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Page 4 of A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro 1)

“Bitch,” I said.

“Slut.” She stuck her tongue out at me. “What’s the case?”

I pulled the information about Jenna Angeline from my inside breast pocket and tossed it on her desk. “Simple find-and-a-phone-call.”

She perused the pages. “Why’s anyone care if a middle-aged cleaning lady disappears?”

“Seems some documents disappeared with her. State-house documents.”

“Pertaining to?”

I shrugged. “You know these politicians. Everything is as secret as Los Alamos until it hits the floor.”

“How do they know she took them?”

“Look at the picture.”

“Ah,” she said, nodding, “she’s black.”

“Evidence enough to most people.”

“Even the resident senate liberal?”

“The resident senate liberal is just another racist from Southie when he ain’t residing in the House.”

I told her about the meeting, about Mulkern and his lapdog, Paulson, about the Stepford wife employees at the

Ritz.

“And Representative James Vurnan what was he like in the company of such Masters of State?”

“You ever see that cartoon with the big dog and the little dog, where the little dog keeps panting away, jumping up and down, asking the big dog, ‘Where we going, Butch? Where we going, Butch?’“

“Yes.”

“Like that,” I said.

She chewed on a pencil, then began tapping it against her front teeth. “So, you gave me the fly-on-the-wall account. What really happened?”

“That’s about it.”

“You trust them?”

“Hell no.”

“So there’s more to this than meets the eye, Detective?”

I shrugged. “They’re elected officials. The day they tell the whole truth is the day hookers put out for free.”

She smiled. “As always, your analogies are splendid. You’re just a product of good breeding, you are.” Her smile widened as she watched me, the pencil tapping against her left front tooth, the slightly chipped one. “So, what’s the rest of the story?”

I loosened my tie enough to pull it over my head. “You got me.”

“Some detective,” she said.

THREE

Jenna Angeline, like me, was born and raised in Dorchester. The casual visitor to the city might think this would serve as a nice common denominator between Jenna and myself, a bond however minimal forged by location: two people who started out of their separate chutes at identical hash marks. But the casual visitor would be wrong. Jenna Angeline’s Dorchester and my Dorchester have about as much in common as Atlanta, Georgia, and Russian Georgia.

The Dorchester I grew up in was working class traditional, the neighborhoods, more often than not, delineated by the Catholic churches they surrounded. The men were foremen, crew chiefs, probation officers, telephone repairmen, or, like my father, firemen. The women were housewives who sometimes had part-time jobs themselves, sometimes even had education degrees from state colleges. We were all Irish, Polish, or close enough to pass. We were all white. And when the federal desegregation of public schools began in 1974, most of the men worked overtime and most of the women went to full time and most of the kids went to private Catholic high schools.

This Dorchester has changed, of course. Divorce practically unheard of in my parents’ generation is commonplace in mine, and I know a lot fewer of my neighbors than I used to. But we still have access to the union jobs, we usually know a state rep who can get us into civil service. To some extent, we’re connected.

Jenna Angeline’s Dorchester is poor. The neighborhoods, more often than not, are delineated by the public parks and community centers they surround. The men are dockworkers and hospital orderlies, in some cases postal clerks, a few firemen. The women are the orderlies, the cashiers, the cleaning women, the department store clerks. They are nurses, too, and cops, and civil service clerks, but chances are, if they’ve reached that kind of pinnacle, they don’t live in Dorchester anymore. They’ve moved to Dedham or Framingham or Brockton.

In my Dorchester, you stay because of community and tradition, because you’ve built a comfortable, if somewhat poor, existence where little ever changes. A hamlet.

In Jenna Angeline’s Dorchester, you stay because you don’t have any choice.

Nowhere is it harder to try and explain the differences between these two Dorchesters White Dorchester and Black Dorchester than in White Dorchester. This is particularly true in my neighborhood, because we’re one of the boundary neighborhoods. The moment you pass through Edward Everett Square heading south, east, or west, you’re in Black Dorchester. So, people around here have a lot of trouble accepting the differences as anything other than black and white. A guy I grew up with once put it about as plainly as you’ll ever hear it: “Hey, Patrick,” he said, “enough of this bullshit. I grew up in Dorchester. I grew up poor. No one ever gave me nothing. My old man left when I was a kid just like a lotta the niggers in the ‘Bury. No one begged me to learn how to read or get a job or be something. Nobody gave me affirmative action to help me out either, that’s for damn sure. And I didn’t pick up an Uzi, join a gang, and start doing drivebys. So spare me this shit. They got no excuse.”

People from White Dorchester always call Black Dorchester “the ‘Bury.” Short for Roxbury, the section of Boston that begins where Black Dorchester ends, where they load dead young black kids into meat wagons on the average of eight a weekend sometimes. Black Dorchester gives up its young on a pretty regular basis too, and those in White Dorchester refuse to call it anything but the ‘Bury. Somebody just forgot to change it on the maps.

There’s truth to what my friend said, however narrow it is, and the truth scares me. When I drive through my neighborhood, I see poor, but I don’t see poverty.

Driving into Jenna’s neighborhood, I saw a lot of poverty. I saw a big, ugly scar of a neighborhood with several boarded-up storefronts. I saw one that hadn’t been boarded up yet, but was just as closed. The front window was blown out and bullet holes pocked the walls in jagged patterns of lethal acne. The inside was scorched and gutted and the fiberglass sign overhead that once said delicatessen in Vietnamese was shattered. The deli business wasn’t what it once was in this neighborhood, but the crack business seemed to be doing just fine.

I turned off Blue Hill Avenue up a rutted hill that looked like it hadn’t been paved since the Kennedy administration. The sun was setting, blood red, behind an overgrown yard of rotting weeds at the top of the hill. A group of laconic black kids crossed the street in front of me, taking their time, staring into my car. There were four of them, and one had a broomstick in his hand. He turned his head to look at me and whacked the stick off the street with a harsh snap. One of his buddies, bouncing a tennis ball in front of him, laughed and pointed an admonishing finger at my windshield. They passed over the sidewalk and cut through a rotted brown pathway between two three-deckers. I continued on up the hill, and something primal reassured me that my gun was hanging heavily from the holster on my left shoulder.

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