“But, Richie,” I said, “that sort of logic is beyond the average guy on the street, and you know it. Joe from Southie sees a black death turned into a racial incident, then sees an identical white death called a homicide, and he says, ‘Hey that ain’t right. That’s hypocritical. That’s a double standard.’ He hears about Tawana Brawley, and loses his job to affirmative action, and he gets pissed off.” I looked at him. “Can you blame him?”
He ran his hand through his hair and sighed. “Aww, shit, Patrick. I don’t know.” He sat up. “No, OK? I can’t blame the guy. But what’s the alternative?”
I poured myself another shot. “It ain’t Louis Farrakhan.”
“And it ain’t David Duke,” he shot back. “I mean, what we’re supposed to do away with affirmative action quotas, minority grants, racial incident cases?”
I pointed the bottle at him and he leaned forward with his glass. “No,” I said, pouring his drink, “but...” I leaned back. “Damnit, I don’t know.”
He half smiled and leaned back in the chair again, looking out the window. The Peter Gabriel tape had ended and from the street came the sound of the occasional car scooping up air as it hummed past on the asphalt. The breeze coming through the screen had cooled and as it drifted into the room, I felt the weight of the atmosphere dissipating. Somewhat anyway.
“Know what the American way is?” Richie asked, still looking out the window, his elbow up, drink poised halfway to his mouth.
I could feel the anger in the room beginning to fuse with the slow rush of scotch in my blood, dissolving in the liquor’s undertow. I said, “No, Rich. What’s the American way?
“Finding someone to blame,” he said and took a drink. “It’s true. You out working a construction job and you drop a hammer on your foot? Hell, sue the company. That’s a ten-thousand-dollar foot. You’re white and you can’t get a job? Blame affirmative action. Can’t get one and you’re black? Blame the white man. Or the Koreans. Hell, blame the Japanese; everyone else does. Fucking whole country’s filled with nasty, unhappy, confused, pissed-off people, and not one of them with the brain power to honestly deal with their situation. They talk about simpler times before there was AIDS and crack and gangs and mass communications and satellites and airplanes and global warming like it’s something they could possibly get back to. And they can’t figure out why they’re so fucked up, so they find someone to blame. Niggers, Jews, whites, Chinks, Arabs, Russians, pro-choicers, pro-lifers who do you got?”
I didn’t say anything. Hard to argue with the truth.
He slammed his feet down on the floor and stood up, began pacing. His steps were a little uncertain, as if he expected resistance after each one. “White man blames people like me because they say quotas got me where I am. Half of ‘em can’t so much as read, but they think they deserve my job. Fucking pols sit in their leather chairs with their windows looking out on the Charles and make sure their stupid-fuck white constituents think the reason they’re angry is because I’m stealing food from their children’s mouth. Black men brothers they say I ain’t black anymore because I live on an all-white street in a pretty much all-white neighborhood. Say I’m sneaking into the middle class. Sneaking. Like, because I’m black, I should go live in some shithole on Humboldt Avenue, with people who cash their welfare checks for crack money. Sneaking,” he repeated. “Shit. Heteros hate homos, now homos are ready to ‘bash back,’ whatever the fuck that means. Lesbians hate men, men hate women, blacks hate whites, whites hate blacks, and... everyone is looking for someone to blame. I mean, hell, why bother looking in the mirror at your own damn self when there’s so many other people out there who you know you’re better than.” He looked at me. “You know what I’m saying, or is it the booze talking?”
I shrugged. “Everyone needs someone to hate for some reason.”
“Everyone’s too damn stupid,” he said.
I nodded. “And too damn angry.”
He sat down again. “Goddamn.”
I said, “So where’s that leave us, Rich?”
He held up his glass. “Crying into our scotch at the end of another day.”
The room was still for a while. We each poured another drink in silence, sipped them a bit more slowly. After five minutes of this, Richie said, “How do you feel about what happened today? Are you OK?”
Everyone kept asking me that. I said, “I’m all right.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I think.” I looked at him, and for some reason I wished he’d met her. I said, “Jenna was decent. A good person. All she wanted was, once in her life, not to be pushed under the rug.”
He looked at me and leaned forward, his glass extended. “You’re going to make people pay for her, aren’t you, Patrick?”
I leaned forward and met his glass with mine. I nodded. “In spades,” I said, then held up my hand. “No offense.”
Richie left a little after midnight, and I carried the bottle across the street to my apartment. I ignored the blinking red light on my answering machine and flicked on the TV. I dropped into the leather La-Z-Boy, drank from the bottle, watched Letterman, and tried not to see Jenna’s death dance every time my eyelids reached half-mast. I don’t usually indulge in hard liquor to excess, but I was putting one hell of a dent in the Glenlivet. I wanted to pass out, no dreams.
Richie had said Socia sounded familiar, but he couldn’t quite place him. I assessed what I knew. Curtis Moore was a member of the Raven Saints. He had killed Jenna, most likely at someone else’s behest, that someone probably being Socia. Socia was Jenna’s husband, or had been. Socia was friendly enough with Senator Brian Paulson to have had snapshots taken with him. Paulson had slapped the table in front of me at our first meeting. “This is no joke,” he’d said. No joke. Jenna was dead. Well over a hundred urban warriors who weren’t afraid to die had a bone to pick with me. No joke. I was scheduled to meet Mulkern and crew for lunch tomorrow. I was drunk. Maybe it was me, but Letterman seemed to be getting stale. Jenna was dead.
Curtis Moore was missing a foot. I was drunk. A ghost in a fireman’s uniform was looming up in the shadows behind the TV. The TV was getting harder to focus on. Probably the vertical hold. The bottle was empty.