Uncle Cornelius had spent his life working for men like those before he'd gone blind, and Luther had met more than a few himself in his day, and he was content to step out of their path and leave them to themselves. But he couldn't stand the idea that here, in James and Marta Hollaway's dining room on Detroit Avenue, the dark faces assembled seemed determined to drink, eat, and money themselves white.
He'd much rather be down around First and Admiral right now with the bell boys and the liverymen and the men who toted shine boxes and toolboxes. Men who worked and played with equal effort. Men who wanted nothing more, as the saying went, than a little whiskey, a little dice, a little pussy to make things nice.
Not that they'd know a saying like that up here on Detroit Avenue. Hell no. Their sayings fell more along the lines of "The Lord hates a . . ." and "The Lord don't . . ." and "The Lord won't . . ." and "The Lord shall not abide a . . ." Making God sound like one irritable master, quick with the whip.
He and Lila sat at the large table and Luther listened to them talk about the white man as if he and his would soon be sitting here on Sundays alongside them.
"Mr. Paul Stewart himself," James was saying, "come into my garage the other day with his Daimler, says, 'James, sir, I don't trust no one on the other side of them tracks the way I trust you with this here car.' "
Lionel Garrity, Esquire, piped up a little later with, "It's all just a matter of time 'fore folks understand what our boys did in the war and say, It's time. Time to put all this silliness behind us. We all people. Bleed the same, think the same."
And Luther watched Lila smile and nod at that and he wanted to rip that disc record off the Victrola and break it over his knee.
Because what Luther hated most was that behind all this--all this finery, all this newfound nobility, all the wing collars and preaching and handsome furniture and new-mown lawns and fancy cars--lay fear. Terror.
If I play ball, they asked, will you let me be?
Luther thought of Babe Ruth and those boys from Boston and Chicago this summer and he wanted to say, No. They won't let you be. Comes the time they want something, they will take whatever they fucking please just to teach you.
And he imagined Marta and James and Dr. Weldon and Lionel A. Garrity, Esquire, looking back at him, gape jawed and hands out in pleading:
Teach us what?
Your place. chapter six Danny met Tessa Abruzze the same week people started to get sick. At first the newspapers said it was confined to soldiers at Camp Devens, but then two civilians dropped dead on the same day in the streets of Quincy, and across the city people began to stay inside.
Danny arrived on his floor with an armful of parcels he'd carried up the tight stairwell. They contained his clothes, freshly laundered, wrapped in brown paper, and tied off with a ribbon by a laundress from Prince Street, a widow who did a dozen loads a day in the tub in her kitchen. He tried maneuvering the key into the door with the parcels still in his arms, but after a couple of failed attempts, he stepped back and placed them on the floor, and a young woman came out of her room at the other end of the hall and let out a yelp.
She said, "Signore, signore," and it came out tentatively, as if she weren't sure she was worth the trouble. She leaned one hand against the wall and pink water ran down her legs and dripped off her ankles.
Danny wondered why he'd never seen her before. Then he wondered if she had the grippe. Then he noticed she was pregnant. His lock disengaged and the door popped open, and he kicked his parcels inside because nothing left behind in a hallway in the North End would stay there long. He shut the door and came down the hall toward the woman and saw that the lower part of her dress was soaked through.
She kept her hand on the wall and lowered her head and her dark hair fell over her mouth and her teeth were clenched into a grimace tighter than Danny had seen on some dead people. She said, "Dio aiutami. Dio aiutami."
Danny said, "Where's your husband? Where's the midwife?"
He took her free hand in his and she squeezed so tight a bolt of pain ran up to his elbow. Her eyes rolled up at him and she babbled something in Italian so fast he didn't catch any of it, and he realized she didn't speak a word of English.
"Mrs. DiMassi." Danny's holler echoed down the stairwell. "Mrs. DiMassi!"
The woman squeezed his hand even harder and screamed through her teeth.
"Dove e il vostro marito?" Danny said.
The woman shook her head several times, though Danny had no idea if that meant she had no husband or if he just wasn't here.
"The . . . la . . ." Danny searched for the word for "midwife." He caressed the back of her hand and said, "Ssssh. It's okay." He looked into her wide, wild eyes. "Look . . . look, you . . . the . . . la ostetrica!" Danny was so excited that he'd finally remembered the word he immediately reverted to English. "Yes? Where is . . . ? Dove e? Dove e la ostetrica?"
The woman pounded her fist against the wall. She dug her fi ngers into Danny's palm and screamed so loudly that he yelled, "Mrs. DiMassi!" feeling a kind of panic he hadn't felt since his first day as a policeman, when it had sunk in that he was all the answer the world saw fit to give to someone else's problems.
The woman shoved her face into his and said, "Faccia qualcosa, uomo insensato! Mi aiuti!" and Danny didn't get all of it, but he picked up "foolish man" and "help" so he pulled her toward the stairs.
Her hand remained in his, her arm wrapped around his abdomen, the rest of her clenched against his back as they made their way down the staircase to the street. Mass General was too far to make on foot and he couldn't see any taxis or even any trucks in the streets, just people, filling it on market day, Danny thinking if it was market day there should be some fucking trucks, shouldn't there, but no, just throngs of people and fruit and vegetables and restless pigs snuffling in their straw along the cobblestone.
"Haymarket Relief Station," he said. "It's closest. You understand?"
She nodded quickly and he knew it was his tone she was responding to and they pushed their way through the crowds and people began to make way. Danny tried a few times, calling out, "Cerco un' ostetrica! Un' ostetrica! Ce qualcuno che conosce un' ostetrica?" but all he got were sympathetic shakes of the head.
When they broke out on the other side of the mob, the woman arched her back and her moan was small and sharp and Danny thought she was going to drop the child onto the street, two blocks from Haymarket Relief, but she fell back into him instead. He scooped her up in his arms and started walking and staggering, walking and staggering, the woman not terribly heavy, but squirming and clawing the air and slapping his chest.