Title: First Strike
Author: Martin Ross
Category: Humorous casefile
Rating: PG-13 for language
Summary: Mulder and Scully get in the game when a serial killer tries to remove the Cubs from the spring lineup.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Chris Carter’s All-Stars for playing on my diamond.
J. Edgar Hoover Building
“Hey, Scully,” Mulder greeted as Scully entered their subterranean grotto.
“How about them Cubbies?”
“Oh, God,” Scully breathed, glancing at the cryptozoology calendar
hanging behind her partner’s cluttered desk. The coelacanth was April’s festive offering. “Now I understand.”
She deposited her purse in the bottom drawer and kneed it shut. “The glazed eyes, the attention deficit, the uncharacteristic interest in and droning recital of statistical data. Baseball.” The last Scully pronounced with apocryphal resignation. “Yesterday, when I thought I caught you surfing porn, you were actually on ESPN.com, weren’t you?”
“The first time, anyway,” Mulder admitted, surreptitiously turning his
monitor away from her. “Yes, Scully, it’s once again time to celebrate that quintessential American rite of spring, when fresh-faced boys-”
“-take up bat and ball, and the air once more is filled with the smell of horsehide…”
“Or something to that effect. So, this saccharine rhapsodizing – it’s going to go on for precisely how long?”
“Road trip time, Scully,” Mulder informed her. “The Windy City. The
City of Big Shoulders. Hog Butcher to the World. That Toddling Town.”
“I like you so much better with severe seasonal disaffective disorder. OK, Mulder, what’s in Chicago?”
“Someone is trying to kill the Cubs.”
“Sounds more like a job for EPA or Greenpeace.”
“And they ask where the next generation of anal-retentive comedians are coming from. No, seriously, Scully – over the past three months, the injury/mortality rate for the Chicago Cubs organization has spiked alarmingly. For the first time in recent memory, they’re leading the league.”
Scully said. “And this is our business, how?”
“To the projector, Scully.”
“Manny ‘The Man’ Calvedo, Dominican national and perhaps the most addictive phenomenon to come out of the Caribbean since Jamaican ganja.” The two-dimensional home run king beamed down at Scully from the wall. “In December, his Lamborghini was side-swiped by a supposedly drunk driver without plates. There was a suspicion that Manny himself had enjoyed a taste of the grape that night, and the incident was forgotten almost overnight. A few weeks later, Manny sustained a few scrapes when his skis self-destructed in Vail. It was presumed an accident, until a week later, when someone fired a potshot into his fashionable Gold Coast condo. Dead of night, no witnesses. They got a little bolder three days later, when reportedly the same plateless vehicle tried to knock one out of the parking lot. The Wrigley Field parking lot, that is.”
“Stalker? Disgruntled fan?”
“If he or she was, they soon got over their disgruntlement. Or displaced it.” Mulder clicked the remote, and a ruddy young redhead with a Fu Manchu mustache replaced Calvedo. “Sean O’Herlihy, The Irish Mafia.
Shortstop for the Cubs. Not so lucky as his teammate. He was out
clubbing in the Loop a few weeks after the last attempt on Calvedo, and someone slipped him a mickey. As in Mouse. As in D-Con. The EMTs thought it was an overdose, but the Chicago M.E. found he’d inhaled a significant amount of rodenticide. It was a five-day wonder, but the witnesses were unsurprisingly uncooperative with the authorities, who couldn’t find any leads beyond two women who’d sued him for paternity.”
Scully held up a hand as Mulder’s index finger hovered over the remote.
“I’ll collect their cards if I need to. Cut to the chase. How many others?”
“Attempts on three other players – no other deaths yet, even though the next-to-the-last victim was benched for the season with a broken hip. Bat attack.”
“Ah huh. And why is this a federal case?”
“One of the intended victims testified in the Senate steroid hearings last month. Baseball commissioner asked Skinner to investigate, on the off- possibility Derrell Grover’s motorcycle exploded as a warning.”
“From who? The sports medicine cartel?” Scully’s eyes narrowed. “Wait a second. Who raised this little ‘off-possibility’ to the commissioner?”
“Hey, I think we’re going to be just in time for Marshall-Field’s pre-
“Just as I thought. Should I ask if there’s even an X-File here?”
“Take a windbreaker, Scully. Lake effect.”
“Costner’s a puss,” Mulder’s neighbor snorted. “Bull Durham? Bull-shit. Field a’ Dreams? Field a’ Crap. For the Love of the Game? For the love a’ God. I mean, c’mon.”
Mulder’s new friend pronounced the latter in the traditional Chicago style, five syllables long, the “o” replaced by what sounded to the agent like a goat-like bleat. His Cubs cap had been abused and massaged into slovenly perfection, and the condiments of a dozen seasons adorned his Cubbies jersey and baggy khaki shorts.
“Major League, now — that was a classic, my friend,” Bob continued.
“Amen,” Mulder murmured reverently.
Bob leaned over with intensity, his third Bud sloshing. “Not that second
piece a’ crap, mind you. And Major League 3: Back to The Minors?”
“Piece of crap.”
“Thank you. But the original? Berenger, Sheen, Snipes, Uecker, the
lawyer guy, you know, the guy from the lawyer show. None a’ these
freakin’ Oscar winnin’ Shakespearean Hollywood libs. And none a’ that philosophical or chick shit — just freakin’ baseball.” Bob fell back in his upper level seat, staring into his brew meditatively. “Costner’s a puss.”
“Well,” Scully breathed cheerfully, standing over Mulder’s shoulder with a precariously loaded cardboard tray. “I see I didn’t need to worry about you boys entertaining yourselves.”
“Bob says we should rent The Scout,” Mulder said.
“Did he, now?” Scully inquired in a maternally deflating tone. “Here —
take your sodium-laden bunful of fat and rodent droppings.”
Mulder eagerly appropriated his Chicago dog, nudging the errant dill spear back into its bed of mustard, onions, day-glo relish and sports peppers. He bit blissfully into the poppy seed bun and the Hebrew National nestled within. “You shaid I should eat more veshtables,” he protested, inadvertently spitting a cucumber seed toward the infield.
“Mother a’ all that’s holy,” Bob gasped as Scully settled into her seat.
“What in hell is this?”
Mulder glanced disgustedly at the tray in his partner’s lap. “Please tell me, Scully, that you were robbed at gunpoint on the way back from concessions.”
Scully harpooned a tomato slice from her meatless, breadless pile of
toppings. “That processed meat tube is a federal biohazard, and do you have any idea how many carbs are in those buns?”
“That’s a freakin’ salad,” Bob squeaked, outraged. “No offense, buddy, but what your wife’s done there — that’s just, just freakin’ sacrilegious.”
“She’s/I’m not my/his wife,” Mulder and Scully amended in unison.
“I need a freakin’ brewski,” Bob announced, climbing uncertainly from his seat and crunching his way through the mountain of peanut husks he and Mulder had constructed in Scully’s absence.
Scully turned her attention to the large concrete column that stood
between her and the group of Cubs and Cardinals assembled roughly 100 yards below.
“Great seats, Mulder,” she grunted. “If we had to wait for the general manager, couldn’t you have gotten us seats in Detroit? I could see the game better.”
“I’m not having any problem see–” Mulder caught Scully’s critical eye, and adopted a pitiful grimace. “I guess we could change seats, if you really wanted. I mean, you don’t really seem to be that into the game, but–
“Don’t have a stroke, Mulder,” Scully responded witheringly. “It doesn’t matter — I already know one individual who isn’t rounding first base
“Threats?” The General Manager looked astonished. “We’re the Cubs.”
Scully sighed as she squeaked forward in her leather wing chair. “Let me rephrase. Has the club received any threatening correspondence or communications that may pertain specifically to Mr. O’Herlihy’s death or the attempts on the other players?”
The G.M. shrugged apologetically, reaching for a large bundle of mail on his credenza. “Again, the Cubs organization has a very vocal, highly excitable fan base. And, frankly, very creative in their use of the language. You oughtta see what they say on the website.”
“Mulder,” Scully deferred, rubbing her temples.
“How about organized crime?” her partner speculated. “Could somebody be trying to influence the spread this season, maybe take the Cubs out of the running entire – ah, strike that last part.”
The G.M. absently picked up an Ernie Banks-autographed ball from his expansive desk and caressed the memento as he mulled. “Well, it seems pretty unlikely – Calvedo’s been off his game for the last season, and Greg Lukavic, well, he’s 36 – he’s pretty much coasting through the rest of his contract.”
“Could Derrell Glover’s accident have been some kind of warning not to testify before the Select Committee on Athletic Steroid Use? Maybe the other attacks are some kind of smokescreen.”
The G.M. waved the thought off the field. “Yeah, I know – the
commissioner seems to have gotten that numb-nuts idea from some mental defective.”
“Thanks for your time and the game, sir,” Scully murmured, smiling
radiantly for the first time.
“My daddy used to say life’s like a baseball game,” Travis Keating
drawled, grinning laconically for the camera. The game had been over for three hours, and the Cubs pitcher had showered and redressed in a fresh uniform for the ESPN interview. The huge Alabaman planted a boat-sized shoe on the locker room bench and struck a folksy pose. “You get only so many swings, you only aim low when the odds are with you, and, sometimes, when the occasion calls for it, you gotta come in home with your cleats out. I guess that’s been my philosophy as a player and a man, and if folks don’t care for it, well, I guess they can take it to another park.”
The ESPN reporter, a former Olympic Women’s Luge Team captain,
nodded, beaming. “How about the rumors that that columnist from the Tribune you decked at Harry Caray’s may be suing? Some might say you wear your cleats out in public a little too often.”
The smile froze on the pitcher’s face. “Hey, Sandi, I gotta get to that
kiddie fundraiser thing in an hour or so. Sorry, Babe; gotta run.”
Sandi nodded, rolling her eyes at her cameraman and slashing a muscular finger across her throat. As the cable crew packed it in, Mulder and Scully approached the Cub’s chief bad boy. Travis’ bloodshot eyes zeroed in on the latter.
“Well, hey there, Red.”
“Agents Mulder and Scully, FBI.”
The player feigned fear, ogling Scully. “Hey now, Red. You ain’t gonna strip search me, are you, Agent? Cause I may be packing a lethal wea–”
“All right,” Mulder interrupted. “We’ve now established that you’re
suicidal. Are you homicidal, as well?”
The lascivious smile fell off Travis’ stubbled face as he noticed the male half of the team. “What’s up, Ace? I got a date with some sick rug rats.”
“Sounds like you have something of a volatile personality. You play well with others, Travis? Particularly your teammates?”
The Cub backed up a step. “Whoa, partner. You think I’m trying to whack this bunch of jerkoffs? I got an alibi. Well, I mean, I gotta have one, right? If I didn’t do it?”
Mulder processed that. “So what do you think? Who’s doing this?”
“Freemount? The shortstop who got fungoed into the hospital?”
“Yeah,” Travis drawled, seemingly astonished by his own theory. “Look, everybody except Freemount and Sean O’Herlihy has got away clean — no harm, no foul. Pretty weird, you ask me, this creep lets Manny off the hook after four tries, then whacks Sean, then takes a few whacks at old Greg, then lets him go, then takes a Louisville slugger to Marcus but never finishes up before moving on to Derrell, who for all I know is still on the hit list.
“Now what’s kinda interesting about that is Marcus is like Manny’s best bud. Greg’s practically got an AARP card, so he’s no threat to Marcus.
Marcus and Sean, though, they’re like Coke and Pepsi — always fighting for the headlines, for the commercial endorsements, for the chickarinos.
They even mixed it up right here in the locker room, during the playoffs last year. And Derrell and Marcus, they’re out every night partying with some rapper dude, you know, dude says he been shot 37 times. Whaddya wanna bet Derrell gets passed by for somebody else. Maybe me. Jesus. I mean, it’s like a CSI or something — Marcus has one of his homies whack him a couple times, and nobody suspects him. Point A to Point B equals 3. Simple.”
“Extremely so,” Mulder nodded.
“But he does make an interesting point, in a roundabout manner,” Scully said, watching in horror as Mulder launched into a thick, dripping slab of deep dish pizza. Pizzeria Uno was packed with families and lovers and bickering Cubs and White Sox disciples, and the agents were able to lose themselves in the slight noise of the Loop pizzeria.
Scully flicked a piece of sausage shrapnel from her white blouse. “This is like no serial killer I’ve ever encountered. Guns, cars, explosives, sports paraphernalia, poison — no rhyme or reason to his or her MO. He kills one player, hobbles another but lets him live, and gives up on two others. The idea of a smokescreen around O’Herlihy’s murder appears more and more logical. The killer’s clumsily trying to make it look like several killers are at work.”
“Pretty obvious, though,” Mulder said, washing his wad of cheese, dough, and meat down with a designer cherry ale. “A more logical explanation is that several killers are at work.”
“What do you mean, Mulder?”
“Maybe we’re not dealing with a disgruntled fan. Maybe we’re dealing with a disgruntled fan club. An organized group of anti-Cubs fans out to purge the city of a losing team.”
“Yeah, that must be it. That’s brilliant.”
“Or perhaps this is accumulated bad karma coming home to roost.
Professional sports has become the domain of undisciplined, self-
indulgent, overpaid and pampered boys who blaze a trail of booze, drugs, womanizing, reckless vehicle operation, gambling, and god knows what else. Ballplayers sell their autographs to 10-year-olds and keep attorneys on retainer for the next coke bust or sexual misadventure. What if what we’re seeing here is a convergence of vengeful victims, frustrated fans, humiliated hotties, and belligerent bookies?”
“Don’t forget alliterative agents,” Scully grunted, playing with her small house salad. “Thing is, there’s something oddly familiar about this whole case.”
“You know, the teen horror flick. Death’s working its way down the list of kids and teachers, but Devon Sawa manages to escape his fate, and Death keeps coming back around for him. It’s like our killer or killers is giving his or her victims the chance to cheat death, and if they do, he or she or they is or are moving on to the next intended victim.”
“You think there’s any reason to the sequence of attacks? Any order?”
“I think they’ve — or he or she — has targeted the team, but otherwi–” Mulder halted, frowning.
“It’s just what you just said. About the order of the players. No. It’s too–”
The agent’s thought went uncompleted as his cell phone warbled. Still frowning, he flipped it open. “Mulder. What?…When?…How’d it
happen?…Yeah, we’ll grab a cab.”
Scully leaned forward as Mulder pocketed his phone. “What happened?”
“Death hit another home run.”
“He was catching the Red Line downtown for some kind of charity gig,” the stocky Chicago detective informed the feds as Mulder peeked delicately over the edge of the El platform. The cop looked like Dennis Franz gone to seed, if that were possible. “The commuter traffic’d thinned out, and there were one other person up here. The cute broad over there — student at Northwestern — heard Keating yell out. Ah, Teri Cheever. Train was still off a few blocks, or otherwise we’d be taking him back in a thousand little Ziplocs. Operator put on the brakes, but it looks like Keating made friends with the third rail, there. No obvious wounds.”
“But nobody saw him get pushed?” Scully inquired.
“Kid had her nose stuck in some book — Catcher in the Rye,” the cop
shrugged. “Don’t look like the baseball type, huh?”
“Um,” Scully attempted.
“Scully, Scully,” Mulder pre-empted, glancing at the slim brunette poring through an equally svelte paperback. “Let’s talk to the lady.”
“Slipped,” Teri mumbled, turning the page as the agents approached.
Scully’s brow arched. “How do you–?”
“But you said he–”
“What he said,” Teri sighed, eyes scurrying over J.D. Salinger’s prose.
“Before he, you know…”
“Thanks, ma’am,” Mulder nodded, turning back toward the former
pitching great now being loaded into a black plastic bag. He pulled out his cell phone and a business card.
“Who’re you calling?” Scully asked.
“The G.M. In your own girlie way, I think you may have inadvertently
solved this case.”
“Gee, thanks, Coach,” Scully muttered sourly
Residence of Travis Keating
“Holy crap,” the farm-team Dennis Franz exclaimed as he flipped the
basement light switch.
“You’re not far off,” Mulder suggested, moving past the cop. He marveled at the collection of baseball memorabilia gathered in the finished but empty rec room: Cards, sports magazines, newspaper clippings, posters, vintage ads for gum and chewing tobacco, even a rack of chipped wooden bats lovingly suspended over a display case full of autographed balls.
It could have been the basement of any reasonably overzealous suburban Chicago Cubs enthusiast, were not every piece of memorabilia related to a single player and the far wall consumed by a painting of a weathered, bulb-nosed redhead in a pinstriped uniform, surrounded by candles.
“It’s like a freakin’ church,” the cop murmured.
“In a manner of speaking,” Mulder said. “A church with a god named
Scooter. Baseball wasn’t just a pastime for Travis Keating. It was a
“Once I realized what the pattern of the player attacks was, I understood there was a logic to the sequence. Victim No. 1, Manny Calvedo, survives four attempts on his life. Then the killer moves on to Sean O’Herlihy. This time, he gets him on the second try. Greg Lukavic’s next, but again, after four tries, he’s left alone. He gets to walk.”
“What?” The cop scratched his bald head. Then he looked sharply at
Mulder. “Get the eff outta here. You gotta be shittin’.”
“Mulder?” Scully inquired.
Mulder smiled. “Baseball was Travis’ religion, and its rules were his
sacred canon. I looked into his history, and found out his mother was a baseball groupie who collected players like a 10-year-old collects playing cards. The summer before Travis was born 32 years ago, Scooter Daniels here was playing for a Mobile, Ala., minor league team, coming back from a shoulder injury that had benched one of the hottest hitters of the ’60s.
Apparently, Scooter could still swing a pretty good bat, if you know what I mean, because Travis’ mom told me she’d had Travis’ daddy pretty well narrowed down to him. Mama’s baseball fever was infectious, and Travis took after his dad on the field. My guess is he suspected his lineage. But he only discovered the truth recently – after Scooter washed out of the leagues and drank himself out of the Big Game altogether. I think that’s when Travis discovered his religion. And when he decided to avenge the sins committed against the game he loved. Greed, booze, drugs, sexual promiscuity.”
Scully studied Scooter Daniels, who appeared to be leering back at her.
“Excuse me, Mulder, but Keating’s father wasn’t precisely the model of sportsmanlike comportment.”
“To Travis, he was. He’d become the spiritual embodiment of baseball to Keating, and Travis’ teammates became an abomination to the game.”
“Once again, Travis Keating was no Angel in the Outfield, either,” Scully noted.
“I think Travis had as much loathing for himself as he did for his
teammates. That’s how I figured out who was behind all of this.”
“The attacks on the players followed a ritualistic pattern, one that had come to rule Travis’ life. Four attempts on Manny Calvedo, four misses.”
“Four fouls,” the detective mumbled. “Un-freakin’-believable.”
“No,” Scully breathed. “You have to be kidding.”
“Calvedo takes the base, and O’Herlihy is on deck. One D-Con colada, and O’Herlihy’s out at home. Lukavic comes to bat, and, again, Travis is off his game. Four fouls, and Lukavic gets to walk.”
“What about Marcus Freemount?” the cop challenged. “Why’d he get a pass after only the one attempt?”
“Hit by pitch,” Mulder said. “Travis’ swing could use a little work. But
according to the rules, Freemount was allowed to take first. If Travis
hadn’t gotten toasted on the El, he’d have made another attempt on Derrell Glover.”
“And who would’ve been next?” Scully asked.
“Marty Scaliosi, Cubs second baseman. Manny Calvedo was top of the lineup, followed by O’Herlihy, Lukavic, Freemount, Glover, Scaliosi, Luis Muniz, and Phil Ransome. Of course, Muniz is now with the Florida Marlins, but I’m sure–”
“What lineup?” Scully demanded. “Mulder, how do you know this?”
“The Cubs’ starting lineup. You gave me the idea at dinner, when you asked about the order of the attacks. It occurred to me that we could be looking at some kind of homicidal batting order. Once I realized what the pattern might be, I checked what would have been the key date in Travis’ bizarre ‘religion.’ The day Scooter Daniels died, three years ago. June 21, Cubs at home against the Braves, Manny Calvedo first at bat, Sean O’Herlihy on deck, Travis Keating pitching.
“What I’m hoping to find here is, ah, here we go…” The thin, horizontally rectangular book, lying in a position of honor underneath Scooter’s picture, was spiral bound, with a green faux-pebbled leather cover. The cover bore a simple legend, in gilt type: Scorebook. “Every religion has its god and its rituals, but it also has its sacred writings. Behold, Scully, the Gospel of Travis.”
Scully warily accepted the book and flipped through the pages, which were covered in grids, mysterious acronyms and symbols, and rows of diamonds. Only the first page had been inscribed. “Calvedo, O’Herlihy, Lukavic, Freemount… My God, Mulder — this is like a confession. Only, why does O’Herlihy’s entry have the letters ‘KKK’ next to it? Was there some racial angle to this?”
The cop chortled loudly. Mulder joined in his mirth, the laughter dying in his throat as he perceived the homicidal glint in Scully’s eyes. “Uh, sorry. That’s the scorekeeping symbol for a strikeout, Scully.”
She gazed, spellbound, at the scorebook. “Incredible. But what if Keating hadn’t gotten his two other ‘outs’? Would he have started again at the, the what, the top of the order?”
“Wait a minute,” the Chicago detective drawled. “Keating was pitching?”
“Give the man a Jumbo Dog with everything,” Mulder announced. “Travis was more Jim Jones than a Ted Bundy. This was going to be his last at- bat, his Heaven’s Gate, Scully.”
Scully shook her head in frustration. “Suicide? Mulder, how can you
possibly know that?”
The cop selected a sweat-distressed ball from the display case and hefted it. “Pitcher’s always at the bottom of the starting roster. Least in the National League.”
Scully was silent for a minute, meditating among Keating’s icons. “So
what about Keating? Was that an accident, or did he have second thoughts about O’Herlihy and the rest?”
Three heads turned as the doorbell sounded from above. “Detective, could you get that, please?” The cop saluted and trundled up the stairs.
“I don’t think it was an accident or a suicide, Scully,” Mulder said quickly and quietly. “I think Travis managed somehow to manifest his baseball ‘god.’ That girl on the El platform heard him call Scooter’s name just before he died. I think maybe Scooter’s spirit called the game. Or – and I hope I’m wrong – maybe Scooter’s taken over the mound. Which means this may not be over.”
Scully glanced nervously at Scooter’s portrait, despite herself. “Mulder, you can’t believe…”
“Ah, but you know I can. That’s why I made a call before we came over. I don’t want to take any chances.”
Mulder fell silent at the detective’s heavy footfalls. A chunky man in a
black suit followed. It took Scully a moment to spot the Roman collar.
“Father Gene,” Mulder greeted, grasping the priest’s hand. “Agent Scully, this is Father Gene Vistaverde, formerly with the Washington diocese. He transferred out here 10 years ago to be near Wrigley Field.”
Scully backed up a step. “Mulder, please tell me…”
“Best exorcist east of the Mississippi. 21-and-O record to date, right,
The priest smiled humbly, pulling a small red Bible from his windbreaker.
“Helped my cousin Louis,” the detective nodded. “Used to have a
smoking problem ’til the father came along.”
“Curing addictive behaviors is scarcely the same–” Scully sputtered.
“The smoke was comin’ outta his ears,” the cop informed the agent.
“Mulder, at best, exorcism likely has more to do with psychological
suggestion than the eradication of evil entities,” she implored.
“That’s why I brought in the special team,” Mulder assured her. “Scooter Daniels may not have respected womanhood or polite society in general, but he respected the game and its rules. Teammates used to call him ‘By the Book’ Daniels.”
Somberly, the clergyman tugged a billed cap into place.
“How is that relevant, Mulder?” Scully asked.
“Shh,” Mulder said, pointing toward the far wall, near the stairwell.
Scully’s heart leapt as she spotted the lanky, redheaded man in the
rumpled uniform, arms crossed under the retro Cubs insignia as if he were awaiting a high sign from the catcher. The man was the three-dimensional – albeit transparent – twin of the man in the portrait.
Father Gene took a breath and approached Scooter Daniels. Planting himself square in front of the ectoplasmic athlete, the priest said something inaudible.
“Mulder,” Scully whispered. Mulder shook his head.
Scooter scowled fiercely, stepping toward the priest. Father Gene locked his feet, jutting his chin out, and growled at the player. The ghost turned paler, if that was possible, and evaporated.
“In addition to being ordained in the Holy Roman Catholic Church, Father Gene is officially certified with the World Umpires Association,” Mulder informed the stunned Scully after a moment of silence, as the padre removed his cap and wiped his forehead. “There’s a higher authority and then there’s a higher authority.
“See, the league cut Scooter Daniels a break back in the ’70s when they let him play in the minors with that bad shoulder. But he never was officially taken off the disability list. And under Major League rules, that means he wasn’t eligible to play, to replace Travis Keating on Keating’s roster.
“Father Gene didn’t exorcise Scooter, Scully. He ejected him.”