“Garden,” Joe said.
As the Old Man Goes
Even in prison, news of the outside world trickled in. That year all the sports talk concerned the New York Yankees and their Murderers’ Row of Combs, Koenig, Ruth, Gehrig, Meusel, and Lazzeri. Ruth alone hit a mind-boggling sixty home runs, and the other five hitters were so dominant that the only question left was by how humiliating a margin they’d sweep the Pirates in the World Series.
Joe, a walking encyclopedia of baseball, would have loved to see this team play because he knew their like might never come around again. And yet his time in Charlestown had also instilled in him a reactionary contempt for anyone who would call a group of ballplayers Murderers’ Row.
You want a Murderers’ Row, he thought that evening just after dusk, I’m walking it. The entrance to the walkway along the top of the prison wall was on the other side of a door at the end of F Block on the uppermost tier of North Wing. It was impossible to reach that door unobserved. A man couldn’t even reach the tier without going through three separate gates. Once he did, he faced an empty tier. Even in a prison as overcrowded as this, they kept the twelve cells there empty and cleaner than a church font before a baptism.
As Joe walked along the tier now, he saw how they kept it so clean—each cell was being mopped by a convict trustee. The high windows in the cells, identical to the window in his own, revealed a square of sky. The squares were all a blue so dark it was nearly black, which left Joe to wonder how much the moppers could see in those cells. All the light was on the corridor. Maybe the guards would provide lanterns when dusk became night in a matter of minutes.
But there were no guards. Just the one leading him down the tier, the one who’d led him to and from the visiting room, the one who walked too fast, which would get him into trouble someday because the objective was to keep the convict ahead of you. If you got ahead of the convict, he could get up to all sorts of nefarious things, which is how Joe had moved the shank from his wrist to his butt five minutes ago. He wished he’d practiced it, though. Trying to walk with clenched ass cheeks and appear natural was no easy thing.
But where were the other guards? On nights when Maso walked the wall, they kept their presence light up here; it wasn’t like every guard was on the Pescatore payroll, though those who weren’t would never go pigeon on those who were. But Joe glanced around as they continued along the tier and confirmed what he’d feared—there were no guards up here right now. And then he got a close look at the inmates cleaning the cells:
Murderers’ Row, indeed.
Basil Chigis’s pointy head tipped him off. Not even the prison-issue watch cap could disguise it. Basil pushed a mop in the seventh cell on the tier. The foul-smelling guy who’d put his shank to Joe’s right ear mopped the eighth. Pushing a bucket around the tenth empty cell was Dom Pokaski, who’d burned his own family alive—wife, two daughters, mother-in-law, not to mention three cats he’d locked in the fruit cellar.
At the end of the tier, Hippo and Naldo Aliente stood by the stairwell door. If they thought there was anything odd about the higher-than-usual inmate presence and lower-than-ever guard presence, they were doing a first-class job of masking it. Nothing showed on their faces, really, except the smug entitlement of the ruling class.
Fellas, Joe thought, you might want to brace for change.
“Hands up,” Hippo told Joe. “I gotta frisk you.”
Joe didn’t hesitate, but he did regret not shoving the shank all the way up his ass. The handle, small as it was, rested against the base of his spine, but Hippo might feel an abnormal shape there, pull up his shirt and then use the shank on him. Joe kept his arms raised, surprised by how steady he seemed: no shakes, no sweat, no outward signs of fear. Hippo slapped his paws up Joe’s legs and then along his ribs and ran one down his chest and the other down his back. The tip of Hippo’s finger grazed the handle and Joe could feel it tilt back. He clenched harder, aware that his life depended on something as absurd as how tight he could clench his buttocks.
Hippo gripped Joe’s shoulders and turned him to face him. “Open your mouth.”
Hippo peered into his mouth. “He’s clean,” he said and stepped back.
As Joe went to pass, Naldo Aliente blocked the door. He looked into Joe’s face like he knew all the lies behind it.
“Your life goes as that old man’s goes,” he said. “You understand?”
Joe nodded, knowing that whatever happened to him or Pescatore, Naldo was living the final minutes of his life right now. “You bet.”
Naldo stepped aside, Hippo opened the door, and Joe stepped through. There was nothing on the other side but an iron spiral staircase. It rose from the concrete box to a trapdoor that had been left open to the night. Joe pulled the shank out of the back of his pants and placed it in the pocket of his coarse striped shirt. When he reached the top of the staircase, he made a fist of his right hand, then raised the index and middle fingers and thrust the hand out of the hole until the guard in the nearest tower could get a look. The light from the tower swung left, right, and left-right again in a quick zigzag—the all clear. Joe climbed through the opening and out onto the walkway and scanned his surroundings until he made out Maso about fifteen yards down the wall in front of the central watchtower.
He walked to him, feeling the shank bouncing lightly against his hip. The only blind spot to the central watchtower was the space directly below it. As long as Maso stayed where he was, they’d be invisible. When Joe reached him, Maso was smoking one of the bitter French cigarettes he preferred, the yellow ones, and looking west across the blight.
He looked at Joe for a bit and said nothing, just inhaled and exhaled his cigarette smoke with a wet rattle.
And then he said, “I’m sorry about your father.”
Joe stopped fishing for his own cigarette. The night sky dropped over his face like a cloak and the air around him evaporated until the lack of oxygen squeezed his head.
There was no way Maso could know. Even with all his power, all his sources. Danny had told Joe he’d reached out to no less than Superintendent Michael Crowley, who’d come up on foot patrol with their father and whose job their father had been expected to inherit before that night behind the Statler. Thomas Coughlin had been whisked out the back of his house into an unmarked police car and taken into the city morgue by the underground entrance.