"It's cold out here," they would say.
"I know," he would answer.
"No, you don't, you...." And Papa would just look away, thinking how cold it was outside, trying to think of all the things that would leave him indifferent to those wretched figures. Then it would be that he sometimes would think of baseball, the small things he missed about it, things that would pop into his mind for no reason: a certain glove, the feel of a ball and bat, a buttoning of a shirt, the sunlight. "You try to gel that game out of your mind," he says, "but it never leaves ya. Somethin' about it never leaves ya."
Papa Bell is 70 now [he died in 1991, at 87]. He lives on Dickson Street in North St. Louis, a neighborhood under siege: vacant, crumbling houses, bars where you could get your throat cut if you even walked in the wrong way, packs of sky-high dudes looking for a score. They have picked on Papa's house a couple of times, so now when he feels something in the air, hears a rustic outside of his door, he will go to the front window and sit there for long hours with a shotgun and a pistol in his lap. "They don't mess with Papa anymore," says his friend Tweed, looking over at Papa sitting in his city hall retirement chair. "It's a reclinin' one," says Tweed. "Show 'im how it reclines, Papa."
Now the two of them, Tweed and Papa, who sits in his chair like a busted old jazz musician, torn around the edges but straight with dignity, spend much time together in Papa's living room. They mull over old box scores, over all the clippings in Tweed's portable archives. They try to bring continuity of performance to a man's record that began when nobody cared. They assemble pictures to be signed for people who write and say that they hear he will be going into the Hall of Fame; the days are sweet.
"Can't believe it," says Tweed. "Can you, Papa? Papa Bell in the Hall of Fame. The fastest man who ever played the game."
"Ain't happened yet," cautions Papa, adjusting his tall and lean figure in his chair.
"Tell me, Papa," says Tweed. "How's it goin' to feel? The Hall of Fame...mmm, mmm."
"Knew a fella blowed the horn once," says Papa. "He told me. He say, 'Ya got to take the gigs as they come.' "