“Puccini’s Baseball” by Harol Marshall
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Harol Marshall shares a tale of deception in Cooperstown, New York.
by Harol Marshall
Cooperstown, New York
Sal Puccini cruised down Main Street past the Baseball Hall of Fame and a lifetime of bad memories. Thirty years and nothing had changed—same small-town redbrick buildings, same sheen on the lake, same irritating kid brother.
Sal wondered if his brother still owned the Tony Conigliaro autographed baseball, or if he’d sold it to pay off his gambling debts. Sal’s home-run ball. The one he caught at the ’67 Yankees game. Thirteen-year-old Sal had clutched the ball to his chest, but his mother had snatched away the prize and handed it to Johnny, a Red Sox fan in love with Tony C.
Last time Sal visited Cooperstown, Johnny got into a fight at a local pub over a controversial Sox call. Sal came to the rescue, but instead of thanks, his brother complained that Sal hadn’t killed the guy.
“I’da paid you to off the punk,” Johnny told him once too often.
Sal sucker punched him just to shut him up. Hadn’t meant to break his brother’s jaw, only quiet him, stop the nagging.
Sal couldn’t stomach nagging. His mother was a nag, and so were his two ex-wives. The reason he’d married them according to the prison psychiatrist, which made no sense to Sal. He’d almost offed both wives. Divorced them instead.
Why would he marry someone who reminded him of his mother, a woman who’d left her kids when Sal was fourteen, his brother twelve? They never saw her again, but the memory of her hectoring in that high nasal twang haunted him still.
The only worthwhile thing she gave him was a love of opera.
“It’s the reason I married your father,” she’d say. “Because of his name: Giacomo Puccini,” after which she’d sing an aria from Madama Butterfly or La bohème.
She wasn’t that good, but Sal caught the bug anyway.
And now here he was, back in his hometown for the reading of his father’s will. Cooperstown. Famous for baseball and the Glimmerglass Opera Festival, the sole reason he’d agreed to leave the safety of the City and travel upstate.
That, and the executor’s orders: “Attend or forfeit everything to your brother.” Apparently, a last-ditch attempt by their father to reconcile his warring sons, not that Sal expected much. No doubt Johnny already ripped off most of the old man’s assets, which he’d blow on women and booze. Probably planned to steal Sal blind too.
“It’s a perfect time to come,” Johnny told him, setting the hook. “Your favorite opera’s playing this weekend—Madama Butterfly.”
The more Sal thought about it, the more suspicious he became. With their father’s passing, Johnny was Sal’s only blood relative. If Sal died, Johnny could sue to inherit his estate.
Before leaving the City, Sal met with an old mobster pal to discuss his options.
“Aconite,” his friend advised. “Undetectable, but be careful. It touches your skin, you’re dead. Best to pour it in a drink.”
Sal pulled into Johnny’s place a few minutes past six. His brother met him at the door, kissed him on both cheeks.
“Thanks for coming,” Johnny said. “Opera’s at eight. Gives us time to talk.” He pointed Sal to an easy chair.
“I brought your favorite Scotch,” Sal said. “Laphroaig. Mind if I pour?”
Johnny sat down. “Go ahead.”
Sal turned his back to Johnny and carefully poured the drinks, handing the doctored Scotch to his brother.
The men clinked glasses. “To Pa.”
Sal noticed the baseball on the bar, recognized the music playing. “Maria Callas. O mio babbino caro.”
“Mourning a father,” Johnny said, pointing to the baseball. “Take it, it’s yours.”
Sal picked up his long-lost treasure, his fingers tingling at the touch. He caressed the ball with both hands. “Thanks,” he whispered. His hands and arms burned, chest prickled. He felt weak, but couldn’t let go.
Oh my dear father, Callas sang.
“Before he died,” Johnny said, “the old man requested a vendetta.”
Sal’s throat tightened. “Vendetta?”
“Against mom’s killer.”
Daddy have mercy . . .
“Somebody killed mom after she left?”
“She didn’t leave.”
Daddy have mercy . . .
“Crazy talk from a crazy old man.”
“Not crazy. Scared. Scared you’d kill him too.” Johnny shrugged, nodded at the ball. “Had to do it for them.”
And I am tormented . . .
Sal tried to stand, but his legs betrayed him, like his brother.
I would want to die!
Sal’s soul entered the abyss, his body twitching to the music.
Johnny turned off the aria and finished his drink.
HAROL MARSHALL is a retired anthropologist who writes mysteries, thrillers, and short stories when she isn’t swing dancing or taking hip-hop lessons in her adopted hometown of Greensboro, NC. Harol’s semi-noir P.I. series (Holy Death, et al) is set in Hollywood, CA, and features Private Investigator Polly Isabel Berger (a P.I. in name as well as occupation) and a cast of quirky characters, including: Polly’s secretary and part-time standup comic Bunny Contreras, and Polly’s ex-husband, Hollywood Police Detective 3rd Grade Johnny Birdwhistle.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jul 11, 2016
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