Read The Given Day Online

Authors: Dennis Lehane

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

The Given Day (9 page)

BOOK: The Given Day
13.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

They met up with the doctor in the main cabin as the launch pulled away from the dock. The doctor was an old man, gone bald halfway up his scalp with a thick bush of white that stood up like a hedge. He didn't wear a mask and he waved at theirs.

"You can take them off. None of us have it."

"How do you know?" Danny said.

The old man shrugged. "Faith?"

It seemed silly to be standing there in their uniforms and masks while still trying to find their sea legs as the launch bounced through the chop. Ridiculous, really. Danny and Steve removed their masks. Gray followed suit. Gray's partner, though, kept his on, looking at the other three cops like they were insane.

"Peter," Gray said, "really."

Peter shook his head at the floor and kept that mask on.

Danny, Steve, and Gray sat across from the doctor at a small table.

"What are your orders?" the doctor said.

Danny told him.

The doctor pinched his nose where his glasses had indented. "So I assumed. Would your superiors object to us moving the sick by way of army ground transport?"

"Move them where?" Danny said.

"Camp Devens."

Danny looked over at Gray.

Gray smiled. "Once they leave the harbor, they are no longer under my purview."

Steve Coyle said to the doctor, "Our superiors would like to know what we're dealing with here."

"We're not exactly sure. Could be similar to an influenza strain we saw in Europe. Could be something else."

"If it is the grippe," Danny said, "how bad was it in Europe?"

"Bad," the doctor said quietly, his eyes clear. "We believe that strain may have been related to one that first appeared at Fort Riley, Kansas, about eight months ago."

"And if I may ask," Gray said, "how serious was that strain, Doctor?" "Within two weeks it killed eighty percent of the soldiers who'd contracted it."

Steve whistled. "Fairly serious, then."

"And after?" Danny asked.

"I'm not sure I understand."

"It killed the soldiers. Then what did it do?"

The doctor gave them a wry smile and a soft snap of his fingers. "It disappeared."

"Came back, though," Steve Coyle said.

"Possibly," the doctor said. He pinched his nose again. "Men are getting sick on that ship. Packed together like they are? It's the worst possible environment for preventing transmission. Five will die tonight if we can't move them."

"Five?" Ethan Gray said. "We'd been told three."

The doctor shook his head and held up fi ve fingers.

On the McKinley, they met a group of doctors and majors at the fantail. It had grown overcast. The clouds looked muscular and stone gray, like sculptures of limbs, as they moved slowly over the water and back toward the city and its red brick and glass.

A Major Gideon said, "Why would they send patrolmen?" He pointed at Danny and Steve. "You have no authority to make public health decisions."

Danny and Steve said nothing.

Gideon repeated himself. "Why send patrolmen?"

"No captains volunteered for the job," Danny said.

"You find amusement in this?" Gideon said. "My men are sick. They fought a war you couldn't be bothered to fight, and now they're dying."

"I wasn't making a joke." Danny gestured at Steve Coyle, at Ethan Gray, at the burn- scarred Peter. "This was a volunteer assignment, Major. No one wanted to come here except us. And we do, by the way, have the authority. We have been given clear orders as to what is acceptable and unacceptable action in this situation."

"And what is acceptable?" one of the doctors asked.

"As to the harbor," Ethan Gray said, "you are allowed to transport your men by launch and launch only to Commonwealth Pier. After that, it's BPD jurisdiction."

They looked at Danny and Steve.

Danny said, "It's in the best interest of the governor, the mayor, and every police department in the state that we not have a general panic. So, under cover of night, you are to have military transport trucks meet you at Commonwealth Pier. You can unload the sick there and take them directly to Devens. You can't stop along that journey. A police car will escort you with its sirens off." Danny met Major Gideon's glare. "Fair?"

Gideon eventually nodded.

"The State Guard's been notified," Steve Coyle said. "They'll set up an outpost at Camp Devens and work with your MPs to keep anyone from leaving base until this is contained. That's by order of the governor."

Ethan Gray directed a question to the doctors. "How long will it take to contain?"

One of them, a tall, flaxen-haired man, said, "We have no idea. It kills who it kills and then it snuffs itself out. Could be over in a week, could take nine months."

Danny said, "As long as it's kept from spreading to the civilian population, our bosses can live with the arrangement."

The fl axen-haired man chuckled. "The war is winding down. Men have been rotating back in large numbers for the last several weeks. This is a contagion, gentlemen, and a resilient one. Have you considered the possibility that a carrier has already reached your city?" He stared at them. "That it's too late, gentlemen? Far, far too late?"

Danny watched those muscular clouds slough their way inland. The rest of the sky had cleared. The sun had returned, high and sharp. A beautiful day, the kind you dreamed about during a long winter.

The five gravely ill soldiers rode back on the launch with them even though dusk was still a long way off. Danny, Steve, Ethan Gray, Peter, and two doctors stayed in the main cabin while the sick soldiers lay on the port deck with two other doctors attending. Danny had seen the men get lowered to the launch by line and pulley. With their pinched skulls and caved-in cheeks, their sweat-drenched hair and vomit-encrusted lips, they'd looked dead already. Three of the five bore a blue tint to their flesh, mouths peeled back, eyes wide and glaring. Their breaths came in huffs.

The four police officers stayed down in the cabin. Their jobs had taught them that many dangers could be explained away--if you didn't want to got shot or stabbed, don't befriend people who played with guns and knives; you didn't want to get mugged, don't leave saloons drunk beyond seeing; didn't want to lose, don't gamble.

But this was something else entirely. Could happen to any of them. Could happen to all of them.

Back at the station house, Danny and Steve gave their report to Sergeant Strivakis and separated. Steve went to find his brother's widow and Danny went to find a drink. A year from now, Steve might still be finding his way to the Widow Coyle, but Danny could have a much harder time finding a drink. While the East Coast and West Coast had been concerned with recession and war, telephones and baseball, anarchists and their bombs, the Progressives and their ole- time-religion allies had risen out of the South and the Midwest. Danny didn't know a soul who had taken the Prohibition bills seriously, even when they'd made it to the floor of the House. It seemed impossible, with all the other shifts going on in the country's fabric, that these prim, self-righteous "don't dos" had a chance. But one morning the whole country woke up to realize that not only did the idiots have a chance, they had a foothold. Gained while everyone else paid attention to what had seemed more important. Now the right of every adult to imbibe hung in the balance of one state: Nebraska. Whichever way it voted on the Volstead ratification in two months would decide whether an entire booze-loving country climbed on the wagon.

Nebraska. When Danny heard the name, about all that came to mind was corn and grain silos, dusk blue skies. Wheat, too, sheaves of it. Did they drink there? Did they have saloons? Or just silos?

They had churches, he was fairly certain. Preachers who struck the air with their fists and railed against the godless Northeast, awash, as it was, in white suds, brown immigrants, and pagan fornication.

Nebraska. Oh, boy.

Danny ordered two shots of Irish and a mug of cold beer. He removed the shirt he wore, unbuttoned, over his undershirt. He leaned into the bar as the bartender brought his drinks. The bartender's name was Alfonse and he was rumored to run with the hoolies and bullyboys on the city's east side, though Danny had yet to meet a copper who could pin anything specific on him. Of course, when the suspect in question was a bartender known to have a generous hand, who'd try hard?

"True you stopped the boxing?"

"Not sure," Danny said.

"Your last fight, I lose money. You both supposed to last to the third."

Danny held up his palms. "Guy had a fucking stroke."

"Your fault? I see him lift his arm, too."

"Yeah?" Danny drained one of his whiskies. "Well, then it's all fine."

"You miss it?"

"Not yet."

"Bad sign." Alfonse swept Danny's empty glass off the bar. "A man don't miss what a man forgot how to love."

"Jeesh," Danny said, "what's your wisdom fee?"

Alfonse spit in a highball glass and walked it back down the bar. It was possible there was something to his theory. Right now, Danny didn't love hitting things. He loved quiet and the smell of the harbor. He loved drink. Give him a few more and he'd love other things-- working girls and the pigs' feet Alfonse kept down the other end of the bar. The late summer wind, of course, and the mournful music the Italians made in the alleys every evening, a block- by-block journey as flute gave way to violin giving way to clarinet or mandolin. Once Danny got drunk enough, he'd love it all, the whole world.

A meaty hand slapped his back. He turned his head to find Steve looking down at him, eyebrow cocked.

"Still receiving company, I hope."


"Still buying the first round?"

"The first." Danny caught Alfonse's dark eyes and pointed at the bar top. "Where's the Widow Coyle?"

Steve shrugged off his coat and took a seat. "Praying. Lighting candles."


"No reason. Love, maybe?"

"You told her," Danny said.

"I told her."

Alfonse brought Steve a shot of rye and a bucket of suds. Once he'd walked away, Danny said, "You told her what exactly? About the grippe on the boat?"

"A little bit."

"A little bit." Danny threw back his second shot. "We've been sworn to silence by state, federal, and maritime authorities. And you tell the widow?"

"It wasn't like that."

"What was it like?"

"All right, it was like that." Steve downed his own shot. "She grabbed the kids, though, and run right off to church. Only word she'll say is to Christ Himself."

"And the pastor. And the two priests. And a few nuns. And her kids."

Steve said, "It can't stay hidden long, in either case."

Danny raised his mug. "Well, you weren't trying to make detective anyway."

"Cheers." Steve met the mug with his bucket and they both drank as Alfonse replenished their shots and left them alone again.

Danny looked at his hands. The doctor on the launch had said the grippe sometimes showed there, even when there were no other signs in the throat or head. It yellowed the flesh along the knuckles, the doctor told them, thickened the fingertips, made the joints throb.

Steve said, "How's the throat?"

Danny removed his hands from the bar. "Fine. Yours?"

"Tip-top. How long you want to keep doing this?"

"What?" Danny said. "Drinking?"

"Laying our lives on the line for less than a streetcar operator makes."

"Streetcar operators are important." Danny raised a glass. "Vital to municipal interests."


"Them, too."

"Coughlin," Steve said. He said it pleasantly, but Danny knew the only time Steve called him by his last name was when he was irate. "Coughlin, we need you. Your voice. Hell, your glamour."

"My glamour?"

"Fuck off, ya. You know what I mean. False modesty won't help us a duck's fart right now and that's God's truth."

"Help who?"

Steve sighed. "It's us against them. They'll kill us if they can." "Forget the singing." Danny rolled his eyes. "You need to fi nd an acting troupe."

"They sent us out to that boat with nothing, Dan."

Danny scowled. "We get the next two Saturdays off. We get--" "It fucking kills. And we went out there for what?"


"Duty." Steve turned his head away.

Danny chuckled. Anything to lighten the mood, which had grown sober so quickly. "Who would risk us? Steve. On the Blessed Mother? Who? With your arrest record? With my father? My uncle? Who would risk us?"

"They would."


"Because it'd never occur to them that they couldn't."

Danny gave that another dry chuckle, although he felt lost sud- denly, a man trying to scoop up coins in a fast current.

Steve said, "Have you ever noticed that when they need us, they talk about duty, but when we need them, they talk about budgets?" He clinked his glass quietly off Danny's. "If we die from what we did today, Dan, any family we leave behind? They don't get a fucking dime."

Danny loosed a weary chuckle on the empty bar. "What are we supposed to do about it?"

"Fight," Steve said.

Danny shook his head. "Whole world's fighting right now. France, fucking Belgium, how many dead? No one even has a number. You see progress there?"

Steve shook his head.

"So?" Danny felt like breaking something. Something big, something that would shatter. "The way of the world, Steve. The way of the goddamn world."

Steve Coyle shook his head. "The way of a world."

"Hell with it." Danny tried to shake off the feeling he'd had lately that he was part of some larger canvas, some larger crime. "Let me buy you another."

"Their world," Steve said. chapter four On a Sunday afternoon, Danny went to his father's house in South Boston for a meeting with the Old Men. A Sunday dinner at the Coughlin home was a political affair, and by inviting him to join them in the hour after dinner was served, the Old Men were anointing him in some fashion. Danny held out hope that a detective's shield--hinted at by both his father and his Uncle Eddie over the past few months--was part of the sacrament. At twenty-seven, he'd be the youngest detective in BPD history.

BOOK: The Given Day
13.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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