Read The Given Day Online

Authors: Dennis Lehane

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

The Given Day (4 page)

BOOK: The Given Day
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Sticky Joe's first pitch came in too loose and too fat and Ruth had to time his swing just right to miss it. He missed it big, trying to sell it, and even Sticky Joe looked surprised. The next one was tighter, had some corkscrew in it, and Ruth fouled it back. The one after that was in the dirt, and the one that followed was up by his chin.

Sticky Joe took the ball back and stepped off the mound for a moment and Ruth could feel all the eyes on him. He could see the trees behind Luther Laurence and he could see Hollocher and Scott and McInnis on their bases, and he thought how pretty it would have been if it had been clean, if the next pitch was one he could, in good conscience, send toward God in heaven. And maybe . . .

He held up a hand and stepped out of the box.

It was just a game, wasn't it? That's what he'd told himself when he decided to tank. Just a game. Who cared if he lost one silly ball game?

But the reverse was true as well. Who cared if he won? Would it matter tomorrow? Of course not. It wouldn't affect anyone's life. Now, right now, it was a case of two down, three on, bottom of the ninth.

If he serves me a meatball, Ruth decided as he stepped back to the box, I'm going to eat. How can I resist? Those men on their bases, this bat in my hand, the smell of dirt and grass and sun.

It's a ball. It's a bat. It's nine men. It's a moment. Not forever. Just a moment.

And here was that ball, coming in slower than it should have, and Ruth could see it in the old Negro's face. He knew it as soon as it left his hand: it was fat.

Babe thought about whiffing, sliding over it, doing the fair thing.

The train whistle blew then, blew loud and shrill and up through the sky, and Ruth thought, That's a sign, and he planted his foot and swung his bat and heard the catcher say, "Shit," and then--that sound, that gorgeous sound of wood against cowhide and that ball disappeared into the sky.

Ruth trotted a few yards down the line and stopped because he knew he'd gotten under it.

He looked out and saw Luther Laurence looking at him, just for a split second, and he felt what Luther knew: that he'd tried to hit a home run, a grand slam. That he'd tried to take this game, unfairly played, away from those who'd played it clean.

Luther's eyes left Ruth's face, slid off it in such a way that Ruth knew he'd never feel them again. And Luther looked up as he faded into position under the ball. He set his feet. He raised his glove over his head. And that was it, that was the ball game, because Luther was right under it.

But Luther walked away.

Luther lowered his glove and started walking toward the infi eld and so did the right fielder and so did the left fielder and that ball plopped to the grass behind them all and they didn't even turn to look at it, just kept walking, and Hollocher crossed home, but there was no catcher there waiting. The catcher was walking toward the bench along third base and so was the third baseman.

Scott reached home, but McInnis stopped running at third, just stood there, looking at the coloreds ambling toward their bench like it was the bottom of the second instead of the bottom of the ninth. They congregated there and stuffed their bats and gloves into two separate canvas bags, acting like the white men weren't even there. Ruth wanted to cross the field to Luther, to say something, but Luther never turned around. Then they were all walking toward the dirt road behind the field, and he lost Luther in the sea of coloreds, couldn't tell if he was the guy up front or on the left and Luther never looked back.

The whistle blew again, and none of the white men had so much as moved, and even though the coloreds had seemed to walk slow, they were almost all off the field.

Except Sticky Joe Beam. He came over and picked up the bat Babe had used. He rested it on his shoulder and looked into Babe's face. Babe held out his hand. "Great game, Mr. Beam."

Sticky Joe Beam gave no indication he saw Babe's hand.

He said, "Believe that's your train, suh," and walked off the field.

Babe went back onto the train. He had a drink at the bar. The train left Ohio and hurtled through Pennsylvania. Ruth sat by himself and drank and looked out at Pennsylvania in all its scrabbled hills and dust. He thought of his father who'd died two weeks ago in Baltimore during a fight with his second wife's brother, Benjie Sipes. Babe's father got in two punches and Sipes only got in one, but it was that one that counted because his father's head hit the curb and he died at University Hospital a few hours later.

The papers made a big deal of it for a couple of days. They asked for his opinion, for his feelings. Babe said he was sorry the man was dead. It was a sad thing.

His father had dumped him in reform school when he was eight. Said he needed to learn some manners. Said he was tired of trying to teach him how to mind his mother and him. Said some time at Saint Mary's would do him good. Said he had a saloon to run. He'd be back to pick him up when he learned to mind.

His mother died while he was in there.

It was a sad thing, he'd told the papers. A sad thing.

He kept waiting to feel something. He'd been waiting for two weeks.

In general, the only time he felt anything, outside of the self-pity he felt when very drunk, was when he hit a ball. Not when he pitched it. Not when he caught it. Only when he hit it. When the wood connected with the cowhide and he swiveled his hips and pivoted his shoulders and the muscles in his thighs and calves tightened and he felt the surge of his body as it finished the swing of the black bat and the white ball soared faster and higher than anything on the planet. That's why he'd changed his mind and taken the swing this afternoon, because he'd had to. It was too fat, too pure, just sitting there. That's why he'd done it. That's all there was to that story. That's all there was.

He got in a poker game with McInnis and Jones and Mann and Hollocher, but everyone kept talking about the strike and the war (no one mentioned the game; it was as if they'd all agreed it never happened), so he took a long, long nap and when he got up, they were almost through New York and he had a few more drinks to cut the sludge in his brain, and he took Harry Hooper's hat off his head while he was sleeping and put his fist through the top of it and then placed it back on Harry Hooper's head and someone laughed and someone else said, "Gidge, don't you respect nothing?" So he took another hat, this one off Stu Springer, head of the Cubs' sales department, and he punched a hole in that one and soon half the car was flinging hats at him and egging him on and he climbed up on top of the seats and crawled from one to the next making "hoo hoo hoo" sounds like an ape and feeling a sudden, unexplainable pride that welled up through his legs and arms like stalks of wheat gone mad with the growing, and he shouted, "I am the ape man! I am Babe Fucking Ruth. I will eat you!"

Some people tried to pull him down, some people tried to calm him, but he jumped off the seat backs and did a jig in the aisle and he grabbed some more hats and he flung some and punched holes in a few more and people were clapping, people were cheering and whistling. He slapped his hands together like a wop's monkey and he scratched his ass and went "hoo hoo hoo," and they loved it, they loved it.

Then he ran out of hats. He looked back down the aisle. They covered the floor. They hung from the luggage racks. Pieces of straw stuck to a few windows. Ruth could feel the litter of them in his spine, right at the base of his brain. He felt addled and elated and ready to take on the ties. The suits. The luggage.

Ebby Wilson put his hand on his chest. Ruth wasn't even sure where he'd come from. He saw Stuffy standing up in his seat, raising a glass of something to him, shouting and smiling, and Ruth waved.

Ebby Wilson said, "Make me a new one."

Ruth looked down at him. "What?"

Ebby spread his hands, reasonable. "Make me a new hat. You broke 'em up, now make me another one."

Someone whistled.

Ruth smoothed the shoulders of Wilson's suit jacket. "I'll buy you a drink."

"Don't want a drink. I want my hat."

Ruth was about to say "Fuck your hat," when Ebby Wilson pushed him. It wasn't much of a push, but the train went into a turn at the same time, and Ruth felt it buckle, and he smiled at Wilson, and then decided to punch him instead of insult him. He threw the punch, saw it coming in Ebby Wilson's eyes, Wilson not so smug anymore, not so concerned with his hat, but the train buckled again, and the train shimmied and Ruth felt the punch go wide, felt his whole body lurch to the right, felt a voice in his heart say, "This is not you, Gidge. This is not you."

His fist hit the window instead. He felt it in his elbow, felt it in his shoulder and the side of his neck and the hollow just below his ear. He felt the sway of his belly as a public spectacle and he felt fat and orphaned again. He dropped into the empty seat and sucked air through his teeth and cradled his hand.

Luther Laurence and Sticky Joe and Aeneus James were probably sitting on a porch somewhere now, feeling the night heat, passing a jar. Maybe they were talking about him, about the look on his face when he saw Luther walking away from that ball as it fell through the air. Maybe they were laughing, replaying a hit, a pitch, a run.

And he was out here, in the world.

I slept through New York, Babe thought as they brought a bucket of ice and placed his hand in it. And then he remembered this train didn't run past Manhattan, only Albany, but he still felt a loss. He'd seen it a hundred times, but he loved to look at it, the lights, the dark rivers that circled it like carpet, the limestone spires so white against the night.

He pulled his hand from the ice and looked at it. His pitching hand. It was red and swelling up and he couldn't make a fist.

"Gidge," someone called from the back of the car, "what you got against hats?"

Babe didn't answer. He looked out the window, at the fl at scrub of Springfield, Massachusetts. He placed his forehead against the window to cool it and saw his reflection and the reflection of the land, the two of them intertwined.

He raised his swollen hand to the glass and the land moved through it, too, and he imagined it healing the aching knuckles and he hoped he hadn't broken it. Over something as silly as hats.

He imagined finding Luther on some dusty street in some dusty town and buying him a drink and apologizing and Luther would say, Don't you worry about it none, Mr. Ruth, suh, and tell him another tale about Ohio cacti.

But then Ruth pictured those eyes of Luther's, giving nothing away but a sense that he could see inside you and he didn't approve of what was there, and Ruth thought, Fuck you, boy, and your approval. I don't need it. Hear me?

I don't need it.

He was just getting started. He was ready to bust wide open. He could feel it. Big things. Big things were coming. From him. From everywhere. That was the feeling he got lately, as if the whole world had been held in a stable, him included. But soon, soon it was going to bust out all over the place.

He kept his head against the window and closed his eyes, and he felt the countryside moving through his face even as he began to snore.

The MILK RUN chapter one On a wet summer night, Danny Coughlin, a Boston police officer, fought a four-round bout against another cop, Johnny Green, at Mechanics Hall just outside Copley Square.

Coughlin-Green was the fi nal fight on a fifteen-bout, all-police card that included flyweights, welterweights, cruiserweights, and heavyweights. Danny Coughlin, at six two, 220, was a heavyweight. A suspect left hook and foot speed that was a few steps shy of blazing kept him from fighting professionally, but his butcher-knife left jab combined with the airmail-your-jaw-to-Georgia explosion of his right cross dwarfed the abilities of just about any other semipro on the East Coast.

The all-day pugilism display was titled Boxing & Badges: Haymakers for Hope. Proceeds were split fi fty-fifty between the St. Thomas Asylum for Crippled Orphans and the policemen's own fraternal organi zation, the Boston Social Club, which used the donations to bolster a health fund for injured coppers and to defray costs for uniforms and equipment, costs the department refused to pay. While flyers advertising the event were pasted to poles and hung from storefronts in good neighborhoods and thereby elicited donations from people who never intended to actually attend the event, the flyers also saturated the worst of the Boston slums, where one was most likely to fi nd the core of the criminal element--the plug- uglies, the bullyboys, the knuckle- dusters, and, of course, the Gusties, the city's most powerful and fuck- out-oftheir-minds street gang, who headquartered in South Boston but spread their tentacles throughout the city at large.

The logic was simple:

The only thing criminals loved almost as much as beating the shit out of coppers was watching coppers beat the shit out of each other.

Coppers beat the shit out of each other at Mechanics Hall during Boxing & Badges: Haymakers for Hope.

Ergo: criminals would gather at Mechanics Hall to watch them do so.

Danny Coughlin's godfather, Lieutenant Eddie McKenna, had decided to exploit this theory to the fullest for benefit of the BPD in general and the Special Squads Division he lorded over in particu lar. The men in Eddie McKenna's squad had spent the day mingling with the crowd, closing outstanding warrant after outstanding warrant with a surprisingly bloodless efficiency. They waited for a target to leave the main hall, usually to relieve himself, before they hit him over the head with a pocket billy and hauled him off to one of the paddy wagons that waited in the alley. By the time Danny stepped into the ring, most of the mugs with outstanding warrants had been scooped up or had slipped out the back, but a few--hopeless and dumb to the last--still milled about in the smoke-laden room on a floor sticky with spilt beer.

Danny's corner man was Steve Coyle. Steve was also his patrol partner at the Oh-One Station House in the North End. They walked a beat from one end of Hanover Street to the other, from Constitution Wharf to the Crawford House Hotel, and as long as they'd been doing it, Danny had boxed and Steve had been his corner and his cut man.

BOOK: The Given Day
10.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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