McKenna lit the blackened stub of a cigar. "You've always had a soft heart, son. You just hide it better than most."
Danny shrugged. "Starting to hide it from myself, then, I guess."
"Always the danger, that." McKenna nodded, as if he were intimate with the dilemma. "Then one day, sure, you can't remember where you left all those pieces you tried so hard to hold on to. Or why you worked so hard at the holding."
Danny joined Tessa and her father for dinner on a night when the cool air smelled of burning leaves. Their apartment was larger than his. His came with a hot plate atop an icebox, but the Abruzzes' had a small kitchen with a Raven stove. Tessa cooked, her long dark hair tied back, limp and shiny from the heat. Federico uncorked the wine Danny had brought and set it on a windowsill to breathe while he and Danny sat at the small dining table in the parlor and sipped anisette.
Federico said, "I have not seen you around the building lately." Danny said, "I work a lot."
"Even now that the grippe has passed on?"
Danny nodded. It was just one more of the beefs cops had with the department. The Boston police officer got one day off for every twenty. And on that day off, he wasn't allowed to leave city limits in case an emergency arose. So most of the single guys lived near their stations in rooming houses because what was the point in getting settled when you had to be at work in a few hours anyway? In addition, three nights a week, you were required to sleep at the station house, in the fetid beds on the top floor, which were lice- or bug-ridden and had just been slept in by the poor slob who would take your place on the next patrol.
"You work too much, I think."
"Tell my boss, would you?"
Federico smiled, and it was a hell of a smile, the kind that could warm a winter room. It occurred to Danny that one of the reasons it was so impressive was that you could feel so much heartbreak behind it. Maybe that's what he'd been trying to put his finger on that night on the roof--the way Federico's smile didn't mask the great pain that lay undoubtedly in his past; it embraced it. And in that embracing, triumphed. A soft version of the smile remained in place as he leaned in and thanked Danny in a low whisper for "that unfortunate business," of removing Tessa's dead newborn from the apartment. He assured Danny that were it not for his own work, they would have had him to dinner as soon as Tessa had recovered from the grippe.
Danny looked over at Tessa, caught her looking at him. She lowered her head, and a strand of hair fell from behind her ear and hung over her eye. She was not an American girl, he reminded himself, one for whom sex with a virtual stranger could be tricky but not out of the question. She was Italian. Old World. Mind your manners.
He looked back at her father. "What is it that you do, sir?" "Federico," the old man said and patted his hand. "We drink anisette, we break bread, it must be Federico."
Danny acknowledged that with a tip of his glass. "Federico, what is it you do?"
"I give the breath of angels to mere men." The old man swept his hand behind him like an impresario. Back against the wall between two windows sat a phonograph cabinet. It had seemed out of place to Danny as soon as he'd entered. It was made of fi ne- grain mahogany, designed with ornate carvings that made Danny think of European royalty. The open top exposed a turntable perched on purple velvet inlay, and below, a two- door cabinet looked to be hand carved and had nine shelves, enough to hold several dozen disc rec ords.
The metal hand crank was gold plated, and while the disc record played, you could barely hear the motor. It produced a richness of sound unlike anything Danny had ever heard in his life. They were listening to the intermezzo from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, and Danny knew if he'd entered the apartment blind he would have assumed the soprano stood in the parlor with them. He took another look at the cabinet and felt pretty sure it cost three or four times what the stove had.
"The Silvertone B -Twelve," Federico said, his voice, always melodious, suddenly more so. "I sell them. I sell the B-Eleven as well, but I prefer the look of the Twelve. Louis the Sixteenth is far superior in design to Louis the Fifteenth. You agree?"
"Of course," Danny said, though if he'd been told it was Louis the Third or Ivan the Eighth, he'd have had to take it on faith.
"No other phonograph on the market can equal it," Federico said with the gleaming eyes of the evangelical. "No other phonograph can play every type of disc record--Edison, Pathe, Victor, Columbia, and Silvertone? No, my friend, this is the only one so capable. You pay your eight dollars for the table model because it is less expensive"--he crinkled his nose downward--"and light--bah!--convenient--bah!-- space saving. But will it sound like this? Will you hear angels? Hardly. And then your cheap needle will wear out and the discs will skip and soon you will hear crackles and whispers. And where will you be then, except eight dollars the poorer?" He spread his arm toward the phonograph cabinet again, as proud as a fi rst-time father. "Sometimes quality costs. It is only reasonable."
Danny suppressed a chuckle at the little old man and his fervent capitalism.
"Papa," Tessa said from the stove, "do not get yourself so . . ." She waved her hands, searching for the word. ". . . eccitato."
"Excited," Danny said.
She frowned at him. "Eggs-y-sigh . . . ?"
"Ex," he said. "Ex-ci-ted."
She raised her wooden spoon. "En glish!" she barked at the ceiling.
Danny thought of what her neck, so honey-brown, would taste like. Women--his weakness since he'd been old enough to notice them and see that they, in turn, noticed him. Looking at Tessa's neck, her throat, he felt beset by it. The awful, delicious need to possess. To own--for a night--another's eyes, sweat, heartbeat. And here, right in front of her father. Jesus!
He turned back to the old man, whose eyes were half closed to the music. Oblivious. Sweet and oblivious to the New World ways.
"I love music," Federico said and opened his eyes. "When I was a boy, minstrels and troubadours would visit our village from the spring through the summer. I would sit until my mother shooed me from the square--sometimes with a switch, yes?--and watch them play. The sounds. Ah, the sounds! Language is such a poor substitute. You see?"
Danny shook his head. "I'm not sure."
Federico pulled his chair closer to the table and leaned in. "Men's tongues fork at birth. It has always been so. The bird cannot lie. The lion is a hunter, to be feared, yes, but he is true to his nature. The tree and rock are true--they are a tree and rock. Nothing more, but nothing less. But man, the only creature who can make words--uses this great gift to betray truth, to betray himself, to betray nature and God. He will point to a tree and tell you it is not a tree, stand over your dead body and say he did not kill you. Words, you see, speak for the brain, and the brain is a machine. Music"--he smiled his glorious smile and raised his index fi nger--"music speaks for the soul because words are too small."