Isaiah nodded. "Well, it's over." He glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece: ten-forty-three. "Almost twenty-four-hours over." He looked over at his wife. "Oh, stop your teasing, Yvette. It's starting to torture me." He gave Luther a look--women--and then he said, "Come on now. Give it to the boy."


Yvette crossed the floor to him and for the first time Luther noticed that she'd kept her hands behind her back since he'd entered the room. Her body was rippling, and her smile kept sliding, topsy-turvy, all over her face.

"This is for you." She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek and placed an envelope in his hand. She stepped back.

Luther looked down at the envelope--simple, cream-colored, standard in every way. He saw his name in the center. Saw the Giddreauxs' address below it. He recognized the lettering--the way it managed to be tight and looping at the same time. He recognized the postmark over the stamp: Tulsa, Okla. His hands shook.

He looked in Yvette's eyes.

"What if it's good- bye?" He felt his lips tighten hard against his teeth.

"No, no," she said. "She already said good- bye, son. You said she'd closed her heart. Closed hearts don't write letters to men who love them, Luther. They just don't."

Luther nodded, his head as shaky as the rest of him. He thought of Christmas night, of putting her name on the breeze.

"I--"

They watched him.

"I'm going to read it upstairs," he said.

Yvette patted his hand. "Just promise me you won't jump."

Luther laughed, the sound coming out high, like something that had been popped. "I . . . I won't, ma'am."

As he climbed the stairs, terror struck him. Terror that Yvette was wrong, that plenty of women wrote to say good-bye. He thought of folding the letter and putting it into his pocket and not reading it for a while. Until he was stronger, say. But even as the thought occurred to him he knew he had a better chance of waking up white tomorrow than waking up with that envelope still sealed.

He stepped out onto the roof and stood with his head down for a moment. He didn't pray, but he didn't quite not-pray either. He kept his head lowered and closed his eyes and let his fear wash over him, his horror at being without her for life.

Please don't hurt me, he thought, and opened the envelope carefully and just as carefully pulled out her letter. Please don't. He held it between the thumb and index finger of each hand, letting the night breeze dry his eyes, and then he unfolded it:

Dear Luther, It is cold here. I now wash laundry for folks that send it down from Detroit Avenue in big gray bags. It is a kindness I can thank Aunt Marta for since I know folks can get there laundry cleaned any old way. Aunt Marta and Uncle James have been my salvation and I know the Lord works through them. They said to tell you they wish you well--

Luther smiled, doubting all hell out of that.

--and hope you are all right. My belly is big. It is a boy Aunt Marta says for my belly points to the right. I feel this to. His feet are big and kicking. He will look like you he will need you to be his daddy. You have to find your way home.

Lila. Your wife.

Luther read it six more times before he could say for sure that he took a breath. No matter how many times he closed his eyes and opened them in hopes she had signed it "Love," that word did not appear on the page.

And yet . . . You have to fi nd your way home and he will need you to be his daddy and Dear Luther and most important . . . Your wife.

Your wife.

He looked back at the letter. He unfolded it again. Held it taut between his fi ngers.

You have to find your way home.

Yes, ma'am.

Dear Luther.

Dear Lila.

Your wife.

Your husband.

BABE RUTH and the WHITE BALL chapter twenty-four At noon on the fifteenth of January, 1919, the United States Industrial Alcohol company's molasses tank exploded in the North End. A vagrant child, standing beneath the tank, was vaporized, and the molasses flooded into the heart of the slum in waves three stories high. Buildings were heaved to the side as if by a callous hand. The railway trestle that ran along Commercial was hit with a scrap of metal the size of a truck. The center of the trestle collapsed. A fi rehouse was hurled across a city square and turned on its end. One fi reman perished, a dozen were injured. The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear, but Mayor Andrew Peters, the first politician to arrive on the scene, stated that there was little doubt terrorists were to blame.

Babe Ruth read every newspaper account he could lay his mitts on. He skipped any long stretches where words like municipal and infrastructure were commonly used, but otherwise it tickled him to his core. Astounded him. Molasses! Two million gallons! Fifty-foot waves! The streets of the North End, closed off to automobiles, carts, and horses, stole the shoes of those who tried to walk them. Flies battled for pavement in swarms as dark and thick as candied apples. In the plaza behind the city stables, dozens of horses had been maimed by rivets that had flown like bullets from the exploding tank. They'd been found mired in the muck, neighing hideously, unable to rise from the sticky mess. In the middle of that afternoon, forty-five police gunshots punctuated their execution like the last blasts of a fireworks show. The dead horses were lifted by cranes and placed on the fl atbeds of trucks and transported to a glue factory in Somerville. By the fourth day, the molasses had turned to black marble and residents walked with their hands pressed to walls and streetlamp poles.

Seventeen confirmed dead now and hundreds injured. Good God-- the looks that must have been on their faces when they turned and saw those black waves curl up by the sun. Babe sat at the soda counter in Igoe's Drugstore and Creamery in Codman Square waiting for his agent, Johnny Igoe. Johnny was in the back, primping for their meeting with A. L. Ulmerton, probably going too heavy on the petroleum jelly, the cologne, the toilet water. A. L. Ulmerton was the big cheese of Old Gold cigarettes ("Not a cough in a carload!") and he wanted to talk to Babe about possible endorsements. And now Johnny was going to make them late with his showgirl fussing in back.

Babe didn't really mind, though, because it gave him time to leaf through more stories on the flood and the immediate response to it: the crackdown on all radicals or subversives who might have been involved. Agents of the Bureau of Investigation and officers of the Boston Police Department had kicked down doors at the headquarters of the Lettish Workingman's Society, the Boston chapter of the IWW, and Reed and Larkin's Left Wing of the Socialist Party. They fi lled holding pens across the city and sent the overflow to the Charles Street Jail.

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