MERLIN OLSEN, SPORTSCASTER
John Harding had a high-powered career, a loving wife, and a beautiful son. He's lost it all and has returned to his home town of Boland, New Hampshire, teetering on the brink of suicide. But an old friend asks John to manage his old Little League team, the Angels. Reluctantly, he agrees, and meets a hopeless player who bears a striking resemblance to his dead son--and through their extroardinary relationship, John finds the wisdom in living that he thought had slipped beyond his grasp forever....
AN ALTERNATE SELECTION OF THE LITERARY GUILD
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||294 KB|
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For many days after the funeral I did little when I was out of bed except slump at my desk in the den for countless hours and think about ending my life. The phone was off the hook, fax machine disconnected, and all doors leading to the outside world were locked and bolted. Still, each day, what seemed like an endless stream of traffic had moved slowly up my long circular driveway, always followed by a mournful tolling of the door chimes until I finally ripped out some wires. Sympathy from my friends and neighbors was the last thing I wanted.
The past seventeen years. How special they had been. Filled with hard work, rewards, love, joy, success, achievement, laughter and even some tears. There had been so many precious moments, such a long run of proud and unforgettable experiences, and now, even before my fortieth birthday, life was suddenly no longer worth living.
Occasionally I would push myself away from the desk, rise, and move slowly around the room, pausing to stare at each of the framed family photographs on my walls. Memories. The good times and special occasions depicted in each picture were still so vivid to me that I could almost hear voices and laughter. Was it Lord Byron who wrote that we can see farther through tears than with a telescope?
I turned my high-back wooden swivel chair slightly to my right, reached down to the bottom drawer of my large oak desk, tugged at the handle and it slid open silently. Inside, resting atop a telephone directory and several seed catalogs, where I had placed it yesterday after a long search through still unopened packing cartons in the garage, was the dull-finished 45-caliber Colt automatic pistol that I had bought, secondhand, during a rash of house burglaries back in Santa Clara, ten or so years ago. Next to the old weapon was a box of cartridges, a full box. I hated guns, always have, and after three test shots in the basement of a San Jose gunshop, I had never fired the damn thing again. Now I placed the lethal instrument on my desk blotter and stared at it, running my fingers slowly along its scratchy surface. On the flat side of the barrel, just above the trigger, was the small outline of a rearing horse and the words Government Model, COLT, Automatic Caliber .45.
I raised the muzzle end of the gun with thumb and forefinger, stared down the barrel and despite my shattered state of mind a name suddenly flashed through my self-pity to add to my confusion—Ernest Hemingway. Dear God! A ghost from my childhood! I had discovered Hemingway’s books in the local library when I was ten, and that summer I devoured everything of his I could find. It was after reading For Whom the Bell Tolls for the second time that I made my decision. When I grew up, I would be a writer, a famous writer, and I would find adventure in all parts of the world like Hemingway. What a wonderful life that would be! And then … and then my hero let me down. One day in 1961 he placed the business end of a loaded shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. I had a terrible time dealing with that. Why would anyone be foolish enough to do such a thing? Why? No rational answer came from the grown-ups I queried. Why? Why? What could possibly cause a man to take his own life, especially a big, tough, smart guy like him—a man who had so much to live for? I leaned forward and peered down the gun’s barrel again, shaking my head as my eyes filled with tears. Mr. Hemingway, please forgive me for judging you and thinking you were dumb to do what you did. Please.
I turned my back on the gun and gazed out the picture window directly behind my desk. Just below was a wide deck that extended across the entire rear of the new Cape Cod–style house. Rolling slightly uphill, away from the deck, were several acres of dark green lawn, studded with white Adirondack chairs, a horseshoe court, cedar picnic table and benches, and two six-foot-tall golf pins with red practice flags, set approximately a hundred and thirty yards apart so that I could practice with my short irons. At the far side of the lawn was a long single row of newly planted privet hedge, and beyond them was a meadow with several huge granite boulders, tall blueberry bushes and a small pond filled with noisy green frogs. Behind the meadow was a stone wall and a thinned-out woodland of pine, birch, maple, and a few ash, extending to both my left and my right as far as I could see. Raindrops suddenly began to fall, splashing against the window and diffusing my view until the outside world through the glass looked more like a painting by Monet. Forty-four acres of heaven on earth. Sally and I had fallen in love with the house and grounds at first sight. Bought it the very same day the realtor showed it to us.
I was now sitting in almost exactly the same position as on that Saturday, just a month ago, when she had walked into the den, stepped around my desk and hugged me. “Well, hometown hero,” she asked proudly, “are you ready to greet your public?”
“I’m not ready but I am nervous. Hon, I haven’t seen most of these people for a lot of years. I can’t believe this old town is doing this.”
“Why shouldn’t they? The people of Boland are very proud of you, John Harding. Your mom and dad spent their entire lives in this community. You were born here, went to school here, were a three-letter man in high school as well as president of your senior class, went on to college and became a baseball All-American. Now, here you are, just twenty years later, moving back to your hometown while you are being acclaimed by the entire business world as the newly elected president of Millennium Unlimited, one of the largest and most powerful computer companies in the computer industry. And … and … you’re still so young! Why shouldn’t these people honor you? Real heros are getting tougher and tougher to find in this crazy world of ours, and this town of Boland, as well as the rest of New Hampshire, has every right to pay tribute to you and all that you have done with your life. In the past few weeks most of them have seen you on Good Morning America or the Today show and read about you in Time and now they can’t wait to see you in person, especially the old-timers who knew your folks and remember you as a little boy. I was chatting with a Mrs. Delaney down at the post office this morning and she told me that the town hasn’t been in such a frenzy since Commander Alan Shepard, from Derry, dropped by for a clambake supper after he had become the first American in outer space—and that was almost thirty years ago!”
New Hampshire was a completely new experience for Sally, whose roots were all in Texas. We were both recruited out of college by a Los Altos firm that manufactured portable adding machines. Three months after we met, we married. Smartest thing I ever did in my life. In the years that followed, we probably moved our skimpy collection of furniture and clothing six or seven times up and down what would later become known as Silicon Valley as I kept changing companies in my persistent climb up corporate ladders. Sally was a rarity of the age. She insisted that all she wanted to do was stay home, be a housewife and mother—and my cheerleader. She was all of those and more to me, and seven years ago we were blessed with a healthy son, Rick.
Just two years ago I had assumed the vice-presidency of sales for Vista Computer in Denver and after I was fortunate enough to double the company’s dollar volume, both years, I was approached by an executive headhunter for the position of president of Millennium, third largest manufacturer of computer software in the world. The board of directors, it seemed, had voted unanimously, after two years of decreasing sales volume, to go outside the company for leadership. It was a dream come true for me, both the opportunity to head my own company and also to return to my New Hampshire roots.
Since the company’s headquarters and main plant were in Concord and my old hometown of Boland was only about a thirty-minute drive away, on good roads, Sally and I decided to look for a home in Boland, and we got lucky. Of course our West Coast furniture was completely out of place within the traditional architectural styling of the new rooms, but that didn’t faze Sally a bit. Almost overnight she was deep into books and catalogs on early-American and colonial interiors and she solemnly assured me that before we had our first house party for Millennium’s executives, our new home would be furnished in a manner that would make even Paul Revere proud, providing we didn’t run out of money first.
“Well,” I sighed, after Sally had finished singing my praise, “they said they wanted us down on the town common at two, so I think we had better get going. Where’s our son?”
“Rick is in the living room, sulking. He’s not very thrilled about his usual Saturday afternoon baseball game with his friends being fouled up by adult doings, but since it’s his birthday next Wednesday, he’s struggling hard not to lose any points.”
I grinned. “Well, let’s go take our bows and get on with our lives.”