"And because of that, I'm to renegotiate a signed contract made in good faith by men? What kind of principle is that? What kind of ethic is that, Mr. Igoe? In case you haven't been following the news, I am locked in a battle with Commissioner Johnson. I am fighting to have our World Series medals rightfully given to us. Those medals are being withheld because your boy there had to strike before game five."
"I had nothing to do with that," Babe said. "I didn't even know what was going on."
Johnny quieted him with a hand to his knee.
Kat piped up from the couch. "Honey, could you ask Chappy to also get me a--"
"Hush," Frazee said to her. "We're talking business, bubblehead." He turned back to Ruth as Kat lit a cigarette and blew the smoke hard through her thick lips. "You've got a contract for seven thousand. That makes you one of the highest-paid players in the game. And you want what now?" Frazee held his exasperated hands up to the window, the city beyond it, the bustle of Tremont Street and the Theater District.
"What I'm worth," Babe said, refusing to back down to this slave driver, this supposed Big Noise, this theater man. Last Thursday in Seattle, thirty-five thousand ship workers had walked out on strike. Just as the city was trying to get its noggin around that, another twenty-five thousand workers walked off the job in a sympathy strike. Seattle stopped dead--no streetcars, no icemen or milkmen, no one to come pick up the garbage, no one cleaning the office buildings or running the elevators.
Babe suspected this was just for starters. This morning the papers had reported that the judge conducting the inquest into the collapse of the USIA molasses tank concluded that the cause of the explosion was not anarchists but company negligence and the poor inspection protocols set up by the city. USIA, in a rush to convert its molasses distillation from industrial purposes to commercial ones, had overfilled the poorly constructed tank, never guessing unseasonably high temperatures in the middle of January would cause the molasses to swell. USIA officials, of course, angrily denounced the preliminary report, charging that the terrorists responsible were still at large and thus the cleanup costs were the responsibility of the city and its taxpayers. Ooooh, it made Babe hot under the collar. These bosses, these slave drivers. Maybe those guys in the bar fight a few months back at the Castle Square Hotel had been right--the workers of the world were tired of saying "yes, sir" and "no, sir." As Ruth stared across the desk at Harry Frazee, he felt swept up in a rich wave of brotherhood for his fellow workers everywhere, his fellow citizen-victims. It was time for Big Money to be held accountable.
"I want you to pay me what I'm worth," he repeated.
"And what's that, exactly?"
It was Babe's turn to put a hand on Johnny's leg. "Fifteen for one or thirty for three."
Frazee laughed. "You want fifteen thousand dollars for one year?" "Or thirty for three years." Babe nodded.
"How about I trade you instead?"
That shook something in Babe. A trade? Jesus Christ. Everyone knew how chummy Frazee had become with Colonel Ruppert and Colonel Huston, the owners of the Yankees, but the Yankees were cellar dwellers, a team that had never been near contention in the Series era. And if not the Yanks, then who? Cleveland? Baltimore again? Philadelphia? Babe didn't want to move. He'd just rented an apartment in Governor's Square. He had a good thing going--Helen in Sudbury, him downtown. He owned this burg; when he walked its streets, people called his name, children gave chase, women batted their eyes. New York on the other hand--he'd vanish in that sea. But when he thought of his brother workers again, of Seattle, of the poor dead floating in the molasses, he knew the issue was larger than his own fear.
"Then trade me," he said.
The words surprised him. They definitely surprised Johnny Igoe and Harry Frazee. Babe stared back into Frazee's face, let him see a resolve that appeared (Babe hoped) twice as strong because of the effort it took to contain the fear that lay behind it.
"Or, you know what?" Babe said. "Maybe I'll just retire." "And do what?" Frazee shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Johnny," Babe said.
Johnny Igoe cleared his throat again. "Gidge has been approached by various parties who believe he has a big future on the stage or in the fl ickers."
"An actor," Frazee said.
"Or a boxer," Johnny Igoe said. "We're fielding a lot of offers from them quarters as well, Mr. Frazee."
Frazee laughed. Actually laughed. It was a short, donkey-bray of a sound. He rolled his eyes. "If I had a nickel for every time an actor tried to hold me up with stories of other offers during the middle of a show's run, why, I'd own my own country by now." His dark eyes glittered. "You'll honor your contract." He took a cigar from the humidor on his desk, snipped the end, and pointed the cigar at Ruth. "You work for me."
"Not for coon wages, I don't." Babe stood and took his beaver-fur coat from the hook on the wall by Kat Lawson. He took Johnny's, too, and tossed it across the room to him. Frazee lit his cigar and watched him. Babe put his coat on. He buttoned it up. Then he bent over Kat Lawson and gave her a loud smooch on the kisser.
"Always good to see you, doll."
Kat looked shocked, like he'd run his hand over her Hoover or something.
"Let's go, Johnny."
Johnny walked toward the door, looking as shocked as Kat.
"You walk out that door," Frazee said, "and I'll see you in court, Gidge."
"Then you'll see me in court." Babe shrugged. "Where you won't see me, Harry? Is in a fucking Red Sox uniform."
In Manhattan, on February 22, officers of the NYPD Bomb Squad and agents of the Secret Service raided an apartment on Lexington Avenue where they arrested fourteen Spanish radicals of Grupo Pro Prensa and charged them with plotting the assassination of the president of the United States. The assassination had been planned for the following day in Boston, where President Wilson would arrive from Paris.
Mayor Peters had called for a city holiday to celebrate the president's arrival and taken the necessary steps to hold a parade, even though the president's route from Commonwealth Pier to the Copley Plaza Hotel was classified by the Secret Service. After the arrests in New York, every window in the city was ordered closed and federal agents armed with rifles lined the rooftops along Summer Street, Beacon, Charles, Arlington, Commonwealth Avenue, and Dartmouth Street.
Various reports had placed the location of Peters's "secret" parade at City Hall, Pemberton Square, Sudbury Square, and Washington Street, but Ruth strolled up to the State House because that's where everyone else seemed to be going. It wasn't every day you got a chance to see a president, but he hoped if anyone ever tried to kill him someday, the powers that be would do a better job keeping his movements private. Wilson's motorcade rolled up Park Street at the stroke of twelve and turned left onto Beacon at the State House. Across the street on the lawn of the Common, a bunch of bughouse suffragette dames burned their girdles and their corsets and even a few bras and shouted, "No vote, no citizenship! No vote, no citizenship!" as the smoke rose from the pyre and Wilson kept his eyes straight ahead. He was smaller than Ruth would have expected, thinner, too, as he rode in the back of an open- air sedan and waved stiffly to the crowd--one flick of the wrist to the left side of the street, one to the right, back to the left again, his eyes never making contact with anything but high windows and treetops. Which was probably good for him, because Ruth saw a dense mob of rough-looking, grimy men being held back by police along the Joy Street entrance to the Common. Had to be thousands of these guys. They held up banners that identifi ed them as the Lawrence Strike Parade and shouted obscenities at the president and the police as the coppers tried to push them back. Ruth chuckled as the suffragettes rushed behind the motorcade, still screaming about the vote, their legs bare and raw in the cold because they'd torched their bloomers, too. He crossed the street and passed their burning pile of clothing as the motorcade rode down Beacon. Halfway across the Common, he heard fearful shouts from the crowd and turned to see the Lawrence strikers going at it with the cops, lots of stumbling and awkward punches and voices pitched high with outrage.