"So." Danny raised a hand, as if to signal the start of a game. "Still mad at me?"

Well, that was something no one had managed to take away apparently--the man's ease with himself. Busted all to hell and kneeling in the middle of a shit hole street in shit hole Scollay Square, the man was chatting all casual-like, as if this sort of thing happened to him once a week.

"Not at this exact moment," Luther said. "In general, though? Yeah."

"Take a number," Danny said and vomited blood onto the street. Luther didn't like the sight or the sound of it. He got a grip of Danny's hand and started to tug him to his feet.

"Oh, no, no," Danny said. "Don't do that. Let me kneel here a bit. Actually, let me crawl. I'm going to crawl to that curb, Luther. Gonna crawl to it."

Danny, true to his word, crawled from the center of the street to the sidewalk. When he reached it, he crawled a few more feet over the curb and then lay down. Luther sat beside him. Danny eventually worked himself up to a sitting position. He held on to his knees as if they were the only things keeping him from falling off the earth.

"Fuck," he said eventually. "I'm busted up pretty good." He smiled through cracked lips as a high whistle preceded his every breath. "Wouldn't have a handkerchief, would you?"

Luther dug in his other pocket and came back with one. He handed it to him.

"Thanks."

"Don't mention it," Luther said and something about the phrase struck them both funny at the same time and they laughed together in the soft night.

Danny dabbed at the blood on his face until the handkerchief was destroyed by it. "I came to see Nora. I got things to say to her."

Luther put an arm around Danny's shoulder, something he'd never ventured to do with a white man before but which seemed perfectly natural under the circumstances. "She needs her sleep, and you need a hospital."

"I need to see her."

"Puke some more blood and tell me again."

"No, I do."

Luther leaned in. "You know what your breath sound like?" Danny shook his head.

"A fucking canary's," Luther said. "Canary with buckshot in its chest. You're dying here."

Danny shook his head again. Then he bent over and heaved his chest. Nothing came out. He heaved again. Again, nothing came out but a sound, the sound Luther had described, the high-pitched hiss of a desperate bird.

"How far's Mass General from here?" Danny bent over and vomited some more blood into the gutter. "I'm a little too fucked-up to remember."

" 'Bout six blocks," Luther said.

"Right. Long blocks." Danny winced and laughed at the same time and spit some blood onto the sidewalk. "I think my ribs are broken." "Which ones?"

"All of 'em," Danny said. "I'm hurt kinda bad here, Luther."

"I know." Luther turned and crawled over behind Danny. "I can push you up."

" 'Preciate that."

"On three?"

"Fine."

"One, two, three." Luther put his shoulder into the big man's back, pushed hard, and Danny let out a series of loud groans and one sharp yelp, but then he was on his feet. Wavering, but on his feet.

Luther slid under him and draped Danny's left arm over his shoulder.

"Mass General's going to be filled," Danny said. "Fuck. Every hospital. My boys in blue going to be filling emergency rooms all over this city."

"Filling it with who?"

"Rus sians, mostly. Jews."

Luther said, "There's a colored clinic over on Barton and Chambers. You got any objections to a colored doctor working on you?"

"Take a one- eyed Chinese gal, long as she can make the pain go away."

"Bet you would," Luther said and they started walking. "You can sit up in the bed, tell everyone not to call you 'suh.' How you just regular-folk like that."

"You're some prick." Danny chuckled, an act that brought fresh blood to his lips. "So what were you doing here?"

"Don't worry about that."

Danny swayed so much he almost tipped the two of them to the sidewalk. "Well, I am." He held up a hand and they both stopped. Danny took a big breath. "She all right?"

"No. She's not all right. Whatever she did to any of you? She paid her debt."

"Oh." Danny tilted his head at him. "You like her?"

Luther caught the look. "Like that?"

"Like that."

"Hell, no. Most certainly, I do not."

A bloody smile. "You sure?"

"Want me to drop you? Yeah, I'm sure. You got your tastes, I got mine."

"And Nora ain't your taste?"

"White women ain't. The freckles? The little asses? Them tiny bones and weird hair?" Luther grimaced and shook his head. "Not for me. No, sir."

Danny looked at Luther through one black eye and one swollen one. "So . . . ?"

"So," Luther said, exasperated suddenly, "she's my friend. I look after her."

"Why?"

He gave Danny a long, careful look. "Ain't nobody else want the job."

Danny's smile spread through cracked, blackened lips. "Okay, then."

Luther said, "Who got to you? Size you are, had to be a few of 'em."

"Bolshies. Over in Roxbury, maybe twenty blocks. Long walk. I probably had it coming." Danny took a few shallow breaths. He leaned his head to the side and vomited. Luther shifted his feet so it wouldn't hit his shoes or trouser cuffs, and it was a bit awkward, him leaning off to the side, half sprawled over the man's back. The good news was that it wasn't half as red as Luther had feared. When Danny fi nished, he wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "All right."

They stumbled another block together before Danny had to rest again. Luther propped him up against a streetlamp and Danny leaned back against it with his eyes closed, his face wet with sweat.

He eventually opened his good eye and stared up at the sky, as if searching for something there. "I'll tell you, Luther, it's been one hell of a year."

Luther thought back to his own year and that got him laughing, laughing hard. He bent over from it. A year ago--shit. That was a whole lifetime away.

"What?" Danny said.

Luther held up a hand. "You and me both."

"What are you supposed to do," Danny said, "when everything you built your life on turns out to be a fucking lie?"

"Build a new life, I guess."

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