Héctor blinked. No cells here, nor in any of the buildings. Nothing to separate the small beds, old cots and foam cushions on the concrete floor. No guards. Nothing, when you lay down and closed your eyes, between you and whatever took hold of 40 convicts in the dark.
He looked up. Five men had already surrounded him. They took money. They took his shirt. Five sleepless days later, shaking with fever, Héctor was led to El Salón, a less violent barracks, and told he could sleep there. Morillo was doing what he could to save him.
Seven and a half months would pass before Héctor was brought to trial. The judge conceded that it might have been difficult to determine who possessed the drugs, but narcotics cases brought to trial in the Dominican Republic rarely go the defendant's way. Héctor was sentenced to a year in jail, dating back to his arrest.
Now, as June was coming to a close, three months remained of his sentence. Three months remained of Sammy's season. Together, they could do it. If Sammy could just keep sending baseballs into the clouds, across the land, over the sea and the prison wall, and if Héctor could just keep picturing them, hearing them, dreaming them—if Héctor could just keep being Sammy—he might survive.
Number 32, a 400-foot shot in Detroit, broke a record: Nineteen home runs in a month! Number 33 jacked the new record to 20. A new lust began to grip the prison. The few inmates who possessed radios or portable TVs possessed light in the black hole. They possessed a reason to wake up in the morning and live. They possessed Sammy. They possessed hope.
Héctor? He couldn't dream of having such a plastic box in prison. His family, on the $25 a week Elsa earned working nine hours a day at the pajama factory, was but a half step ahead of starvation. His dilemma grew fierce. Sammy was making history. Sammy was what stood between him and despair. Imagination alone was not enough. Héctor needed to see this drama unfold with his own eyes, to hear it with his own ears, but that meant....
Careful. He had survived this far by committing to a discipline far more rigid than he had ever followed before, by adhering to a strict set of nevers: Never play basketball; an elbow could lead to a knife. Never play baseball, never let them see talent; someone would need to level it. Never exercise after the others have awoken; tigres might take muscle as a challenge. Never dance. Never exit the shower naked or sleep only in your underwear. Never sit on anyone's bed. Never eat prison food or drink prison water. Never ask anyone's real name. Never give anyone anything; he'll come to expect it. Above all, the Golden Never: Never ask anyone for anything, or take anything, even if it is offered. Because then you owe.
How, then? How could he ask to see or hear Sammy's siege of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris without seeming to ask? He agonized, then broke his own rule, lent a blanket to one of the few men in his barracks who owned a radio because, well, maybe, just maybe.... A guard pulled Héctor aside. "Don't," he warned. "That one's a tigre, he killed a cop." Héctor backed off.
José, the thick, strong 19-year-old who slept a couple of beds away from Héctor, had a Walkman. But how could more than one man listen to a ball game on a set of headphones? "Héctor," José would chirp now and then, "your child is batting!" Héctor would spring to José's side, begin taking swipes with his invisible lumber, saying over and over, "¡Ahora! ¡Vamos! Now! Let's go! I need one!" Others began to congeal around them, led by Alemán, a tall, thin, light-skinned car mechanic who had become Héctor's closest friend in jail, and Yegua, the quiet man with the popped eyes and the eruptive temper. The moment the earphones came off José's head, the men squabbled over them like children.