Read The Given Day Online

Authors: Dennis Lehane

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Historical, #Thrillers, #Suspense

The Given Day (10 page)

BOOK: The Given Day
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His father had called him the night before. "Word has it old Georgie Strivakis is losing his faculties."

"Not that I've noticed," Danny said.

"He sent you out on a detail," his father said. "Did he not?" "He offered me the detail and I accepted."

"To a boat filled with plague-ridden soldiers."

"I wouldn't call it the plague."

"What would you call it, boy?"

"Bad cases of pneumonia, maybe. 'Plague' just seems a bit dramatic, sir."

His father sighed. "I don't know what gets into your head." "Steve should have done it alone?"

"If need be."

"His life's worth less than mine then."

"He's a Coyle, not a Coughlin. I don't make excuses for protecting my own."

"Somebody had to do it, Dad."

"Not a Coughlin," his father said. "Not you. You weren't raised to volunteer for suicide missions."

" 'To protect and serve,'" Danny said.

A soft, barely audible breath. "Supper tomorrow. Four o'clock sharp. Or is that too healthy for you?"

Danny smiled. "I can manage," he said, but his father had already hung up.

So the next afternoon found him walking up K Street as the sun softened against the brown and red brick and the open windows loosed the smell of boiled cabbage, boiled potatoes, and boiled ham on the bone. His brother Joe, playing in the street with some other kids, saw him and his face lit up and he came running up the sidewalk.

Joe was dressed in his Sunday best--a chocolate brown knickerbocker suit with button- bottom pants cinched at the knees, white shirt and blue tie, a golf cap set askew on his head that matched the suit. Danny had been there when his mother had bought it, Joe fidgeting the whole time, and his mother and Nora telling him how manly he looked in it, how handsome, a suit like this, of genuine Oregon cassimere, how his father would have dreamed of owning such a suit at his age, and all the while Joe looking at Danny as if he could somehow help him escape.

Danny caught Joe as he leapt off the ground and hugged him, pressing his smooth cheek to Danny's, his arms digging into his neck, and it surprised Danny that he often forgot how much his baby brother loved him.

Joe was eleven and small for his age, though Danny knew he made up for it by being one of the toughest little kids in a neighborhood of tough little kids. He hooked his legs around Danny's hips, leaned back, and smiled. "Heard you stopped boxing."

"That's the rumor."

Joe reached out and touched the collar of his uniform. "How come?"

"Thought I'd train you," Danny said. "First trick is to teach you how to dance."

"Nobody dances."

"Sure they do. All the great boxers took dance lessons."

He took a few steps down the sidewalk with his brother and then whirled, and Joe slapped his shoulders and said, "Stop, stop."

Danny spun again. "Am I embarrassing you?"

"Stop." He laughed and slapped his shoulders again.

"In front of all your friends?"

Joe grabbed his ears and tugged. "Cut it out."

The kids in the street were looking at Danny as if they couldn't decide whether they should be afraid, and Danny said, "Anyone else want in?"

He lifted Joe off his body, tickling him the whole way down to the pavement, and then Nora opened the door at the top of the stoop and he wanted to run.

"Joey," she said, "your ma wants you in now. Says you need to clean up."

"I'm clean."

Nora arched an eyebrow. "I wasn't asking, child."

Joe gave a beleaguered good-bye wave to his friends and trudged up the steps. Nora mussed his hair as he passed and he slapped at her hands and kept going and Nora leaned into the jamb and considered Danny. She and Avery Wallace, an old colored man, were the Coughlins' domestic help, though Nora's actual position was a lot more nebulous than Avery's. She'd come to them by accident or providence five years ago on Christmas Eve, a clacking, shivering gray-fl eshed escapee from the northern coast of Ireland. What she'd been escaping from had been anyone's guess, but ever since Danny's father had carried her into the home wrapped in his greatcoat, frostbitten and covered in grime, she'd become part of the essential fabric of the Coughlin home. Not quite family, not ever quite that, at least not for Danny, but ingrained and ingratiated nonetheless.

"What brings you by?" she asked.

"The Old Men," he said.

"A planning and a plotting, are they, Aiden? And, sure, where do you fit in the plan?"

He leaned in a bit. "Only my mother calls me 'Aiden' anymore." She leaned back. "You're calling me your mother now, are you?" "Not at all, though you would make a fi ne one."

"Butter wouldn't melt in your mouth."

"You would."

Her eyes pulsed at that, just for a moment. Pale eyes the color of basil. "You'll need to go to confession for that one, sure."

"I don't need to confess anything to anyone. You go."

"And why would I go?"

He shrugged.

She leaned into the door, took a sniff of the afternoon breeze, her eyes as pained and unreadable as always. He wanted to squeeze her body until his hands fell off.

"What'd you say to Joe?"

She came off the door, folded her arms. "About what?"

"About my boxing."

She gave him a small sad smile. "I said you'd never box again. Simple as that."

"Simple, uh?"

"I can see it in your face, Danny. You've no love for it anymore."

He stopped himself from nodding because she was right and he couldn't stand that she could see through him so easily. She always had. Always would, he was pretty sure. And what a terrible thing that was. He sometimes considered the pieces of himself he'd left scattered throughout his life, the other Dannys--the child Danny and the Danny who'd once thought of becoming president and the Danny who'd wanted to go to college and the Danny who'd discovered far too late that he was in love with Nora. Crucial pieces of himself, strewn all over, and yet she held the core piece and held it absently, as if it lay at the bottom of her purse with the white specks of talc and the loose change.

"You're coming in then," she said.

"Yeah."

She stepped back from the door. "Well, you best get started."

The Old Men came out of the study for dinner--florid men, prone to winking, men who treated his mother and Nora with an Old World courtliness that Danny secretly found grating.

Taking their seats fi rst were Claude Mesplede and Patrick Donnegan, alderman and boss of the Sixth Ward, as paired up and cagey as an old married couple playing bridge.

Sitting across from them was Silas Pendergast, district attorney of Suffolk County and the boss of Danny's brother Connor. Silas had a gift for looking respectable and morally forthright but was, in fact, a lifelong toady to the ward machines that had paid his way through law school and kept him docile and slightly drunk every day since.

Down the end by his father was Bill Madigan, deputy chief of police and, some said, the man closest to Commissioner O'Meara.

Sitting beside Madigan--a man Danny had never met before named Charles Steedman, tall and quiet and the only man to sport a three- dollar haircut in a room full of fi fty-centers. Steedman wore a white suit and white tie and two-toned spats. He told Danny's mother, when she asked, that he was, among other things, vice president of the New England Association of Hotels and Restaurants and president of the Suffolk County Fiduciary Security Union.

Danny could tell by his mother's wide eyes and hesitant smile that she had no idea what the hell Steedman had just said but she nodded anyway.

"Is that a union like the IWW?" Danny asked.

"The IWW are criminals," his father said. "Subversives."

Charles Steedman held up a hand and smiled at Danny, his eyes as clear as glass. "A tad different than the IWW, Danny. I'm a banker."

"Oh, a banker!" Danny's mother said. "How wonderful."

The last man to sit at the table, taking a place between Danny's brothers, Connor and Joe, was Uncle Eddie McKenna, not an uncle by blood, but family all the same, his father's best friend since they were teenage boys running the streets of their newfound country. He and Danny's father certainly made a formidable pair within the BPD. Where Thomas Coughlin was the picture of trim--trim hair, trim body, trim speech--Eddie McKenna was large of appetite and flesh and fondness for tall tales. He oversaw Special Squads, a unit that managed all parades, visits from dignitaries, labor strikes, riots, and civil unrest of any kind. Under Eddie's stewardship the unit had grown both more nebulous and more powerful, a shadow department within the department that kept crime low, it was said, "by going to the source before the source got going." Eddie's ever-revolving unit of cowboy-cops-- the kind of cops Commissioner O'Meara had sworn to purge from the force--hit street crews on their way to heists, rousted ex- cons five steps out of the Charlestown Penitentiary, and had a network of stoolies, grifters, and street spies so immense that it would have been a boon to every cop in the city if McKenna hadn't kept all names and all history of interactions with said names solely in his head.

He looked across the table at Danny and pointed his fork at his chest. "Hear what happened yesterday while you were out in the harbor doing the Lord's work?"

Danny shook his head carefully. He'd spent the morning sleeping off the drunk he'd earned elbow to elbow with Steve Coyle the night before. Nora brought out the last of the dishes, green beans with garlic that steamed as she placed it on the table.

"They struck," Eddie McKenna said.

Danny was confused. "Who?"

"The Sox and the Cubs," Connor said. "We were there, me and Joe."

"Send them all to fight the Kaiser, I say," Eddie McKenna said. "A bunch of slackers and Bolsheviks."

Connor chuckled. "You believe it, Dan? People went bughouse."

Danny smiled, trying to picture it. "You're not having me on?"

"Oh, it happened," Joe said, all excited now. "They were mad at the own ers and they wouldn't come out to play and people started throwing stuff and screaming."

"So then," Connor said, "they had to send Honey Fitz out there to calm the crowd. Now the mayor's at the game, okay? The governor, too."

"Calvin Coolidge." His father shook his head, as he did every time the governor's name came up. "A Republican from Vermont running the Democratic Commonwealth of Massachusetts." He sighed. "Lord save us."

"So, they're at the game," Connor said, "but Peters, he might be mayor, but no one cares. They've got Curley in the stands and Honey Fitz, two ex-mayors who are a hell of a lot more popular, so they send Honey out with a megaphone and he stops the riot before it can really get going. Still, people throwing things, tearing up the bleachers, you name it. Then the players come out to play, but, boy, no one was cheering."

Eddie McKenna patted his large belly and breathed through his nose. "Well, now, I hope these Bolshies will be stripped of their Series medals. Just the fact that they give them 'medals' for playing a game is enough to turn the stomach. And I say, Fine. Baseball's dead anyway. Bunch of slackers without the guts to fight for their country. And Ruth the worst of them. You hear he wants to hit now, Dan? Read it in this morning's paper--doesn't want to pitch anymore, says he's going to sit out if they don't pay him more and keep him off the mound at the same time. You believe that?"

"Ah, this world." His father took a sip of Bordeaux.

"Well," Danny said, looking around the table, "what was their beef?"

"Hmm?"

"Their complaint? They didn't strike for nothing."

Joe said, "They said the owners changed the agreement?" Danny watched him cock his eyes back into his head, trying to remember the specifics. Joe was a fanatic for the sport and the most trustworthy source at the table on all matters baseball. "And they cut them out of money they'd promised and every other team had gotten in other Series. So they struck." He shrugged, as if to say it all made perfect sense to him, and then he cut into his turkey.

"I agree with Eddie," his father said. "Baseball's dead. It'll never come back."

"Yes, it will," Joe said desperately. "Yes, it will."

"This country," his father said, with one of the many smiles in his collection, this time the wry one. "Everyone thinks it's okay to hire on for work but then sit down when that work turns out to be hard."

He and Connor took their coffee and cigarettes out on the back porch and Joe followed them. He climbed the tree in the backyard because he knew he wasn't supposed to and knew his brothers wouldn't call this to his attention.

Connor and Danny looked so little alike people thought they were kidding when they said they were brothers. Where Danny was tall and dark-haired and broad-shouldered, Connor was fair-haired and trim and compact, like their father. Danny had gotten the old man's blue eyes, though, and his sly sense of humor, where Connor's brown eyes and disposition--a coiled affability that disguised an obstinate heart--came entirely from their mother.

"Dad said you went out on a warship yesterday?"

Danny nodded. "That I did."

"Sick soldiers, I heard."

Danny sighed. "This house leaks like Hudson tires."

"Well, I do work for the DA."

Danny chuckled. "Juiced-in, eh, Con'?"

Connor frowned. "How bad were they? The soldiers."

Danny looked down at his cigarette and rolled it between his thumb and forefinger. "Pretty bad."

"What is it?"

"Honestly? Don't know. Could be influenza, pneumonia, or something no one's ever heard of." Danny shrugged. "Hopefully, it sticks to soldiers."

Connor leaned against the railing. "They say it'll be over soon." "The war?" Danny nodded. "Yeah."

For a moment, Connor looked uncomfortable. A rising star in the DA's offi ce, he'd also been a vocal advocate of American entrance into the war. Yet somehow he managed to miss the draft, and both brothers knew who was usually responsible for "somehows" in their family.

Joe said, "Hey down there," and they looked up to see that he'd managed to reach the second-highest branch.

BOOK: The Given Day
9.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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