"I'll write back," his father called.
A sudden boom of wind rattled the cars along the street. "All right, then," Danny called.
"Take care of yourself, son."
His father raised a hand and Danny raised one in return and then they turned and walked in separate directions through the snow.
On the train to New York, everyone was drunk. Even the porters. Twelve in the afternoon and people were guzzling champagne and guzzling rye and a band played in the fourth car, and the band was drunk. No one sat in their seats. Everyone hugged and kissed and danced. Prohibition was now the law of the land. Enforcement would begin four days from now, on the sixteenth.
Babe Ruth had a private car on the train, and at first he tried to sit out the revelry. He read over a copy of the contract he'd offi cially sign at day's end in the offices of the Colonels at the Polo Grounds. He was now a Yankee. The trade had been announced ten days ago, though Ruth had never seen it coming. Got drunk for two days to deal with the depression. Johnny Igoe found him, though, and sobered him up. Explained that Babe was now the highest-paid player in baseball history. He showed him New York paper after New York paper, all proclaiming their joy, their ecstasy about getting the most feared slugger in the game on their team.
"You already own the town, Babe, and you haven't even arrived yet."
That put a new perspective on things. Babe had feared that New York was too big, too loud, too wide. He'd get swallowed up in it. Now he realized the opposite was true--he was too big for Boston. Too loud. Too wide. It couldn't hold him. It was too small, too provincial. New York was the only stage large enough for the Babe. New York and New York alone. It wasn't going to swallow Babe. He was going to swallow it.
I am Babe Ruth. I am bigger and better and stronger and more popular than anyone. Anyone.
Some drunk woman bounced off his door and he heard her giggle, the sound alone giving him an erection.
What the hell was he doing back here alone when he could be out there with his public, jawing, signing autographs, giving them a story they'd tell their grandkids?
He left the room. He walked straight to the bar car, worked his way through the dancing drunks, one bird up on a table kicking her legs like she was working burlesque. He sidled up the bar, ordered a double scotch.
"Why'd you leave us, Babe?"
He turned, looked at the drunk beside him, a short guy with a tall girlfriend, both of them three sheets to the wind.
"I didn't leave," Babe said. "Harry Frazee traded me. I had no say. I'm just a working stiff."
"Then you'll come back someday?" the guy said. "Play out your contract and come back to us?"
"Sure," Babe lied. "That's the idea, bub."
The man patted him on the back. "Thanks, Mr. Ruth."
"Thank you," Ruth said with a wink for his girlfriend. He downed his drink and ordered another.
He ended up striking up a conversation with this big guy and his Irish wife. It turned out the big guy had been one of the striking coppers and was heading to New York for a little honeymoon before moving on out west to see a friend.
"What were you guys thinking?" Ruth asked him.
"Just trying to get a fair shake," the ex- copper said.
"But it don't work that way," Babe said, eyeing that wife of his, a real dish, her accent sexy as all hell, too. "Look at me. I'm the biggest baseball player in the world and I got no say where they trade me. I got no power. Thems that write the checks write the rules."
The ex- copper smiled. It was a rueful smile and distant. "Different sets of rules for different classes of people, Mr. Ruth."
"Oh, sure. When wasn't that so?"
They had a few more drinks and Ruth had to say he'd never seen a couple so in love. They barely touched, and it wasn't like they got all gooey on each other, talked to each other in baby voices and called each other "dumpling" or anything. Even so, it was like a rope hung between them, invisible but electric, and that rope connected them more strongly than shared limbs. The rope was not only electric, it was serene. It glowed warm and peaceful. Honest.
Ruth grew sad. He'd never felt that kind of love, not even in his earliest days with Helen. He'd never felt that with another human being. Ever.
Peace. Honesty. Home.
God, was it even possible?
Apparently it was, because these two had it. At one point, the dame tapped a single finger on the ex- copper's hand. Just one light tap. And he looked at her and she smiled, her upper teeth exposed as they ran over her lower lip. God, it broke Babe's heart, that look. Had anyone ever looked at him like that?
His spirits brightened only later as he walked out of the train station and waved good-bye to the couple as they went to stand in the taxi line. It looked to be a long wait on a cold day, but Babe didn't have to worry. The Colonels had sent a car, a black Stuttgart with a driver who held up a hand to acknowledge Babe as he walked toward him.
"It's Babe Ruth!" someone called, and several people pointed and called his name. Out on Fifth Avenue, half a dozen cars honked their horns.
He looked back at the couple in the taxi line. It sure was cold. For a moment he thought of calling to them, offering them a ride to their hotel. But they weren't even looking his way. Manhattan was cheering him, honking horns, yelling "Hurrah," but this couple heard none of it. They were turned into each other, the ex-copper's coat wrapped around her to protect her from the wind. Babe felt forlorn again, abandoned. He feared he'd somehow missed out on the most elemental part of life. He feared that this thing he'd missed would never, ever, enter his world. He dropped his gaze from the couple and decided they could wait for a taxi. They'd be fi ne.
He climbed into the car and rolled down the window to wave at his new fans as the driver pulled away from the curb. Volstead was coming, but it wouldn't affect him much. Word was the government hadn't hired nearly the manpower needed to enforce it, and Babe and people like him would be allowed certain exemptions. As they always had. That was the way of things, after all.
Babe rolled the window back up as the car accelerated.
"Driver, what's your name?"
"George, Mr. Ruth."
"Ain't that a kick? That's my name, too. But you call me Babe. Okay, George?"
"You betcha, Babe. An honor to meet you, sir."
"Ah, I'm just a ballplayer, George. Can't even read good."
"But you can hit, sir. You can hit for miles. I just want to be the first to say, 'Welcome to New York, Babe.'"