"I'm not exactly sure how your logic applies to the public sector." "In triplicate," Steedman said.
Danny gave him a tight smile and turned to McKenna. "Is Special Squads going after unions, Eddie?"
"We're going after subversives. Threats to this nation." He gave Danny a roll of his big shoulders. "I need you to hone your skills somewhere. Might as well start local."
"In our union."
"That's what you call it."
"What could this possibly have to do with an act of 'insurrectionary violence'?"
"It's a milk run," McKenna said. "You help us figure out who really runs things in there, who the members of the brain trust are, et cetera, we'll have more confidence to send you after bigger fish."
Danny nodded. "What's my end?"
His father cocked his head at that, his eyes diminishing to slits. Deputy Chief Madigan said, "Well, I don't know if it's that--" "Your end?" his father said. "If you succeed with the BSC and then succeed with the Bolsheviks?"
"A gold shield." His father smiled. "That's what you wanted us to say, yes? Counting on it, were you?"
Danny felt an urge to grind his teeth. "It's either on the table or it isn't."
"If you tell us what we need to know about the infrastructure of that alleged policeman's union? And if you then infiltrate a radical group of our choosing and then come back with the information necessary to stop any act of concerted violence?" Thomas Coughlin looked over at Deputy Chief Madigan and then back at Danny. "We'll put you first in line."
"I don't want first in line. I want the gold shield. You've dangled it long enough."
The men traded glances, as if they hadn't counted on his reaction from the outset.
After a time, his father said, "Ah, the boy knows his mind, doesn't he?"
"He does," Claude Mesplede said.
"That's plain as the day, 'tis," Patrick Donnegan said.
Out beyond the doors, Danny heard his mother's voice in the kitchen, the words indecipherable, but whatever she said caused Nora to laugh and the sound of it made him picture Nora's throat, the flesh over her windpipe.
His father lit his cigar. "A gold shield for the man who brings down some radicals and lets us know what's on the mind of the Boston Social Club to boot."
Danny held his father's eyes. He removed a cigarette from his pack of Murads and tapped it off the edge of his brogan before lighting it. "In writing."
Eddie McKenna chuckled. Claude Mesplede, Patrick Donnegan, and Deputy Chief Madigan looked at their shoes, the rug. Charles Steedman yawned.
Danny's father raised an eyebrow. It was a slow gesture, meant to suggest he admired Danny. But Danny knew that while Thomas Coughlin had a dizzying array of character traits, admiration wasn't one of them.
"Is this the test by which you'd choose to define your life?" His father eventually leaned forward, and his face was lit with what many people could mistake for pleasure. "Or would you prefer to save that for another day?"
Danny said nothing.
His father looked around the room again. Eventually he shrugged and met his son's eyes.
By the time Danny left the study, his mother and Joe had gone to bed and the house was dark. He went out on the front landing because he could feel the house digging into his shoulders and scratching at his head, and he sat on the stoop and tried to decide what to do next. Along K Street, the windows were dark and the neighborhood was so quiet he could hear the hushed lapping of the bay a few blocks away.
"And what dirty job did they ask of you this time?" Nora stood with her back to the door.
He turned to look at her. It hurt, but he kept doing it. "Wasn't too dirty."
"Ah, wasn't too clean, either."
"What's your point?"
"My point?" She sighed. "You've not looked happy in a donkey's age."
"What's happy?" he said.
She hugged herself against the cooling night. "The opposite of you."
It had been more than five years since that Christmas Eve when Danny's father had brought Nora O'Shea through the front door, carrying her in his arms like firewood. Though his face was pink from the cold, her flesh was gray, her chattering teeth loose from malnutrition. Thomas Coughlin told the family he'd found her on the Northern Avenue docks, beset by ruffians she was when he and Uncle Eddie waded in with their nightsticks as if they were still fi rst-year patrolmen. Sure now, just look at the poor, starving waif with nary an ounce of meat on her bones! And when Uncle Eddie had reminded him that it was Christmas Eve and the poor girl managed to croak out a feeble "Thank ye, sir. Thank ye," her voice the spitting image of his own, dear departed Ma, God rest her, well wasn't it a sign from Christ Himself on the eve of His own birthday?
Even Joe, only six at the time and still in thrall to his father's grandiloquent charms, didn't buy the story, but it put the family in an extravagantly Christian mood, and Connor went to fill the tub while Danny's mother gave the gray girl with the wide, sunken eyes a cup of tea. She watched the Coughlins from behind the cup with her bare, dirty shoulders peeking out from under the greatcoat like damp stones.
Then her eyes found Danny's, and before they passed from his face, a small light appeared in them that seemed uncomfortably familiar. In that moment, one he would turn over in his head dozens of times in the ensuing years, he was sure he'd seen his own cloaked heart looking back at him through a starving girl's eyes.
Bullshit, he told himself. Bullshit.
He would learn very quickly how fast those eyes could change--how that light that had seemed a mirror of his own thoughts could go dull and alien or falsely gay in an instant. But still, knowing the light was there, waiting to appear again, he became addicted to the highly unlikely possibility of unlocking it at will.
Now she stared at him carefully on the porch and said nothing. "Where's Connor?" he said.
"Off to the bar," she said. "Said he'd be at Henry's if you were to come looking."
Her hair was the color of sand and strung in curls that hugged her scalp and ended just below her ears. She wasn't tall, wasn't short, and something seemed to move beneath her flesh at all times, as if she were missing a layer and if you looked close enough you'd see her bloodstream.
"You two are courting, I hear."
"That's what I hear."
"Connor's a boy."
"He's twenty- six. Older'n you."