She was that close to busting the record for the most consecutive bull's-eyes made under the greatest influence of alcohol, when the bar phone rang.
It was three o'clock in the morning in a local dive in Laguna Beach called Papa's. By then she had been throwing darts almost four hours, ever since the challenge by the French kick-boxer. The guy had looked like a cokehead, like he'd been put through a pencil sharpener, stringy tendons and collapsed cheeks. She had seen him staring at her and known what he was thinking: Here's one of those tall, all-American babes with the blonde braid and great body who lives for beach volleyball. Not too friendly, not too cool, but for him--une piece of cake.
He hadn't counted on fire and desire.
Her first toss drilled straight through the center of a red cork circle the size of a quarter.
He took his beat-up aviator jacket and split, and she kept it going until the place emptied out--except for the other two icons of Papa's, Mary Jo Martin, a TV newswriter who came in around midnight to work on a screenplay about a TV newswriter, and Big Tyson behind the bar, in his all-season leather vest and wool beanie.
The sound system was tuned to a jazz station and Cassidy Sanderson was working with the same smooth despair as Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, hitting the sweet spot seventeen times in a row. She had come straight from the stadium; khakis limp, the armpits of the white cotton button-down shirt translucent with sweat, but she had no idea. She had reached that state of detachment it takes Zen masters a lifetime to achieve: The point seeks the innermost circle, it is inevitable.
She walked seven steps back to a worn yellow line on the splintered floor. Another dewy glass of lager was waiting on a stool, illuminated, it seemed, by a spotlight of gold. It was an obscure microbrew from her home state of Oregon that she claimed made her feel "evergreen." She fingered the grooved shaft of the dart; warm brass, like a bullet.
"Don't talk to me."
"It can't be for me. My life is pathetic."
She had been thinking about stopping by her trainer Marshall Dempsey's place, waking him up, and getting laid. It wouldn't be the first time.
Mary Jo looked up from a laptop. "Who is it?"
Big Tyson shrugged. "Some kind of weird connection."
Reluctantly Cassidy came to the bar. Her bangs were damp and the look in her eyes was smeared.
"Damn it, my streak."
"What can I say?"
Tyson held out the cordless. Cassidy hesitated, seeming to be fixated by a large turquoise rock in his ring. Mary Jo put a comforting arm around her buddy's shoulder, which was like embracing a piece of granite. The pressure on Cassidy at work these days was intense enough to liquefy stone.
But Cassidy said hello and broke into a puzzled smile.
"It's Uncle Pedro," she told them. "Calling from the Dominican."
Mary Jo and Big Tyson exchanged a relieved look. Who the fuck knew who Uncle Pedro was but at least Cassidy wasn't breaking furniture.
Obviously they didn't read the sports page. Pedro Pedrillo was the most successful bird-dog scout in the Dominican Republic, which meant he drove a hacking old Datsun seven days a week across cattle country and fields of sugarcane looking for boys to fill the farm teams in the United States, but hoping to find the phenom--talent so pure it would light up the game like a fireball that doesn't burn. Cassidy Sanderson, a baseball scout as well, the only female scout in the major leagues, put a hundred thousand miles a year on her Explorer, driving the freeways of Southern California looking for the same light in a different forest.
"Where are you?" Pedro was asking.
"At my pub."
"But I dialed your home number."
"We have call-forwarding. New technology. I can send my calls anywhere I want."
"To a bar? That doesn't sound good."
Cassidy stared at the collection of weirdness behind the walnut bar. A kind of pressed aquarium in a mother-of-pearl frame with dried-up sea horses and guppies. An old straw hat. Shark jaws gripping a rubber human hand.
"I have found a ballplayer," Pedro was saying.
"What kind of ballplayer?"
"A pure hitter."
"Cassie . . . I like this kid."
"You like this kid."
"Yes, I do."
"Well, great. I'm very happy for you."
"I want you to see him. Fly down tomorrow."
For a moment she was lost, listening to the static.
"Are you there?"
"Yes, Uncle Pedro. Hold on."
She walked outside into the cold. Somebody's bare feet were sticking out the window of a Suzuki, We will, we will, rock you! blaring from the radio.
Cassidy pivoted in the opposite direction, past a sunglasses gallery and some beachy boutique, Candles 'n Crap, pacing with the phone to get a clear channel.
"You found a hitter. What's his name?"
"Alberto Cruz. You don't trust me?"
Pedro had played ball with her dad in the fifties. He was her godfather.
"How can I begin to answer that?" she said.
"You know how I look at a ballplayer."
"I got a list of fifteen things we can see with our eyes and another fifteen we cannot see with our eyes--"
Cassidy smiled, loving it--the list, the lecture, the oral history of baseball--hearing it evolve, full of pomp and fantasy, soothing as a bedtime story.
"I'm talking of the heart, the guts, the aptitude--" Pedro was going on, "and this kid's got it all. Exceptional talent. A center fielder with a quick bat, really drives the ball. Soft hands, good glove."
"The good face?"
"The good face," he echoed solemnly. "It's the dead season, the mills are closed, but they play in the sugar leagues maybe one time a week. Get here tomorrow and you can see Alberto Cruz in a game on Friday. They said on the news there's a big storm coming but you can beat it."
"Talking to my dog."
A small white terrier had padded out of the bar looking for Cassidy, shaking her hide and yawning. Edith, rescued from the pound, still had abandonment issues.
Impatient: "Got a problem?"
"Not a biggie. It's just three thousand miles out of my territory. They'll annihilate me, Pedro, they're just looking for a reason."
"This kid won't last. The other organizations are gonna be all over him."
Cassidy knelt to touch the soft reassuring curls of fur and gazed across South Coast Highway at the Laguna Life Guard Station, a landmark built like a miniature lighthouse. There might be dolphins crossing the bay.
"You said this kid is playing--?"
"Day after tomorrow."
Cassidy looked at her watch. The numbers were meaningless.
"I'd have to call my supervisor. Travis. Raymond. Someone. I can't just get on a plane."
"Okay," he said, "forget it."
"But Alberto Cruz . . ."
"One thing I learned after thirty years: There's always another ballplayer."
In Pedro's silence she heard a resounding affirmation of the ability of this boy and a shot of adrenaline pierced the boozy high. A batter has a quarter of a second to commit to the swing.
"I'll be there."
Excerpted from Be the One by April Smith. . Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.