O’Malley couldn’t have been happier to learn of McGraw’s tragic accident–not if he’d tripped into a pot of gold after hearing about it. He organized a half-hearted search party to go off hunting for Sullivan and Meriwiskey, mostly to soften the blow of his next move and to pacify the naysayers claiming his mines were unsafe.
The search party did round up Meriwiskey, that sniveling scum. Only made it about two hundred yards into the woods and was just rocking himself back and forth against a tree and mumbling to himself when they found him. Course someone was bound to trip across him. They never found Sullivan. Never tried too hard neither. I expect O’Malley was glad to finally be rid of the Captain, scared of him as he was.
As for O’Malley’s next move, it was to announce himself as the emergency manager of our very own Canaries Baseball Club. It was the last shovel full of dirt piled on McGraw’s grave. Kind of tactless how he did it, but who needed tact when you had money and power and, most of all, fear on your side?
“John McGraw Williamson was a great man,” O’Malley said in a solemn voice as soon as Father McDermott had finished paying his tribute. He lowered his head like he was aiming to honor McGraw with a eulogy of his own. He then continued, “And he was a brilliant and beloved coach. His post will be left notably vulnerable, which is why I’ll be filling in for him. That it is filled by an honorable, respected pillar of our community is essential in lending credence to the hard work of John Williamson.” And then he feigned some mighty theatrical sniffles, but he couldn’t hide—at least from me—the evil sneer that hid just below the surface.
There was only one moment in my life where I wanted to run up to someone and strangle the life out of them more than as I stood there in that desolate cemetery watching a tyrant celebrate the fallen king into his grave. It happened to be the very next day. And it happened to be the same gentleman I wanted to strangle.
It happened as I stepped through the breaker doors and into the sunlight for lunch. My timing couldn’t have been more faulty, what with O’Malley and a henchman of his walking past at just the same moment.
“Ah, Eddie,” he said to me. I wished he’d call me anything but Eddie, cause I didn’t feel like we were on that kind of basis and I doubted we ever would be. “Just the man I wanted to see,” he continued, grabbing me by the shirt sleeve and yanking me in the direction he and his henchman were traveling. “I added a few more duties to your bat boy job, Eddie. Thought I’d mention it.”
“Like what?” I asked under my breath.
“Well, like this.” And he jammed a heavy, leather satchel filled with God-knows-what into my gut.
“What’s this?” I asked winded.
“Oh, eh, baseball gear. You know, the usual. Now carry it up with us to my study.”
Now, O’Malley’s study wasn’t aptly named because I doubt the man ever studied anything that wasn’t bringing him more money. In reality it was just a small cabin he outfitted with fancy, imported leather furniture, ornate ashtrays and wood paneling where he’d do most of his shady dealings. Course there were a whole bunch of books in there, mostly just show pieces with an inch thick layer of dust on top of each one of them.
Like I said, I wanted to strangle him right on the spot for asking me to do his dirty work; after how he’d treated all the people who were close to me; after he’d sullied McGraw’s funeral by anointing himself with everyone’s grief. After sending Orange Dust up the river and at least playing a part in Chief’s predicament. After sucking the life out of the Canaries and while continuing to hold Miss Molly in his grimy grasp.
But I saw no realistic way to fight back. Sure, I could have blackened up his eye a bit by swinging that heavy satchel right back from where it came, but what would that have accomplished? What would become of me then? Of my friends? My Pop? The Bull’s Head?
So once again you see how he had me; had all of us, really.
I carried that satchel against my will and listened to O’Malley drone on in the ear of his henchman, so absorbed in his own world that he barely remembered my existence.
“I’ve got the R&R watching everything I do, Mitch!” he was saying to the henchman. “And now the damned A-O-H is griping about wages again. Well, they ain’t gonna get ‘em. Not a damned red cent is comin’ out of O’Malley’s pockets, Mitch.”
“No sir,” the henchman said subserviently. The AOH, the Ancient Order of Hibernarians like I mentioned before, had a whole lot to do with trying to build up a union in that coal mine. Most of the elders of the group were miners themselves or ex-miners who were posing as charity workers while trying to organize the workforce of the anthracite collieries against the coal barons. Everyone, both baron and miner alike, were quite aware of the front, but both groups played along anyway, for what reason I could never understand.
“It’s that damned Mohan again,” O’Malley railed. “Somehow he keeps the natives motivated with those amateur stories he writes for the rag out of Shamokin.”
“The Shamokin Times, sir,” the henchman said in his robotic voice.
“I prefer to call it the rag. It’s all it’s worth. Not as if it holds a candle to the quality we crank out in the company paper.” ‘Course, I couldn’t hold back a chuckle when I thought about how the company paper cranked something out, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t quality. “What you laughin’ at Eddie?”
I swallowed up the laugh as soon as I heard him call me Eddie, but I kept my composure. “Oh nothing,” I said, trying to sound as young and naïve as I could. “Just thinking about a bedtime story my pop told me once.” That seemed to satisfy him cause he didn’t ask no further. He just kept grumbling to the henchman he called Mitch.
“We really need to start thinking up a way to tie a rope around that man’s tongue. I’ll be damned if some two-bit journalist is gonna turn the screws on me. Oh, Eddie, that’ll be fine.” We’d approached the door of the so-called study and O’Malley was quick to wrench his precious satchel back from my coal-stained mitts.
Well, you could bet the first thing I did when I broke free of O’Malley’s sight was to sprint into town and buy me a copy of the Shamokin Times to see if old Patrick Mohan had written another column standing up to the coal barons. I must have busted it down to the Mammoth Store and back to the breaker in the time it took me to take my next breath. And I was rewarded cause Mohan did have an article in that very edition, under ‘Editorials’ and I certainly do happen to still have a copy of it with me right here today. The man was more than a bit wordy, so let me pick a few parts that give you an idea of why O’Malley wanted his tongue cut out.
“…It’s a question of whether or not we respect our fellow man enough to stand up in the face of fear and smite those who do us harm. To forge ahead regardless of the threat upon face and family is essential. We cannot worry about what might happen to our children if we attempt to organize today, for if we fail to organize, we will fail to provide those very children with a tomorrow worth living for.”
“…Joyner O’Malley, for one, seems to fit the mold of the coal baron who spews flames from his nostrils and pays no mind to the excess sparks which shower down painfully upon the workers at Northern. For him the horns are not so well hidden under the ample shade of his derby. For him, the stench of fire and brimstone come not from within the soot-filled pits he presides over, but from much deeper than anyone at any anthracite colliery could possibly dig. A shallower grave than the deepest, darkest recesses of a forgotten coal hole would nary be adequate for a demon such as this.”
“…exactly why we need to band together as one rather than slink away as spineless, slithering serpents. As individuals, we are nothing more than benign scraps of granite and mica cast aside in their breakers as worthless. United, it’s our sweat, it’s our blood, and it’s our back breaking labor that keeps this coal business running. And united it could be our might that takes it down, or at least topples the evil gargoyles perched atop its towers.”
Boy, old Mohan could rail on like no politico I ever read before or since. First time
I read this here piece I was surprised he was allowed to breathe long enough to keep writing more. After all, the man did have a flair for the inspirational and he did know how to use some of the most powerful men in the land as his kindling. I guess you couldn’t blame O’Malley for wanting to dry Mohan’s ink.
That’s probably why he was still complaining about him the following Sunday at the game. It was his first official game at the Canaries helm and I must tell you, not as many fans as you think were ripe to come out to Panhandle that day. But there were still a few gatherers around the field nonetheless, and the game would go on if there were people watching or not. Would have been lucky for the Canaries if people weren’t watching too, because the new lineup sure was stinking it up.
I never took much time getting to know any of O’Malley’s replacements, partly because I was still struggling with the rapid removal of all my friends and heroes, but mostly because they were the kind of people who seemed to love abuse, the way they cozied up to O’Malley. Whether a rising mining engineer, a struggling local politician, or one of the general heavy bodies like Mitch who followed O’Malley around the mine site all day long, these guys must have been chosen based on whose nose could attach most firmly to the portly baron’s bottom.
But for all the brown-nosing these guys did, they couldn’t play a lick of baseball. O’Malley’s parlor room managerial style didn’t help matters either. He was convinced he could just strut around that dugout on pure power alone and win ball games. But nobody told him victories weren’t bought with cash, least not in them days. Fact is, a small nucleus of Honus, Foggy, Rube and Sheriff, as good as they were in their own right, wasn’t enough to bandage the mistakes on most days.
“Mohan’s startin’ to irk me, Mitch,” I heard O’Malley whisper as he stood one deck. The crowd shouted obscenities at Clean-Livin’s replacement after the ball eluded his bat for the third straight time and then I heard O’Malley say, “It’s time to act.”
The only real response he ever got from the lumbering gorilla called Mitch was a barely noticeable nod and a monotone “Yes, sir.” But he did it nonetheless, maybe just so he could hear his own voice.
Then O’Malley went on up there to the plate. It couldn’t have been more than a minute later that he arrived back in the dugout complaining about how the umpire had cost him his at bat. Only thing he forgot to mention in his complaints was that he’d gone down swinging on three belt-high fastballs. ‘Course nobody questioned him, including the man in blue, who found it easier to just ignore O’Malley’s obscene tirades than it was to step into the middle of them. Even the crowd was less enthusiastic than usual about giving him the once over, especially when the games started to feel out of reach.
If strikeouts, errors, and arguments counted for anything positive in the game of baseball, the Canaries would have been riding high that day. As it stood, the score saw them down 7-0 by the middle of the fifth. All O’Malley could do was rail against his players when they made mistakes and mutter about Mohan under his breath. You’d have thought Mohan was on the team, he talked about him so much.
I guess it was somewhere around the sixth, maybe seventh inning and the bases, as they had been quite often that game, were loaded with visitors. There was one out and the batter slapped a little chopper in the hole between short and third. Course Grizzly’s replacement at third wasn’t worth a wooden nickel as a fielder, or a hitter for that matter, so that left Honus up to the task. He fielded the ball about two steps on the outfield grass and almost directly behind the third baseman, then he spun and fired a rocket across the diamond to first. It was a beautiful play alright! Only problem was, the runner beat out the throw by the width of a split hair.
Well, O’Malley tossed off his mask and charged a few steps out from behind the plate, and he really started in on Honus.
“Come on now, Honus! I thought you knew how to play this game! I’ve seen better hands on a snake! Got nothing but a little rag arm!”
I’d heard O’Malley dishing it out to the players all day, but he seemed to enjoy lashing out at Honus a little extra. Maybe it was because he was one of the originals, one of McGraw’s boys. Or maybe it was because Honus represented the workers in his mine and the Mohan’s of the world he loathed so much. Whatever the reason, he did his best to portray Honus in front of his hometown crowd as a two-bit busher unfit to set foot on a ball field.
And Honus didn’t take too kindly to it.
I could see a dark shroud form over his face and he squeezed his fists until his hands shook and the knuckles were white. But he didn’t say a word. No, Honus was more a man of action. He would wait for his chance to make a vivid statement against O’Malley, and then he’d strike. And it came in the form of a chopper to second on the very next pitch.
Foggy scooped it up and flipped to Honus, who leapt in the air to avoid the rough slide of a barreling runner before completing the double play with a flick of his wrist. But old Honus wasn’t done there. Not by a long shot. Boy, he was just starting up.
His first mode of action was to come down fist first on the base runner’s jaw which, as you can imagine, didn’t elicit the most friendly of responses between players. That was when Honus really went to work, smacking and punching and kicking that poor nameless gentleman, who’d found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, to a fine pulp. It happened so quickly neither team could react to the situation. Within seconds that man’s face was bloodied and bruised up like a prize fighter who’d found himself on the losing side of the ring.
Then Honus kicked his glove across the infield, pointed at O’Malley with a wild look in his eye and marched right off the field. It was as close as anyone could get to dropping a fist upon O’Malley without having your guts spilled in the streets the following day. Or, at least, that’s the way Honus saw it.
O’Malley it seemed, judging by the eerie glimmer that twinkled in his eyes as Honus made his exit, had other ideas. Ideas, that sprung from a single, harmless statement shouted by a fan we all happen to know as one Enoch Locke.
“Looks like you’re ready to take on the coal barons yourself, Honus!” he shouted as the angry shortstop stormed off the field in his blood-streaked uniform. Enoch, as we all know, was referring to the comical stretch of black yarn old Honus had weaved just a week prior when he was still enjoying lunch times with McGraw. But it proved to be the stone O’Malley needed to knock two pesky birds out of his roost.
I walked back to the Bull’s Head by myself after the game, but it sure didn’t feel that way. Seemed word of Honus’s heroically symbolic act on the playing field was spreading through the streets like a slow-burning fire. The hushed murmurs seeped out through cupped hands and from around street corners like bizarre traveling companions.
Did mighty good for Pop’s business too, cause when I stepped inside to start my shift, the place was already half-packed. Most everybody knew it was Canary custom to meet at the Bull for a cold one after the game, but it was usually a habit left mostly to the players. This night was different because Honus had created a stir. People wanted to know if somebody was finally aiming to get rid of O’Malley forever.
Everywhere I looked I saw someone I’d never have dreamed of seeing in my pop’s establishment, Not in a million years. Why, old Enoch Locke brought his brother and his sister-in-law. And old Irma Locke, all eighty four years of her, was just sitting at a table sipping a frothy glass of beer.
Father McDermott sipped on his beer down at the end of the bar. He sat next to a man I didn’t recognize in a shabby brown suit, and the two took turns plucking stale pretzels out of one of the wooden bowls Pop put out just for show.
Course some of the usual characters were in attendance as well, like Foggy and Rube, who clinked shot glasses together and laughed about something that had apparently happened during the game. And Sheriff, who was sat at a table in a far corner with Ms. Nellie Parsons. He shifted nervously in his chair and his eyes darted around the room. Probably had something to do with the fact Ms. Lillian Eldridge has just walked in.
Sheriff had been whispering lines of poetry in Ms. Lillian’s ear for the better part of two weeks, as he told the boys in the dugout earlier that afternoon. Only problem was he was also whispering those same lines in Ms. Parson’s ear for the past month. Course, Ms. Boudreau was stomping around serving customers in her usual state when Sheriff was in the bar, which was generally brash and a bit rude. It was always curious to hear Lucy’s sweet, homespun tones transform into a snarl more fitting for one of Lucifer’s hounds than a pretty young lady. Course it only seemed to happen, now I think about it, when Sheriff was around with one of his admirers, as Lucy took pains to call them.
Well, the place erupted when the corner doors swung open and in walked Honus. I never saw anything like it at the Bull. People were hooting and hollering, smacking old Honus on the back, and giving him a general hero’s welcome. They even sung him a few rounds of For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow as he made his way, confused at first, to the bar for a little refreshment.
His confusion didn’t last long. Once Honus was made aware of the popularity of his act, he was more than ready to bask in the spotlight as long as he could. His first act of gloating came when he raise two fingers in Pop’s direction, who complied by pouring out two identical shot glasses full of whiskey and pushing them in Honus’s direction.
Honus raised one above his head and turned to face his spectators and said, “Here’s to the people of Centralia!” Everyone cheered and shouted a bunch of remarks that all kind of jumbled into one loud and prolonged bark. Just as soon as things quieted down a moment later, Honus raised the second glass above his head and said, “And here’s to one of my workmen’s boots lodged somewhere O’Malley don’t want it!” Course this little toast got a considerably louder cheer than the first and both Honus and his gathering of worshippers looked pleased. So pleased they were ready to hear Honus’ own glorified retelling of the story.
“Tell it to us!” Enoch shouted above the clamor, and the crowd showed its approval by raising the intensity of their whooping and yelling. Well, old Honus smiled and nodded his head. Then he silenced the Bull’s Head mob with a mere waggle of his finger.
“Well,” he began, “It all started around the second inning when O’Malley—“
But that was as far as he got. The man in the shabby brown suit rose from his stool and rushed over to Honus with his arms flailing out. He looked mighty foolish, as if he were trying to land himself on a runaway train. And there was something familiar about him too, though I couldn’t quite make out what it was at the time.
When he reached Honus, he wrapped his arm around his shoulders and said, “Ok, ok, everyone! I think that’s enough for tonight.” There were groans from everyone in the tavern, but the stranger continued anyway. “Tomorrow will be another day. And I promise you’ll be able to read the story over and over again in the morning edition of the Shamokin Times.” At this, many of the less-than-regular customers grumbled, or tossed a few peanut shells in a downward direction upon exiting the tavern.
But the stranger in the brown suit didn’t seem to mind. It didn’t wipe the smile off that man’s face in the least. Probably because he was quite sure the same group of grumblers who were leaving the Bull now, would be the first people in line to buy the Times and read his article in the morning.
“Patrick Mohan,” the stranger said to Honus, holding an outstretched hand in his direction. “Shamokin Times.”
Honus returned the gesture. “Nice to meet you,” he said, but I was more than sure old Honus hadn’t the faintest idea who this gentleman happened to be.
Me, on the other hand, well I was fit to burst with excitement, but that’s another story in itself. See, I had a whole heap of questions and comments and congratulations I’d practiced in my mind if I ever had the chance to talk to the journalist whose articles I’d become attached to during that summer. But I didn’t have the guts to carry any of them out when the chance finally came. I just pacified myself with some good old-fashioned eavesdropping on his conversation with Honus instead. They took a seat at a wobbly table just next to the bar, so it was easy for me to listen in as I pretended to give the old tap a nice spit shine.
“So I heard about your exploits, Mr. Wagner, and my editors at the Times are excited for me to do a piece on you. I’m excited myself. Just need you to climb on board and big things can happen.”
“Big things?” Honus asked. “What do you mean? I only got kicked out of a ballgame.”
“Ah, yes, but you did so while engaging in an act of defiance against an irascible tyrant and his ever-forging wheels of power and domination. You acted admirably, Mr. Wagner, very admirably. Quite responsibly too, but very, very admirably. And, of course, it seems as though you suddenly have many admirers.”
Honus looked puzzled. “Yeah, you keep saying that, about the admirers. But I still don’t see how anything can come outta me blowing my top at a ballgame. It’ll prolly happen again anyway. Heck, I know it’ll happen again.”
“All the more intriguing for my readers.”
“Oh, nothing. What I mean is, I plan to share your story with the entire circulation of the Shamokin Times and hopefully beyond.” Honus still looked more than a bit confused and he didn’t respond with anything other than a glazed-over stare. “What I mean to say,” Mohan continued, “Is that I’m writing an article about you to appear in tomorrow’s paper.”
“Oh,” said Honus, who was used to seeing his name in the daily box scores, “sounds great. What do you need from me?”
“Well, an interview,” Mohan responded, “and a desire to be appreciated, followed, even greatly admired by everyone in the Anthracite Hills.” He added a little emphasis and a sly wink to the last part of the sentence and, boy, did he fall upon pushing the right button! Honus longed for the spotlight more than Tully and McHugh clung to the bottle.
“That all?” Honus said in a pleasant voice. His look of nervous confusion released to a smile. “Then let’s get started straight away.”
Mohan pulled out a pencil and a big, yellow-paged docket in a matter of seconds. “Great,” he said. “No need to waste any time. Tell me how it all happened.”
“Well, it was about the second inning and O’Malley, who ain’t even a fraction of the coach McGraw was, God bless him, was already getting under my skin. He don’t make any moves, that man. His only strategy is to scream at you when you make a mistake, as if that’s gonna fix anything.”
“I see,” said Mohan, who hadn’t bothered to make a single mark on his pad. “Please, continue.”
“So, I don’t usually make too many mistakes, but in this game I did. Well, it wasn’t really a mistake, just a tough play I couldn’t complete. I’m not sure it was an error, you know, or if that’s how they put it in the scoring or not. But O’Malley starts in on me, calling me every name in the book. I wasn’t about to take that kind of abuse after all the blood I’d laid down on that field for my team. So I told myself right then and there that I’d send O’Malley a message the first chance I got. Well, next play I got my chance. Runner came barrelling in on a double play and I just unloaded on him. Beat him pretty bad. Ump tossed me, and that’s how I gave O’Malley his once-for.”
Mohan squinted his eyes behind his wire spectacles and jotted a note on the page. Then he wrinkled his forehead and stared into the eyes of Honus. “And then what did you do?”
“That’s it. I walked off the field.”
“You didn’t say anything to him?”
“You didn’t hit him or punch him or kick him?”
“You didn’t throw a ball at him or try to whack him with a bat?”
“Didn’t even so much as kick some dirt in his direction?”
“So, you didn’t do anything to him directly?”
“Well, I pointed at him.”
“You pointed at him?”
“Yeah, you know.” And Honus cleverly showed him how a person points at someone by stretching his index finger in my direction. Course I had to avert my eyes mighty quick so they wouldn’t think I was doing something so rude as to be listening in on their conversation.
“Fair enough,” said Mohan. He sounded downright disappointed, too.
“You sound less than impressed,” Honus mumbled.
“Well, I don’t exactly have a whole lot to go on here, but with a little bit of elaboration everything should work out just fine.” This seemed to satisfy Honus, mostly because I doubted he knew what the word elaboration meant, especially when used by a slick journalist. At any rate, the two gentlemen smiled and shook hands and then Mohan, in his ratty brown suit, made his way to the door. But then Honus stopped him for just one curious second.
“Hey Mohan!” he shouted. “One question for you. Do you mind?”
“Go right ahead, Mr. Wagner.”
“How’d you find out about this so fast, being as you operate out of Shamokin?”
“Got a tip, Mr. Wagner. Couldn’t tell you who it was because it came in anonymously. But whoever it was seemed quite sure I’d find you here tonight. Anyway, good day.” And then he tipped his brown derby and exited the Bull’s Head.
Course that following day I made sure to get my hands on Mohan’s column as soon as I could. Boys had a few copies around the lunch circle and I was able to snatch one for myself. Give it a listen and see if it doesn’t offer up a few more details than a first-hand witness could provide, if you know what I’m getting at:
CENTRALIA – As the old saying goes, every man must stand alone sometimes. For Mr. Wagner, popular short stop of Northern Colliery’s famed Canaries Baseball Club, that time came during the seventh inning of yesterday’s game.
Having been chastised, berated, and generally mistreated both on the field and in the mines for the better part of his four years with the company, our beloved hero had had enough with his slimy employer. That employer? Mr. Joyner O’Malley, owner and president of Northern Coal, and soul-sucking leach of humankind. One must wonder how Mr. O’Malley has the requisite time needed to apply himself to the aforementioned pursuits and still find the spare moments needed to fill John McGraw Williamson’s venerable shoes as Canary manager.
As Mr. Wagner puts it, “He don’t make any moves, that man [O’Malley], unless you count yelling and cursing at people game strategy.”
Sounds to me, Mr. Wagner, and to the scores of Anthracite coal miners up and down these mighty hills, that you happened to employ a bit of your own strategy. For it is with great admiration, exultation, and triumph that this noble journalist reports to you the heroics of the man they call Honus, who kicked and clawed and clubbed his will upon the brain of the wealthy, sniveling snake O’Malley, leaving innocent bystanders battered in the process. Mark me when I say this, but O’Malley could not have awakened beneath his frilly bed sheets this morning without the painful and most egregious bruises, left so deeply by Mr. Wagner, that they are like marks upon his soul.
I, for one, feel thankful that a chivalrous man like Honus has provided us with a beacon to follow on the darkest of nights. It is he, his passion, and his lead that shall beckon us out of the blackness of the coal seam, for it is he who stared directly into the cold, steely eyes of the monster, our oppressor, and still lives to tell of it. It is he who showed the monster, O’Malley, and anyone like him that his blood can and shall be spilt just as quickly as the men who have been felled by their hands.
But it is us—all of us together—who need to do our part to slay the monster for good.
It was the least wordy Mohan article I’d ever read, probably because he’d left out most of what really happened and substituted it with cleverly twisted propaganda. What he’d done was paint Honus as some kind of hopped-up union leader, a cause for all the malcontented mine workers in the area to follow, a sort of battle cry in human form. Honus hadn’t thought for a second about being a beacon or about bringing anyone out of the darkness. All he knew when he beat up that unsuspecting base runner was that he was mighty pissed at O’Malley and he needed to take it out on somebody.
Now, I’m no great genius, but it didn’t take me long after reading Mohan’s column to realize O’Malley wouldn’t take kindly to Honus from this point forward. And, just like clockwork, at the exact instant I’d made my very obvious realization, old Honus came skulking up the path from the direction of O’Malley’s study. He was whiter than a sheet in the county hospital and his brown eyes were glassy and welled-up so it looked like he was struggling to hold back tears. When he saw what I was reading he snatched it out of my hands and crumpled it into a ball. Course, as you know, I managed to scoop it up before I left since I just finished reading it to you. That’s why it’s all wrinkled and faded, mind you, not because I’m a disorganized and slightly disheveled old man…though I’m finding it harder each day to make that argument.
Anyway, he looked me straight in the eyes, Honus that is, and he said, “What the hell you reading that trash for, kid? It’ll make you go blind.”
“I was just—“
“Just don’t go believing everything you read. I’m in big trouble, Eddie, and I’m only gonna let you in on it cause you’re a kid and I don’t know who else to trust. I don’t want you to do nothing about it, just need to get it off my chest.”
And then he told me about what had just happened between he and O’Malley back in the study. How O’Malley sent one of his grunts, probably Mitch, to fetch Honus up from the hole. How O’Malley was wearing this great, evil grin and reading out loud from Mohan’s article as he entered. How he was just rocking back and forth real slow on his leather desk chair, kind of hypnotizing Honus. How he suddenly slammed the paper on his desk and then stabbed it with a great big dagger that he left sticking straight up out of the oak desk.
Well, old Honus told me O’Malley’s intimidation tactics worked to great effect. The yelling, the rattling off of questions not intended for Honus to answer, and then one final and absolute gesture. O’Malley’d handed Honus a shiny, black pistol and he said one thing to him—“I’m giving you this so you have a chance. Mighty sporting of me, isn’t it?” And that, too, was a question not intended for Honus to answer.
We ate the rest of our lunch in silence and went back to work, me with my lunch pail under my arm, and Honus with a fully loaded reminder of what lay in store for him under his. And while I was lulling my body to sleep picking slate out of the coal as it rolled on through the breaker, and busying my mind with thoughts of Honus’s predicament, I came up with a possible solution. It was slim, but at least it gave me hope.
I told Honus to meet me down at the Bull’s Head around nine and to be ready to talk himself out of trouble. He couldn’t see any harm in it, so he agreed. Then I hitched a ride on a milk cart all the way out to Shamokin. It was getting mighty late in the day, but I figured a hardworking gentleman like Mohan would still be in his office cranking out propaganda.
The office at the Times was a bustling place. People were shouting out orders from all directions and others were moving so fast through the room that a spectator like myself might think he was standing square in the middle of the baseline. Heck, I never knew news happened that fast or that it needed to be handled with such speed, but evidently creating lies for the local paper was best left to the athletes.
Well, it wasn’t hard to find Mohan. He was the blowhard surrounded by ten of his co-workers, presumably writers, bragging about how he’d coerced some kind of confession out of a convicted murderer down at the state prison. I remembered realizing, at that moment, how odd it was that just the night before I was tongue-tied around this noble writer. I’d envisioned him to be one of my heroes. Now, I was just standing there trying to keep my lunch down and forcing myself not to charge the sonuvabitch with my fists flying.
I managed to restrain myself and approached him with feigned respect. “Mr. Mohan, a word?” I asked politely.
“Sure, kid. What do you want? An autograph?”
“Not exactly,” I told him. And then I told him that Honus was in a considerable amount of trouble on account of what he’d written and that he’d like a chance to speak with him about it that night at the Bull. I really thought I’d have to be a good salesman to set up the meeting, but to my surprise, Mohan accepted my terms with open arms.
“Well, of course I’ll meet with Mr. Wagner,” he said in a volume that was louder than what we’d been using. “I’m sure he’ll want to talk strategy and begin organizing support. You hear that guys? William “Honus” Wagner knows exactly who to contact for this sort of thing. Any of you need some advice from one of the big boys, you know where to find me.” Turned out Mohan was one of the most arrogant rascals I’d ever met. Made Honus and his hankering for the spotlight look like a passing fancy.
I hitched a ride back to The Bull with Mohan, who insisted on thanking me for such a great news tip, and we strolled in to Pop’s establishment only a few minutes past nine. Pop didn’t look too pleased—a bit worried as well if I remember correctly—but I knew he’d understand when I explained the whole thing to him later.
I told Mohan to stay put for a second and I hustled over to Honus, who I’d spotted sitting at the same wobbly table as always.
“Honus,” I whispered to him, “I brought Mohan—“
“Where the hell is he?!?” he shouted, slamming his fist against the table.
“Relax,” I told him. “You need to plead with him to write another article.”
“Are you crazy, Eddie?! This is your plan? I don’t want him writing anything more about me.”
“Just listen to me. If you can explain your situation and get him to write another story telling people he was mistaken, you’ll be cleared.” He looked at me for a second. He wrinkled his forehead and tried to decide how to proceed. Then he shook his head and smiled.
“Ain’t no way this’ll work, Eddie, but I’m ready to try anything. I can’t stand another second looking over my shoulder at every corner the way I been doing.” I motioned for Mohan to come join Honus and then I headed over to my favorite eavesdropping position near the bar to do some spit shining.
Just as soon as I got over there, I got this empty feeling in my gut like I’d done something awful. Course about the same time I saw Mohan shaking his head in anger and I see Honus whispering something harsh through his teeth. It looked to me like all the tiny hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end, kind of like a dog when he’s about to strike. I couldn’t hear more than a few words here and there cause they were speaking in whispers, but their faces sure told a different story, as if they’d been screaming at each other loud enough to wake up half of Odd Fellows Cemetery. Before you knew it, Old Honus couldn’t keep it silent any longer and he belted out the first full sentence I could hear since I started my eavesdropping session.
“Then there’s nothing left for me to do!” he shouted, once again slamming his fist down on the table. At once, every head in the place lifted and turned in the direction of my little meeting. All except one gentleman, who wore a dark coat over a dark suit. I’d never seen him before or since, but I could swear I saw a satisfied smile wash over his face as he discreetly glanced at Mohan, then at Honus, then at the corner doors as he glided out into the black night.
Well, Honus collected himself and he and Mohan resumed their argument in a harsh whisper, waving arms and scowling faces and shaking heads. And then came the dangerous gesture I was hoping not to see. They both stared through each other, not blinking even in the slightest, and nodded. I knew what this meant. I knew it as soon as I saw them rise to their feet and calmly walk through the doors and into the night themselves that they’d be settling this little argument with their fists.
I snuck out through the back entrance and wheeled around through an alley, trying to get to my Pop’s store front before I missed anything good. But before I got there, I heard a loud bang. And then a muffled groan. And when I finally made it to the front of the bar, Mohan was lying in a pool of his own blood and Honus was on his knees staring at the shiny black pistol he held in his hands. The one O’Malley had given him. The one O’Malley had only loaded with five bullets. The one he’d given in duplicate to the shadowy figure in dark clothes I could swear I saw melting into the trees and disappearing. The one everybody who’d just come pouring out of the Bull’s Head was sure had just killed Patrick Mohan.
And, just like that, two of O’Malley’s most annoying little problems disappeared with the ring of a single gunshot.
TO BE CONTINUED
Come back next Thursday for Black Yarn part 8/10 – “DUMB LUCK”