Sunday, February 1, 2009

What Ball Players do After Dark

This time its:"What Ball Players do After Dark"By Christopher Tompkins
EVERY once in a while one of those goofy
sports reporters comes up to me and asks
me what ball players do after the game. It’s
none of their business, and it’s none of yours,
either. But I’m here to tell you what happened to
me and three other players in Chinatown one night.
I’m Mike Carnochan, third baseman of the big
league Aldermen, and Jack McCloskey, Andy
Neighbors and Ned Gabbler are my baseball
buddies. First, though, I want to tell you about
Lucile Hogan, the girl I wanted to sign up with me
in the old Matrimonial League. She kept stalling
me along.
“I—I might, Mike,” she would confess kind of
dubiously when I pressed her for an answer. “But I
guess I’ve got my share of Irish romance. I’d want
the man I married to be somebody, do something to
make him love me. He would have to be a hero.”
“Easy, kid,” I came right back at her, my face as
bright as soap and inspiration could make it. “Did
you hear about the time in the last World’s Series
when I bunted with the bases full and caught their
infield flat-footed?”
“Baseball’s just play.” She sort of clasped her
hands and looked up at a crack in the ceiling of the
Hogan flat. “I mean something big, something
serious. You’d have to face death with a smile of
contempt on your lips, drag me from a burning
building, catch me falling from an airplane. It
would be grand, Mike!”
That sort of slowed up the best third sacker in
the league, but I wouldn’t let her see it and turned it
into a joke.
“I’ll bet, Lucile, that if you ever are in peril, I’ll
be in St. Louis, playing a doubleheader!”
I know now that I ought to have grabbed her
roughly to my manly breast in a big caveman
scene—the romantic type of female is crazy about
that sort of stuff—but I was scared she would slap
my face. She was very sweet, and sorry about the
whole business, and I fell for her line like a sap.
UNLUCKY in love—the same in baseball, I
found. The Aldermen were having their
troubles getting started. They say the breaks always
follow a champion, but we were discovering that

bromide was pretty hard to swallow without
making a face. The champs did about everything
wrong. They could make four hits in an inning and
still not score a run. Perhaps it was dumb baseball.
Anyway, it began to get under our hide. Our
manager became as sore as a catching thumb.
“Scatter, boys,” he instructed, “and when you’ve
found this jinx, beat it to death with your clubs. I
want its pelt.” Lew Brady was Irish the same as me
and believed in the banshees that sit in the
bleachers. Only with the Aldermen it was a crosseyed
That evening I called on Ah Fung for my
week’s wash, and we got to fanning about baseball,
the Chink in his pidgin English and me in my pure
American slang. Being kindred souls we got along
pretty well. Then, suddenly, I noticed he wasn’t
looking at me directly. He was cross-eyed. And
when he confessed that he was an Aldermen rooter
and came out to our home games without a miss, I
knew I’d run the hoodoo to earth.
Next day at the batting nets I told the boys about
my discovery. I’d already told the club secretary
and Manager Lew Brady, and the Chink had been
stopped at the turnstiles.
“Who ever heard of a Chinese fan anyway?” I
demanded. “He’s the cause of all our drives going
straight at the fielders. If you’ve noticed, we don’t
have such bad luck when we’re on the road. That’s
because Ah Fung sees just our home games. But
he’s never going to see another, not if I have to
stand at the gate and hack off his head as he tries to
enter the park!”
“How did you happen to get the lowdown on
him, anyway, Mike?” inquired Gabbler flippantly.
“I didn’t know you belonged to any of those
The club secretary reported that when Ah Fung
showed up with his Melican dollar and was denied
admission, he set up an awful jabber. But that
afternoon the score was 9 to 3 in our favor, and
everything we hit fell safe. I had the right dope all
It was the next afternoon, when McCloskey
came up to me in the dressing room, grinning like
somebody had slit him from ear to ear with a
butcher knife.
“Seen the afternoon editions, Mike?” he
whispered mysteriously.
“Full of second guessing by the scribes, I
suppose,” says I, the cynic.
“Mike,” he went rambling, “you don’t
understand Chink nature like I do. Or you wouldn’t
joke about this. Do you happen to know that a mob
of indignant fans paid a flying visit to Ah Fung last
night and wrecked his laundry.”
“What was the idea, Jack?” I asked foolishly,
because I knew all the time.
“One of those smart feature writers got hold of
your story about Ah Fung being our cross-eyed
jinx. The crazy fans—and you know they’re dips in
this hick village—blamed him for our losing streak
and just decided to beat him up, run him out of
business. The papers were kidding, of course. But
you can’t kid an Aldermen rooter and get away
with it.”
WHAT does Ah Fung say; want the club to
pay for the damage?”
“Not exactly. He’s taken an oath on the tomb of
his ancestors to bury a hatchet in your skull. Of
course you shouldn’t be held responsible for the
actions of a gang of hoodlums. But he’s taken the
oath and won’t forget it for a million years. Chinks
are like elephants. By that time you’ll be dead
anyway, Mike,” optimistically.
I didn’t scare much, and that evening I took a
stroll into Chinatown—I was brought up in the
nearby neighborhood and so was Lucile—to look
over the wreck. The plate glass window had been
boarded up where it was broken. Half the door
hung loose on its hinges. Inside a light flickered
palely. I guess customers’ collars and shirts had
been ripped to ribbons.
On the corner I passed a loitering group of
Chinks, their hands hidden in their baggy silk
sleeves to the elbow. Their little eyes stared at me
obliquely as I passed, and I thought I saw hate in
their inscrutable depths.
“Where’s Ah Fung,” I boldly questioned,
thinking I might do something for the poor devil.
“Allee samee payee for damlage.” Nobody
I didn’t care particularly about being
tomahawked, and before I left the quarter I set a
spy upon my enemy. This was Poppy Sam, a
gangling snifer who had been our rubber before he
took to the snow diet. I slipped a bill into his
twitching, clutching fingers that were continually
fumbling at his mouth.
“That’s for watching Ah Fung,” I said. “If any
Chink secret society aims to prong me in my sleep
with a jeweled dagger, I’d like to know about it
beforehand so I’ll stay awake.”
Poppy knew better than to be seen there fanning
with me, and he disappeared like a shadow. About
as fast as my Christian legs would propel me I got
out of Chinatown. The place gave me the creeps. I
would hear the rustle of silk behind me, but when I
whirled around there would be nobody in sight but
a bobbing storekeeper who wanted me to look at
his jade.
Who should I stumble across but Lucile Hogan,
out for an airing. It gave me a twinge to meet that
“You’ve been avoiding me lately, Mike,” she
accused me openly. “What have I done that you
won’t notice your old friends any more?”
“I’m happier if I don’t see you,” I retorted, still
sore at that hero worship nonsense that was keeping
us from happiness.
“And you want me to pin a medal on you for
heroism for stopping this once?” she mocked
without batting an eye. But I guess skirts like being
cruel like that.
GOT pretty stiff action for my dollar the very
next day at the ball game. Poppy Sam was back
of our dugout, signaling he wanted to see me. I
beckoned him down to an empty field box between
innings. Poppy wiped those jerky fingers weakly
across his mouth.
“Boss,” he jerked forth from slack lips, “they
got her.”
“Who got who, Sam? Steady!”
“Ah Fung’s tong have your girl, Lucile Hogan,”
he said. “Fung saw you keeping company with her
last night, the same as I seen you. The old serpent’s
striking at you through the jane, Mike.”
“Where—where is she now, Sam?” I demanded,
a bit thick in my speech.
Poppy Sam grew sullen.
“Quit pinching my arm, can’t you?” he whined,
tugging to break my convulsive grip. “Leave me
tell it in my own way. I was spying around
Nicholson Street when she went past, flushed like,
and smiling to herself. I seen her turn in at the
Mandarin restaurant for rice cakes. I hid in a
doorway until she come out. Below me I heard a
door squeak open at the foot of some steps leading
down. In Chinee town, boss, most everything leads
“Yes, yes!” I cried sharply, clammy with icy
dread. “But never mind that now, Sam. Lucile—
what happened to Lucile? Where is she, man?”
“Mike, I swear I seen a long yellow arm reach
clear up to the sidewalk,” Poppy Sam resumed,
gulping and shivering convulsively for lack of his
dope. “The skinny arm held a little Chink baby. It
dropped it at the head of the stairs—the decoy. The
baby’s cry would reach Lucile Hogan’s heart like.
She would stoop down to comfort it—and—and—
Mike, I done my best to warn her off by signs. But
she was too busy picking up the little stool pigeon
and mothering it.
“The next minute I covered my eyes with my
hands. Ah Fung’s tong had her.”
The crowd was up and roaring at the winning
three-base hit from Sid Nesbit’s bat, but all I could
bear was Poppy Sam’s sibilant voice, whispering in
my ear. “I heard her scream once. But when I
looked she was gone. Ah Gawd!”
Poppy Sam jerked the rest of it out, while I tried
not to crack up myself.
“Soon as I quieted I came right out here, boss,
to see what you wanted to do. I could take you to
the very place where she was kidnapped. I marked
the railing with chalk so I’d know it again.”
I told him to wait for me after the game in a taxi
at the players’ entrance, where I would meet him
with some friends.
Those last innings were a nightmare. Feverishly
I ran down McCloskey, Neighbors and Gabbler,
and I was so incoherent it must have taken me half
an hour to spill the story. There was no time for a
shower, and I dressed with the dirt on me.
“We could call in the police department,” I
chattered in conclusion. “But the bulls wouldn’t let
me rough-house Mr. Ah Fung right. They would
want to rubber hose him themselves. And he’s my
meat, boys.”
They agreed with me, and before we left we
armed ourselves with some sawed-off old bats, a
handy, silent weapon that we hid under our
raincoats, the day being showery. Poppy Sam was
flattened up against the fence, and we hustled him
into our taxi. Not much was said on the ride
downtown. I was busy thinking of Lucile, and my
buddies were thinking of their sisters.
AT Nicholson Street we foamed out of the cab.
The railing where the trap had been sprung
was in plain sight under Sam’s shakingly pointing
finger. The whole Chinese population of the city

seemed to be pattering noiselessly past on their felt
soles. I was for rushing the joint and taking a
potshot at every shaved skull. I didn’t even think it
would be funny to pull off pigtails.
“Let’s go!” said the equally impatient Gabbler.
Ned couldn’t even wait for a base on balls on the
ball field.
But Poppy Sam was brimming with secret
knowledge that made frontal attack inadvisable.
“That ain’t the way to beat a Chink, boss,” Sam
said. “This door leads to Foy Yang’s hop house.
But it’s just his getaway in case the cops batter
down his doors. The entrance is on the next street.
If you go prancing in the wrong door, Ah Fung and
his mob will fade like joss smoke. All you’ll find
will be empty rooms, recently occupied, and—
maybe a torn bit of your girl’s dress.”
McCloskey and Neighbors each grabbed me by
an arm. I fought like a bull, but in the end I listened
to reason, and we went deploying around into
Benedict Street. No good in tipping our signals.
Poppy’s plan was to pose as a party of sightseers he
was guiding.
“But what about Ah Fung?” I objected. “He’ll
recognize us, me anyway.”
Poppy Sam explained that Foy Yang’s outer
room was just fixed up for gullible visitors. A few
props lay around in messy bunks, faking opium
stupor. Nobody would bother us. We would have to
fight our way behind a red curtain if we wanted to
reach Lucile. Besides Ah Fung wouldn’t have any
objection to our entering his web. He would object
to letting us out
Tonight I was going behind that red curtain, and
all China’s billions couldn’t stop my tearing it from
its fastenings. I’m built close to the carpet and I
kept out of sight behind the others, just in case we
stumbled upon Ah Fung snooping around. Foy
Yang had rigged up his show place with tables and
tall paper screens.
Yang himself came meekly forward. Poppy Sam
winked, pointed to us, sucked in his cheeks and
rolled his eyes dreamily. The Chink proprietor
bobbed and beamed, nodding until the little button
“Melican ball players,” he startled us by saying
brightly, and was hugely pleased with himself.
It was too late to quit now. Foy Yang left as
noiselessly as a cat and just about as trustworthy. It
was Poppy who led us through a maze of cleverly
placed screens, and the next minute we were
among the smokers. On a richly lacquered low
table a lamp burned sluggishly with a sickening
smell. The rest of the room was sordid, with its
sprawling, property figures.
A stunted girl, no bigger than a wax doll,
offered me a pipe.
“No smokee,” I said shortly, staring around until
I spotted the red curtain. “Whach um.”
POPPY SAM was watching me furtively. At the
first blow I realized he would scuttle for
safety. The soft, tiny pills had made a quaking
coward of him. The sweet smell was oozing into
my own brain, and I was all for quick action. The
red curtain was across the room, really dividing one
big room in half. As I looked, it swayed as if
brushed by unseen bodies. I thought I heard a groan
that ended in a faraway, gurgling sob of sound. The
curtain was motionless.
I knew my Aldermen, good blokes on a ball
field and good at a rough and tumble against any
odds. I remembered things about them—Ned
Gabbler thrashing six cops in Chicago and yanking
the helmet of the seventh down over his ears,
McCloskey going joyously into the stands after a
gang who were riding him when he knew they were
desperate gunmen, Neighbors battling his way to
our dressing room through an angry team, waiting
with bats.
Impetuously I started forward, my fingernails
biting savagely into the bat handle under my coat. I
heard my volunteers forming in my rear, solidly.
But before I had advanced a step, there was Foy
Yang coming right up out of the floor and blocking
“No go there, if you please,” he lisped, all
smirking apology. “Plivate office.”
I made a grab for his pigtail and nearly hauled it
out by the roots. The mask was off when he
screeched an imprecation and made a pass at me
with a glittering knife he flashed from his sleeve.
The patter of feet sounded; yellow, jaundiced faces
closed in evilly from all sides. More long slender
dirks gleamed evilly in the flare from the lanterns
and hatchets, too. Those quiet sleepers in the bunks
rose like the dead on Judgment Day.
“Aldermen this way!” I bellowed, wading into
the thick of that ghostly, rustling swarm. “Down
with that curtain, fellers! Let’s get a look at what’s
behind it!”
My bully boys came wading, good old Ned

Gabbler joyously in the van, eager to crack skulls
now that the kill was within sight. The whole
flimsy curtain came fluttering down on top of us at
the first jerk, winding treacherously around our
arms, so that we couldn’t swing our short and
deadly weapons. The yellow hirelings of Foy Yang
darted in to finish the white invaders with knife and
Yet somehow I tore free, and let the nearest
skull have it—crack. It sounded like ice, frozen too
tight, splitting wide-open. I hit again, and this time
it was like a ripe watermelon under my bat. I saw a
Chink go for McCloskey, his hatchet hand
swinging like one of the side-wheelers in our
league. My bat, red and sticky, broke his knuckles.
Other bats were sounding. I guess we all hit
1.000 for the next few minutes. We fought through
the doorway from which we had torn the red
curtain, Every light went out suddenly.
“Lucile!” I yelled into the dark beyond. “It’s
HE attack had faded away into the
underground warrens of Chinatown.
McCloskey, Neighbors and Gabbler clustered
around me, listening. But all any of us heard was
the echo of my voice. We knew too well we
weren’t alone. Whispers, gutturals—then a white
girl’s piercing scream!
“Mike, Mike! They’re choking me! O—o—o—
oh! Ah!”
That strangling cry made a crazy man of me,
and I dashed forward blindly. I was flung violently
off my balance. The other Aldermen were in no
better plight. We all piled up on the floor, clawing,
swearing, bewildered. Those wily Chinks had
circled around us, winding our legs in a long sash
that was the curtain, and tripping us wholesale.
Again we had a battle on our hands. My clothes
ripped, and I realized I’d escaped a death wound by
inches. I floundered to my feet, swaying and dizzy.
“Lucile!” I muttered huskily. “I’m still here,
Lucile—on my feet!”
Something soft, silky, was flung over my head,
stifling speech, halting breathing—a Chinaman’s
lousy blouse. I clawed at it, slit it and stuck my
head out through the hole.
Off in a corner Neighbors was still making
heathen heads ring. McCloskey’s batting average
wasn’t falling off any, and Gabbler hit nothing but
triples in the clutch.
It was every man for himself now. We were
waging separate warfare in the gloom. The
cutthroats were on their own grounds and would go
to bat last. I couldn’t see a sign of Poppy Sam;
probably legging it along Nicholson Street by now,
ghosts at his elbow. Either that, or hiding in one of
the bunks. But I did him an injustice.
I lurched in the direction in which I had last
heard Lucile’s agonized cry for help, and made
pretty bad weather of it. All the while, I had to keep
telling myself I was an American, and worth
twenty of these highbinders and hatchet men, to
keep from fainting. I wouldn’t say uncle.
My lolling head thumped against a wall, and I
crept along that support gratefully. Our hosts had
evidently mislaid me temporarily in the press of
other business. Suddenly the wall wasn’t there any
more, and I fell a-sprawl into another room. It was
an inner chamber, full of burning incense, divans,
screens—old Foy Yang’s private boudoir.
And then I could have blubbered for joy. There
was something I had been missing; something
vague, something that troubled me and made me
frown to remember. And suddenly I knew what it
was—Ah Fung, the instigator of the abduction of
my girl. I remembered, because I saw him,
struggling with the girl herself.
They had dressed Lucile in a green silk kimono.
She was frightened but biting and scratching like a
I let go of my baseball bat and went for my
laundryman with my naked hands. He saw me
coming, and let Lucile slide to the floor, reaching
up in his sleeve in what I had come to believe was
the national gesture of China. But I gave him no
chance to get set. I was on him before he could
draw and was pounding him, battering his soft,
ugly face into a shapeless mass of yellow pulp
streaked with red.
“Mike,” Lucile was wailing on the floor, hiding
her face, “I want to go home! Take me away from
The last blow I had in my system I used to
knock Ah Fung as cold as a herring, and staggered
to her side. Together we groveled there on the floor
of that hop house, my arms so weak they could
only fumble her, but her heart fluttered close to my
ribs, and I guess we were happy. Behind us I heard
a sudden clapping of hands—Ah Fung signaling for
help, the whole place spewed up with Chinks.
HERE wasn’t much resistance I could offer.
My baseball bat was gone, and I was so
weakened anyway, about all I could have done with
it would have been to hold it up in front of my face,
and try and keep them carving their initials on its
hardwood. I pawed at them, muttering my defiance
and love for Lucile. But they soon had me on my
haunches. The glint of their long daggers hurt my
eyes. Mistily, I realized that Lucile Hogan had
crept close to me to die, too.
Above me towered a giant in a blue blouse who
reached down to grip me by the collar to steady me
for the blow. His knife came slashing downward,
seeming to burst at my windpipe, I closed my
eyes—and that was the last I knew for hours. I
awoke to the clanging of the gong.
I was stretched on the floor of an ambulance.
On the rear cross seat was Lucile, chatting merrily
with the interne. Beyond I saw a parade of the
Chinese army, white turbaned, being marched into
the police vans. The dragnet had made a rich haul
of yellow gangsters. I attempted to sit up.
“What—what’s happened?” I gasped. “You all
right, girl? And where’s—where’s Jack and Andy
and Ned? The last thing I knew—I—I was being
knifed by a big bloke—” But the effort was too
much. I couldn’t go on with the difficult job of
“Everybody was saved,” said Miss Hogan, fresh
as any daisy. “That blue blouse you saw belonged
to a cop, Mike. I guess you mistook his department
badge for a knife, it gleamed so in that funny light.
A precious boy named Poppy Sam gave the alarm.”
I didn’t feel much like a hero, but Lucile kept
insisting that I was—just the dearest hero in all the
world, and it’s an easy thing to believe about
yourself. We were married as soon as my head
stopped spinning, and I could get Brady to give me
a morning off from morning practice. But first
there was a little scene at the hospital.
The three of us, the interne, Lucile and I, drove
up in grand style, bell clanging. At the door the
reporters were waiting for us. Some of the papers
had sent out their sports men on the story, because
of four members of the World’s Champions being
more or less involved in the fracas. I recognized
one of the most persistent of the pests.
“Hello, Ike,” I said as I hobbled up the steps.
“I’ve got that yarn for you about what ball players
do after they leave the ball park.
“I go to Chinatown!”
I was back in the dugout in a week and back in
the game in three more days. The Aldermen had
come out of the adventure with tons of publicity,
and we played to jammed stands even on weekdays
for a while. But there was one absentee—Ah Fung,
the cross-eyed laundryman. It would be a long
while before his pigtail would grow out in the big
I guess I wasn’t wrong about him originally
when I spotted him as the jinx that was losing the
pennant for us. Since he quit putting the evil eye on
us, the Aldermen have resumed their old habits of
winning ball games. It looks like another big series
split for us, and I’m going to blow my share on a

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