"What's that, Maureen?"
"I said, 'How you doing, hon?'" Maureen called. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Jimmy said, and it surprised him to realize that, in fact, he did feel okay. He still carried Katie in him like a second stricken and angry heart that would never, he was certain, stop beating its mad beat. He had no illusions about that. The grief was a constant now, more a part of him than a limb. But somehow during his long sleep, he'd gained an elemental acceptance of it. There it was, part of him, and he could deal with it on those terms. And so, under the circumstances, he felt far better than he would have expected. "I'm?all right," he called to Maureen and Dan. "Considering. You know?"
Maureen nodded, and Dan asked, "You need anything, Jim?"
"We mean anything," Maureen said.
And Jimmy felt a proud and everlasting surge of love for them and this whole place as he said, "No, I'm good. But thanks. Very much. It means a lot."
"You coming down?" Maureen called.
"I think so, yeah," Jimmy said, not knowing for sure until the words left his mouth. "We'll see you down there in a bit?"
"We'll save you a place," Dan said.
They waved and Jimmy waved back and then left the window, chest still filled with that overwhelming mixture of pride and love. These were his people. And this was his neighborhood. His home. They'd save a place for him. They would. Jimmy from the Flats.
That's what the big boys had called him in the old days, before he'd shipped out to Deer Island. They'd take him to the social clubs on Prince Street in the North End and say, "Hey, Carlo, this is that friend of mine I was telling you about. Jimmy. Jimmy from the Flats."
And Carlo or Gino or one of the O's would widen his eyes and go, "No shit? Jimmy Flats. Nice to meet you, Jimmy. I admired your work a long time now."
The jokes about his age would follow? "What, you crack your first safe with your diaper pin?"? but Jimmy could feel the respect, if not a kind of minor awe, these hard guys felt in his presence.
He was Jimmy Flats. Ran his first crew at seventeen. Seventeen? you believe that shit? A serious guy. Not to be fucked with. A man who kept his mouth shut and knew how the game was played and knew how to show respect. A man who made money for his friends.
He was Jimmy Flats back then, and he was Jimmy Flats right now, and those people beginning to gather along the parade route? they loved him. They worried about him and shouldered a modicum of his grief as best as they could. And for their love, what did he give them in return? He had to wonder. What, really, did he give them?
The closest thing this neighborhood had to a governing presence in the years since the Feds and RICO had busted up Louie Jello's gang had been? what?? Bobby O'Donnell? Bobby O'Donnell and Roman Fallow. Pair of bantamweight drug dealers who'd moved into the protection and shylock rackets. Jimmy had heard the rumors? how they'd forged some kind of deal with the Vietnamese gangs up in Rome Basin to keep the gooks from muscling in, carved up the territory and then celebrated the alliance by burning Connie's Flower Shop to the ground as a warning to anyone who refused to pay their insurance premiums.
That's not how you did it. You kept your business out of your neighborhood; you didn't make the neighborhood your business. You kept your people clean and safe and they, in gratitude, watched your back and became your ears to whispers of trouble. And if occasionally their gratitude came in the form of an envelope here, a cake or a car there, then that was their choice and your reward for keeping them safe.
That's how you ran a neighborhood. Benevolently. With one eye on their interests and one on your own. You didn't let the Bobby O'Donnells and the slant-eyed tong wannabes think they could just stroll the fuck in here and take whatever they desired. Not if they wanted to stroll back out on their God-given limbs.
Jimmy left the bedroom and found the apartment empty. The door at the end of the hall was open, and he could hear Annabeth's voice from the apartment upstairs, could hear his daughters' small feet scampering across the floorboards as they chased Val's cat. He let himself into the bathroom and turned on the shower, stepped in when it got warm, and raised his face to the spray.
The only reason O'Donnell and Farrow had never bothered Jimmy's store was because they knew he was tight with the Savages. And like anyone with a brain, O'Donnell was afraid of them. And if he and Roman feared the Savages, then that meant that, by association, they feared Jimmy.
They feared him. Jimmy from the Flats. Because, on his own, Lord knows, he certainly had the brains. And with the Savages watching his back, he could have all the muscle and balls-to-the-wall, batshit fearlessness he'd ever need. Put Jimmy Marcus and the Savage brothers together for real, and they could?
Make the neighborhood as safe as it deserved to be.
Run the whole damn city.
"Please don't, Jimmy. Jesus. I want to see my wife. I want to live my life. Jimmy? Please, don't take that away from me. Look at me!"
Jimmy closed his eyes and let the hard, hot water drill his skull.
"Look at me!"
I'm looking at you, Dave. I'm looking at you.
Jimmy saw Dave's pleading face, the spittle on his lips not much different than the spittle on Just Ray Harris's lower lip and chin had been thirteen years ago.
"Look at me!"
I'm looking, Dave. I'm looking. You never should have gotten back out of that car. You know that? You should have stayed gone. You came back here, to our home, and there were crucial pieces of you missing. You never fit back in, Dave, because they'd poisoned you and that poison was just waiting to spill back out.
"I didn't kill your daughter, Jimmy. I didn't kill Katie. I didn't, I didn't."
Maybe you didn't, Dave. I know that now. It's starting to look like you actually had nothing to do with it. Still a small chance the cops got the wrong kids, but I'll admit, all in all, it looks like you may have been guilt-free on the Katie account.
So you killed someone, Dave. You killed someone. Celeste was right about that. Besides, you know how it is with kids who get molested.
"No, Jim. Why don't you tell me?"
They turn into molesters themselves. Sooner or later. The poison's in you and it has to come out. I was just protecting some poor future victim from your poison, Dave. Maybe your son.
"Leave my son out of this."
Fine. Maybe one of his friends then. But, Dave, sooner or later, you would have shown your true colors.
"That's how you live with it?"
Once you got in that car, Dave, you should never have come back. That's how I live with it. You didn't belong. Don't you get it? That's all a neighborhood is? a place where people who belong together live. All others need not fucking apply.