (“Finest soaps in the world,” promised Mike, without mentioning that, the last time he had been near a l‘Occitane location, it was in danger of being nuked) and a cart selling Russian nesting dolls, called matryoshka. Inspiration had struck him, and he had a quick, whispered conversation with the attendant, who then selected four of the dolls for Mike to examine. He looked at all, then bought the second and tucked it away. They bought their tickets and were soon up the elevator to the 50th floor.

“Why do you bring us to Boston?”

“For a ballgame,” he answered immediately.

She faced him. “Really why.”

He turned her back and wrapped his arms around her slim waist.

“For all its problems, for all of the idiocies of its people and politicians, this is the birthplace of America. The Declaration wasn’t signed here, and the war wasn’t won here, I know. But down there -”

He pointed to the Old South Meeting House.

“The first real act of rebellion started, the Boston Tea Party. Just there -”

He pointed again, this time to a street corner.

“The first blood was shed for freedom, the Boston Massacre. Off in that direction -”

And he turned her to the northwest.

“Lie Lexington and Concord, the first battlegrounds. Bunker Hill, you can see the monument, looks like the Washington Monument? And Old Ironsides, the U.S.S. Constitution? Down there, still in fighting trim, ready to defend this country against her enemies.”

He stopped for a moment.

“By American standards, this is an old city. And she wears her history well. Not even the revisionists dare to touch what the Bostonians have preserved. I want you to feel some of that, because if the Constitution and Bill of Rights are, historically, this country’s heart, then here is the country’s soul. Nothing politicians do can change that.”

Kat was silent, briefly. Then, turning, she put her hands behind Mike’s head and kissed him thoroughly.

“Thank you,” she said when she finally released him. “I begin to understand. Mostly. I think. But one thing I do not.”

“Yeah?”

“Baseball.”

“Oh, crap.” He took her hand. “Come on. If I have to explain baseball, I need a drink.”

*

“ …so that’s the Infield Fly rule,” Mike finally concluded.

They were two floors up, in the aptly named Top of the Hub restaurant. He was on his third Tiger, while Katrina was making do with a Coke, as she’d been carded and, being under twenty-one, wasn’t old enough to drink here. Mike thought about telling the server that Kat had probably drunk more in her life than he had but refrained.

“Ah. Even if he drops the ball, the batter is out.”

“Yeah.”

She sighed. “It is confusing.”

“Yeah, it is. It’s the ‘national pastime,’ though, and you’re going to see it in one of the oldest parks in the country, a century old.”

“My Family home is older than that!”

“Different culture, different rules, remember?” He looked at his watch. “Hungry?”

“A little.”

“How about some pizza?”

She made a face; pizza hadn’t caught on in the Valley, despite the Chief’s efforts. It could be because Adams insisted that he make the dough and sauce himself, from scratch, only made two kinds, cheese or pepperoni, and the results usually ranged from disgusting to inedible.

“Not like the Chief makes. I promise you.” He paid for the drinks and they headed for the lifts. “This will be the real deal.”

And so it was. A short ride on a Green Line trolley got them to North Station, and a five-minute walk brought them to Regina Pizzeria. Mike called Stasia before they entered.

“Done shopping yet?”

“I think, yes,” she said. He could hear the smile in her voice. “A bigger plane might be needed.”

“Sure hope not. Did you pick it up?”

“Yes, it was ready. They were reluctant to part with it without a proper sizing, but they understood the need. If you need it altered, they will do it tomorrow for you.”

“Great. We’re at Regina Pizzeria, in the North End.” He explained how to get there. “See you soon.”

The interior was a Hollywood set designer’s dream. Tables of all sizes were scattered through an oddly shaped room. The yellow walls were covered with photos, menus, signs, and awards. The smell of the brick oven hung heavy in the air.

They managed to get a table, explained that two more would be coming, and ordered, drinks first, then the pizzas.

As they waited for the drinks, Kat asked, “What did you have Stasia pick up, Michael?”

He was prepared for the question; he’d figured she’d be listening in. “I thought we should bring some copies of the duckling book back for the Keldara kids.”

I’d better get some on the plane! he thought.

The drinks in hand, talk turned to the next day.

“The show I want to bring you to isn’t until Thursday night, so we can spend another day here in Boston if you want, or we can just head to St. Louis. There’s more to see here, and I’m sure there’s plenty to see there, too.”

“I think I would like another day here.”

“Suits. Oh, there you are,” he said to the approaching Stasia and Hughes. “Finished stimulating the local economy?”

“For now,” she replied, sitting. “Though there are a few shops I would like to return to.”

“Katrina and I were just discussing that, and I think we’ll stay here another day. Jack? Any problems on your end with that?”

“None at all. As I said, I’m assigned to you as long as you’re here, so where you go, I go. Not often I get this kind of duty, either, and I’m enjoying it!”

Just then, the pizzas arrived. The crusts were browned and irregular from the hand-tossed dough.

“I ordered their Classico and something called a Giambotta,” Mike said. “The Classico is the one with pepperoni, mushroom, and artichokes; the other one has pepperoni, sausage, salami, mushrooms, peppers, onions. They say they make the dough, sauce, and sausage here, if that matters to you. Dig in.”

He took one of the oversized slices from the Giambotta, folded it, and took a bite. A smile of contentment spread across his face.

“Ahhh.”

Pizzas demolished and bill paid, Mike said, “Well? How do you feel about pizza now?”

“If the Chief could do half as well…!”

“I must get their recipes! Then give them to the Chief, no, Mother Savina.” said Stasia, standing.

“I’ll be back,” and off she marched, a determined look on her face.

“Got to admit, this is the best pizza I’ve had in a long, long time,” added Hughes. “Wonder if they deliver to DC?”

The conversation flowed as they waited for Stasia. After ten minutes, Mike was about ready to go search for her when she reappeared, an envelope in hand.

“You got them?” he asked wonderingly.

She nodded.

“All three? Dough, sauce, sausage?”

She nodded again.

He looked at his watch. “Really quick for a blow,” he commented in Georgian.

“Michael!”

*

The cabbie dropped them in Kenmore Square.

“Close as I can get, folks, unless you want to sit in traffic ten minutes. But the park’s about two minutes’ walk that way,” he commented. They chose to walk.

The crowds were like nothing the ladies had ever seen. Even DC paled by comparison with the waves of humanity heading for the old park that day. Hundreds and hundreds, thousands, dressed in team apparel – even a few in the visitor‘s uniforms – colors clashing as the teams would soon, with a universal, anticipatory feeling, gave the walk almost the air of a festival. Over the crowd, Mike tried to answer questions.

“How many will there be?” asked Stasia nervously.

“It’s Opening Day, and this team usually sell out, so thirty-six, thirty-seven thousand.”

“All to see a game?” she squeaked.

“You have to remember, Stasia, about baseball and the Red Sox, in particular: the fans are loyal. The English ‘fan’ comes from the same root as ‘fanatic,’ and these people prove it. Every year, every game, they come out to cheer on their home team.” He chuckled. “I’ve heard it’s even worse, now they’ve actually won the Series.”

“Series?” asked Kat.

“World Series. They’ve won a couple times this century. Before that? 1918 was the last time they had won, and some people said -” His explanation of the Curse of the Bambino brought them past the entrance gate, and disbelieving looks to their faces.

“Are they really so foolish?”

“Seriously? No. Probably not. But it made for a hell of a story and a great excuse for all the years they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.” He stopped in a quieter part of the concourse. “Everyone got their ticket? Good. Stasia, stay with Jack. Kat, you’re with me. We’ll meet at our suite.”

“Suite?” asked Hughes.

“Yeah. We’re in the Legends Suite, upstairs.”

Mike and Kat began to wander around the concourse, chatting.

“Shouldn’t they be sitting down?”

“Coming to the game is an event, almost a religious experience, for some of these people. They call themselves the ‘Fenway Faithful’ and ‘Red Sox Nation.’ Being here is important to them, and they take their time and wander around, doing what we’re doing: looking, talking, maybe meeting someone they know.”

“What is there to look at? All I see are people selling things, food, drink, toys?”

“That’s part of it They’ll look to see what they want to get for a souvenir, or what beers they carry, or -”

“Do they sell our beer here?”

“I don’t think we can get a Tiger here, not yet anyway. Maybe sometime soon. As I was saying. People also just want to see who else is here, how they’re dressed. Can’t you feel it?”

She had to admit, there was something about the atmosphere that was different. She concentrated and it came to her.

“They’re all smiling!” she said suddenly. “Everyone! Why? They can’t all have such good lives?”

“You’re right, they can’t. But here, and now, especially today, they can. It’s Opening Day. The whole season, and baseball has a long, long season. It runs six months of the year and mostly outdoors. The season is stretched out before them. Today, anything is possible. Last year? Forgotten. Tomorrow? Not here yet. Right now, for these few hours, everyone here can dream about being part of something special, something memorable, something that they can tell their kids, ‘I was at Fenway when…’ It’s unique, and it’s priceless.” He paused as they reached a table and sat down.

“Among all the major sports, baseball is unique for the way the game is played. Baseball is the only sport that isn’t ruled by a clock; instead, they use outs, and innings. There’s no set time a game will last. It could be an hour and a half; it could be four hours. It’s timeless. Baseball is the only game where the defense controls the ball. In baseball, you don’t score a run with the ball itself; it’s the action of a player that causes the run when he crosses home plate. And you don’t have to be a freak of nature to play it. Sure, it helps to be strong, and coordinated, but you don’t have to have hands the size of oven mitts to hold the ball or be the size of a sumo wrestler. It’s a game for ordinary people to take time out from their working lives and enjoy.” He noted the movement of the crowd. “I think we should head up.”

A few minutes’ walk, and a quick elevator ride, brought them up to the suite level. A well-dressed attendant checked their tickets at the elevator and welcomed them with a smile.

“Just down the hall. You can’t miss it,” she said.

They didn’t. They entered the suite and Kat gasped. It was a large room, with off-white walls and wood paneling. A luxurious dark blue carpet lay across the floor. At the back was a full bar; along the wall, clever alcoves allowed a variety of seating; and at the front, floor-to-ceiling windows that opened out onto a private seating section and Fenway Park. There were a number of people already in the room. Two were obviously attendants in uniform. There was also an older, dignified-looking black man, and the rest were guests, chattering and laughing. Stasia and Jack were absent.