Babe had a regular thing going now with Kat Lawson at the Hotel Buckminster, and he left her sleeping one night and stopped in the bar on his way out. Chick Gandil, the White Sox first baseman, was at the bar with a couple fellas, and Babe headed for them but saw something in Chick's eyes that immediately warned him off. He took a seat down the other end, ordered a double scotch, and recognized the guys Chick was talking to: Sport Sullivan and Abe Attell, errand boys for Arnold Rothstein.
And Babe thought: Uh- oh. Nothing good's going to come of this.
Around the time Babe's third scotch arrived, Sport Sullivan and Abe Attell removed their coats from the backs of their chairs and left through the front door, and Chick Gandill walked his own double scotch down the length of the bar and plopped into the seat next to Babe with a loud sigh.
"Oh, right, right. Babe. How you doing?"
"Ain't hanging with mutts, that's how I'm doing."
"Who's the mutts?"
Babe looked at Gandill. "You know who the mutts are. Sport Sullivan? Abe Fucking Attell? They're mutts work for Rothstein and Rothstein's the mutt of mutts. What the fuck you doing talking to a pair of mutts like that, Chick?"
"Gee, Mom, next time let me ask permission."
"They're dirty as the Muddy River, Gandil. You know it and anyone else with eyes knows it, too. You get seen with a pair of diamond dandies like that, who's going to believe you ain't taking?"
"Why do you think I met him here?" Chick said. "This ain't Chicago. It's nice and quiet. And no one'll get wind, Babe, my boy, long as you keep your nigger lips shut." Gandil smiled and drained his drink and dropped it to the bar. "Shoving off, my boy. Keep swinging for the fences. You've gotta hit one sometime this month, right?" He clapped Babe on the back and laughed and walked out of the bar.
Nigger lips. Shit.
Babe ordered another.
Police talking about a strike, ballplayers talking to known fi xers, his home-run-record chase stalled at sixteen because of a chance sighting of a colored fella he'd met once in Ohio.
Was anything fucking sacred anymore?
POLICE STRIKE chapter thirty-three Danny met with Ralph Raphelson at the headquarters of the Boston Central Labor Union on the first Thursday in August. Raphelson was so tall he was one of the rare men with a face Danny had to look up into as he shook his hand. Thin as a fi ngernail, with wispy blond hair racing to depart the steep slope of his skull, he motioned Danny to a chair and took his own behind his desk. Beyond the windows, a hot-soup rain fell from beige clouds and the streets smelled like stewed produce.
"Let's start with the obvious," Ralph Raphelson said. "If you have an itch to comment on or give me the rough work about my name, please scratch it now."
Danny let Raphelson see him consider it before he said, "Nope. All set."
"Much appreciated." Raphelson opened his hands. "What can we do for the Boston Police Department this morning, Offi cer Coughlin?"
"I represent the Boston Social Club," Danny said. "We're the organized-labor arm of the--"
"I know who you are, Officer." Raphelson gave his desk blotter a light pat. "And I'm well acquainted with the BSC. Let me put your mind at ease--we want to help."
Danny nodded. "Mr. Raphelson--"
"Ralph, if you know who I am, then you know I've talked to several of your member groups."
"Oh, I do, yes. I hear you're quite convincing."
Danny's first thought: I am? He wiped some rain off his coat. "If our hand is forced and we have no choice but to walk off the job, would the Central Labor Union support us?"
"Verbally? Of course."
"How about physically?"
"You're talking about a sympathy strike."
Danny met his eyes. "Yes, I am."
Raphelson rubbed his chin with the back of his hand. "You understand how many men the Boston Central Labor Union represents?" "I've heard a shade under eighty thousand."
"A shade over," Raphelson said. "We just picked up a plumbers local from West Roxbury."
"A shade over then."
"You ever known eight men could agree on anything?"
"And we've got eighty thousand--firemen, plumbers, phone operators, machinists, teamsters, boilermakers, and transit men. And you want me to bring them into agreement to strike on behalf of men who've hit them with clubs when they struck?"
That brought a smile to Raphelson's eyes if not his lips.
"Why not?" Danny repeated. "You know any of those men whose wages have kept up with the cost of living? Any who can keep their families fed and still find the time to read their kids a story at bedtime?
They can't, Ralph. They're not treated like workers. They're treated like field hands."
Raphelson laced his hands behind his head and considered Danny. "You're pretty swell at the emotional rhetoric, Coughlin. Pretty swell." "Thank you."
"It wasn't a compliment. I have to deal in practicalities. Once all the essential-dignity-of-the-working-class sentiments are dispensed with, who's to say my eighty thousand men have jobs to come back to? You seen the latest unemployment figures? Why shouldn't those men take my men's jobs? What if your strike drags on? Who's to keep the families fed if the men finally have the time to read those bedtime stories? Their kids' stomachs are rumbling, but glory hallelujah, they've got fairy tales. You say, 'Why not?' There are eighty thousand reasons and their families why not."
It was cool and dark in the office, the blinds only half open to the dark day, the sole light coming from a small desk lamp by Raphelson's elbow. Danny met Raphelson's eyes and waited him out, sensing a caged anticipation in the man.
Raphelson sighed. "And yet, I'll grant you, I'm interested."
Danny leaned forward in his chair. "Then it's my turn to ask why."
Raphelson fiddled with his window blinds until the slats let in just a bit more of the damp day. "Organized labor is nearing a turning point. We've made our few strides over the past two de cades mostly because we caught Big Money by surprise in some of the larger cities. But lately? Big Money's gotten smart. They're framing the debate by taking ownership of the language. You're no longer a workingman fighting for his rights. You're Bolsheviki. You're a 'subversive.' Don't like the eighty-hour week? You're an anarchist. Only Commies expect disability pay." He flicked a hand at the window. "It's not just kids who like bedtime stories, Coughlin. We all do. We like them simple and comforting. And right now that's what Big Money is doing to Labor-- they're telling a better bedtime story." He turned his head from the window, gave Danny a smile. "Maybe we finally have an opportunity to rewrite it."