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.
"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?"
"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.