It wasn’t right. The firm was laying people off that spring as if they were unsightly bits of dandruff. But then one day, he showed up.
“Charles Atlas is here,” Spider said.
“Huh?” I wondered.
“The guy interviewing in Mortensen’s office. Door’s been closed for nearly an hour.”
Mortensen was the director of finance, in charge of accounting: numbers and dollar signs. But sales were plummeting. More and more there was less and less to account for. Things at Aurora Tech were as bad as our company softball team’s record. The bosses had become apoplectic about it—the team losing streak as much as the lost revenue, particularly Mortensen, who considered himself the de facto manager. As if the daily threat of layoffs wasn’t bad enough, we were at the bottom of the league standings. Three years earlier, my first at the company, we’d won the title for a seventh consecutive time. It had been downhill ever since.
Suddenly it hit me. “Betcha he’s a ringer,” I said.
Spider and I were both eyeing Mortensen’s office when the door clicked open, sounding like the pull of a trigger. Out shot a smiling, bronze-skinned man with shoulders the width of a pickup. With that tan and his bushy sideburns and square jaw, he looked so Malibu Beach, 1963, like he’d arrived in Silicon Valley by time machine. Mortensen followed him out and they skirted by our little cubicle maze before falling from sight near the reception area.
Spider made some joke about steroids and shrinking cock size, which got me laughing. I was in full-throttle guffaw when Mortensen padded back. “Not to spoil the fun, Jonesy, but I’m moving you to left next week. Down in the order, too. That fellow there was Ryan. He’s our new junior accountant. Also our new centerfielder and cleanup hitter.”
“He know his arithmetic?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” Mortensen admitted. “But last weekend I saw him hit one so far out of Greenleaf Park it busted the windshield of a cop car in the station parking lot.”
In our very next game, my participation ended soon after I took the field. The leadoff batter hit one my way but Ryan plowed into me in left center, his forearm smashing into the bridge of my nose as he intercepted the ball just before it fell in my glove.
“Eeeewww!” said Faith when I returned to the dugout. She was an admin at Aurora Tech as well as our backup catcher, one of two women on the team per co-ed league rules. She was cute, with milky cheeks dotted with freckles, auburn hair tied in a ponytail through the back of her cap. “Eeewww!” she kept repeating.
I turned away and began cupping my nose with both hands.
“Here’s a towel,” Marty Martinez said, tossing one from the far side of bench. “It’s a little sweaty,” he added the moment I buried my schnoz in it.
It was just the three of us in the dugout until someone on H&H Consulting skied one to Leuker, who’d replaced me in left for the third out. A minute later the whole team was “admiring” my bloodied hands and asking to see the damage on Martinez’s white towel. When I obliged it looked like a Rorschach block inked in red.
“Weren’t you going to get your nose cauterized?” Spider asked.
I nodded, nose stuffed back in the towel. Nosebleeds had become a common occurrence in my life thanks to allergies, a karate class mishap as a teen, and getting some bunk Bolivian marching powder the weekend of my 21st birthday. It was mostly Ajax, I’m sure. The blood vessels in my nose leaked like a sieve ever since. I’d planned to have an ENT specialist cauterize the little fuckers but kept procrastinating. Staring through the chain links in the dugout fence to the smooth dirt of the infield diamond, I made a mental note to arrange for such a procedure first thing in the morning.
“Sorry, man,” Ringer Ryan said to me in passing, dragging the biggest bat in the rack behind him as he headed out to the on-deck circle. After Peters walked, our new addition came to the plate with the bases loaded. He had a Bunyan-esque stance: monster bat draped like lumber over his shoulder, Easter hams under his tight white baseball pants where his thighs and quads should have been. The mustachioed pitcher tossed one over the plate and Ryan crushed it so far it reminded me of a shooting star.
“A grand salami!” someone shouted. Everyone got up off the bench and prepared to high-five Ryan when he returned. I looked over and saw Martinez filling out our team’s scorebook.
“Why you keeping score today?” I managed in a nasally voice, the blood in my nose finally coagulating. “Shouldn’t Staley be doing that?”
“Didn’t you hear? Staley got axed around noon. Must have packed up and said his goodbyes after you’d left for lunch.”
Over the next few weeks, moods around the office were on the upswing, the ongoing layoffs notwithstanding. I was relatively safe as a sales associate, plus I felt like a new man, what with my nose now cauterized. My nickname around the sales team, “Mount St. Jonesy,” no longer applied since I’d stopped erupting. It was nice to feel a tickle in my snout without worrying that blood would soon flow like lava.
But what energized other folks, especially the Aurora bosses, was the nice little win streak the team had put together with our new junior accountant in the lineup. Before Ringer Ryan arrived, I was arguably our best player. During our string of victories, however, I simply cheerleaded from the dugout bench. Doctor’s orders, post surgery—no exercise, straining, or physical contact for a week or two (and paranoid as I was that the surgery might not take, I doubled that). Still, I wasn’t missed. Nor were Goldstein or Reese, two of our infielders who’d been laid off during the same stretch. With Ryan on the team, everyone seemed to play better, try a little harder. It was like having Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds on your side—you were in every game no matter what. Spider and I made cracks about the guy, yet couldn’t help but marvel at his abilities. One time he hit the ball well over the wall at Stanyon field, normally used for college baseball, not rec league softball. It must have traveled four-hundred feet. No one could remember a softball clearing that fence before. And against Xytek he hit three homers. On the last he nearly passed Faith before crossing home, and she’d started out on second.
In fact, over the course of the four games he’d played, Ryan had only made out once. In what might have been his most memorable at-bat of all, he bashed one back through the box that ricocheted off the pitcher’s kneecap toward first. The first baseman scooped it up and stepped on the bag before Ryan could reach it. Meanwhile, the pitcher spun his backside on the dirty mound in a painful display. He was helped off the field and driven to the nearest urgent care clinic. We won that game going away, clinching third in the league and a spot in the first round of the playoffs against the league runner-up. The winner would move on to the finals.
Good times had returned to Aurora Tech—unless, of course, your department was the next to be downsized.
Spider and I were leaning over our cubes, nixing each other’s ideas on where to head for lunch, when Mortensen brushed by, Ringer Ryan at his side.
“You two degenerates want to join us?” Mortensen said. “Evan’s Bar & Grill. We’re doing it up.”
“Um…” Spider muttered, gazing my way. I looked on sheepishly.
“Come on, boys, we’re expensing it!”
That was all we needed to hear, so we grabbed our jackets and followed. The way things were going, it might have been our last shot to eat on the company dime.
We sat at a small square table in the center of the ballroom style restaurant. Mortensen to my right, Ringer Ryan to his right, Spider to his, and then back to yours truly. There were skylights overhead, and arched windows with views of the street, and the interior sparkled. The food was good, great really—sea bass for me, prime rib for others—and Mortensen kept ordering another bottle of wine long before we’d finished the last. I could tell Spider was enjoying things; he spoke loud and used gestures, at least until knocking his glass of merlot onto the white embroidered tablecloth.
Ryan was pretty quiet, only managing a few puzzling bits of chatter here and there. Spider kicked me under the table once or twice afterward to make sure I’d heard the inanity. Aside from a few fist bumps and complaining about a certain umpire’s strike zone, we hadn’t shared much conversation. Nothing at the office, anyway. Ryan seemed a little uneasy, and I guessed he might be concerned about the numbers he was seeing. Maybe he knew Mortensen had brought me and Spider along to give us our special “last meal” before we got guillotined from the payroll. But I was in good spirits like Spider; I wasn’t going to dwell on things beyond my control.
Before heading back to the office, Mortensen suggested we get a round of cappuccinos. He’d been strangely subdued once talk turned from the upcoming playoff game and back to more mundane, work-related affairs. I’d been discussing airline flights and an upcoming trade show in Missouri where Aurora Tech would be exhibiting. The sales team had warned I might be attending, but if so, reservations needed to be made.
“Why don’t you just drive out there?” Ryan asked, right as I prepared to sip from my just-arrived, steaming mug of coffee. I was lucky not to spill its scalding contents.
“I mean, how far can it be?”
I looked first at Spider, then at Mortensen. Both were also perplexed.
“It can’t be as far as Seattle, and I know someone who drove there in a day.”
“No way, dude,” Spider said. “It’s way farther than Seattle.”
“It’s along the Mississippi River.” Mortensen said.
“Really?” Ryan said. His furry eyebrows rose, and the room’s light shone off his tanned cheeks like neon.
“Well, yeah.” I said.
Ringer Ryan then went on to explain that he’d always thought Missouri was out west, maybe sandwiched between Utah and Colorado somewhere. Something about the NFL teams in St. Louis and Kansas City being in the league’s western divisions, which made sense I guess. At least a little.
Mortensen soon waved down our waiter and paid our check. As we wandered back down Brewster towards our building, Mortensen pulled me aside. “Good work on BF Freighting,” he said. “They’d been thinking of going elsewhere but are sticking with us. They mentioned you’ve been really helpful.”
“Cool,” I said, recalling several discrepancies regarding invoices for things they’d already paid for. I’d cleared them up with a little fact finding and help from a gal named Julie under Mortensen’s watch in finance and accounting.
“How’s that nose of yours, Jonesy? You ready to play ball again?” He gave me a wink as we marched on, shoulder to shoulder.
“Oh yeah. It’s the playoffs.”
“Good,” he said, but in a tone that struck me as a little too serious.
Thirty minutes before our playoff game, as I was playing catch in the outfield with Spider, Mortensen walked on to the field and called everybody over. “We’re going to have to really pull together to win this thing today,” he said. “We’re going to have to do it without Ryan.”
Groans emerged throughout the team huddle. “What hap—” someone started to say. Mortensen just turned his head and smacked his hands together. We all knew what happened.
“Okay, Jonesy,” Mortensen said, sidling beside me as I paced back out, “you’re in center, hitting cleanup.”
“Okey dokey,” I said, before he grabbed my arm, stopping me.
“And just so you know, Jonesy. We may lose the game, but we won’t lose our jobs. Not anytime soon, at least. Get this, Kensington Insurance, a whale of a client, was landed today.”
Which was good to know, especially after we got pummeled fifteen to eight by Shoreline Point Realty, a team we’d beaten by a similar score just two weeks before. Ryan had been in my spot then, but now he was nowhere to be seen. Spider learned a few things from our friend Julie, and passed the rumors on to me. I spoke about them in the abstract to Mortensen a few weeks later upon my return from the tradeshow in St. Louis. We were having another fancy lunch, beer instead of wine this time. Just the two of us.
Mortensen nodded and shrugged at my inferences, but by the time coffee came he loosened up. Soon, we laughed together, reminiscing about how Ryan had thought Missouri was where Nevada was. Or was it New Mexico?
“He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed,” Mortensen said. “He fucked up some financials so bad that word had to go to the top. Not only did Spangler want to fire him, he suggested we contact the company’s law firm, or the FBI even. He literally suggested making a federal case out of it. He figured Ryan had to be skimming money from the bottom line. It took me an hour to convince him that no, he wasn’t. It was just Ryan being Ryan.”
At that I became the definition of giddy. I laughed harder than I ever had at any of Spider’s jokes—and he’d told some real humdingers. Without a doubt Ryan was destined to become a legend around the Aurora Tech water cooler. For his exploits both on and off the field.
“Hey, Jonesy,” Mortensen said, as I was trying to compose myself with little success, and eyes around the restaurant beamed my way.
“Sorry,” I said.
“No, it’s not that,” he said, leaning forward to whisper, “It’s your nose. It’s bleeding.”
Panic stricken, I swiped a finger upon my philtrum, my Cupid’s bow.
“Gotcha,” Mortensen said, as I looked at my finger and saw not a spot of blood.
Roland Goity lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he writes in the shadows of planes coming and going from SFO. His stories can be found in Fiction International, The Raleigh Review, Word Riot, Compass Rose, PANK, and more recently in The MacGuffin, Menacing Hedge, Bluestem, and Defenestration.