She shrugged. "Still a boy."

"Are you courting?" Danny fl icked his cigarette into the street and looked at her.

"I don't know what we're doing, Danny." She sounded weary. Not so much of the day, but of him. It made him feel like a child, petulant and easily bruised. "Would you like me to say that I don't feel some allegiance to this family, some weight for what I could never repay your father? That I know for sure I won't marry your brother?"

"Yes," Danny said, "that's what I'd like to hear."

"Well, I can't say that."


"You'd marry out of gratitude?"

She sighed and closed her eyes. "I don't know what I'd do." Danny's throat felt tight, like it might collapse in on itself. "And when Connor finds out you left a husband behind in--"

"He's dead," she hissed.

"To you. Not the same as dead, though, is it?"

Her eyes were fire now. "What's your point, boy?"

"How do you think he's going to take that news?"

"All I can hope," she said, her voice weary again, "is that he takes it a fair sight better than you did."

Danny said nothing for a bit and they both stared over the short distance between them, his eyes, he hoped, as merciless as hers.

"He won't," he said and walked down the stairs into the quiet and the dark. chapter five Aweek after Luther became a husband, he and Lila found a house off Archer Street, on Elwood, little one-bedroom with indoor plumbing, and Luther talked to some boys at the Gold Goose Billiard Parlor on Greenwood Avenue who told him the place to go for a job was the Hotel Tulsa, across the Santa Fe tracks in white Tulsa. Money be falling off trees over there, Country. Luther didn't mind them calling him Country for the time being, long as they didn't get too used to it, and he went over to the hotel and talked to the man they'd told him to see, fella by the name of Old Byron Jackon. Old Byron (everyone called him "Old Byron," even his elders) was the head of the bellmen's union. He said he'd start Luther as an elevator operator and see where things went from there.

So Luther started in the elevators, and even that was a gold mine, people giving him two bits practically every time he turned the crank or opened the cage. Oh, Tulsa was swimming in oil money! People drove the biggest motorcars and wore the biggest hats and the fi nest clothes and the men smoked cigars thick as pool cues and the women smelled of perfume and powder. People walked fast in Tulsa. They ate fast from large plates and drank fast from tall glasses. The men clapped one another on the back a lot and leaned in and whispered in each other's ears and then roared with laughter.

And after work the bellmen and the elevator operators and the doormen all crossed back into Greenwood with plenty of adrenaline still ripping through their veins and they hit the pool halls and the saloons down near First and Admiral and there was some drinking and some dancing and some fighting. Some got themselves drunk on Choctaw and rye; others got higher than kites on opium or, more and more lately, heroin.

Luther was only hanging with them boys two weeks when someone asked if he'd like to make a little something extra on the side, man as fast as he was. And no sooner was the question asked than he was running numbers for the Deacon Skinner Broscious, the man so called because he was known to carefully watch over his flock and call down the wrath of the Almighty if one of them strayed. The Deacon Broscious had once been a Louisiana gambler, the story went, won himself a big pot on the same night he killed a man, the two incidents not necessarily unrelated, and he'd come to Greenwood with a fat pocket and a few girls he'd immediately put up for rent. When those original girls got themselves in a partnership frame of mind he cut them in for a slice each and then sent them out for a whole new string of younger, fresher girls with no partnership frame of mind whatsoever and then the Deacon Broscious branched out into the saloon business and the numbers business and the Choctaw and heroin and opium business and any man who fucked, fixed, boozed, or bet in Greenwood got right familiar with either the Deacon or someone who worked for him.

The Deacon Broscious weighed north of four hundred pounds. With plenty change. More often than not, if he took the night air down around Admiral and First, he did so in a big old wooden rocker that somebody'd strapped wheels to. The Deacon had him two high-boned, high-yellow, knob-jointed, thin-as-death sons of bitches working for him, name of Dandy and Smoke, and they pushed him around town at all hours of the night in that chair, and plenty nights he'd take to singing. He had a beautiful voice, high and sweet and strong, and he'd sing spirituals and chain gang songs and even did a version of "I'm a Twelve O'Clock Fella in a Nine O'Clock Town" that was a hell of a lot better than the white version you heard Byron Harlan singing on the disc record. So there he'd be, rolling up and down First Street, singing with a voice so beautiful some said God had kept it from his favorite angels so as not to encourage covetousness in their ranks entire, and Deacon Broscious would clap his hands, and his face would bead with sweat and his smile would become the size and shine of a trout, and folks would forget for a moment who he was, until one of them remembered because he owed the Deacon something, and that one, he'd get to see behind the sweat and smile and the singing and what he saw there left an imprint on children he hadn't even sired yet.

Jessie Tell told Luther that the last time a man had seriously fucked with the Deacon Broscious--"I mean lack- of-all-respect type of fucking?" Jessie said--Deacon up and sat on the son of a bitch. Squirmed in place until he couldn't hear the screams no more, looked down and saw that the dumb nigger'd given up the ghost, just lay in the dirt looking at nothing, mouth wide open, one arm stretched and reaching.

"Mighta told me this before I took a job from the man," Luther said.

"You running numbers, Country. You think you do that sort of thing for a nice man?"

Luther said, "Told you not to call me Country no more."

They were in the Gold Goose, getting loose after a long day smiling for white folk across the tracks, and Luther could feel the liquor reaching that level in his blood where everything slowed down right nice and his eyesight sharpened and he felt nothing was impossible.

Luther would soon have ample time to consider how he'd fallen into running numbers for the Deacon, and it would take him a while to realize that it had nothing to do with money--hell, with the tips he made at the Hotel Tulsa he was making nearly twice what he'd made at the munitions factory. And it wasn't like he hoped to have any future in the rackets. He'd seen enough men back in Columbus who'd thought they could climb that ladder; usually when they fell from it, they fell screaming. So why? It was that house on Elwood, he guessed, the way it crowded him until he felt the eaves dig into his shoulders. And it was Lila, much as he loved her--and he was surprised to realize how much he did sometimes, how much the sight of her blinking awake with one side of her face pressed to the pillow could fire a bolt through his heart. But before he could even get his head around that love, maybe enjoy it a little bit, here she was carrying a child, she only twenty and Luther just twenty-three. A child. A rest- of-your-life responsibility. A thing that grew up while you grew old. Didn't care if you were tired, didn't care if you were trying to concentrate on something else, didn't care if you wanted to make love. A child just was, thrust right into the center of your life and screaming its head off. And Luther, who'd never really known his father, was damn sure certain he'd live up to his responsibility, like it or not, but until then he wanted to live this here life at full tilt, with a little danger thrown in to spice it up, something to remember when he sat on his rocker and played with his grandkids. They'd be looking at an old man smiling like a fool, while he'd be remembering the young buck who'd run through the Tulsa night with Jessie and danced just enough on the other side of the law to say it didn't own him.

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