"I look forward to it."
Federico and Danny walked back across the roof toward the fire escape.
"This sickness." Federico's arm spanned the roofs around them. "It will pass?"
"I hope so."
"I do as well. So much hope in this country, so much possibility. It would be a tragedy to learn to suffer as Europe has." He turned at the fire escape and took Danny's shoulders in his hands. "I thank you again, sir. Good night."
"Good night," Danny said.
Federico descended through the black iron, the walking stick tucked under one arm, his movements fluid and assured, as if he'd grown up with mountains nearby, rocky hills to climb. Once he was gone, Danny found himself still staring down, trying to give a name to the odd sense he had that something else had transpired between them, something that got lost in the wine in his blood. Maybe it was the way he'd said debt, or suffer, as if the words had different meanings in Italian. Danny tried to snatch at the threads, but the wine was too strong; the thought slipped off into the breeze and he gave up trying to catch it and returned to his craps game.
A little later in the night, they launched the kite again at Bernardo Thomas's insistence, but the twine slipped from the boy's fi ngers. Before he could cry, Claudio let out a whoop of triumph, as if the point of any kite were to eventually set it free. The boy wasn't immediately convinced and stared after it with a tremble in his chin, so the other adults joined in at the edge of the roof. They raised their fists and shouted. Bernardo Thomas began to laugh and clap, and the other children joined in, and soon they all stood in celebration and urged the yellow kite onward into the deep, dark sky.
By the end of the week, the undertakers had hired men to guard the coffins. The men varied in appearance--some had come from private security companies and knew how to bathe and shave, others had the look of washed-up footballers or boxers, a few in the North End were low-rung members of the Black Hand--but all carried shotguns or rifl es. Among the afflicted were carpenters, and even if they'd been healthy, it was doubtful they could have kept up with the demand. At Camp Devens, the grippe killed sixty-three soldiers in one day. It rooted its way into tenements in the North End and South Boston and the rooming houses of Scollay Square and tore through the shipyards of Quincy and Weymouth. Then it caught the train lines, and the papers reported outbreaks in Hartford and New York City.
It reached Philadelphia on the weekend during fine weather. People filled the streets for parades that supported the troops and the buying of Liberty Bonds, the Waking Up of America, and the strengthening of moral purity and fortitude best exemplified by the Boy Scouts. By the following week, death carts roamed the streets for bodies placed on porches the night before and morgue tents sprang up all over eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey. In Chicago it took hold first on the South Side, then on the East, and the rails carried it out across the Plains.
There were rumors. Of an imminent vaccine. Of a German submarine that had been sighted three miles out in Boston Harbor in August; some claimed to have seen it rise out of the sea and exhale a plume of orange smoke that had drifted toward shore. Preachers cited passages in Revelations and Ezekiel that prophesied an airborne poison as punishment for a new century's promiscuity and immigrant mores. The Last Times, they said, had arrived.
Word spread through the underclass that the only cure was garlic. Or turpentine on sugar cubes. Or kerosene on sugar cubes if turpentine wasn't available. So the tenements reeked. They reeked of sweat and bodily discharges and the dead and the dying and garlic and turpentine. Danny's throat clogged with it and his nostrils burned, and some days, woozy from kerosene vapors and stuffed up from the garlic, his tonsils scraped raw, he'd think he'd fi nally come down with it. But he hadn't. He'd seen it fell doctors and nurses and coroners and ambulance drivers and two cops from the First Precinct and six more from other precincts. And even as it blasted a hole through the neighborhood he'd come to love with a passion he couldn't even explain to himself, he knew it wouldn't stick to him.
Death had missed him at Salutation Street, and now it circled him and winked at him but then settled on someone else. So he went into the tenements where several cops refused to go, and he went into the boardinghouses and rooming houses and gave what comfort he could to those gone yellow and gray with it, those whose sweat darkened the mattresses.
Days off vanished in the precinct. Lungs rattled like tin walls in high wind and vomit was dark green, and in the North End slums, they took to painting Xs on the doors of the contagious, and more and more people slept on the roofs. Some mornings, Danny and the other cops of the Oh-One stacked the bodies on the sidewalk like shipyard piping and waited into the afternoon sun for the meat wagons to arrive. He continued to wear a mask but only because it was illegal not to. Masks were bullshit. Plenty of people who never took them off got the grippe all the same and died with their heads on fi re.
He and Steve Coyle and another half- dozen cops responded to a suspicion-of-murder call off Portland Street. As Steve knocked on the door, Danny could see the adrenaline flare in the eyes of the other men in the hallway. The guy who eventually opened the door wore a mask, but his eyes were red with it and his breaths were liquid. Steve and Danny looked at the knife haft sticking out of the center of his chest for twenty seconds before they realized what they were seeing.
The guy said, "Fuck you fellas bothering me for?"
Steve had his hand on his revolver but it remained holstered. He held out his palm to get the guy to take a step back. "Who stabbed you, sir?"
The other cops in the hall moved on that, spreading out behind Danny and Steve.
"I did," the guy said.
"You stabbed yourself?"
The guy nodded, and Danny noticed a woman sitting on the couch behind the guy. She wore a mask, too, and her skin was the blue of the infected and her throat was cut.
The guy leaned against the door, and the movement brought a fresh darkening to his shirt.
"Let me see your hands," Steve said.
The guy raised his hands and his lungs rattled with the effort. "Could one of you fellas pull this out of my chest?"
Steve said, "Sir, step away from the door."
He stepped out of their way and fell on his ass and sat looking at his thighs. They entered the room. No one wanted to touch the guy, so Steve trained his revolver on him.
The guy placed both hands on the haft and tugged, but it didn't budge, and Steve said, "Put your hands down, sir."
The guy gave Steve a loose smile. He lowered his hands and sighed.