One week before Christmas 1916 Steve had been felled by a case of strep. Danny, working solo, had arrested a thief coming off a ship moored amid the ice chunks and gray sea chop of Battery Wharf. This made it a Harbor Police problem and Harbor Police paperwork; all Danny had to do was the drop-off.
It had been an easy pinch. As the thief strolled down the gangplank with a burlap sack over his shoulder, the sack clanked. Danny, yawning into the end of his shift, noticed that this guy had neither the hands, the shoes, nor the walk of a stevedore or a teamster. He told him to halt. The thief shrugged and lowered the sack. The ship he'd robbed was set to depart with food and medical supplies for starving children in Belgium. When some passersby saw the cans of food spill onto the dock, they spread the word, and just as Danny put the cuffs on, the beginnings of a mob congregated at the end of the wharf. Starving Belgian children were the rage that month, the papers filled with accounts of German atrocities against the innocent, God-fearing Flemish. Danny had to draw his pocket billy and hold it above his shoulder in order to pull the thief through the crowd and head up Hanover toward Salutation Street.
Off the wharves, the Sunday streets were cold and quiet, dusted from snow that had been falling all morning, the flakes tiny and dry as ash. The thief was standing beside Danny at the Salutation Street admitting desk, showing him his chapped hands, saying a few nights in the slammer might be just the thing to get the blood circulating again in all this cold, when seventeen sticks of dynamite detonated in the basement.
The exact character of the explosion was something neighborhood people would debate for weeks. Whether the blast was preceded by two muffled thuds or three. Whether the building shook before the doors flew off their hinges or afterward. Every window on the other side of the street blew out, from ground fl oor to fifth story, one end of the block to the other, and that made its own racket, impossible to distinguish from the original explosion. But to those inside the station house, the seventeen sticks of dynamite made a very distinctive sound, quite different from all those that would follow when the walls split and the floors collapsed.
What Danny heard was thunder. Not the loudest thunder he'd ever heard necessarily, but the deepest. Like a great dark yawn from a great wide god. He would have never questioned it as anything but thunder if he hadn't recognized immediately that it came from below him. It loosed a baritone yowl that moved the walls and shimmied the floors. All in less than a second. Enough time for the thief to look at Danny and Danny to look at the duty sergeant and the duty sergeant to look at the two patrolmen who'd been arguing over the Belgian war in the corner. Then the rumble and the building- shudder deepened. The wall behind the duty sergeant drizzled plaster. It looked like powdered milk or soap flakes. Danny wanted to point so the sergeant could get a look at it, but the sergeant disappeared, just dropped past the desk like a condemned man through a scaffold. The windows blew out. Danny looked through them and saw a gray film of sky. Then the floor beneath him collapsed.
From thunder to collapse, maybe ten seconds. Danny opened his eyes a minute or two later to the peal of fire alarms. Another sound ringing in his left ear as well, a bit higher-pitched, though not as loud. A kettle's constant hiss. The duty sergeant lay across from him on his back, a slab of desk over his knees, his eyes closed, nose broken, some teeth, too. Danny had something sharp digging into his back. He had scratches all over his hands and arms. Blood flowed from a hole in his neck, and he dug his handkerchief out of his pocket and placed it to the wound. His greatcoat and uniform were shredded in places. His domed helmet was gone. Men in their underwear, men who'd been sleeping in bunks between shifts, lay in the rubble. One had his eyes open and looked at Danny as if Danny could explain why he'd woken up to this.
Outside, sirens. The heavy slap of fire engine tires. Whistles.
The guy in his underwear had blood on his face. He lifted a chalky hand and wiped some of it off.
"Fucking anarchists," he said.
That had been Danny's first thought, too. Wilson had just been reelected on a promise that he'd keep them out of all Belgian affairs, all French and German affairs. But a change of heart had apparently taken place somewhere in the corridors of power. Suddenly it was deemed necessary for the United States to join the war effort. Rockefeller said so. J. P. Morgan said so. Lately the press had said so. Belgian children were being treated poorly. Starving. The Huns had a reputed fondness for atrocity--bombing French hospitals, starving more Belgian children. Always the children, Danny had noticed. A lot of the country smelled a rat, but it was the radicals who started making a ruckus. Two weeks back there'd been a demonstration a few blocks away, anarchists and socialists and the IWW. The police--both city and harbor--had broken it up, made some arrests, cracked some heads. The anarchists mailed threats to the newspapers, promised reprisals.
"Fucking anarchists," the cop in his underwear repeated. "Fucking terrorist Eye-talians."
Danny tested his left leg, then his right. When he was pretty sure they'd hold him, he stood. He looked up at the holes in the ceiling.
Holes the size of beer casks. From here, all the way down in the basement, he could see the sky.
Someone moaned to his left, and he saw the top of the thief's red hair sticking out from beneath mortar and wood and a piece of door from one of the cells down the hall. He pulled a blackened plank off the guy's back, removed a brick from his neck. He knelt by the thief as the guy gave him a tight smile of thanks.
"What's your name?" Danny asked, because it suddenly seemed important. But the life slid off the thief's pupils as if falling from a ledge. Danny would have expected it to rise. To flee upward. But instead it sank into itself, an animal retreating into its hole until there was nothing left of it. Just a not-quite-guy where the guy had lain, a distant, cooling thing. He pressed the handkerchief harder against his neck, closed the thief's eyelids with his thumb, and felt an inexplicable agitation over not knowing the man's name.
At Mass General, a doctor used tweezers to pull whiskers of metal from Danny's neck. The metal had come from the piece of bed frame that hit Danny on its way to imbedding itself in a wall. The doctor told Danny the chunk of metal had come so close to his carotid artery that it should have sheared it in half. He studied the trail of it for another minute or so and told Danny that it had, in fact, missed the artery by roughly one-one thousandth of a millimeter. He informed Danny that this was a statistical aberration on a par with getting hit in the head by a flying cow. He then cautioned him against spending any future time in the kinds of buildings that anarchists were fond of bombing.