The first customers straggled in, shaking off rain and cursing the weather. Twelve of them headed to the bar and their orders ran from simple to extreme. They kept me too busy to notice how quickly the bar was filling up. My regulars took the empty bar seats and nibbled on the snacks while I served.
The young lovers who were sneaking out who meet in my bar took their drinks to their corner and I turned to Kido. He’d been coming to my bar since August, once or twice a week. He would drink two beers, chat about baseball for an hour, then disappear again. Maybe not the biggest spender, but regulars fill my till and I’ve been a bartender long enough to know who puts the tofu in my oden.
The off-season chatter focused on the stories of the past, long or recent, of baseball. Kido knew the game; I often suspected he played more than just the high school team he’d admitted playing catcher for some twenty years ago. He knew the high school leagues too well. “Been running a girls softball league for the last couple of years,” he admitted once, but refused to say more. I knew when to quit.
The group of twelve took over most of my pool tables and shouted for more beers. I glanced around my bar; everyone were covered. I loaded up the trays and carried them to the tables, collecting bills and tips. I turned back to go to my bar and saw Kido staring into the dancehall at a girl - a stunning red-head with a body that would have attracted attention even without that gorgeous face. But what caught my eye wasn’t her beauty but the shocked look on her face. I twisted to see what had startled her and saw Kido, rubbing his face, staring back. By the time I looked back at her, she was pushing into the dance crowd, the tip of her red hair only visible.
Kido laid another pair of bills on the table. “Give me a beer.”
I’d never seen him look at a woman in the club, even when Miss Yashima, the hot blonde secretary, was looking at him. “She’s young, Mr. Kido. Too young. You know who she is?”
He looked up at me, surprised. “Do you?”
“She’s on that girls’ high school baseball team.”
Kido leaned back on the bar, resting his elbows on the rim. “Really?”
“You remember,” I prompted. “Trying to get to Koshien. I thought you followed the high school leagues. They were in the news all summer long.”
“Yeah,” Kido said. “I remember the story. Big stink about one of the girl’s father, right?”
“Yeah,” I wiped up a spill on the bar. “Hayakawa. Her dad was accused of throwing games.”
He propped an elbow on the bar. “You played baseball, didn’t you, Chiro?”
“Yeah, long time ago, but I knew Hayakawa.”
“Did you now?” Kido finished his drink. “Two beers.”
I gave his the beers and watched him slide into the grinding dance crowd. Not much later, the crowd gave way enough for me to see him dancing with her with far more grace than I would have expected from a man who said he spent his days arranging games for junior high school girls.
I’ve watched the dance between couples for fifteen years from behind my bar. I ‘d danced it myself, once or twice. There was electricity between those two when they came back and sat at the bar. I would have thought he’d take her to one of the back corner booths, but they ordered two more beers and looked at each other silently while I served another round to the pool tables.
“Kido tells me you knew Hidehiko Hayakawa,” the red-head said, and Kido winced. She gave him a smile that would have made me beg.
“I knew him. We played together for his last season.”
“So you were in the scandal?” She laid a row of nuts on the bar and slid them around. I studied her hands. She was shaking. “The bribery scandal?”
“I knew about it, we all knew about it.”
She smiled up at me and I poured her a fresh bowl of nuts. The red hair myth was probably true about this girl. She looked like she had a temper. “You all knew about it? The players knew?”
What did it matter? The story was twenty years old, before she and Hawakaya’s daughter were even born. I’d been out of baseball for eighteen years. “Sure we knew. Hawakaya was part of the problem. Management wanted a winning team, but more than that, they wanted a pennant winning team. Hawakaya was good and he was reducing the betting odds. People weren’t going to make enough money if the odds were too low… so they wanted the team to throw the game. Throw the next three. Get the odds back just in time for the pennant race.”
“Then the team management was in on it?”
“They knew about it, sure. I think the idea came from outside, but they knew.”
I hadn’t thought about that time in my life for decades. What had been my dream career had gone sour in a day and I didn’t want to remember it.
“So what really happened?”
“The usual story. A couple of bookies, a player with a grudge… money in a locker. Easy enough, if you’ve got some help on the inside. I think the management thought it would all pass over… Hawakaya would be out just long enough to change the odds, he’d be proven innocent and come back to win.”
“That’s not what happened,” the red-head dropped her empty can and I handed her another one. Kido laid the cash on the bar and I took it, wondering just what kind of game he thought he was playing. “Hawakaya got a life-time ban. Why didn’t you speak up?”
“Nobody asked me. Management threatened us: talk to the press and you’re out of baseball permanently. No one was willing to risk it. I sure wasn’t.”
Fire flashed in her face and I half-expected her to accuse me of cowardice. I waited; it wasn’t an accusation I hadn’t heard every morning for years afterwards whenever I looked in the mirror.
She looked at Kido over her beer as she drank it, and I stepped back. The man surely wasn’t going to ignore her the way he’d ignored all the other looks he’d gotten in the last three months in here.
“Things didn’t work out the way they were supposed to, did they?” She dropped her empty can on the bar.
“Hawakaya disappeared. He didn’t make any effort to clear his name. It made the team captain crazy. If Hawakaya had only tried, instead of waiting for the league investigation… It wouldn’t have taken much for him to have been reinstated.”
Kido stood up and took the young woman’s arm. She leaned against him as if magnets drew them and I figured I knew the rest of this story. I’d remember that, the next time Miss Yashima tried to hit on him. She was too short and too blonde for his taste, obviously. I cleared the bar of abandoned nuts and threw away the empty beer cans, before I looked out the window. I could see them, staring without talking. Suddenly, he grabbed grabbed handfuls of her hair and pulled her face to his. Her hands flew out and I expected her to hit him. Instead, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and pulled him tighter against her body.
“He got lucky,” I thought, but they stepped apart, and took a second step back away from each other before she turned and ran across the street. He shoved his hands into his pockets, turned without looking back, and walked away.