Wick packed his bag in a stupor, said goodbye to the guys and walked out of the clubhouse. "Wick!" It was someone calling him from behind. Grover's eyes were welling, his arms lifting to hug. "If you ever need anything...you know...you know you're like a son to me."
A few things happened after Wick left the Indians. The clubhouse was so cramped for space, the deliveryman for the local dry cleaner began using Oly's memorial locker to hang pressed shirts and suits for the players to retrieve. By the end of May, Grover had the locker dismantled altogether. A reliever was acquired from the Chicago Cubs, a man named Heathcliff Slocumb, whose wife died of cancer in November. Another reliever was acquired from San Diego, Jeremy Hernandez. He got Wick's number, 53.
In Cincinnati, Wick started pitching better, feeling happy. Not ripping up records in either department, but he won a game, got some guys out, started smiling. He still wore Oly's shower clogs, sunglasses, wristwatch and T-shirts, but he sent the rest to keep in his off-season home in Phoenix. Someday he would let Oly's kids take from it whatever they wished.
He knew now that no baseball team, no bullpen, would ever again feel like a family, and he realized why Oly had kept urging him to get married and start one of his own. Kim was right beside him on virtually every road trip now. If she hadn't been there when Oly died, he knew he would've started drinking again.
God. He was remembering Oly's thousand-dollar bet at their wedding that Kim would be pregnant by their first anniversary. Easy money, Wick had thought, because they had no intention of having kids for at least a couple of years. When the anniversary came, six weeks ago, Kim and Wick held hands. Oly had lost—she wasn't pregnant—but when they thought about it, they actually grinned. In a few more months they were going to start trying. The baby's name, if it's a boy, will be Olin Wickander.
Yes. That was it. Rip it right across the neck. Now straight down, from crown to chin. Now again, right through that smile. Now the eyes. Goodbye, jackass. Goodbye.
He used to love that charcoal portrait on his office wall. Himself when he was a big league pitcher. Himself when he was happy. He used to look at it and think with satisfaction about how far he had come. The man now making a million-seven a year, overlooked completely in the 1977 draft and signed the next year for $500. The man who used to live in Winter Haven, Fla., with a wife and two babies in a motel room wallpapered with drying diapers because they couldn't afford the Laundromat. The guy who used to grab handfuls of Sucrets from the jar in the Class A clubhouse and throw them in his mouth. Not for a sore throat. For dinner.
He put the frame back. He had made it home, somehow, from Sweden. He stared down at the confetti, then up at the wall. That was good. That was him. Exactly right. The empty frame.
Every day when he was home, it went like this. He would get out of bed, walk down the hall to the reclining chair in his office and sit there. Reading John Grisham novels. Staring out the window. Staring at the empty picture frame. Letting the phone ring. All day in one room, and then back to bed at night, to lie there turning. Another pill. Wake up sweating. Start all over again.
If only he could have it out in one showdown—one night, one week, one month—and then move on. But it didn't work that way. You could tear yourself to shreds in Sweden, tear yourself to shreds in your office at home...and it just went on and on and on.