1947: Jackie Robinson breaks baseball's color barrier--and changes the world. The event also changes the life of Robinson's bodyguard--and those changes can prove fatal.
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June 07, 2005
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Excerpt from Double Play by Robert B. Parker
JOSEPH BURKE got it on Guadalcanal, at Bloody Ridge, five .25 caliber slugs from a Jap light machine gun, stitched across him in a neatly punctuated line. The medics put on pressure bandages and shot him up with morphine and nothing much made any sense to him afterward. It was a blur of tubes and nurses and bright lights and descents into darkness, surgeons, frightening visions, and bad smells and the feel of ocean. One day he looked around and he was in bed in a hospital.
"Where the fuck am I?" he asked a nurse.
"Chelsea Naval Hospital."
"Am I going to live," he said.
She was a fat gray-haired woman with deep circles under her eyes. She nodded.
"Yes," she said.
For weeks he was paranoid delusional. He heard the nurses whispering together at night. They had husbands in the army; they hated Marines. He could hear their husbands whispering with them, visiting them on the floor, parking their cars with the motors running just outside his window. The ceiling lights were recessed. He saw small figures in them, a man being greeted by a butler in an ornate hallway. He slept only in moments, watching the clock on the ward wall. 0300 hours. Dawn will be here in 180 minutes. He could see the tip of a steeple through the window on the opposite wall. Sometimes he thought it was the bridge of a troop ship. Sometimes he thought it was the church he used to go to in South Boston. Sometimes it was a church steeple outside his hospital window. His wife came to visit. He asked her if she would bring him a gun, it would make him feel safer. If he had a gun he wouldn't feel so scared. One day they disconnected him from his tubes and one of the nurses got him up and helped him walk the length of the ward. He had to sit for a while in a straight chair at the other end, before he made the return trip. The next time they took him for a short walk into the corridor, past the nurses' station to the visitors' lounge. He walked stoop-shouldered, shuffling his feet. He sat in the lounge for a while with a small red-haired nurse with freckles. Then he shuffled back. At night he woke up and heard the nurses plotting with their boyfriends, the engines of their parked cars murmuring outside his window. He mentioned it the next morning to a nurse.
"Cars with their motors running?" the nurse said.
"Yeah. I keep listening to them. I keep hoping that they'll leave, but they don't."
"Right outside the window?"
"You're on the ninth floor."
He heard her but the words meant nothing.
"Too many drugs," the nurse said. "Too long in the intensive care unit. It's making you crazy."
He knew she was right. He knew he was crazy, but oddly, knowing it didn't make him less crazy. Sometimes he knew both realities at the same time. He knew he was in a ward at the Chelsea Naval Hospital. He also knew he was being stalked in a stark diner in New Bedford on a bitter cold night. His wife hadn't brought him the gun. He wasn't sure if she'd come back again.
They had him walking every day now. One day he made it round trip--to the end of the ward and back--without stopping to rest. One day they brought him solid food. A ham sandwich on white bread. He couldn't eat it. They brought it again the next day. He took a bite but couldn't force himself to swallow. When no one was looking he spit it into a bedpan. One day a physical therapy nurse came and took him for a walk out of the ward. They went past the visitors' lounge to a stairwell.