"You're on your own in that house for a while, brother."
"Can I come visit?" Joe heard his own voice crack, and he looked down at his frankfurter and was pleased to see no tears fell on it. "You and Nora?"
"Of course. But that'll put you in the doghouse with the folks if you get caught."
"Been in the doghouse before," Joe said. "Plenty. Might start barking soon."
Danny laughed at that, a bark unto itself. "You're a great kid, Joe."
Joe nodded and felt the heat in his face. "How come you're leaving me, then?"
Danny tipped his chin up with his finger. "I'm not leaving you. What'd I say? You can come by anytime."
"Joe, Joe, I'm fucking serious. You're my brother. I didn't leave the family. The family left me. Because of Nora."
"Dad and Con' said you're a Bolshevik."
"What? To you?"
Joe shook his head. "I heard them talking one night." He smiled. "I hear everything in there. It's an old house. They said you went native.
They said you were a wop-lover and a nigger-lover and you lost your way. They were really drunk."
"How could you tell?"
"They started singing near the end."
"No shit? 'Danny Boy'?"
Joe nodded. "And 'Kilgary Mountain' and 'She Moved Through the Fair.' "
"You don't hear that one a lot."
"Only when Dad's really snockered."
Danny laughed and put his arm around him and Joe rocked against it.
"You go native, Dan?"
Danny kissed his forehead. Actually kissed it. Joe wondered if he was drunk.
Danny said, "Yeah, I guess so, brother."
"You love Italians?"
Danny shrugged. "I got nothing against 'em. You?"
"I like them. I like the North End. Just like you do."
Danny bounced a fist lightly off his knee. "Well, good then." "Con' hates 'em, though."
"Yeah, well, Con's got a lot of hate in him."
Joe ate the rest of his second frankfurter. "Why?"
Danny shrugged. "Maybe because when he sees something that confuses him, he feels like he needs an answer right then. And if the answer ain't right in front of him, he grabs onto whatever is and makes it the answer." He shrugged again. "I honestly don't know, though. Con's had something eating him up since the day he was born."
They sat in silence for a bit, Joe swinging his legs off the edge of the stone table. A street vendor coming home from a day at Haymarket Square pulled over to the curb. He climbed off his cart, breathing wearily through his nostrils, and went to the front of his horse and lifted its left leg. The horse snuffled softly and twitched at the flies on its tail and the man shushed it as he pulled a pebble from its hoof and tossed it out onto West Broadway. He lowered the leg and caressed the horse's ear and whispered into it. The horse snuffled some more as the man climbed back up onto his cart, its eyes dark and sleepy. The vendor whistled softly and the horse clopped back into the street. When it dropped a clump of shit from between its flanks and cocked its head proudly at the creation, Joe felt a smile spread across his face he couldn't explain.
Danny, watching, too, said, "Damn. Size of a hat."
Joe said, "Size of a breadbasket."
"I believe you're right," Danny said, and they both laughed.
They sat as the light turned rusty behind the tenements along the Fort Point Channel and the air smelled of the tide and the clogging stench of the American Sugar Refi ning Company and the gases of the Boston Beer Company. Men crossed back over the Broadway Bridge in clusters and other groups wandered up from the Gillette Company and Boston Ice and the Cotton Waste Factory and most entered the saloons. Soon the boys who ran numbers for the neighborhood were dashing in and out of those same saloons, and from across the channel another whistle blew to signal the end of another working day. Joe wished he could stay here forever, even in his school clothes, with his brother, on a stone bench along West Broadway as the day faded around them.
Danny said, "You can have two families in this life, Joe, the one you're born to and the one you build."
"Two families," Joe said, eyeing him.
He nodded. "Your first family is your blood family and you always be true to that. That means something. But there's another family and that's the kind you go out and find. Maybe even by accident sometimes. And they're as much blood as your first family. Maybe more so, because they don't have to look out for you and they don't have to love you. They choose to."
"So you and Luther, you chose each other?"
Danny cocked his head. "I was thinking more of me and Nora, but now that you mention it, I guess me and Luther did, too."
"Two families," Joe said.
"If you're lucky."
Joe thought about that for a bit and the inside of his body felt splashy and ungrounded, as if he might float away.
"Which are we?" Joe said.
"The best kind." Danny smiled. "We're both, Joe."
At home, it got worse. Connor, when he talked, ranted about the anarchists, the Bolsheviks, the Galleanists, and the mud races who constituted their core. Jews financed them, he said, and Slavs and wops did their dirty work. They were riling up the niggers down South and poisoning the minds of the working whites back east. They'd tried to kill his boss, the attorney general of the United States of America, twice. They talked of unionization and rights for the workingman, but what they really wanted was violence on a national scale and despotism. Once turned onto the subject, he couldn't be turned off, and he'd just about combust when talk turned to the possibility of a police strike.
It was a rumor in the Coughlin home all summer, and even though Danny's name was never said, Joe knew that he was somehow involved. The Boston Social Club, his father told Connor, was talking to the AFL, to Samuel Gompers about an impending charter. They would be the first policemen in the country with national affiliation to a labor union. They could alter history, his father said and ran a hand over his eyes.
His father aged five years that summer. Ran down. Shadowed pockets grew below his eyes as dark as ink. His colorless hair turned gray.
Joe knew he'd been stripped of some of his power and that the culprit was Commissioner Curtis, a man whose name his father uttered with hopeless venom. He knew that his father seemed weary of fighting and that Danny's break from the family had hit him far harder than he let on.
The last day of school, Joe returned to the house to find his father and Connor in the kitchen. Connor, just back from Washington, was already well into his cups, the whiskey bottle on the table, the cork lying beside it.