As the Roaring Twenties get under way, corruption seems everywhere--from the bootleggers flouting Prohibition to the cherished heroes of the American Pastime now tarnished by scandal. Swept up in the maelstrom are Dr. Jamie Fraser and Speed Cook...
Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, is having a record-breaking season in his first year as a New York Yankee. In 1920, he will hit more home runs than any other team in the American League. Larger than life on the ball field and off, Ruth is about to discover what the Chicago White Sox players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series are learning--baseball heroes are not invulnerable to scandal. With suspicion in the air, Ruth’s 1918 World Series win for the Boston Red Sox is now being questioned. Under scrutiny by the new baseball commissioner and enmeshed with gambling kingpin Arnold Rothstein, Ruth turns for help to Speed Cook--a former professional ballplayer himself before the game was segregated and now a promoter of Negro baseball--who’s familiar with the dirty underside of the sport.
Cook in turn enlists the help of Dr. Jamie Fraser, whose wife Eliza is coproducing a silent film starring the Yankee outfielder. Restraint does not come easily to the reckless Ruth, but the Frasers try to keep him in line while Cook digs around.
As all this plays out, Cook’s son Joshua and Fraser’s daughter Violet are brought together by a shocking tragedy. But an interracial relationship in 1920 feels as dangerous as a public scandal--even more so because Joshua is heavily involved in bootlegging. Trying to protect Ruth and their own children, Fraser and Cook find themselves playing a dangerous game.
Once again masterfully blending fact and fiction, David O. Stewart delivers a nail-biting historical mystery that captures an era unlike any America has seen before or since in all its moral complexity and dizzying excitement.
Praise for David O. Stewart’s Historical Mysteries:
“Terrific…The book’s fun part is its name game, as familiar historic figures mingle with made-up characters…The storyline’s dangling threads are braided into a tight, clever finish, worthy of a vintage spy caper or 007’s own playbook. Now which president will Stewart select for his next escapade” --The Washington Post on The Wilson Deception
“This fast-paced and smartly researched first novel is astonishingly good, complete with sharp and colorful characters, nicely drawn by Stewart, who in his other self is a lawyer-turned-historian.” --Bloomberg News on The Lincoln Deception
“Dense with detail and intrigue, making a hearty read for conspiracy addicts.” --Library Journalon The Lincoln Deception
“Stewart deftly depicts the mood of an era and the colorful figures who shaped it.” --Publishers Weekly on The Wilson Deception
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Babe Ruth Deception
By DAVID O. STEWART
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 David O. Stewart
All rights reserved.
Eliza clutched the door handle for safety as the big Packard swerved down the snaky riverside road. Her free hand held her hat on. "For the love of Mike," she yelled into the wind, "slow down!"
Despite her shout, the grin stayed on the Babe's broad face. He kept the throttle wide open.
"She sure can fly," he called back, blue eyes locked on the road. "Going slow in this baby would be a crime!"
Then he oversteered on a wide curve. The Packard tilted up on its right tires, a movement that brought Eliza's stomach up, too. The car launched into the roadside ditch, slamming into the far bank.
Eliza's scream cut off when she banged against the door, then lifted up. Her hip scraped painfully over the windshield and she tumbled awkwardly onto the car's long snout. She landed hard on a shoulder on the lip of the ditch. Her splayed hands partly broke her fall.
Quiet fell. The engine had quit. Eliza lay still and panted, her heart racing, pain starting to replace terror. Moving her arms gingerly, she started an inventory. Her arms worked. Then her head. It was clear, though it felt jagged inside and oddly remote from the scene. She pushed herself onto her side. The hip — Jesus, it hurt. She sat up. She flexed her right leg. Then moved her right arm and shoulder. That hurt. She decided not to move any more for a while. Could have been worse. Probably should have been.
She had known it was dangerous to climb in with the Babe for the ride to the Hudson River ferry. It wasn't only his love for speed, though there was certainly that. It was also that he was a lousy driver, which didn't make a lot of sense. Great athletes should be great drivers. The magical coordination and timing that allowed him to hammer home runs over distant fences should mean he piloted cars with precision and skill. But it didn't. Since they'd started filming Babe's movie that summer, he had averaged a crash every few days. He also got pulled over for speeding sometimes but never got tickets. He just smiled, signed autographs for the cops, and moved on.
Eliza heard him groan. A car door opened and slammed shut. Uneven steps approached. "You okay?" he asked, his voice gravelly. He hawked and spat to the side.
She tilted her head so she could look all the way up at him. She was used to large men. Her husband Jamie was as tall as Babe. But no one gave off a sense of power like Babe did. "I suppose," she said. She winced. Her shoulder and hip weren't good, but they weren't bad enough to talk about. She didn't ask how he was. He always walked away from his wrecks.
She was tempted to ask why. Why drive so fast on a twisty road like New York's notorious Route 3? But there was no point. The Babe did what the Babe did. Getting angry was a waste of time, like losing your temper at a thunderstorm.
He helped her to her feet. A shooting pain suggested something really could be wrong with the shoulder. She shrugged it, then moved it back and forth. She'd have Jamie look at it. Sometimes it helped having a doctor in the family.
Babe patted the Packard's hood, then smiled. "Isn't she a honey? Twelve cylinders." A lock of brown hair spilled over his forehead. His eyes were luminous, framed by the thick mascara he hadn't taken the time to remove while rushing from the movie set.
"Jeez," Babe said. "We've gotta hustle. I've got to get to the ballpark." He waved at a small boy who had appeared a few yards off. Babe's crash was bound to become one of this hick town's legends, the most exciting local event since the soldiers came home from the Great War the year before.
"Hey, kid," the Babe said, putting a big grin on his wide face. "You live around here?"
The boy, wide-eyed, nodded.
"That's fine, kid. Now, listen. I'm Babe Ruth" — the boy nodded again — "and I've got to get to the Polo Grounds for today's game." The boy continued to stare. The power of speech had fled. "Honest, kid, that's the truth. I wouldn't kid you." He struck a muscleman pose, a fist curled over each shoulder. "Does your pa or someone around here have a car they might run us down the ferry in?"
"I pull for the Giants," the boy said.
"Don't worry, kid, we're playing the Indians today. How's about that car?"
The boy ran off at top speed.
"You're just going to leave this one?" Eliza said.
Babe shrugged. The world would pick up after him. It always did.
* * *
Sitting in the clubhouse after the game, Babe noticed the mascara. Somebody might've told him. After weeks of filming every morning before the games, his teammates no longer mocked his movie makeup.
He had no energy to wash it off now. He felt dead inside. Which was lots better than Ray Chapman had to feel after getting drilled by that submarine spitball thrown by Carl Mays. That asshole Mays hadn't even noticed that he hit the poor bastard. After the ball bounced off Chapman's head, Mays fielded it cleanly and threw to first base. Chapman stood for a second, then he was down, blood coming out of his ear. What an asshole.
Babe leaned back against his locker, his uniform unsoiled. The clubhouse was quiet, guys showering and dressing and getting the hell out. Nobody much liked Chapman's odds.
Babe sighed and let the fatigue in. The whole damned day had been a bust. First the dawn trip upriver to the movie set. Babe hadn't made it to bed the night before, which wasn't totally unusual but wasn't so great two nights in a row. He could do with a couple hours of shut-eye.
Then there was getting made up, standing around, getting made up again, waiting while they monkeyed with the lights, standing around some more, having that pansy director tell him what to do and how to walk and how to look. Which didn't matter because the Babe was going to do and walk and look how he was. That's the way it was going to be.
The only good part of the day had been the drive back on Route 3, letting that Packard engine open up and roar. He even enjoyed having Eliza Fraser along with him. She was sort of an old broad, had something to do with the money behind the movie, but she'd kept her looks, wasn't all dried up. He'd heard maybe she'd been an actress back before there were movies. You could see how she might have been, the way she walked and stood, like she knew people were watching.
Running off the road was bad luck. They shouldn't make roads with curves like that. Still, he got to the park by the fifth inning, only the first thing he saw then was Ray Chapman getting his and Mays fielding the ball off his head. Damn, the sound the ball made.
Huggins had refused to put him in the game, making a big deal about being late. Huggins knew damned well that Babe was always on time, always, except when he couldn't be. If the road hadn't been so twisty, he would've made it easy. He actually didn't mind not playing. He hadn't felt much like playing after Chapman got hit. Nobody had. That's probably why the Yanks blew the game, 4–3. That was bad luck. The squad needed every win this time of the season.
After years of the Yanks being lousy, Ruth and his home-run swing had arrived over the winter. That changed everything. Now, in mid-August, the team was hard on the heels of the first-place Clevelands, riding the Babe's forty-two home runs, already more than anyone had ever hit in one season, and he wasn't done. Which was why every American man, even kids like that hayseed by the side of the road, knew his name. Plus it was an easy name to remember.
"Hey, big fella, how ya doin'?" Babe didn't have to raise his head to take in Abe Attell. The man was a squirt even if he had been a world champion. Featherweight or something. Attell looked like an ad for lemonade in the summer, straw boater tilted back on his head, white suit, blue shirt.
"If it ain't the Little Hebrew," Babe said. "Hope you had your money on the Indians today."
"What, me bet against the great Babe Ruth?" Attell's mouth impersonated a smile. His prizefighter's nose bent one way and then another. "You know I couldn't do that."
Babe shook the man's small paw, which was stronger than you might expect, then rose to shed his uniform. The other man glanced around the deserted clubhouse. Even the sportswriters, those bloodsuckers, had scrammed. Probably at the hospital watching the poor bastard die.
"So, Babe," Attell started. Babe kept undressing. "Ah, there's some news coming you oughta know about. You know, ahead of time."
Babe, standing in his altogether, scratched a spot between his nose and eye. He cursed when the finger came away with black makeup. When he got back from washing his face, Attell was waiting, one foot up on a bench.
"So, you see, there's this grand jury in Chicago. It's gonna hear evidence about the World Series last year. You know, the White Sox and Cincinnati?"
"Yeah, no kidding." Attell pushed his straw boater forward and rubbed the back of his head, then slid the hat back where it had been. "Story's going around that some of the Chicagos threw the Series, you know, for cash."
Babe grunted an acknowledgment. He'd heard about gambling on that Series, which the White Sox managed to lose even though they seemed a good bit better. Which didn't prove a lot. There were lots of reasons a team played better or worse than you figured. "Ah, you always hear talk like that. What do I care? I wasn't in that Series."
"Well, there's a couple of things. First, I thought you oughta know, telling all my friends since they may be looking at me for some of this." That hardly qualified as a surprise, not with an operator like the Little Hebrew, considering his type of business and his type of friends. Come to think of it, Babe wasn't nuts about being called one of his friends. Attell kept talking. "So I want you to know it won't make any difference to the financing for your movie."
Babe stopped buttoning the crisp new shirt he'd brought for his evening appointments, which would begin at the Butterfly Club on Fifty-sixth Street. He grimaced, then cocked a hip and refocused on Attell. "What're you saying? You're in on the movie?"
Attell chuckled and grabbed the Babe's bicep. "'Course I am, Babe. I wouldn't miss a chance to back America's biggest hero, no matter what cockamamie thing you're doing. I put the money in through that Broadway dame. You know the one?"
"Yeah, that's the one. Knows her stuff, for a broad."
"How do you know her?"
"Ah, it's through a guy, one both you and I know. The boss, y'know, he likes the shows, all the bright lights. Knows lots of those Broadway types."
"Okay." Babe resumed dressing, stepping into trousers of a pearl gray chalk-stripe. He liked the double-breasted look. It made him look even bigger.
Attell, pulling on an ear, started again. "There's a second thing. You may hear some talk, you know, around that grand jury."
Babe kept his attention on buttoning his fly. He was looking forward to getting some help unbuttoning it, maybe real soon. He'd have a couple of steaks first; that'd be just the ticket. Jeez, he could eat a horse. He needed to ditch this guy.
"You see, Babe, they may start asking about the Series the year before, you know, 1918, the one you won with the Red Sox?"
Babe paused and fixed Attell with a level gaze. The little man repeated himself. Then Babe stepped up close and looked down his shirt front at this nasty little weasel. He dropped his voice low. "What's that to me? Like you said, the Red Sox won. Couldn't've been any payoffs to us, right?"
Attell stepped back and showed Babe the palms of his hands. "That's what I says to the boss. I says, hey, the Babe's good on this one, couldn't be a problem. But the boss, you know, he says I should pass the word, make sure the Babe don't get surprised by anyone, say, someone coming around and asking questions. The boss, you know, he's real careful. That's why he wanted me to mention that other thing, too, make sure you remember it."
The ballplayer's left hand shot out and grabbed a fistful of Attell's shirtfront. He lifted the smaller man up on his toes until the crooked nose was inches from Ruth's big pie face. The fans loved that mug, round like the moon when it broke into a smile, but the fans never saw this expression, blue eyes blazing, jaws grinding. "Don't push your luck, you lousy kike," he said in a low voice.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. I don't mean nothing bad. I'm your friend here. Every time your name comes up, Babe, I defend you. But the boss, like I said, he's real careful."
Babe dropped Attell back onto his feet. He took a clean collar and necktie out of the locker and started toward a wall of mirrors that hung over a line of sinks. He had few pleasant memories of that 1918 World Series. It was nothing but fighting, starting with the fight over whether there would even be a World Series. Who needed ball games when our boys were dying in France to save democracy? Then there was the fight with the government over whether ballplayers should be drafted to help out with all that dying. And then fighting with the other players over whether to go out on strike for a decent payday. Then there was fighting with the fans who jeered that the ballplayers were disloyal ingrates, ought to all go enlist in the army. The gamblers, they'd been the worst, frantic for action, what with the racetracks shut down for the war. Those creeps packed the team clubhouses to the gills, scrounging for inside tips, making friends, passing out favors. Then the Series — that had to be the least fun anyone ever had winning a championship. And then there was the other thing. Stupid. He'd been set up, sure, but it was still stupid, especially since it landed him way too deep with Abie Attell and his boss, Arnold Rothstein.
As Babe set to work on his tie, Attell walked up behind him. "Okay, I'll be moving along. Take care of yourself."
Babe's eyes followed Attell's retreating image in the mirror. The small man bounced on the balls of his feet, like he was getting ready to box a few rounds. Or maybe just had. Bastard, Babe thought. Feeding on the Babe's carcass. All of 'em. That's all they did.
Porterhouse, he thought next. That would pick up his mood. Two of 'em.CHAPTER 2
Jamie Fraser, with Eliza on his arm, took a deep breath of brisk September air. Chinese lanterns bordered the rooftop patio of Madison Square Garden. Flaming torches lit the buffet tables, spreading a faint aroma of paraffin. White-gloved waiters offered trays with glasses of champagne. Jamie lifted two and handed one to his wife. He knew that set of her jaw. It wasn't ever good.
"Twenty minutes, Jamie. Please keep track. Then we flee." She pounded down the champagne in two quick swallows. She reached around a woman in blue for another.
"You're overreacting. It wasn't that bad." They and nearly fifteen hundred other New Yorkers had just left the Garden's theater downstairs after viewing the premiere of Headin' Home, the new feature film starring the great Babe Ruth.
After a more moderate swallow of champagne, she shook her head. "It was only bad if you like a plausible plot and actual characters. For those who prefer shopworn clichés served up by a blend of no-talent hambones and stiffs, Headin' Home is perfect." She finished the second glass and looked around for a waiter. "I suspect that audiences will be 'headin' home' soon after the opening credits."
"Come on, now. You knew this wasn't going to be an artistic triumph. The idea was to cash in on Ruth — give baseball fans around the country a close-up look at the new hero. No one's expecting Chekhov."
Eliza wheeled on him, hazel eyes flashing. "If you think it's helpful to remind me of my own idiocy, I can go home in a taxi."
In their early days together, Jamie had delighted in his wife's high spirits. Like a proud mustang, he had thought. These days the word that came to mind was difficult. Increasingly, he found himself paddling dazedly in her wake, surprised by some unforeseen eruption. What was his crime this morning? Ah, yes, taking too long with the news section of the Herald. And that was after she had already looked through two other newspapers. Lock him up and throw away the key! Of course, she'd never been easy, which he had liked. Imagine that.
Eliza issued a dramatic sigh and slipped a gloved hand into the crook of his elbow. "All right, dear. Let's face the music before I drink enough to tell everyone what I really think. It's actually good champagne. Remarkable in view of our supposed Prohibition laws."
Excerpted from The Babe Ruth Deception by DAVID O. STEWART. Copyright © 2016 David O. Stewart. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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