Danny looked at the dead woman. "You kill your wife, sir?"
A slight shake of his head. "Cured her. Nothing else I could do, fellas. This thing?"
Leo West called from the back of the apartment. "We got kids in here."
"Alive?" Steve called.
The guy on the floor shook his head again. "Cured them, too."
"Three of 'em," Leo West called. "Jesus." He stepped back out of the room. His face was pale and he'd unbuttoned his collar. "Jesus," he said again. "Shit."
Danny said, "We need to get an ambulance down here."
Rusty Aborn gave that a bitter chuckle. "Sure, Dan. What's it taking them these days--five, six hours?"
Steve cleared his throat. "This guy just left Ambulance Country." He put his foot on the guy's shoulder and gently tipped the corpse to the floor.
Two days later, Danny carried Tessa's infant out of her apartment in a towel. Federico was nowhere to be found, and Mrs. DiMassi sat by Tessa as she lay in bed with a wet towel on her forehead and stared at the ceiling. Her skin had yellowed with it, but she was conscious. Danny held the infant as she glanced fi rst at him and then at the bundle in his arms, the child's skin the color and texture of stone, and then she turned her eyes to the ceiling again and Danny carried the child down the stairs and outside, just as he and Steve Coyle had carried Claudio's body out the day before.
Danny made sure to call his parents most every night and managed to make one trip home during the pandemic. He sat with his family and Nora in the parlor on K Street and they drank tea, slipping the cups under the masks Ellen Coughlin demanded the family wear everywhere but in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Nora served the tea. Normally Avery Wallace would have performed that duty, but Avery hadn't shown up for work in three days. Had it bad, he'd told Danny's father over the phone, had it deep. Danny had known Avery since he and Connor were boys, and it only now occurred to him that he'd never visited the man's home or met his family. Because he was colored?
There it was.
Because he was colored.
He looked up from his teacup at the rest of the family and the sight of them all--uncommonly silent and stiff in their gestures as they lifted their masks to sip their tea--struck him and Connor as absurd at the same time. It was as if they were still altar boys serving mass at Gate of Heaven and one look from either brother could cause the other to laugh at the least appropriate moment. No matter how many whacks on the ass they took from the old man, they just couldn't help it. It got so bad the decision was made to separate them, and after sixth grade, they never served mass together again.
The same feeling gripped them now and the laugh burst through Danny's lips first and Connor was a half step behind. Then they were both possessed by it, placing their teacups on the floor and giving in.
"What?" their father said. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing," Connor managed, and it came out muffl ed through the mask, which only made Danny laugh harder.
Their mother, sounding cross and confused, said, "What? What?" "Jeeze, Dan," Connor said, "get a load of himself."
Danny knew he was talking about Joe. He tried not to look, he did, but then he looked over and saw the little kid sitting in a chair so big his shoes barely reached the edge of the cushion. Joe, sitting there with his big wide eyes and the ridiculous mask and the teacup resting on the lap of his plaid knickerbockers, looking at his brothers like they'd provide an answer to him. But there wasn't any answer. It was all so silly and ridiculous and Danny noticed his little brother's argyle socks and his eyes watered as his laughter boomed even harder.
Joe decided to join in and Nora followed, both of them uncertain at first but gathering in strength because Danny's laughter had always been so infectious and neither could remember the last time they'd seen Connor laugh so freely or helplessly and then Connor sneezed and everyone stopped laughing.
A fine spray of red dots peppered the inside of his mask and bled through to the outside.
Their mother said, "Holy Mary Mother of Jesus," and blessed herself.
"What?" Connor said. "It was a sneeze."
"Connor," Nora said. "Oh God, dear Connor."
"Con'," Danny said and came out of his chair, "take off your mask."
"Oh no oh no oh no," their mother whispered.
Connor took off the mask, and when he got a good look at it, he gave it a small nod and took a breath.
Danny said, "Let's me and you have a look in the bathroom."
No one else moved at first, and Danny got Connor into the bathroom and locked the door as they heard the whole family fi nd their legs and assemble out in the hall.
"Tilt your head," Danny said.
Connor tilted his head. "Dan."
"Shut up. Let me look."
Someone turned the knob from the outside and his father said, "Open up."
"Give us a second, will ya?"
"Dan," Connor said, and his voice was still tremulous with laughter. "Will you keep your head back? It's not funny."
"Well, you're looking up my nose."
"I know I am. Shut up."
"You see any boogers?"
"A few." Danny felt a smile trying to push through the muscles in his face. Leave it to Connor--serious as the grave on a normal day and now, possibly facing that grave, he couldn't keep serious.
Someone rattled the door again and knocked.
"I picked it," Connor said.
"Just before Ma brought out the tea. I was in here. Had half my hand up there, Dan. Had one of those sharp rocks in there, you know the ones?"
Danny stopped looking in his brother's nose. "You what?"
"Picked it," Connor said. "I guess I need to cut my nails."
Danny stared at him and Connor laughed. Danny slapped the side of his head and Connor rabbit-punched him. By the time they opened the door to the rest of the family, standing pale and angry in the hall, they were laughing again like bad altar boys.
"He's fi ne."
"I'm fine. Just a nosebleed. Look, Ma, it stopped."
"Get a fresh mask from the kitchen," their father said and walked back into the parlor with a wave of disgust.
Danny caught Joe looking at them with something akin to wonder. "A nosebleed," he said to Joe, drawing the word out.
"It's not funny," their mother said, and her voice was brittle. "I know, Ma," Connor said, "I know."