Mad Dog Without His Bite
Marty Frazier gingerly made his way along the rocks that lined the bank of the secluded Mill River in the section known as Indian Bend listening to the rushing gurgles of the river's current. He stopped short when his eyes fell upon the image of a naked woman lying on a large flat rock angled at a forty-five degree slant sunning in the warm summer sun.
She looked to be around forty. Her reddish brown hair was pulled up in a bun on the top of her head and her pubic hair matched the hair on her head. Her breasts were fair sized with just a little bit of sag from age. She had small love handles on the sides of her stomach and her thighs were lightly crinkled wrinkled.
"Oh, sorry," he said aloud, startled by the sight before him.
The woman had her eyes closed but she jumped when she heard his voice. "What the hell?" She shouted when she saw the unwanted intruder standing in front of her staring at her full nakedness. "What is wrong with you!?"
She jumped from the rock, turning her back to him so he could see her full tush as she scampered to the ground to grab her shorts and sports bra which she quickly put on before turning to face him.
"What are you, some sort of pervert?" She demanded angrily.
"How was I supposed to know you were here?" Frazier asked defensively. "Besides, it's not my fault you decided to get naked out in the open."
"This is private property, you asshole," she snapped.
"Yes, I know, I live on it now."
"What are you talking about?" She frowned suspiciously.
"I'm staying in the Serguci cabin," he explained.
"Oh great," the woman moaned. "There goes my neighborhood."
"You're in that other cottage?" Frazier guessed.
"Unfortunately, now," she grumbled.
Frazier was sweating but not necessarily from the hot summer air and beating sun above. He nervously eyed the flustered woman who looked embarrassingly horrified by his rude interruption.
"What are you doing here?" She asked with annoyance.
He held up the fishing rod in his hand. "I was going to try some fishing. Tony said it's pretty good in this part of the river."
"I meant what are you doing in the Serguci cabin?" She said through gritted teeth. "They never use it anymore."
"Yeah, well, Tony's doing me a favor," Frazier replied. "I needed a place to stay."
"Why?" the woman asked skeptically.
"I'm just getting back on my feet," the stranger explained quietly.
"How do you know the Sergucis?" the woman wanted to know, not quite so angry now. Still suspicious though.
"I used to play for the Beanos," he explained. "You know, the Serguci League?"
"Yeah, I know," the woman replied. "I used to write for the Dispatch." She studied him for a moment, not recognizing him with the short hair and stubble of a beard. "Who are you?"
'Marty Frazier," he told her.
"Oh God," the woman moaned. "Mad Dog Frazier?"
"Sorry," he sighed. "You know about me, obviously."
"Everybody knows about Mad Dog, Frazier," she replied with a long stare. "You're out of jail, I see."
"For a while now," he replied. "I've been in a half-way house for the last eighteen months or so." He examined her for a moment. "What's your name?"
"Jane Vogel," she answered. "I covered a few games when Mickey Demrest and some of the other guys weren't available."
"I think I remember you," Frazier replied. "Weren't you a blond back then?'
"My younger days," Jane acknowledged, subconsciously touching her reddish brown hair as if remembering who she used to be.
"You wrote good game stories," Frazier recalled.
"Thanks," she smiled.
"What do you do now?"
She leaned against the rock and studied him for a moment. "Pubic Affairs at Green College," she answered.
"Will you keep this on the down-low?" Frazier requested as he put his tackle box on a rock and prepared his rod for fishing. "Tony stuck me way out here in the middle of nowhere for the privacy. Give me a chance to settle in without getting harassed."
"Sure, I'm not looking for a story," Jane replied, watching him preparing the rod.
"What's the deal with your cottage?"
"Got it in the divorce settlement," she smirked. "I like coming out here in the summer. It's peaceful and quiet and normally nobody's around."
"Sorry," Frazier said knowing she was referring to him as he cast his line into the river.
"You were a legend, you know," she said.
"For all the wrong reasons," Frazier sighed.
"You were a good pitcher," she recalled, eyeing the tall lanky middle aged man as he focused on his line in the water.
Mad Dog Frazier was all limbs and legs with long shoulder length hair and a full beard when he pitched with the knack for staring down batters like a lunatic.
"We were a bad team," Frazier told her. "And I was a full fledged out of control raging alcoholic."
"Who could still pitch with the best of them."
"Until I burnt out and hit the wall," he clarified as he re-cast his line.
"You're sober now, right?" Jane asked as she continued to watch from her leisure spot against the rock.
'Of course," he acknowledged. "Otherwise, I'd be dead."
"Sorry I intruded," Frazier said sheepishly, eyeing the woman with appreciation, remembering how she looked without her clothes.
"I guess it wasn't your fault," she sighed. "I was a Giants fan, by the way."
"Of course," he smirked. "Everybody loves a winner."
"My ex-husband liked them too," she noted. "He wasn't a winner," she deadpanned and that made Frazier smile. "I go for the underdog once in a while," Jane added with a smirk.
"I liked playing against those guys," Frazier said. "Even though we never beat them."
"You beat them a few times."
"I'm always going to be remembered for my long steep endless fall from grace," Frazier sighed. "Not for my pitching."
"It's been awhile," Jane told him. "People forget."
'No they don't," Frazier replied. "The downside about playing in the amateur Serguci League is that when you screw up, everybody knows. I shamed my team, my teammates, and the league."
"And yourself, I suppose," Jane added.
"For sure." He gave her a second look. "You still go to games?"
"Not so much," she admitted. "Not since the divorce anyway."
"I have plenty of fond memories," Frazier said. "But I don't suppose I can ever go back to Beano Field."
"Why not?" She peered at him through the bright sun.
"I don't want to be remembered for my failures."
"How long has it been?" Jane asked. "Ten years? I think you've paid your price."
"I doubt I'd be welcomed back with open arms," Frazier remarked.
"Tony Serguci welcomed you back," Jane pointed out.
"He's a forgiving guy," Frazier said.
"How long you been back?"
"Yesterday," Frazier reported. "I stayed at the Super 8 last night and then Tony called this morning."
"What are your plans?"
"I don't have any."
"Why'd you come back to Blue County if it has so many bad memories for you?"
"I didn't know where else to go," Frazier admitted.
"Your ex still around?"
"Exes," Frazier groaned. "I was drunk enough to get married twice. Neither lasted very long."
"Both are long gone," Frazier said. "Yours?"
"Who cares?" She groaned. "We don't talk."
"Oh," he said. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense."
She put her hands on her hips. "What's that supposed to mean!?"
"Huh?" Frazier looked flustered. "Oh, no, I just meant that why would you want to talk to your ex? I mean, that's why he's your ex, right?"
"So, you weren't saying you wouldn't blame him for not wanting to talk to me?" She challenged.
"No, of course not," he insisted, somewhat disconcerted. "I mean, he was obviously crazy to let you go in the first place."
"Nice save," she said.
"I was a starter," he joked. "I didn't have any saves."
"Cute," Jane said, getting the baseball humor. She finally pushed herself off the rock and straightened out her shorts. "Well, I should get going," she said.
"I'm really sorry I..."
"Yeah, let's not talk about that," she said. "I know stumbling across a forty-one year old naked woman wasn't on your welcome home bucket list after all those young Baseball Annies who hung around Beano Field watching you play."
"You don't look forty-one," Frazier let her know.
"She smiled despite the embarrassing subject. "Well, I don't know about that."
"Take it from a forty-five year old guy," Frazier assured her.
"Anyway, welcome to the neighborhood," she said. "You know where you can find me," she said as she started walking toward the path that led up to the two cabins at the top of the hill.
"Naked on the rock?" He smirked, lifting his eyebrows.
"Well, you never know," She teased as she continued walking.
According to Tony Serguci, the two cabins at the top of the bank were originally built by Green College beat-nicks in the late 1950s as a place to write poetry, smoke weed, and skinny dip. The Serguci family bought the two structures in the late 60s and used them as family summer escapes but the clan eventually acquired better accommodations at Sun Rise Lake. One cabin was sold and eventually found its way into the hands of Jane's husband but the other hut remained in the Serguci family although Jane was correct - it was rarely used these days.
The structure Frazier was staying in was pretty much in the same shape it had been when it was built. Tony Serugci said it was used as the kids' hangout so the adults didn't put a lot of work into it. There was an old refrigerator, a propane stove and outdated kitchen sink, a small bathroom with an old metal shower stall, and an open room with eight bunk beds to house the various children, plus a couch and some chairs. A large bay window overlooked the river. The outside was faded paint with a tar paper roof.
Jane's cottage had been modernized and from the outside it looked like a giant dollhouse - painted purple with white shutters, with a small deck on the side.
Frazier fished for another forty-five minutes before returning to his hut. He noticed the late model sports car in the small turn out in front of Jane's cottage that he hadn't spotted before. Tony hadn't said anything about a woman living in the doll house which was why Frazier was caught off guard by the sight of a naked woman on the rock. Now he wondered if Serguci had omitted that piece of information intentionally. Frazier made it a point not to go down to the river if he saw Jane's car at the doll house not wanting to invade her privacy again although he was pretty sure she wouldn't be getting naked on the rock again any time soon. She wasn't at the cottage everyday anyway as the doll house wasn't her primary residence even in the summer.
Frazier spent his time fishing in the river. His friend Killer from his Serguci League playing days showed up every few days to take Mad Dog to an AA meeting at various locations in Blue County. Frazier's other distraction was his hobby of painting which he took up while in jail. He was a pretty good artist who managed to sell some of his work once he got to the half-way house. His social worker and others told him he had talent and Frazier hoped to make enough money off his work to get by until he figured out what he was supposed to do with the rest of his life.
There was a knock on the hut door one afternoon while Frazier was painting and he was pleasantly surprised to see Jane standing at the screen door.
"Hey there," she said with a smile when he came to the door. "How are you doing?"
"Okay," he replied.
"I was thinking about going to Beano Field tonight and I was wondering if you wanted to come along," Jane said.
"Uh, I don't think so," Frazier replied, trying not to panic.
"Come on, don't you want to see a game?"
"I don't think the game wants to see me," Frazier replied.
"It's a nice summer Friday night and I've got nothing to do," Jane said. "Whatta say?"
Frazier thought about his half-way house social worker and his AA buddies advising him not to isolate. Living in a remote hut made it easy for him to avoid people, his past, and his guilt, but was it the best way to approach his recovery?
"Well, okay," he decided. "For a few innings anyway."
"Great, we'll leave at six," Jane replied with a warm smile before disappearing from the door.
Frazier stepped out of the hut a few minutes before six wearing khaki shorts and a polo shirt with dark sunglasses, hoping nobody would recognize him without the long hair and beard from his Serguci past. Jane came out of the doll house wearing a pretty yellow summer dress and sandals, her reddish brown hair pulled back in a pony tail under a green Giants ball cap.
They didn't talk much during the drive to Hillsboro until they passed a Domino's Pizza place in a former gas station building.
"That was your place, right?" Jane recalled.
"Frazier Radiator Repair," he confirmed. "Lost that along with everything else."
"I'm sorry," Jane replied.
"My old man is probably spinning in his grave," Frazier sighed sadly.
Frazier was feeling antsy by the time Jane parked the car in the parking lot across from historic Beano Field, the large green ball park that sat smack in the middle of a Hillsboro neighborhood. The Bullpen Tavern was still in business on one side of the stadium and the place looked unchanged since the last time Frazier had been inside the park ten years earlier. Of course, Beano Field hadn't changed much since Benjamin T. Serguci converted the former Army Supply Depot field into a park for amateur baseball in 1948.
Jane and Frazier took seats in the third base side bleachers, Frazier trying to look as inconspicuous as possible and he was relieved when nobody seemed to notice or pay attention to them as the game between the Crusaders and White Sox got underway. Frazier was surprised that he recognized a few players still in uniform from when he played.
The game was sloppy. The Sox booted the ball three times and the Crusaders had three errors of their own on this pleasant summer night. Frazier didn't have much to say as the game progressed and Jane realized that she was going to have to carry the conversation.
"I love baseball because it is really a thinking game," she remarked. "The way everyone gets to specialize defensively but still have to hit. And each player getting to be a hero or a goat facing the tough path home fascinates me."
Frazier didn't say anything in response as he watched the game.
"What about you, Marty?" Jane asked with interest. "What do you love about baseball?"
He didn't say anything for a few minutes. "The history," he finally said just when Jane had given up that he was going to have anything to say. "There's nostalgia for the past. Not necessarily past glory or success but even further back when we learned the game from our fathers. I also miss the conversations, the camaraderie. That's what I loved."
"I don't blame you," Jane remarked.
"I don't miss playing so much," Frazier continued. "I had my chance. I had my moment. Then I blew it and threw it all away. But I do miss the joy of the game." He stared out at the players on the field. "I miss the chatter. I miss the dugout and bullpen conversations. I miss the shared experience, win or lose. But it's all gone now."
He looked sad as he watched the rest of the game and Jane felt sorry for him. She had gone back and checked his Serguci League career stats after that day by the river. Mad Dog Frazier pitched seventeen seasons with the Beanster Beansters, a team that never competed for the league championship in any of those years. Mad Dog had a lifetime 80-71 record with a 5.36 career ERA in a hitter's league and he was competitive for all but his last three seasons when his extreme drinking and other problems finally caught up to him (he was 2-15 in 31 starts with a 9.14 ERA before his final arrest five games into his last season ended his career).
The game ended with the Sox winning, 9-7, but Frazier didn't have much to say as he strolled out of the park with Jane at the end of the game.
"Would you like to go out for an ice cream or something?" Jane asked once they were out in the night air.
Frazier glanced down at the ground, looking slightly embarrassed. "Aren't you a little old for ice cream?"
"You're never too old for ice cream!" Jane laughed.
She drove them to the Greenville Diary Queen where Frazier sipped on a vanilla milk shake and Jane ate a hot fudge sundae. They sat on the fence rail at the end of the property and watched cars go by. Jane felt like she was back in high school and Frazier seemed nervous and awkward, as if he was out on his first date. Funny, but the Mad Dog she remembered from his playing days was a cocky, loud, obnoxious pitcher who used intimidation to out-psyche the batter. He also had the reputation of sleeping with any woman who talked to him.
"Was it all an act?" Jane asked. "When you were on the mound?"
"It was my edge," Frazier explained. "I wasn't that great of a pitcher so I needed something to give me an advantage. Early on in my career somebody called me stone faced so I expanded on that persona to give me a mound presence. The hair. The beard. The trash talking. The stare-downs. People were focusing on that stuff and not what or how I was throwing."
"Hence, Mad Dog," Jane realized.
'It gave me my image and my reputation, for better or worse," Frazier acknowledged.
"Is that why you started drinking more?" She wondered.
"I was destined for drunk-dom from high school," Frazier shrugged. "A pampered athlete. A sought after jock. A protected ball player. I was drinking from the time I was sixteen. We had a keg in our dorm my entire four years at Green College. We were always going out for beers after a game. Then it was the hard stuff. Then I was drinking to get to sleep at night. Then I was drinking to get up in the morning. And then it all started to really fall apart. The DUIs. Drunk and disorderly. "
"Well, that's all in the past now," Jane offered.
"It's never in the past," Frazier corrected her. "It's always present, like a ball and chain around my ankle."
"You're not drinking," she clarified.
"I'm not," he confirmed. "Today I'm sober."
Their ice cream finished, Jane drove them back to the doll house and hut. The buildings were located on a dead end trail, the only two buildings on the road and the drive at night was particularly spooky through the woods and brush. Jane parked her car in the turnabout. The doll house was first with the Serguci hut set about twenty yards beyond it.
"Well, that was my first date in a while and it was definitely the best one since my divorce," Jane smiled as they climbed out of the car.
"I find that hard to believe," Frazier replied with a frown.
"Why?" She asked with surprise.
Are you one of those women who likes dating cons?"
She laughed. "My fantasy was actually to date a ballplayer," Jane said with a blush as they stood in the moonlight of the turnaround. "Never happened though."
"What'd your ex do?"
"Academics," she replied. "Golf and Tennis was the closest he came to anything athletic or competitive."
"I can't remember the last time I was on a date," Frazier let her know.
"I guess that's kind of ironic since you were known as a ladies man back in the day," Jane said.
"Those days are long gone," Frazier said with authority. "I was a different person back then. Sex came easy when I was drunk."
Jane studied him for a long moment, trying to figure out just what his story was and what kind of a person he was now.
"Good night, Marty," she finally said with a smile before heading for the doll house.
Frazier walked to his hut feeling optimistic about his social life for the first time since being sprung from the half-way house. At the same time, however, his fear was that he would screw this up too.
In the morning, Frazier emerged from his hut feeling unusually spry and chipper. He was pleased to see Jane sitting in the lawn chair underneath a tree not far from the doll house. She was wearing some jean cut offs and a blouse, tied up around her midsection to expose her stomach. Frazier was wearing shorts and a tee shirt.
He lifted up his fishing pole. "Thought I'd give it a try," he said. "If you want, come on down too."
"I'm not getting naked," she said with a smirk as she stood.
"I wouldn't expect you to," Frazier replied in all seriousness.
"Well, that's disappointing," she joked as they walked down the path to the river and Frazier grinned at her easy going teasing.
In the old days, Frazier would have had her naked in a heartbeat and they would have had sex on her rock but the bite was gone from the Mad Dog and he was feeling timid as they reached the river. Jane sat on her usual rock while Frazier cast his rod into the river.
"I could teach you how to fish," he offered.
"That's okay," Jane replied.
"I know where all the fish are," Frazier bragged.
"How?" Jane wondered.
"You can tell by the riffles in the water," he explained.
"I like to eat fish, Marty," Jane said. "I'm not interested in catching them."
"Oh," he replied as he continued to fish.
There was a noticeable pause between them.
"You know what I'd really like to learn to do?" Jane asked.
"What?" He asked, glancing at her.
"Pitch!" she told him.
"A baseball?" He asked with confusion
"Of course, silly!" Jane laughed.
"Why?" He frowned.
"Because I throw like a girl," she complained.
"I hate that," Jane grumbled. "Always have."
"You're forty years old, Jane," Frazier reminded her. "What difference does it make now?"
"Because I still have my older brothers' voices in my head making fun of me for the way I threw," she complained. "And because I covered the game but never played it. I was writing sports for the school newspaper in eighth grade."
Frazier looked at her for a long moment as she sat pouting on the rock. He sighed and put down his rod, picking up a rock in his hand.
"You have to promise not to get offended by what I'm about to tell you," Frazier said.
"Why, what are you about to tell me?" She frowned.
"I'm going to teach you the way my father taught me," he warned.
"Imagine the ball as a girl's titty in your hand," he said as he gripped the rock like it was a baseball.
"Excuse me!?" Jane asked with shock.
"That's what my father told me," Frazier said as he thought back at one of his earliest memories. "I was nine years old. I didn't even know what a titty was."
Jane suddenly knew something about Frazier that she was never aware of before. "What about your mom?" She asked.
"She died when I was very young," Frazier revealed.
"Your Dad drink?" Jane asked.
"Not as bad as me," Frazier replied.
"Still explains a lot," Jane decided
Frazier looked at her for a long moment. "Anyway," he finally said. "Hold it lightly with two fingers and a thumb." He held the rock up in his hand for her to see. "I remember one little league coach telling me to hold it as if I was holding a wad of snot."
"I'm not sure if that's a better description than a tit!" Jane remarked as she hopped off the rock and stepped closer to him.
Frazier took her hand in his and put the rock in her hand, placing her finger and thumb on it like he had demonstrated while moving her ring finger and pinkie finger away from the rock.
"Like this?" She said with determination.
"When you release the ball, let it come off your fingertips," Frazier explained.
Jane did what he said and the rock plunked into the river. She tried several more times while Frazier looked on with patience while got the hang of the grip and release.
"Bend your elbow at the top of the arc," Frazier instructed. "Spread your legs." They both ignored the sexual inference from such a remark.
"Put your weight on your back foot," Frazier continued. "When you move forward, let the inside of your foot roll forward. Lots of guys just can't get that move but that's what makes all the difference in the world."
Jane nodded and tried the stance and the motion.
"You've got it!" Frazier laughed with satisfaction. "You're a natural!"
"Where were you when I was thirteen?" Jane grumbled although she was thrilled with the results of Mad Dog's lesson
"I have to touch you to teach you the next part," Frazier said with a blush. "Is that okay?"
"Sure," she said happily (about the lesson and maybe even the touching!).
Frazier took a stance behind her and placed his hands on her hips to show her how to shift her weight.
"When you pitch, bring your left knee up to your chest," he directed.
"My knee doesn't go up that high," she groaned.
Frazier frowned while rolling his eyes. "Of course it does," he said, grabbing her left leg and pulling it up to show her the motion.
"Ouch!" Jane protested.
"Just do it," Frazier ordered.
She tried as he watched and after a while she began to put it all together – the hold of the ball, the release, the leg kick, the motion. They spent nearly an hour with Jane pitching stones into the river.
"You need to be more grateful," Frazier said at one point. "More feminine."
"You saw me naked for God sakes," Jane complained. "How more feminine can I get?"
He didn't say anything as he continued to watch her throw.
"You have it," he finally decided after another ten minutes went by.
"I do?" She asked excitedly.
"You have the touch," he confirmed, nodding his head with approval. "You have an intuitive way of holding the ball. Some guys never get it. But you'll need to keep practicing to really get it down."
"Okay," she said happily. "I will. Every day."
Frazier gave her the thumbs up sign, grinned, and continued to watch and observe as Jane practiced firing rocks into the Mill River.
Jane kept throwing until her arm was ready to fall off and Frazier finally told her that was enough.
"You have fine form," he concuded as she sat on the flat rock to rest.
"Thanks," she smiled. "I don't throw bad either," she added with a smirk.
She was drenched with sweat from throwing in the hot sun and her shirt was soaking through from her perspiration. Frazier took a seat next to her on the rock and watched the river flowing by, wondering how many fish he had missed while teaching Jane how to not throw like a girl.
"What do you think your greatest achievement was in the Serguci League?" Jane asked.
Mad Dog Frazier pondered her question for a moment. "I'd like to think that the guys I played with would say that I was a good teammate," he finally answered.
"Do you have a favorite performance?"
"One time I pitched a shutout and hit the winning homer," he recalled. "That was pretty good."
"What else?" Jane asked with interest, peering at him.
"I don't like to talk about that stuff," Frazier told her.
"It feels like bragging," he said with a shrug. "I can talk about all my screw ups but when I remember the good stuff I feel kind of sad about it."
"Because of what happened?"
"Yeah," he sighed. "It's frustrating. Being known as a crazy mad dog drunk who got hauled off to jail."
"It shouldn't matter now," Jane said.
"You know, when I was young, I really pushed myself to become a good pitcher but it wasn't until my third or fourth season in the Serguci League that I really started to achieve success," Frazier told her. "I had about ten really good seasons in a row and I couldn't walk away. I'd be exhausted by Labor Day from running the radiator shop, drinking, chasing women and playing ball but I was good enough to make a difference so I kept playing. I got to play a sport that most guys give up after high school or college. I was thirty years old and still going strong, a kid at heart."
"A Mad Dog at heart," Jane smiled.
"Then I got my first DUI," he sighed sadly. "My drinking was out of control. My wives left. The second one refused to get pregnant until I sobered up. I got a second DUI. Lost my license. Had to do the drunk school. All that stuff. My wife left and came back a few times. I wasn't paying attention to the business the way I should. I kept drinking. And then after a couple of below average seasons with the Beansters, I really went into the toilet. My drinking was out of control. I got arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. I was barred from most of the bars in Blue County. Liquor stores stopped selling to me. I had an eighteen year old kid keeping the radiator shop going while I slept it off out back. The cops practically stalked me."
"It got pretty bad, huh?" She sighed.
"I have no memory of the last year or so," he confessed.
She thought he was being overly dramatic but he gave her a serious look.
"Truthfully," Frazier said. "Black outs. Brown outs. I made three starts that last season before getting busted for the last time and I couldn't tell you one thing about any of those games."
"Wow," Jane said with amazement.
"Yeah," Frazier sighed as he hopped off the rock. "I don't like thinking about that stuff. Being deemed a danger to himself and to society is a pretty bad finding"
Frazier grabbed his fishing rod and tackle box and headed up the path, presumably to be alone – or to leave Jane alone. She waited until she was sure he was gone before she peeled out of her clothes and waded naked to one of the deeper pools of water to wash off the sweat from her pitching and soak her sore arm.
When Jane came up the path later, she saw Frazier sitting in the lawn chair she had been in earlier, holding a baseball in his hand.
"Here," he said, tossing it to her as she approached. "You can practice your pitching with this."
'Will you sign it for me?" She teased.
"Why wreck a perfectly good ball?" He groaned.
Jane rolled her eyes while tossing the ball up and down in her hand. "Because it would make it special," she said as she walked toward The Doll House.
Killer stopped by later to take Frazier to a Saturday afternoon meeting and then to a sober dinner gathering. By the time they returned, it was dark and Jane's Dollhouse was dark and quiet. When Frazier awoke in the morning, Jane's car was gone – he assumed maybe she went off to church or some Sunday morning errands.
Frazier was painting when he heard her car return after lunch but he didn't go to the window to see what Jane was doing. Twenty minutes later there was a knock on the screen door and Frazier saw Jane through the screen wearing a frock that hung loosely on her body.
"I made some lemonade if you're interested," she said, holding up a large pitcher.
"Sure, come in," Frazier replied, feeling slightly lonesome.
Jane entered the large room and set the pitcher and a stack of paper cups on the table. She glanced around to take in the surroundings and saw his art work stacked up in various places, along with the two or three easels and paint supplies.
"You're a painter," she realized.
"Just something I picked up while in the slammer," he replied truthfully.
She examined his works. Some of it was stuff he painted while at the half-way house and some of it he had done since he arrived at the Serguci hut, including a couple of paintings of Beano Field and the game they had saw, several paintings of fishing in the Mill River, a couple of depictions of the AA meetings he attended, along with a nice capture of Jane's Purple Doll House from the outside and a cute painting of a chipmunk sitting on Jane's lawn chair.
"These are very good," Jane said warmly. "You're very good."
"Thanks," he blushed. "It really grounded me in jail," he explained. "I was in a low security place full of white collar criminals and drunks like me who did stupid stuff. We had plenty of opportunity to better ourselves. Men groups. Activities. Hobbies. I had a teacher in high school who told me I had talent but I was more interested in baseball and the radiator shop so I never really pursued this passion until I found myself in an 8 by 10 cell with nothing to do."
Jane gave the paintings closer examination. "Are you selling these?" She asked.
"Most of them," he said.
"I'd like to buy a couple for the cottage," she said. "One of the fishing ones. The chipmunk. The cottage."
"You can have them," Frazier told her.
"Oh no, I couldn't do that," Jane insisted. "Please, I want to buy them. How much for the three?"
"A hundred bucks," he said.
"Okay," she smiled. "Deal. I'll write you a check later."
"I do have one that I'd like to give you," Frazier revealed.
"Oh?" Jane asked as she sat in one of the chairs and poured two glasses of lemonade.
"But you have to promise not to be mad or offended by it," he warned.
"Uh-Oh," she groaned.
Frazier chewed on his lip for a moment before picking up a frame from the floor that was turned against the wall. He faced her and smiled. "It was the best inspiration I've ever had," he said with a sheepish grin.
"What is it?" Jane frowned.
Frazier turned the painting so she could see it. Her eyes went wide and her mouth dropped open.
"I call it 'Nude on Rock'," he said.
Jane's face turned red as she stared at the painting of a naked woman sprawled out on a rock by a river. In Frazier's rendition, her head was turned and her flowing hair covered her face so her identity couldn't be known but Jane and Frazier both knew who it was meant to be.
"It's my first nude," Frazier revealed. "I painted it from memory."
Jane blushed some more and she was rendered speechless as she stared at the beauty of the painting. Her eyes watered up and she brushed a tear from her eye.
"You don't like it?" Frazier worried.
"You made me much more beautiful than I really am," she said.
"I don't think that's true," Frazier replied as he handed her the painting.
"Thank you," Jane said quietly as she gave it a close up look. "It's amazing."
Frazier took a seat in the opposite chair and took a sip from his glass of lemonade.
"What happened to your marriage?" He asked.
She laughed as she wiped her tears away. "That's not the question I was expecting," she said.
"Well?" Frazier waited for her answer.
"I really loved to write," Jane told him. "I was writing by the time I was eight. Short stories. Poems Then I started writing for the school newspaper. Went to college to study journalism and creative writing. Landed my dream job at the Greenville News and Dispatch. Got to write every day. Hard news. Feature stories. Sports. Human Interest pieces. Opinion columns."
"So why'd you leave?" Frazier asked.
"My husband was an Associate Professor at Green," she explained. "I thought it might be better to be working closer to his world so when a job opened up in the Public Affairs Office I applied and got it."
"You like it?"
"It's okay," she replied. "Kind of routine and predictable but I'm used to it. Get to write some for the brochures but it's mostly dog and pony type stuff. It's just ironic that the whole point of taking the job ended with the marriage."
"So what happened to the marriage?" Frazier asked again.
"Oh, he fell for one of his silly graduate assistants," Jane sighed. "Had an affair for nearly a year before I finally figured it out and then he decided she was the better deal so that was that."
"I'm sorry," Frazier offered with sympathy.
"Don't be," Jane replied with a wave of her hand. "I let it go. I've moved on." She paused a beat and then grinned. "And I got the cottage!"
Frazier smirked. "That was a good deal," he agreed.
"Hold on, I'll be right back," Jane said suddenly as she put her glass down, stood and exited the hut.
Frazier was a little concerned about her rapid departure but a few minutes later, Jane was reentering the hut.
"I've saved a copy of everything I've ever written all the way back to grade school," she said, holding a Xeroxed piece of paper up for him to see. "I went back to my years at the Dispatch and found this." She handed him the paper.
Plenty of Bite to this Mad Dog
By Jane Vogel
Greenville News and Dispatch
There is plenty of bark and bite to Beansboro Beansters' Pitcher Martin "Mad Dog' Frazier.
Now in his tenth season with the Beanster Club, the #1 Starting Pitcher works hard on the mound to take the bat out of the hands of the league's best hitters.
"He's not the most athletic guy out there but he lets his presence be known," say Beanster Manager Jimmy Serguci. "He just kept getting better with each season."
Mad Dog is six foot two and a hundred and eighty pounds – without his hair and beard. When you factor in the hair on his head and face, Mad Dog becomes about six foot eight and 250 pounds!
"He's a monster on the mound," Beanster Catcher Tony Martino insists. "He scares me and I'm his teammate!"
Mad Dog's pitches don't have exceptional speed or that great of movement but his ability to intimidate with both his looks and his pitches adds five miles per hour to his fastball and three inches to his curve.
Frazier earned his Mad Dog nickname early in his Beanster career from his serious demeanor on the mound and his literal barking at opposing players, whether they got a hit off of him or he retired them to the dugout.
"He's a mad dog out there," first baseman Gino Borcelli laughs when discussing his teammate. "It's funny because off the field he's a polite, sensitive easy going guy, but once he gets between the white lines he turns into this rabid bull dog of a pitcher."
"I've always had high expectations of myself," Frazier says of his pitching results. "I know some think the Mad Dog act is distracting and foolish but it really helps me maintain my competitive edge. I push myself to the limit and I let my emotions dictate the mind set I want to present. When you're standing on the mound about to throw a baseball, sometimes crazy is good."
Frazier doesn't deny the 'Mad Dog' moniker nor does he complain about it.
"On the field, I'm very serious and focused on playing to the best of my abilities," he said. "When I go out there, I expect to play my best and win and if being a Mad Dog helps me get there I'm fine with that."
The Beansters are currently 12-20 on the season and with ten games left the team will certainly finish with another sub .500 season. The team hasn't won a championship since 1980 and before that, 1961.
"We're mostly a snake bit team," the Mad Dog says. "We have talent and we can play. We just don't win as much as we need to."
Frazier laughed as he handed the article back to her. "I don't remember that," he admitted.
'I have no memory of writing it either," Jane said with amazement. "We must have sat down somewhere for me to get those quotes."
"I have a vague memory of you coming up to me after a game," Frazier said, squinting his eyes trying to remember the particulars. "I didn't pitch that day and I was surprised you wanted to talk to me knowing you were writing the game story."
"I must have had this on the side," she said. "I was often writing three or four stories at a time. I was what they call a print hog. Always trying to get my stories published in the paper."
"Well, except for the last quote, it's a pretty good story."
"Funny how it all blends in together," Jane remarked. "You would have thought I would have remembered talking to you."
"You talked to a lot of guys," Frazier shrugged. "Every night there was a different story to write."
"I guess," she said.
"Anyway, I'll never forget you now," Frazier smiled.
"No, I guess I won't be forgetting you either," Jane said, picking up the Nude on the Rock. "I guess I'll head out now."
"Here, I'll carry the others to your place," Frazier offered picking up the three paintings she wanted to buy.
"Oh, okay," Jane agreed.
They left the hut and walked across the turn about to The Doll House. It was the first time Frazier had been inside and the interior literally looked like a doll house with bright wallpaper, cheerful curtains on the window, multi-colored furniture and a miniature feel to the surroundings Like Frazier's hut, Jane's Doll House was only one room but somehow Jane's doll house looked eloquent and felt homey. There was a large double bed in the corner and an old fashioned wide desk in front of the bay window overlooking the river with three computers on it and several stacks of paper.
"A project?" Frazier asked as he gently placed the paintings down on the couch.
"Oh, just the novel I've been trying to write for the past ten years," she sighed. "I come here to get away from everything and just write. I try to do at least four hours a day when I'm here."
"Listen, I'm next door painting," Frazier told her. "If I don't see you outside I know you're busy writing and I won't bother you so don't think you have to socialize with me if you have work to do."
"Thanks," Jane said with appreciation as she dug her check book out of her purse to pay him for the paintings.
"What's the novel about?" Frazier asked with interest.
"It's supposed to be a baseball murder mystery love story," Jane blushed.
Frazier laughed. "Yeah, that happens all the time."
"Do you remember the story of Lucky Taylor, the guy who played for the Sun Rise Lake Lions in the 1970s?"
"UnLucky at Forty," Frazier said. "Only guy to drop dead while playing on Beano Field."
'He was forty-four, actually," Jane said. "Overweight, out of shape. But he could hit so he kept playing as if it was a beer league."
"Massive heart attack, wasn't it?"
"Ruptured aorta," Jane clarified. "Could have happened anywhere, anytime. Unfortunately it happened sliding into second base at Beano Field."
"So that's the novel?"
"Well, my guy is poisoned and drops dead in the outfield," Jane said. "The baseball writer and the team manager try to figure out who-done-it."
"I take a lot of characters and personalities I met around here during my Dispatch career and make them part of the book," Jane said.
"Am I in it?" Frazier teased.
"Maybe now," she said seriously.
"Well, I'll look forward to reading it," Frazier said.
"Yeah, if I ever finish it!" Jane laughed. "It's grueling work to write a novel well. You have to research the subject or there will be no authenticity if you get something wrong. This story is set in the minor leagues not the Serguci League so I had to do a lot of background to make sure I captured it right. The last thing you want is some professional ballplayer calling your book horseshit because you got some obscure rule wrong or didn't portray life in the minors the right way. Of course, even if I finish it I still have to find a publisher."
"One game at a time, one inning at a time," Frazier advised.
She smiled. "First you taught me how to pitch. Now you're going to teach me how to write!?"
Frazier laughed. "I would never be that presumptuous!"
Jane handed him the check. "Thanks for the paintings," she said with earnest. "They'll look nice in here."
Frazier left the Doll House and returned to his hut a hundred dollars richer than he had started the day. Maybe he could make a living with his paintings after all.
Jane was gone when Frazier got up the next morning. He attended a couple of meetings with Killer and later Tony Serguci stopped by to check up on how his tenant was doing but Frazier didn't see Jane again until she returned late on Wednesday afternoon and knocked on his door.
"I was thinking of another Serguci League game," she announced. "It helps me get a feel for what I need to write in the book. You interested in coming along?"
Frazier figured he might as well and this time they sat in the seats behind home plate, Jane with her feet propped up on the empty chair in front of her.
"The pitcher is the glamour position, isn't it?" Jane asked as they watched the game between the Sun Rise Lake Lions and Hilltop Browns.
"Some would say," Frazier answered.
"But the catcher's job is harder, right?" Jane asked.
"I wouldn't say harder," Frazier replied. "But it is definitely more demanding physically."
Frazier made a few other observations, comments and insights as the game progressed as Jane tried to get a feel for the game. She had gone to several minor league games over the years in various leagues, parks, and states, but she liked the simplicity of the Serguci League.
"I would have written about it if I was writing a local book," she said. "But I don't think people in Nebraska would relate to Beano Field in Hillsboro."
"Baseball is baseball, no matter what the level," Frazier argued.
They left in the seventh inning with the Browns ahead 10-2 and they stopped for ice cream again.
"This is nice," Jane remarked as they sat on the fence rail eating dessert and watching the traffic go by.
"Yes, it is," Frazier agreed. Then he glanced at her. "How come it's taking so long for you to write your novel?"
She groaned. "It's hard," she said. "I'm trying to avoid cliché because that can kill a story. I guess sometimes I think I'm writing crap."
"That's better than living crap," Frazier replied.
"Its worse when your life becomes cliché," Jane countered. "Look at me. A divorced forty-something woman who's brilliant husband left her for a younger woman."
"Well, what about me?" Frazier said. "Washed up drunk ballplayer meeting a high class professional woman?"
Jane smiled. "Don't worry, you no longer fit the image of a ballplayer."
"Because I paint?"
"I haven't heard you swear," Jane smirked. "You don't drink. Hell, you haven't even scratched your balls in front of me!"
Frazier blushed slightly and she studied him.
"Don't you even want to kiss me?" She wondered.
Frazier glanced away. "I haven't been with a woman sober," he said quietly.
"It's just that I'm not used to being with someone who is so respectfully unaggressive."
"You were naked when we met," he reminded her. "I'd say that's pretty aggressive."
"That was an accident," Jane countered. "It doesn't count."
"What about the Nude on Rock painting?"
"That counts," Jane agreed with a smirk.
"You know, I've been back a few weeks now and nobody's recognized me," Frazier told her.
"Is that good or bad?"
"It's humbling so that's good," Frazier answered. "Ego is not a good thing for a drunk."
"But it was necessary to be a good ballplayer," Jane observed.
"I'm not a ballplayer anymore," Frazier said. "If I'm never recognized again that will be okay."
"Sounds kind of lonely," Jane remarked, putting her hand on his thigh, her first physical display of affection since they met.
"You don't want to be with a failure," Frazier warned.
"Former failure," Jane rebutted.
He didn't respond as he kept his gaze on the traffic and not on her.
"Doesn't baseball require a relationship with failure?" Jane asked. "A .300 hitter still makes an out seven out of ten times he comes to the plate."
"Yeah, that's why when you succeed, when everything comes together, you feel like you're on top of the world," Frazier smiled.
"I'm thinking both of us have been around the bases enough to know that the game is getting shorter," Jane said. "We're in the mid-season of our lives but its summer and summer is full of promise. Maybe we're just supposed to grab the moment and enjoy it."
"I'm old enough not to be in a hurry," Frazier said. "I was in jail for five years. Time stops in jail. I was in a half-way house for eighteen months learning how to live independently and sober again. Now I live in a shack in the woods where everyday feels the same."
"Nothing lasts forever, Marty," Jane warned.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time," Frazier told her.
"Maybe that time is today," Jane said as she hopped off the fence. "I don't have time to wait around first base."
Frazier sighed and also left the fence, following her to the car. They drove back to the doll house in quietness, Frazier trying to decide if he was ready to run the bases again, Jane wondering if it was time to call this guy out at home, impatient with the idea of waiting around for him to come to the plate.
Frazier sensed that Jane was annoyed with him which was why neither had a whole lot to say during the return ride. She parked the car in the turnaround and hurried out of the vehicle.
"Good night," Jane said curtly as she started for the Doll House.
"Tony says he and his cousins used to bring high school girls up here in the summer," Frazier said as he climbed out of the car.
Jane spun on her heels and glared at him. "Yeah? So?"
"I wouldn't mind being in high school again," Frazier said as he stepped toward her.
It was dark but there was a moon and Jane had left the outside light to The Doll House on so he could see her face.
"I'm thinking the Mad Dog lost his bite," Jane replied critically.
Frazier reached out, took her hand and squeezed it before wrapping his arm around her shoulder. "I didn't mean to upset you," he said quietly. "I know we're in the seventh inning stretch and we need to get a rally going."
She smiled. "So, we're going to continue with the baseball analogies?"
Frazier let go of her hand and slipped his under her shirt, moving it slowly upward until he reached her breast and began to gently stroke her bra. Jane's head tilted as she stared at him.
"You're off first base," she said as she caressed his neck and ran her fingers through his hair. "Are you really ready to try for home?"
"I thought we were already home," he grinned as he let his other hand brush her face before gently pulling her close and kissing her.
"Have you ever been down to the river here at night?" Jane asked seductively when they were done with the smooch.
"No," Frazier admitted. "It's so dark."
"Let me get a flashlight," Jane said, breaking from the embrace and quickly heading for The Doll House.
She re-emerged from the cottage with a large silver flashlight in her hand. The flashlight beam was bright and powerful and they had little trouble making their way down to the river which they could hear before they could see.
"At night, when it's dark like this, it's like we're the only ones in the world," Jane said
They were standing at the edge of the river.
"Would you like to take a skinny dip?" She asked.
"Like the beatniks?" Frazier grinned.
He watched as Jane undressed, trying not to ogle her as she shed her clothes, pulling her shirt off over her head and tossing aside her bra and Frazier watched her breasts jiggle with her movements. Jane pushed down her pants and stepped out of them and her panties too and Frazier swallowed with excitement knowing she was as nude as the first time he saw her.
Jane looked at him, patiently waiting. He got rid of his clothes in similar fashion before taking Jane by the hand and slowly walking her into the river.
They carefully walked until the reached the deeper pool where they effortlessly swam in the night water. The water was reasonably warm on a hot summer evening and their skin looked like nightlights in the dark water. The river was very calm.
After swimming for a while, they made their way to a rock on the far shore, half standing half sitting on it, half in the water and half out. Frazier began playing with Jane's ear while giving her breast a light caress with his other hand. Jane gave him a knowing smile and he dropped his hand into her lap. She closed her eyes, leaned back and sighed.
"What are you going to do to me?" She asked softly.
"I assume what you want," he whispered.
Jane opened her eyes and looked at him knowingly. "Only if you're ready for this, Marty."
"Game on," he replied as he ran his hand across her submerged pubic hair causing Jane's breathing to become a bit more intense.
"Not here," she told him after a few moments of foreplay. "I'm too old to play high school. Besides, the fish could bite!"
She broke from him, slipped back into the water and began to swim to the other shore and Frazier gave chase. They reached the other shore, gathered their clothes and walked naked up the path using the flashlight as their guide. Frazier put his hand affectionately on Jane's back (and backside) to help her navigate, rubbing gently as they walked.
"You're home," Jane whispered as she led him into The Doll House.
They snuggled close to each other on Jane's large bed. Jane was facing away from him but she pushed herself tightly against Frazier in a spooning position. Frazier was facing her on his side with his arms wrapped around her waist and his groin nestled into her backside. He squeezed her affectionately as he moved his hands along her sides, enjoying the sensation of his fingers on her soft skin. He could hear the river flowing outside the open window and soon he began to flow too.
The sun woke Jane up in the morning. She realized that the bed was empty when she opened her eyes to find herself lying naked on her stomach, the sheets pulled off of her. She glanced over her shoulder to see Frazier sitting in his underwear on a chair with a sketchpad on his knees, busily drawing her.
"What are you doing?" She asked with surprise.
"What does it look like?" He grinned.
She smiled as she folded her arms under her head and watched him draw her.
"The Mad Dog had his bite back last night," she remarked.
"It's been a long time, Jane," he told her. "You know, these shacks were built by beatniks," he revealed. "They'd come up here to write poetry and have orgies."
"Now you're here painting and I'm here writing," she said with a smile.
"I guess we're just a couple of beatniks too," Frazier replied.
"I think we got the orgy part down pretty well, don't you?" Jane laughed.
"You write your novel and I'll paint my masterpiece and we'll live happily ever after," Frazier decided.
"Okay," she agreed happily as she nestled her head on the pillow with contented satisfaction. Then she eyed him over her shoulder with a smirk. "Will you sign my baseball now?"
Frazier smiled. "Sure," he said.
She reached over and opened the drawer to the bedside table, bringing out the baseball he had given her, tossing it to him which he caught instinctively.
"To the prettiest Nude on Rock ever – thanks for bring Mad Dog back to life. Love, Marty 'M.D.' Frazier."
Frazier tossed the ball back to her and Jane caught it with her extended hand. She smiled when she read what he wrote.
"You're welcome," she whispered happily, not caring that she was now Nude on Bed as he painted her.