"I understand," Luther said.
"Isn't that ducky?" McKenna put his arm around Luther. "Isn't that grand?" He steered Luther around until they were both facing Clayton's body.
"We're going to bury him in the backyard," McKenna said. "And we're going to put the toolbox in the vault. And we're going to come up with an acceptable story for you to tell Miss Amy Wagenfeld when she sends an investigator your way, which surely she will, as you will be the last person to have seen our Mr. Tomes before he absconded from our fair city, probably with an underage white girl. And once we've done all that, we'll wait for the announcement of the ribbon cutting. And you will call me the moment you know that date or . . . ?"
"You'll . . . you'll--"
"Kill a nigger," McKenna said, pushing Luther's head back and forth in a nod. "Is there any part of this I need to repeat for you?" Luther looked into the man's eyes. "No."
"Magnificent." He let go of Luther and removed his coat. "Boys, take off your coats, the both of you. Let's give Luther a hand with this plaster, shall we? Man shouldn't have to do everything by himself, sure." chapter thirty The house on K Street shriveled into itself. The rooms narrowed and the ceilings seemed to droop and the quiet that replaced Nora was spiteful. It remained that way through the spring and then deepened when word reached the Coughlins that Danny had taken Nora for a wife. Joe's mother went to her room with migraines, and the few times Connor wasn't working--and he worked around the clock lately--his breath stank of alcohol and his temper was so short that Joe gave him a wide berth whenever they found themselves in the same room. His father was even worse --Joe would look up to see the old man staring at him with a glaze in his eyes that suggested he'd been doing it for some time. The third time this happened, in the kitchen, Joe said, "What?"
His father's eyelids snapped. "Excuse me, boy?"
"You're staring, sir."
"Don't get lippy with me, son."
Joe dropped his eyes. It may have been the longest he'd dared hold his father's gaze in his life. "Yes, sir."
"Ah, you're just like him," his father said and opened his morning paper with a loud crackling of the pages.
Joe didn't bother asking who his father was referring to. Since the wedding, Danny's name had joined Nora's on the list of things you couldn't speak aloud. Even at twelve, Joe was all too aware that this list, which had been in place long before he was born, held the key to most mysteries of the Coughlin bloodline. The list was never discussed because one of the items on the list was the list itself, but Joe understood that fi rst and foremost on the list was anything that could cause embarrassment to the family--relatives who'd engaged in repeated public drunkenness (Uncle Mike), who'd married outside of the Church (Cousin Ed), who'd committed crimes (Cousin Eoin, out in California), committed suicide (Cousin Eoin again), or given birth out of wedlock (Aunt Somebody in Vancouver; she'd been so completely banished from the family that Joe didn't know her name; she existed like a small stream of smoke that curled into the room before someone thought to shut the door). Sex, Joe understood, was stamped in bold at the top of the list. Anything to do with it. Any hint that people even thought about it, never mind had it.
Money was never discussed. Nor were the vagaries of public opinion and the new modern mores, both of which were deemed anti- Catholic and anti- Hibernian as a matter of course. There were dozens of other items on the list, but you never knew what they were until you mentioned one and then you saw from a single look that you'd wandered out into the minefi eld.
What Joe missed most about Danny's absence was that Danny couldn't have given a shit about the list. He didn't believe in it. He'd bring up women's suffrage at the dinner table, talk about the latest debate over the length of a woman's skirt, ask his father what he thought of the rise of Negro lynchings in the South, wonder aloud why it took the Catholic Church eighteen hundred years to decide Mary was a virgin.
"That's enough," his mother had cried to that one, her eyes welling. "Now look what you did," his father said.
It was quite a feat--managing to hit two of the biggest, boldest items on the list, sex and the failings of the Church, at the same time.
"Sorry, Ma," Danny said and winked at Joe.
Christ, Joe missed that wink.
Danny had shown up at Gate of Heaven two days after the wedding. Joe saw him as he exited the building with his classmates, Danny out of uniform and leaning against the wrought-iron fence. Joe kept his composure, though heat flushed from his throat to his ankles in one long wet wave. He walked through the gate with his friends and turned as casually as he could toward his brother.
"Buy you a frankfurter, brother?"
Danny had never called him "brother" before. It had always been "little brother." It changed everything, made Joe feel a foot taller, and yet part of him immediately wished they could go back to how it had been.
They walked up West Broadway to Sol's Dining Car at the corner of C Street. Sol had just recently added the frankfurter to his menu. He'd refused to do so during the war because the meat sounded too German and he had, like most restaurants during the war, taken great pains to change the name of frankfurters to "Liberty Sausages" on his menu board. But now the Germans were beaten, and there were no hard feelings about it in South Boston, and most of the diners in the city were trying hard to catch up with this new fad that Joe & Nemo's had helped popularize in the city, even if, at the time, it had called their patriotism into question.
Danny bought two for each of them and they sat atop the stone picnic bench out in front of the diner and ate them with bottles of root beer as cars navigated horses and horses navigated cars out on West Broadway and the air smelled of the coming summer.
"You heard," Danny said.
Joe nodded. "You married Nora."
"Sure did." He bit into his frankfurter and raised his eyebrows and laughed suddenly before he chewed. "Wish you could have been there."
"We both did."
"But the folks would never have allowed it."
Joe shrugged. "They'll get over it."
Danny shook his head. "No they won't, brother. No they won't." Joe felt like crying, but he smiled instead and swallowed some meat and took a sip of root beer. "They will. You'll see."
Danny placed his hand softly to the side of Joe's face. Joe didn't know what to do, because this had never happened. You slugged each other on the shoulder. You jabbed each other in the ribs. You didn't do this. Danny looked down at him with soft eyes.