Read The Given Day Online

Authors: Dennis Lehane

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

The Given Day (47 page)

BOOK: The Given Day
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But Luther hadn't waited. And now the Deacon was somewhere with Jessie and Luther was up here, aboveground. It took only a second for another to arrive on the same path as yours and change your life to a point it couldn't change back. One second.

"Why won't you write me, woman?" Luther whispered it to the starless sky. "You carrying my child, and I don't want him growing up without me. Don't want him knowing that feeling. No, no, girl," he whispered, "there's only you. Only you."

He lifted his brandy off the brick ledge and took a drink that singed his throat and warmed his chest and widened his eyes.

"Lila," he whispered and took another drink.

"Lila." He said it to the yellow slice of moon, to the black sky, to the smell of the night and the roofs covered in snow.

THE GIVEN DAY"Lila." He put it on the wind, like a fly he didn't have the heart to kill, and willed it to carry itself to Tulsa.

Luther Laurence, meet Helen Grady."

Luther shook the older woman's hand. Helen Grady had a grip as firm as Captain Coughlin's and a similar trim build, gunmetal hair, and a fearless gaze.

"She'll be working with you from here on out," the captain said. Luther nodded, noticing she wiped her hand on her pristine apron as soon as she took it back from his grip.

"Captain, sir, where's--?"

"Nora has left our employ, Luther. I noted a fondness between the two of you, and so I inform you of her dismissal with a measure of empathy for the bond you shared, but she is never to be spoken of in this home again." The captain placed a firm hand on Luther's shoulder and gave him a smile just as fi rm. "Clear?"

"Clear," Luther said.

Luther found Danny as Danny was returning to his rooming house one night. He stepped out from the building and said, "Fuck did you do?"

Danny's right hand drifted toward his coat, and then he recognized Luther. He dropped his hand.

"No 'Hi'?" Danny said. " 'Happy New Year'? Anything like that?" Luther said nothing.

"Okay." Danny shrugged. "First, this ain't the best neighborhood to be a colored in, or haven't you noticed?"

"I've been out here an hour. I noticed."

"Second," Danny said, "are you fucking crazy talking to a white man like that? A cop?"

Luther took a step back. "She was right."

"What? Who?"

"Nora. She said you were an act. You play the rebel. Play the man 390DENNIS LEHANE who says he don't believe in being called 'suh,' but now you tell me where it's okay for a nigger like me to go in this city, tell me how I's supposed to talk to your whiteness in public. Where's Nora?"

Danny held out his arms. "How do I know? Why don't you go see her at the shoe factory? You know where it is, don't you?"

" 'Cause our hours confl ict." Luther stepped to Danny, realizing people were starting to notice them. It would hardly be unreasonable for someone to whack him in the back of the head with a stick or just fl at out shoot him for stepping up to a white man like this in an Italian neighborhood. In any neighborhood.

"Why do you think I had anything to do with Nora leaving the house?"

"Because she loved you and you couldn't live with it."

"Luther, step back."

"You step back."

"Luther."

Luther cocked his head.

"I'm serious."

"You're serious? Anyone in the world looked close at that girl, they saw a whole country of pain had already paid its respects to her. And you, you--what?--you added to it? You and your whole family?"

"My family?"

"That's right."

"You don't like my family, Luther, take it up with my father." "Can't."

"Why not?"

" 'Cause I need the fucking job."

"Then I guess you should go home now. Hope you still have it in the morning."

Luther took another couple of steps back. "How's your union going?" "What?"

"Your dream of a workers brotherhood? How's that?"

Danny's face flattened, as if it had been run over. "Go home, Luther."

THE GIVEN DAYLuther nodded. He gulped some air. He turned and started walking.

"Hey!" Danny called.

Luther looked back at him standing by his building in the early evening cold.

"Why'd you come all the way out here? To dress down a white man in public?"

Luther shook his head. He turned to start walking again. "Hey! I asked you a question."

"Because she's better than your whole fucking family!" Luther took a bow in the middle of the sidewalk. "Got that, white boy? Go grab your noose, string me up, whatever the fuck you Yankees do up here. And you do? I'll know I died speaking truth to your fucking lie. She is better than your whole family." He pointed at Danny. "Better than you, especially."

Danny's lips moved.

Luther took a step toward him. "What? What's that?"

Danny put a hand on his doorknob. "I said you're probably right."

He turned the knob and entered his building and Luther stood alone on the steadily darkening street, raggedy Italians stabbing him with their almond eyes as they passed.

He chuckled. "Shit," he said. "I got him and his horseshit where it lived." He smiled at an angry old lady trying to slide past him. "Don't that beat all, ma'am?"

Yvette called to him soon as he entered the house. He came into the parlor with his coat still on because her voice sounded fearful.

But as he entered, he saw that she was smiling, as if she'd been touched by a divine joy.

"Luther!"

"Ma'am?" Luther used one hand to unbutton his topcoat.

She stood there, beaming. Isaiah came through the dining room and entered the parlor behind her. He said, "Evening, Luther." "Evening, Mr. Giddreaux, sir."

392DENNIS LEHANE

Isaiah wore a small private smile as he took a seat in the armchair by his teacup.

"What?" Luther said. "What?"

"Did you have a good 1918?" Isaiah said.

Luther looked away from Yvette's bursting smile and met Isaiah's tiny one. "Uh, sir, in point of fact, no, I did not have a good 1918. Bit troublesome if you need to know the truth, sir."

Isaiah nodded. "Well, it's over." He glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece: ten-forty-three. "Almost twenty-four-hours over." He looked over at his wife. "Oh, stop your teasing, Yvette. It's starting to torture me." He gave Luther a look--women--and then he said, "Come on now. Give it to the boy."

Yvette crossed the floor to him and for the first time Luther noticed that she'd kept her hands behind her back since he'd entered the room. Her body was rippling, and her smile kept sliding, topsy-turvy, all over her face.

"This is for you." She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek and placed an envelope in his hand. She stepped back.

Luther looked down at the envelope--simple, cream-colored, standard in every way. He saw his name in the center. Saw the Giddreauxs' address below it. He recognized the lettering--the way it managed to be tight and looping at the same time. He recognized the postmark over the stamp: Tulsa, Okla. His hands shook.

He looked in Yvette's eyes.

"What if it's good- bye?" He felt his lips tighten hard against his teeth.

"No, no," she said. "She already said good- bye, son. You said she'd closed her heart. Closed hearts don't write letters to men who love them, Luther. They just don't."

Luther nodded, his head as shaky as the rest of him. He thought of Christmas night, of putting her name on the breeze.

"I--"

They watched him.

"I'm going to read it upstairs," he said.

THE GIVEN DAYYvette patted his hand. "Just promise me you won't jump."

Luther laughed, the sound coming out high, like something that had been popped. "I . . . I won't, ma'am."

As he climbed the stairs, terror struck him. Terror that Yvette was wrong, that plenty of women wrote to say good-bye. He thought of folding the letter and putting it into his pocket and not reading it for a while. Until he was stronger, say. But even as the thought occurred to him he knew he had a better chance of waking up white tomorrow than waking up with that envelope still sealed.

He stepped out onto the roof and stood with his head down for a moment. He didn't pray, but he didn't quite not-pray either. He kept his head lowered and closed his eyes and let his fear wash over him, his horror at being without her for life.

Please don't hurt me, he thought, and opened the envelope carefully and just as carefully pulled out her letter. Please don't. He held it between the thumb and index finger of each hand, letting the night breeze dry his eyes, and then he unfolded it:

Dear Luther, It is cold here. I now wash laundry for folks that send it down from Detroit Avenue in big gray bags. It is a kindness I can thank Aunt Marta for since I know folks can get there laundry cleaned any old way. Aunt Marta and Uncle James have been my salvation and I know the Lord works through them. They said to tell you they wish you well--

Luther smiled, doubting all hell out of that.

--and hope you are all right. My belly is big. It is a boy Aunt Marta says for my belly points to the right. I feel this to. His feet are big and kicking. He will look like you he will need you to be his daddy. You have to find your way home.

Lila. Your wife.

394DENNIS LEHANE

Luther read it six more times before he could say for sure that he took a breath. No matter how many times he closed his eyes and opened them in hopes she had signed it "Love," that word did not appear on the page.

And yet . . . You have to fi nd your way home and he will need you to be his daddy and Dear Luther and most important . . . Your wife.

Your wife.

He looked back at the letter. He unfolded it again. Held it taut between his fi ngers.

You have to find your way home.

Yes, ma'am.

Dear Luther.

Dear Lila.

Your wife.

Your husband.

BABE RUTH and the WHITE BALL chapter twenty-four At noon on the fifteenth of January, 1919, the United States Industrial Alcohol company's molasses tank exploded in the North End. A vagrant child, standing beneath the tank, was vaporized, and the molasses flooded into the heart of the slum in waves three stories high. Buildings were heaved to the side as if by a callous hand. The railway trestle that ran along Commercial was hit with a scrap of metal the size of a truck. The center of the trestle collapsed. A fi rehouse was hurled across a city square and turned on its end. One fi reman perished, a dozen were injured. The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear, but Mayor Andrew Peters, the first politician to arrive on the scene, stated that there was little doubt terrorists were to blame.

Babe Ruth read every newspaper account he could lay his mitts on. He skipped any long stretches where words like municipal and infrastructure were commonly used, but otherwise it tickled him to his core. Astounded him. Molasses! Two million gallons! Fifty-foot waves! The streets of the North End, closed off to automobiles, carts, and horses, stole the shoes of those who tried to walk them. Flies battled for pavement in swarms as dark and thick as candied apples. In the plaza 398DENNIS LEHANE behind the city stables, dozens of horses had been maimed by rivets that had flown like bullets from the exploding tank. They'd been found mired in the muck, neighing hideously, unable to rise from the sticky mess. In the middle of that afternoon, forty-five police gunshots punctuated their execution like the last blasts of a fireworks show. The dead horses were lifted by cranes and placed on the fl atbeds of trucks and transported to a glue factory in Somerville. By the fourth day, the molasses had turned to black marble and residents walked with their hands pressed to walls and streetlamp poles.

Seventeen confirmed dead now and hundreds injured. Good God-- the looks that must have been on their faces when they turned and saw those black waves curl up by the sun. Babe sat at the soda counter in Igoe's Drugstore and Creamery in Codman Square waiting for his agent, Johnny Igoe. Johnny was in the back, primping for their meeting with A. L. Ulmerton, probably going too heavy on the petroleum jelly, the cologne, the toilet water. A. L. Ulmerton was the big cheese of Old Gold cigarettes ("Not a cough in a carload!") and he wanted to talk to Babe about possible endorsements. And now Johnny was going to make them late with his showgirl fussing in back.

Babe didn't really mind, though, because it gave him time to leaf through more stories on the flood and the immediate response to it: the crackdown on all radicals or subversives who might have been involved. Agents of the Bureau of Investigation and officers of the Boston Police Department had kicked down doors at the headquarters of the Lettish Workingman's Society, the Boston chapter of the IWW, and Reed and Larkin's Left Wing of the Socialist Party. They fi lled holding pens across the city and sent the overflow to the Charles Street Jail.

At Suffolk County Superior Court, sixty-five suspected subversives were brought before Judge Wendell Trout. Trout ordered the police to release all who had not been formally charged with a crime, but signed eighteen deportation orders for those who could prove no U. S. citizenship. Dozens more were held pending Justice Department review of their immigration status and criminal history, actions Babe found per--

THE GIVEN DAYfectly reasonable, though some others did not. When the labor lawyer James Vahey, twice a Demo cratic candidate for governor of the Commonwealth, argued before the federal magistrate that internment of men who had not been charged with a crime was an affront to the Constitution, he was upbraided for his harsh tone and the cases were continued until February.

In this morning's Traveler, they'd compiled a photo essay that took up pages four through seven. Even though authorities weren't confi rming yet whether their wide net had caught the terrorists responsible, and that made Babe mad, the anger flared only for the briefest moment before it was tamped out by a delicious, itchy trill that thumped the top of his spine as he marveled at the sheer wreckage of it: a whole neighborhood smashed and tossed and smothered in the black-iron slathering of that liquid mass. Pictures of the crumpled firehouse were followed by one of bodies stacked along Commercial like loaves of brown bread and another of two Red Cross workers leaning against an ambulance, one of them with a hand over his face and a cigarette between his lips. There was a shot of the firemen forming a relay line to remove the rubble and get to their men. A dead pig in the middle of a piazza. An old man sitting on a stoop, resting the side of his head on a dripping- brown hand. A dead-end street with the brown current up to the door knockers, stones and wood and glass floating on the surface. And the people--the cops and firemen and Red Cross and doctors and immigrants in their shawls and bowlers, everyone with the same look on their faces: how the fuck did this happen?

BOOK: The Given Day
12.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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