“I don’t know about a model for the rest of the world.”
“Why can’t it work?” she said to him. “A just world.” She splashed bubbles at him to show she was only half serious, but there was no “half” about it really.
“You mean one where everyone lives on what they need and sits around singing songs and, shit, smiling all the time?”
She flicked suds into his face. “You know what I mean. A good world. Why can’t it be so?”
“Greed,” he said. He raised his arms to their bathroom. “Look how we live.”
“But you give back. You gave a quarter of our money last year to the Gonzalez Clinic.”
“They saved my life.”
“The year before you built the library.”
“So they’d get books I like to read.”
“But all the books are in Spanish.”
“How do you think I learned the language?”
She propped her foot on his shoulder and used his hair to scratch an itch along the outside of her arch. She left it there and he gave it a kiss and found himself, as he often did at times like these, experiencing a peace so total he couldn’t imagine a heaven that could compare. Compare to her voice in his eardrums, her friendship in his pocket, her foot on his shoulder.
“We can do good,” she said, looking down.
“We do,” he said.
“After so much bad,” she said softly.
She was looking into the suds below her breasts, disappearing into herself, loosing herself from this tub. Any moment, she’d reach for a towel.
“Hey,” he said.
Her eyelids rose.
“We’re not bad. Maybe we’re not good. I dunno. I just know we’re all scared.”
“Who’s scared?” she said.
“Who isn’t? The whole world. We tell ourselves we believe in this god or that god, this afterlife or that one, and maybe we do, but what we’re all thinking at the same time is, ‘What if we’re wrong? What if this is it? Well if it is, shit, I better get me a real big house and a real big car and a whole bunch of nice tie pins and a pearl-handled walking stick and a—’ ”
She was laughing now.
“‘—a toilet that washes my ass and my armpits. Because I need one of those.’ ” He’d been chuckling too, but the chuckles trailed off into the suds. “‘But, wait, I believe in God. Just to be safe. But I believe in greed too. Just to be safe.’ ”
“And that’s all it is—we’re scared?”
“I don’t know if that’s all it is,” he said. “I just know we’re scared.”
She pulled the suds around her neck like a scarf and nodded. “I want it to matter that we were here.”
“I know you do. Look, you want to rescue these women and their kids? Good. I love you for that. But some bad people are going to want to stop some of those women from leaving their grips.”
“I know that,” she said in a singsong that told him he was naive to think she didn’t. “That’s why I’ll need a couple of your men.”
“Well, four for starters. But, mi amado?” She smiled at him. “I want the toughest ones you’ve got.”
That was also the year Chief Irving Figgis’s daughter, Loretta, returned to Tampa.
She got off the train accompanied by her father, their arms entwined. Loretta was dressed from head to toe in black, as if she were in mourning, and the way Irv held so tight to her arm, maybe she was.
Irv locked her up in his house in Hyde Park, and no one saw either of them for the whole of the season. Irv had taken a leave of absence after he’d gone to L.A. to retrieve her and he extended it through the fall when he got back. His wife moved out, taking his son with her, and neighbors said the only sound they ever heard from over there was the sound of praying. Or chanting. There was some argument over the particulars.
When they emerged from the house at the end of October, Loretta wore white. At a Pentecostal tent meeting later that evening, she declared that her decision to wear white hadn’t been hers at all; it had been Jesus Christ’s, to whose teachings she would now be wed. Loretta took the stage at the tent in Fiddlers Cove Field that night and she spoke of her descent into the world of vice, of the demons alcohol and heroin and marijuana that had led her there, of wanton fornication that led to prostitution that led to more heroin and nights of such sinful debauchery she knew Jesus had blocked them from her memory in order to keep her from taking her own life. And why was he so interested in keeping her alive? Because he wanted her to speak his truth to the sinners of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and Bradenton. And if he saw fit, she was to carry that message across Florida and even across these here United States.
What differentiated Loretta from so many speakers who stood before worshippers in the revival tents was that Loretta spoke with no fire and no brimstone. She never raised her voice. She spoke so softly, in fact, that many a listener had to lean forward. Occasionally glancing sideways at her father, who’d grown quite stern and unapproachable since her return, she gave plaintive testimony to a fallen world. She didn’t claim to know the will of God so much as she claimed to hear the crestfallen dismay of Christ at what his children had gotten up to. So much good could be salvaged from this world, so much virtue could be reaped, if it were virtue that was sown in the first place.
“They are saying this country will soon return to the despair of wanton alcohol consumption, of husbands beating their wives because of the rum, of carrying home venereal disease because of the rye, of falling to sloth and losing their jobs and the banks putting even more little ones out in the street because of the gin. Don’t blame the banks. Don’t blame the banks,” she whispered. “Blame those who profit from sin, from the peddling of flesh and the weakening of it through spirits. Blame the bootleggers and the bordello owners and those who allow them to spread their filth through our fair city and in God’s sight. Pray for them. And then ask God for guidance.”
God apparently guided some of the good citizens of Tampa to raid a couple of Coughlin-Suarez clubs and take axes to the rum and beer barrels. When Joe heard, he had Dion contact a guy in Valrico who made steel barrels and they put them in all the speaks, lifted the wooden casks into them, and waited to see who would come through their doors and take a swing now, snap their holy elbows off their holy fucking arms.