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Where Have You Gone, Tom Glavine?

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You'll say it's really good to see you
you'll say I missed you horribly
you'll say let me carry that, give that to me
And you will take the heavy stuff and you will drive the car
and I'll look out the window making jokes about the way things are.

How can I go home with nothing to say
I know you're going to look at me that way
and say what did you do out there, what did you decide?
You said you needed time, you had time.

-- "You Had Time," Ani DiFranco


Where Have You Gone, Tom Glavine?

The red and yellow of headlights and the red-pink of flares lit patches of snow that flickered like shadowpuppets across his window. The power had gone out.

It had been out for over an hour and he was cold as hell, even wrapped in a wool blanket and in sweats and tube socks. Out the window, the traffic light on the corner of Greene Street and East 8th had gone out too, and cops with flares were waving disgruntled traffic through the intersection. Someone honked, and cursed, and then the music of a dozen horns rattled the window glass.

What Dan wanted more than anything was a grilled cheese sandwich, but the stove was electric and the toaster was too, so he padded into the kitchen with the blanket around his shoulders and settled for cold cheese on bread. The refrigerator was already getting warm, and something inside smelled funny before he shut the door.

It was ten past one, or, at least, his clock had stopped at ten past one; it was significantly later than that now. He lit a fat candle and sat at his desk again, where he'd been working on the book when the power went out and the computer went off. He flicked on the little battery-operated radio, and it sang "Sports Radio 66, WFAN!" before going to commercial.

His COBRA had run out six months after Sports Night was cancelled, and the small advance Knopf had given him to write the book was cut in half when he had his first migraine complete with squirmy hallucinations and had to pay upfront for an MRI because he was sure he was dying. He wasn't dying; the neurologist slapped him a prescription for Imitrex and a bill for all the expensive tests. The Imitrex didn't work, but it didn't take a psychiatrist -- back when he could afford her -- to tell him why he was getting migraines now.

Casey was gone.

He blamed the fact that he couldn't write the book on Casey being gone --hell, he blamed the book on everything, and tomorrow he'd call his editor and tell him a whole stack of pages were lost when the power went out. In truth, he'd written half a sentence, something along the lines of "Where have you gone, Tom Glavine, the nation turns its lonely eyes --" and he'd been planning to delete it anyhow, but the power outage would buy him some credibility with Ed Holbrook, and maybe Ed would stop calling him for a couple days.

The book was terrible. It was supposed to be a philosophical analysis of the '94 baseball strike, but instead it was eighty-something pages of political diatribe, sometimes without verbs, and a whole lot of statistical tables cut and pasted for no good reason. Dan blamed the fact that the book sucked on everything other than the truth -- he couldn't write anymore. He hadn't been able to write since Casey left.

On his desk, Casey's first three scripts for "The Bernie Joy Show" sat in a pile, and Dan picked the top one up and thumbed through the pink and blue and goldenrod pages for the thousandth time. A couple of those jokes still made him laugh, but not tonight.

Casey had been in Los Angeles for over a year now, and he'd only sent Danny three scripts. The first three. Back when he used to call Danny to try out his jokes. Back when Dan was able to write a little. It felt like forever ago. It was.

A crunching noise, and the computer booted up, and the desk lamp came back on, and the TV came back on. Sports Radio 66 was still talking about whether the Knicks should have let Ewing go, and Dan switched them off.

M*A*S*H was on TV, the one after the one where Radar leaves, where BJ's all upset because Radar gets to see BJ's wife and kid without him. Dan picked up his uneaten cold cheese sandwich and carried it to the kitchen to toast, while on TV Klinger whined to Colonel Potter.

One push-down of the toaster lever and all the power went out again, even before Klinger could stop whining. Dan had to laugh.

Abandoning his cheese sandwich to the cockroaches, he wrapped the blanket around his shoulders and toddled off to bed.

&&&&&

"Where have you gone, Tom Glavine? The nation turns its lonely eyes to you."

Dan stared at his monitor and lit a cigarette. He started smoking when Jeremy'd mentioned that nicotine helps you focus, although Dan going through half a pack of Marlboro Mediums a day certainly wasn't what Jeremy meant.

It was past noon, he'd just woken up, he had his pajamas on and it was still snowing. The phone rang.

"Ayup?"

"Dan? Ed Holbrook here."

Oh Jesus Christ on a cracker. "Hey, Ed."

"Just checking in, we were hoping to have some pages from you beginning of this week."

"I've got a chapter," he began, picking at the brass brad on one of Casey's scripts. "I lost about twenty pages last night when the power went out. I'm gonna try and reconstruct."

"You didn't have Word set for timed backups?"

"Uh, no, I guess not."

"That wasn't smart."

"Not very, no," Dan agreed.

"Well, give us what you've got, as soon as you can, okay?"

"As soon as I can," Dan said.

Ed wasn't hanging up. "Dan?"

"Yeah, Ed?"

"You know I'm pulling for you with the guys at Knopf." He pronounced it K-nopf, which Dan had heard was actually correct but which still made him laugh every time he heard it.

"I know that," he said.

"Just gimme what you've got when you've got it, Danny boy."

"When I've got it, Eddie boy."

"Great, then," Ed said, and Dan hung up.

The phone rang again.

"In the name of all that is good and holy!" Dan shrieked, picking up the phone. "Who the hell is it?"

"Dan?" It was Jeremy.

"Hey, Jeremy. Sorry."

"How's the book going?"

"Well, aside from me hating everything, cockroaches eating my cheese and the fact that I keep deleting and writing the same sentence over and over, the book's going fantastically."

"Cockroaches are eating your cheese?"

"What's up, Jeremy?" Dan twisted the phone cord around his finger and pulled his feet up on the chair with him so he was squatting. He felt like a high school girl.

"Just checking in," Jeremy said. "No one's heard from you."

"You're doing reconnaissance for Dana." Dan stubbed out his cigarette and waved the smoke from his face.

"I'm doing reconnaissance for Dana too," Jeremy admitted. "She wants to know if you've heard from Casey."

"Nobody's heard from Casey," Dan said. "Not since the summer."

"She wants to know if *you've* heard from Casey," Jeremy said.

"Let's get drunk," Dan said.

"Have you heard from Casey?"

"Nobody's heard from Casey," Dan said again, very carefully. "And, as part of a grammatical group, I fall inside the category of 'nobody.' You with me?"

"You haven't heard from Casey."

"Got it in three," Dan said. "Let's get drunk."

"Don't you have to write the book?"

"The book might write itself better if I'm not around bothering it," Dan said. "Let's get drunk."

Jeremy sighed. "Danny, it's 1:15 in the afternoon."

"By the time we get to Max's it'll be two o'clock," Dan said. "Meet me."

"I'm with Dana," Jeremy said slowly.

That changed things. After what had happened with Casey, Dan wasn't altogether sure Dana would want to see him. He wasn't altogether sure he wanted to see Dana either, but even she was better than the goddamned book. "Bring her," Dan said.

"Dan--" Jeremy said. "I don't really want to have to sit there while the two of you --"

"The two of me aren't doing anything but getting drunk, Jeremy," Dan said. "Max's, two o'clock."

&&&&&

"Dan, all I'm saying is that I've known him longer than you have and it's not like him, which is why I think you know more than you think you know. I'm not saying you're lying." Dana took a sip of beer.

He hated that, hated how she liked to wield the fact that she'd known Casey forever, striking Dan down into a little pile of things like "coworker" and "partner" and "just some guy."

Dan took a draw off his beer too. Jeremy sat in the corner of the booth, chewing on a roast beef sandwich.

"He said he needed time away," Dan told Dana for the zillionth time.

"He sent you scripts, though," Dana said, like it was an accusation. "He didn't send me scripts."

"He sent me exactly three scripts," Dan said.

"Were they any good?"

Dan rolled his eyes. "It's Casey McCall," he said.

Dana nodded. "And the last time you spoke to him?"

"The last time I spoke to him I didn't know it would be the last time I would speak to him, and I hung up on him. I told him I had to tape my windows. I told him to call me back."

"And he didn't call you back," Dana said.

"Did you tape your windows?" Jeremy asked.

"No. Yes. I called him back. He wasn't there. His assistant took a message. His cell phone was off. I taped the windows. I called him back the next day. He still wasn't there."

"His assistant's name, I hear, is also Casey," Jeremy said.

"Her name is Kaycee," Dan confirmed. "She's gotten very, very sick of the sound of my voice. And I of hers."

"I watch the show," Dana said. "It's funny."

"The Bernie Joy Show" had found a cushy timeslot on Thursdays after "Just Shoot Me" on NBC, and it was funny. Dan watched, or would tape it if he was out, and he could always recognize Casey's jokes. "It is funny," he agreed.

"I've never seen it," Jeremy said. Dan and Dana weren't particularly surprised.

Dana stood up. "I'm getting another beer," she said. "And then you're telling me everything that happened the day Casey left."

Dan wasn't sure what had happened the day Casey left; he hadn't really allowed himself to revisit it with any sort of scrutiny for fear he'd uncover something new or awful or ugly. Dana hadn't asked, but Dan knew she blamed him, somewhat, for Casey's flight from New York, and it had just seemed easier not to talk about it.

But now he hadn't seen Dana for five or six months, and she was here, and Jeremy was here, and they were his friends. Now, maybe, he felt like he'd built up enough reserve immunity to be able to handle thinking about it again. Especially if she was buying the beer.

"Okay," he said.

&&&&&

In December, a year ago, Casey came to Dan's door with a suitcase and a blue felt Mets pennant. "I gotta go," he said.

Dan let him in. "Go where?" He knew.

"LA," Casey said. "You know."

He knew. "Yeah. When?"

"They're on hiatus for Christmas. So...now."

Dan looked at the suitcase. "That's all you're taking?"

"I...I'm gonna reinvent myself, I think," he said. "Bleach my hair, maybe get a convertible. Buy only Armani. Like that."

"It's a good job," Dan said, sitting down.

"Executive producer credit, senior story editor, eight solo scripts, assistant, car," Casey ticked off the benefits on his fingers. "Plus the show doesn't suck."

"I haven't seen it," Dan said.

"It doesn't suck," Casey said.

"It's not sports."

Casey sat down in the armchair and propped his chin up on his elbows. "It's not sports, no."

"At one point, I can clearly recall you saying you hated situation comedy."

"Unequivocally," Casey agreed.

It wasn't that Dan had thought he was going to be Casey's partner forever so much as Dan had *known* he would be. When Sports Night was cancelled, they looked for other gigs together, but then Knopf had approached Dan about the book and Casey had insisted he do it.

A month later, the executive producer of a new series that had just gotten picked up for the back nine decided he was quitting, and the president of the network had offered Casey the job. In Los Angeles.

Things fell apart, then.

Casey didn't take Dan's calls for a while. Dan left a series of messages saying Casey shouldn't make the mistake he made with Conan's job again, that he had to take it, that he'd be great at it, that it was a non-question.

And then Casey showed up at Dan's apartment with a suitcase and a blue Mets pennant.

"I'll come visit," Dan said. "They've got Laker girls in LA."

"Yeah," Casey said, but he seemed distracted.

Dan went into the kitchen and came back with two beers. "Listen," he said. "Just for a second."

Casey listened.

"I'm not -- you know how shitty I am with the sentimental stuff."

"Danny --"

"I'm just saying."

"It's okay, Danny." Casey took a swig from his beer.

"I'm just saying I'm gonna miss the hell out of you, Case," Danny said, sitting down again and studying the carpet.

"I know," Casey said.

"You and me, I mean, it's like, we've been doing this for five years. I mean, for all intents and purposes you gave up your marriage for me --"

"Danny!" Casey rubbed his face, hard. "Please don't."

"I'm just saying," Dan said for the third time. "This is like a breakup. It's like a divorce. Like we should be going through our stuff dividing up spoons and Springsteen albums and copies of 'Catcher in the Rye.'"

"I've already done that once," Casey said.

Dan tried his beer. It tasted soapy. "It's okay to say you're gonna miss me too, Casey," Dan said.

He wasn't expecting Casey to cry. He took a draw from his beer and didn't know what to do. Casey looked up after a moment, with red eyes.

"Danny, it's more complicated than that," Casey said. "I'm running away."

"Clearly," Dan said, not meaning to sound so flippant.

"Stuff is -- there's some stuff going on, I think, with me, that I need to figure out."

"Talk to me, Case," Dan said, inching a little closer to the edge of the couch.

"No," Casey sighed. "I need to think, for a while."

"Three thousand miles away."

"Yeah," Casey said. "I think so."

Dan tried to still his frustration. "I would think, Casey, that after all these years, you might be able to open up to me a little. Wouldn't you? After all, it's not like you haven't seen me laid open gutted out like a fish on more than one occasion."

"This is different," Casey said.

"Different how?"

Casey slapped his palms on his knees. "Back off, will you? Just for, like, a second? And allow that it's possible that I might have some stuff I want to keep to myself?"

Dan snorted. "I'm your best friend, Casey."

Casey threw his arms in the air and stood up. "Fine, then," he said. "You want to know? You really want to know? Fine."

He sat down hard on the couch next to Dan, grabbed Dan's face with clawed fingers, and kissed him.

Casey kissed him.

"There," Casey said, standing up again. "Don't you feel better? I certainly do."

Dan felt his stomach swimming. He closed his eyes and tried to breathe.

"I'm going to the airport," Casey said. "I've got a flight at eleven."

Dan checked his watch. "That's in five hours, Casey," he said in a low voice. "Can we just talk a minute?"

"About what?" Casey paced, stomping, and Dan knew he'd take shit from his downstairs neighbor.

"Was that supposed to mean something?" Dan asked. He wasn't sure what answer he wanted. All of them played out in his mind, and all of them terrified him. Some of them thrilled him, but all of them terrified him.

"What do you think, Danny? After ten years of friendship and five years working together, what do you think?"

"I think you kissed me," Dan said.

"You're damned right I did," Casey said. He sat down in the armchair again.

"How come?"

Casey exhaled. "I don't know."

"I think you do," Dan pursed his lips and fisted his clammy palms.

"You see why I can't stay here," Casey said.

"No. I don't see that at all."

Casey laughed, a cruel and violent chuckle. "Of course not," he said. "The fact that I've apparently fallen head-over-heels in love with you is just another fascinating new wrinkle in your world."

Dan felt like he was going to throw up. Fallen head-over-heels. In love. The words rattled in his brain, dissonant and freaky and brilliant.

"It's a big old shock to me too," Casey said. "Imagine my surprise."

Dan opened his mouth and closed it again.

"I've got an ex-wife and a kid," Casey said. "Believe it or not, Danny, some things are more important than me just feeding my libido. So I'm gonna take this job, and I'm gonna get over it, and it's all going to be just fucking fine."

"Casey --"

"You, on the other hand, shouldn't give it another thought. Write your book. Have a good life."

"Casey!"

Casey looked up at last. "Did you know? Ever?"

Dan shook his head. "I had absolutely no idea."

"That's good, anyhow," Casey said.

Dan finished his beer and wanted another, and another. "And now you're leaving."

"I don't see that I've got much choice in the matter," Casey said. "I'm sick of feeling like an idiot. I want a normal life."

Dan reached a hand out across the table, but Casey didn't take it. "I want to talk about this, Case. Please stay."

Casey looked at him, square in the eye. "You don't," he said. "Trust me. I've been fighting this for...a long time, a really, ridiculously, perversely long time, and it's not any fun at all, and you don't want to talk about it. You don't want to be involved."

Dan played the words back, still stuck on head-over-heels in love. Maybe Casey was right. If Dan thought about it too long, he'd start seeing the pink space of Casey's collarbone, he'd start imagining Casey's wiry thighs, his slender fingers, his eyes, his ankles, his chest. He'd start to understand that across ten years and countless girlfriends only this guy, only this one guy ever really got him, ever really challenged him, really loved him, really cared. Only this guy was worth arguing with and working with and staying with. Dan pressed his fingertips against his eyes.

"Yeah," he said. "Maybe you're right."

Casey nodded. "I am. Your world has already been changed enough. You don't need this."

Dan thought a minute. "I don't need you to go, either," he said, not sure if he meant it.

Casey stood up and picked up his suitcase. "Yeah, Dan," he said. "You really do."

"Call me," Dan said, and meant it.

"I'll call you," Casey said.

Dan walked him to the door, and when he hugged Casey goodbye he felt his ribs crush into his chest and he thought about never letting go. But he did let go, and Casey left, and that, as they said in show business, was a wrap.

Later, he would blame Casey for talking him into it, for not giving them the chance, for not even allowing Dan the courtesy of making the choice for himself.

But that was much later. Now, alone in his house, alone in New York, almost, Dan cracked open another beer and tried to figure out how he'd go on without his partner.

&&&&&

Jeremy had finished his roast beef sandwich. Dana was staring at the ceiling fan, apparently looking for answers about Casey in the spinning blades.

"I don't know," Dan said, palms up, a little surprised at himself for revealing all that. "He called a little."

Jeremy stood up. "This is the part where I go use the pay phone for an indeterminate amount of time and come back when you're laughing."

"He called me a little." Dana nodded as Jeremy left.

"You know what's weird, though," Dan said. "What's, like, really, really weird is that about a month ago Lisa called me."

Dana winced at the mention of Casey's ex-wife. "Okay."

"Apparently Casey'd stopped calling Charlie too. At least, not as much as he used to. Not since August."

"When he stopped calling us."

"When he stopped calling everyone," Dan nodded. "He sends Charlie these letters, and packages, stuff like that. But he's not calling."

Dana did a rolling thing with her hands, miming backing up. "Wait. Lisa called you?"

Dan pursed his lips and nodded. "Surprised the hell outta me too."

"Lisa hates you," Dana said. "I'd imagine she hates you even more, now that --"

"About half as much as I hate her, yeah," Dan said. "But I don't think she knows what happened with Casey. In fact, I'd swear she doesn't. She was strangely nice. Bizarro-world nice."

"This is all bizarro-world," Dana said.

"She was scared. Really scared, she sounded." Dan stopped talking and looked at Dana. "I was thinking of going to see Charlie," he said. "Do you think that's a terrible idea?"

Dana raked her fingers through her hair. "Oh, Danny, I don't know. If you'd asked me a year ago, two years ago, ten years ago, back when I thought I knew Casey...hell, I wouldn't have known then. Maybe this is a thing we're supposed to forget about."

"Casey's a thing we're supposed to forget about?"

Dana nodded. "Maybe, Danny. He might be."

"So it's not my problem. Lisa calling me in a panic is not my problem. Charlie McCall freaking out because his dad's secretary is sending him hats and t-shirts is not my problem."

Dana nodded again. "Maybe not."

"Casey McCall, my joined-at-the-hip, hey-guys-get-a-room, all-the-way-to-hell-and-back partner of a zillion years is not my problem."

"Maybe not."

"And what about you, Dana?"

She rubbed her eyes with her fists. "Maybe not my problem either, Danny. I think...I think the cosmos is sort of insisting I forget about him. There's not a whole lot left there, for me, you know?"

She looked weak, and beaten, and tired. For the first time, Dan realized that this was what she'd needed for a year now, a face-to-face meeting with him so she could tell herself it was real and Casey was gone and she could put it behind her.

She would recover from this.

He wasn't sure if he would.

"Yeah," he said. "I know."

"And you, I don't know," she shrugged. "But it's Christmastime. You shouldn't, you shouldn't be miserable at Christmastime."

"Everyone's miserable at Christmastime," Dan said. "That's sort of the whole point, I thought, right?"

Dana chuckled morbidly. "Sometimes I wish he was dead. Mm, strike that. I almost always wish he was dead. Is that horrible of me?"

"Horrible that you'd be denying the world the great Casey McCall? A little bit. Horrible that he's probably out on the beach somewhere where he's forgotten our names and he's forgotten he's left us out here with the ten-below windchill with nothing better to do than wax poetic about the great Casey McCall? Not even a little bit."

"Bingo," Dana said, smiling now.

Jeremy came back. "She wasn't there. I left a message."

"Who wasn't there?"

"Natalie. That was going to be my cover story, so I'd look polite, right? I called Natalie. Didn't I say that before I left?"

Dan shook his head.

"Damn," Jeremy said. "I meant to."

It was only four-thirty, but the sun was almost set when they shuffled out into the street in coats and scarves and Dana in a purple wool cap.

"Tomorrow's the shortest day of the year," Jeremy said. "The winter solstice."

"I'll try to sleep right through it so I can start coming up the other side the day after," Dan said.

"Wise strategy," Jeremy nodded, his breath a white cloud.

"Hey, Danny," Dana said, stopping and bouncing in place, rubbing her hands together.

"Yeah?"

"Write the book," Dana said.

He nodded. "Yeah."

"Write a really good book, Danny," Dana said.

"Yeah."

Dan walked with them as far as the corner where Dana and Jeremy descended into the subway station. His apartment was only four blocks away, but he wanted to walk so he went the long way, up around the east side of Washington Square park.

He started thinking about Casey, but found himself thinking about Tom Glavine instead. The Braves starter Glavine had stood out as a champion for players' rights during the '94 strike, only to come back and pitch a nearly perfect 6th game of the '95 series.

Baseball almost turned its back on him, but he was still a champion, somehow, even though the strike was a waste and fan attendance was down twenty percent after it was over.

It was the American pastime, baseball, and in '94 it had turned into something ugly, something about business and money and war.

Before the strike, Dan had loved Tom Glavine. He was one of the greats, a role model, one of the old-school heroes doing it for the love of the game. And for the love of the game, he'd stood up for the players and the Player's Association, and all of a sudden he was a thousand other greedy motherfuckers asking for another million dollars to sign a couple autographs and pose for a couple trading cards.

It wasn't like he had a choice, Dan thought, turning west off Broadway onto 4th street. He was a player. He played by union rules.

But after something like the strike in '94, it couldn't ever be the same, really. Not even when Glavine pitched his one-hit shutout 6th game.

He came down off the mound for the ninth inning. It could have been his masterpiece, but he knew something was broken. "I'd had enough," Glavine said, later, to every reporter who asked him why he stepped out. He'd mentioned something about a stiff back, a sore shoulder.

Dan Rydell knew better.

After something like the '94 strike, there was no such thing as a masterpiece anymore.

Heroes fall.

With his hands shoved deep in his pockets, Dan turned on Greene Street and climbed the stairs up to his apartment, and he was inside before it started snowing again.

&&&&&

He wrote forty pages about labor unions in three days and devoured six or seven library books about baseball strikes across history. He listened to a million hours of Ken Burns on tape.

At seven o'clock on Christmas Eve, sitting with Chinese takeout and a Mexican beer, Dan stared at the chapter that started "Where have you gone, Tom Glavine, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you" and felt almost ready to write it.

His phone rang.

"I'm writing," he said as soon as he picked up. "And it's Christmas for most of the world, so go away, whoever you are."

"Danny?"

He nearly dropped the phone. "Case?"

"Yeah, it's me, Danny. Hi."

"Holy...Casey. Jesus, man. Hi."

"You're writing. I don't want to interrupt if you're --"

"Oh, fuck you," Danny laughed, explosive and nervous. "Jesus Christ. Casey."

"Yeah. Hi. I'm, uh, I'm in town."

The fact that Casey might come home to spend Christmas with his son hadn't even occurred to Dan, but now it seemed obvious. "You -- oh. Well, cool. How long, how long are you here for?" That wasn't the right question, or even the best one, but it would do. Dan lit a cigarette.

"Just till tomorrow," Casey said. "I've got pre-pro as soon as I get home."

So LA was home now. "Okay," Dan said.

"Are you...I mean, can I see you tomorrow? I'd like to see you tomorrow. If you're not busy."

Dan took a long drag, and exhaled in a sharp white stream, trying to calm his thrumming heart. "I just started this chapter --"

"Oh --"

"No, it's --"

"It's short notice, I know, I'm sorry that I --"

"Casey, Casey forget it."

Casey was silent for a little while. "We can do it next time," he said.

Dan felt cold, and sticky, and still. "You're here to see Charlie?"

"Yeah. I came in on Monday. I've got a hotel on the Upper East Side."

Monday. Three days ago. "Oh," Dan said.

The phone sizzled and clicked. "Sorry," Casey said. "That was me."

"You're on your cell?"

"I'm outside Lisa's house. I've got to go back in, actually, we're lighting the tree."

"Give Charlie a hug for me," Dan said. "Tell him I miss him."

The phone gave an electric sneeze. "You miss Charlie?"

Dan took another drag off his cigarette. "Sure."

"I'm sure he misses you," Casey said.

It would be so easy to say that he did want to see Casey, that he would see him tomorrow, that he could see him tomorrow, yes, yes, please. So easy, and so hard, and so impossible. "Yeah," Dan said, instead.

"I've got a killer tan," Casey said, just as Dan was saying, "The book's doing okay."

"That's great," said Casey. "I want to read it."

"Okay."

"I really have to --"

"You should --"

"Yeah."

"Okay. Catch you later, then, man." Catch you later, then, man?

"Right," Casey said, and for a minute Dan thought it sounded like Casey was going to cry.

Nobody hung up.

"Danny --"

"Uh huh?" Dan squeaked.

"I'd really like to see you tomorrow. If it's at all possible. We're doing presents in the morning, but then I thought maybe you could take me to the airport. Come with me to the airport, in a cab, I mean. We could have a drink. At the airport."

"You think you could get the word 'airport' in there one more time?" Dan said, and for a second it was a year ago and nothing had happened.

Casey thought a minute. "How about, 'before I leave from the airport'?"

It was the worst thing Danny had ever heard. "That's about the size of it," he said.

"Sorry," Casey said. "I was trying to be funny."

"That's what they pay you the big money for, these days," Dan said, and it sounded bitter.

"Please, Danny," Casey said. "Take me to the airport."

Dan sighed. "Of course I will, Case," he said. "Come on."

He could hear Casey smile. "Good. I'll come to your place after we do Christmas, is that gonna work for you? I'll call first."

"Just show up," Dan said.

"Okay," Casey said. "I'll just show up, then."

&&&&&

August 12, 1994, was a miserably hot day in Texas.

Dan had been on hold for twenty minutes, sitting on the edge of his desk with his feet on his chair, staring out the window at green striated smog. A PA named Maribeth came in with a lukewarm Coke.

"No confirmation?" she asked in her Loretta Lynn drawl.

Dan shook his head. "Nothing." He popped open the Coke and took a drink. "I'm not sure we're gonna get any."

"Well, makeup wants you in about a half an hour," Maribeth said.

"Casey --"

"Casey's pulling tape. Just in case."

Dan nodded and drank some more warm Coke. "Good," he said, and Maribeth left. Dan shook the phone. "Pick up, you useless, overpaid, fake-French-accented homunculus!"

"Is that any way to talk to our own inside guy?" a voice said from the doorway. Casey crossed to the front of the desk, pushed Danny's feet aside and sat in the chair. "Nothing?"

"The massage guy confirms Fehr got a telegram --"

"We're basing this on the fevered ramblings of the union head's massage guy?"

Dan waited for Casey to finish. "The massage guy says Don Fehr got a telegram from management. Giancarlo --"

"Giancarlo. Naturally." Casey kicked one foot over the other and swiveled in his chair, staring with Dan out at the smoggy afternoon.

"Giancarlo, who was neither fevered nor rambling, says Fehr got on a plane this afternoon and flew to Washington. I've got guys saying that Cecil Fielder and Jay Bell are also on their way to DC. I'm on hold with the desk at the Watergate, following up on a lead that says Rich Levin rented a conference room."

Casey raked his hands through his hair and spun back to face Dan again. "It's happening."

Dan nodded. "It's definitely happening." He drained the last of the warm Coke and set the can down on the desk.

Casey was sucking the insides of his cheeks, deep in thought. When he busted free from his reverie, he was smiling. He stood up. "Do you know what this is, my friend?"

"Another fucking player's strike," Dan said, shifting the phone to his other ear.

Casey nodded. "Yes. But do you know what else this is?" He grabbed Danny by the shoulders.

"Guys with more money than us asking for more money than god?"

Casey shook Dan. "It's our first big story, Danny! This strike is different from alllll the other ones across history, because this time we -- you and me -- we get to be behind the anchor desk together telling the world about it. And you know what else?"

Dan felt himself smiling now, too. "What else?"

"We're gonna do it first, and we're gonna do it best, and we're gonna bring this little show national with us when we do. You know why?"

"Tell me."

"Because it's us, Danny. Because we've been working together three months and this is our first major scoop, we've been gearing up for this all our lives, this is the big one."

"The big one," Dan grinned. Casey hadn't been happy since he'd turned down the chance to host Late Night, and Dan felt his adrenaline pumping.

"Because we're the best," Casey said.

"The absolute best," Danny agreed.

Casey sat down again. "We've got twenty minutes to air, we should --"

"Maribeth!" Dan hollered, and the PA came tripping through the door a second later. "Take this call, just sit there and hold it, and when an obnoxious French guy picks up, come get me."

"I got it at my desk," she twanged, spinning on her heel and departing. Dan hung up.

"We got twenty minutes to air --" Dan prompted.

"We need statistics --"

"Angus!" Dan bellowed.

"What's goin' on?" The beefy research analyst hollered back from his desk.

"We need statistics on the '84 and '90 strikes, current union movement, public opinion polls, stadium attendance --" Casey ticked off the items on his fingers, looking at Dan.

"It's happening?" Angus asked.

"It's happening," Dan said. "We need that stuff yesterday, Ang."

"On it," Angus said. Dan turned back to Casey. The rush was flooding him now, and he leaped off the desk and started pacing, pressing a fist to his lips and thinking aloud.

"We want to interview some small market people, stadium owners, fans, newly-upped players --"

"We want dirt on Marvin Miller and Ray Grebey --"

"You know what we're gonna do?" Dan spun around.

"Tell me." Casey's eyes shone.

"We're gonna be there. We're gonna be the ones who are there, for the fans, during the strike."

"Can't watch baseball?" Casey got it now. "Watch Lone Star Sports."

"Missing your favorite stars? Tune into Dan and Casey."

"We'll do a best-of. We'll scrape together sixty years of highlights."

"We'll take calls."

"We'll keep the dream alive," said Dan.

Casey stood up. "We're gonna rock the world, Danny," he said.

"This is it," Dan said, taking a deep breath. "This is the beginning of the beginning for us, Case. I can feel it."

"National sports, here we come," Casey said.

Maribeth came racing in. "Pick up the phone," she said. Dan did.

The French guy said everything Dan thought he was going to say. When he hung up, he grabbed Casey and pulled him out of the office into the bullpen. All the assistants and producers and crew stopped what they were doing, and watched while Dan climbed up onto a rolling chair and spread his arms.

"Ladies and gentlemen of Lone Star Sports," he said in his best circus announcer's voice. "Right now, we have an exclusive. We're about to change the world. And it sucks, but it's news, and it's ours, and it's our job to make it just a little better. Because that's what we do."

Casey started laughing. "In other words, saddle up and tell your loved ones it's gonna be a long hot summer. Baseball has gone on strike."

&&&&&

The buzzer rang, but instead of inviting Casey up, Dan pressed the button, hollered "Two seconds!" and raced downstairs.

He stopped a couple feet from the door, and stood in the linoleum lobby staring out the chickenwire square in the black wooden door that opened onto the street. A cab went by, and a girl on a bicycle. Dan made sure he had his wallet and his keys. He checked his mail.

A shoulder with a backpack on it moved in front of the glass, close and huge. Dan tightened his scarf around his neck. The shoulder took a step away, revealing Casey's mop of gold hair, Casey's angular, tanned cheek, his ear, his neck. Dan swallowed hard, and Casey took a step to the right and turned around and wasn't there anymore.

Now was way too soon, but never wasn't really an option, and since those were the choices, Dan reached for the brass handle and opened the door.

"Hey."

Casey turned around. "Hey, Danny."

The very sound of his name on Casey's tongue sent Dan reeling and he wasn't sure why. He reached down and picked up Casey's suitcase, buying time. He looked up. Casey was still there.

He looked younger for his year in LA, somehow, leaner and firmer and bronzed, but there were dark bags under his eyes, and the shocks of blonde hair that fell across Casey's face did nothing to obscure those shadows.

Dan put the suitcase back down. "You look great," he said.

Casey grinned. "I know, don't I?"

Dan went to pick the suitcase up again, but Casey was coming to hug him, so he set the suitcase on the sidewalk for the second time.

"You don't have to carry that," Casey said to Dan's ear, hugging him with one arm and slapping him on the back a couple times. "I joined a gym."

"And I thought I'd seen everything," Dan said.

"Nope!" Casey grinned again, picking up his suitcase. "You'd hardly recognize me naked."

Dan coughed. "Well," he said, starting down the sidewalk. "That was terribly awkward."

Casey caught up. "Sorry, Danny. I'm -- man, I don't know what's gotten into me. I'm, I sound like a complete lunatic, don't I? I don't know, Dan. I'm sorry."

"It's okay, buddy," Dan said, wondering if he'd ever called Casey "buddy" in his life.

It was bitterly cold, clear and crisp and the hazy O of sunlight was doing nothing to warm the city. Dan jogged in place on the corner, holding his hand out for a cab.

"How have you been?" Casey asked. Dan shrugged.

"Working on the book," he said. "It's kicking my ass in some serious ways."

"Well, I can't wait to read it," Casey said with a dismissive nod.

A cab crossed two lanes to screech to a halt in front of them, and Dan let Casey get in first.

&&&&&

At five o'clock on a Friday the bar at JFK was packed, and Dan and Casey waited for a table. Casey'd checked his baggage, gotten his boarding pass and mapped out the most direct route to the gate, and when he was done with all that they had a little less than a half hour before he'd have to go.

They both ordered scotch when they sat down, and the airport waitress, obviously used to these sorts of time constraints, conjured up two glasses in seconds and deposited them on the table.

"So you're liking LA," Dan said over his scotch.

"The show's fantastic," Casey said. "I love the pace of a sitcom. I'm the only person in there who finds it slow and relaxing compared to prior experience."

"Probably," Dan said.

"You've been watching the show?"

"I've been working on the book," Dan said.

"Of course. Right."

"I've seen the show."

"I figured you had."

"It's funny."

Casey smiled at that. "I think so too."

"I'm not particularly surprised that it's funny."

"Was that a compliment, just then?"

Dan took another drink of scotch and wanted desperately to go home. "Something like that," he said.

"Indeed it was," Casey said.

They drank for a while.

"Danny?" Casey reached a hand across the table but Dan made no move to take it. "I didn't call."

"Oh, yeah? I hadn't noticed."

"I'm sorry I didn't call."

"Casey, you didn't call *anyone*. You didn't call your *son,* for Christ's sake. Don't apologize to me."

"No, Danny. I just -- I wanted to tell you why I didn't call."

Dan's coat was draped over the back of his chair, and he felt around in the pocket for his box of Marlboro Mediums. He took one out and lit it off the candle on the table.

"That's bad luck," Casey said. "Lighting a candle -- lighting a cigarette off a candle."

"Smoking's bad luck," Dan said, taking a drag.

"That's the other thing, then," Casey said. "Also."

"Tell me why you didn't call," Dan said.

Casey rubbed his forehead. "I didn't have anything new to say," he said. "I ran out of things to say."

"No more stories about LA hotshots in bidding wars over the great talent of Casey McCall?" Dan snorted.

"Danny --"

"I'm glad you're happy," Dan said, carefully. "I'm glad you're doing so well."

Casey nodded. "I'm doing well," he said. "I don't know if I'm happy. It's hard to tell in LA."

"There's no weather, for one thing," Dan said.

Casey nodded again. "There's no weather to be happy against or sad against. So I don't know."

"What happened in August?" Dan asked. "Everybody wants to know. We're placing bets."

Casey's hand was still on the table, and he withdrew it and took a drink of scotch. "Nothing happened in August," he said.

"Maybe not to you," Dan said in a low voice. Casey sighed.

"One day I woke up and I just *was*. And I knew the drive to work with my eyes closed, and the PA brought me the same latte I always order, and we sat at the same table and wrote the same jokes and I went home to the same apartment and I just *was*. And I knew I wasn't coming back to New York."

"Does Lisa know?" Dan said the first thing that popped into his head.

"Yeah," Casey said. "I wrote her a letter. It was really hard, Danny. I wrote you a letter too."

"I never got it," Dan said.

"I never sent it," Casey said.

"What's Charlie going to do?"

"Oh, he'll grow up as big bicoastal boy. He loves LA. I'll come visit, or Lisa will come out, we'll make it work."

"Okay," Dan said, and it was enough.

"Why are you smoking, Danny? You shouldn't be smoking."

"I'm writing a book."

"You never had to smoke to write before," Casey pursed his lips.

"True," Dan said. "But now I'm writing a book about Tom Glavine."

"He's a world-class jerk," Casey said.

Dan nodded. "I never used to think so," he said.

"A sellout and a jerk," Casey said.

"Yeah," Dan said. "Exactly."

And then it was five thirty, and Casey had a flight to make, and Dan went outside to hail a cab.

They didn't hug goodbye. Nobody said "I'll call you." But Casey smiled with his lips stretched back over his teeth, and Dan waved through the sliding glass door, and it seemed enough, and it seemed over.

&&&&&

Ed Holbrook called in the morning, and Dan went down to his office with the forty new pages and an outline for the rest of the book.

On his way home, he stopped in a leather store and bought himself a brown suede coat for four hundred dollars. It was five months out of season, and he couldn't afford his credit card bills as it stood, but he didn't care.

He went home and put on the suede coat and sat down at his computer and opened up the new chapter.

"Where have you gone, Tom Glavine?" it read. "A nation turns its lonely eyes to you."

Dan lit a cigarette and began to write.

He wrote for nine days. He wrote straight through New Year's Eve. He wrote a hundred and fifty pages, largely vilifying Tom Glavine, and when he was done he packed the whole thing off and sent it to Ed Holbrook, and called Dana and Jeremy and Natalie and Kim and Elliott and Dave and Will and Isaac and even Lisa McCall, and invited them all over to get wasted on cheap jello shots.

Everybody came.

In the kitchen, washing glasses out so people could use them again, Dana called it Dan's "Shattering The Casey Myth" Cotillion. Dan dried the glasses and laughed along with her.

"He was really that awful?" she asked, wrist deep in soap. Dan held her drink to her lips so she could take a sip.

"He was incomprehensibly, indescribably awful," Dan said. "And you wanna know why?"

"Absolutely," Dana said.

Dan poured himself another finger of Knob Creek. "So do I," he sighed. Dana splashed him with bubble water.

"Lisa appears to be behaving herself," Dana said, not even looking over her shoulder to see who might be lurking in the open kitchen passageway.

"Lisa," Dan said, raising a finger to emphasize his point and nearly propelling himself over backwards. "Lisa, is turning out to be entirely not a bitch."

"No, no, I'm pretty sure she's a bitch," Dana said.

"I might marry her," Dan said. "I've been thinking that would be the most fucked up thing I could possibly do, so the appeal is there."

"It is appealing," Dana conceded. "For and in its fucked-up-ed-ness."

"You see," Dan said.

"I do see," Dana said, rinsing off the last glass and setting it in the drainer. She wiped her hands on her jeans and picked up her drink again.

"And, can I just say one more thing?" Dan asked.

"Go right ahead," Dana said. "It's your party. You finished your book."

"You know who I am?" Danny asked, holding his glass above his head like Liberty's torch. "I'm the DAY AFTER GUY."

"That was the thing you wanted to say?"

Dan nodded, bobbing his head violently. He grabbed Dana's wrist and spun on his toes and pulled her out into the living room where he held up his glass again. "I'm the DAY AFTER GUY!" he bellowed. "I'm the guy who's finished the manuscript and sent it off. I'm not the bleeding-on-the-keyboard guy anymore. I'm not the just-thirty-more-pages-tonight guy anymore. I'm the DAY AFTER GUY. I finished the book. I FINISHED. THE BOOK!"

"You rock my world, Danny," Natalie called.

"Equally rocked over here," Jeremy said.

Isaac toasted. "I want to read that manuscript, Daniel my boy. I'm an old, retired man, and nothing pleases me more than seeing one of my own make good. So I can't wait to read that book."

"Neither can I," Lisa murmured, from her position upside-down on the couch with her knees hooked over the backrest.

"Do you even know baseball?" Dana asked Lisa.

"I married baseball!" Lisa croaked. "And to hell with him."

"I can get behind that," Dan said. "To hell with Casey." He jumped up and down, bouncing on his toes. "Also!" he said. "And lest we've forgotten -- I FINISHED THE GODDAMNED BOOK!"

For that, the room went up in cheers.

&&&&&

About a week later, and on his way down from a bender that wasn't quite done yet, Dan ignored the phone.

Someone persistent had decided to eschew message-leaving in favor of calling back every four minutes, and Dan pulled himself to his feet to unplug the phone, but when he got there, he answered it instead.

"Mmmgah?"

"Danny?" Dana sounded panicky, air-time panicky, and it was a timbre Dan hadn't heard in her voice since Sports Night was cancelled.

"Yeah, whassup, Dana?"

"Oh, Danny, we have to talk."

It was like she had news she didn't want to break, and whatever it was, Dan was sure he didn't want to hear it either. "We do?"

"We really do. Can you, do you want to meet me somewhere?"

Dan tugged at the toe of his tube sock. "Now?"

"Now is good, sure," Dana said.

"No, no, I wasn't offering, actually, I was whining about it. Like, 'nooww'? Do we haaaave to?"

Dana chuckled weakly. "No, we don't have to. But we should. Soon we should."

"And you're not telling me what this is about? Can I guess? Twenty questions?"

"It's about -- when do you go to press on the book?"

The book, that was new. "First of next month," Dan said.

"Yeah, then we should meet soon, Danny. We should meet now. Can you -- take a shower, or something?"

Dan nodded, even though she couldn't see him. He pulled off his tube sock and made little sweaty toeprints on his hardwood floor. "Yeah," he said. "Lemme shower and I'll meet you at Max's."

She was there when he got there, sitting at their corner table with her arms crossed on top of his manuscript. She was still wearing her hat and her scarf and she looked like a little Santa elf, or a Santa elf crossed with some sort of disgruntled high school exam proctor, anyhow.

Dan sat down across from Dana. "Spill, O bearer of rotten news" he said.

She pushed the manuscript across the table toward him.

"This sucks, Danny," she said.

He coughed, and rummaged in his pocket for his cigarettes. There weren't any. "Excuse me?"

She shook her head. "Your book sucks," she said. "It's not you. It's not what you can do."

"I worked my ass off on that thing, Dana," Dan bristled. "You can't say that and mean it."

"I mean it," she said. "I know you. I know what you're capable of. This is rich material, here, you gotta do it justice. You'll hate yourself if you don't do it justice, Dan."

He picked up the manuscript and started thumbing through it. Dana had made red lines and arrows and circles and comments on nearly every page, and his head hurt too much to read them. He turned pages faster, and the red marks bled together into a flipbook of shame.

"Another thing," Dana said. "Chapter fourteen. Page ninety."

He knew what it was, but he turned there anyhow.

Where have you gone, Tom Glavine? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Dana had bracketed huge chunks of text, had underlined paragraph after paragraph, marking each section with an asterisk.

"Is this some sort of cryptogram where if I rearrange the letters it will tell me the name of my future wife?" Dan snorted.

"Look at it," Dana said softly.

An asterisk in the corner, and she'd written up the margin. He swiveled the script around so he could read the words. "Glavine? Or Casey," it said.

Dan stood up. "Oh, fuck you, Dana!" He threw the bundle of papers into the air and it fluttered down and landed in a heap on the table. "I don't need this bullshit, I'm just getting my life back together. Knopf thinks it's a good book -- and that's K-nopf, you know, it's the real deal -- so I certainly don't need your half-assed unemployed bush league opinion. I'm going home now. You want a better book about Tom Glavine, you write it."

She scrambled to her feet and grabbed for his elbow, his shoulder, turned him around to face her.

"It's not a good book, Danny," she said. "Tom Glavine's a better guy than you give him credit for. And for what it's worth, so's Casey. That's not how the strike happened, and the guys at Knopf --" she pronounced it Nopf, and proudly, "-- may not give a shit about baseball but I do. And you do. Try again. It's not too late."

She was pleading, clutching at him, trying so hard to get through. He laughed weakly, and it felt like crying.

"Give it another chance, Danny," Dana said. "You all three deserve it."

He didn't know what she was talking about, give it another chance, whether she meant Casey or Tom or the strike or the book, but it didn't matter, and it was all the same, and he knew she was right.

He sat down again and tried to read the Tom Glavine chapter and his own words made him seasick and crazy. He looked up at Dana.

"The book sucks," he said.

She nodded. "It really, really sucks," she said.

"I mean, it's awful," he said, starting to laugh.

"Danny, it's a piece of shit. Throw it away. Start again."

"I gotta start again," he said.

She leaned down and kissed him on the head, and her scarf batted around his ears and tickled. He stood up and helped her on with her coat.

"Listen, Dana," he said, walking with her to the door. "What I said before, just now --"

"You wrote a book that sucks, Danny," she smiled. "You're entitled to a little unbridled rage."

"If we could just go easy on the suckage now," he smiled back. "I get the idea."

"I know you do," she said, and kissed him again. "Now make it better."

He nodded, holding the bar door open for her and letting the cold swim in. "I will," he said. "I promise."

&&&&&

Ed Holbrook wasn't thrilled when Dan told him. Two guys at Knopf, both named Richard, called Dan at intervals during the day to see if they could change his mind. When coercion didn't work, they threatened with smaller printings, a lower royalty percentage, an aborted tour. Dan muttered something about his lawyers and they backpedaled a little. Ed Holbrook called again and again, pleading for a break like one of those guys in Glengarry Glen Ross.

"I'm writing a better book," Dan said simply. "Take it or leave it."

By the first week in February, both Ed and the Richards had stopped calling altogether.

Dan reread Tom Glavine's autobiography, "None But The Braves," for the thousand and first time, trying to draw some sort of philosophical conclusion between Glavine's actions during the strike and the pitcher's marital problems at home. But every time Glavine mentioned his wife Dan saw Casey, and every time Glavine mentioned the union leaders Dan saw Casey, and every time Dan put the book down and closed his eyes and scraped his brain for brilliance, instead he saw Casey.

Where have you gone, Casey McCall, he thought. A nation turns its lonely eyes...

Dan turned off his phone and slept for more than two days, and when he woke up it was dark.

His clock said 9:20, but he didn't know if it was Wednesday or even Friday, if it was pm and prime time or if it was the morning after the apocalypse, the apocalypse had come and gone and he'd slept right through it.

With a beer and a grilled-cheese sandwich he sat down at the computer again.

"Where have you gone, Casey McCall," he typed without realizing it. He erased it and tried again.

Nothing came, just the same voices in his head telling him the nation was lonely, and he was lonely too.

Dan let out a breath, saw his cigarette burning to cinder in the ashtray.

And then he plugged the phone in again and bought a plane ticket to LA.

&&&&&

Kaycee, Casey's assistant, was skinny in a born-that-way way, with knobby knees and elbows poking out from under her white three-quarters-sleeve shirt and black skirt. She wore a dragonfly barrette in her crazy curls, and she recognized Dan by his voice.

"They're behind closed doors," she said, holding up one finger and asking Dan to wait while she answered the phone: "Bernie Joy Show, just a minute please."

She turned back to Dan and said, "if you want to hang out, there's Evian in the mini-fridge." Phone wedged in the crook of her neck, she gestured with an elbow at a couch under a wall-sized poster of the Bernie Joy Show cast. "I'll tell him you're here."

Dan nodded. "Thanks, Kaycee."

He sat down on the edge of the couch and shoved his fists between his knees. In the bullpen, a couple of assistants were playing catch with a Koosh ball over the hutch between their desks. It felt like a TV show, a sort of familiar dynamic Dan had missed for the last year since Sports Night ended, but the folks here were somehow more laid back, less engaged. It was like they didn't care as much; maybe that's what it was. Even so, Dan felt a swell of jealousy when the script coordinator came out of her office bitching about FedEx and slapping a pile of blue draft revisions on Kaycee's desk. He hadn't touched a script in too long. Hadn't been on TV in too long. He missed it.

In the back of the bullpen, the writer's room door opened. A skinny black guy in jeans rolled his chair over to the door and poked his head out into the bullpen.

"Hey, Monash!" he hollered. "McCall says you never forwarded him the BS&P notes from the network. I say he's lying."

Kaycee looked up from her phone call. "He's lying through his teeth," she called back. "They're in the same e-mail with Barry Goetz's number."

Some shuffling in the writer's room, and then the black guy said, "He says he doesn't have Barry Goetz's number."

Kaycee stood up, wrapping her hands around her mouth like a megaphone. "You called Barry Goetz, McCall. That's why you made me messenger that dub over to Universal."

"Pretty soon I'm gonna fire you, Monash," someone said. Casey. Casey was standing in the writer's room doorway now, leaning against the jamb. "You're supposed to back me up, here. I'm the executive producer, you know."

"Oh, really?" Kaycee smirked, sitting down again.

Dan sat very still and wondered if Casey had seen him yet.

"Oh," Kaycee said, "your old partner's here. He's been waiting very patiently for, like, hours."

Dan wished she hadn't said that. He stood up on wobbly legs and watched Casey's eyes find him.

"Danny," Casey said. Dan nodded, swallowing.

Casey turned back into the writer's room and shut the door behind him.

A minute later he came out.

"I'm going down to the set," he told Kaycee. "I'm on my cell if you need me. I might not be back tonight, so have someone messenger me the scripts home."

"You need today's rundown?"

"I'll pick one up from the AD," Casey said. "Stick around till about six and then you can go home too, just send the calls to voicemail."

"Thank you, fearless leader," Kaycee said. Casey smacked her on the top of the head, gently. She stuck her tongue out.

"I just got here about four minutes ago," Dan said. Casey turned around. "Really."

"Come down to the set with me," Casey said. "I have to put the fear of god into some people. Then we can go eat or something, have you eaten?"

"I ate on the plane," Dan said.

Casey walked ahead, then, opened the door out onto the hallway and headed for the elevator, without even checking to see if Dan was behind him.

&&&&&

Casey had a white Mercedes ML-430, the new fancy one with the on-dash nav and the little TV screens in the back seat, and they drove for a while in silence.

The show was taped live in the small MTV lot on Olympic in West LA; Dan had been there once before for an interview show back in '98. Casey had a parking spot with his name on it, and the security guy at the front desk waved them down the hall to the studio booth.

High above the studio audience, in their glassed-in booth, Casey fought with the director and Dan watched.

He was right at home here, Casey was, more assertive and more professional than Dan had ever known him to be, hollering over a headset to the director below. The cast took their places again, and the AD snapped her clapboard shut for "A, B, C and X camera mark," and the tape started rolling again.

It was nothing like Sports Night, here with the audience warm-up guy signaling for "laughter" and "applause" and "everybody go 'oooohhh' when Bernie Joy slams the door in her boyfriend's face;" it seemed plastic and cartoony and shallow. A PA handed Dan a bottle of Evian with the top already unscrewed, and Dan took a sip. It tasted greasy, and heavy, like smog, like LA.

"New York tap water is second to none," Dan told the PA, handing the Evian back. "I've been spoiled for the bottled shit."

"You're from New York?" the PA said. Dan nodded at him.

"I went to NYU for a year," the PA said. "Before I moved out here."

"Of course you did," Dan said, not even caring who he was rude to anymore. At the control board, Casey scribbled notes on a pink and green script.

"I'm going out to have a cigarette," Dan said to Casey, who just waved.

Outside it was balmy, the sky a vague grey-green with a kind of ambient and nonspecific sun. Dan sat on the steps of the soundstage and lit a Marlboro.

This had been a terrifically, monumentally stupid idea, and as soon as Casey brought him back to his rental car, he would hightail it to the airport and go home.

He already missed New York, where it was forty degrees colder and everyone was rushing around in wool pea coats with Philip Roth books tucked into their pockets. From here, Dan could see the half-assed skyline of Century City poking up into the smog, and the whole place disgusted him. The town and the stupid PA with his Evian and "The Bernie Joy Show" taped live in front of a studio audience who they had to tell when to laugh.

He finished his cigarette and lit a new one off the butt.

This city had eaten Casey alive, and Dan and Tom Glavine were gonna be just fine without him.

He didn't hear the door open, and he jumped a little when Casey sat down beside him.

"Those people are driving me crazy. We've got to reshoot about five scenes."

Dan pursed his lips and nodded. "Okay. I gotta get back home, anyway."

"You just got here."

"Yeah, but I've got a shitload of work to do. I just wanted to say hey."

"Hey," Casey said.

"Good," Dan said.

"You flew three thousand miles to say hey?"

Dan shrugged. "Dunno," he said.

Casey bit his lower lip and almost looked like he was about to smile. "The show's not funny anymore," he said. "I think it might be my fault."

"I doubt that," Dan said. "You're your best under pressure."

Casey nodded. "I'm not under pressure. They love me. But the show's in trouble. They've already bumped us for sweeps. They're doing forty minutes of 'Friends.'"

"Because that's what America really needs," Dan said. "A little more time with Courtney Cox."

"I know that's what I need," Casey said, with a real smile.

Dan stubbed out his cigarette on the pavement.

"Why'd you come here?" Casey asked.

"I was having trouble with the book," Dan decided to be honest. "I needed a change of venue."

"Is it helping?"

"Not really."

"I was really a phenomenal asshole when I came home, wasn't I?" Casey asked, and Dan noticed that New York was 'home' now.

"Pretty spectacular," Dan agreed.

"I'm nicer now," Casey said. "I'm in a groove."

Dan rubbed his palms together. "Let me tell you something about the '94 strike."

"Please do."

"You remember what they said to Tom Glavine when he came on TalkBack Live as the National League rep?"

"The fans?" Casey furrowed his brow.

"What?"

"Are you asking, do I remember what the fans said?"

"Yeah."

Casey thought a minute. "They hated him. I'm guessing something in the vicinity of 'fuck off.'"

"They said, 'get a real job.'" Dan stood up. "I'm gonna call a cab," he said. "Get a real job, Casey."

&&&&&

The Beverly Hills Plaza Hotel was very decidedly not two things. First, it wasn't in Beverly Hills. It was on a strange stretch of Wilshire Blvd. that locals called the Beverly Glen area, which was for the most part a wide commuter street lined on both sides with old retirement condos, on the north end of Century City and the east end of Westwood. Second, it was no relation to the New York Plaza, as Dan had hoped it would be, but instead it was a glorified motel with pink carpeting and strange bay windows that looked out into a vacant lot that hadn't quite closed down after its Christmas tree sale.

But it had a fish pond in the courtyard, and Dan sat on the steps outside his room and watched the fish and smoked cigarettes.

He had his notebook open across his knees, but even Greg Maddux couldn't keep him interested in pitching records, and every editorial about the strike he'd printed out from the internet sounded the same, now, just lots of overwrought and overintellectual sports fans whining about the status quo.

He was beginning to feel very pro-status quo. Things don't change, he thought, watching the koi swim up alongside their little manmade waterfalls. Radicalism never got anyone anywhere. And baseball sure as hell wasn't love.

Casey.

Dan hadn't let himself think about what had happened the night Casey left, not with any real scrutiny, any real honesty. It had just been a thing, a thing that happened right before his writing partner and best friend had fled the coast and abandoned him.

Right after it happened, at night, sometimes, he'd feel his brain traverse those little unanswered questions. "Head-over-heels in love," his brain would remind him. Sometimes it made him sick. Sometimes it made him frustrated, and jealous, even, jealous of himself for being the guy Casey loved.

Dana had asked him once if he loved Casey back. It was shortly before he and Dana drifted apart and stopped talking, but her question stuck with him for obvious reasons, even though he didn't answer it to her face.

The truth was that he was head-over-heels in love with Casey McCall and he had been for as far back as he could remember.

It was easy to admit now, to the koi pond, because it was just another thing he'd fucked up in his life, another thing to feel stupid about.

There was something sick and romantic and we'll-always-have-Paris about the fact that the best years of his life were behind him, never to be resurrected. Personally, professionally, Dan was close to certain he'd never reach fulfillment again, not the way he was fulfilled when was doing Sports Night every night.

He'd had something most guys only dream about: a job with sports and chicks. And on top of that, he'd had a partner who finished his sentences for him, knew how to kickstart him out of writers' block, and wouldn't tell him the Orioles' scores till he'd seen the tape.

He'd had the thing people pretend to have when they write their own wedding vows, that whole "there's no one but you for me, we fit like puzzlepieces" myth. Except that he'd had it, and instead of having great sex they wrote great copy. Instead of staring moonily at one another over lobster thermidor, Dan and Casey had paced alternate and intersecting trajectories across their office, shouting and spouting and composing brilliance.

Dan threw a rock and a koi got scared and swam the other way. The sun was setting over the Beverly Hills Plaza Hotel and the wind was picking up just enough to stir his notebook pages and paper-clipped printouts. The sky looked like it wanted to rain.

Dan ducked back inside his hotel room and turned the TV on. SportsCenter was covering the Sixers' coup in landing Dikembe Mutombo, the seven foot two rebounder who graduated Georgetown and spoke nine languages. Dan collapsed on the couch and watched clips of Mutumbo's debut game against the Pistons, Mutumbo playing off Allen Iverson like they'd been teammates forever. They ran the court together, weaving in their own world, passing with instinct, hunting in a pack of two like smart lions. Dan rubbed his eyes.

Mutumbo had been given his Sixers' uniform less than an hour before the game had started, and already he and Iverson were kin.

Some people are just born to be together, Dan thought, and then he stood up, muted ESPN, and went to take a shower.

He came out with a towel wrapped around his waist and heard knocking at the door.

"Who's out there?" Dan pressed his face against the peephole but it had been painted over and he couldn't see a thing.

"It's me, Danny."

He opened the door.

It had apparently been raining, and Casey came in dripping wet and stood on the ugly pink carpet.

"You need a towel?" Dan asked. Casey nodded.

Dan went back into the bathroom, pulled on his jeans and t-shirt, and came out with a towel for Casey. Casey was watching the Sixers game with the sound off, leaving a big wet circle on the back of the hotel's ugly flowered couch. Dan tossed him the towel.

"The Sixers are gonna make it this year," Casey said. "Atlanta was dumb."

"World-class dumb," Dan agreed, sitting in the armchair. Whatever Casey had come here to say, he was going to say it on his own time, and Dan was in no hurry to get to the meaty parts of the conversation anyhow. He thought about calling the airline and looking for an earlier flight.

"I mean, Ratliff's a good kid, Mohammed too --"

"Absolutely."

"But with Mutumbo and Iverson Philly's unstoppable."

"Match made in heaven," Dan nodded.

Casey watched TV for a while. "Our graphics were better," he said. "We really had a great show there, for a while."

Dan felt around inside Casey's words for something useful. "We did," he said, finally. "I miss it like hell."

Casey nodded. "Me too. I miss Dana."

"She misses you."

"She's a better producer than I am," Casey said. "I don't think I'm meant to be on this side of the camera."

Dan inhaled through his nose. "Did you come here for something, Case? Because I'm still on New York time --"

Casey shut off the TV and slid to the other end of the couch, closer to where Dan was sitting. "I did," he said.

Dan pursed his lips and nodded. "Okay."

"Something happened in August," Casey said.

Dan kept nodding. "I figured."

"Two things, really," Casey said. "And one of them is over now. Both of them are over now, really. Or, one of them is undone, somehow, and the other one is over. If it ever really was anything. Which I doubt. But I didn't know then."

"Uh, Casey?"

Casey laughed nervously. "The little thing that happened in August was that I met someone."

Dan had expected that. "Good," he said.

Casey took a breath. "He's a music video director. His name's Michael."

Dan had expected that slightly less. "Okay," he said.

"We're not together anymore," Casey said.

Dan had a million questions and didn't know how to ask any of them without sounding like an idiot. "Okay," he said again.

Casey leaned forward. "It was totally bizarre and meaningless and fun and terrifying, and then he thought he was falling in love with me. So I broke it off. That was too much for me, you know? I mean, if I couldn't even handle --"

He didn't have to finish that sentence. Dan nodded. "Good, then," he said, willing the dialogue gods for some polysyllabic response one of these days.

"It was really intense, Danny. I mean, for me. I didn't think it was intense for him, it wasn't supposed to be. I didn't want it to be. But then it was. So."

"So," Dan said. "And the other thing that happened in August?"

Casey pressed his fingertips to his forehead. "The other thing that happened in August."

"Yeah."

"Was that --" Casey began, and then looked up at Dan with heavy eyes. "Damn."

"Casey?"

"I got over you, Danny," Casey said slowly. "In August. Sometime around shooting the series premiere. I'd go to work and then Michael and I would have martinis at Lola's and we'd go home and fuck and I wasn't thinking about you so much anymore."

Dan felt his chest tighten. He frowned, and his eyes twitched. "Good for you," he said bitterly.

"We got a problem, though," Casey said, trying to laugh. "Because it un-happened."

"When?" Which certainly wasn't the right question either, and Dan was just batting a thousand tonight.

"Christmas? Sometime before Christmas?" Casey shrugged. "It's part of why I came home."

"You un-got over me," Dan said.

Casey bit his lower lip. "Yeah."

"You did a hell of a job showing it," Dan said.

"I was scared out of my mind, Danny," Casey said. "I'd just broken up with this guy, just gone over the million and two reasons why I wasn't supposed to be in love with a guy, Charlie would call and I'd feel like I almost, almost had my shit together enough to be a dad. Except there was always you."

"You should have said something," Dan said slowly.

"You were ruining my life!" Casey slapped his hands on his thighs.

"Excuse me, but as far as I was concerned --"

Casey waved a hand. "It's not your fault. It wasn't your fault. It's just that I had told myself I could get over it all by myself, and apparently it wasn't going to happen."

"It happened once," Dan said. "You can do it again." He took a breath and added, "If you really want to."

Casey sat very still. "What choice do I have, Danny?"

All the questions he'd put off answering for a year came back in a swell, and all the guts and cojones he thought he didn't have made their presence known. Dan looked Casey square in the eye. "Be with me," he said.

Casey pulled himself to his feet. "Excuse me for just one second," he said, and he walked into the bathroom and shut the door.

Dan rocked a little in the armchair, clammy, sweaty, trembling. If Casey never came out he wouldn't have to own up to what he'd just said, what he hadn't been sure he meant until the words came spilling out here in this ugly hotel room that wasn't the Plaza. Casey had had a year to weigh the merits of this decision, Casey had had a lover, Casey had thought about all the possibilities and had decided it was a bad idea.

Dan, as usual, had avoided everything and now was leaping in headfirst and had no clue what he was getting into.

No idea except that he knew he wanted Casey. He wanted Casey back.

&&&&&

Casey came out of the bathroom, rubbing his wet hair with the towel. He sat back down on the couch and let the towel hang around his shoulders, looking like a boxing champ after a match. He was perfect, and beautiful, wet and gold and human. Dan listened to the blood pounding in his head, and watched Casey's fingers move against his palms, watched Casey make fists and bring them up to his lips. Time was frozen, a question unanswered, and in that strange limbo Dan watched Casey, those eyes and those cheekbones and that face so familiar that sometimes when Dan looked in the mirror he was surprised to see his own face, and not Casey's, staring back. This was Casey McCall, back alongside Dan Rydell where he was always meant to be. Casey McCall, father and partner and writer and genius. And this, Dan realized, was all he ever really wanted.

Casey didn't say anything, and for a minute it looked like the entire conversation had happened in Dan's imagination, and Casey had no idea what was going on.

And then Casey said "no."

Dan swallowed. "I don't think that's your decision to make alone."

"I've been thinking about this longer than you have --"

"So?"

"I've weighed the pros and cons."

"You've made lists," Dan smirked.

"One or two," Casey said. "Danny, we can't do this."

Now he was going for something, now he had a goal in sight and it got easier to engage his debate skills. "Why not?"

"For about a million reasons," Casey said.

"We're partners," Dan said. "We work better together than apart. I can't write this fucking book without you."

"Not a good enough reason for us to screw up our lives --"

"Screw up?" Dan stood up. "I just -- I don't see it that way, Case. I see it as a natural progression from where we've come to where we're going."

"Quo vadimus," Casey said quietly.

"What?"

"Quo vadimus. Where are we going?"

Dan was pacing, now, and he threw his hands up in the air. "Anywhere we goddamn please," he said. "You and me. I think the last year has been a good enough indication that --"

"That this is dangerous territory," Casey said.

"That being three thousand miles apart is killing both of us. That you've been swallowed up into the black hole of Hollywood and that I can't get out a page on Tom Glavine without sounding like a high school sophomore."

"Danny --" Casey looked up, his bleached hair dripping in spiky points across his forehead. Dan sat down on the couch.

He reached up a hand and wiped the rain from Casey's forehead, took a damp lock of hair and threaded it behind Casey's ear. "When I'm lying in bed --"

"Please, Danny," Casey said, his voice breaking.

"When I'm lying in bed, obsessing about the book, trying to figure out how to fix this chapter or integrate this anecdote, and I'm talking to myself..." Dan reached out a hand and laid it on Casey's thigh. "I'm talking to myself in my head, in plural. Like, 'We'll use the William Usery backstory to set up for the Washington conference.' 'We'll quote Greg Maddux.' 'We'll get the reactions from fans in Pittsburgh.'"

Casey looked at the floor, hard.

"I thought I was just nuts," Dan said. "I thought it was just writer's block, or something, I was talking to myself, and I'd have all these good ideas, and nothing would work. I thought it was 'we' as in me, me and myself, the other guy I was talking to. But it's not, Case." Dan went to take Casey's hand, but Casey was frozen in place. "It's you, Casey," Dan said. "You're what bridges me from being me to being great."

"I love you so fucking much, Danny," Casey said. And then he fell forward into Danny's arms, his wet head against Dan's cheek, and Dan wrapped his arms around him and held him for a long time. "How can you want me after the way I've treated you?"

Dan shook his head. "Just come home, Casey," he said into the space of Casey's collarbone. "Okay? Don't worry about it anymore. Just come home."

Casey peeled away after a moment. "My shirt's wet," he said. "And I've got a thousand hours of dailies to watch. I should go home."

They'd sealed some sort of deal just now, with a wet hug and some kind of unspoken promise, and in light of that, Dan wasn't sure what he was supposed to do next. But his shirt was wet too from where Casey had pressed against it, and his arms felt light and limp. He wanted Casey near him, he wanted the space between them closed and gone, he wanted that long, lean body to be wrapped in his. He'd waited a year for this; he'd flown three thousand miles.

"Please don't go," he said. Casey looked at him. "It -- it's gonna hurt if you go. I'm gonna sit here and it's gonna hurt, and I don't want that. And we can avoid it."

"By me not going."

"By you staying here with me tonight," Dan said.

"Do you, um, do you want to make love to me, Danny?"

Dan's skin tingled, from his toes to his scalp. His first instinct was to come up with excuses, but then he remembered that this was Casey and Casey knew him too well for that. "I don't think I'm ready, Case," he said.

Casey looked away.

"I will be. I'll get there. I -- I know I want you, I get hard just thinking about you, the thought of touching you --"

"This is getting overly sentimental," Casey said.

Dan sighed. "You had a year to figure this out. I need a little time now."

"Okay," Casey said.

Dan reached out and took Casey's hand, twined Casey's fingers with his. He lifted up his other hand to brush back Casey's hair, and he leaned forward, finally, after all this time, to kiss Casey back. Casey's lips were chapped, and his mouth was warm and metallic-tasting, like yeast and blood. Like everyone's mouth. Like Casey's mouth.

"I want you with me while I do it, though," Dan said when he pulled away. "I want you right here, next to me, the whole time."

Casey touched his lower lip with the tip of his tongue. "I'll tell you a little something," he said.

"Yeah?"

"We're getting these last few episodes in the can because the network wants to have them in case of a strike. But the show's over."

"Your show was cancelled?"

"Second time a show's been cancelled on me in two years," Casey grinned. "Do you think it's me?"

"It must be," Dan said.

"I'm gonna come home," Casey said. "I miss Charlie. I miss everybody. I miss New York."

Dan laughed. "Of course you're coming home," he said. "Did you think I was going to move to Los Angeles? Because that would be insane."

"Anyone who lives here is insane," Casey agreed.

"Clinical."

"Batty."

"I'll check out of the hotel right now," Dan said, standing up. "I'll come back to your place tonight. We'll fly to New York tomorrow."

"I have script notes to do --"

"E-mail them," Dan said.

Casey nodded. "I can do that, actually. They don't really need me."

"Don't be absurd," Dan said. "Of course they need you."

Casey grinned. "Not the way you do," he said.

Dan went into the bedroom of his suite and started throwing clothes back in his suitcase. His four-hundred-odd pages of baseball strike analysis sat on the bed, wrapped in a rubber band. He tossed it into the suitcase with a disgusted grimace. "You can say that again," he called out to Casey.

&&&&&

They touched down at LaGuardia at quarter to one in the morning, and there was almost no traffic when the taxi took them across the Queensborough bridge. Casey was having his stuff shipped, and Dan had packed light, so they'd skipped baggage claim entirely and got a cab ten minutes after they'd landed.

The East Side skyline put a lump in Dan's throat, and he watched Casey watch the city go by outside the cab window. They turned south down FDR Drive, the river splayed out to their left, the freckled lights of the World Trade Center and the battery downtown, home. Casey rolled down the window as the cab headed west across town.

It had snowed while Dan was gone, and the sidewalks down 14th street were slushy and grey. Outside, a young couple in black wool pea coats and hats ducked into a Love's Pharmacy, the woman pulling the man by the elbow. A black guy with a violin leaned against the traffic light and lit a cigarette. Someone, somewhere, was screaming. Buses honked. A bicycle splashed through a puddle.

With the window open, the cab was freezing, but Dan didn't mind. He felt alive, and vibrant, part of that great legacy of brilliant New Yorkers who battled adversity and found love.

"Zaraq Jehan," Casey said, pointing through the greasy divider at the cab driver's medallion.

"You think he knows he's got the same name as the squash gold medalist in the Asian Games?"

"Probably," Casey said. "Unless that's actually him. I can't tell from here."

They were coming up on Wooster Street, a block from The Cup & Grail. "Hey," Dan said. "You want to get a beer?"

Casey looked at him. "Sure. It's only eleven pm my time anyhow."

"And it's New York," Dan said.

"The city that never sleeps."

"It's a wonderful town."

"Bronx up, battery down, all that," Casey grinned.

Dan tapped on the plexiglass cab divider. "Here's good," he said. Zaraq Jehan pulled over and let them out, and Dan gave him almost a hundred percent tip.

"If he is the squash medalist, he deserves it," Dan said, picking up his suitcase and stepping up onto the curb.

"Yeah, he played a damn good game," Casey agreed.

The Cup & Grail was busy for past midnight on a Wednesday, but a nice young couple had recognized Casey and Dan from Sports Night, and had insisted they were just leaving and that Dan and Casey should have their table. They didn't argue.

Dan ordered a black-and-tan, Casey took a hefeweisen, and they sat down in the corner.

"Man," Casey said, leaning against the wall and kicking his legs down the length of the booth. "I missed this city."

"Dana's still looking for a cable network to pitch the show to," Dan said. "We could even luck out and have our old jobs back."

Casey shook his head. "Not our old jobs," he said. "New jobs. Everything's new now. It's gotta be."

"Now who's getting overly sentimental?" Dan grinned.

"I'll call Dana in the morning. Tell her I'll get in touch with some LA people who might be able to help kickstart us."

"She'll love that," Dan said.

"I'd love to be behind a desk with you again, Danny," Casey said.

"It's where we're best," Dan agreed. Casey smiled wickedly.

"So far," he said, reaching his hand across the table to take Dan's.

"So far," Dan agreed, feeling tingly.

"Now," Casey said. "You've got a book to write. And you've got me to impress."

"And you to help me."

"You've got us, is what," Casey said.

Dan trembled a little, pulling his manuscript draft out of his bag. "The thing is," he said. "Baseball didn't die with the strike. It just changed. The people who love it will always love it. The strike just weeded out the summer soldiers and sunshine patriots."

"And broke a few hearts on the way," Casey said.

"That happens," Dan said. "That's life. Maddux made Glavine pitch in game 6. And people loved it. It was a baseball highlight of the 90s."

"It really was," Casey mused.

"Like Bobby Thomson in '51. It's a game that renewed our faith in the impossible. Glavine had the best record of any left-handed pitcher in years."

"But Maddux made him pitch the game. Maddux told him he could do it. And Maddux has the best pitching record of anyone bar none."

"Greg Maddux is a smart guy," Dan said. "They played that one just right."

"I guess it was the only way things could have gone," Casey said. "Maybe nothing's impossible."

Dan opened his notebook to a blank page. "So I'm gonna start again. I'm gonna resurrect this thing. Glavine put asses back in seats. He broke some hearts, but he tried to mend them. He's still a hero in my book. I still believe in him."

Casey rubbed his hands together. "Okay, Danny," he said, sitting up straight and leaning across the table. "So you've got a book to write. There are puzzles to be solved and triumphs to be recounted and mysteries to unveil. Baseball, my friend, is life, and if you can't get that down on paper you're not half the writer I always thought you were."

"I'm twice the writer you always thought I was," Dan said, taking a swig of beer.

"Brilliant!" Casey drummed his fingers on the table. "Then we've got nothing to worry about. Let's do this thing. Let's do something great, you and me."

In New York, home again, back with Casey where was always meant to be, Dan knew this time it was all going to work out. The book was gonna kick some ass. They could do it.

"Let's," he said.

&&&&&

"I see great things in baseball. It's our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us." - Walt Whitman, 1840s