Clarice James

Smart, Fun, Relatable Fiction

Doubleheader: Chapter 1

I met my half brother the week I turned thirty. I knew it was him. He was wearing my late father’s boots.

Eight months earlier, my younger brother Griffin and I were escaping a freezing-cold March for four full days of sun and research in Ft. Myers, Florida. Our annual trek with Dad to the Boston Red Sox training camp had been a tradition since we were kids. After his death three and a half years ago, the trip became more about our memories and new material for Doubleheader, our sports column.

Our main purpose this trip was to observe the local boy from South Boston and the subject of all the Beantown chatter—pitcher Mike Hennessey. Against all odds, Griffin and I hoped to score an interview with him.

With our SUV’s engine running outside Terminal C at Logan International in Boston, my husband Sam jumped out to help with our luggage. “Listen up, Casey—” he started.

“I know, be vigilant.” I took the handle of my bag from him. “Wish you were coming with us.”

“To watch you work? No way. Besides, when we go away,” Sam said loud enough for Griffin to hear, “we’ll be alone.”

“Cramp your style, do I, Lieutenant Gallagher?” Griffin faked a body check on Sam. “This coming from a guy who spends all his nights with cops and robbers.”

I pushed on the car’s lift gate to make sure it was latched. “Stop yakking, you two, before we get a ticket.”

A biting wind nipped at my resolve to leave my wool coat behind, but I held fast, thinking back on the heat of southwest Florida. Sam, my cop in shining armor, finished his condensed version of his “hyper-vigilance” speech, kissed me good-bye, and drove away.

I waited on the platform, not sure if my shivering was due to the temperature or from laughing at Griffin, whose prized autographed baseball cap had taken flight in the wind tunnel that is Logan Airport. His frantic pursuit between cabs and cars across the concrete dividers ended when the hat came in for a smooth landing on a pristine, errant snow drift under the porte-cochère.

Unbelievable. If that had been mine, the hat would have skipped across the top of every oily puddle like a flat stone on still lake. Then a bus would have run over it.

“I can’t believe you’re still wearing that stinky hat,” I said. “Didn’t you get that in junior high?”

Pointing to my bag, he said, “Ha! Coming from someone who carries her stuff around in an old carpet bag.”

“How dare you talk about Hildegard that way! She’s a vintage, leather-trimmed tapestry train case, barely broken in, made by a German artisan.”

“Big whoop. Looks like a Mary Poppins hand-me-down. Who names their luggage anyway?”

“Excuse me, didn’t your wife replace your Scooby-Doo backpack a few years ago when you were what, maybe, twenty-five?”

“Heads up.” He elbowed me. “Security checkpoint ahead. But I think it’s safe to say I won this round.”

“Remember, little brother, whenever you think you’ve won, that only means the debate’s not over.”

I was first in line at security. The agent tilted his head back a few degrees before he ran his ultraviolet LED flashlight over my driver’s license. He checked my face against my photo. “Casey M. Gallagher, blonde hair, blue eyes, pretty smile. How ‘bout that? Looks just like you. Have a good flight, Ms. Gallagher.”

“Thanks.” I paused for Griffin to catch up. He was involved in a verbal volley between a man he’d never met and a woman he’d never see again. My brother attracts people like an ice cream truck on an Alabama dirt road in August.

Frowning, the TSA agent signaled to Griffin to keep moving. He examined his license and face with the same degree of scrutiny he had mine. “Griffin McGee? Why do I know that name? Hey, you the one who writes Doubleheader?”

“That would be me.”

“I’ve seen you on TV too.” The agent did a double-take back at me. “Wait a second—Casey? That’s why you looked familiar. You the other half of the team?”

My brother answered for me. “Yes, Casey is the older half.”

I couldn’t stop my reflex eye roll. “He means wiser half.”

The agent smirked. “You two remind me of me and my sistah.”

“Always pleased to meet a fan.” Griffin flashed a smile our orthodontist was thrilled to claim.

“Fort Myers, huh? Spring training?”

People knew instinctively that talking to Griffin was okay. The constant grin playing around his eyes was an open invitation.

“Yeah,” Griffin said, settling in for a long story. “Tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. We hope the weather—”

Noticing an impatient frown on an elderly woman behind us, I interrupted. “Come along, hotshot. We’re keeping this man from doing his job.”

I slipped off my blazer and tried not to think that I might be placing the garment in the same scuffed-up gray plastic bin where previous passengers had dumped their stinky shoes. Why did traveling always make me think of germs? I wrote a mental note to stop at a newsstand to buy some hand sanitizer.

Griffin crammed his shoes, fleece pullover, and backpack in a single bin. Once past the scanner, he continued his conversation with the man behind him. I sighed when he shook hands with the guy with no thought as to what that stranger might have touched. I shook off the creeps, reminding myself that no matter how hard I tried to avoid unnecessary handling of people and matter, my brother was the one who never got sick.

We had enough time to stop for a Dunkin’ coffee before our boarding call. Once we reached our row, we squished our carry-ons in the overhead compartment and jammed our laptops under the seats. As I sidestepped to the window seat, my cellphone rang.

Griffin nudged me. “Ten bucks says it’s our esteemed literary agent, Roberta ‘Bulldog’ Herzog.”

“I don’t take sucker bets.” I checked my phone and sighed. “Morning, Roberta.”

“Boarded yet?” Without bothering to wait for my answer, she continued. “I’m being sincere here, try to dig up some news while you’re there. No reason you can’t mix business with more business. Don’t forget, I need your column by midnight Monday.”

“Have we ever been late?”

“Oh, wait, I almost forgot,” she said. “A piece of fan mail came pouring in for you today.”

“Such a comedienne, you are. Just forward the email.”

“No, I mean a real letter, light blue fancy stationary, handwritten address and all. Says ‘Confidential’ in the bottom left corner.”

“Are you sure it’s not for Griffin?”

“Nope, the envelope’s addressed to Ms. Casey McGee. Sent to the Lowell Sun. The newspapers forward all your mail to me, remember? I’ll send it to you.”

“Okay, but to my home, not my office.”

“What’s the address of your hotel? If I mail the letter this morning, you’ll get it before you leave.”

Give her the address of my hotel for a piece of fan mail? I think not. She’d be apt to deliver the letter in person all the way from New York City.

She started to speak again, but I cut her off, “Gotta go. Flight attendant’s orders.”

Griffin said, “What’s ‘not for Griffin’?”

“A letter marked ‘Confidential.’”

He tilted his head. “You sure? It might be another one of those scented envelopes from a woman ‘dying to be interviewed’ by me.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, Lothario. My name’s on the envelope.”

“Ah, perhaps a second note from that old gent with the shaky handwriting, asking why the Celtics don’t play Larry Bird anymore.”

My eyes misted at the memory of that sweet man lost in dementia—to whom I’d taken the time to respond.

Griffin buckled his seatbelt. “The real reason she called was to harass us about the column, right?”

“Yup, that and to tell us to dig up a new story. And you thought I used to nag.”

Used to?”

I ignored him. “Roberta’s good at her job for the same reason she drives us nuts—she’s relentless.”

“Yeah, she’s got the perfect traits for an agent. Frank, not insulting. Truthful, not mean. Bossy, not overbearing.”

Our eyes cut to each other and we chimed in unison, “Well, maybe a little overbearing.”

The thing was Griffin and I hadn’t even talked about getting an agent before Roberta contacted us. I’d figured we needed to have at least one book underway before a professional would give us a shot. I remembered her sales pitch: “I’m visiting family in Boston and saw you on a local cable show. The sister-brother angle intrigues me. Let’s meet.”

Having any other agent knock on our door was unlikely, so we accepted her offer to represent us.

Pre-Roberta, Griffin and I had been writing our Doubleheader blog turned syndicated column for almost three years. Only a handful of local papers had picked us up. Now, five months post-Roberta, our syndication count was up to twenty plus mid-sized papers and our blog got close to a thousand hits a week. She’s booked us on numerous regional radio and television sports talk shows, increasing our industry recognition.

We have our agent to thank for the growth. And she reminds us as often as she feels is necessary.

Once the plane cleared the clouds, we settled in and relaxed.

Griffin faced me. “Hey, did you find much we can use in Dad’s stash?”

Last August, Mom had remarried and moved to her new husband’s house. While getting our old home ready for sale, she’d discovered Dad’s boxes of sports memorabilia hidden in the attic. The vision of my father sneaking up the pull-down staircase, so his valuables wouldn’t fall victim to one of Mom’s de-cluttering frenzies, always made me smile.

“You’re kidding, right? Going through a treasure trove that spans forty years is going to take some time.”

I dreamed of one day collaborating with my brother on a series of full-length sports biographies. With my fulltime career as an account executive at Kincade Marketing Solutions in Boston and his teaching and coaching positions at Plymouth North High, we’d have to wait until our schedules made a way. Until that day, we researched, collected, and filed.

“How do you plan to organize all that stuff?” he asked.

“Well, first, by not giving it to you.” I spiked an imaginary football. “Touchdown! Pretty weak defense, McGee.”

“Enjoy your short-lived victory.”

“Right. To answer your question, I’m sorting alphabetically by player name and cross-referencing to the year and team. After I go through Dad’s boxes, we can each add our collections.”

His eyes widened. “Whaddya mean by collections?”

My shoulders sagged in disbelief, my frustration making me sputter.

He smirked. “Don’t struggle so much, sis, and the hook won’t leave a scar.”