3342 words (13 minute read)

14                        Giant Exhale

Outside Sunset Grill, a wan Rocky Ocean was staring forlornly at his platter. It was shaped like a grouper, or a mahi-mahi, or a flounder or some other kind of fish, at least it appeared that way to him. In itself, the platter could have stirred to starboard any belly such as his, so awash it was in Patron tequila. But it was what overflowed his fishy plate that pretty much did him in. He hadn’t known there was such a thing as blackened calamari. But there he sat, face to tentacle with a mountain of the Grill’s Friday night special.

"What!" roared Boomer Boudin, "is one of ’em moving? Hah!"

Frankly, it looked to Rocky like all of them were on the move. He shook his head furiously to clear his eyes and immediately regretted the resulting throbs to his temples.

Boomer grinned broadly, reached across the table’s yellow and black-checked table cloth, grabbed the biggest sucker he could, gathered it to him, threw his head back to dangle the critter between his pearly whites that glared like a Packard’s buffed, chrome grill, dropped the charred critter in and gulped it.

"Hoooooooooo," Rocky turned away.

"Tastes like chicken," mocked Boomer. "Just like they claim snake, eel, lizard and iguana all ’taste like chicken’, hah!"

"Enraged and full of anger!"

Boomer and Rocky spun to look toward the far edge of their table. Rocky was sure that the place mat beside the cell was moving. Swimming.

"He’s half man and half machine!" It was Painkiller, title track from the 1990 Judas Priest album. Boomer couldn’t resist when he reached for the phone. He winked at Rocky, "yum," fetched his Samsung and flipped it open. When the music stopped, a relieved Rocky sighed forlornly, pushed at a tender temple with one hand, then pushed away his platter with his other.

"Hey, Pop. Hey, it sorely pains me to inform you that I lost your shoes but hey, I’ll replace ’em... with part of the money you pony up for my paint job."

"My son, Jim Carey. Hey, is Monroe Richman there?"

"Is Monroe Richman here? If the bar’s open, he’s here." The head bartender always joked that the take from the steady stream of Johnny Walker Red that Monroe Richman tanked each night, probably covered the monthly wages of each and every Sunset Grill server. Now that his disbarment had been made official, he had a wealth of time on his hands, enough time surely, said the barkeep, to cover the wages of the help in back, too, right on down to the part-time dishwasher.

"In fact," said Boomer, "we were at the bar beside Richman just a few calamari ago."

Rocky grimaced then let go a Guinness Book belch. "Kidding, pop, inside joke."

His son sometimes worried Dana Boudin. But not all that much. "Remember old Earl Tolley?"

"Coffee Man Earl Tolley on Maui who mints money? No pop, I can’t clearly recall the man."

"What, trying to do Chevy now? Don’t. You don’t have a good enough game." Dad and son bowed down to Chevy Chase, who had played the role of golf pro Ty Webb in Caddyshack.

"Coffee. Tolley, third generation. His brands monopolize every souvenir shelf of every ABC and Duty Free store in the islands. Wholesale shipping, plantation tours, probably bungee jumps and zip lines, who can keep track?"

"Correct. Here, store this number in your phone. Eight six seven five three oh nine. That’s Tolley’s cell. He said he and Richman go way back. That’s when I immediately felt sorry for the man. Kidding. He asked if I’d seen the good counselor recently. Tolley said he has no problem with the disbarment. Au contraire, Earl foresees a discount and a half in the disgraced counselor’s hourly rate. Got a bunch of work for Richman and says he can handle it all from Oahu. He wants Monroe Richman ex-esquire, to call him right away. So give him the number. Chevy."

"I’ll call his voice mail right now. If I was to walk up to him at the bar it would no doubt cost me a round, or more."

"Thanks, son, slurred Dana Boudin the Money Machine. "Hey, it’s buffet time! There’s Ellie! Aloha, son. Adios. Over and out."

Ellie, Boomer smiled. Get after it, Pops.

"Ah, Pagan tips it straight back into Ellis’ mitt for the first out. Sandoval strides to the plate now, while Number 25 springs out of the Giants’ dugout to dig into the on-deck circle."

"Bonds never ’springs out’ of anything. The man shuffles like he’s wearing jammie slippers," said Izzy, ever the moderate voice.

"Sandoval’s riding a 14-game hitting streak but he’s 0 for 2 tonight with a walk and a run."

"Hey, it’s that swisher again." Penny Platinum remembered that Pablo Sandoval went both ways.

"Panda swings. Line shot to left-center. It’s looks to be in the gap! So Sandoval should reach second easily. No! Look at that! Dee Gordon runs it down. That Gordon is faster than Wile E. Coyote. Not quite as speedy as the Roadrunner, though. Beep-beep. Eh-eh. Two outs now! That can only mean one thing."

"Uh, oh." It was Sammy. "Where are we standing, Phil? Somewhere heretofore never before seen?" Yep. What came next was, well, heretofore never before seen

"Here he comes ladies and gentleman, the crowned king, he rules from SoMa to Haight Asbury, from Nob Hill to North Beach, from the Marina to the Mission, from Van Ness to The Great Highway, nay, from Mendocino to King City and from Monterey to Gold Country... number 25... Bareeeeeeeeeeeee... Bonnnnnnndz!"

It sounded now as if the fleet was shelling Normandy to protect the landing troops. At least, that’s the way Vinny Hodges imagined it, so he said as much. Then he said, "fans, I don’t know if you can hear me out there over this raucous crowd."

"’Raucous," Sammy was impressed, and said so.

"Forty-three thousand fans, forty-three with three zeroes, stamping their feet, hooting and hollering, whistling, waiting on history."

"Heretofore history," Johnny Pistol had joined the critique, however lamely.

"I wish all of my fans out there in radio land could see this. But hey, eh, eh, that would mean you were watching TV! Don’t you touch that dial!"

It looked like Barry Bonds was on a fishing boat. Eyes straight ahead but only half-focused at nothing in particular. And he wasn’t looking so much, as he was thinking. Head Cheat had told him just how much he thought the memorable ball would translate into in dollars. Barry liked the number. He began his shuffle. Around ninety seconds later, he would see his first pitch. Would this become the notorious at bat?

Fanny Hill had surprised Kuni Noyori. She emerged with a half smile and with color rebounding to her cheeks. She handed the vest to Kuni then asked, "where’s the tequila?"

Kuni smiled wide. "A cousin-friend is over there at the bar, no doubt closing a deal of some sort. I’m not much of a drinker, though." Kuni assumed that Fanny had been joking about the fire water. Fanny herself was unsure. Off the two went to meet Jewel and Head Cheat.

"Hooha!" but the instant he saw Jewel Goldman, Bobby G turned an about face to exit the landing in a roadrunner second. "Like to join ya," he said to no-one as he spun, "but hey, gotta run. Big deal coming down. Off the Richter." He then ran right up against the redwood-sized chest of the motorcycle guy with the Dead Head shirt, with hotties with winged tattoos hanging on to each arm. But when the hottest salesman on the whole friggin’ west coast reached to share his vintage Bobby G bear hug, the Dead Head said to Bobby, "save it, sport. This could be the big moment." As the big fellow edged on past, Bobby told himself what the heck, shot his cuffs, twirled his pewters, tugged at his slacks and plopped down onto a Tweener

On the mezzanine runway, Bumper Morgan ran eyeball to lipstick with Penny Platinum. Bumper foresaw immediately that she would home in on his hotdog so he promptly steered her toward the aisle rail overlooking the right field foul line. Loud down there, couldn’t hear Turbo if she had a megaphone. And that’s when Cool Cole Kelly called Bumper Morgan’s phone... three times... and left three messages.

Up in the broadcast booth, Al Michaels had returned to the seat next to the authentic Vin, and Smoky Burgess had wedged in behind the legends as closely as he dared. Behind him, the intern stood and stared ahead like a deer in the headlights, trying to decide what to offer the babe when she returned. The Smoky guy had assured him she would. He had woofed every fleck of Cheetos. What then? Fresno raisins! Yeah, Fresno raisins. How could she resist?

"Okay, this crowd is more than excited, it’s pumped up like the Michelin Man," crowed Vin Hodges. The first pitch about grazed Barry Bonds’ temple. "Not again! Another Gillette moment. Now, this crowd is really fuming! Ready to swarm the field and maul Messersmith."

Bonds stepped out, the frenzy subsided a decibel, everyone assumed that nothing would happen in the ensuing thirty seconds. But Barry surprised them, stepped right back in. Tapped his bat on home plate, straightened up and rested his custom Hillerich & Bradsby on his left shoulder. Nope, not a 34-inch Maury Wills model two-toner.

Dig in. Wind-up. Dig in closer. Bat raised off shoulder. Pitch was low and outside, but not outside enough. Bonds reached out to whip his bat on the pitch like a grizzly whacking a salmon. The ball arced skyward directly toward four seats anchored into the concrete of the upper deck.

The ball flew so high that there seemed little doubt that this was the historic homer. Aaaaah, but don’t you know, suddenly, in gushed the wind off the San Francisco bay to force downward the ball’s arc into a pattern that resembled the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The ball fell back toward earth way short of the foursome of seats.

Then, a rocket ricochet. The wind had caused Barry’s shot to plummet pretty much straight down to where it clipped the edge of the top of the right field fence, took a jagged-course rebound and caromed into what is called triples alley, between right and center. Triples alley is so named because it’s so far from home plate that when all the dust settles, your average runner will wind up with his cleats digging into third base. Barry Bonds had to settle for a single. He had been one confident soul until the bluster off the bay had postponed history. He had watched his ball interminably when he should have been looking where he was shuffling. He had tripped over first base like a drunk trips off a curb. He avoided falling but it took a moment to regain balance, then he turned and stepped back to first base. He had to settle for the single. And for what seemed to be a giant exhale from a murmuring crowd of forty-three thousand fans.

Bumper Morgan had bid adieu to Miss Platinum to head up to Head Cheat’s sky box where he hoped to find Kuni Noyori and lend her his phone. Up the steps, he paused to check his cell. Up the steps he continued... two at a time.

Down the steps, Penny rustled past Merrill Hodges who went stiff as a foul pole. When she shimmied into her seat and reached around to tug off her jacket, Roger Butler whispered to her, "Total Explanation of What I Really Mean by Hope & Change."

Phil would have fallen out of his seat, had that been anatomically possible. "By Barrack Obama," he said to his pals. "Now that’s a thin book."

Penny Platinum looked confused. She had hauled her handbag off her shoulder to pull off the jacket, then carefully selected an tolerably unsoiled patch of concrete to stash the bag. It was only then that she realized her hands were now empty. She had forgotten to buy anything to eat. Damn! she thought. I’m starved. I’ve got to get my hands around a hot dog.

Merrill Hodges was once more, a happy camper. He was now camped right behind soft pale shoulders instead of a head full of stringy straw-colored strands that did little to cover the worn furrows that streaked the back of the deejay’s Lynyrd Skynyrd tee shirt. Another sign of an aging deejay: his wardrobe is mostly comprised of free record label giveaways and promotional and concert tee shirts.

"If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong." Izzy and Johnny Pistol had been going back and forth about something Phil hadn’t caught. But, even as spaced out on Fanny as he was, he recognized a good paraprosdokian when he heard it. Did Izzy even realize he had said as much? Phil would think about that. Meanwhile, he fretted all the more. Fanny Hill had never, ever before, gone AWOL.

"You Whaaaaaaat!? You are incredible. Off the dial! We haven’t put a fine point to anything yet. Unbelievable. Off the bloody dial!"

"Thank you. They will be delivered in time for Monday night’s game." Jewel Goldman was cooing. This had been a mountainous, assumptive close. "I assumed you’d want her to begin wearing your shirts on camera immediately so I made a phone call."

"And what if I hadn’t bought into this promotion?" Initially, Head Cheat looked as though he’d been on the wrong end of a hit and run when Jewel informed him that Kuni would be attired in an Polo shirt adorned with a Cheaters logo, in time for the first pitch of the Giants’ Monday night opener against the Braves.

Turkey, schmurkey. We both know that he bought in long ago, Jewel knew, but now she had Head Cheat himself saying it. His emotion will pay my price, once the bird is brought from the oven. And each of us will feel like healthy pilgrims. "Aaaaah, dear Head, here she comes now. Say hello to your future."

Head turned and exhaled audibly. Each woman approaching him was a stunner, but the exotic Oriental was outa the park. Way out. All the way to Hollywood. "Evening, ladies," he managed.

Fanny extended a hand. Kuni was impressed and happy the way it appeared Fanny had bounced back. Sure, not a hundred percent, but she had reclaimed some bounce. Oddly, Kuni didn’t feel quite one hundred percent herself. She had pounced on Jewel’s offer alright, but with the caveat that she couldn’t be sure she could finish the season. If her Cole had accepted an offer to program somewhere other than the Bay Area, they had agreed, especially for the baby, to relocate. Why hadn’t he called back?

"Badge! Need to see a badge if you want in!"

The suite went silent.

The security guy, looking every bit like an overzealous, under qualified Homeland Security guard who had done who knows what for a living before 9/11, before overnight becoming qualified to protect the friendly skies, had raised his voice a few decibels too high.

"Badges," thought Bumper. He didn’t recall that he had dropped his into Kuni’s bag. "I don’t have to show you any stinking badges," he had been tempted to say, to summon the infamous line from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, that had been co-opted in dozens of movies and other types and stripes of media, for more than eighty years.

Bumper had already wedged himself halfway into the suite. He was looking for Kuni. He saw her with Head. And the beer girl. Huh? When Head Cheat’s attention was drawn to the guard, he recognized the long-haired deejay, so he signaled to allow the freeloading Lead Dawg back in.

Kuni had extended her hand to meet Cheat’s. He said, "I wanted to introduce myself to you earlier, but your new boss had me-"

But Kuni spun away. Drawn to the commotion, she saw Bumper wave her purse and his phone at her. He looked like he was waving in a 747 to LAX He was grinning like Kenneth Starr waving a dress at an impeachment. She had immediately broken from Head’s grasp with no apology, to fly toward Bumper like she was Florence Griffith Joyner. She caught herself, then slowed down. But only a little.

Bumper was vigorously nodding his head "yes," as she made her way toward him. He handed her purse to her, then his phone. He had no way to know what Cole had said, but he could see that the three messages flashed his now familiar number. One could say that Kuni was a wee bit happier than Mister Homeland Security. When she walked past him to find some quiet, Mr. Homeland stepped aside.

So Kuni had left and Fanny Hill wanted to, too. She had no way of knowing that the classy television exec beside her had just hired Kuni Noyori. She had no, no way of knowing that the woman had also signed someone else whom she knew. Knew all too well. Meanwhile, she was keenly curious if that was indeed Kuni’s beau checking in with good news on the deejay’s phone, but she was anxious to make her way over to the Dodger booth to button-hole Mr. Michaels. Which had now become unnecessary, but Fanny didn’t know that.

When Fanny had introduced herself to Head Cheat, it finally struck Jewel Goldman who the beer vendor was. She kicked herself. Well, not really. No way she would scuff those Jimmy Choos.

The weekender! The auburn streak was a dead giveaway. When Head turned to glad-hand the guy in the Dead Head shirt, Jewel turned to face Fanny. She wanted to know if the rank and file at TV 20 knew of her coup. Obviously, upper management was in the know, notably, the anchor’s stunned general Manager as well as her now ex-news director Ken Sutherland. It was to them that Victory Freedom had given notice.

Deftly, while acting casually, Jewel asked Fanny if there was anything new at TV 20.

Blank poker look and a shake of the head. Does this queen already know my fate before even I do? Jewel did not, but she now confirmed that her competitor’s troops had not yet been mobilized to counter her coup. In fact, it was obvious to her that even this pretty, up-and-coming weekend anchor, hadn’t learned that the market’s de facto #1 talent had defected to KFAN.

Ken Sutherland tossed his empty, grease-stained garlic fries bag into the recycle bin before he finally headed toward the sky box elevator. He was anxious, intent upon reaching the booth to deliver his sobering news. But, was Fanny even there yet? Shortly, he would come to realize that he had set his sights on the wrong booth.

Next Chapter: 15                       Melted into Mush