"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
Minerva, Chapter 2
Two Kcc-uhhhhh! The aluminum bat reverberated as Andy foul tipped the ball off to his right. Andy had never played organized baseball; his practice had consisted of outings to the cages at Putt Putt. His hands were really starting to sting, and he was ready to go.
But he couldn't let the other guys know that. This was the first time he'd hung out with them after school; the other times it had just been in study hall or the occasional lunch. (Tom and Nick were taking an art class with nobody else in it, and so their table would be wide open at that lunch and they'd usually call Andy over when he walked by with his tray.)
'Holy shit man, that's the fourth fucking tip in a row,' Tom DiGatano yelled from the shallow outfield. 'Just connect with the damn thing. This is homerun derby, not the fucking World Series.'
The others in the field laughed and followed Tom's lead. 'Yeah, that guy's like stepping out of the batter's box to adjust his gloves and shit,' Freddy Malone yelled from left field. 'This doesn't count for your slugging percentage,' Jim Valentino quipped, but the sophomore said it so softly that not everyone really heard him.
Andy forced a smile. He really just wanted to get the hell out of there and go home. He glanced over at the parking lot to see if anybody else from school might be around to witness him. It'd be cool if kids the next day asked him about it and he could just say, 'Yeah, I was out hitting the ball a bit with Tom and Nick. We weren't playing or anything, just a little homerun derby.'
He didn't even care if he hit it far. Andy just wanted, like Tom had said, to connect with the thing and go back out in the field.
Pom! Andy swung the bat cleanly through the ball and watched it come down a little past second base. Tom jogged up and caught it.
'All right I'm up,' Tom said as he tossed the ball underhanded to his brother. He jogged up to the plate and took the bat from an eager Andy.
'Okay you got my spot,' Tom said. He apparently forgot that Andy needed his glove. (Andy hadn't had one in his locker like the others.) Andy considered not making a big deal of it and just running out there to field balls without a glove, but he reconsidered and thought he'd just get ripped on if he did that. So Andy simply stood there while Tom took a few swings to loosen up.
Andy stared at Tom's back while he took another swing. Tom DiGatano was hands down the toughest guy Andy had ever known about. He was at least six-foot-two, and had to weigh over 230. People said Tom could bench 300, but that was probably bullshit. Jim Deacon though said he'd personally seen Tom throw up 250, and Jim was usually pretty good about stuff like that.
But it was more than just their size; Tom and his buddies liked to fight. They were the guys who went around to church festivals just to fuck with tough guys from other schools. And the DiGatano brothers always won.
'What are you, looking at my ass or something?' Tom demanded.
'N-no,' Andy said and managed a laugh. He had been embarrassed to ask about the glove, but that was nothing compared to being caught staring. 'I just need'can I use your glove again?'
Tom looked puzzled for a second and then said, 'Yeah no shit you can take it. You're not gonna barehand the shit out there.'
Andy chuckled and picked up the glove. As he ran to center field (where unfortunately he'd have to catch more balls than where he started in left field) he noticed the two men sitting in lawn chairs. They were on the grass by the parking lot, about two or three hundred feet away from Andy. Judging by the pile of beer cans next to them, the men had been sitting watching for a while. But Andy hadn't noticed them before: He'd been concentrating on the plate when he'd been in left field, and when he was up to bat he'd been focused on Nick.
'Fuck!' Tom yelled as he foul tipped the ball. 'Yesterday I was killin the ball.'
'Sure it wasn't a softball?' Freddy Malone yelled.
'Yeah I hear you got soft balls,' Nick yelled back. Everyone laughed wildly at this. Nick threw another pitch, overhand but not too fast.
Ping !! Tom had just crushed the ball. It sailed well over Andy (who'd been standing where Tom had been, a dozen yards behind second base) and landed far in the outfield. It bounced and rolled, coming to stop about ten feet from the two men.
'You just fuckin killed that thing DiGatano,' Jim Valentino announced. Tom just nodded his head.
'Hey boss a little help?' Nick yelled at the two men.
'You that kid's boss?' Jack Quinn asked Jim Knight.
'Nope. You?' Jim asked in return.
'Nope,' Quinn responded. He tossed his fourth can on the grass and opened another.
'Hey chief, you wanna throw that ball over here?' Tom yelled. Andy of course could have run to get the ball, but he decided to hold still.
The men continued to drink their beer. It wasn't just that they were ignoring Tom, Andy realized. They were both looking straight at Tom. They were purposely ignoring him.
'You know these guys?' Tom asked Nick as he walked toward the mound.
'Nah, they don't look familiar,' Nick answered. The two brothers walked toward the ball. The other three fell in behind them.
'You guys like the show so far?' Tom asked as he and Nick drew close to the men. The men just sipped their beer, staring at Tom.
Something just didn't sit right with Tom. He wasn't at all afraid to fight grown men; he'd had plenty of practice with that, including his father. But normally when Tom got hostile with somebody, the guy'well, reacted. But here he was, holding a bat, and these guys were just sitting there. Sure, they looked solid, and the black guy was pretty fucking big, but still: he was holding a bat.
'You guys cops or something?' Tom demanded. He and Nick had stopped about five feet from the men in their lawn chairs.
'Nope. You?' Quinn answered. Jim snorted.
'You know,' Tom said after a moment. 'You're lucky I don't crack your fuckin head in with this.' Tom tapped the bat gently on the palm of his left hand.
'It's not luck,' Quinn said immediately.
He doesn't think I'll do it. Tom took a warmup swing, bringing the bat within about a foot of the white guy's face. Nick felt his adrenaline kick in, and sized up the black guy. This fucker doesn't know who he's dealin with.
Quinn did not flinch when the bat swooshed in front of his face. He continued to stare at the boy's eyes. Jim looked for pockets on the other boys. Most of them had sweatpants on, and the one with jeans wouldn't be a problem. Quinn checked his footing but kept his eyes on the boy.
'The windup, the pitch,' Tom said as he began his swing. He truly aimed for Quinn's head, but he didn't swing as hard as he could. He was quite confident Quinn would duck or put up his hand. But if he didn't, Tom didn't want to actually kill him.
As Tom brought the bat around, Quinn leaped out of his chair with both arms outstretched, his left palm facing up. He grabbed the bat with both hands and butted his head into Tom's nose, before quickly snapping it back. Having absorbed the swing into his left arm and chest, Quinn rotated the bat clockwise, slamming it into the side of Tom's face. The blow loosened Tom's grip on the bat, making it easy for Quinn to yank it towards himself, bringing it parallel to the ground. Then Quinn shoved it back toward Tom, giving him a sharp jab with the end of the bat, just below his sternum. This knocked the wind out of Tom. He let go completely of the bat and reflexively hunched over. Quinn yanked the bat back away from Tom, and gripped it properly. He swung it up and over his shoulder, as if he were chopping wood. He brought the bat squarely down on Tom's back. Tom crumpled to the ground.
Nick and the others backed up several feet. Within mere seconds, the man had taken the bat from Tom and laid him out. Tom groaned and began wiggling his arms and legs.
'Whoa whoa chill out man,' Nick said. Quinn sat back down, laying the bat across his legs. Nick and Freddy Malone helped Tom stand up. They both wrapped an arm around their necks and walked him back toward the field. Andy and Jim Valentino followed them, but checked every few feet to make sure Quinn and Jim stayed seated.
'Hey kids don't forget your bat,' Quinn yelled as he threw the bat like a tomahawk at the boys. Although it flew several feet over their heads, Andy couldn't help ducking down as it passed them. Jim Valentino picked it up.
'We should probably get going,' Jim said as the boys collected the rest of their things from the grass. 'Those meat heads might call the cops.'
'Yeah,' Quinn said, searching the other baseball fields. They were empty except for a small group of younger boys playing soccer. 'Looks like I had the wrong time for Tara 's game anyway. Lemme finish my beer.'