So where was Sammy now? Not a call, not a letter, not a trace. One word to Sammy's new pal Leonel Fernández, the Dominican president, who was ringing up Sammy after almost every home run, and wouldn't Héctor be sprung from this sewer before the next rat scuttled by? Someone in Sammy's circle must have turned on Héctor, soured Sammy, made him ashamed of his mentor—that was all Héctor could surmise. Yes, it was true, in recent years Sammy had urged Héctor to be more dedicated to his family, to stay home more at night, to provide a better example for his children. Yes, it was true, Héctor hadn't lived up to that, but did it mean he deserved to live with a knife at his neck for a year?
Finally, Héctor would exhaust himself with such thoughts. Finally, sleep would come...and so would Sammy. In the dream that kept returning, Sammy would enter the prison and hug Héctor. "I'm here," he would say. "I'm here to get you out." The dream always woke Héctor and wouldn't let him back to sleep. Friends aren't those who make you smile, he would think as dawn washed in. They're those who make you cry.
One month now. One month to chase down the most magnificent record in American sports. One month to walk out that prison gate, free.
Every detail, every day now: The sound of Sammy's grunts as he pumped weights five hours before that game at Shea Stadium, the taste of the fruit juice to wash away the thirst, the smell of the clean T-shirt replacing the sweaty one after batting practice. Every moment of Sammy's pregame ritual was lived and relived inside Héctor's head, his attempt to prepare Sammy for that day's assault on the record, to obliterate time, to crush boredom, to wall off the fear—which welled deeper as Héctor's release drew nearer—that something terrible was going to happen.
One month. Sammy, 55. Ma Miguaya, 55. Concentrate. Ignore the prisoners who had begun grousing to Morillo, "This guy created Sammy. Let him out." Ignore the convicts cawing to Héctor, "Don't forget me when you get out! All I need from Sammy is a pair of Nikes!" Show nothing upon hearing what McGwire just did, no matter what it did to your stomach. Get your rest. Bless yourself. Hit to all fields. You're not here. You're there.
Number 56! The guards got new orders. They banished Héctor from the second-story roof, forced him down with the others. Number 57! No, it couldn't be just his imagination. He felt safer in the yard than before. In a funny way, Sammy was protecting Héctor. Protecting him with his bat, because all everybody wanted to do was talk about Sammy, and Héctor was the closest thing to Sammy that the prisoners had. Number 58! The surges of joy: He's gonna do it! Number 59! Then the crushing pain: Without me...without me.... Number 60! Number 60! Number 60!
Sept. 13: A Sunday afternoon. Visiting day. One more to pass the Babe, two more to pass Roger. What could Héctor do? He couldn't leave his family's side to check on Sammy's game, not after that Sunday a few months earlier when a knife fight started and Lieutenant Pérez thundered in and fired a bullet that blew a hunk of plaster out of the ceiling, which in turn fell on a visitor clutching a baby.
Miguel popped out of his room with the news, a bulletin interrupting his soap opera: Sammy hit two! Tied McGwire at 62! From outside the prison came the clatter of pots and pans, the honk of horns, the rattle-clang-crash of bicycles towing strings of cans. Inside the prison walls, music blared, inmates danced till 2 a.m., but not Héctor. He just kept hooting, "I told you I'd do it! Remember, I promised this!"
But he couldn't relax. Because the next day Sammy struck out four times, and Héctor had to get him back on track. And the day after, another prisoner got knifed and died. And a week after that, the breeze began to blow through the glassless window, and before Héctor knew it, he and the others were hunkered against the wall, soaked and shivering, with the wind coming at them louder than a 747 and a soldier standing over them with an assault rifle so no one would make a run for it and Elsa trembling in the prison guardhouse because she was terrified that Hurricane Georges would splinter her tiny palm-wood house. There went the Sammy photographs and the notebook, shredded and flying out the barracks window. Through it all, Héctor was figuring how many games Sammy had left (five) and how long it would take to find out whether Sammy had hit number 64 if there was no country left outside the window when the 747 pulled away.