Binding Arbitration : Chapter 1







Aidan 11 a.m.

Thirty years of experience in locker room antics hadn’t prepared me to manage the filming of a thirty-second television spot with six six-year-old fairies.

They say life imitates baseball–-if that was the case, then mine should be silver plated peanuts and gold encrusted Cracker Jacks, but I hadn’t had a prize fall out of my cardboard box in weeks and Sailor Jack and Bingo had jumped ship.

The ump laughed, before singing to the tune of Take Me Out to the Ball Game:

Take him out of the bullpen,

Pay him for an endorsement.

Give him some pixies and faerie dust,

He won’t care until all his seams bust.

Most guys with a clear conscience hear his own voice in his head, but I’m a professional baseball player. A turn-of-the-century ump commands mine. Ever since I took a tumble on the side of a mountain last year, the ump’s been running a continuous color commentary.

When my agent, Fletch, arranged what he considered an ‘easy’ gig, the ump enjoyed my discomfort more than a beer guy enjoyed extra innings at a scorching doubleheader in July.

The ump sang his ditty, until the glitter that shook free from the rafters felt like it was sluicing through my cranium. I imagined shoving his old-fashioned, Boston-style cap down his throat and silencing him for a few bars. Oh yeah, and at the weirdest times I’d see him, too. Nobody else, just me. Right now he was standing on the bench in the set’s Styrofoam dug-out.

The baseball field backdrop had been shredded by my co-stars. The fairies were tramping around the bench like trolls searching under a bridge for three Billy goats and if they didn’t find something to entertain them soon, they’d move onto the gruff, over-paid baseball player du jour.

How had I found myself in such an irritating predicament?

There was a time when the sight of an experienced catcher squatting over home plate and a freshly-packed mound was enough to make my fingertips itch for the seams of a ball and a broken-in mitt. Before the game became endorsements and contracts, it had been about the applause of the crowd and locker room pranks. Back then, throwing ninety-five miles-per-hour fast-balls had been enough to raise gooseflesh. Once upon a time, that amounted to more than all the material wealth and fame.

“Six beautiful girls can create a lot of chaos.” The make-up guy startled me as he re-powdered my t-zone. “Don’t sweat those chiseled cheeks off, honey.” He patted my rear with his bare hand. He had to know we ballplayers did that only with mitts on.

I closed my eyes to avoid the glare shooting from the camera lights. Sweat trailed down my back and into my too-tight uniform pants; the costume department had neglected to provide a cup. I chafed, even as sweat flowed into my uncomfortable, pink-and-black shoes–-much too much Pepto Bismol pink to be called cleats. Though if there’d been a bottle of the liquid stomach ache relief I’d take a hit straight from the bottle.

That doesn’t aid your kind of heartache, kid.

I ran my hand through my hair, and when I drew it away, my palm sparkled with pink glitter. The director had stormed off the set in search of aspirin, returning now, with a cold pack against his temple. The producer corralled my co-stars below the lights again, where they splattered equipment with fairy dust, which a weary cameraman dusted away before he zeroed in on me again.

They had already poked, pummeled, pulled, pinched, (in the butt I might add), and smacked (not on the lips, thank God) me into speechlessness. When my eyes beseeched the make-up guy for assistance, he blew me an air kiss and winked. I ump pantomimed the makeup guy, blowing air kisses through his mask.

Things were crumbling faster than fairy mounds under an ogre’s club, so I accessed my father’s deep serious voice; I’d successfully used it to contain even the rowdiest females. “You fairies need to behave.”

They glared at me, before they danced around me; hand in hand, chanting back and forth, Mr. Bandage and Mr. Bondage.

“My name is Band-Aid,” I said, all salt and vinegar.

“And we’re pixies not fairies.” The petite brunette of the group retorted, before she narrowed her fire-breathing-dragon eyes on me; I saw my own reflection in her irises.

Reflections so easily changed by action, but magnified by neglect.

I shook my head, clearing it. There was no way I was going to let the ump call this game against me.

A boisterous, screeching pixie was hanging from each of my arms when the phone at my backside began ringing. One of the pixies pried the phone out of my pocket. I wrestled it from her grasp and shrugged them off. They dropped the pretext of civility, curling their cotton-candied colored lips back to reveal the hunter’s teeth snarling for fresh meat.

I glanced at the caller ID window of my man-phone; every guy I knew was preprogrammed into it, but it was an unknown number.

I replaced the phone, unanswered, and worked up a megawatt smile before turning back to the pixies, hoping to coax them into collaboration. If charm didn’t do the trick, I was going to have to resort to bribery to ensure their cooperation or this commercial might never fill time slots between Tinker Bell’s Parade and My Little Pony.

The phone danced against my back end again.

Star-light, star-bright. How many bimbos can dial a number right?

Exasperated with the voice in my head, I pulled the phone out and growled, “What?”

“Aidan?” The woman’s voice was a haunting melody, whispered tones that sang to me in my dreams. Her voice coursed through me and threatened to bring distinct appendages to attention.

“Yeah?” My mind refused to place the voice, but the caller, whoever she was, should’ve known I was off-the-market. Wasn’t that the advantage of a celebrity engagement?

“Aidan, its Libby.” Her throat cleared. “Elizabeth Tucker.”

Another sharp liner—hit right back up the middle off a fastball I left in the center of the plate—came at me hard. The room spun with its impact. I swallowed several gasps of oxygen before I was able to clear my tongue from my windpipe. “Be still my beating heart.”

“You have a heart?”

As evidence to its existence, I could hardly hear past its thumping. “I don’t have time for a stroll down memory lane.”

“I’m honored you remember a lane.” She sighed with a deep, seductive tenor before her voice tightened as sharp as a drill. “I know you’re in town, and I need to speak with you, even though you must be extremely busy.” Her sarcasm scratched about as subtly as glass shards against a cornea. “I wouldn’t dream of taking up more than ten minutes of your time.”

“I’m in the middle of shooting a commercial.” As if on cue, the pixies giggled.

“I know the importance of beer commercials. Or is it razor blades?” She gave a scoffing snort. “Either way, I’m sure you can spare ten minutes off your multimillion-dollar stop watch.”

I almost dropped the phone. Libby’s heated words crackled through my eardrum. Words rubbed together like sandpaper against flint—scorching my hand. “I’m a busy man.”

A red-headed pixie goosed me to get my attention. I grunted in reply, which set off another round of hysterical giggling. Maintaining my temperature with Libby and my composure with the glittery little girls of the harem proved more challenging than satisfying the suits in the front office.

“You and your playmates can roll around the set all morning, for all I care. But I need to see you, two-thirty at Gutheries on Addison.” Her voice mocked me with its sugary tone.

“You better watch it, cutter, I might think you actually have emotional nerve endings.”

She groaned and the silence stood still.

“Listen jock-boy, if you don’t show up, you’ll need more than a band-aid to close the gaping lesion I’ll split open.”

“Forget it. Have you stopped reading People Magazine, babe? I’m a celebrity. And I don’t show up at anyone’s beckon call.”

“I know exactly who you are, that’s why you’re going to show. You wouldn’t want the sordid details of your personal life splashed over the cover of the Spectator.” I could hear her teeth grind together. “I need to see you face to face.”

“Why don’t you schedule a meeting with my agent, he handles the scorned women. If he thinks you have something to say, maybe we’ll have a sit-down.”

“You can sit your ass down at Gutheries.”

“Let me give you his number.”

“I have his number.”

If she already had Fletch’s number, I could only assume he’d given her mine. He was a dead man. No, death would be to kind. I’d hang-glide off the Sears Tower, because that would add considerable gray hairs to his ebony coiffure.

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