A harsh wind carried freshly fallen snow, drawing curlicue patterns across the desolate stretch of the empty highway. Skeletal trees lined both sides of road, naked branches like finger bones reaching out to snatch a wayward soul. A few leaves, brown and dead, clung to the branches as if to defy the white blanket on the earth and the crackling of the frozen air.
Breaking the frozen silence was the unmistakable whine of a 2007 Kia barreling down the frozen road at a heady 57 miles an hour.
The car turned at an unmarked approach and bounced down the unremarkable gravel road, which after a mile of twists and turns transformed into a paved driveway. Pulling up in front of the Gothic brick building, a lone figure got out of the car and slowly climbed the black stone steps to the entrance. He paused, reading the small sign, just like he had the past October.
Koochiching Private Psychiatric Hospital
Go Away – This Means You
Reporters – No Comment and Goodbye
Don't come back
Have a nice day
Ignoring the warnings, the man opened the door and walked in. His steps echoed in the barren, empty hall as he approached the shabby front desk. The night nurse, her eyes dull with exhaustion, looked up and with a flicker of recognition, nodded towards the east wing.
The man headed down another corridor until he reached Room 7. He pulled a chair up next to the door and listened to the muttering that could be heard through the small mesh screen.
"Can't miss the bat … Mustn't hurt Joe any more. Soft toss, yeah. Get Fiore, maybe Dickey … slow it down … no, no strikes ..."
"What, who?" A face pressed up against the metal screen, a pair of eyes, somehow reminiscent of Jack Nicholson with an ax, stared wildly at the seated figure.
"Ron? Gardy, I've done it. I got it figured out! You have to get me out of here. I know how we can pitch'em without breaking Glass Joe!"
"Ricky, Ricky, settle down! That's what I came to tell you. Joe finally agreed. He'll be at first permanently from now on."
"Don't mess with me, Gardy. This isn't the time when I'm so close ..."
"Look. I brought the Strib so you can read the article. If you don't believe that I can call up TwinkieTown on my iPhone-thingy."
"Is it true? I mean, really true?"
"Yep. We picked up Suzuki and we'll probably have ol' Pinto Bean for backstops. The Big Boss says you can let the boys pitch any way you want this year!"
"Can I let them strike batters out? Like, all the time? No more of this 'pitching to contact' crap?"
"Whatever you want."
"I don't know if I can trust you. I mean, just because I let Joe catch Santana and Liriano back to back can't be the reason Joe's body started to self destruct, yet I was the one who got the blame. I can't believe anyone bought that cockamamie 'bilateral leg weakness' story while he was really healing from that spine transplant."
"Terry said all is forgiven. Really."
"But what about my boys? I've been messing with their heads for so long trying to keep anything harder than a powderpuff from getting to Joe's glove. I'm afraid they won't be able to pitch any other way."
"We're working on that. Terry told me to tell you that you will have some real pitchers to work with this year. We picked up a whole passel of them the last few months. They don't know anything about 'The Twins Way.'"
"I get to start over?"
"Yep. And Terry told me to let you know, we got you an actual Yankee's pitcher as a special present!"
"Really! Was it CC or Joba ..."
"Oh … well, that's … nice."
"That's the Ricky I remember, let me find the nutcracker with the keys and we'll get you out of there. Next thing you know, it'll be mai tais on the beach in Fort Myers. Supposed to be 85 this weekend, so pack your speedo."