"Funny thing is, when I started sniffing around back in Columbus, I found that your bride has a warrant out for her arrest."
"You find that funny?"
Luther smiled. "If you knew my wife, McKenna, you'd be laughing, too."
"I'm sure I would, Luther." McKenna nodded several times. "Problem is, this warrant is very real. Seems your wife and a boy by the name of Jefferson Reese--that ring a bell?--seems they were stealing from their employers, family by the name of Hammond? Apparently, they'd been doing it for years by the time your beloved took off to Tulsa. But Mr. Reese, he got himself arrested with some silver frames and some petty cash, and he pinned the whole thing on your wife. Apparently he was under the impression that a partner in his enterprise made the difference between hard time and soft time. They slapped the hard charge on him anyway, and he's in prison now, but the charge is still pending against your wife. Pregnant wife, the way I hear it. So she's sitting there on, let me see if I remember, Seventeen Elwood Street in Tulsa, and I doubt she's moving around all that much, what with the loaf in her oven." McKenna smiled and patted Luther's face. "Ever see the kind of midwives they hire in a county lockup?"
Luther didn't trust himself to speak.
McKenna slapped him in the face, still smiling. "They're not the gentlest of souls, I can tell you that. They merely show the mother the baby's face and then they take that child--if it's a Negro child, that is--and they whisk it straightaway to the county orphanage. That wouldn't be the case, of course, if the father was around, but you're not around, are you? You're here."
Luther said, "Tell me what you want me--"
"I fucking told you, Luther. I fucking told you and told you." He squeezed the flesh along Luther's jaw and pulled his face close. "You get that list and you bring it to Costello's tonight at six. No fucking excuses. Understood?"
Luther closed his eyes and nodded. McKenna let go of his face and stepped back.
"Right now you hate me. I can see that. But today we're going to settle accounts in this little burg of ours. Today, the Reds--all Reds, even colored Reds--are getting their eviction notices from this fair city." He held out his arms and shrugged. "And by tomorrow, you'll thank me, because we'll have us a nice place to live again."
He tapped the paper off his thigh again and gave Luther a solemn nod before walking toward his Hudson.
"You're making a mistake," Luther said.
McKenna looked back over his shoulder. "What's that?" "You're making a mistake."
McKenna walked back and punched Luther in the stomach. All the air left his body like it was never coming back. He dropped to his knees and opened his mouth but his throat had collapsed along with his lungs, and for a terrifying length of time he couldn't get a breath in or out. He was sure he'd die like that, on his knees, his face gone blue like someone with the grippe.
When the air did come, it hurt, going down his windpipe like a spade. His first breath came out sounding like the screech of a train wheel, followed by another and then another, until they began to sound normal, if a little high-pitched.
McKenna stood over him, patient. "What was that?" he said softly. "NAACP folks ain't Red," Luther said. "And if some are, they ain't the kind going to blow shit up or fire off guns."
McKenna slapped the side of his head. "I'm not sure I heard you."
Luther could see twins of himself reflected in McKenna's irises. "What you think? You think a bunch of coloreds are going to run in these here streets with weapons? Give you and all the other redneck assholes in this country an excuse to kill us all? You think we want to get massacred?" He stared up at the man, saw that his fist was clenched. "You got a bunch of foreign-born sons of bitches trying to stir up a revolution today, McKenna, so I say you go get them. Put 'em down like dogs. I got no love for those people. And neither do any other colored folk. This is our country, too."
McKenna took a step back and considered him with a wry smile. "What'd you say?"
Luther spit on the ground and took a breath. "Said this is our country, too."
" 'Tis not, son." McKenna shook his large head. "Nor will it ever be."
He left Luther there and climbed into his car and it pulled away from the curb. Luther rose from his knees and sucked a few breaths into his lungs until the nausea had almost passed. "Yes, it is," he whispered, over and over, until he saw McKenna's taillights take a right turn on Massachusetts Avenue.
"Yes, it is," he said one more time and spit into the gutter.
That morning, the reports started coming out of Division 9 in Roxbury that a crowd was gathering in front of the Dudley Opera House. Each of the other station houses was asked to send men, and the Mounted Unit met at the BPD stables and warmed up their horses.
Men from all the city's precincts were dropped at Division 9 under the command of Lieutenant McKenna. They assembled on the first floor in the wide lobby in front of the desk sergeant's counter, and McKenna addressed them from the landing of the stairwell that curved up toward the second floor.
"We happy, happy few," he said, taking them all in with a soft smile. "Gentlemen, the Letts are gathering in an illegal assembly in front of the Opera House. What do you think about that?"
No one knew if the question was rhetorical or not, so no one answered.
"What do you think of this illegal assembly?"
Watson, whose family had changed their Polish name from something long and unpronounceable, straightened his shoulders. "I'd say they picked the wrong day for it, Loo."
McKenna raised a hand above them all. "We are sworn to protect and serve Americans in general and Bostonians in particu lar.
The Letts, well"--he chuckled--"the Letts are neither, gents. Heathens and subversives that they are, they have chosen to ignore the city's strict orders not to march and plan to parade from the Opera House down Dudley Street to Upham's Corner in Dorchester. From there they plan to turn right on Columbia Road and continue until they reach Franklin Park, where they will hold a rally in support of their comrades--yes, comrades--in Hungary, Bavaria, Greece, and, of course, Rus sia. Are there any Rus sians among us here today?"
Someone shouted, "Hell no!" and the other men repeated it in a cheer.
"Any gutless, atheistic, subversive, hook- nosed, cock-smoking, anti-American dog fuckers?"