Outside, someone screamed. Impossible to tell if it was from pain or enjoyment.
"I won't allow this here," Luther said.
He said it again. "I won't allow this. You and Clayton the only friends I made in this town. I won't abide this." He shook his head. "No, sir."
"Luther, you can't--"
"Know I killed a man?"
She stopped chewing her thumb and looked at him with big eyes.
"That's what brought me here, missy-thing. Shot a man straight up through his head. Had to leave behind my wife and she's pregnant with my child. So I've been doing some hard things, some hard time since I got here. And damned if anyone--you included--is gonna tell me what I can and can't do. I can damn well get you some food. Put some meat back on you. That I can do."
She stared at him. Outside, catcalls, the honking of horns.
She said, " 'Missy-thing'?" and the tears came with her laughter, and Luther hugged the first white woman he'd ever hugged in his life. She smelled white, he thought, starchy. He could feel her bones as she wept into his shirt, and he hated the Coughlins. Hated them outright. Hated them wholesale.
In early spring, Danny followed Nora home from work. He kept a city block behind her the whole way, and she never once looked back. He watched her enter a rooming house off Scollay Square, maybe the worst section of the city in which a woman could live. Also the cheapest.
He walked back toward the North End. It wasn't his fault. If she ended up destitute and a ghost of herself, well, she shouldn't have lied, should she?
Luther received a letter from Lila in March. It came in an eight-by- eleven envelope and there was another envelope, a small white one, that had already been opened, in there alongside a newspaper clipping.
Dear Luther, Aunt Marta says babys in the belly turn a womans head upside down and make her see things and feel things that dont make a lick of sense. Still I have seen a man lately to many times to count. He has Satans smile and he drives a black Oakland 8. I have seen him outside the house and in town and twice outside the post office. That is why I will not write for a while for the last time I caught him trying to look at the letters in my hand. He has never said a word to me except hello and good morning but I think we know who he is Luther. I think it was him who left this newspaper article in the envelope at the door one day. The other article I clipped myself You will know why. If you need to contact me please send mail to Aunt Martas house. My belly is huge and my feet ache all the time and climbing stairs is a chore but I am happy. Please be careful and safe.
Love, Lila Even as he felt dread at the rest of the letter and fear of the newspaper clippings, still folded, that he held in his hand, Luther stared at one word above all others--love.
He closed his eyes. Thank you, Lila. Thank you, Lord.
He unfolded the first clipping. A small article from the Tulsa Star:
DA DROPS CHARGES AGAINST NEGRO Richard Poulson, a Negro bartender at the Club Almighty in Greenwood, was released from state custody when District Attorney Honus Stroudt refused to press charges in return for the Negro Poulson's pleading guilty to illegal use of a firearm. The Negro Poulson was the sole survivor of Clarence Tell's shooting rampage in the Club Almighty on the night of November 17 of last year. Slain in the shooting were Jackson Broscious and Munroe Dandiford, both Greenwood Negroes and reputed purveyors of narcotics and prostitution. Clarence Tell, also a Negro, was killed by the Negro Poulson after he received the Negro Tell's fire. DA Stroudt said, "It is clear that the Negro Poulson fi red in self- defense for fear of his life and nearly succumbed to wounds inflicted by the Negro Tell. The people are satisfied." The Negro Poulson will serve three years' probation for the weapons charge.
So Smoke was a free man. And a reasonably healthy one. Luther played it back in his head for the umpteenth time--Smoke lying in a growing pool of blood on the stage. His arm outstretched, the back of his head to Luther. Even now, knowing what he knew would come of it, he still doubted he could have pulled that trigger. Deacon Broscious was a different thing, a different circumstance--looking Luther in the eye, talking his bullshit talk. But could Luther have shot what he'd believed was a dying man in the back of the head? No. And yet he knew he probably should have. He turned over the envelope and saw his name and nothing else written across it in a male's blocky handwriting. He opened the envelope and looked at the second clipping and decided to remove "probably" from his thoughts. Should have. Without question or regret.
A photo clipping reprinted in the January 22 issue of the Tulsa Sun described the great molasses flood under the headline "Boston Slum Disaster."
There was nothing special about the articlejust one more on the North End disaster that the rest of the country seemed humored by. The only thing that made this clipping special was that every time the word Boston was used--a total of nine times--it had been circled in red.
Rayme Finch was carrying a box to his car when he found Thomas Coughlin waiting for him. The car was government issue and was, as befit a government department that was underfunded and undervalued, a heap of shit. He'd left the engine idling, not only because the ignition often refused to engage but also because he secretly hoped someone would steal it. If that wish were granted this morning, however, he'd regret it--the car, shit heap or no, was his only transport back to Washington.
No one would be stealing it for the moment, though, not with a police captain leaning against the hood. Finch acknowledged Captain Coughlin with a flick of his head as he placed the box of offi ce supplies in the trunk.
"Shoving off, are we?"
Finch closed the trunk. " 'Fraid so."
"A shame," Thomas Coughlin said.
Finch shrugged. "Boston radicals turned out to be a bit more docile than we'd heard."
"Except for the one my son killed."
"Federico, yes. He was a believer. And you?"
"How's your investigation going? We never did hear much from the BPD."
"There wasn't much to tell. They're hard nuts to crack, these groups." Finch nodded. "You told me a few months ago they'd be easy." "History's ledger will judge me overconfident on that entry, I admit."
"Not one of your men has gathered any evidence?"
"Hard to believe."
"I can't see why. It's no secret we're a police department caught in a regime change. Had O'Meara, God rest him, not perished, why, you and I, Rayme? We'd be having this lovely conversation while watching a ship depart for Italy with Galleani himself shackled in her bowels."