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Authors: Dennis Lehane

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Historical, #Thrillers, #Suspense

The Given Day

BOOK: The Given Day
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The GIVEN DAY

Dennis Lehane

*

C A S T O F C H A R A C T E R S

Steve Coyle--Danny Coughlin's patrol partner.

Claude Mesplede--alderman of the Sixth Ward.

Patrick Donnegan--boss of the Sixth Ward.

Isaiah and Yvette Giddreaux--heads of Boston chapter of the NAACP.

"Old" Byron Jackson--head of the bellmen's union, Hotel Tulsa.

Deacon Skinner Broscious--gangster, Tulsa Dandy and Smoke--enforcers for Deacon Broscious.

Clarence Jessup "Jessie" Tell--numbers runner, Luther's friend.

Tulsa Clayton Tomes--houseman, friend of Luther's, Boston.

Mrs. DiMassi--Danny Coughlin's landlady.

Frederico and Tessa Abruzze--Danny's neighbors.

Louis Fraina--head of the Lettish Workingman's Society.

Mark Denton--Boston Police Department patrolman, union organizer.

Rayme Finch--agent, Bureau of Investigation.

John Hoover--lawyer, Department of Justice.

Samuel Gompers--president of the American Federation of Labor.

Andrew J. Peters--mayor of Boston Calvin Coolidge--governor of Massachusetts.

Stephen O'Meara--Boston police commissioner until December 1.

Edwin Upton Curtis--O'Meara's successor as Boston police commissioner.

Mitchell Palmer--attorney general of the United States.

James Jackson Storrow--Boston power broker, former president of General Motors BABE RUTH in OHIO.

PROLOGUE:

Due to travel restrictions placed on major league baseball by the War Department, the World Series of 1918 was played in September and split into two home stands. The Chicago Cubs hosted the first three games, with the final four to be held in Boston. On September 7, after the Cubs dropped game three, the two teams boarded a Michigan Central train together to embark on the twenty- seven-hour trip, and Babe Ruth got drunk and started stealing hats.

They'd had to pour him onto the train in the first place. After the game, he'd gone to a house a few blocks east of Wabash where a man could find a game of cards, a steady supply of liquor, and a woman or two, and if Stuffy McInnis hadn't known where to look for him, he would have missed the trip home.

As it was, he puked off the rear of the caboose as the train chugged out of Central Station at a little after eight in the evening and wound its way past the stockyards. The air was woolen with smoke and the stench of butchered cattle, and Ruth was damned if he could find a star in the black sky. He took a pull from his flask and rinsed the vomit from his mouth with a gargle of rye and spit it over the iron rail and watched the spangle of Chicago's skyline rise before him as he slid away from it. As he often did when he left a place and his body was leaden with booze, he felt fat and orphaned.

He drank some more rye. At twenty-three, he was finally becoming one of the more feared hitters in the league. In a year when home runs in the American League had totaled ninety-six, Ruth had accounted for eleven. Damn near 12 percent. Even if someone took into account the three-week slump he'd suffered in June, pitchers had started to treat him with respect. Opposing hitters, too, because Ruth had pitched the Sox to thirteen wins that season. He'd also started fifty-nine games in left and thirteen at first.

Couldn't hit lefties, though. That was the knock on him. Even when every roster had been stripped to its shells by the players who'd enlisted in the war, Ruth had a weakness that opposing managers had begun to exploit.

Fuck 'em.

He said it to the wind and took another hit from his flask, a gift from Harry Frazee, the team owner. Ruth had left the team in July. Went to play for the Chester Shipyards team in Pennsylvania because Coach Barrow valued Ruth's pitching arm far more than his bat, and Ruth was tired of pitching. You threw a strikeout, you got applause. You hit a home run, you got mass eruption. Problem was, the Chester Shipyards preferred his pitching, too. When Frazee threatened them with a lawsuit, Chester Shipyards shipped Ruth back.

Frazee had met the train and escorted Ruth to the backseat of his Rauch & Lang Electric Opera Coupe. It was maroon with black trim and Ruth was always amazed by how you could see your refl ection in the steel no matter the weather or time of day. He asked Frazee what it cost, a buggy like this, and Frazee idly fondled the gray upholstery as his driver pulled onto Atlantic Avenue. "More than you, Mr. Ruth," he said and handed Ruth the flask.

The inscription etched into the pewter read:

Ruth, G. H.

Chester, Penna.

7/1/18-7/7/

He fingered it now and took another swig, and the greasy odor of cows' blood mixed with the metallic smell of factory towns and warm train tracks. I am Babe Ruth, he wanted to shout off the train. And when I'm not drunk and alone at the back of a caboose, I am someone to be reckoned with. A cog in the wheel, yes, and you bet I know it, but a diamond-crusted cog. The cog of cogs. Someday . . .

Ruth raised his flask and toasted Harry Frazee and all the Harry Frazees of the world with a string of lewd epithets and a bright smile. Then he took a swig and it went to his eyelids and tugged them downward.

"I'm going to sleep, you old whore," Ruth whispered to the night, to the skyline, to the smell of butchered meat. To the dark midwestern fields that lay ahead. To every ashen mill town between here and Governor's Square. To the smoky starless sky.

He stumbled into the stateroom he shared with Jones, Scott, and McInnis, and when he woke at six in the morning, still fully clothed, he was in Ohio. He ate breakfast in the dining car and drank two pots of coffee and watched the smoke pour from the stacks in the foundries and steel mills that squatted in the black hills. His head ached and he added a couple of drops from his flask to his coffee cup and his head didn't ache anymore. He played canasta for a while with Everett Scott, and then the train made a long stop in Summer-ford, another mill town, and they stretched their legs in a field just beyond the station, and that's when he first heard of a strike.

It was Harry Hooper, the Sox team captain and right fielder, and second baseman Dave Shean talking to the Cubs' left fielder Leslie Mann and catcher Bill Killefer. McInnis said the four of them had been thick as thieves the whole trip.

" 'Bout what?" Ruth said, not really sure he cared.

"Don't know," Stuffy said. "Muffing flies for a price, you think? Tanking?"

Hooper crossed the field to them.

"We're going to strike, boys."

Stuffy McInnis said, "You're drunk."

Hooper shook his head. "They're fucking us, boys."

"Who?"

"The Commission. Who do you think? Heydler, Hermann, Johnson. Them."

Stuffy McInnis sprinkled tobacco into a slip of rolling paper and gave the paper a delicate lick as he twisted the ends. "How so?"

Stuffy lit his cigarette and Ruth took a sip from his flask and looked across the field at a small fringe of trees under the blue sky.

"They changed the gate distribution of the Series. The percentage of receipts. They did it last winter, but they didn't tell us till now."

"Wait," McInnis said. "We get sixty percent of the first four gates."

Harry Hooper shook his head and Ruth could feel his attention begin to wander. He noticed telegraph lines stretched at the edge of the field and he wondered if you could hear them hum if you got close enough. Gate receipts, distribution. Ruth wanted another plate of eggs, some more bacon.

Harry said, "We used to get sixty percent. Now we get fifty-five. Attendance is down. The war, you know. And it's our patriotic duty to take five percent less."

McInnis shrugged. "Then it's our--"

"Then we forfeit forty percent of that to Cleveland, Washington, and Chicago."

"For what?" Stuffy said. "Kicking their asses to second, third, and fourth?"

"Then, then another ten percent to war charities. You seeing this now?" Stuffy scowled. He looked ready to kick someone, someone small he could really get his leg into.

Babe threw his hat in the air and caught it behind his back. He picked up a rock and threw it at the sky. He threw his hat again.

"It'll all work out," he said.

Hooper looked at him. "What?"

"Whatever it is," Babe said. "We'll make it back."

Stuffy said, "How, Gidge? You tell me that? How?"

"Somehow." Babe's head was beginning to hurt again. Talk of money made his head hurt. The world made his head hurt--Bolsheviks overthrowing the czar, the Kaiser running roughshod over Europe, anarchists tossing bombs in the streets of this very country, blowing up parades and mailboxes. People were angry, people were shouting, people were dying in trenches and marching outside factories. And it all had something to do with money. The Babe understood that much. But he hated thinking about it. He liked money, he liked it just fine, and he knew he was making plenty and he stood to make plenty more. He liked his new motor scooter, and he liked buying good cigars and staying in swell hotel rooms with heavy curtains and buying rounds for the bar. But he hated thinking about money or talking about money. He just wanted to get to Boston. He wanted to hit a ball, paint the town. Governor's Square teemed with brothels and good saloons. Winter was coming; he wanted to enjoy it while he could, before the snow came, the cold. Before he was stuck back in Sudbury with Helen and the smell of horses.

He clapped Harry on the shoulder and repeated his estimation: "Somehow it'll all be fine. You'll see."

Harry Hooper looked at his shoulder. He looked off into the field. He looked back at Ruth. Ruth smiled.

"Go be a good Babe," Harry Hooper said, "and leave the talk to the men."

Harry Hooper turned his back on him. He wore a straw boater, tilted back slightly from his forehead. Ruth hated boaters; his face was too round for them, too fleshy. They made him look like a child playing dress-up. He imagined taking Harry's boater off his head and flinging it onto the roof of the train.

Harry walked off into the field, leading Stuffy McInnis by the elbow, his chin tilted down.

Babe picked up a rock and eyed the back of Harry Hooper's seersucker jacket, imagined a catcher's mitt there, imagined the sound of it, a sharp rock against a sharp spine. He heard another sharp sound replace the one in his head, though, a distant crack similar to the crack of a log snapping in the fireplace. He looked east to where the field ended at a small stand of trees. He could hear the train hissing softly behind him and stray voices from the players and the rustle of the field. Two engineers walked behind him, talking about a busted flange, how it was going to take two hours, maybe three, to fi x, and Ruth thought, Two hours in this shithole? and then he heard it again--a dry distant crack, and he knew that on the other side of those trees someone was playing baseball.

He crossed the field alone and unnoticed and he heard the sounds of the ball game grow closer--the singsong catcalls, the rough scuff of feet chasing down a ball in the grass, the wet-slap thump of a ball sent to its death in an outfielder's glove. He went through the trees and removed his coat in the heat, and when he stepped out of the grove they were changing sides, men running in toward a patch of dirt along the first base line while another group ran out from a patch by third.

Colored men.

He stood where he was and nodded at the center fielder trotting out to take his spot a few yards from him, and the center fielder gave him a curt nod back and then appeared to scan the trees to see if they planned on giving birth to any more white men today. Then he turned his back to Babe and bent at the waist and placed his hand and glove on his knees. He was a big buck, as broad-shouldered as the Babe, though not as heavy in the middle, or (Babe had to admit) in the ass.

The pitcher didn't waste any time. He barely had a windup, just long goddamn arms, and he swung the right one like he was unleashing a rock from a slingshot meant to travel an ocean, and Babe could tell even from here that the ball crossed the plate on fire. The batter took a nice clean cut and still missed it by half a foot.

Hit the next one, though, hit it solid, with a crack so loud it could have only come from a busted bat, and the ball soared straight at him and then went lazy in the blue sky, like a duck deciding to swim the backstroke, and the center fielder shifted one foot and opened his glove and the ball fell, as if relieved, right into the heart of the leather.

Ruth's vision had never been tested. He wouldn't allow it. Ever since he was a boy, he could read street signs, even those painted on the corners of buildings, from distances far greater than anyone else. He could see the texture of the feathers on a hawk a hundred yards above him, in hunt, streaking like a bullet. Balls looked fat to him and moved slow. When he pitched, the catcher's mitt looked like a hotel pillow.

So he could tell even from this distance that the batter who came up next had a fucked-up face. A small guy, rail thin, but defi nitely something on his face, red welts or scar tissue against toffee brown skin. He was all energy in the box, bouncing on his feet and his haunches, a whippet standing over the plate, trying to keep from busting out of his skin. And when he connected with the ball after two strikes, Ruth knew this nigra was going to fly, but even he wasn't prepared for how fast.

BOOK: The Given Day
13.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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