Ruth had lost him halfway through his spiel, but he raised his whiskey and gave what he hoped passed for a knowing nod and then he took a drink.
The mousy guy leaned into the bar and looked past his friend at Ruth and mimicked Ruth's nod. He tipped back his own drink. "He doesn't have a fucking clue what you're on about, Jack."
Jack placed his drink on the bar. "I apologize for Gene, Mr. Ruth. He lost his manners in the Village."
"What village?" Ruth said.
Jack gave Ruth a gentle smile. "Greenwich Village, Mr. Ruth." "It's in New York," Gene said.
"I know where it is, bub," Ruth said, and he knew that as big as Jack was, he'd be no match for Babe's strength if he decided to push him aside and tear that mousy hair off his friend's head.
"Oh," Gene said, "the Emperor Jones is angry."
"What'd you say?"
"Gentlemen," Jack said. "Let's remember we're all brothers. Our struggle is a shared one. Mr. Ruth, Babe," Jack said, "I'm something of a traveler. You name the countries of this world, there's probably a sticker on my suitcase for every one."
"You some kind of salesman?" Babe took a pickled egg from the jar and popped it in his mouth.
Jack's eyes brightened. "You could say that."
Gene said, "You honestly have no idea who you're talking to, do you?"
"Sure I do, Pops." Babe wiped his hands off each other. "He's Jack. You're Jill."
"Gene," the mousy one said. "Gene O'Neill, in point of fact. And this is Jack Reed you're talking to."
Babe kept his eyes on the mouse. "I'm sticking with 'Jill.' "
Jack laughed and clapped them both on their backs. "As I was saying, Babe, I've been all over. I've seen athletic contests in Greece, in Finland, in Italy and France. I once saw a polo match in Rus sia where no small number of the participants were trampled by their own horses. There's nothing purer or more inspirational, truly, than to see men involved in contest. But like most things that are pure, it gets sullied by big money and big business and put to the service of more nefarious purpose."
Babe smiled. He liked the way Reed talked, even if he couldn't understand what he meant.
Another man, a thin man with a profile that was hungry and sharp, joined them and said, "This is the slugger?"
"Indeed," Jack said. "Babe Ruth himself."
"Jim Larkin," the man said, shaking Babe's hand. "I apologize, but I don't follow your game."
"No apologies necessary, Jim." Babe gave him a fi rm shake.
"What my compatriot here is saying," Jim said, "is that the future opiate of the masses is not religion, Mr. Ruth, it's entertainment."
"That so?" Ruth wondered if Stuffy McInnis was home right now, if he'd answer the phone, maybe meet Babe in the city somewhere so they could get a steak and talk baseball and women.
"Do you know why baseball leagues are sprouting up all over the country? At every mill and every shipyard? Why just about every company has a workers' team?"
Ruth said, "Sure. It's fun."
"Well, it is," Jack said. "I'll grant you. But to put a finer point on it, companies like fielding baseball teams because it promotes company unity."
"Nothing wrong with that," Babe said, and Gene snorted again.
Larkin leaned in close again and Babe wanted to lean back from his gin-breath. "And it promotes 'Americanization,' for lack of a better word, among the immigrant workers."
"But most of all," Jack said, "if you're working seventy-five hours a week and playing baseball another fifteen or twenty, guess what you're probably too tired to do?"
"Strike, Mr. Ruth," Larkin said. "You're too tired to strike or even think about your rights as a worker."
Babe rubbed his chin so they'd believe he was thinking about the idea. Truth was, though, he was just hoping they'd go away.
"To the worker!" Jack shouted, raising his glass.
The other men--and Ruth noticed there were nine or ten of them now--raised their glasses and shouted back, "To the worker!" Everyone took a strong slug of liquor, including Ruth.
"To the revolution!" Larkin shouted.
Dominick said, "Now now, gents," but he was lost in the clamor as the men rose on their seats.
"To the new proletariat!"
More shouts and cheers and Dominick gave up trying to impose order and started rushing around to refi ll drinks.
Boisterous toasts were made to comrades in Russia and Germany and Greece, to Debs, Haywood, Joe Hill, to the people, the great united working peoples of the world!
As they whipped themselves into a preening frenzy, Babe reached for his coat, but Larkin blocked the chair as he hoisted his drink and shouted another toast. Ruth looked at their faces, sheened with sweat and purpose and maybe something beyond purpose, something he couldn't quite name. Larkin turned his hip to the right and Babe saw an opening, could see the edges of his coat and he started reaching for it again as Jack shouted, "Down with capitalism! Down with the oligarchies!" and Babe got his hand into the fur, but Larkin inadvertently bumped his arm and Babe sighed and started to try again.
Then the six guys walked in off the street. They were dressed in suits, and maybe on any other given day, they'd have seemed respectable types. But today, they reeked of alcohol and anger. Babe knew with one look at their eyes that the shit was going to hit the fan so fast the only hope would be to duck.
Connor Coughlin was in no fucking mood for subversives today. In truth he was in no fucking mood in general, but particularly not for subversives. They'd just had their heads handed to them in court. A nine-month investigation, over two hundred depositions, a six-week trial, all so they could deport an avowed Galleanist named Vittorio Scalone, who'd spoken to anyone within earshot of blowing up the State House during a meeting of the Senate.
The judge, however, didn't think that was enough to deport a man. He'd stared down from his bench at District Attorney Silas Pendergast, Assistant District Attorney Connor Coughlin, Assistant District Attorney Peter Wald, and the six ADAs and four police detectives in the rows behind them and said, "While the issue of whether the state has the right to pursue deportation measures at a county level is, in some minds, debatable, that is not the issue before this court." He'd removed his glasses and stared coldly at Connor's boss. "As much as District Attorney Pendergast may have tried to make it so. No, the issue is whether the defendant committed any treasonous act whatsoever. And I see no evidence that he did any more than make idle threats while under the influence of alcohol." He'd turned and faced Scalone. "Which, under the Espionage Act, is still a serious crime, young man. For which I sentence you to two years at the Charlestown Penitentiary, six months time served."