"Now here's the part I don't understand," Dominick said. Babe resisted the urge to cringe on his barstool. "Go ahead."
"You've got it out on the ice. And does it crack through the ice, taking all those tads on skates with it?"
"No," Dominick said softly. "I believe I would have read about that. So, my question then, sir-- How did it manage to go through the ice?"
"The ice melted," Ruth said quickly.
Babe took a breath. "It was March, I believe."
"But the party . . . ?"
"Was in January."
"So the piano sat on the ice for two months before it sank." "I kept meaning to get to it," Babe said.
"I'm sure you did, sir." Dominick smoothed his mustache. "The owner--"
"Oh, he was mad," the Babe said. "Hopping. I paid for it, though."
Dominick drummed his thick fingers on the bar. "So if it's paid for, sir . . ."
Babe wanted to bolt the bar. This was the part he hadn't quite worked out in his head yet. He'd installed a new piano in both the rental cottage and the restored house on Dutton Road, but every time Helen looked at that new piano she'd look at Ruth in a way that made him feel as attractive as a hog in its own filth. Since that new piano had taken residence in the house, neither of them had played it once.
"I thought," Ruth said, "if I could pull that piano from the lake, I--"
"The pond, sir."
"The pond. If I could pull that piano back up and, you know, restore it, it would make a swell anniversary gift for my wife." Dominick nodded. "And what anniversary would that be?" "Our fi fth."
"Isn't wood usually the appropriate gift?"
Babe said nothing for a moment, thinking that one through. "Well, it's made of wood."
"Point taken, sir."
Babe said, "And we've got some time. It's not for six months, my anniversary."
Dominick poured them each another drink and raised his in toast. "To your unbridled optimism, Mr. Ruth. It's what makes this country all that it is today."
"Have you ever seen what water does to wood? To ivory keys and wire and all those little delicate parts in a piano?"
Babe nodded. "I know it won't be easy."
"Easy, sir? I'm not sure it'll be possible." He leaned into the bar. "I have a cousin. He does some dredging. He's worked the seas most of his life. What if we were to at least establish the location of the piano, how deep it actually is in the lake?"
"The pond, sir. If we knew that, well, then we'd be somewhere, Mr. Ruth."
Ruth thought about it and nodded. "How much will this cost me?"
"Couldn't say without talking to my cousin, but it could be a bit more than a new piano. Could be less." He shrugged and showed Ruth his palms. "Although, I make no guarantees as to the final fee."
Dominick took a piece of paper and wrote down a telephone number and handed it to Ruth. "That's the number of the bar. I work seven days from noon to ten. Call me Thursday, sir, and I'll have some details for you."
"Thanks." Ruth pocketed the number as Dominick went back down the bar.
He drank some more and smoked his cigar as a few more men came in and joined the two down at the other end of the bar and more rounds were purchased and toasts given to the tall, glamorous one, who was apparently giving some kind of speech soon at the Tremont Temple Baptist Church. Seemed like the tall man was big noise of a sort but Ruth still couldn't place him. Didn't matter--he felt warm here, cocooned. He loved a bar when the lights were dim and the wood was dark and the seats were covered in soft leather. The kids from this morning receded until they felt several weeks in his past, and if it was cold outside, you could only imagine it because you sure couldn't feel it.
Midautumn through winter was hard on him. He never knew what to do, couldn't gauge what was expected of him when there were no balls to hit, no fellow players to jaw with. Every morning he was confronted with decisions--how to please Helen, what to eat, where to go, how to fill his time, what to wear. Come spring, he'd have a suitcase packed with his traveling clothes and most times he'd just have to step in front of his locker to know what he was going to wear; his uniform would be hanging there, fresh from the team laundry. His day would be mapped out for him--either a game or a practice or Bumpy Jordan, the Sox travel secretary, would point him to the line of cabs that would take him to the train that would carry him to whichever city they were going next. He wouldn't have to think about meals because they'd all been arranged. Where he was going to sleep never crossed his mind--his name was already written in a hotel ledger, a bellman standing by to transport his bags. And at night, the boys were waiting in the bar and the spring leaked without complaint into summer and the summer unfurled in bright yellows and etched greens and the air smelled so good it could make you cry.
Ruth didn't know how it was with other men and their happiness, but he knew where his lay--in having the days mapped out for him, just as Brother Matthias used to do for him and all the other boys at St. Mary's. Otherwise, facing the humdrum unknown of a normal domestic life, Ruth felt jumpy and mildly afraid.
Not here, though, he thought, as the men in the bar began to spread out around him and a pair of large hands clapped his shoulders. He turned his head to see the big fellow who'd been down the end of the bar smiling at him.
"Buy you a drink, Mr. Ruth?"
The man came around to his side and Ruth again caught a whiff of the heroic from him, a sense of scale that couldn't be contained by anything as small as a room.
"Sure," Ruth said. "You're a Red Sox fan, then?"
The man shook his head as he held up three fingers to Dominick, and his smaller friend joined him at the bar, pulling out a stool and dropping into it with the heaviness of a man twice his size.
"Not particularly. I like sport but I'm not beholden to the idea of team allegiance."
Ruth said, "Then who do you root for when you're at a game?" "Root?" the man said as their drinks arrived.
"Cheer for?" Ruth said.
The man flashed a brilliant smile. "Why, individual achievement, Mr. Ruth. The purity of a single play, a single display of adroit athleticism and coordination. The team is wonderful as a concept, I grant you. It suggests the brotherhood of man and unionism of a single goal. But if you look behind the veil, you see how it's been stolen by corporate interests to sell an ideal that is the antithesis of everything this country claims to represent."