"That's the rumor."
Joe reached out and touched the collar of his uniform. "How come?"
"Thought I'd train you," Danny said. "First trick is to teach you how to dance."
"Sure they do. All the great boxers took dance lessons."
He took a few steps down the sidewalk with his brother and then whirled, and Joe slapped his shoulders and said, "Stop, stop."
Danny spun again. "Am I embarrassing you?"
"Stop." He laughed and slapped his shoulders again.
"In front of all your friends?"
Joe grabbed his ears and tugged. "Cut it out."
The kids in the street were looking at Danny as if they couldn't decide whether they should be afraid, and Danny said, "Anyone else want in?"
He lifted Joe off his body, tickling him the whole way down to the pavement, and then Nora opened the door at the top of the stoop and he wanted to run.
"Joey," she said, "your ma wants you in now. Says you need to clean up."
Nora arched an eyebrow. "I wasn't asking, child."
Joe gave a beleaguered good-bye wave to his friends and trudged up the steps. Nora mussed his hair as he passed and he slapped at her hands and kept going and Nora leaned into the jamb and considered Danny. She and Avery Wallace, an old colored man, were the Coughlins' domestic help, though Nora's actual position was a lot more nebulous than Avery's. She'd come to them by accident or providence five years ago on Christmas Eve, a clacking, shivering gray-fl eshed escapee from the northern coast of Ireland. What she'd been escaping from had been anyone's guess, but ever since Danny's father had carried her into the home wrapped in his greatcoat, frostbitten and covered in grime, she'd become part of the essential fabric of the Coughlin home. Not quite family, not ever quite that, at least not for Danny, but ingrained and ingratiated nonetheless.
"What brings you by?" she asked.
"The Old Men," he said.
"A planning and a plotting, are they, Aiden? And, sure, where do you fit in the plan?"
He leaned in a bit. "Only my mother calls me 'Aiden' anymore." She leaned back. "You're calling me your mother now, are you?" "Not at all, though you would make a fi ne one."
"Butter wouldn't melt in your mouth."
Her eyes pulsed at that, just for a moment. Pale eyes the color of basil. "You'll need to go to confession for that one, sure."
"I don't need to confess anything to anyone. You go."
"And why would I go?"
She leaned into the door, took a sniff of the afternoon breeze, her eyes as pained and unreadable as always. He wanted to squeeze her body until his hands fell off.
"What'd you say to Joe?"
She came off the door, folded her arms. "About what?"
"About my boxing."
She gave him a small sad smile. "I said you'd never box again. Simple as that."
"I can see it in your face, Danny. You've no love for it anymore."
He stopped himself from nodding because she was right and he couldn't stand that she could see through him so easily. She always had. Always would, he was pretty sure. And what a terrible thing that was. He sometimes considered the pieces of himself he'd left scattered throughout his life, the other Dannys--the child Danny and the Danny who'd once thought of becoming president and the Danny who'd wanted to go to college and the Danny who'd discovered far too late that he was in love with Nora. Crucial pieces of himself, strewn all over, and yet she held the core piece and held it absently, as if it lay at the bottom of her purse with the white specks of talc and the loose change.
"You're coming in then," she said.
She stepped back from the door. "Well, you best get started."
The Old Men came out of the study for dinner--florid men, prone to winking, men who treated his mother and Nora with an Old World courtliness that Danny secretly found grating.
Taking their seats fi rst were Claude Mesplede and Patrick Donnegan, alderman and boss of the Sixth Ward, as paired up and cagey as an old married couple playing bridge.
Sitting across from them was Silas Pendergast, district attorney of Suffolk County and the boss of Danny's brother Connor. Silas had a gift for looking respectable and morally forthright but was, in fact, a lifelong toady to the ward machines that had paid his way through law school and kept him docile and slightly drunk every day since.
Down the end by his father was Bill Madigan, deputy chief of police and, some said, the man closest to Commissioner O'Meara.
Sitting beside Madigan--a man Danny had never met before named Charles Steedman, tall and quiet and the only man to sport a three- dollar haircut in a room full of fi fty-centers. Steedman wore a white suit and white tie and two-toned spats. He told Danny's mother, when she asked, that he was, among other things, vice president of the New England Association of Hotels and Restaurants and president of the Suffolk County Fiduciary Security Union.
Danny could tell by his mother's wide eyes and hesitant smile that she had no idea what the hell Steedman had just said but she nodded anyway.
"Is that a union like the IWW?" Danny asked.
"The IWW are criminals," his father said. "Subversives."
Charles Steedman held up a hand and smiled at Danny, his eyes as clear as glass. "A tad different than the IWW, Danny. I'm a banker."
"Oh, a banker!" Danny's mother said. "How wonderful."
The last man to sit at the table, taking a place between Danny's brothers, Connor and Joe, was Uncle Eddie McKenna, not an uncle by blood, but family all the same, his father's best friend since they were teenage boys running the streets of their newfound country. He and Danny's father certainly made a formidable pair within the BPD. Where Thomas Coughlin was the picture of trim--trim hair, trim body, trim speech--Eddie McKenna was large of appetite and flesh and fondness for tall tales. He oversaw Special Squads, a unit that managed all parades, visits from dignitaries, labor strikes, riots, and civil unrest of any kind. Under Eddie's stewardship the unit had grown both more nebulous and more powerful, a shadow department within the department that kept crime low, it was said, "by going to the source before the source got going." Eddie's ever-revolving unit of cowboy-cops-- the kind of cops Commissioner O'Meara had sworn to purge from the force--hit street crews on their way to heists, rousted ex- cons five steps out of the Charlestown Penitentiary, and had a network of stoolies, grifters, and street spies so immense that it would have been a boon to every cop in the city if McKenna hadn't kept all names and all history of interactions with said names solely in his head.