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Authors: David O. Stewart

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BOOK: The Babe Ruth Deception
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Chapter 5
F
raser walked quickly from his lab to the Flower Hospital, a ponderous brick structure that resembled a home for ghosts and witches more than a place of healing. Happily, the hospital's human residents included the city's finest orthopedic surgeon. A week after the bombing, Violet and her poor leg still needed the best.
The call came through before he heard about the blast on Wall Street. An unfamiliar voice, distorted by the overloaded telephone lines of that terrible day, said it was Joshua Cook. Violet, the voice said, had been in an accident. She was at Volunteer Hospital near City Hall. Fraser hadn't asked for details. He said he'd be right there, slammed down the phone, ran downstairs, and jumped in his car.
He had learned more from the shouts of street-corner news vendors, already hawking reports of the disaster. Desperate, he'd raged at the people who swarmed the streets, indifferent to the crisis and how they slowed him down. Horse-drawn delivery wagons, messengers on bicycles, old men with long beards and sad mustaches, and young women tired before their time. They were all malevolent obstacles. When he had arrived in New York twenty years before, he marveled that the air held enough oxygen to support so many. He had grown numb to the wonder of it, insulated by the Ansonia and his hard-won respectability.
South of the numbered streets, he'd slowed to a crawl. Vehicles avoiding the bomb site butted up against those coming to aid the injured. He'd abandoned his car a mile from the Volunteer Hospital. Out of breath, sweaty, he found the building was only a clinic for the poor, deluged with mangled bodies from the bombing. His white lab coat worked as a badge of authority in the mayhem. He searched the corridors, ignoring anguished cries that came at him from all directions. He was there as a father, not a doctor.
Joshua saw him first and called his name, waving a hand. The boy didn't look any better than the other victims. Dust and plaster bits made his hair and skin a spectral white. Blood had crusted under his nose. His suit was filthy and torn. Violet lay on a stretcher on the floor. The boy, crouching, held her hand. Her eyes opened when Fraser took Joshua's place.
“Do you have much pain?” he asked.
She nodded.
“It's her leg, sir,” Joshua said, and pointed. A rough splint, wrapped with gauze, hung on the outside of her right leg. Fraser's heart sank. Above the knee. Swelling was stretching her blackened skin to the bursting. Internal bleeding. She needed attention now. Better attention than she could get there. He told Joshua to wait.
Fraser dodged down the corridor to a supply room he had passed. He told the nurse on duty that he needed morphine for a patient. She gestured to a shelf and let him through.
When Fraser gave Violet the injection, he spoke to Joshua over his shoulder. “Son, can you carry her with me?”
“Of course. I got her here.”
“I mean a long way. It's madness out there.”
Joshua stepped behind Violet's head and reached down for the stretcher handles. Fraser told Violet that they had to move to a better hospital. It was the only way. They lifted her and set off. She weighed so little. Fraser called out warnings over his shoulder as he backed through the crowded hallways. Violet's face looked translucent. Her eyes were out of focus.
The air was cooler on the street, easier to breathe. They set her down so Fraser could turn to face the direction they were walking. People made way for them. Fraser headed uptown, vaguely toward where he left the car.
“What do you need, Doc?” A red-faced police officer fell into step next to him.
Fraser shouted that they had to get to Flower Hospital. They needed an ambulance. At the corner of Park Row and Chambers, the cop told them to head north to Pearl; he'd be there with an ambulance. Then he took off. When they reached Pearl, the ambulance was there. Fraser hugged the cop before climbing in after Violet. There was no space for Joshua.
Eliza didn't leave the hospital for the first three days. Now, a week into the siege, they were taking turns, changing off at noon and at midnight. Starting his shift at midday, Fraser stopped to see Doctor Nylander, who was the reason he brought her to Flower. He had served in France with Nylander, who was young enough to know the new techniques. Today Nylander had no news. The thighbone was crushed. Violet had endured two surgeries to ease the swelling and align the remaining fragments. More surgery was possible. Amputation still not out of the question. They were using a Thomas splint, one of the recent innovations, but no one could predict what healing would occur or if infection would set in. When Nylander mentioned amputation, Fraser turned cold. From the war, he knew the emotional price of amputation. It seemed so much worse for a young girl. His beautiful girl, disfigured forever. He could see that leg, dimpled with baby fat, take its first step. He told Nylander not to mention it to Eliza or Violet. Not unless he had to.
Fraser paused outside Violet's room. He tried to wipe away his anxiety over all the wrong turns her injury could take. She would feel his anxiety if he brought it in with him.
Eliza was sitting in the straight-back chair that was the best the hospital had. She had a pillow from home to soften the seat. Both hands held the purse in her lap. She rose as he entered. “Have to fly, dear,” she said. “Another of the leads is trying to bail out on that miserable farce at the Orpheum.” She kissed Violet on the forehead, her hand cupping their daughter's still, pale face. She smiled. “I think you'll find the patient doing well.” She nodded at the window. “Keep that open. The smells in here are horrid. They're hard on her.” She gave him a businesslike peck on the lips.
The departure of Eliza, the natural focus of any group, left a silence. Those who remained had to reorient themselves. Fraser asked Violet how she felt, how she slept, her appetite, the sensations in her leg. He inspected the dressing. He made a note to talk to Nylander about weaning her off the morphine. They had used it too much in France.
Finally, Violet pulled up the sheet and protested. “Isn't Doctor Nylander the one who's responsible for me?”
“Don't try that, young lady. I answer to a higher authority. You can't expect me to face your mother without having formed my own medical opinion.” Fraser's eye fell on an extravagant new bouquet on a far window ledge.
“A new secret admirer?” he asked with a smile, lowering himself into the punishing chair. He squirmed in an effort to nudge the pillow to a comfortable position. He wasn't looking forward to twelve hours in the chair. The bouquet must be from his colleagues at Rockefeller. No, it would be from one of Eliza's Broadway types. It had that look-at-me quality that theatrical folks bring to everything.
“It's from your old friends, Daddy. The Cooks.”
“The Cooks?”
Violet allowed herself a small smile and ooched herself higher on the bed. “I think it's really from Joshua, but he signed it from his whole family.”
“Really.” Fraser walked over and inspected the bouquet more closely. He read the note. “Do you remember Joshua from that day? What he did?”
She shook her head. “Not till we got to the hospital.”
“The first one?”
She nodded. “I was afraid of him at first. He had all that dust and filth on him. Like some terrible creature from another world. And I didn't expect to see a colored man. But he was so kind.”
“If ever there was a knight in tattered gabardine, it was Joshua.” He nodded at the bouquet. “I suppose we should be sending something to him. I'll talk to your mother about it.”
A soft knock came at the door. Fraser opened it to find Joshua Cook. His gray plaid suit, set off with a burgundy pocket handkerchief, clung to his slim figure. He held a fedora in one hand and packages in the other.
After a moment of surprise, Fraser recovered. He offered a hearty handshake along with apologies for not thanking Joshua properly for rescuing Violet. While Violet joined in the thanks, Fraser retrieved a chair from another room. When he returned with an equally spartan scrap of furniture, Violet held a Whitman's Sampler box of chocolates. Next to her lay a book with two high-society figures on the cover. She had raised herself higher on the pillows. Fraser sat on the new chair, across the bed from Joshua.
Fraser declined the offer of a chocolate. The day before, Eliza had mentioned that his old suits, which had sagged off him when he returned from France, looked to be getting snug. He asked about the book.
“It's by a young guy,” Joshua said. “He served in France, too. Named Fitzgerald
.

Violet, who had new color in her face, handed the book to her father. “Why did you pick it?” she asked Joshua.
“I'm not sure. It's not about the army at all, or really about anything I've ever known. The main character is rich—he just dribbles away his money, like it doesn't matter. The title,
This Side of Paradise,
seems ironic.” Joshua put a finger to his chin. “I guess it was the way the character was broken up, and the story was, too. Like modern times. Also, he keeps lying to himself.” He grinned, self-conscious. “Anyway, I didn't think it was something they'd have you read at Barnard.”
“Oh,” Violet said, casting her eyes down quickly, “I won't be going there now, because of this.” She gestured to her leg.
“Yes,” Fraser broke in. “The college has been very good. No problem with her starting in February.”
“What do the doctors say?” Joshua asked. “Will you be ready by then?”
“They don't know.” She shrugged. “So neither do I.”
“This doctor,” Jamie put in, “says there's no reason why she won't be.”
“How is it?” Joshua asked. “Does it hurt?”
She nodded, her expression piercing Fraser. “It hurts. It's hard to get comfortable. I can't even get to the sink on my own yet.” She got a curious look. “It's funny, that you happened to find me there in the bank.”
Joshua smiled shyly and cleared his throat. “It wasn't a complete accident. I was passing by and thought I saw you go in, but I wasn't sure. Then the bomb went off. Somehow I knew it was you, and that I had to get you out.” They smiled at each other.
“That was lucky for me.”
“What were you doing there?”
Violet took a long breath. “I was to have lunch with a friend who works there. He was going to show me around first.”
“Is he okay?”
“Yes.” She hesitated. “At least, that's what Father found out.” After a pause, she added, “I haven't seen him, though. My friend, I guess he's busy, or recuperating himself.”
“Cleaning up that bank'll take a while, though I don't suppose your friend would do that kind of work.”
Before the bomb, Eliza was predicting that Violet would marry that young aristocrat with too many last names. But now he—Griff Keswick, that was it—seemed uninterested in sharing any of his names with a young woman certain to be lame for the rest of her life. Fraser decided to break into the exchange.
“Say, Joshua, has that ear been bothering you?” The young man had cotton wadded up in his right ear.
Joshua shook his head. “It's not too bad. Had some ringing in it for a while, but it's less now.”
“If you're getting discharge from the ear, you should see someone about it. I'd be happy to take a look at it.”
Joshua smiled. “Thanks, Doctor Fraser, but I'm fine.”
“So,” Fraser said, “what have you been up to, when you're not rescuing my daughter?”
“Oh, different things.” Joshua looked at Violet, who had fixed her blue gray eyes on him. He found the color disconcerting, like a pale, high sky. He looked away, dangling his hat on one finger. He twirled it halfway round. “Can't say I've settled on any one thing.”
“What sorts of things interest you?”
“Like I said, I'm still not entirely sure.”
“How about the baseball business, like your father?”
“Father,” Violet broke in, “I'll thank you not to subject my guest to the third degree.” She had a smile on her face, but her tone wasn't humorous.
“Hardly the third degree,” Fraser objected. “I'm just making conversation.”
“Well . . .” Joshua stood and said to Violet, “I'd best be getting on. I don't want to wear you out with all you've been through.”
She turned her smile to him and spoke gently. “It's so wonderful you came, and thank you for the gifts. As Father said, we should be giving you gifts. I'm very grateful.”
“No, really . . .”
“Well,” Violet filled the gap. “I'm not going anywhere, so I hope you'll come to see me some more.”
“I'd like that,” Joshua said. He nodded to her, then shook hands with Fraser on the way out.
When he reached the sidewalk, Joshua palmed his hat onto his head and tugged the brim into place. He lit up and sucked down the smoke. The thoughts that had swum through his mind for days and weeks came into focus. No more drifting. He wouldn't again flounder like that, unable to explain just what it was he did. He was going to make himself a place in this world. A big place.
A wagon clattered by on Sixty-third Street, pulled by a swaybacked gray. Under a canvas tarp sat several barrels that certainly contained beer. Across the street, a young white man pulled a silver flask from his hip pocket and took a long draw. Yes, Joshua thought. The signs were all around him. He took a contemplative puff.
Everybody, even Doctor Fraser, thought that since he was Speed Cook's boy he'd just naturally go into baseball. He'd never be anything but Speed Cook's boy in that tiny world.
BOOK: The Babe Ruth Deception
4.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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