Here's to the Winners
by Andrew Day
The guy next to you says he's George Steinbrenner, and you have to laugh. Steinbrenner disappeared years ago. Most people figure he's dead. If he's not, no way he'd be here, at the bar, at closing time, in a crummy strip joint in the Nevada desert, just across the Vegas line. Even if it is called "The Boss"'s Winners Club.
"Really?" you ask. "The guy who used to own the Yankees?"
"One and the same," he says.
You look closer. He's about the right age to be Steinbrenner, which is to say pretty damn old, and he has the big frame, and even though his hair's white and thinning, it's sprayed into the right Dry Look 'do. And he's wearing the right outfit: navy blazer and slacks, and white turtleneck, all of expensive make, near as you can tell in the dim light.
He smiles. Damn if he doesn't have the face too.
"Jesus," you mutter.
He laughs and says, "I'll answer to George."
"What are you doing in this place?" you ask, as he pumps your hand.
"I own it," he says.
"You own it?"
"Bought it a while back. Wanted to get back in the game."
"I thought baseball was your game."
"Playing and winning, son--that's my game."
"Huh. I would've thought with your money, if you wanted a club, you'd buy the Sands."
"Well," he says, "my plan was, coming back, best to start off low-profile."
You laugh and say you don't know if you buy that. He ignores you, says he wants to get you another drink, introduce you to someone.
You scan the room. The only people around are a bartender, a black guy with a moustache and prescription sunglasses, washing out beer mugs, and a stripper, a fifty-ish Liza Minnelli lookalike in a silver-sequined g-string and pasties with I♥NY logos on them. She's sitting at a table, smoking and staring into space.
"Reggie," he says, "go yard on this man." The bartender brings over the JD and fills your glass to the brim.
"Thanks," you say.
"Nothing too good for a big spender, that's one thing I've learned."
"You're a big spender," he says. "I can tell."
You're about to make a joke, maybe point to your LinuxWorld convention badge, and ask, Did this tip you off? But after a long day of panel sessions and a Mexican dinner that's giving you gas, you don't feel funny. So instead you say, "Well, George, you're wrong about that one."
He looks down into his scotch. You've hit a nerve.
"I've been wrong about a lot of things," he says.
"Yeah. Wrong to spend a whole winter brooding about the Sox beating the Yanks in the playoffs. Wrong to decide I needed to get away from everything I knew. Wrong to grow a beard and start calling myself Joseph Cooper, and spend six years wandering around the country, living in my car. Wrong to break down crying, in the parking lot of that Denny's in Flagstaff, after I ran out on my check and the cook tackled me and I looked up and saw he was the spitting image of Darryl Strawberry. Wrong to decide he'd been sent by God, to warn me that quitters never win. Wrong--"
His voice breaks. He pauses to take a sip of scotch. You tell him it's not so bad.
"You think so?" he says. "Next day, I call my people, say I'm coming back, they make like it can't be me. Cashman, the guy I hired to run the team--he hangs up on me. And you know what else?"
"What, George?" Liza asks, sounding like she's heard this a hundred times.
"I decide, o.k., I own their asses, I'll go back, fire the lot of 'em. But I make some more calls, I find out my kids--not that they ever looked for me--they'd found some judge to declare me dead. Legally goddamn dead. Then they took everything I had."
"The Yanks included?" you ask.
"That's a tough one," you say. "But look at it this way, you were right about one thing: not going back. Can't force yourself on people who hate you."
"That's what I thought," he says. "I figured, better to start over, as a nobody. Not trading on my name. Make it back to the top on my goddamn own."
"Fuck 'em anyhow," you say.
He nods. "So I cleaned out the one Swiss account my kids didn't find, went looking for an investment, something I could build up."
"The game," you say.
"The game. But the thing was, I fucked up, how I went about it. I thought: Vegas is action, Vegas is class, that's the place for me. Wrong about that one. Wrong too to stop here on the way into town, all excited, wanting to celebrate--celebrate what, who the fuck knows. Wrong to start drinking with some folks who seemed friendly, get talked into buying the place. Paid too much, got deep in a hole, right off. Inside two years, had to take a loan from some guys who said I could trust 'em 'cause they'd been altar boys with Torre, at St. Whatever the Fuck, in Marine Park. Wrong there too. Maybe even wrong to give in, on their one condition."
"Shave the beard, put my real name on the sign out front."
"Didn't help," the bartender points out.
"No shit," George says. "Probably I was wrong, thinking people remember who I am."
"Who you were," Liza says.
He downs his scotch. You mumble you're sorry he's had such lousy luck.
He shrugs. "Also, I gotta say, I was wrong, not dumping this place last month, when the money boys said they'd take it as full payment. And agreeing I'd give their goons five C notes after closing tonight, to show I'll play ball, if they'd let me have 'til noon tomorrow to scare up the rest of money--that was dumb too. Could've made Guatemala by now."
"That's rough," you say.
A pair of thick-necked guys walk through the door. They're the kind of guys who wear pinstripe suits, double-breasted, with pleated pants, and shiny shoes. But they're in chinos and polo shirts, and sport coats, single-button, one teal, one black. The guy in teal, he's got a hipster buzz cut and he's sucking a lollypop, and you know he's thinking: Brad Pitt, in the remake. They say hi to Liza. She ignores them. They sit at the other end of the bar.
"Hey, Reggie," George says. "What's the take?"
The bartender opens the register and counts what's in it. He doesn't need long. "Two hundred even," he says. "Same as when we opened."
"Leaving me three Cs short," George says, nodding like he already knew that.
You're wondering if leaving now would be impolite, and if you should worry about politeness at this point.
He looks up at you and says, "But I've been right now and then, you know. Hiring Billy to manage the Yanks, the first time--that was a good move. Second time too, you could argue."
"Billy was good people," the Brad Pitt guy says.
"And I know one thing I'm right about now. That I'm no quitter, and you're man enough--you're enough of a winner--to know a great opportunity when you see one."
"That's two things," Liza says.
"Opportunity?" you ask, as you drop a twenty on the bar, and stand up, slowly, hoping he won't notice.
"A one-time opportunity," he says. "To have the night of your life, with my own special lady." He nods toward Liza. "For only three hundred dollars."
"Oh Christ," she groans.
"Cash," he says. "Up front."
Liza stubs out her butt and stands up, shaking her head like she'd give anything to be somewhere else.
"George," you say, "I'm not really in the market for--"
"I know I'm right about this," he insists. He grabs Liza by the bicep as she's walking past, headed toward the door. "That's one thing we know for sure, right, honey?"
"Wrong again," she says. Then she slaps him, hard, knocking his toupee sideways. He lunges for her, but she twists away, and he falls to the floor. She tosses her wig on the bar. As he gets to his knees, she grabs you and leads you outside.
She asks if the Neon is yours. You say it's a rental. She asks to borrow your jacket. You hand it over and unlock the passenger door. You hear shouting coming from inside, something about being somebody's daddy. She tells you to drive, she doesn't care what direction, just go as far as you can before you drop her off.
About the author:
Andrew Day's fiction has run in Eleven Bulls and Fitted Sweats; another story is forthcoming in the New England Review.
He no longer lives in New York.