Title: Lone Star State of Mind
Disclaimer: Ain't mine. Wouldn't want them. Too chatty.
Notes: Just a little something for ilexa and Caro. Beta'ed by slodwick, who's much more than the Casey to my Danny. She's also my human spelling/grammar checker and occasional ego-fluffer. Which ... kinda just reinforces that she's the Casey to my Danny. Moving on--
Part One - June: NYC
June 11, 2004
Dana stood behind Casey with her hand on one of his shoulders. She looked over the other shoulder into Isaac's office. Dan stood next to him, leaning forward slightly as if he could see around corners; the door was open, the lights were on, but Isaac was nowhere to be found.
And so there they stood, three grownups cowering before a doorway looking for all the world like they needed courage, brains, and a heart. Casey didn't particularly want to suss out who was who in that little analogy. When Kim brought in the message after the show, she said Isaac had sounded angry. Casey couldn't particularly blame the man, in fact he was pretty pissed too. They'd just wrapped a terrible Friday edition, capping a week of spectacularly mediocre television. It was the blessed end of the slow news week to end all slow news weeks, and while one side of Casey's brain was thrilled that he didn't have to say "Live from the Los Angeles County Courthouse" once the whole week, the other side was unashamed to admit he'd hoped Wednesday's first French Open match erupted into a no-holds-barred slap fight, just to liven things up a bit.
A few facts. In an effort to pad Monday's show, Kim began checking the second and third pages of the international wires. By Thursday she knew more about the originally French game of Petanque than anyone else in the office. Granted, that wasn't saying much, but Casey had been concerned when she opted out of dinner in the conference room in favor of checking out the new competition boule catalog she'd gotten. It was so slow all week Natalie erected a model of the White House using only the office supplies from her desk (and Dana's stapler as part of the foundation, but Dana didn't know that yet). It was so slow all week Jeremy took naps. That freaked Casey out the most.
That night's show had been it, though. All the nothing they'd done all week, all the boredom and sitting around waiting for something to happen created this bizarre exhaustion that caught up with them right before they rolled tape. Danny flew clean through the NHL trade report, getting through Kovalev, Iginla, and Visnovsky before taking a nasty dive headlong into Zhitnik. He apologized and deferred to Casey with the tennis highlights, then quickly sprinted off the set to regain his composure. Natalie committed the cardinal sin of yawning into Dan and Casey's earpieces during the broadcast, inadvertently causing a catastrophic on-air chain reaction that made the set look, for three horrifying seconds, less like a nationally syndicated sports show, and more like naptime at Little Sluggers' Day Care. When he finally regained the power of speech enough to go to Tricia live (and fully awake, it seemed) in Baltimore, Casey swore he could actually hear Dana's blood pressure flailing up towards "histrionic." She stomped around the control room during the commercial.
"Calvin's not going to like this! Isaac's not going to like this!" She walked right up to the glass and pounded her emphasis on each syllable, "I! Don't! Like this!!"
So when Kim brought Casey the note from Isaac, he wasn't really shocked. It said, "Boys, come by my office when you're done." Danny cheerfully pointed out the omission of "...so I can tell you how disappointed I am," or "...so I can kill you both with my bare hands."
Dana had followed them over, insisting that she was at least partially to blame for their on-air follies. Casey knew she just wanted to witness the flaying about to take place. He was sure she'd shimmy on over to Isaac's side of the desk once the fur started flying. He absently ran a hand over his chest as they approached the office.
"Is he hiding in there?" Dana was pushing gently on his back now.
"Yes. I'm sure he's crouched under his desk waiting to spring up and yell 'boo!' when we least expect it, Dana." Casey snapped back at her. "It's Isaac. He doesn't hide."
"He's just not here." Danny leaned in a little further, enough to see into the little washroom and around by the bar.
"That's strange." Dana crossed her arms and stepped away from Casey. "Don't you think that's strange?"
"I stepped out for a new pencil." Isaac was standing behind them all, leaning on his cane and smirking when they jumped in unison. "Is that so strange?"
He walked past them into his office. Casey and Dan, relieved somewhat by his jocular entrance, sat in the chairs opposite Isaac, while Dana stood at his left hand. She's waiting for blood, Casey thought.
"Boys," he said, leaning forward over his hands crossed on the desktop, "pack your bags. You're going to Texas."
Casey's jaw dropped open as his brain scrolled past all the inappropriate responses that had clamored to the front. Danny chuckled and sat up very straight.
"We had a bad streak, boss -- you're gonna' bust us back down to the minors?"
"No. You're being honored."
"For sucking?" Danny laughed, at the same time Casey said, "By Texas?"
Isaac glared at Dan.
"Yes, Casey. The state of Texas would like to recognize your lifelong contribution to -- no, son, not from Texas. From Major League Baseball."
"The All Star Game next month?" Dana leaned back on the windowsill.
"The League asked if you two would participate in the festivities." Isaac was smiling. "Part of the ballot -- people could vote for the players, and then at the bottom there was a section for favorite sportscasters and anchors."
Casey looked over at Dan just as he smiled back at him.
"Did they say by how much? Isaac, did we win by a lot?" Casey leaned in.
"Yeah, and it was both of us, right?" Danny at least looked like he was mostly joking.
"Yes, Daniel, appropriately enough you won as a team. And I believe the term Marcy from the League used in terms of your victory was 'landslide.'"
Casey held his hand out without looking, Danny slapped his palm, also without looking. Hell yeah, we're the best, Casey thought, Go team us.
"So, you're not mad at us?" Danny said.
"Oh no, I'm livid." Isaac's smile belied what he said, "But I'm too tired to beat you senseless, and I've got to send you to Texas in a month undamaged so instead I say go home. On Monday I expect you both to be back to form."
"We were all off, Isaac." Dana spoke up, surprising Casey who'd forgotten she was there.
"I'm sure that's true, but these two are the only ones who screwed up in front of the entire country. It was a rare string of errors, boys, I know this. Fix them."
Danny murmured an apology, the very picture of someone used to a good scolding by father figures. Casey nodded and stood.
"Have a good weekend, Isaac. Dana."
Dan followed him out. They were silent for about three feet down the hallway before Casey stopped and slapped Danny on the back.
"It's official." He smiled.
"That we rock?" Dan feigned perplexed look.
"That we rule, my good man." Another high five, and Casey wondered if passers by ever thought the two men looked as much like teenagers as he sometimes felt they did.
"Have either of you seen Dana?" Natalie stopped short in front of them.
"She should be coming out of Isaac's office any minute now. Everything okay?"
"Just returning her stapler." Natalie held it up.
"I meant to tell you how awesome your White House came out."
"Thank you, Casey." She seemed genuinely proud of it, though the completed structure had been demolished a mere five hours after the initial erection.
"I would have gone with the Washington Monument, myself." Dan said.
"You know, I was going to do that," Natalie pointed the stapler at Danny, "until I realized it would just end up being a big tall pile of stuff."
"And you respect the architectural challenge of a more complicated edifice." Casey nodded.
"Whereas I am just lazy." Dan smiled.
"I'm sorry for the yawning incident. Really sorry." Natalie's sincere face could've disarmed the entire Swiss Guard in one sympathetic stroke.
"Forget about it," Casey put his arm around her shoulders in a sort of half hug. "It's in the past. Next week will be a clean slate. A new day."
"Actually, a new week." Natalie looked up at him.
"If you could find it in your heart to not be a wise guy while I'm comforting you, that'd be great."
"Still, you know, sorry."
Dan moved to Natalie's other side and kissed her on the forehead.
"It's okay," he whispered near her ear, "You of all people know about punishment."
She looked up at him and patted his arm as she backed away towards Isaac's office.
"You're so cute when you're trying to be sexy."
Casey laughed as Danny's expression went from "Hey, baby" to "HEY!" in record time.
"Let's go, Casanova."
Back in their office Danny neatened the tallest of the piles on his desk quickly before pulling on his sweatshirt and grabbing his backpack.
"You headed home?" Casey looked up from his computer screen, where the official MLB All Star Game website was loading. He was dying to see who they'd beaten.
"I have to start thinking about what I'm gonna' pack for Texas."
Casey smiled and shook his head. "And you call me anal retentive."
"Hey, I do it out of love."
"Yeah. Of mocking me."
"This is true. I'll talk to you this weekend?"
"Call me when you get to the crucial 'What shoes will I need' phase? I'd hate to miss it."
Danny looked around before he flipped Casey off.
Part II - Somewhere Over Middle America
July 10, 2004
They were in business class. Danny had expected more of Major League Baseball. When they'd gotten their tickets at the desk he hadn't even noticed. Casey was pretty much leading him around by the collar, though, so it wasn't surprising when Dan didn't examine the tickets immediately. He'd lived on opposite sides of the country, traveled for the show countless times, and yet Dan Rydell still hated to fly. Nerves, and the anticipated last minute need to unpack/reevaluate/repack had combined for a jittery sleeplessness the night before, and while he had nodded off a little after dawn, a little after that Casey called, saying the car service was headed his way.
And so Danny shoved his ticket into the inside pocket of his blazer. Paired with comfortable jeans and a worn T-shirt he'd had since before college, the jacket was just something Danny had forgotten to pack. The ensemble also made him feel like a rock star. Smirking at Dan's bed-head and sunglasses, Casey was all too happy to congratulate him on achieving the desired effect. Danny grumbled through a yawn and let Casey walk in front of him towards the gate.
An hour later Dan was wishing he'd spared the tickets a passing glance. Not only were they in business class (and Casey could assure him that the airline didn't have first class service until the apocalypse shut him up, Danny would continue asserting that the richest sports organization in the country could have sprung for seats on a flight that did), but they weren't sitting together. Casey McCall, 7A. Dan Rydell, 9A. It wasn't the end of the world; Dan was sitting right behind Casey, not in a different plane. Besides, he bet if he kept leaning over the top of the seats to talk to Casey, the balding guy wearing a bad suit and shooting Dan the death glare would eventually switch with him.
The seatbelt light flickered on after a bounce that rattled Dan's teeth. He tightened the strap across the tops of his thighs, where he was almost positive it would do him no good, and wished some of his earlier narcolepsy would make a comeback. He reached out his hand, disturbed momentarily by his inability to tell if that was him shaking, or if the plane was shaking him, and grabbed the in flight magazine from the back of Casey's seat.
He peered in between the seats in front of him and saw that Casey was flipping through the magazine, too.
"Hey, I don't know about you, man," he said to the back of Casey's head, "but I don't particularly care if my kitchen appliances have a 'playful sense of joie de vivre'."
"You don't even have a playful sense of joie de vivre, Danny."
"I knew I recognized you from somewhere," Baldy McBadsuit spoke up, "You're Casey McCall. I love your show, watch it every night."
Danny leaned back, hugging the closed magazine to his chest under crossed arms.
"Thanks a lot," Casey probably couldn't even tell when his voice slipped into Public Figure Mode, but to Danny it was obvious as if he'd started speaking French, which he also could do.
"What brings you to Houston?" Baldy turned, still belted in, to face Casey. Dan couldn't see, but he imagined the seatbelt cutting uncomfortably into the man's over-inflated spare tire.
"We're actually going on to Dallas for a baseball thing we're doing." Casey's voice was the epitome of congeniality and humble celebrity. Dan rolled his eyes. At least, he noted, Casey kept saying "we."
The problem wasn't ever Casey, though. As much as his partner tried to toss some of the conversation back over to Dan, the middle aged businessman making mental notes for the Christmas newsletter didn't seem to realize that the other guy behind the desk with Casey was currently sitting right behind him. Or maybe he did and just didn't care. Whatever.
"So, are you playing in the celebrity softball game tomorrow?" The man rambled on something about watching it, but Danny smiled as Casey slowly turned his head to look back over the top of his seat, his expression just lacking some antlers and ambient headlights to complete the look. Danny had forgotten about the traditional Legends and Celebrities Softball Game, held the day before the Home Run Derby, two days before the All Star Game. That'd be tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow, after a day of traveling across time zones after a night of not sleeping. Oh, this is going to go well.
He rested his forehead against the cool window, cursing the hazy gray day for obscuring what must have been a scintillating overhead tour of the Midwest. Here's a plain, he proctored in his head, and here's some wheat. Here's a herd of cattle, and here's some more wheat. Or did they do corn in the Midwest? Danny wasn't up on his American agricultural facts; that's what he had Casey for. Besides, Danny knew that Luxembourg's major export was steel, so he knew a little something about ... something.
Dan yawned again and rubbed his eyes. When even he was annoyed by his interior monologue, it was time to give sleep another shot.
In his dreams that stretched across the vast green middle of America, Danny was playing baseball. Wearing the Orioles uniform he'd coveted as a child, he tapped the sandy dirt from his cleats and stepped up to the plate. The ball, he could see it peeking out of the top of the pitcher's glove, was blue like the sky, and he got nauseous because he knew it'd be impossible to hit. There was red clay on his hands that didn't look like the ground. It didn't even really look like clay, but Danny, even dream-Danny, didn't want to think about that. When the blue sky ball was thrown, he couldn't see it, but looking down, he swung. He heard the crack of contact, felt the blunt impact in his wrist bones and elbows. He looked up and the blue sky ball was on fire, a green chemical flame from High School science class. It shot straight out towards the pitcher, and Danny could see his face. It wasn't Roger Clemens, like he'd thought, but Steve Cisco. Steve held up his mitt to catch the line drive, but the ball veered, a changeup going the wrong way, and cracked into the side of his face. Danny heard the scream inside his head, and it woke him up. Dream-Danny screamed "DAD!"
When he jerked awake there was Casey, standing over him, shaking his shoulder gently.
"We're here, man," he was smiling down, "Houston. We have to catch the flight to Dallas."
Danny rubbed his head where it had been pressed against the window. It felt like he was falling back, and like he had altered the shape of it, flattened his forehead. He coughed and looked up at Casey as he pulled Dan's backpack out of the overhead compartment. Houston. He was in Houston with a flat head and a date with another airplane.
Part III - When It Happens In Real Life
"Good afternoon, Dallas. Hey, we've got a scorcher out there today, don't we? As I'm sure you've noticed, we've got all three H's: hazy hot and humid. We're about to break into another long hour of commercial-free music for you here on KBLB, but first everyone here just wanted to say 'Welcome' to all of you athletes, fans, and celebrities arriving in our fair city for this weekend's festivities. Enjoy your stay and keep it tuned to Dallas's number one classic rock station. Kicking off an hour of music, here's The Who on KBLB..."
"That's weird." Casey turned the air conditioning up in the back of the limo.
"Hmm?" Dan was sprawled low in his seat, taking up much of the ample space in the car with his limbs. His face was slowly losing the green cast it'd picked up during the hour-long flight between Houston and Dallas.
"In the movies, how whatever's on the radio or TV or whatever -- it always has something to do with the characters. I didn't know it happened in real life." He turned in his seat to see Dallas streaking past them. They were headed west, to Arlington near the stadium where most of the events would be held. Casey didn't miss Texas at all.
"Well, the game's a pretty big thing. It's not like the guy said ... you know ... something that could be considered an actual freaky coincidence."
"You haven't had the greatest day, have you?" Casey smiled as Dan steepled his hands over his face.
"I can't honestly remember the last time that wasn't true."
He didn't like flying, and Casey knew he hadn't slept well. Still, no one likes to hear their friend talk like that, even if their friend's Danny, who was prone not only to talking like that, but was very often right about his perennial lousy luck.
Dan got out of the car first when they arrived. In his sunglasses and slouching "Please, I beg you not to talk to me"-walk, he looked like he was born for it, for checking into places. Casey tipped the driver.
"You got that all right?" he asked the guy pulling the luggage out of the trunk.
The uniformed man smiled and waved him off.
Dan took his sunglasses off at the front desk, leaning in close to the cute redhead in the tight black shirt.
"Hey there," he smiled at her, darted his eyes down to her chest, where her nametag was helpfully located, "Holly. I'm Dan Rydell and this is Casey McCall, and we're checking in." Casey couldn't believe how after an entire day spent between sleep and kvetching, Danny could still turn it on and make this girl blush.
There was a brief moment of terror as Holly poked around in the computer for their reservations. The business class accommodations and the fact that they weren't even put on a direct flight had bothered Casey, too, though he hadn't been as vocal as Dan. With their luck, he figured, they'd have no rooms available. Or just one room. Casey didn't know which option was worse -- they could always go to a different hotel, and he'd feel like a primadonna refusing to share a room, but seriously -- people already talked about him and Dan. If fueling the fire could be prevented, it should be prevented, as far as he was concerned.
"Here we go," she looked up smiling, "you're on the 17th floor in rooms 219 and 221."
She hit the little bell on the countertop to summon the bellhop, which was another thing Casey only thought happened in movies.
Dan thanked her and let his index finger trail over hers as he took the keys from her hand. Casey rolled his eyes as he turned away towards the elevators.
"How are you feeling?" Casey nudged Dan with an elbow.
They were both leaning back against the far wall, looking up as the floor numbers ticked higher and higher.
"Better. I need to sleep for awhile."
"That's not a bad idea."
"You think Holly'd come up and join me?" he smirked.
Casey laughed, "You're seriously damaged, my friend. I don't think anyone else could manage 'sleazy' with as much grace."
"That's sweet, Casey." Danny pushed off the wall as the doors chimed open. "I think I'll put that on my holiday cards this year."
Casey flopped face-first down onto his bed as soon as he stepped far enough into the room to do so.
Now, he commanded his body, sleep. After ten minutes of laying very still and squeezing his eyes shut, it became clear. His body wasn't the best at taking orders. Tilting his face to the side, Casey saw what he'd landed next to on the bed; a glossy, thick folder with the MLB All Star 2004 logo on it sat a few inches away, under a baseball cap to match.
Casey jumped up at the sound. Dan was leaning in the doorway that apparently joined the two rooms.
"Looks like we're stuck with each other, bunk." He smiled, and then smiled wider as he saw what was hanging behind the door. "Have you tried it on yet?"
"Done what now?" Casey, every second more sleepy than the last and feeling like his body was synched two seconds behind his brain, followed Danny's gaze to the uniform wrapped in plastic.
"Oh God." He groaned, pulling the plastic off, "Oh no. Tell me it's just a gift."
Dan picked up the folder as he sat down on Casey's bed, flipping forward a few pages. He held it out to Casey, who paled at the heading, "Celebrities and Legends 2004: Roster."
"Danny, you're not on this list." Casey suddenly felt a familiar pang in his gut, the oh God, not again dread that brought him back to that other list.
"No, I'm not. Turn the page." Danny was smiling, and that was a great sign, but Casey still didn't get it.
The next page listed celebrity umpires and sportscasters. One of the cool things about the game was that they always had a few people call it live. Dan's name was below an ESPN.com columnist's and above a big Hollywood actor's.
"You're gonna call the game?"
"The only thing I have to worry about is laughing too hard while wearing the mic. As for you ... now, did they give you a jockstrap or do we have to go shopping?"
"Please get out of my room, Danny."
"Oh, you're going to try it all on. Good. Lemme' know how that works out."
He stood up and smiled, pushed his hands into his jeans pockets and whistled "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" as he strode past Casey back into his own room.
Casey shut the door behind him and stared at the uniform. The bright red "MCCALL" and the number 11 on the back mocked him. He wasn't sure how, but he definitely felt mocked.
At dinner, in the hotel's restaurant (excellent steak, freakishly large vegetables), Danny tried to talk about the game. Casey didn't talk much at all.
"It's a cakewalk, Casey," Dan said finally. "Lots of these famous guys have never played, and the old timers haven't played since your haircut was actually in style."
"I know." Casey poked perfectly spaced perforations in the skin of his baked potato. "I just wish I'd known before today. I could have ... I don't know. Trained."
"It'll be over before you know it. It's softball, for one, and most of these guys don't play softball. Plus it's like four innings of actual play. You go up, get on base -- which I'm sure you will since Thomason' s pitching and we all saw how he pitched in that Sam Sanders movie, and that was with a consultant and a pitching coach -- you get on base, you wave your little hat around to the fans, then we hang out the rest of the weekend. Pick up a shiny little plaque for the office."
"Wave my little hat around? You're quoting A League of Their Own to me now?"
"Believe it or not, it was on TV before."
"Yeah, well. I can't help feeling like I'm being set up to embarrass myself."
Casey renewed his interest in dinner, tearing strips of the potato's skin off at the seams he'd made.
"You know," a few minutes later it was Danny again, looking down at his own plate, "I'm really glad we got this award ... honor ... whatever thing."
"That's good, since they usually don't like it when you're pissed."
"No, I mean I'm glad it was us."
"And not just me?"
"That makes me sound like a dick."
"Danny, I was petrified when I didn't see your name on that roster."
"You just didn't want to be the only one wearing the stupid uniform."
"It happens to look quite fetching." He pointed his fork at Dan. "But no. That other list was so wrong, Dan. It just proves ... I don't know. That the businesspeople and professionals are clueless, and the fans know the score. In fact, if we had been on the ballot separately, you probably would have beaten me."
"I doubt that very much."
"Well, it would have been a tie at the very least. Listen. I'm glad we got this honor award whatever thing, too. We're both damn good at what we do."
"But you a little more than me, right?" Someday Dan was going to realize that Casey didn't consider him his sidekick.
"Why don't we go ask Holly?"
After dinner they went back upstairs.
"See you in the morning."
"I'm just saying, Casey..." Dan was halfway inside his room, leaning back out into the hallway. "You'd think that someone would have known you were going to be playing in the game tomorrow, you know?"
"Yeah. Yeah, you would."
He picked up the phone. Of course, Dan was right. This whole thing smacked of Dana. Or actually -- Natalie. Maybe Dana following a suggestion of Natalie's. Casey shuddered.
"Control room, this is Kim."
"Kim! It's Casey. Is Dana around? I've got a question for her."
"She is, Case, but ... we're kind of putting on a television show at the moment."
"Now? But it's ... " Casey slapped his hand to his forehead, "three hours later where you are."
"It's ok. Just blame the jet lag."
"Right. How's it going over there?"
"Good. Tina and Bobbi have been great. We miss you guys, though."
"I miss you all, too. Hey, can you have Dana call me after the show? It's important ... she has the number of the hotel."
"Sure thing, Casey."
"Ok, now go do your job."
"Oh! Good luck at the game tomorrow. We'll be watching."
"Wha-? Wait!" Casey sprung to his feet, but she had already hung up.
"Dammit." He sat down heavily.
When the phone rang and woke him, Casey couldn't remember going to sleep in the first place.
"I know what you've done, woman. I'm on to you." He started his speech while still fumbling for the phone.
"Casey. Hey. Do they do corn in the Midwest, or is it ... do they grow wheat?"
"You're calling me from next door."
"And it's," he batted the digital clock until it faced him, "three twenty five in the morning."
"And you want to know what?"
"Corn or grain, Casey. You're my font of Midwest knowledge."
"Corn or grain. Okay ... well, it depends on the area. "
Casey made a sound that might have been "goodnight," but could have also been "marflent," which didn't mean anything at all.
He sat up, rubbing his eyes. You don't remember going to sleep, he looked down at his clothes, because you didn't do it on purpose.
Casey got up, stretching. It was hot in his room, despite the air conditioner being turned all the way up. He pulled his shirt off and walked over to shut the curtains. Five yellow-orange streetlights glowed in their sulphery halos just past the edge of the parking lot.
"Font of Midwestern knowledge," he said softly as he pulled the curtain across, leaving the room in blackness.
He took off his pants and threw them onto the back of the desk chair. That list, that no one liked to talk about ... so much badness had gone down because of it that it was months afterwards when Casey actually sat down to look at it. The blurb next to the picture of him smiling and looking smug (he hated that one) nauseated him. The whole thing made him sound like the poster boy for whitebread America, and he sure as hell could have lived without ever being described as having "boyish good looks." They might as well have written, "If you have to listen to one bland talking head spouting off the day's scores, make it the ultra bland Casey McCall." "Casey McCall: because Stuart Scott and Rich Eisen are dangerous!"
Casey chuckled a little at that. None of his colleagues were particularly edgy. Still, it was an honor to be on the list, is what everyone kept telling him. When he and Dan started talking again after they, as Natalie put it, "broke up," Casey had wanted to tell him how much he hated the blurb, but he couldn't. He didn't want to look ungrateful, he didn't want to lose Danny again, but he wanted to tell him, "Hey, turns out it didn't mean that much to me." He wanted to tell Dan the truth, that if he was going to be on a list, he should be on it with him. Or, he thought, Dan should be on a list by himself now, just so we're even.
He bet Dan would have gotten a great blurb.
Part IV - Take Me Out
July 11, 2004
Something should be noted about the morning of the celebrity softball game. Danny was up before Casey, and that hadn't happened in ... Dan wasn't sure that had ever happened. So when he, fully dressed and ready to head over to the stadium, stood knocking outside of Casey's door for a full five minutes before Casey opened it, Dan knew the day would be a little off.
"You're not ready?" He pushed past Casey into the room.
"I'm standing here in a towel, Danny. No, I'm not ready. I overslept ... give me five minutes."
"You overslept?" Dan took Casey's uniform, still in its plastic garment bag, off the hook and folded it over his arm. "That's not like you."
"Yeah, well, I was up pretty late last night." Casey's voice was garbled as he attempted to talk, brush his teeth, and make a huge mess out of the clothes in his suitcase.
"Nothing." Casey found a pair of jeans and grabbed a black polo shirt from the top of the pile.
"Okay," Dan walked towards the door, "you're usually not this shifty, so I'm gonna' let it go for now. I'm also going to head downstairs with your uniform here, so the car service doesn't leave. But just so you know, you know, you're ... not usually this shifty."
"Thanks. I'll be there in, really, like five minutes."
"All right," he shut the door behind him and walked towards the elevator.
Danny sincerely hoped Casey wasn't up all night worrying about the stupid game. Yeah he'd poked a little fun, but he hadn't meant to add in any way to his friend's performance anxiety. He made a mental note, for when he'd prod Casey in the car into telling him what was wrong, not to use the phrase "performance anxiety."
"Morning, ladies." He raised a hand in salute at the girls sitting at the front desk.
"Mr. Rydell." The tall blonde one on the right barely looked up from her computer screen. Dan had almost tripped over her a few hours earlier, when she was dropping off his newspaper and he was going down to the gym.
"Donna," he stopped and walked over to the desk, "for the last time, and I'm only here a day or two more so it really is the last time ... call me Dan."
"Yes sir ... Dan." She cracked a small smile.
"There," he smiled back at her, "now I can go on with my day."
He winked at the other girl behind the desk, another blonde but with short hair and an eyebrow ring who smiled readily. Man, he turned around smiling and saw the limousine waiting right outside the door, I love Texas.
The ride to the stadium wasn't long, but it wasn't short enough for complete silence to go unnoticed.
"How're you feeling?" Danny had been darting his eyes back to Casey every time a few blocks whizzed past outside. That way, he wasn't staring.
"I'm just a little tired, Danny. I'd feel even better if you'd stop looking at me like that."
Casey was sitting motionless with his head back and his eyes closed. Dan was temporarily amazed at how Casey knew he had been looking at him at all until he remembered that Casey was a dad, and therefore imbued with special powers of detection.
"It's ok. You're just freaking me out."
"No, I mean I'm sorry about making fun of you. I feel bad that you were up late being all -- worried-guy about it, and I'm sorry."
"I wasn't up late worrying about the game. I was just -- there was other stuff."
"I mean it."
They pulled into the underground parking structure that was labeled "VIP" but looked like it had been, until very recently, more commonly called "Unused creepy parking cave."
"So, you're not nervous at all?" Dan had spent a good chunk of the night before memorizing the roster for easier recognition on the fly. He'd also practiced saying "Hey Jim, I'm Dan Rydell ... I'm a big fan." Because Jim Burke was going to be playing, and who didn't idolize Jim Burke as a child? No one Dan wanted to know.
"Not really. It's gonna' be pretty low-impact, Danny -- I think I can handle it." Casey looked more awake now that they'd gotten out of the subterranean car park and were standing in the hallway near the locker rooms.
"You talk to Dana last night?"
"No, she never called me back"
"She totally knew."
"There is no doubt in my mind that is so."
"Good luck out there," Casey clapped Dan on the shoulder.
"You too, man." He walked off towards the field.
"And Greer lobs one ... directly into the waiting glove of Michaels at second. That wraps up inning two of what has so far been an absolute shellacking of the Red team by the Blue."
"As Red takes the field here, tell me, Dan," Bill shaded his eyes with his hand, "who's your money on today?"
"Well, I think everyone here knows my partner Casey McCall's on team Red," Dan paused while the crowd cheered, "so in the interest of avoiding bias, my money's on Blue."
"Doesn't hurt that Red's getting their collective butt handed to them, does it?"
"Not one bit, Bill. It's shaping up to be a lovely afternoon here in Arlington Texas, as we begin the third inning of this year's Dodge Annual Celebrities and Legends softball game. My name's Dan Rydell, and I'm here alongside Bill Jeffries of ESPN.com's Page 2, and Greg Anders, last seen in the blockbuster thriller Breakers. We thank you for joining us, both everyone here at Ameriquest Field and everyone watching at home on NBC."
"Thank you, Dan." Greg laughed. The three of them had been joking about their respective broadcasting prowess all day. "Leading off for team blue is Carolin Charpentier, star of NBC's hit show Memphis West. She's one for two today."
"It should also be noted that she's absolutely gorgeous, intelligent, and should seriously consider calling me." Dan smiled, then waved when Carolin turned towards him with a little smirk on her face. The crowd cheered and laughed when he stood and blew her an exaggerated kiss.
As much as he loved his job, there was something, something very awesome to be said about instant feedback from an audience.
"Sit down and call the game, Rydell!" Casey shouted from short.
"Some commotion now from Red shortstop Casey McCall," Bill had slipped back into broadcast mode, making Danny wonder why the man wasted his time writing when he could be on his way to becoming "The Voice of the [insert Major League team here]." Good radio and TV men were getting harder and harder to come by, and Dan made a mental note to ask Bill why he stuck to text when most major market teams would kill to have him calling their games.
"You got a problem, McCall?" Dan climbed up on his chair and shouted back.
"You're my problem." Casey pushed his sunglasses up over his forehead and crossed his arms.
Most of the infielders around Casey were already laughing. This, too, was tradition.
"Oh yeah?" This was going to be fun.
Dan pulled off his headset and jumped off his chair, over the table and charged towards left field. Casey threw off his glove and hat (his sunglasses went flying) and made little beckoning gestures with his hands by his sides.
Danny hit him low, carefully so he didn't actually hurt him, but with enough force to knock them both down. The second they collided, the hush that had fallen over the entire stadium was washed over by riotous cheers.
"You ok?" he rested a hand on Casey's chest, over his body mic. Casey nodded, grabbed Dan's arms and threw him off.
Dan jumped to his feet and went for Casey again, this time going for the back hem of his jersey. He grabbed, just above Casey's waist, and started to pull.
"Danny. Whoa! Danny!" Casey must never have played hockey.
Danny pulled straight back until Casey was stuck with his jersey halfway over his head, his arms pinned up alongside his face.
Dan pumped his fists in the air and grandstanded, that is until the entire Red infield jumped on top of him.
He groaned at the bottom of the pile of actors and former major leaguers.
"Hey, Chris," he nodded to the ex-Orioles catcher who was weighing down his left arm.
"How's it going, Dan?" Chris had been one of the first Close Up interviews they'd done on Sports Night years back; he and Danny stayed in touch and went fishing a few times a year.
"Pretty well." Dan looked around and whispered, "Although I appear to be at the bottom of a pile of men."
"Well, consider it a new life experience for ya'." Chris laughed as his teammates started to get up.
"I never said that. I mean, there was college ... "
He could see the sky again, and he had the distinct impression that he was actually embedded a few inches down into the turf, like a cartoon-Danny embossed by an anvil. An anvil, or the aforementioned pile of men.
"Need a hand?" Casey's shadow dropped over him. Dan reached up and accepted the help.
The crowd cheered again when Dan was back on his feet.
"You want to wave my little hat around?" Casey said quietly.
Dan raised his eyebrows and looked at Casey out of the corner of his eye.
"Yeah." Casey turned to wave at the crowd. "That wasn't supposed to sound as smutty as it did."
"Uh huh." Dan clapped him on the back and jogged back towards the announcer's table.
"Ladies and gentlemen, if you're not watching Sports Night on QVN, this is what you're missing." Dan made another mental note to thank Bill for that little plug later on.
"Good to have you back, Dan." Greg stood and applauded as Danny neared them.
"Good to be back, Greg. Now, what do you say about seeing some baseball?" Dan put his headset back on and clipped the battery to his waistband. "Stepping back up to the plate is Carolin Charpentier. My sincerest apologies to Ms. Charpentier for disrupting her last at bat, and I urge her to not view my pugnacious tussle with Mr. McCall as childish, but instead impulsive and manly. Bristow's back on the mound and ready to go. We thank you for joining us here at the Dodge Annual Celebrities and Legends softball game; at the start of the third inning it's Red 1 and Blue 12 ... "
Part V - Let Rydell Be Rydell
July 11, 2004
"Annihilation" wasn't a word Casey liked to bandy about much when it came to sports. Then again, neither was "bandy."
But team Red had been absolutely obliterated by Blue. Starting with the foundation laid by rock star Lou Tejada's five home runs in five innings and continuing with unreal pitching from former Yankees catcher Jack Flaherty (and Casey didn't even understand how the man had gone from squatting for a living to whipping softballs with laser accuracy and deadly speed), Blue just had the juice. Casey hadn't done too bad for himself; he was 6 for 6 on the day with a couple of RBI's and a solo shot to center that ended up being Red's only home run. Still, few people enjoy losing, and fewer still, Casey imagined, would enjoy the losing end of a 5 to 25 scoreboard.
Their little award ceremony was held right after the game; the tape would be edited, cut in with film from other ceremonies and events from the weekend, and shown during the All Star Game preshow the next day. The award itself was a plaque, simple oak and metal. Pretty standard fare, but Dan and Casey accepted it with the same gusto warranted by a Nobel prize. They smiled, they waved, they shook hands with the commissioner, the director of fan relations, and each other. When they turned to take a picture, Casey put his arm around Dan's back, dropping it down when he felt Dan's shoulders jump up in tension. Dan and affection were a weird combination, and while Casey knew that, he still didn't have a handle on how to gauge good days from bad. For all his playing around and flirting, Danny could flipside it in seconds flat, pulling in on himself until he was completely armored. He was a living, breathing replica of the swaying border between Russia and Poland circa 1939. One minute he was dancing and passing you more Krakowska, the next it was dosvidanya, human contact. No one even had time to change the language on the road signs. Then there was the whole, "he builds a wall" metaphor playing with the notion of The Wall, but the timeline was off, and the location and Casey decided to bank that comparison for another time. God knows he'd get a chance to use it. No, Danny was the border, in constant tumult with movement no one (except some cartographers somewhere) could see. Danny was the border and Casey felt like a villager. Every day he woke up not knowing if he was living in Russia or Poland, unsure of his rights or the law. It didn't matter, though. Regardless of where the border had moved, Casey recognized everything around him. Because all that had moved was the invisible line that called where he was a place. The village stayed the same, and the village was his home.
So Casey let his arm fall from Dan's shoulder as quickly as it had made contact. A little bounce, like Casey had clapped his partner on the back -- that's what it would look like on the clips they'd show. In the car on the way back to the hotel Danny ran his fingers over the letters engraved on the plaque.
"You ok?" Casey asked, stretching his arms behind his back and grimacing.
"I should ask you." Dan looked up in concern at the very same moment a ray of sunlight ricocheted off the plaque and onto his face. The strip of golden light made the rest of Dan's skin look so pale.
"I'm just old, Danny. I'm going to show the ice machine on our floor a hell of a time, though." Moving his wrists around and around, tiny circles and he could swear that was ground glass in his joints. " You sure you're ok?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Why?" Eyes back on the plaque, and it was like Dan was enchanted.
"You just seemed a little jumpy back there in front of the cameras." Casey focused his attention on the worst of a series of mosquito bites on his forearms.
"That was an AP guy, Casey. Those pictures are available to every news organization in the world. Forgive me if I didn't want us to look too cozy."
"People know we're friends, Dan."
"Good for people."
"You thought people would think we were ... you know ... more than friends?"
"People already do." Dan didn't need to remind him of the website Jeremy had found and showed to Natalie, or the glee with which Natalie reset Dan and Casey's homepages.
"Just the crazy ones." Casey smiled. Even if Dan wasn't telling him the whole truth, he was talking, and that was usually a positive sign.
"You saying it's so crazy that you'd go out with me?" Dan scowled up at Casey with a smirk.
Casey shook his head, "I'm saying you're crazy, and I've had quite enough of that to actively seek it out as a quality in relationships."
"You're coming on to me right now, aren't you?" Dan's eyebrow arcing up devilishly was the only thing that betrayed his act. The rest was as deadpan as possible.
"This is what I'm saying," Casey slumped down a little in his seat, let each vertebrae of his back groan and uncoil, "You're hot, you're cold, you've got more temperature fluctuations than winter in New England."
"How the hell would you know about winter in New England, Captain Corn-fed?"
"You talk about it all the time." Casey closed his eyes a little, relishing the fact that his eyelids, at the very least, weren't sore. He could still see Danny out of the corner of his left eye, hazy through exhaustion and looking serrated by the eyelashes that obscured Casey's vision.
"I never realized you were listening." Dan's eyes left Casey and drifted down to his own lap -- Casey didn't think he was looking at the plaque.
"I always listen to you, Danny." He crossed his arms over his chest. "Wake me when we get to the hotel?"
Casey could hear him fidgeting.
"I'm sorry about before, with the picture."
The sun broke through the clouds again, casting red light through onto Casey's eyes.
"Remind me I have something to give you later."
"Should I be worried?"
"No more than you are in your natural state."
"Hey, that's not worry. That's readiness."
"Ok, well I'm gonna' go to sleep -- if there's a tsunami during my nap I'll feel safe knowing I'm in your capable hands."
"You're coming on to me again." Casey didn't have to open his eyes to see the expression on Dan's face.
"I hate you." He sighed.
"You so don't."
Casey felt Dan shift down on his seat, too, and minutes later the sound of his breathing as it evened into sleep.
Part VI - The Sun in the Morning & The Game at Night
July 12, 2004
When Casey woke up the next day, Danny was gone. He'd knocked on the door outside for a long time before returning to his own room and gently, stealthily pushing open the door between their rooms. It creaked a little and Casey scowled -- as much as he didn't want to accidentally catch sight of Danny locked in an early morning tryst with Holly the desk clerk, he wanted far less to get caught creeping into the room, regardless of what was going on inside. The room was empty. He walked in a little farther; the bed was still unmade and the air conditioner was off. It was ten in the morning and Danny was gone. Casey wasn't worried -- the dozens of places Dan could safely be were so far staving off the one or two bad things, the nightmare things Casey feared all too frequently, that could have happened. Things he could have done. But it was ok because on trips, Danny didn't sleep well, or at all. Still awake in the mornings, he'd go for a walk, or go to the gym. Maybe his early morning tryst with Holly was down in a different room. The staff probably had access to the penthouse suites -- they could have taken it up there. Casey stopped his brain before parts more southern on his body embarrassed him.
Dan's sneakers were missing, and so were his watch and wallet. His suitcase was open on the armchair near the window, his messenger bag in the same state on the coffee table. That was his carry on, the bag Natalie had called his "man-purse." Still, Danny didn't seem to mind when everyone eventually asked him to hold something in that black bag slung on his back -- Dana's compact, Jeremy's contact lens case, Casey's cell phone -- Danny took them all into his care, zipping them into the pouch and patting them into place. Dan liked being able to take care of things. He liked when people let him. For the millionth time in ten years, Casey considered getting Dan a dog.
He knelt next to the bag and opened the front flap. Looking around surreptitiously, feeling like the world's worst cat burglar, he slipped the envelope out of his back pocket and into the bag, tucking it between a battered paperback copy of Of Human Bondage (Casey rolled his eyes ... of all the books Dan shouldn't have been reading over and over ...) and his Discman. As he zipped the pocket shut there was a sound in the hall. Housekeeping, guessing from the rattling cart-noise, confirmed by a soft knock.
Casey stood quickly and left, closing the connecting door behind him softly as the door to Danny's room creaked open.
Danny woke up at dawn, kicking himself for passing out so early the night before. He hopped across the room to shut off the air conditioning that someone had set to "Nome." Sitting back down at the edge of his bed, Danny considered waking Casey. He glanced at the clock and thought better of it.
Downstairs twenty minutes later, Dan wore his favorite jeans and the most casual of his long sleeved button-downs.
"Hey, Holly," he stood a few feet back from her desk, his hands in his pockets, "so you -- you work here all day every day?"
"Donna had a thing -- I traded shifts. It's ok, I slept for a couple of hours." She smiled and Danny thought her face looked soft, like she'd woken up not too long ago. "Can I help you with something?"
"Yeah, I was just wondering how close we are to downtown … I haven't been paying a lot of attention in the car rides back and forth, and this place is new since I lived here … "
She nodded. "We're about twenty minutes out. I can call you a car -- take you right to the bottom of Cooper, wherever you want. By the time you get there, things should be just opening."
"That would be great. Thank you."
"It'll be about," she yawned, "five minutes."
Danny made it all the way over to the little restaurant before deciding that he could wait until he got back to New York for a bagel. It'd taste so good if he waited. Instead, he got two cups of coffee. He dropped one off at the front desk for Holly on his way out to meet the car.
The cars in the parking lot were still covered with dew. Some of them steamed in the rising heat. A shrill call brought Danny's gaze over to the opposite corner, where a little group of white cranes stood balanced on the roof of a Saab. Not cranes, he squinted, noting their size and coloring. Ibis? For some reason, their scarlet faces and long cruel curved beaks immediately made him think "ibis." They looked sinister in their serenity. Dan didn't know why, after recognizing them, he automatically thought them evil. Maybe they just appreciated the fine Swedish engineering of the 9-3 convertible on which they perched. Maybe the look in their beady blueish eyes was concentration and not the all consuming death lust it looked like. He should ask Jeremy whether or not ibis were ever considered evil. He should also find out if they were normally found in Texas at all. If not, he thought, the fact that I'm seeing you right now's even creepier. Were they evil in a book? Maybe. A book he'd liked, but had pushed the details to the periphery of his mind. A book he'd borrowed from Jeremy, even, and it was entirely possible that ibis weren't evil at all, they just played it in literature.
"Mr. Rydell?" a youngish guy in a navy blue uniform tentatively called.
The car, a black Towncar, had pulled up right next to him. Dan had no idea how long it'd been there.
"Yeah, sorry. Let's go." The interior smelled like all Towncars should, warm and leathery, with the faint trace of a woman's perfume. It smelled like Gianni Schicchi at the Met, it smelled like every party he'd ever gone to with Dana in the same car. It smelled like most of his dates the first few years he'd been back in New York. So eager to impress, so happy to be back in New York, because Texas just hadn't been my scene. I'm a city boy, baby. Now they drove past the lost ibis, past the thick of trees at the border of the hotel's property, and out onto the highway into town.
Thinking about the Met, about Dana and real city girls and the flight that would take him back to all that in twelve hours … Danny did love Texas, but god, not like he loved New York.
He got back to the hotel before noon, figuring he'd shower and get changed before he and Casey headed out to the stadium for the All Star Game. He wondered for the first time where they'd be sitting.
"Hey, Danny?" the voice came through the wall, hesitant and groggy.
Dan stopped, one shoe off and poised, crane (or ibis) like, toeing off the other.
"Casey?" he smiled, "Casey, don't go towards the white light."
Casey pushed open the adjoining door, his face red.
"Where were you?" Casey's hands were on his hips, and Dan suddenly had a very real, very disturbing idea of what Charlie's adolescence was going to look like.
"I went downtown, Ma." Dan finally kicked off his shoe and sat down on the bed.
"You went ... shopping?"
Dan nodded, "I got these."
He put on the headphones he'd bought, huge cushioned DJ-style things that set him back thirty dollars and made him look kind of like a koala.
"Those are something, Dan."
"What?" He pulled one of the earpieces aside.
"You went all the way downtown on our last day here to buy crazy teenager headphones?"
"Well, I figure if we run into another slavering fan of yours on the flight home, I won't have to listen."
"Fair enough." And as much as Danny despised being ignored in Casey's presence, making Casey feel at fault was worse.
"So -- uh ... what time do we have to be at the stadium?" Backpedaling was usually his specialty, but he was tired.
"Seven tonight, I think -- game's not until eight." Casey was backing away towards his room. "I'm going to shower up. Did you eat already?"
"No, I was waiting for you." Dan wound the cord around his new headphones and tucked them into his bag, next to his Discman. Wondering why Casey seemed to flinch at that moment, Dan decided to shelve the question for later.
"Cool." Casey coughed. "In a half hour, we'll go grab some food?"
When Casey closed the door behind him, Dan looked back over at his bag. He unzipped the pocket, took out the headphones he'd just stowed, and the Discman. When he went for his book, an envelope came out with it. Danny opened it slowly and began to read.
When you listen to Dan Rydell talk about baseball, it's difficult to imagine a person more perfectly suited to his profession. He's got the glassy-eyed focus and mental statistic cache of a ten year old card-collector, merged with the smooth witty cadence of the man who's part of a nationally broadcast sports show. Along with his partner Casey McCall, Rydell has helmed the desk at QVN's (formerly CSC's) Sports Night for more than five years now, and to hear him talk, the team's showing no signs of slowing in its old age. They're a family over at Sports Night. They love like it and they most certainly fight like it, and while their collective backbone may be executive producer Isaac Jaffee, their heart is unquestionably Rydell. Watching him on the air, one gets the sense that underpinning all the journalistic know-how and carefully groomed appearances, Rydell's just an easy guy to talk to. That's never more apparent than in his interviews with athletes and officials who always tell him a little more than they should, disarmed by a joke or some other manifestation of Rydell's blinding charm.
"The truth is," McCall says, "the show doesn't work without Danny. I'm not as funny, the lighting's not as good, and I'm almost positive the lox from craft services isn't as fresh."
And so in this business of ever increasing commercialism and scandal, it's Dan Rydell's love of the game and honest dedication to the team that makes him an example we wish more people in sports would follow.
Dan walked out of the elevator, a man on a mission.
In the lobby, Casey was leaning on the front desk and talking to Holly. Dan grabbed his shoulders and turned him around, then pulled him in to a crushing hug.
"Hiya, Danny." Casey smiled and did the uncomfortable pat-on-the-back thing guys sometimes do when hugged unexpectedly by other guys.
"You're a good guy, Casey. You're a good guy and a great friend." Dan pushed him back a little, gripping his shoulders and looking directly into his eyes. His own eyes were pleading the litany of thanks he'd condensed into his two-sentence acknowledgement of what Casey had written.
"You too -- that's why I wanted you to have a blurb." Casey brought his hands up to touch Danny's hands, try to get him to release his emotional death grip on Casey's shoulders. "I mean -- I don't even know the guy who wrote mine."
"It's just as well; yours was terrible." Danny smiled.
"I know, what was up with that?" Casey held out his hands.
"Ahhh, Casey." Dan threw an arm around his shoulder. "They just don't get the wonder that is the McCall style."
"That's what I'm saying. And I know that was a dig, but secretly, you know I'm cool."
"In the most secret, hidden, buried, possibly-mythical places in my soul, yes. You're cool." Dan conceded.
"And there was no one holding a camera or recording device to capture that moment." Casey crossed his arms. "This is my kind of luck."
"Sorry about hugging you back there -- I know there's people around." Dan winked at him.
"Hey, that's your deal, Danny. Although I do think you may have hurt your chances with Holly-"
"No, they're still pretty good." She spoke from behind them, smiled and waved a little as they turned incredulously.
Dan smiled back, then smiled at his partner.
"I do love Texas, Casey."
"Yeah, I get that." They headed outside.
"Let's go see some baseball. Let us drink of their beer and eat of their food and quietly mock their peccadilloes in that way we do." Dan was in a good mood, and it had everything to do with the fact that he'd had a damn good day.
"Let's also say 'peccadilloes' a bunch more." Casey's grin widened.
"We can do that. As soon as we're done, though ... we go home."
"To New York City." Casey grinned and got into the limo first.
"To New York City, baby." Dan slid in and sat across from him.
"You know, Danny, I like Texas."
"As do I."
"So you've stated. I like Texas, Danny, but New York ..." Casey cocked his head to the side.
"Oh yeah. New York's a different ballgame." Danny found the panel in the wall that opened the cooler. He handed a beer to Casey and opened his own.
"Totally different ballgame."
"To baseball. To baseball and to Texas, where we are -- where we were." They clinked glasses, Danny continued. "And to New York, where we're going. Where it's home."
"Here here," Casey let his bottleneck clink against Danny's again, and smiled.
The car cut through the muggy streets at dusk. In the distance, to the east, the sky was shot through with stadium lights. Farther east, much farther, a city's lights glowed in the crook of two rivers, illuminating the night sky. The city shone like a beacon, calling her boys home.
© scrunchy 2004