Velvet Rain - A Dark Thriller
uncertain faces.
    The batter stepped up. The Swirl, as it was unofficially known, seemed to mesmerize the pitcher. The catcher signaled, but 23 didn’t see it. The Tigers coach told the boy on the mound to buckle down. The kid grimaced as he mumbled something. He took the next sign and threw heat. Wild heat.
    The ball flew high, and the batter backed off. Only a sharp stab in the air from the catcher prevented the ball from sailing into the cage. The crowd murmured. Kain heard one man say Game over to the woman next to him, the kid ain’t got it. He thought it a rather cruel thing to say, but he had to admit, it didn’t look good. The kid had power, enough to knock an elephant senseless, but it was raw, unfocused arm. No control.
    The Tigers coach called time and headed out to the mound. Coach Plummer, Sid to most folk, held a crop of graying black hair under his cap, and a substantial paunch made more substantial in his snug uniform. His pants were too short by a good four inches, real flood pants, and when anyone ever asked him about them, he told them it wasn’t that the pants were too short, his legs were too long. You could almost hear the cheesy drum roll.
    The kid was staring into the dirt. Coach Plummer was talking calmly, like a father to a troubled son. But the boy wasn’t listening, you could see that; he was nodding a bit, enough to make it look like he was. He kept rolling the ball anxiously in his spindly fingers.
    The coach stopped talking. Gave a tilt of his head. He was looking right at his pitcher now, trying to get the boy to meet him eye to eye. The color had drained from his tanned face. He started to tip the kid’s hat up so he could see the boy’s eyes, and 23 slapped it away. Now the kid was looking past his coach. Still low. Still at the dirt.
    Plummer grumbled, and the kid finally looked up.
    The young pitcher ran a long look along the troubled faces on the bench. He avoided the Madness bench, which had fallen as silent as the crowd had. He tipped his head down, his eyes searching for the courage to swallow his anger.
    Easy kid, Kain thought. Easy.
    Number 23 must have heard his thoughts. He took a small step back. He raised his head slowly, and pitched a curt, Sorry, Coach. It didn’t look sincere.
    Coach Plummer looked as if he was about to yank him off the mound by the scruff of the neck, but then his scowl turned. It was almost comical. He rubbed his chin with a slick grin, nodded smugly— Hang yourself, kid —and headed off the field. The players on the Tigers bench traded shocked glances between themselves, and the man they called Coach. The stands were silent, save the guy in the red ball cap. He called Plummer a bum. Some of the fielders shook their heads. The runners on second and third did, too. The Madness coach stood in disbelief at this unpunished defiance, his jaw threatening to hit the ground. Legend had it he had once cut a player for missing practice because of a funeral.
    The umpire shouted Play ball, and the tension seemed to melt away as the players and spectators settled in. The batter stepped up. The pitcher glanced at the scoreboard, just to get his eyes off that swirling bat. He took a moment, caught the sign he wanted from his catcher and unloaded a bomb across the plate. Jones never blinked.
    “ Steeeeerrrrike! ”
    The umpire clicked his pitch counter, stabbing his fist to the right like a master swordsman. Someone forgot to tell him it was only a high school game.
    The call should have settled the pitcher. It didn’t. He glared at the batter now; you could see the anger welling up in him. Jones cast him a cocky smirk. He had let it slip by.
    Still down 2–1 in the count, 23 dropped his glove to his side and started rolling the hardball. He was definitely mumbling something, beating himself up. The catcher signaled, but he shook him off. He shook him off again, and this time the batter called time, breaking his rhythm.
    “ Awww, come onnn, Jones. ”

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