Read an Excerpt
They were on Harrison Avenue. Knocko was driving, as he always did.
"Gus joined the forces of law and order?" Knocko said.
"Yeah. City Square. Gets credit for Korea."
"Good deal for these new kids," Knocko said. "Two years head start on the pension."
Conn had a big paper cup full of black coffee. He took a pint of Irish whiskey from his coat pocket and poured some into the coffee.
"For Crissake," Knocko said. "It's eight in the fucking morning."
"Get my heart going," Conn said. He sipped the coffee. Knocko turned off of Harrison Avenue and parked near Tyler Street.
"Collection day?" Conn said.
"Friday morning, time to make the rounds," Knocko said. He got out of the car and walked down the alley to the mah-jongg parlor. Conn drank coffee and waited for Knocko. When the cup was half empty he added more whiskey. Knocko came back up Tyler Street and got in the car.
"Been collecting money from this place for twenty-five years," Knocko said. "For protection."
"Sure," Conn said. "Protection."
"Well," Knocko said sadly, "now we gotta earn it."
"I thought we did earn it," Conn said. "I thought we were getting paid to protect them from us."
"Last six, seven years," Knocko said, "bunch of new gooks coming in. Deserters, mostly, from Chiang's army after the Commies chased him out."
"Land of opportunity," Conn said.
Knocko jerked his head toward the mah-jongg parlor down the alley. "They're trying to take Chou over," he said.
"So let's tell them not to," Conn said. His coffee cup was empty.
"You all right for this?" Knocko said.
"Sure," Conn said. He took the whiskey from his pocket and had a drink and offered it to Knocko. Knocko shook his head.
Conn capped the bottle and put it away. Knocko started the car and they drove two blocks and parked on Beach Street in front of a small variety store with Chinese characters lettered on the window. Knocko looked at Conn again.
"In there," he said. "Guy we want is named Lone."
"Like in Ranger," Conn said.
"Yeah," Knocko said. "Like in Ranger."
They got out of the car.
"You okay for this?" Knocko said again.
"I was born for this," Conn said.
"Yeah, well, I wasn't. So don't be a fucking cowboy."
"Hi yo, Silver," Conn said, and they walked into the store.
It was dim inside, and smelled of odd things. Some smoked duck hung on hooks near the front window, and a variety of peculiar looking roots and unrecognizable vegetables lay on a narrow table across the back. A slender Chinese man stood behind the table counting money. He wore a white shirt open at the neck. A maroon silk scarf filled the opening. His movements were graceful and precise as he transferred bills from a large pile into smaller piles separated by denomination.
Knocko took out his badge.
"You Lone?" Knocko said.
Without looking up the Chinese man nodded. He separated a twenty from the big pile and put it on top of a smaller pile with the other twenties.
"Boston Police Department," Knocko said.
Lone continued to count his money.
"You know a guy named Chou runs a mah-jongg parlor on Tyler Street?" Lone nodded, concentrating on his counting.
"We got a complaint."
Lone nodded again. He took the pile of twenties and pushed em across the table at Knocko.
"Okay?" he said.
"Good idea," Knocko said, "but we been taking Chou's money for years. We sell him out first chance we get and who eIse will give us money?"
Conn was leaning against the door frame looking at the smoked ducks.
"No?" Lone said.
"No," Knocko said.
Lone nodded and brought his right hand up from below the table. In it was a .45 automatic, the hammer already back. He must store it cocked, Conn thought idly.
"You go," Lone said.
"Now, Lone, we can't do that," Knocko said. "You hear me say we're policemen? You're threatening two policemen, Lone."
"Hey, Lone," Conn said from the doorway. The muzzle of the gun deflected slightly toward Conn. Conn grinned. He thought of the last time he saw Mick Collins. You at born to be shot.
"Fuck you," Conn said, and walked into the gunfire.
Up front in Holy Cross Cathedral, Mellen in her new black dress prayed audibly along with the priest, kneeling beside her son at the funeral mass that Gus knew Conn would have laughed at. Knocko Kiernan was there with Faith, and most of his children. The police commissioner and the mayor were in attendance, and all the members of the City Council. Afterwards they gave Conn a full killed-in-the-line-of-duty burial. Police from all over the state were in the burial procession. A bugler played taps. A volley of shots was fired.
At graveside Gus stood with Mellen on his arm by the pile of newly turned earth, which had been covered with a tarp. Across the grave, somewhat apart from the crowd of mostly official mourners, Gus saw a middle-aged blond woman wearing a black hat with a veil.
She must have been something when she was young, Gus thought.
After the burial, while Mellen was at the center of a great circle of condolences, the blond woman came to stand beside Gus.
"I'm Hadley Winslow," she said softly. "I knew your father."
"Thanks for coming," Gus said automatically.
"He was a better man than he may have seemed," Hadley said.
Gus turned to stare at her. She smiled at him, patted his upper arm briefly, and walked away. Gus stared after her.
Probably was, he thought.
"How's your mother?" Knocko Kiernan said to Gus.
"She's in there with the rosary beads. Her and God."
"Better than nothing," Knocko said.
Gus shrugged. They were sitting at the table in Mellen's kitchen. Each with a glass of whiskey. There was a bottle on the table between them.
"It wasn't police business," Knocko said. "We was there to protect a guy was paying us."
"I figured that," Gus said.
"You hear stuff," Gus said. "I'm glad you killed the gook."
"Me or him," Knocko said. "First guy I ever shot."
They were silent, looking at the whiskey, not drinking it.
"My father never cleared his piece," Gus said.
Knocko shook his head.
"Gus," Knocko said, "I...to tell you the truth, Gus, it didn't seem like he tried."
"Just walked into it," Gus said.
Knocko nodded. "He was always like that, never seemed to give a shit."
"Conn was a stand-up guy," Knocko said.
"Conn was crazy," Gus said.
"He was, the old lady too." Gus jerked his head toward the room. "They drove each other fucking crazy all my life." I knew him before you was born. Before he met your mother. He was a good man, Gus. It was just...he just had a part missing, you know?"
It was not easy for him. Never free. Never able to shake loose. Two generations of Sheridans, knowing his secret. Using it. It was too much. Too much pressure. He thought all the time about the girls now. The pressure. He hadn't been with anyone since that girl in Charlestown, before he got sent away. But he'd thought about them every day. He'd wanted them every day. And now the pressure. Gus Sheridan. The gangsters. His own daughter, dating Gus Sheridan's son. It was too much. He had to have relief. He felt as if he'd been overinflated. As if the surface tension of his very self would burst and scatter. He needed a girl. Smooth body. Innocent legs. Pale skin, unwrinkled, unblemished, still smooth. Compliant. Respectful. Not mean. Not someone who had breasts. Not someone hairy. Not someone who had children. Not someone who wanted things. Who wanted you to do things. Not scary.
After thirty-three years. He had to have a girl. He stood and put on his coat and left his office.
"I've got some meetings," Tom told his secretary. "I'll be gone the rest of the day."