Aaron Hicks tossed his tablet onto the hotel bed, where it bounced on the neatly-made sheets and continued to loop a painful video clip of Hicks's teammate giving himself a blepharoplasty. Hicks picked up a warming Ballantine's Ale, downed what remained in the bottle, and checked his phone for the hundredth time that evening. The message he wanted to see was just as absent as the 99 times before. "Goddamn Scratch!", Hicks yelled, slamming the phone down harder than the manufacturer's instructions would have recommended.
Before the phone could protest this ill-treatment, there was a knock on the door. Had his roommate lost the key card again? This happened in seemingly every city -- the fool would get drunk and rolled by pickpockets while thousand-dollar prostitutes fondled his sideburns. Hicks got up and angrily cracked open the door, then quickly turned and shut himself in the bathroom. He didn't want to hear that story again. Before Hicks could even lower his boxers, he heard the knock. "Puke in the trashbasket!" Hicks shouted. "Or piss off the balcony again. Show Manhattan how you swing that club!"
"That would be rather undignified, don't you think? If you're going to be occupied for a while, we will meet another time."
Hicks froze. That voice. Could it be? A little less friendly than before, but that same strangely indeterminate accent. Maybe someone had made a mistake, searching for a rendezvous on the wrong floor . . .
"I thought you wanted to see me, Aaron." Shit! It was him.
"Just a minute!" Hicks flushed the unused toilet and washed up in the sink. He opened the bathroom door to see a slickly-tailored, rather short, well-preserved middle-aged man reaching into Hick's styrofoam cooler for a bottle. "Mr. Scratch! I, um, well . . ."
"Oh, I'm not taking your last beer," Scratch reassured him. "You must have missed one underneath the ice. Ballantine's! I didn't know they sold this anymore. A little on the skunky side, but still I give you credit for having some style. Most ballplayers stick to Coors Light. No wonder they advertise the purity of their Rocky Mountain water. It's the only ingredient you can taste."
"Mr. Scratch, uh, sir. I think there's something wrong with my contract."
"Indeed? I've never made a mistake, but they say there's always a first time." Scratch sipped from his beer with one hand while deftly reaching into his suit pocket with the other, producing a rolled-up piece of paper tied with a black ribbon. Scratch undid the ribbon and smoothed the paper out on the table; it was longer than the standard 8x11 or even 11x17, and had a messy red scrawl at the bottom. "Hmm . . . I don't think I see any discrepancies. The terms appear to be fulfilled completely."
Hicks sat down on the bed and grabbed his tablet. "No, I mean . . ." He positioned the tablet, still looping the video clip, so that Scratch could see it. Hicks turned the screen over before remembering it always oriented upwards, and felt slightly foolish -- somehow talking to Scratch had make him feel exactly this nervous before. But it was supposed to be simple, Scratch had said, relax. "Look at this. The guy almost lost an eye. And Fuld's still having these weird headaches. That isn't how it was supposed to work."
Scratch peered at the screen and gave an inappropriate chuckle. "That's baseball for you! Every game you see something you've never seen before." Scratch sipped the beer again. "Really, you should bring a glass. A decent beer is better in a glass. I suppose I could use one of those horrid little plastic cups, where are they?" He looked idly around the room.
"That's not what I wanted!" Hicks said, almost yelling in frustration.
"Excuse me, Mr. Hicks, but that's precisely what you said." Scratch began reading from the long sheet of paper. "I want to be a major-league baseball player. I don't want to be a superstar and lose all my privacy. Just a regular member of the starting lineup." Scratch shrugged. "Well, I believe that's exactly what's happened. Your starting spot remains safe. Just as you stipulated in the contract."
"It's not how I wanted it, and you know it! I'm done with that contract!" Hicks jumped off the bed, grabbed the paper from the table, and began tearing it into shreds. "You cheated me!" He suddenly felt a wave of discouragement hit him like delayed nausea does an airsick traveler, and plopped back down on the bed, watching as Scratch, yet again, pulled a rolled piece of paper from his suit tied with the same black ribbon. Hicks looked at the torn paper scraps on the floor. They were fragments of box scores from a daily newspaper, with humiliating selections of numbers everywhere . . . 0-4, 0-5, GIDP, .191 BA, .252 SLG% . . .
"Now, now, Mr. Hicks, cheating's always been a part of baseball. And what we have here is more of a phantom tag than a genuine spitball. It's technically within the rules. As I've said before, you should have used a lawyer. Daniel Webster -- oh, he's dead. I do forget."
"That's a lie," Hicks moaned feebly. "You said no lawyers."
"Certainly. That's what I always tell clients before they sign. And if they are unhappy later on, I say 'you should have used a lawyer.' Many, many times before. Well, I must be off." Scratch finished his beer and neatly put the cap back on, then rose to his feet. "The cocaine should just be running out at stockbroker parties. I do a lot of business on Friday nights here. Is there anything else?"
"It wasn't what I wanted," Hicks began to cry. "I wanted to be good. I didn't want anyone to be hurt."
"They'll recover, I imagine. And 'You Can't Always Get What You Want.' It's a nice little song, you young people should look up some old music on these phones of yours. Good evening, Aaron Michael Hicks." Scratch walked to the door, and stopped, as if to turn around. He merely raised a finger. "In fact, you might find some free iTunes download codes on the back of my card, on the table there. Steve was a friend." Scratch began softly singing to himself, "let's drink to the hard-working people" as he left the room and closed the door.
Hicks stared at the newspaper shreds. He heard a banging. "Aaron! Yo, Hicksy! I lost my card again! Aaaaa-rooon!"
It was supposed to be simple. Relax.