Arthurtown is a hodgepodge of houses, maybe a hundred in all, set back from dirt roads. It is not four miles from the heart of downtown Columbia, which is dominated by South Carolina's magnificent state capitol building, where the Confederate flag, for now, flies above its gilded, domed roof. There are a few churches in Arthurtown but no businesses, although there used to be a nightclub, Boogie's Grill, on Zion Avenue. Pokey's mother, Clara, is a Barnes, and the Barnes family, you are told, has been in Arthurtown forever, which means since sometime after the abolition of slavery.
Clara Reese remembers good times with Slick, in the early years of their marriage. On Saturday nights he'd play ball for the all-black Arthurtown Buccaneers or for the integrated Columbia Bulls. Clara and Peaches would sit in the stands at Capital City Stadium watching him play. Pokey would sit in the dugout, working as a batboy, taking grounders between innings. Even when he was five, the grown men playing couldn't believe how skillful Pokey was with a glove. But to keep the boy in his place, the men always told Pokey he would never be as good as his father.
After the games, everybody—everybody who was black, that is—would go to Boogie's. The men would huddle on one side, rehashing the game, the women on the other, fussing about the lack of attention paid to them. Then a slow song would come on, and everybody would dance. They were good times. Slick was the center of attention, well dressed, a good talker, the star of his team. He batted .433 for the Bulls in 1980. Slick taught Pokey baseball the best way he knew. He let him watch.
When Slick stopped playing ball, he started drinking more. He couldn't keep a job, the marriage fell apart, and for a period Slick and Clara were divorced. They remarried when Pokey was in high school (though they would divorce again). Clara attended all Pokey's games, made sure that he did all his homework and looked good and showed up on time, that he got to the awards banquets. Slick came to some of the games. People knew he was drinking, but he was never out of control. He never embarrassed Pokey. All he did was let him down.
Pokey signed with the Reds, had his three kids, climbed through the minor leagues, made it to Cincinnati. He built a $150,000 house in suburban Charlotte for his mother. As Pokey flourished, Slick hastened his descent into the hell of addiction, first drinking, later doing crack In December 1997 he sought help, moving into an apartment at the Oliver Gospel Mission in Columbia, a facility for addicts and people in need. He was tested for drugs regularly and stayed straight during almost two years there. Pokey visited his father at the shelter a couple of times. Slick took a job at the mission, answering the middle-of-the-night phone calls of the desperate. He could relate. In the spring of 1999 the mission's annual bulletin, The Way of Faith, ran a nice story about Calvin and his recovery. Soon after, a woman came into the mission looking for help. The next thing anybody knew, last September, Slick and the woman had bolted. Slick left no address, no telephone number. Whenever Pokey would call home, he'd ask, "Peaches, have you heard from Slick?" The answer was always the same.
Pokey's mother, who had the first of her five children while in high school, knows what is happening. That Pokey, as a father, is following the model of fatherhood he knew best. That Peaches, as a mother, is following the model of motherhood she knew best. Clara would like things to be different. She'd like her former husband to have a relationship with his children, as long as he's not high. You ask Pokey's mother if she knows anything about the whereabouts of Calvin Sr. She does not know. The only thing she has heard is that Slick married again and that the woman he married was from North Charleston, S.C. That's it.
You try street corners, the police, barmaids. Then a local reporter types the name Calvin Reese Sr. into a computer. His birth date—he was born on Independence Day, 1951—is entered, too. A few programs are run, databases searched. An address comes up.
It is Friday, May 12, a perfect spring day. You drive to the address in a run-down section of North Charleston called Cherokee. You're driving around in your white Volvo sedan with a sunroof and CD player, and everybody in the neighborhood is staring at you as if you're a lost tourist in a third-world country. The address is a two-story apartment building. Video cameras are mounted to the outside walls, and a sign says the building is under police surveillance. You go to the apartment that is supposed to be Slick's. You knock. The voice of a sleepy woman bellows, "Who?"
The woman comes to the door. She is middle-aged, wrapped in a sheet, holding an infant. Her grandson, she tells you. She is Slick's new wife, Donna Anderson, the woman he met at the Oliver Gospel Mission in Columbia. She's friendly. She steps outside the door. She knows all about Pokey, all about his salary. She tells you that Calvin Sr. is at the meat market on Rivers Avenue, just a short walk away, working as a butcher.
You enter Mr. J's Old-Timey Meat Market through the double doors in the back and ask for Mr. Reese. A half minute later he appears. He is a thin man, slightly bowlegged, wiry and strong, with veins protruding from his forearms. He has dark skin and high cheekbones, just like Pokey. You say, "Slick?" And when you do, he throws his hands down as if he were about to field a grounder, and a wide smile crosses his face.