Thomas ran a hand over his eyes and then lifted the receiver from the telephone cradle and asked the operator to patch him through to his home. Connor answered.
"All quiet?" Thomas asked.
"Here?" Connor said. "Sure. What's it like on the streets?" "Bad," Thomas said. "Stay in."
"You need another body? I can help, Dad."
Thomas closed his eyes for a moment, wishing he loved this son more. "Another body won't make a shred of difference now, Con'. We're past that point."
"Con'," Thomas said, "how many times do I have to tell you about my distaste for profanity? Does anything get through your thick skull on that score, son?"
"Sorry, Dad. Sorry." Connor's heavy breath moved through the phone lines. "I just . . . Danny caused this. Danny, Dad. The whole city's tearing itself--"
"It isn't all Danny's fault. He's one man."
"Yeah," Connor said, "but he was supposed to be family."
That seared something in Thomas. The "supposed to be." Was this what became of pride in your offspring? Was this the end of the road that began when you held your firstborn, fresh from your wife's womb, and allowed yourself to dream of his future? Was this the price of loving blindly and too much?
"He is family," Thomas said. "He's blood, Con'."
"To you maybe."
Oh, Jesus. This was the price. It certainly was. Of love. Of family. "Where's your mother?" Thomas said.
Not surprising--an ostrich always searched out the nearest pile of sand.
Thomas dropped his heels off the corner of the desk. "It's nine o'clock."
"Yeah, he's been sick all day."
"I dunno. A cold?"
Thomas shook his head at that. Joe was like Aiden--nothing knocked him down. He'd sooner poke out his own eyes before he took to his bed on a night like this.
"Go check on him."
"Con', go check on him."
"Fine, fi ne."
Connor placed the receiver down and Thomas heard his footfalls in the hall and then a creak as he opened Joe's bedroom door. Silence. Then Connor's footfalls coming toward the phone, quicker, and Thomas spoke as soon as he heard him lift the receiver.
"He's gone, isn't he?"
"When's the last time you saw him?"
"About an hour ago. Look, he couldn't have--"
"Find him," Thomas said, surprised the words came out a cold hiss instead of a hot shout. "You understand me, Con'? Are we clear?" "Yes, sir."
"Find your brother," Thomas said. "Now."
Back in June, the first time Joe had slipped out of the house on K Street, he'd fallen in with Teeny Watkins, a boy who'd attended first and second grades at Gate of Heaven with him before he dropped out to support his ma and three sisters. Teeny was a newsie, and Joe, during those three days on the streets, had dreamed of becoming one himself. The newsies ran in tight packs based on whichever newspaper they were affi liated with. Gang fi ghts were common. If Teeny were to be believed, so was breaking-and-entering on behalf of adult gangs like the Gusties, since newsies tended to run small and could squeeze through windows adults couldn't.
Running with the newsies, Joe saw a brighter world, a louder one. He became acquainted with lower Washington Street's Newspaper Row and all its saloons and shouting matches. He ran with his newfound gang along the edges of Scollay Square and West Broadway, and imagined the day when he'd cross over those edges and become part of that night world.
On the third day, though, Teeny handed Joe a canister of gasoline and a pack of matches and told him to set fire to a Traveler newsstand on Dover Street. When Joe refused, Teeny didn't argue. He just took the can and the matches back. Then he beat Joe in front of the other newsies, many of whom laid down bets. There was no fury to the beating, no emotion. Every time Joe looked into Teeny's eyes as he brought another fist down onto Joe's face, it was clear that Teeny could beat him to death if he chose. That, Joe realized, was the only outcome the other newsies were betting on. Whether Teeny did or not was an issue to which Teeny himself seemed indifferent.
It took him a few months to get over the coldness with which the beating had been delivered. The beating itself was almost forgettable by comparison. But now, knowing that the city was coming alive--and even coming apart--in a way it might not do again in his lifetime, any pains or lessons from that day receded and were replaced by his appetite for the night world and his possible place in it.
Once he left the house, he cut over two blocks and walked up H Street toward the noise. He'd heard it all last night from his bedroom --West Broadway making even more of a racket than usual.
West Broadway was where the saloons were and the rows and rows of boardinghouses and the gambling dens and the boys playing shell games on the corners and whistling to the women who stood in the windows of rooms lit red or orange or dark mustard. East Broadway ran through City Point, the respectable part of South Boston, the section where Joe lived. But it was just a matter of crossing East Broadway and making one's way down the hill until you reached the intersections of East and West Broadway and Dorchester Street. There you found the rest of Southie, the vast majority of it, and it wasn't quiet and respectable and well tended. It jumped and exploded with laughter and quarrels and shouts and loud off-key singing. Straight up West Broadway until you hit the bridge, straight down Dorchester Street until you hit Andrew Square. Nobody had a car around these parts, much less a driver, like his father. No one owned a home; this was renters' territory. And the only thing rarer than a car was a yard. Boston proper had Scollay Square to provide its release, but Southie had West Broadway. Not as grand, not as brightly lit, but just as dense with sailors and thieves and men getting a load on.
Now, at nine in the evening, it was like a carnival. Joe made his way down the middle of the street, where men drank openly from bottles and you had to be careful not to step on a blanket where dice were being thrown. A barker called, "Pretty ladies for every taste," and upon seeing Joe: "All ages welcome! As long as you're stiff and not a stiff, come on in! Pret-ty ladies lined up for your delight!" A drunk reeled into him and Joe fell to the street and the guy gave him a glance over his shoulder and continued staggering. Joe dusted himself off. He smelled smoke in the air as some men ran past him carrying a dresser with clothes piled high on top. Just about every third man brandished a rifle. A few others held shotguns. He walked another half block and sidestepped a fistfight between two women, and he started thinking maybe this wasn't the best night to investigate West Broadway. McCory's Department Store burned ahead of him, people standing around cheering the flame and smoke. Joe heard a loud crash and looked up to see a body falling from a second- story window. He stepped back and the body hit the street and broke into several sharp pieces and the crowd hooted. A mannequin. The ceramic head had cracked and one ear had broken into several shards and Joe looked up in time to see the second one sailing out of the same window. That one landed on its feet and snapped in half at the waist. Someone wrenched the head off the first mannequin and hurled it into the crowd.