SLIDER BAIT

By Chris McCartney


My patio door exploded four days after we wrapped-up a long homestand with the Orioles. I squelched the urge to investigate, partly because I was burrowed under a warm comforter, but mostly because I’m afflicted with a variety of intruder phobias.

When I heard a second round of carnage taking place, I figured Godzilla was eating my living room. Grabbed a Kyle Seager baseball bat and crept down the dark hallway of my Alki apartment. Watched in disbelief as a man methodically dismantled my belongings with a crowbar. “What…what are you doing?” 

He tossed the crowbar, jerked a pistol from the waistband of his running outfit and crouched into a shooting position. Aimed the gun at my chest. “Give me the Lioness and you will not be hurt.”

“Whoa, pal. Take it easy. I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Liar!”

The neon sign from the Bamboo Bar beamed through the picture window, casting an eerie yellow glow on his knife-scarred face. Looked about five-ten. Wiry. His eyes, black as a raven’s ass, were filled with rage.

 My weapon shook with such imprecision it must have looked like I was conducting an orchestra of arthritic pelicans. “Maybe you better...” The bullet pulped my left forearm. Both knees buckled. Naïve blood spigoted off my fingertips. I squeezed my right hand over the wound – the poor-man’s tourniquet.

Didn’t want to die before turning twenty-nine. Needed to placate this whack-job. “Okay, okay. It’s in my bedroom. This way,” I said, gesticulating with my head. “At the end of the hall.”

“Move slow. Show your hands.”

My zombie-like pace gave me just enough time to concoct a bold, but flimsy, plan. If I could channel a lifetime of missed opportunities into one magical sequence – Felix and Robinson could save my life. “How’d you find me, Hashim?”

“I followed you and your Army friend from the stadium.”

 

* * *

 

I need to back up a few days or you won’t understand why I got shot. You see, I was employed 
by the Seattle Mariners as an account executive. My job was to wheedle baseball fans into
Safeco Field eighty-one times a year. I spent fourteen-hours a day working the phones, texting,
emailing, and tweeting potential customers.

The All-Star game was a month away. Rumors our ownership group wanted to cut front-office personnel after the break spread faster than an African virus. The slackers played politics. The 
insecure backstabbed. I did neither. You could say I’m a team player in a sort of misanthropic 
way. I avoided impromptu staff happy-hour gatherings and attended the annual Holiday Party on 
a two-year cycle. I hoped to weather the lay-offs because my sales numbers were near the top 
of the heap. Just when I felt closer to being green-lighted than pink slipped – Keeg blew me up.

The Orioles were in town. Keeg had texted me, asked for a ticket. Sunday afternoon, get-away
day, worked out best and we decided to hook-up for beers in the Safeco Pen at the bottom of
the fourth.

Keegan Campbell was my oldest friend growing up in West Seattle. Pudgy and smart-assed as 
a kid, Keeg grew into a muscular six-three smart-ass by his senior year of high school. 
Shenanigans were his specialty. He’d mastermind some caper, ensure his minions carried it out,
and disappear before the police arrived. Never got caught. Keeg was a slider.   

He enrolled in the Army ROTC program at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. Played 
football and baseball. Did a couple tours in Iraq. One in Afghanistan. At first, I worried how his 
tossbag civilian skills would pan out in the United States Army, but he seemed to thrive. ‘Keeg
the Slider’ had become ‘Captain Keeg.’ 

I couldn’t suppress a grin as he weaved through the Pen. I’d seen him once since his posting at Lewis-McChord in February. Bet he’d lost ten pounds. The dark circles under his eyes were 
bigger than ashtrays. I waved him over to my IPA laden bistro table. From twenty yards away, 
his skin color looked milky white. As he approached, it got milkier.

“Hey butt-wipe,” he said. “Those all for me?”

“Nice to see you too, Keeg.”

“Cheers, J.P.”

We scrutinized the starting lineup. Criticized off-season trades. Typical, but unqualified baseball
prattle men can woof for hours in lieu of discussing health care options or yoga instructors.

By the home-seventh, I could see something wasn’t right with Keeg. His face twitched. His eyes
swept the crowd like a secret service agent. Felt weird watching my old buddy come unglued.
Was he suffering from post-traumatic stress? He’d told me he’d wasted a bunch of bad guys in 
the Middle East. 

He leaned up close. “I’m in trouble pal,” he whispered. “I mean real trouble. If I don’t pull off a
miracle soon, I’m looking at some serious jail time.”

“For what?” 

“I don’t want to talk about it here.”

“We could find some empty seats.” 

“Nah. Somewhere more private. Still got that place on Alki?”

“Yeah, but Alki is a freakin’ zoo in the summer.”  

“It’s perfect.”

“Remember where it is?”

“Roger that, J.P. A monkey could find it.”

 

* * *

 

Parked my Chevy Blazer near the four-story slab of urban concrete I call home. I had a hunch he
was in the middle of some freelancing fiasco. Buzzed Keeg inside and listened. I soon realized he
spoke a different language.

“It was April 2003. Three weeks into the second Iraqi war. The big boys rolled up Highway 8
and took Baghdad. We arrived a few days later. Almost no resistance. Most of the haji’s ran off
or disappeared into the civilian population.”

“Haji’s?” I asked.

“Look, the camel jockeys trying to kill us weren’t Iraqis. They came from Syria, Jordan, Saudi,
Egypt, Libya­. You name it. Anyone who hated America jumped on the jihad bandwagon. We
called ‘em all haji’s. Uh, where was I?”

“Baghdad.” 

“Oh, yeah. I was a first Lieutenant then. Got orders to take my platoon and secure one of the
palaces. Turned out it was Udays’. The porn-loving son of King Rat Hole. We looked for booby
traps, insurgents, secret passages, whatever. Instead, we found cases of booze. Bags of heroin.
Cuban cigars. One night I’m wandering the grounds and I find this wooden box behind a row of
hedges. Wrapped inside is a carving. Figured some Ali Baba stashed it there and hadn’t returned
yet. No one sees me, so I dump it in my rucksack. Finder’s keepers, right? Got it out of the
sandbox without anybody knowing.”

“I didn’t catch about half of what you just said.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m getting to the important part. A few months ago I saw a documentary about
missing artifacts from the museum in Baghdad. I recognized one. Some engraved piece of ivory
called the ‘Lioness Attacking a Nubian.’ Three thousand years old. Priceless. And it’s all mine.”

“You’re crazy. They’ll lock you up forever.”

“Only if I get caught.”

“What’re you gonna do with it?”

“Sell it.”

“Where?”

“Let’s just say I’ve established a network of like-minded associates. Anyway, I got an email
from a guy named Hashim Azmeh, from the Baghdad Museum. He wanted to discuss the
Lioness. Told him I knew nothing about it.”   

“If this guy could find you, the CIA or the FBI knows too.” 

“I doubt it. Anyway, several days ago Hashim calls. Said he was in Tacoma, heading to the base. Couldn’t let that happen, so I met him in a park. Scary-looking dude. Took about a minute to
figure out this guy wasn’t for real. No ties to the museum or any of the organizations looking for
the missing artifacts. Asked him for some ID. He pulls out a passport from Yemen. Said he flew
into Vancouver and rented a car because he liked to drive. Bullshit. He was on a no-fly list and
couldn’t come into Sea-Tac. He knows I’m not buying his lies so he shows me his Glock 19 and
says one way or another he’s going to get the Lioness. That sealed it. Told him to pound sand.
I’m positive he’s following me around. Waiting for the right opportunity.”

“Why don’t you sell it to him?”

“Two reasons. First, he’s a hired gun for some jihaders. Wouldn’t pay squat or hesitate to take
me out. But the main reason is, if I sell her myself, I get early retirement. Way better than a
pension for twenty years in the Army. If Islam really is a religion of peace, I’m thinking the 
Lioness is a gift from Allah to me for all those years I helped eliminate his bad haji’s.”

“You’re an idiot, Keeg. You’re going to get caught. Or killed.”

“Naw. Been doing this forever.”

“Not with stakes this high.”

“Once I sell her, I disappear to Costa Rica or some Pacific island.”

“You need to slow down. Look what this is doing to you.”

“Hold that thought, I need to step outside for a minute.”

“I’ve got indoor plumbing,” I mumbled to his backside, and went to take a three-beer pee.
When I opened the bathroom door, it slammed into Keeg. Didn’t know what he’d been up to, but it was obvious he was in slider mode.


* * *  


The Mariners went on a tear. Swept the Tigers and were heading to Chicago. Our sales meeting Thursday morning was upbeat. Tickets to Tat Night, one of my big group-outings, were selling
fast. I’d been networking with Northwest tattoo parlors, celebrity- carvers and ink-slingers for
months. We’d concocted a contest and the winner got to throw out the first pitch. The meeting
was about to adjourn when I got called out front. 

A turtle-eyed, redhead woman and a crew-cut archer in pressed jeans, were in the lobby.
Flashed their FBI credentials. The lady asked if I was Jasper Peck. Said I was. An office
underminer was curious, so I told her I was putting together a federal employees night in
September when the Yankees were in town. We found an empty conference room.

“Mr. Peck, can you tell me the last time you saw Captain Keegan Campbell?” asked red.

Damn. They’re onto Keeg. Do they think I’m an accomplice? Maybe they’d been tracking that
Yemeni guy after he crossed the border? But I hadn’t done anything wrong. They must be fishing. “Haven’t seen him in months,” I said. No doubt I looked guilty as hell. If I was Pinocchio, my
nose would be jabbing into her rack.  

“Is that so? We know he contacted you last Friday. He thanked you for the Orioles ticket and
was looking forward to seeing you at the game.”

How did they know? I heard the FBI had uber spy equipment. Did they tap Keeg’s phone? He
used it to buy dogs and garlic fries at Safeco. Alzheimer’s wouldn’t fly at my age. “Oh, yeah. But
he didn’t show. Why are you looking for him?”

“We’ll ask the questions,” said buzz.

“Be my guest.”

“I’m afraid I have some bad news,” said red. “Captain Campbell is AWOL. He didn’t report for
duty on Monday or Tuesday. The Captain is not returning messages. We accompanied a few 
M.P.’s to his apartment yesterday morning. No sign of him or any foul play. Since you were his
last known contact, we’re hopeful you’ll cooperate with us.”

 

* * *

 

To get rid of a psycho, you have to think like a psycho, and the only surefire way I knew was to
change the channel.

“Where’s Captain Campbell?”

“Keep walking.” 

“Did you kill him?”

“Perhaps.”

“You won’t get away with it. The FBI knows about you.”

“You infidels think so highly of your intelligence people. They are idiots.”

“They’ve got a surveillance team watching my place right now.”

“Enough talking. Show me the Lioness.”

My bedroom made Pompeii look tidy. Piles of clothes. Autographed jerseys, bats and photos. Mountains of promotional items from give-away nights. I pointed to a stack of half-opened King Felix t-shirt boxes. “It’s in one of those,” I said. “The bottom one. I’ll get it for you.”

“No. You move away. I will find it.”

Bright-yellow Felix Hernandez t-shirts flew as he dug with one hand and kept the Glock pointed at me with the other. I waited for my chance. When he bent in half for some bottom fishing, the gun veered slightly off my torso. In one swooping motion, I grabbed a Robinson Cano bobblehead, took two quick strides and let loose a powerful, roundhouse swing. Missed him by a good ten inches. 

The second bullet caught me in the mid-section, a tad below my belly button. I fell faster than a clown. Cursed Keeg for dragging me into his macabre world of stolen antiquities. Because of him, this terrorist was going to kill me.

“No Lioness! Now you die.”

I looked up at him. For some unexplainable reason, I wanted to watch Aziz pull the trigger. My cryptic way of being murdered with dignity.

Just as he moved the barrel of the Glock toward my throat, I heard two thunderous blasts. His head disintegrated in a fuchsia-like mist. His torso remained upright for what seemed like an eternity. I wanted to topple the jackball, but I hurt too much to even kick at him. The last thing I remembered was squinting toward the doorway to see who fired the shots.  

  

* * *


A woman in a light-green nurse’s uniform, stood over me. Her warm hand held mine. “Well, Mr. Peck, I’m glad you decided to join us. How are you feeling?”

My mouth was too dry to speak. Didn’t have much to say anyway. “Where…where am I?”

“Harborview. Intensive care.”

“How long have I been here?”

“Since early Friday morning.”

“What’s today?”

“Sunday.”

Three days? I heard pips from mysterious machines. There were so many tubes stuck in me, I looked like a porcupine. “How’d I get here?”

“We don’t know. Someone patched your wounds and dropped you off at the emergency entrance. You almost bled to death.”

 I closed my eyes. Tried to think. Nothing made sense. If I were on the ball, I’d have asked if she was a baseball fan. Schedule a meeting with the hospital staff. Sell some season tickets. Maybe a suite. 

“Mr. Peck, a police officer has been waiting outside. Are you feeling well enough to speak with him?”

“Uh, sure.”

A short guy in a wrinkled brown suit walked into the room. “I’m Detective Daniels, Seattle Homicide.”

“Homicide?”

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry about what happened. Can I ask a few questions?”

“Shoot.” 

“Can you recall what happened that night?”

“I…I don’t remember much. Some guy broke in…my place was trashed.”

“Any idea why he broke in?”

“Ask him.” 

He stared right through me. I thought I was in for a “Look here, Mr. Wiseass, Lecture” but I guess he decided to cut me some slack because I was about half dead. “We’re still investigating the crime scene. Evidence points to a B and E gone bad. There’s blood splatter on your bedroom wall that doesn’t make sense. We’re running a DNA test on it. Were there any other people in your apartment that night?”

“No.”

“The perp died from blunt-force trauma to the head. We found a baseball bat next to the body. The marks on his skull are consistent with the blows a bat would make.”

“But…how…what did you say?” I was stunned. Last I saw of the Yemeni, you’d need a spatula to scoop together his head.

“Here’s how it went down. The perp smashed your patio door with a crowbar. You confronted him. There was one helluva fight. He shot you twice, but you managed to use his head as a piñata.”

“I did?” 

“Absolutely. We’ve ID’d him. His fingerprints were all over the gun.” 

“You know who he was?”

Officer Daniels gave me a surprised look. His ruddy face turned purplish. He laughed like I farted at his wedding.

“We know him well.”

“You…you do?”     

“Panhandles on Alki every night. Said he was a Vietnam vet who got doused with Agent Orange. Wore a patch over one eye. I’m sure you’ve seen him around.”

Of course. Everybody called him Lighthouse. Said the VA denied his disability claim even though he lost an eye. I felt sorry for the guy. Always gave him a buck or two. “You said he was hit with a baseball bat. Was it a Kyle Seager?”

“Sure was.”

“Kyle signed it for me. I was going to give it to one of the kids up at Fred Hutch.”   

“I understand you work for the Mariners?”

“Used to…”

“They’re worried about you. I’m supposed to call a guy named Moose after we finish.”

“He’s the man. Tell him to stay off the pie-wagon.”

“What?”

“Never mind…I’m not feeling so hot…can we talk later?”

“Anytime. Here’s my card. One quick question. How’d you get here?”

“Don’t know. Hoped you could tell me.”

The two finally left me alone. What just happened? I killed some homeless guy with a bat? What happened to the Yemeni? Then it hit me. Keeg! He set me up to get himself out of trouble. That freakin’ slider. I pounded the morphine button and slowly drifted to sleep.

 

 * * *

 

After months of physical therapy, I was cleared to go back to work. One December evening, I was working late, waiting for the evening traffic to moderate. About seven, I sloshed the overpass above Edgar Martinez Drive, to the Safeco parking garage. Fumbled to unlock my car door with the nerve-damaged digits of my left hand. About jumped out of my loafers when I heard his voice.

“Hey, J.P., we need to talk.”

“No, we don’t. Stay the hell away from me.”

“Come on, don’t be a dick. I need to explain a few things.”

“I don’t want to hear anything you’ve got to say. Fuck off, Keeg.”

He grabbed my keys. Shoved me against the Blazer. “It wasn’t supposed to go down like that. I swear. You weren’t supposed to get hurt.”

“Well, I did. And I almost died. Thanks to you, my left arm is screwed up for the rest of my life.”

“I’m sorry about that. But you have to hear me out. Then you can decide if you ever want to see me again.”

“You’ve got two minutes.”

“Fair enough. Look, I needed to flush Hashim out. I knew he’d follow me to your place after the Orioles game. And he did. I wanted him to think I stashed the Lioness in your apartment. After that, I disappeared and waited for him to return.”

“So the Mariners game and you needing a quiet meeting at my place were set-ups?”

“Had to be that way.”

“Like hell it did. You could have laid out your stupid trap anywhere. Look at this claw! I can barely make a fist.”  

“Let me finish.”

“You’ve got one minute left.”

“I watched Hashim break into your place. I planned to follow him inside and waste his ass. Just as I make my move, some homeless guy pops up out of nowhere. Guess he’d heard the glass break and wanted to know what was going on. I neutralized the bum, went into your bedroom and blew Hashim away.”

“Yeah, I saw that.”

“I stopped your bleeding as much as I could. Drove you to Harborview in Hashim’s rental car. Headed back to your place to clean up. Your homeless friend was waiting. Pulled a knife on me. Said I was a murderer. When he started yelling for help, I popped him a couple times with a bat.”

“So you killed an innocent man.”

“No choice.”

“There’re always choices, Keeg.”

“He was just collateral damage.”

“Like me?” 

“No. Already told you that. I dragged the bum into your bedroom. Wiped the prints off the Glock, stuck it in his hand and fired a few rounds into the wall.”

“Why?” 

“Had to make it look like he shot you. Prints and powder. Switching bodies worked out nicely for both of us.”

“How’s that?”

“Perfect crime. Hashim was never there.”

“What’d you do with him?”

“Better you don’t know. Look, J.P., you have to know I had your six all the way. Things went to rat shit real fast, and I had to react. That’s what I’m good at.”

“Yeah, same old slider you always were. Except now you kill people.”

“We’re not kids playing at Hiawatha. There’s a badass world outside Safeco and there’s no rulebook for right and wrong.”

“You need help.”

“Damn straight. Convinced the shrinks I have PTSD. I’m on leave while they do a psych eval. Nobody knows about Hashim or the Lioness. One thing for sure, I can’t let you into my playhouse anymore.”

“Good.”

“I’m gonna be off the reservation for a while. You’ll hear from me when things cool down.”

“Whatever.”

“Hey, we okay?”

“Give me the keys.”

“Here you go,” he said, tossing them to me. “Oh, one more thing. Thanks for keeping the Lioness.”

“You son-of-a-bitch. It was there all the time?”

“Of course. She was the bait, not you. Don’t you get it?”

“Go to hell.”

The fifteen-minute drive to West Seattle seemed like an eternity. While I waited in line at Spud’s for fish & chips, I found myself in a quandary over Keeg. I knew I should forget him and focus on my baseball career, but I was sure he’d surface again. And when he did, could I handle the slider?



Chris McCartney’s short stories have been published or will appear soon in: The Story Shack, Squawk Back, BareBack Lit, Spork Press and Yellow Mama.

Copyright © 2015 Chris McCartney. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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