" 'Too strenuous,' they said."

Steve worked his way into the cab and Danny handed him his cane. He came around the other side and got in.

"Where to?" the cabdriver asked.

Steve looked at Danny. Danny looked back, waiting.

"You guys deaf? Where to?"

"Keep your knickers cinched." Steve gave him the address of the rooming house on Salem Street. As the driver pulled off the curb, Steve looked over at Danny. "You help me pack up my room?"

"You don't have to leave."

"I can't afford it. No job."

"The Widow Coyle?" Danny said.

Steve shrugged. "Ain't seen her since I got it."

"Where you going to go?"

Another shrug. "Got to be somebody looking to hire a heartsick cripple."

Danny didn't say anything for a minute. They bumped along Huntington.

"There's got to be some way to--"

Steve put a hand on his arm. "Coughlin, I love ya, but there's not always 'some way.' Most people fall? No net. None. We just go off." "Where?"

Steve was quiet for a bit. He looked out the window. He pursed his lips. "Where the people with no nets end up. That place." chapter seven Luther was shooting pool alone in the Gold Goose when Jessie came around to tell him the Deacon wanted to see them. It was empty in the Goose because it was empty all over Greenwood, all over Tulsa, the flu having come in like a dust storm until at least one member of most families had gotten it and half of those had died. It was against the law right now to go outside without a mask, and most businesses in the sinners' end of Greenwood had closed up shop, though old Calvin, who ran the Goose, said he'd stay open no matter what, said if the Lord wanted his tired old ass, He could just come get it for all the good it would do Him. So Luther came by and practiced his pool, loving how crisp the balls snapped in all that quiet.

The Hotel Tulsa was closed until people stopped turning blue, and nobody was betting numbers, so there wasn't no money to be made right now. Luther forbade Lila to go out, said they couldn't risk it for her or the baby, but this had meant he'd been expected to stay home with her. He had, and it was mostly better than he would have imagined. They fixed up the place a bit and gave every room a fresh coat of paint and hung the curtains Aunt Marta had given them as a wedding present. They found time to make love most every afternoon, slower than ever before, gentler, soft smiles and chuckles replacing the hungry grunts and groans of summer. He remembered in those weeks how deeply he loved this woman and that loving her and having her love him back made him a worthy man. They built dreams of their future and their baby's future, and Luther, for the first time, could picture a life in Greenwood, had formed a loose ten-year plan in which he'd work as hard as a man could and keep socking away the money until he could start his own business, maybe as a carpenter, maybe as the own er/operator of a repair shop for all the different gadgets that seemed to sprout out from the heart of this country damn near every day. Luther knew if you built something mechanical, sooner or later it broke, and when it did most wouldn't know how to fix it, but a man with Luther's gifts could have it back in your house and good as new by nightfall.

Yeah, for a couple weeks there, he could see it, but then the house started closing in on him again and those dreams went dark when he pictured growing old in some house on Detroit Avenue, surrounded by people like Aunt Marta and her ilk, going to church, laying off the liquor and the billiards and the fun until one day he woke up and his hair was speckled white and his speed was gone and he'd never done nothing with his life but chase someone else's version of it.

So he went down to the Goose to keep the itching in his head from coming out through his eyes and when Jessie came in, that itch spread into a warm smile in his head because, boy, he'd missed their days together--just two weeks ago, but it felt like a couple years--when they'd all poured over the tracks from White Town and had them some play, had them some times.

"I went by your house," Jessie said, pulling off his mask.

"Fuck you taking that thing off for?" Luther said.

Jessie looked over at Calvin, then at Luther. "You both wearing yours, so what's I got to worry about?"

Luther just stared at him because for once Jessie made a bit of sense and it annoyed him that he hadn't thought of it fi rst.

Jessie said, "Lila told me you might be here. I 'spect that woman don't like me, Country."

"You keep your mask on?"

"What?"

"With my wife? You keep your mask on when you talked to her?" "Hell, yeah. 'Course, boy."

"All right then."

Jessie took a sip from his hip flask. "Deacon needs to see us." "Us?"

Jessie nodded.

"What for?"

Jessie shrugged.

"When?"

" 'Bout half an hour ago."

"Shit," Luther said. "Whyn't you get here sooner?"

" 'Cause I went to your house first."

Luther placed his cue in the rack. "We in trouble?"

"Nah, nah. Ain't like that. He just want to see us."

"What for?"

"I told you," Jessie said, "I don't know."

"Then how you know it ain't bad?" Luther said as they walked out of the place.

Jessie looked back at him as he tied the mask off behind his head. "Tighten your corset, woman. Show some grit."

"Put some grit up your ass."

"Talking it ain't walking it, Negro," Jessie said and shook his big ass at him as they ran up the empty street.

Ya'll take a seat over here by me now," the Deacon Broscious said when they entered the Club Almighty. "Right over here now, boys. Come on."

He wore a broad smile and a white suit over a white shirt and a red tie the same color as his velvet hat. He sat at a round table at the back of the club near the stage and he waved them over through the dim light as Smoke snapped the lock on the door behind them. Luther felt that snap vibrate in his Adam's apple. He'd never been in the club when it wasn't open for business, and its tan leather booths and red walls and cherrywood banquettes felt less sinful but more threatening at noon.

The Deacon kept waving his arm until Luther took the chair on the left and Jessie the one on the right, and the Deacon poured them each a tall glass of bonded, prewar Canadian whiskey and slid the glasses across the table and said, "My boys. Yes, indeed. How ya'll doing now?"

Jessie said, "Right fi ne, sir."

Luther managed, "Very good, sir, thanks for asking."

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