Read The Given Day Online

Authors: Dennis Lehane

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

The Given Day (5 page)

BOOK: The Given Day
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Danny, a survivor of the 1916 bombing of the Salutation Street Station House, had been held in high regard since his rookie year on the job. He was broad-shouldered, dark-haired and dark-eyed; more than once, women had been noted openly regarding him, and not just immigrant women or those who smoked in public. Steve, on the other hand, was squat and rotund like a church bell, with a great pink bulb of a face and a bow to his walk. Early in the year he'd joined a barbershop quartet in order to attract the fancy of the fairer sex, a decision that had served him in good stead this past spring, though prospects appeared to be dwindling as autumn neared.

Steve, it was said, talked so much he gave aspirin powder a headache. He'd lost his parents at a young age and joined the department without any connections or juice. After nine years on the job, he was still a flatfoot. Danny, on the other hand, was BPD royalty, the son of Captain Thomas Coughlin of Precinct 12 in South Boston and the godson of Special Squads Lieutenant Eddie McKenna. Danny had been on the job less than five years, but every cop in the city knew he wasn't long for uniform.

"Fuckin' taking this guy so long?" Steve scanned the back of the hall, hard to ignore in his attire of choice. He claimed he'd read somewhere that Scots were the most feared of all corner men in the fi ght game. And so, on fight nights, Steve came to the ring in a kilt. An authentic, red tartan kilt, red and black argyle socks, charcoal tweed jacket and matching five-button waistcoat, silver wedding tie, authentic gillie brogues on his feet, and a loose- crowned Balmoral on his head. The real surprise wasn't how at home he looked in the getup, it was that he wasn't even Scottish.

The audience, red-faced and drunk, had grown increasingly agitated the last hour or so, more and more actual fights breaking out between the scheduled ones. Danny leaned against the ropes and yawned. Mechanics Hall stank of sweat and booze. Smoke, thick and wet, curled around his arms. By all rights he should have been back in his dressing room, but he didn't really have a dressing room, just a bench in the maintenance hallway, where they'd sent Woods from the Oh-Nine looking for him five minutes ago, told him it was time to head to the ring.

So he stood there in an empty ring waiting for Johnny Green, the buzz of the crowd growing louder, buzzier. Eight rows back, one guy hit another guy with a folding chair. The hitter was so drunk he fell on top of his victim. A cop waded in, clearing a path with his domed helmet in one hand and his pocket billy in the other.

"Why don't you see what's taking Green?" Danny asked Steve.

"Why don't you climb under my kilt and pucker up?" Steve chin-gestured at the crowd. "Them's some restless sots. Like as not to tear my kilt or scuff my brogues."

"Heavens," Danny said. "And you without your shine box." He bounced his back off the ropes a few times. Stretched his neck, swiveled his hands on the wrists. "Here comes the fruit."

Steve said, "What?" and then stepped back when a brown head of lettuce arced over the ropes and splattered in the center of the ring.

"My mistake," Danny said. "Vegetable."

"No matter." Steve pointed. "The pretender appears. Just in time."

Danny looked down the center aisle and saw Johnny Green framed by a slanted white rectangle of doorway. The crowd sensed him and turned. He came down the aisle with his trainer, a guy Danny recognized as a desk sergeant at the One-Five, but whose name escaped him. About fifteen rows back, one of Eddie McKenna's Special Squads guys, a goon named Hamilton, grabbed a guy off his feet by his nostrils and dragged him up the aisle, the Special Squads cowboys apparently figuring all pretense could be chucked now that the fi nal fi ght was about to begin.

Carl Mills, the BPD press spokesman, was calling to Steve from the other side of the ropes. Steve went to one knee to talk to him. Danny watched Johnny Green come, not liking something that floated in the guy's eyes, something unhooked. Johnny Green saw the crowd, he saw the ring, he saw Danny--but he didn't. Instead, he looked at everything and looked past everything at the same time. It was a look Danny had seen before, mostly on the faces of three-bottles-to-the-wind drunks or rape victims.

Steve came up behind him and put a hand on his elbow. "Mills just told me this is his third fight in twenty-four hours."

"What? Whose?"

"Whose? Fucking Green's. He had one last night over at the Crown in Somerville, fought another this morning down at the rail yards in Brighton, and now here he is."

"How many rounds?"

"Mills heard he went thirteen last night for sure. And lost by KO." "Then what's he doing here?"

"Rent," Steve said. "Two kids, a pregger wife."

"Fucking rent?"

The crowd was on its feet--the walls shuddering, the rafters shimmying. If the roof suddenly shot straight up into the sky, Danny doubted he'd feel surprise. Johnny Green entered the ring without a robe. He stood in his corner and banged his gloves together, his eyes staring up at something in his skull.

"He doesn't even know where he is," Danny said.

"Yeah, he does," Steve said, "and he's coming to the center." "Steve, for Christ's sake."

"Don't 'Christ's sake' me. Get in there."

In the center of the ring, the referee, Detective Bilky Neal, a former boxer himself, placed a hand on each of their shoulders. "I want a clean fight. Barring that, I want it to look clean. Any questions?"

Danny said, "This guy can't see."

Green's eyes were on his shoes. "See enough to knock your head off." "I take my gloves off, could you count my fingers?"

Green raised his head and spit on Danny's chest.

Danny stepped back. "What the fuck?" He wiped the spittle off on his glove, wiped his glove on his shorts.

Shouts from the crowd. Beer bottles shattered against the base of the ring.

Green met his eyes, Green's sliding like something on a ship. "You want to quit, you quit. In public, though, so I still get the purse. Just grab the megaphone and quit."

"I'm not quitting."

"Then fi ght."

Bilky Neal gave them a smile that was nervous and furious at the same time. "They's getting restless out there, gents."

Danny pointed with a glove. "Look at him, Neal. Look at him." "He looks fine to me."

"This is bullshit. I--"

Green's jab caught Danny's chin. Bilky Neal backed up, top speed, and waved his arm. The bell rang. The crowd roared. Green shot another jab into Danny's throat.

The crowd went crazy.

Danny stepped into the next punch and wrapped Green up. As Johnny delivered half a dozen rabbit punches into Danny's neck, Danny said, "Give it up. Okay?"

"Fuck you. I need . . . I . . ."

Danny felt warm liquid run down his back. He broke the clinch.

Johnny cocked his head as pink foam spilled over his lower lip and dribbled down his chin. He'd stood like that for five seconds, an eternity in the ring, arms down by his side. Danny noticed how childlike his expression had become, as if he'd just been hatched.

Then his eyes narrowed. His shoulders clenched. His hands rose. The doctor would later tell Danny (when he'd been stupid enough to ask) that a body under extreme duress often acts out of refl ex. Had Danny known that at the time, maybe it would have made a difference, though he was hard-pressed to see how. A hand rising in a boxing ring rarely meant anything but what one naturally assumed. Green's left fist entered the space between their bodies, Danny's shoulder twitched, and his right cross blew up into the side of Johnny Green's head.

Instinct. Purely that.

There wasn't much left of Johnny to count out. He lay on the canvas kicking his heels, spitting white foam, and then gouts of pink. His head swayed left to right, left to right. His mouth kissed the air the way fish kissed the air.

Three fights in the same day? Danny thought. You fucking kidding?

Johnny lived. Johnny was fine. Never to fight again, of course, but after a month he could speak clearly. After two, he'd lost the limp and the left side of his mouth had thawed from its stricture.

Danny was another issue. It wasn't that he felt responsible--yes, sometimes he did, but most times he understood the stroke had already found Johnny Green before Danny threw his counterpunch. No the issue was one of balance--Danny, in two short years, had gone from the Salutation Street bombing to losing the only woman he'd ever loved, Nora O'Shea, an Irishwoman who worked for his parents as a domestic. Their affair had felt doomed from the start, and it had been Danny who had ended it, but since she'd left his life, he couldn't think of one good reason to live it. Now he'd almost killed Johnny Green in the ring at Mechanics Hall. All of this in twenty- one months. Twenty-one months that would have led anyone to question whether God held a grudge.

His woman took off," Steve told Danny two months later. It was early September, and Danny and Steve walked the beat in the North End of Boston. The North End was predominantly Italian and poor, a place where rats grew to the size of butchers' forearms and infants often died before their fi rst steps. English was rarely spoken; automobile sightings unlikely. Danny and Steve, however, were so fond of the neighborhood that they lived in the heart of it, on different floors of a Salem Street rooming house just blocks from the Oh-One Station House on Hanover.

"Whose woman?"

"Now don't blame yourself," Steve said. "Johnny Green's." "Why'd she leave him?"

"Fall's coming. They got evicted."

"But he's back on the job," Danny said. "A desk, yeah, but back on the job."

Steve nodded. "Don't make up for the two months he was out, though."

Danny stopped, looked at his partner. "They didn't pay him? He was fighting in a department-sponsored smoker."

"You really want to know?"

"Yeah."

"Because the last couple months? A man brings up Johnny Green's name around you and you shut him down surer than a chastity belt."

"I want to know," Danny said.

Steve shrugged. "It was a Boston Social Club-sponsored smoker. So technically, he got hurt off the job. Thus . . ." He shrugged again. "No sick pay."

Danny said nothing. He tried to find solace in his surroundings. The North End had been his home until he was seven years old, before the Irish who'd laid its streets and the Jews who'd come after them had been displaced by Italians who populated it so densely that if a picture were taken of Napoli and another of Hanover Street, most would be hard-pressed to identify which had been taken in the United States. Danny had moved back when he was twenty, and planned never to leave.

Danny and Steve walked their beat in sharp air that smelled of chimney smoke and cooked lard. Old women waddled into the streets. Carts and horses made their way along the cobblestone. Coughs rattled from open windows. Babies squawked at so high a pitch Danny could imagine the red of their faces. In most tenements, hens roamed the hallways, goats shit in the stairwells, and sows nestled in torn newspaper and a dull rage of flies. Add an entrenched distrust of all things non-Italian, including the English language, and you had a society no Americano was ever going to comprehend.

So it wasn't terribly surprising that the North End was the prime recruiting area for every major anarchist, Bolshevik, radical, and subversive organi zation on the Eastern Seaboard. Which made Danny love it all the more for some perverse reason. Say what you would about the people down here--and most did, loudly and profanely--but you sure couldn't question their passion. In accordance with the Espionage Act of 1917, most of them could be arrested and deported for speaking out against the government. In many cities they would have been, but arresting someone in the North End for advocating the overthrow of the United States was like arresting people for letting their horses shit on the street--they wouldn't be hard to find, but you'd better have an awfully large truck.

Danny and Steve entered a cafe on Richmond Street. The walls were covered with black wool crosses, three dozen of them at least, most the size of a man's head. The owner's wife had been knitting them since America had entered the war. Danny and Steve ordered espressos. The owner placed their cups on the glass countertop with a bowl of brown sugar lumps and left them alone. His wife came in and out from the back room with trays of bread and placed them in the shelves below the counter until the glass steamed up below their elbows.

The woman said to Danny, "War end soon, eh?"

"It sounds like it."

"Is good," she said. "I sew one more cross. Maybe help." She gave him a hesitant smile and a bow and returned to the back.

They drank their espressos and when they walked back out of the cafe, the sun was brighter and caught Danny in the eyes. Soot from the smokestacks along the wharf seesawed through the air and dusted the cobblestone. The neighborhood was quiet except for the occasional roll-up of a shop grate and the clop-and-squeak of a horse- drawn wagon delivering wood. Danny wished it could stay like this, but soon the streets would fill with vendors and livestock and truant kids and soapbox Bolsheviks and soapbox anarchists. Then some of the men would hit the saloons for a late breakfast and some of the musicians would hit the corners not occupied by the soapboxes and someone would hit a wife or a husband or a Bolshevik.

Once the wife beaters and husband beaters and Bolshevik beaters were dealt with, there would be pickpockets, penny-to-nickel extortions, dice games on blankets, card games in the back rooms of cafes and barbershops, and members of the Black Hand selling insurance against everything from fire to plague but mostly from the Black Hand.

"Got another meeting tonight," Steve said. "Big doings."

"BSC meeting?" Danny shook his head. " 'Big doings.' You're serious?"

Steve twirled his pocket billy on its leather strap. "You ever think if you showed up to union meetings, maybe you'd be bumped to Detective Division by now, we'd all have our raise, and Johnny Green'd still have his wife and kids?"

Danny peered up at a sky with glare but no visible sun. "It's a social club."

"It's a union," Steve said.

BOOK: The Given Day
5.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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