Work in progress of upcoming Alligator Jackson book
"Did I really fall for the line that she was Joe Nuxhall's niece and she was taking me to where he and Red's players were going to be?" Troy Ash rubbed the bump that had formed on the top of his head. He moaned to himself, "I guess for being that stupid I deserve to be lost and drunk in Cincinnati. I'm broke and over three hours from home and I have no idea where my friends are staying."
Just fifteen hours ago, the twenty year-old Marshall University student and three of his his friends left Huntington, West Virginia to head to Riverfront Stadium to see the defending World Champion Cincinnati Reds take on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Of course, the quartet split a case of ice cold Budweisers for breakfast. Then as the sun beat down on Riverfront Stadium on this hot August day in 1976, Troy, Johnny Mayes, Jeff Robinson, and Mark Bright made a new best friend out of the beer vendor. They loved the way the old vendor breezed through the stands yelling "Huuuuuddyyy.....get yer ice cold Hudy's here. Huuuuddyyyy!"
They were not big fans of the Cincinnati brewed Hudepohl beer...but the suds were cold and the sun was hot so the full beers were quickly emptied. The four were ready to start their final year of college. They needed a fun road trip to get ready for their senior year. So many tough decisions were waiting to be made. Marriage? Career? Where to live?
For now, the task at hand appeared simple: try to get Downtown to Cadillac's in time to meet his friends before they go to the hotel. Hotel whatever. It may as well be Hotel California...he could not recall where they made reservations but he thought it was in Covington, Kentucky.
The tall slender Troy Ash looked down and noticed a few spots of blood on his number fourteen Pete Rose jersey. No wonder his nose hurt. He felt groggy. It was hard to tell because he had stopped drinking or if it was from the ambush. He looked down the street and saw a sign that said Pony Keg so he stumbled toward it. He was in a rough looking neighborhood. The few cars that passed were older models. A heavy set man in a stained white T shirt passed by him. He stared at Troy.
Troy was a clean cut young tanned boy wearing a pair of nice Levi jean shorts and a shiny pair of white Converse tennis shoes with nice straight white teeth. Troy was a good looking preppish college frat boy. The man he passed had dirty black uncombed hair. It was not even long hippie hair, it was long "Fuck it, I'm not taking the time to comb my hair" hair.
It became more obvious to Troy with every step he took that he was not in a neighborhood he should be in. It was only about 9 o'clock so he had time to find out where he was and get to Cadillac's and meet his friends.
He knew he never should of left Joe's Bar. The Stroh's was ice cold but Carla was hot. Carla, if that was really her name, was a total fox. A long legged long black haired beauty with wide green eyes. She was wearing a Rose jersey like Troy's. They started talking about the Reds. Carla was the neice of Red's announcer Joe Nuxhall. The old lefthander Joe Nuxhall was the youngest player to ever perform in a major league game. At the age of fifteen, the southpaw made his debut in 1944.
But Troy never got to meet the old lefty. Troy got to meet about four Cincinnati thugs who gave him a good old fashion welcome to Over The Rhine. They busted him up and relieved him of his wallet the way Reds manager relieved Gary Nolan in the seventh inning of the game in favor of Pedro Borbon. Except Gary got to enjoy the Reds' victory from the clubhouse and Troy had to wander the streets of one of Cincinati's roughest neighborhoods.
Troy walked up to the tan building with the sign that said Pony Keg. It was an older building. He opened the heavy tan door. The building was part carry out and part bar. In the middle of the building was a long bar. Two guys sat at the bar. One of the guys looked to be about Troy's age. He was tall and skinny kid like Troy. The similarities stopped there as where Troy's teeth were a perfect white, this boy's teeth was a raunchy shade of yellow and he was missing a lower front teeth. The boy had a stained white t-shirt on. Troy was wondering if stained white t-shirts were the uniform in this part of town.
The other man sat at the end of the bar. He looked like he was falling asleep behind his can of Pabst. His head was sinking lower and lower. Troy was wondering if it would eventually bounce off of the bar.
The kid shot Troy a grin. Troy's vision was focused on the kid's missing tooth. For some bizarre reason Troy could not look away from that tooth.
A short gray headed man in a Stroh's t- shirt emerged from a cooler carrying a case of Little Kings. With a thick German accent he asked, "Can Ii get you something?"
Troy could not think of what to say at first. His tongue stumbled as a he said, "Yes. I men no. I mean I don't know."
The man stared at him, "Let me guess, Kid....you are from West Virginia?"
Troy took a step back and gasped, "How did you know?"
The expression never changed on the bartender's face. His German accent continued, "One you got that golly gee look like Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. You look like you'd believe anything someone tells you. You've got nice clothes. You are a rich kid from a small town travelling to the big city to see the Big Red Machine."
Troy kind of grinned and said, "Well, maybe some except for the rich part."
The bartender continued in the same bored tone of voice, "Well, you have more money and chances than that boy over there. You are priveledged...you may not realize it but something tells me you will by the end of the night."
Troy started to speak but the bartender cut him off and raised his voice louder, "I'm not done speaking. You have a busted face so you've had your ass kicked. You don't belong here you can tell you are not from here. The fact that you haven't called a cab and gotten as far away from this hell that younever would have stepped in tells me you were dropped off.
Troy looked at the man in awe. The other kid looked amazed as he listened and the old man at the end of the bar's head finally came to rest on the bar.
The bartender continued, "You got robbed but you don't want to call the police because you want to find your buddies and tell them your wild adventure in Over The Rhine. The thing you don't realize is that you keep walking around where you don't belong you will probably wind up dead. Now, I may mot be a smart college boy like you but I'm willing to bet I'm right."
Troy shook his head up and down. He admitted, "close. Very close. Is there anyway I could have a beer. I'm starting to sober up and get a headache."
The bartender grimaced and said in a frustrated tone of voice, "See, you are used to just getting things. You don't have money or you wouldn't be here. It's still early. You don't have time to drink. You need to get out of here before it get's late. Stories don't usually end in happily ever after down here."
Troy pleaded, "Please....I need to get my mind set. Just let me have a beer and when I find my friends I will bring you the money back by and a tip."
The bartender had a disgusted look on his face and reached into a cooler. He pulled out a bottle of Big Jug and handed it to him.
Troy looked at him and said, "Thanks...but Big Jug? Can I at least have a Stroh's."
The bartender look amazed, "This is Cincinnati beer. It is made in this city. It is good enough for the hardworking people of this city...but it is not good enough for pretty boy from West Virginia?"
Troy put his hands up to apologize, "Sorry, Sir, I did not mean to offend you." He took the large bottle and took a huge beer. He tried to hide the look on his face, but could not.
The boy at the end of the bar giggled and said, "Beggars can't be choosers."
Troy went over and sat next to the other kid. "Sorry, I didn't mean to sound ungrateful I appreciate any help you can give me. My name is Troy." He extended his hand out to the kid next to him.
The kid shook his hand and smiled, "I'm Carl. How did you end up down here?"
Troy took another drink of The Big Jug and made another face, he shook his head and said, "I met this hot girl at Joe's Bar. She said Joe Nuxhall was her Uncle. Je was going to a bar with some Reds players. We drove a little ways and I got out of a car and some guys jumped me. I woke up and the girl and my wallet was gone."
Carl shook his head, "Wow, man, that's messed up!"
Troy shook his head in agreement and asked, "Carl, can you take me to Cadillac's?"
"Yeah, I can get you to where you need. I got a vehicle in the alley." Carl took his last drink of beer.
Troy looked at the bartender, "Sorry, Sir, but I can't drink this beer. I tried. I'll still drop off some money. Thanks for the beer anyway."
The bartender put his hand up. "Bye Richie...be careful."
Troy leaned his head back and said, "I told you I'm not rich."
The bartender said without an expression, "Richie Cunningham. You remind me of Richie Cunningham. Be safe Richie."
The two men walked out of The Pony Keg together. Troy let Carl walk ahead of him. He was laughing at the guy he had just met. Carl was bobbing up and down as he walked. Troy thought he looked like a flamingo or some type of large exotic bird. Every few steps, Carl would perch his neck out.
"What are you laughing at? " Carl demanded without breaking a stride.
"What are you doing bebopping? Your walk....Man, it's weird. You walk like a freakish bird," Troy laughed.
Carl looked back at him and said," I'm free. I got the spirit. I'm a free bird drifting in the wind."
Troy could not stop laughing, "Man, how old are you?"
Cark turned around and flapped his arms at Troy like he was a bird flapping his wings. "I'm eighteen," Carl screeched. "I'm eighteen" he sang over and over as he tried to imitate Alice Cooper.
"You're crazy," Troy laughedas he was starting to have fun again. He was curious about Carl. He seemed to have a different life than Troy and his friends. "So do you go to school?"
Carl was twirling around in circles with his arms still out like bird wings, "School? I left school when I was thirteen. I don't have time for school."
Troy was perplexed. "How will you get a good job without an education?"
Carl jumped up in the air like a bird taking off, "I 'll get by like I get by like I've gotten by. I'm a free bird."
Troy did not want to think about it too hard as this was Road Trip Saturday. Still, he felt grateful he was on the way to getting his college degree. He admits there were times when he may have drank with his friends when he should have studied. There were times when he skipped class to go to parties. But, he was getting close to getting that all important piece of paper known as a college degree.
Suddenly, Carl shrieked and started running toward a square object with a few tarps attempting to cover. With his arms flapping like a bird, Carl ran toward a big building in the alley. "Here it is. Here it is," Carl chirped.
"Here's what?" Troy wondered. He was getting a kick out of Carl but he could not help but to feel sorry for his new friend. Troy realized he constantly complained about his parents and often resented them for nagging him to go to college and to dp well in college. Troy wanted to be a free bird too. Watching his unguided aquaintage he realized the kind of freedom Carl had and was headed to was certainly not the type of freedom that one should desire.
Carl had the freedom to starve. Carl had the freedom to freeze in the Winter. The options that Carl had the freedom to choose from were limited and not really desirable.
Carl was pulling the tarps off. "It's your ticket out of Over The Rhine. It's my golden chariot. It's the wings that make me a free bird. Carl started singing,
"I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, now
Cause there's too many places I've got to see
But, if I stayed here with you, girl
Things just couldn't be the same
Cause I'm as free as a bird now
And this bird you can not change
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
And this bird you can not change
And this bird you can not change
Lord knows, I can't change"
Troy stopped dead in his tracks in utter amazement. "Golden chariot? It's an ice cream truck!" Troy was amazed. It was a blue and white Mister Softee truck. He had not seen one in years since he was a small boy growing up in Cincinnati before his dad was transferred to Huntington.
Seeing The Mister Softee conehead logo made him feel like a kid again. He could not keep from laughing. He did not know if it was because he had almost a case of beer today but he found himself bent over with his hands on his knees having his first big belly laugh that he has had in a long time.
He was howling in laughter and trying to talk, "Where in the heck did you find this? Is this where you work? Are you Mister Softee?"
Carl jumped in the truck and fired it up. He immediately made a chocolate milk shake. He looked at Troy. "You can say its part of my job! Would you like to drive?" Carl started to chug it and tried to laugh and ended up spitting it all over his already stained shirt. "I forgot how horrible milk shakes taste after drinking beer."
He hit a switch and the ice cream truck started making the familiar Mister Softee dinging machine. " Hey, ya wanna make a little cash on the way to Cadillac's?"
" Naaa, I've got to get there before they leave. Besides, it's Saturday night. If we sold beer we'd make money but ice cream on a Saturday night isn't going to sell."
The truck was a manual truck and it soon was obvious that Carl did not know how to drive it. The truck pulled out of the alley onto the street and the engine stalled. It rolled up against a parked car.
Suddenly blue and red lights engulfed the truck. Carl almost by instinct leaped out of the truck and with long-legged bird strides disappeared into the night.
Troy did not know what was going on. He looked to his right and was met by two guns in his face. Before he realized he was surrounded by police, he found homself jerked out of the ice cream truck by a burly young policeman with a military haircut. He heard his own voice in his head say, " Say goodbye to college, Chump!" He pictured Carl and him flying around prison in striped uniforms with arms stretched out like bird wings.
He was being frisked, handcuffed, hit hard in the ribs, and was spun around to face a grizzled gray hair cop with the attitude of a drill sergeant.
The old cop spit in Troy's face as he bellowed out, "What's wrong, Son? Did you have a hankering for some ice cream. You couldn't afford a cone at Dairy Queen so you heisted a Mister Softee truck."
Troy was terrified. He heard himself scream, "No sir, no sir...it wasn't like that. I swear....I don't even like ice cream! I just wanted to meet my friends."
The cop stuck his face even closer to Troy's and spit out, "You wanted a ride to meet your friends so you stole a Mister Softee truck? Son, why didn't you just call a cab?"
"I'm lost. I just want to go home. I got beat up and mugged because I believed a girl was taking me to meet her Uncle Joe Nuxhall. That boy told me he'd take me to meet my friends at Cadillacs." He was openly crying.
There was a silence of a few seconds then several policemen started laughing. The old policeman laughed and said softly, "Joe Nuxhall. You believed she was taking you to see the old lefthander? Well, he done rounded third and headed for home. And you are going to jail."
Troy was hysterical, "I swear, I swear. I thought he worked for Mister Softee. You can ask the bartender at The Pony Keg. That's where I met that boy. I'm from Huntington, WV. I haven't been here in years."
"So you met George? I know George from the Pony Keg. We are old friends. We will see about your story."
The policeman put Troy in the back of the car. Without saying a word, the old cop drove to The Pony Keg. He opened the big tan door and went inside. He came out less than a minute with the expressionless bartender that never smiled. The funny thing was that George the expressionless bartender with the thick German accent smiled when he saw Troy.
With his thick German accent, he said, "That's Richie. That's the boy that reminds me of Richie Cunningham. A rich innocent boy lost on the mean streets of Over The Rhine. He's lucky he got arrested and not killed."
The policeman stated, "We pulled him and another boy over in a stolen Mister Softee truck."
George was laughing hard, "He's a gullible one, that Richie. He thought he was going drinking with ol' Joe Nuxhall tonight.
The cop joined in laughing, "Joe Nuxhall. Hahaha. Hey, so you don't think he was in on the theft."
"Of course not. Richie is green enough to believe that punk Carl Little drove an ice cream truck. He probably believed they were making a special delivery to Pete Rose's house."
"Ah, Carl Little. We know him all too well. That explains. Well, I'm going to cut Richie loose and go find Carl," The officer said.
"Stay out of trouble, Richie", George the bartender said without an expression on his face as he went back into The Pony Keg.
Troy was once again on his own in the middle of Over The Rhine. The clock was now striking ten o'clock. His friends were waiting at Cadillac's.
Troy had been walking about fifteen minutes. He looked up and saw a sign that said Vine Street. He was not sure where he was. He was getting tired. He was tired of walking. He was tired of being lost. He was definitely tired of not having any money. He prayed to find five dollars. With just five dollars he could buy a few beers. Right now, he needed a few beers more than anything. His head was hurting and he was sure a cold beer would ease the pain. He had been drinking all day and then the beer stopped as did the dream of meeting Joe Nuxhall.
He passed a few bars including The Dugout. He stopped to rest against the bar and to look around for any clue that could send him on the road to Cadillac's.
He was standing there pondering how things were going so good and then so wrong. The door of The Dugout popped open, and like a gate to Heaven...a beautiful angel sprung out. He swore he heard Stairway to Heaven as she walked....then he realized that two people were holding the door open and he did indeed hear Stairway To Heaven because it was on the jukebox.
Her curly long red hair was flowing behind her like the wind was following with her. She wore a white sundress which made her fire red hair stand out even more. Her eyes were green as emeralds. Her smile lit up the dark street. She saw he was gawking at her and she stopped in front of him. She put her hands on her hips and said with a smile, "My God, what has happened to you tonight?"
Those words were certainly not the remarks that he was hoping for, but with a bloody shirt and swollen jaw, he should not really be surprised. He knew she was well out of his league, so he did not try to flirt with her, instead he went with the truth. "Short version...here for the Reds game. Seperated from my friends because a girl was going to take meet to meet Joe Nuxhall but she took me to get robbed instead. I met a guy at The Pony Keg who was taking me to meet my friends at Cadillacs but The Mister Softee truck he was driving was stolen so the cops aboutbroke my ribs." He smiled and decided to add some charm after all, "I know it sounds kind of boring but you know."
She started to laugh but caught herself, " Oh My God, that's terrible. I didnt mean to laugh but you are taking it in stride."
He stuck his chest in and decided to get macho and said, "I'm sorry but the worse part was drinking from early this morning until this evening and suddenly it stopped because she took my money."
"I am so sorry you look so cute and innocent you certainly can't deserve all of that. May I ask how old you are?"
Troy started to lie because he knew she was several years older than him. "I'm twenty, Mam," he said in his sweetest and politest voice.
Suddenly, she noticed right when he started to pour on the charm, he became kind of skittish and was looking all around him. "Is something wrong? You seem kind of nervous all of a sudden."
Looking around, Troy said, "Well. Mam, you look so beautiful and the way this night has gone I'm sure this can't be happening. I keep waiting for your boyfriend or pimp to jump out and start punching me."
She flashed him a dirty look and then a smile to let him know she was playing and said, "i'm not sure but did you just call me a hooker".
No mam,no mam. I promise," he pleaded. He was serious he did not mean it. He thought for sure he was about to get beat up again.
She took a step toward him and pointed her finger at him. "Now, I see why you get beat up so much." Then, she started laughing. "You are just so precious, we have to get you back to your friends. My name is Rose. Follow me."
"I'm Troy. Are you really going to take me to Cadillac's. I cannot thank you enough. I was afraid I'd never make it."
"Not so fast. I've got to make a quick stop." She said. "Don't worry, I know you are broke so I'm not going to rob you," She looked at him teasingly.
"Just great," He thought to himself. He knew things were going to go bad. He knew he was not going to score with her but it would be amazing for his friends to see him walk in with this angel.
She took him to her newred Corvette and they drove to a familiar area. They got out and walked to Joe's Bar. " We were here after the game," Troy said.
"There is someone I want you to meet", Rose smiled.
For a horrifying moment, Troy was afraid she knew the girl who had him jumped and that is who they were going to meet.
They walked through the crowded bar and right in front of Troy was Joe Nuxhall.
Troy was stunned and gasped, "The ol' Lefthander....Joe Nuxhall. I'm a big fan." Troy turned to Rose and asked, "How did you know?"
Rose laughed, "I work for the Reds. I knew him and Marty were stopping by. Ironic, huh? You left to meet Mr Nuxhall and then he comes in. If you would have stayed, you would have met him."
Rose handed him a cold Budweiser. Look over there she pointed. Sitting at a table was no other than Pete Rose and Johnny Bench.
Troy was stunned. Rose went up to Pete and introduced him to Troy. Troy could not help himself, he blurted out, "Rose, if you married Pete, you'd be Rose Rose."
Johnny Bench gave him a sour look and said, "Son, you are either drinking too much or not enough."
Pete quipped, "Kid, you got blood on my jersey."
Troy was alarmed but then became confused because Pete had on a sport jacket.
Then, he realized, he was wearing a number 14 Rose shirt and had blood on it. He laughed and felt like he belonged.
An athletic looking man in a tan sport jacket came up and kissed Rose. Rose introduced him as her husband, Nathan Miller. Troy was not bothered by that at all. Rose had saved his life. She had made this a night he would never forget.
Time was getting away from Troy as he drank a couple of more beers and chatted with his heroes. It was now after midnight. He got directions to Cadillacs as it was just down the street.
Rose and Nathan Miller approached him as he said goodbye to everyone. Nathan handed him a $100 and said. "It was a pleasure meeting you. All of the Reds here took up a collection. This is to help you get home. If you can't find your friends, this will help you get something to eat and get a room until you can get ahold of someone."
Rose smiled and said, "The Cincinnati Reds really appreciate having a fan like you. We appreciate your support. We hope you come back to a game soon. Now that you have met Joe Nuxhall, maybe you won't wander off again.
Troy beamed "I really don't know what to say. This day started great and then turned into a nightmare but now it has turned into one of the best nights of my life. Thank you very much."