This is part four of a satirical series.
“HSBC ASAP” the text read. I was pretty sure Brave-Throat didn’t mean One HSBC Center.
So I broke the limit on the 400 to the Thruway to the Niagara Extension. Two wheels on the ramp at Church Street. I didn’t know what else to do, so I pulled up right in front.
It was his favorite time, around three in the morning.
Sure enough. The black stretch was waiting for me. But this time he was getting out. “Come with me, Howell,” he said.
I followed him. He didn’t have keys but every door opened for him.
Into the facility. Lights were coming on automatically a step ahead of us. Soon enough we were inside the arena. There was hardwood on the floor. It was the old Braves floor. Exactly as it was in the Aud.
“Everything’s ready, Johnny,” he said, a sudden softness in his voice. He took off the shades. I saw a tear in his eye. He stared at me.
“You don’t recognize me, do you?” He asked.
“You look familiar,” I said.
“But you just can’t place me?”
“Yeah,” I said, sheepishly. He took off the hat. The same hat he’d worn every time we’ve met. A New Era 5950 Braves cap.
“My God!” I said, suddenly getting it. “I thought you were dead!”
“So did I,” he said, smirking. “Actually…”
“No!” I said. I thought I knew what he was going to say and I didn’t want to face that possibility.
“It’s fine, Johnny, don’t worry. I’m a good ghost, not a bad one.”
“You’ve been with them, haven’t you?” I asked. Asked– but I knew the answer without asking.
“Yep. There certainly is such a thing as purgatory,” he said. “I’ve been stuck in the damn Aud with the Spirit of the Braves since I kicked the bucket. And now Randy’s there too. Except– now… we’ve all been released.”
Released but not redeemed, I thought. Not yet anyway.
“What’s new, Harry?” I had to say it. After all, he’d been asking, and answering, that question for decades at the old Courier Express.
It makes perfect sense. No one loved the Braves more than sports columnist Phil Ranallo, except, perhaps, me, and the Wendels, who wrote the Braves book, and John Boutet, at Buffalo Sports Museum.
He was reading my mind, but then, he always did. “That’s right, Johnny boy. No one loved the Braves more than me– and you, and a few of our other friends, and each of you has a role in this. The Wendels wrote the book. Boutet is pushing for the Museum and– more importantly for my purposes– the banner, keeping the Braves in the public consciousness now more than ever. (“Banner” references a movement to hang a Braves banner in the HSBC). And your job is to keep writing these articles, whenever I call you. Keep turning it up a notch. Keep calling the fans home. And–”
And I knew exactly what was coming next – the hard part –
“Raise the damn money, Howell. Come on. I expected you’d have a few million by now. Get with it, man. The season starts in weeks.”
“You don’t expect me to get this done before next season?”
“Howell?” It was that Tony Soprano tone again.
I turned around and there was no Ranallo. No limo. No basketball floor on top of the ice. It was as if I had dreamed the whole thing. Except I was standing in HSBC Arena, no dreaming about that.
I guess, now that I know he’s a poltergeist, there’s no need for him to pretend to drive away after we talk.
Which made me wonder how I’d be summoned from now on. I had a feeling it wouldn’t be via text message again. Or any other form of material technology.
“Wow!” I said, just needing a minute to let it all sink in. “Holy Jesus, Wow!” I said.
And then I saw the beam of a flashlight. “Hey, who’s there?” Lights coming on everywhere. Voices on two way radios. “We have an intruder. Copy?”
“Damn, you Ranallo!” I’m thinking. “Now what do I do?”
I felt something on my arms and shoulders. I suddenly realized I was wearing a Carolina Blue, Braves warm-up jacket. Where the heck did that come from, and how long had I been wearing it?
Three private badges walked right past me, looking at me, through me, as if I wasn’t there. And then I realized. The jacket. My cloak of invisibility.
I guess old Phil didn’t leave me exposed after all.
I walked quietly out the door and back to my car. As I drove away, I passed a couple of Buffalo black and whites, responding to the alarm at the arena no doubt.
“Happy hunting,” I said as they sped by me.
Note: for an extensive set of links to recent videos, articles, & audio clips about the Buffalo Braves, see Chris and Tim Wendel’s blog, Buffalo Nation http://buffalonation.wordpress.com/