They took the stairs back down to the parlor, where a pot of tea waited for them.
"Your uncle speaks highly of you, Mr. Laurence."
Isaiah nodded. "He says you have some jackrabbit in your blood but sincerely hopes that one day you'll slow down and fi nd enough peace to be an upstanding man."
Luther couldn't think of a reply to that.
Isaiah reached for the pot and poured them each a cup, then handed Luther's to him. Isaiah poured a single drop of milk into his cup and stirred it slowly. "Did your uncle tell you much about me?"
"Only that you were his wife's father and you were at Niagara with Du Bois."
"Doctor Du Bois. I was."
"You know him?" Luther asked. "Dr. Du Bois?"
Isaiah nodded. "I know him well. When the NAACP decided to open an office here in Boston he asked me to run it."
"That's quite an honor, sir."
Isaiah gave that a tiny nod. He dropped a cube of sugar into his cup and stirred. "Tell me about Tulsa."
Luther poured some milk into his tea and took a small sip. "Sir?" "You committed a crime. Yes?" He lifted his cup to his lips. "Hollis deigned not to be specific what that crime was."
"Then with all due respect, Mr. Giddreaux, I . . . deign the same." Isaiah shifted and tugged his pant leg down until it covered the top of his sock. "I've heard folks speak of a shooting in a disreputable nightclub in Greenwood. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
Luther met the man's gaze. He said nothing.
Isaiah took another sip of tea. "Did you feel you had a choice?" Luther looked at the rug.
"Shall I repeat myself?"
Luther kept his eyes on the rug. It was blue and red and yellow and all the colors swirled together. He supposed it was expensive. The swirls.
"Did you feel you had a choice?" Isaiah's voice was as calm as his teacup.
Luther raised his eyes to him and still said nothing.
"And yet you killed your own kind."
"Evil got a way of not caring about kinds, sir." Luther's hand shook as he lowered his cup to the coffee table. "Evil just muck things around till things go all sideways."
"That's how you defi ne evil?"
Luther looked around this room, as fine as any in the fine houses on Detroit Avenue. "You know it when you see it."
Isaiah sipped his tea. "Some would say a murderer is evil. Would you agree?"
"I'd agree some would say it."
"You committed murder."
Luther said nothing.
"Ergo . . ." Isaiah held out his hand.
"All due respect? I never said I committed anything, sir."
They sat silent for a bit, a clock ticking behind Luther. A car horn beeped faintly from a few blocks away. Isaiah finished his tea and placed the cup back on the tray.
"You'll meet my wife later. Yvette. We've just purchased a building to use as the NAACP office here. You'll volunteer there."
"You'll volunteer there. Hollis tells me you're good with your hands, and we have repairs that need seeing to in the building before we can open for business. You'll pull your weight here, Luther."
Pull my weight. Shit. When's the last time this old man pulled any weight outside of lifting a teacup? Seemed the same shit Luther had left behind in Tulsa--moneyed colored folk acting like their money gave them the right to order you around. And this old fool acting like he could see inside Luther, talking about evil like he'd know it if it sat down beside him and bought him a drink. Man was probably a step or two away from whipping out a Bible. But he reminded himself of the pledge he'd made in the train car to create the New Luther, the better Luther, and promised he would give it time before he made up his mind about Isaiah Giddreaux. This man worked with W. E. B. Du Bois, and Du Bois was one of only two men in this country that Luther felt worthy of his admiration. The other, of course, was Jack Johnson. Jack didn't take shit from no one, black or white.
"I know of a white family that needs a houseman. Could you handle that work?"
"Can't see why not."
"They are good people as far as whites can be." He spread his hands. "There is one caveat--the household in question is headed by a police captain. If you were to attempt an alias, I suspect he would ferret it out."
"No need," Luther said. "Trick is to never mention Tulsa. I'm just Luther Laurence, late of Columbus." Luther wished he could feel something beyond his own weariness. Spots had started popping in the air between him and Isaiah. "Thank you, sir."
Isaiah nodded. "Let's get you upstairs. We'll wake you for dinner."
Luther dreamed of playing baseball in floodwaters. Of outfi elders washed away in the tide. Of trying to hit above the waterline and men laughing every time his bat head slapped off the muddy water that rose above his waist, up over his ribs, while Babe Ruth and Cully flew past in a crop duster, dropping grenades that failed to explode.
He woke to an older woman pouring hot water into the wash pot on his dresser. She looked back over her shoulder at him, and for a moment he thought she was his mother. They were the same height and had the same light skin speckled with dark freckles over the cheekbones. But this woman's hair was gray and she was thinner than his mother. Same warmth, though, same kindliness living in the body, like the soul was too good to be kept covered.
"You must be Luther."
Luther sat up. "I am, ma'am."
"That's good. Be a frightful thing if some other man stole up here and took your place." She lay a straight razor, tub of shaving cream, brush and bowl by the pot. "Mr. Giddreaux expects a man to come to the dinner table clean-shaven, and dinner's almost served. We'll work on cleaning up the rest of you afterward. Sound right?"
Luther swung his legs off the bed and suppressed a yawn. "Yes, ma'am."
She held out a delicate hand, so small it could have been a doll's. "I'm Yvette Giddreaux, Luther. Welcome to my home."
While they waited for Isaiah to hear back from the police captain, Luther accompanied Yvette Giddreaux to the proposed NAACP offices on Shawmut Avenue. The building was Second Empire style, a baroque monster of chocolate stone skin with a mansard roof. First time Luther'd seen the style outside of a book. He stepped in close and looked up as he walked along the sidewalk. The lines of the building were straight, no bowing, no humps, either. The structure had shifted with the weight of itself, but no more so than would be expected from a building Luther guessed dated back to the 1830s or so. He took a good look at the tilt of the corners and decided the foundation hadn't racked, so the shell was in good shape. He stepped off the sidewalk and walked along the edge of the street, looking up at the roof.