"Joe Hardy?"

"My name's not Hardy."

"Joe, my boy, don't you recognize me? It's only been 25 years, hardly long enough to digest my lunch!"

"Mr. Applegate? Is that you?"

"Yes Joe, and don't look so startled. I happened to be in the neighborhood and thought I'd look you up. You know, just two old friends chatting up the good old days."

"Trying to steal my soul by tricking me into missing my escape clause is not what I'd call the 'good old days.'"

"But remember those days as Joe Hardy, leading the Senators -- your beloved Senators -- from last place into a pennant race. You were a hero, Joe, thanks to me."

"Friends like you no one needs."

"Joe! If anyone should be angry it's me! The way you tricked me out of your soul.""

"And cost the Yankees the pennant."

"No need to rub it in. But I told you I'd get even, and did I ever."

"I presume you mean Washington's losing the Senators?"

"Yes. And to have you lose them not once, but twice! That was a nice touch."

"My friends used to say that Griffith and Short were in cahoots with the Devil. If they only knew how right they were!"

"Ha ha! And what do you do for entertainment these summers without your dear Washington Senators?"

"Well, Meg and I go to the free concerts and sometimes we splurge and go to the Kennedy Center. And the guys and I manage to get up to Baltimore several times a year to see the Orioles play."

"Ah, the Orioles. That's why I'm in these parts. I have some business in Baltimore."

"You don't mean. . ."

"Yes, Joe. I'm surprised you didnT see my handiwork in their comeback. I thought those eight games with the Yankees were quite artistic. I really had the fans panting for more, didn't I?"

"But why the Orioles? They won the pennant last year and they've had one of the best teams in baseball the last decade."

"Joe, Joe, Joe. You of all people should know that an American League pennant is meaningless unless the Yankees are beaten out in the process."

"But last year -- "

"Last year the Yankees were never in the race. This year it's the Orioles and Yankees head to head. The Baltimore 'team' versus the New York 'money men.' Grit versus greed. Guts versus greenbacks. Don'tcha just love it?"

"I thought you would give up on baseball after . . .Joe Hardy."

"Well, I will admit that I soured on it. But times change. After seeing the fan reaction to the Mets' World Series win in 1969 -- would you believe I didn't have anything to do with that? Made me depressed as hell -- I looked for my spot. It soon became obvious that the Boston fans were ripe for the picking. And then in 1978 -- that Yankees-Red Sox race -- do you have any idea how many Boston souls I gathered?"

"I don't want to know."

"It's all part of a change of tactics on my part to go for quantity instead of quality. As you no doubt guessed, I'm responsible for Steve's performance this year, but I'm simply using him as bait to catch biggest prizes. I don't have time to waste a whole season on someone like you, Joe or Stone, when tens of thousands of fans would sell their souls to beat the Yankees."

"But the Red Sox lost the pennant in 1978. How were you able to . . . collect?"

"I simply promised that on the last day of the regular season the Sox would be in first place. They were -- but so were the Yankees.Boston was mine after that playoff game. As will be Baltimore by season's end. And don't ask me how I'm going to do it; you've already caused me more problems than anyone since Sigmund Freud. Always asking his patients what I represented to them. Me!"

"Why don't you go away. You're upsetting my stomach."

"Come now, Joe, don't be upset. You know, I never told you this, but I never would have come to you back then if the St. Louis Browns hadn't moved to Baltimore in 1954. I had my eye on this Browns fanatic who would have put you to shame. A real gung-ho type. Used to wear a Brown's baseball cap at work, and he was a federal judge! I was real disappointed when the Browns moved and he went into terminal lethargy."

"Forget about me. I was one person and I survived. But you're setting thousands of fans up for a big fall, and they're going to lose a lot more than their shirts. And once you have Boston and Baltimore souls in your pocket, I presume you'll move on to other big-league cities as well."

"That's right. In fact, I plan to pick off Kansas City this fall. They're even more primed than the Orioles are for plucking."

"You're ill. I'm getting home to Meg."

"Suit yourself. But would you direct me the Baltimore-Washington Parkway?"

"Since when did you start driving from place to place? What happened to the old snap of the fingers?"

"I stopped doing that when the energy crisis arrived. Now I drive that Jaguar over there. It gets 4 miles per gallon cruising at 80 miles an hour. It's a sacrifice on my part, but each of us must bear his share."

"I'm sorry I asked. Oh, there is one more thing. Mr. Applegate, er, ah..."

"Oh, of course. You want to know how Lola is doing. Well, I never could hold a grudge, and besides, she came up with a great idea for tempting men's souls: I believe you know them as the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Modeled each and every one of them after herself."

"Does she ever mention me?"

"Not around me, she doesn't. Take care, Joe. Maybe I'll see you at the World Series. Do you get up to New York often?"

"Goodbye, Mr. Applegate."