"Don't fucking play me, whore. You pulled it off once, but twice ain't going to happen in your time on earth."

"I know that," she said, and he could taste her breath. "I am a revolutionary, Danny, and I--"

"You're a fucking terrorist. A bomb maker." He grabbed the cuff chain and pulled her close. "You just shot a guy who spent the last nine months looking for a job. He was of 'the people.' Just another working stiff trying to get by and you fucking shot him."

"Ex-officer Danny," she said and her tone was that of an elderly woman speaking to a child, "casualties are a part of war. Just ask my dead husband."

The metal shot from between her hands and into his body. It bit his flesh and then hit bone and chiseled through that and his hip caught fire and the bolt of pain shot down through his thigh and reached his knee.

He pushed her back and she stumbled and looked at him with her hair in her face and her lips wet with spittle.

Danny glanced at the knife sticking out of his hip and then his leg gave way and he dropped to his ass in the alley and watched the blood sluice down his outer thigh. He raised his .45 and pointed it at her.

The pain came in bolts that shook his entire body. It was worse than anything he'd experienced when he'd been shot in the chest.

"I'm carrying a child," she said and took a step backward.

Danny took a bite from the air and sucked it through his teeth.

Tessa held out her hands and he shot her once in the chin and once between her breasts and she fell down in the alley and flopped like a fish. Her heels kicked the cobblestones, and then she tried to sit up, taking a loud gulp of the air as the blood spilled down her coat. Danny watched her eyes roll back in her head and then her head hit the alley and she was still. Lights came on in the windows.

He went to lay back and something punched him in the thigh. He heard the pistol report a half a second before the next bullet hit him high on the right side of his chest. He tried to lift his own pistol. He raised his head and saw a man standing on the fire escape. His pistol flashed and the bullet chunked into the cobblestones. Danny kept trying to raise his own pistol but his arm wouldn't follow commands, and the next shot hit his left hand. The whole time, he couldn't help thinking: Now who the fuck is this guy?

He rested on his elbows and let the gun fall from his right hand. He wished he could have died on any other day but this. This one had carried too much defeat with it, too much despair, and he would have liked to leave the world believing in something.

The man on the fire escape rested his elbows on the rail and took aim. Danny closed his eyes.

He heard a scream, a bellow really, and wondered if it was his own. A clank of metal, a higher pitched scream. He opened his eyes and saw the man fall through the air, and his head made a loud pop against the cobblestones and his body folded in half.

Luther heard the first shot after he'd already passed the alley. He stood still on the sidewalk and heard nothing for almost a minute and was about to walk away when he heard the second one--a sharp pop followed immediately by another one. He jogged back to the alley. Some lights had come on and he could see two figures lying in the middle of the alley, one of them trying to raise a gun off the stone. Danny.

A man stood up on the fire escape. He wore a black bowler and pointed a gun down at Danny. Luther saw the brick lying by a trash can, thought it might be a rat at first even as he reached for it, but the rat didn't move, and he closed his hand over it and came up with, yup, a brick.

When Danny lay back on his elbows, Luther saw that execution coming, could feel it in his chest, and he let loose the loudest yell he was capable of, a nonsensical "Aaaahhhh" that seemed to empty his heart and soul of its blood.

The man on the fire escape looked up and Luther already had his arm cocked. He could feel grass underfoot, the smell of a field in late August, the scent of leather and dirt and sweat, see the runner trying to take home, take home against his arm, trying to show him up like that? Luther's feet left the alley, and his arm turned into a catapult. He saw a catcher's mitt waiting, and the air sizzled when he unleashed the brick into it. That brick got up there in a goddamned hurry, too, like it had been pulled from the fire of its maker but for no other purpose. That brick had ambition.

Hit that son of a bitch right in the side of his silly hat. Crushed the hat and half his head. The guy lurched. The guy canted. He fell over the fire escape and tried to grab it, tried kicking at it, but there wasn't no hope in that. He just fell. Fell straight down, screaming like a girl, and landed on his head.

Danny smiled. Blood pumping out of him like it was heading to put out a fire, and he fucking smiles!

"Twice you saved my life."

"Sssh."

Nora came running up the alley, her shoes clicking on the stones. She dropped to her knees over her husband.

"Compress, honey," Danny said. "Your scarf. Forget the leg. The chest, the chest, the chest."

She used her scarf on the left hole in his chest and Luther took off his jacket and applied it to the bigger hole in his leg. They knelt over him pressing all their weight into his chest.

"Danny, don't leave me."

"Not leaving," Danny said. "Strong. Love you."

Nora's tears poured down into his face. "Yes, yes, you're strong." "Luther."

"Yeah?"

A siren bleated in the night, followed by another.

"Hell of a throw."

"Sssh."

"You should . . ."--Danny smiled and blood bubbled over his lips--". . . be a baseball player or something."

The BABE GOES SOUTH chapter forty Luther arrived back in Tulsa in late September during a dogged heat wave and a humid breeze that kicked the dust up and caked the city tan. He'd spent some time in East St. Louis with his Uncle Hollis, enough time in which to grow a beard. He stopped grooming his hair as well and traded his bowler for a broke- down cavalryman's hat with a sloopy brim and a crown that the moths had gotten to. He even allowed Uncle Hollis to overfeed him so that for the first time in his life he had a little belly on him and some extra flesh beneath his jaw. By the time he got off the freight car in Tulsa, he looked like a tramp. Which was the point. A tramp with a duffel bag.

Most times he looked at the bag, he'd start laughing. Couldn't help it. Bundled-up stacks of money sat at the bottom, product of another man's greed, another man's graft. Years of corruption all stacked and tied up and smelling now of someone else's future.

He took the bag to a field of weeds north of the tracks and buried it with a spade he'd brought along from East St. Louis. Then he crossed back over the Santa Fe tracks into Greenwood and went down to Admiral, where the rough trade spent their time. It was four hours before he spotted Smoke coming out of a billiards parlor that hadn't been there when Luther left last year. Place was called Poulson's and it took Luther a moment to remember that this was Smoke's given surname. If he'd thought of that before, maybe he wouldn't have lost four hours wandering up and down Admiral.

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