raser forced himself to lie in his second-class berth until sunrise
s crossing, through choppy seas and swirling fog, had taken seven days. He spent at least three seasick nights wishing he was somewhere else, but here he was.
Impatience got the upper hand. He dressed and took up his usual spot on the ship's rail, on the starboard side in front of the main saloon. He had spent quite a few hours at that spot, turning over the events of the past year. It all started with that terrible movie,
Fraser felt the contradiction in his own journey: he was heading home to his family, but to a foreign land. And his family was changing. Or had changed. A couple of other passengers paused to chat. He was civil but not welcoming.
The late October chill sliced into him while dawn washed out the twinkling lights of Southampton. Low, grainy clouds spread over the sky. Sunbeams rushed through a single cloud break, blessing a patch of the dim land. Fog festered to the east but didn't obstruct Fraser's view. Three tugs steamed out from the harbor, coming to harry the ocean liner to its pier.
was tied up, Fraser was almost to the end of the gangplank before he saw Violet. He stopped in wonder. Her long coat hung open to accommodate her swelling middle, not yet large but insistent. A woman walked into him from behind, then maneuvered around when he still didn't move. He smiled and waved. Eliza reached him first and held him. “You're safe,” she said. “You're safe.”
Joshua hung back from the reunion. When the giddiness of the moment receded, he shook Fraser's hand somewhat formally. His offer to collect the luggage started a wave of suggestions from all four of them, which ended as a plan for the men to lasso the bags while the women acquired a taxi.
Fraser watched Eliza and Violet depart. “Joshua,” he said, “am I imagining it or is her limp really better? How's her balance, with the baby?”
“I can't say, Doctor Fraser. I don't really see a limp.” He shrugged slightly. “Maybe a little, when she's tired.”
They dodged through the crowd on the pier and joined the line for retrieving luggage. What should Joshua call him? The problem hadn't occurred to Fraser. Not “Father” or “Dad.” Too ridiculous. “Doctor Fraser” was pretty stiff. Fraser decided to wait to see what Joshua called Eliza. They must have worked something out.
And there was something more important to say, even on this crowded dock, shuffling forward in the queue. “I feel terrible about your father. It seemed so impossible, with all his strength, to lose him like that.”
“I know. I still don't quite believe it. And I'm completely responsible.”
“You couldn't have kept him away that night. He had to be there.”
Joshua looked away. “I could have done a lot of things different.” His voice was husky. “I just have to live with that, sir. And try to be the man he expected me to be.”
“You know, Joshua, I teased him once that he'd used up all his luck and mine, too, the chances he took. He just smiled and said he'd been playing with the house's money for a long time.”
Joshua cleared his throat and nodded. “It's been hard, not being with my mother and sister, not with anyone who really knew him.”
The stevedore shouted, “Next!” Fraser fumbled for his luggage receipt. Overcoat pockets, jacket pockets, trouser pockets, shirt pocket. He started over. They were in his right overcoat pocket, the first one he had tried. He pointed out the bags that were his. He had brought a lot of things. He might be in London a long time.
* * *
Eliza had rented rooms just for the two of them. They looked out on Clapham Common, a flat expanse without much distinction beyond the vibrant green of English grass. When Fraser's things were stashed and he had distributed the gifts sent by Joshua's mother and sister, Joshua opened champagne to toast the occasion. They drank to marriage, the baby, the World Series, and Speed Cook. They were near the end of a second bottle when Fraser pushed the conversation into territory the others had avoided.
“I'm still new to all of this. How's it going? Your marriage, being in England, and all that.”
“You mean that I'm colored,” Joshua broke in.
Fraser nodded. “Yes, but maybe not in the way you mean. I know you were thinking England would be better for you, for the two of you.” His eyes went from Joshua to Violet and back. Both of them looked tense, despite the champagne. “Is it?”
“It's not everything I'd hoped,” Joshua said. “Not paradise. When we're together in public we sometimes get dirty looks, even remarks.”
“The good part,” Violet broke in with a nervous smile, “is that between the slang and the accents, I don't understand most of them.”
Joshua's gaze rested on her, then came back to Fraser. “We know what they're saying. When I got here we looked into moving to Liverpool, which would be good for the shipping business. But it turns out they had race riots there a couple of years ago.” He shook his head. “Not here in London, though. I guess there's not enough colored people here to riot over.” He stood to offer the last of the champagne to Eliza, who held out her glass to receive it. He sat again.
“So we'll stay here. We don't hold hands in public, touch each other, things that might rile people up. But mostly we feel safe. Safer than New York. It's hard on Violet and Eliza. They're not used to it.”
“We'll make it work, Father,” Violet said. Fraser closed his eyes for a second. He couldn't find his voice.
Joshua, intent on opening another bottle of champagne, said, “Eliza has told us her Babe Ruth stories.” So, it was to be first names, “Eliza” and “Jamie.” Fraser supposed he could get used to it. “But you must have some Babe Ruth stories of your own now.”
Fraser smiled as he reached his glass out for a refill. “Indeed. Indeed I do.”
ny history writer must take a deep breath before straying into the field of baseball history, where meticulous record keeping dwells alongside festering prejudices, massive legends, and scores that cry out to be settled. The challenges are even more pronounced when the subject is Babe Ruth, the greatest legendary figure of the game. Let me start with the records.
I have tried to follow faithfully the facts we know about the major league games, the players, and the manager portrayed inThe Babe Ruth Deception.
Both the box scores and play-by-play accounts of the 1920 and 1921 World Series are available online atwww.baseball-reference.com
. That Web site also has box scores (though not play-by-play accounts) for regular season games during those seasons. Plus, you can watch all of Babe Ruth's 1920 feature film,Headin' Home,
. It's a wonderful opportunity to see the Babe when he was young (twenty-four) and vigorous, not the older, potbellied fellow more often depicted tiptoeing around the bases after a late-career home run. Yes, Babe did film the movie in Haverstraw, New York, on mornings during the 1920 season and then had to dash down to the Polo Grounds for 3PM
game times, sometimes taking the field with his mascara still on. As an actor, the Babe was a great home-run hitter. Babe's injury, courage, and ultimate failure in the 1921 World Series are all true.
Far more murky is the question whether gamblers “fixed” the 1918 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Babe's Boston Red Sox. Eddie Cicotteâone of the infamous Black Sox players banned from baseball for fixing the 1919 Seriesâthought they did, and you can read his statement online at the Web site of the Chicago History Museum. Baseball historians still argue over Cicotte's claim. Sean Deveney's
The Original Curse
is inclined to believe it, while Allan Wood's
Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox
finds the evidence suggestive but not conclusive. In 2011, baseball historian John Thorn told the
New York Times
that he thought it likely that the 1918 Series was rigged by gamblers. When I sifted the known facts, I concluded the allegation was fair game for a writer of historical fiction, though
The Babe Ruth Deception
doesn't pretend to settle the question.
Arnold Rothstein, gambling kingpin and all-around force of darkness in America in 1920, is examined thoroughly in David Pietrusza's
Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series.
Fans of the television series
will remember him from that program. I did not have to invent Abe Attell, “the Little Hebrew,” who was featherweight champion of the world from 1906 to 1912. After his boxing career, Attell fell into show business and gambling. He actually was a major investor in Babe Ruth's feature movie,
(I couldn't make that up!), and is reputed to have been the man who delivered the bribe money to the White Sox players who threw the 1919 World Series. He was indicted with the Black Sox players, but the Chicago trial judge threw out the charges against him.
The Wall Street bombing at J. P. Morgan Bank in September 1920 killed forty people and wounded more than two hundred. Though widely attributed to radical or anarchist groups, it was never solved. Visitors to downtown Manhattan can still see some of the damage the bomb did to the Morgan building. A full treatment of the bombing appears in Beverly Gage's
The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in Its First Age of Terror.
There are many examinations of Prohibition, America's failed experiment in social virtue. A good one is Daniel Okrent's
Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.
When I grew weary of book and online research, I turned for ideas and information to my friend and neighbor Paul Dickson, who has written authoritatively on baseball history, on all matters involving alcoholic beverages, and on dozens of other subjects. Insightful comments on an early draft of the manuscript came from Ron Liebman and Gerry Hogan, friends and outstanding writers. Moral support and morale boosting came from the monthly lunches of the Hamlet Group. You know who you are.
This is my third novel with Kensington Books, which has brought me under the wise care of editor John Scognamiglio and publicist Vida Engstrand. More excellent good fortune. Great thanks to my master agent, Will Lippincott, who has willingly ventured with me into the thickets of fiction publishing.
My greatest debt, as ever, remains to Nancy, my love of so many years.