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It’s always when it reaches our “front doors” that we finally consider it a problem. When it’s confined to our backyards for decades, no one even notices it.

I turned off the TV, switched places with Angie when she came out of the bathroom.

By the time I’d finished, she was asleep, lying on her stomach, one hand still on the phone where she’d hung it up, the other still closed around the top of the towel. Beads of water glistened on her bare back above the towel line, her slim shoulder blades rising and falling with each breath.

I dried off and went to the bed. I pulled the covers out from under her and she groaned softly, raising her left leg closer to her chest. I placed the sheet over her and shut off the light.

I lay down on the right side of the bed, a few feet away from her on top of the sheet, and prayed she didn’t roll over in her sleep. If her body touched mine, I was afraid I’d dissolve into it. And probably not mind.

That being the major problem, right there, I turned onto my side, facing the wall, and waited for sleep.

***

Some time shortly before I woke up, I saw the boy in the photos. The Hero was carrying him down a dank hallway, both of them enshrouded in shower steam. Water dripped steadily from the ceiling. I yelled something to the boy, because I knew him. I knew him in that dank hallway as his legs kicked out from under my father’s arm. He seemed small in my father’s arm, smaller still because he was naked. I called to him and my father turned back toward me; Sterling Mulkern’s face was under the dark fireman’s helmet. He said, “If you had half the balls your old man had...” in Devin’s voice. The boy turned too, the face craning around my father’s elbow bored and disinterested, even as his bare legs flailed. His eyes were empty, like a doll’s, and I felt my legs buckle when I realized nothing would ever shock or scare him again.

I woke up to Angie kneeling over me, her hands on my shoulders. She said, “It’s OK, it’s OK,” in a soft whisper.

I was very aware of her bare legs against mine as I said, “What?”

“It’s OK,” she said. “Just a dream.”

The room was pitch dark but light exploded behind the heavy curtains. I said, “What time is it?”

She stood up, still wearing the towel, and walked to the window. “Eight o’clock,” she said, “p.m.” She opened the curtain. “On the Fourth of July.”

The sky was a canvas of explosive colors. Whites, reds, blues, even some orange and yellow. A clap of thunder rocked the room and a starburst of blue and white ignited the sky. A shooting star of red rocketed through the middle and set off a smaller starburst that bled all over the blue and white. The whole display hit its peak then collapsed at once, the colors arcing downward and sputtering out in a cascade of dying embers. Angie opened the windows and the Boston Pops boomed Beethoven’s Fifth as if they had a wall of speakers wrapped around the Hub.

I said, “We slept fourteen hours?”

She nodded. “Shoot-outs and interrogations will do that to you, I guess.”

“I guess so.”

She came back to the bed, sat on the corner. “Boy, Skid, when you have a nightmare, you have a nightmare”

I rubbed my face. “Sorry I woke you.”

“Had to get up some time. Speaking of which, do we have a plan of any sort?”

“We have to find Paulson and Socia.”

“That’s an objective, not a plan.”

“We need our guns.”

“Definitely.”

“Probably not going to be easy getting to them with Socia’s people all over the place.”

“We’re the inventive type.”

***

We took a cab back to the neighborhood, gave the driver an address about a half-mile past the church. I didn’t see anyone lurking in the shadows as we passed, but you’re not supposed to: that’s why there are shadows; that’s why they lurk. Some kids ten or twelve years old at most were shooting bottle rockets at the passing cars, tossing packs of firecrackers out into the middle of the avenue. The car directly behind us took a direct hit to its windshield and screeched to a halt. The guy jumped out running, but the kids were gone before he’d even reached the curb, hopping fences like hurdlers, disappearing into their own backyard jungle.

Angie and I paid the cabbie and walked through the backyard of the public grammar school the “project” school we called it when we were kids, because only the kids from the housing projects went there. In the back of the schoolyard, hanging in a loose pack around the fire escape, twenty or so of the older neighborhood kids pounded back some beers, a boom box tuned to WBCN, a few passing around a joint. When they saw us, one of them turned the boom box up louder. J. Geils Band’s “Whammer Jammer.” Fine with me. They had already decided we weren’t cops and now they were deliberating how bad they were going to scare us for being stupid enough to walk through their hangout.

Then a few of them recognized us as we passed under a streetlight and seemed pretty depressed can’t scare people who know your parents. I recognized their leader, Colin, right off. Bobby Shefton’s kid; good-looking, even if he was as obviously Irish as a potato famine tall, well-built, a short-cropped head of dirty blond hair around a chiseled face. He was wearing a white and green BNBL tank top and a pair of pleated walking shorts. He said, “’S up, Mr. Kenzie?”

They nodded to Angie. No one wants to get too well acquainted with a woman whose husband’s jealous streak is legend.

I said, “Colin, how’d you guys like to make fifty bucks before the liquor store closes?”

His eyes lit up for a moment before he remembered how cool he was. He said, “You go in and buy the shit for us?”

“Of course.”

They kicked the idea around for a second and a half or so. “You got it. What do you need?”

I said, “It involves screwing with people who might be packing.”

Colin shrugged. “Niggers ain’t the only ones with guns anymore, Mr. Kenzie.” He pulled his own from under his tank top. A couple of other kids did too. “Since they tried to take over the Ryan playground a couple months back, we stocked up a bit.” For a moment I thought back to my days on this fire escape the good old days of tire irons and baseball bats. When a switchblade was rare. But the ante kept getting upped, and obviously, everyone was willing to meet it.

My plan had been to get them to pack around us as we walked back up to the church. With hats, in the darkness, we could probably pass as kids, and by the time Socia’s people figured it out, we’d be in the church with our guns. It had never been much of a plan. And I realized now that I’d missed the obvious because of my own racism. If the black kids had guns, only went to figure, the white kids would have them too.

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