Providence, RI, 1986.
Twenty-nine-year-old Danny Ryan is a hard-working longshoreman, loving husband, loyal friend, and occasional “muscle” for the Irish crime syndicate that oversees much of the city. He yearns for something more and dreams of starting over fresh, someplace far away.
But when a modern-day Helen of Troy triggers a war between rival mob factions, Danny is embroiled in a conflict he can’t escape. Now it is up to him to step into the breach to protect his family, the friends who are closer to him than brothers, and the only home he’s ever known.
CITY ON FIRE
Pasco Ferri’s Clambake
Goshen Beach, Rhode Island August 1986
DANNY RYAN WATCHES THE WOMAN come out of the water like a vision emerging from his dreams of the sea.
Except she’s real and she’s going to be trouble. Women that beautiful usually are.
Danny knows that; what he doesn’t know is just how much trouble she’s really going to be. If he knew that, knew everything that was go- ing to happen, he might have walked into the water and held her head under until she stopped moving.
But he doesn’t know that.
So, the bright sun striking his face, Danny sits on the sand out in front of Pasco’s beach house and checks her out from behind the cover of his sunglasses. Blond hair, deep blue eyes, and a body that the black bikini does more to accentuate than conceal. Her stomach is taut and flat, her legs muscled and sleek. You don’t see her fifteen years from now with wide hips and a big ass from the potatoes and the Sunday gravy.
The woman comes out of the water, her skin glistening with sunshine and salt.
Terri Ryan digs an elbow into her husband’s ribs. “What?” Danny asks, all mock-innocent.
“I see you checking her out,” Terri says.
They’re all checking her out—him, Pat and Jimmy, and the wives, too—Sheila, Angie, and Terri.
“Can’t say I blame you,” Terri says. “That rack.” “Nice talk,” Danny says.
“Yeah, with what you’re thinking?” Terri asks. “I ain’t thinking nothing.”
“I got your nothing for you right here,” Terri says, moving her right hand up and down. She sits up on her towel to get a better view of the woman. “If I had boobs like that, I’d wear a bikini, too.”
Terri’s wearing a one-piece black number. Danny thinks she looks good in it.
“I like your boobs,” Danny says. “Good answer.”
Danny watches the beautiful woman as she picks up a towel and dries herself off. She must put in a lot of time at the gym, he thinks. Takes care of herself. He bets she works in sales. Something pricey— luxury cars, or maybe real estate, or investments. What guy is going to say no to her, try to bargain her down, look cheap in front of her? Isn’t going to happen.
Danny watches her walk away.
Like a dream you wake up from and you don’t want to wake up, it’s such a good dream.
Not that he got much sleep last night, and now he’s tired. They hit a truckload of Armani suits, him and Pat and Jimmy MacNeese, way the hell up in western Mass. Piece of cake, an inside job Peter Moretti set them up with. The driver was clued in, everyone did the dance so no one got hurt, but still it was a long drive and they got back to the shore just as the sun was coming up.
“That’s okay,” Terri says, lying back on her towel. “You let her get you all hot and bothered for me.”
Terri knows her husband loves her, and anyway, Danny Ryan is faithful like a dog. He don’t have it in him to cheat. She don’t mind he looks at other women as long as he brings it home to her. A lot of married guys, they need some strange every once in a while, but Danny don’t.
Even if he did, he’d feel too guilty.
They’ve even joked about it. “You’d confess to the priest,” Terri said, “you’d confess to me, you’d probably take an ad out in the paper to confess.”
She’s right, Danny thinks as he reaches over and strokes Terri’s thigh with the back of his index finger, signaling that she’s right about something else, that he is hot and bothered, that it’s time to go back to the cottage. Terri brushes his hand away, but not too hard. She’s horny, too, feeling the sun, the warm sand on her skin, and the sexual energy brought by the new woman.
It’s in the air, they both feel it. Something else, too.
Restlessness? Danny wonders. Discontent?
Like this sexy woman comes out of the sea and suddenly they’re not quite satisfied with their lives.
I’m not, Danny thinks.
Every August they come down from Dogtown to Goshen Beach because that’s what their fathers did and they don’t know to do anything else. Danny and Terri, Jimmy and Angie Mac, Pat and Sheila Murphy, Liam Murphy with his girl of the moment. They rent the little cottages across the road from the beach, so close to each other you can hear your neighbor sneeze, or lean out the window to borrow something for the kitchen. But that’s what makes it fun, the closeness. None of them would know what to do with solitude. They grew up in the same Providence neighborhood their parents did, went to school there, are still there, see each other almost every day and go down to Goshen on vacation together.
“Dogtown by the Sea,” they call it.
Danny always thinks the ocean should be to the east, but knows that the beach actually faces south and runs in a gentle arc west about a mile to Mashanuck Point, where some larger houses perch precariously on a low bluff above the rocks. To the south, fourteen miles out in the open ocean, sits Block Island, visible on most clear days. During the summer season, ferries run all day and into the night from the docks at Gilead, the fishing village just across the channel.
Danny, he used to go out to Block Island all the time, not on the ferry, but back before he was married when he was working the fishing boats. Sometimes, if Dick Sousa was in a good mood, they’d pull into New Harbor and grab a beer before making the run home.
Those were good days, going after the swordfish with Dick, and Danny misses them. Misses the little cottage he rented behind Aunt Betty’s Clam Shack, even though it was drafty and colder than shit in the winter. Misses walking down to the bar at the Harbor Inn to have a drink with the fishermen and listen to their stories, learn their wisdom. Misses the physical work that made him feel strong and clean. He was nineteen and strong and clean and now he ain’t none of those things; a layer of fat has grown around his middle and he ain’t sure he could throw a harpoon or haul in a net.
You look at Danny now, in his late twenties, his broad shoulders make him appear a little shorter than his six feet, and his thick brown hair, tinged with red, gives him a low forehead that makes him look a little less smart than he really is.
Danny sits on the sand and looks at the water with a yearning. The most he does now is go in and have a swim or bodysurf if there are any waves, which is unusual in August unless there’s a hurricane brewing.
Danny misses the ocean when he’s not here.
It gets in your blood, like you got salt water running through you. The fishermen Danny knows love the sea and hate it, say it’s like a cruel woman who hurts you over and over again but you keep going back to her anyway.
Sometimes he thinks maybe he should go back to fishing, but there’s no money in it. Not anymore, with all the government regulations and the Japanese and Russian factory ships sitting thirteen miles off the coast and taking up all the cod and the tuna and the flounder and the government don’t do shit about them, just keeps its thumb on the local guy.
Because it can.
So now Danny just comes down from Providence in August with the rest of the gang.
Mornings they get up late, eat breakfast in their cottages, then cross the road and spend the day gathered on the beach in front of Pasco’s place, one of about a dozen clapboard houses set on concrete pylons near the breakwater on the east end of Goshen Beach.
They set up beach chairs, or just lie on towels, and the women sip wine coolers and read magazines and chat while the men drink beer or throw in a fishing line. There’s always a nice little crowd there, Pasco and his wife and kids and grandkids, and the whole Moretti crew—Peter and Paul Moretti, Sal Antonucci, Tony Romano, Chris Palumbo and wives and kids.
Always a lot of people dropping by, coming in and out, having a good time.
Rainy days they sit in the cottages and do jigsaw puzzles, play cards, take naps, shoot the shit, listen to the Sox broadcasters jaw their way through the rain delay. Or maybe drive into the main town two miles inland and see a movie or get an ice cream or pick up some groceries.
Nights, they barbecue on the strips of lawn between the cottages, usually pooling their resources, grill hamburgs and hot dogs. Or maybe during the day one of the guys walks over to the docks to see what’s fresh and that night they grill tuna or bluefish or boil some lobsters.
Other nights they walk down to Dave’s Dock, sit at a table out on the big deck that overlooks Gilead, across the narrow bay. Dave’s doesn’t have a liquor license, so they bring their own bottles of wine and beer, and Danny loves sitting out there watching the fishing boats, the lobstermen, or the Block Island Ferry come in as he eats chowder and fish-and-chips and greasy clam cakes. It’s pretty and peaceful out there as the sun softens and the water glows in the dusk.
Some nights they just walk home after dinner, gather in each other’s cottages for more cards and conversations; other times maybe they drive over to Mashanuck Point, where there’s a bar, the Spindrift. Sit and have a few drinks and listen to some local bar band, maybe dance a little, maybe not. But usually the whole gang ends up there and it’s always a lot of laughs until closing time.
If they feel more ambitious, they pile into cars and drive over to Gilead—fifty yards by water but fourteen miles by road—where there are some larger bars that almost pass for clubs and where the Morettis don’t expect and never receive a drink bill. Then they go home to their cottages and Danny and Terri either pass out or mess around and then pass out, and wake up late and do it all over again.
“I need some more losh,” Terri says now, handing him the tube.
Danny sits up, squeezes a glob of the suntan lotion onto his hands, and starts to work it onto her freckled shoulders. Terri burns easy with that Irish skin. Black hair, violet eyes, and skin like a porcelain teacup.
The Ryans are darker-skinned, and Danny’s old man, Marty, says that’s because they got Spanish blood in them. “From when that armada sank back there. Some of them Spanish sailors made it to shore and did the deed.”
They’re all black Irish, anyway, northerners like most of the micks who landed in Providence. Hard men from the stony soil and constant defeat of Donegal. Except, Danny thinks, the Murphys are doing pretty good for themselves now. Then he feels guilty thinking that, because Pat Murphy’s been his best friend since they were in diapers, not to mention now they’re brothers-in-law.
Sheila Murphy lifts her arms, yawns and says, “I’m going to go back, take a shower, do my nails, girly stuff.” She gets up from her blanket and brushes the sand off her legs. Angie gets up, too. Like Pat is the leader of the men, Sheila is the boss of the wives. They take their cues from her.
She looks down at Pat and asks, “You coming?”
Danny looks at Pat and they both smile—the couples are all going back to have sex and no one’s even being subtle about it. The cottages are going to be busy places this afternoon.
Danny’s sad that summer is coming to an end. He always is. The end of summer means the end of the long slow days, the lingering sunsets, the rented beach cottages, the beers, the fun, the laughs, the clambakes.
It’s back to Providence, back to the docks, back to work.
Home to their little apartment on the top floor of a gabled three-decker in the city, one of the thousands of old tenement buildings that went up all over New England in the height of the mill and factory days, when they were needed to provide cheap housing for the Italian, Jewish, and Irish workers. The mills and factories are mostly gone, but the three-story houses survive and still have a little of the lower-class reputation about them.
Danny and Terri have a small living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a bedroom with a small porch out the back and windows on every side, which is nice. It ain’t much—Danny hopes to buy them a real house someday—but it’s enough for now and it ain’t so bad. Mrs. Costigan on the floor below is a quiet old lady and the owner, Mr. Riley, lives on the ground floor, so he keeps everything pretty shipshape.
Still and all, Danny thinks about getting out of there, maybe out of Providence altogether.
“Maybe we should move someplace where it’s summer all the time,” he said to Terri just the night before.
“Like where?” she asked. “California, maybe.”
She laughed at him. “California? We got no family in California.” “I got a second cousin or something in San Diego.”
“That’s not really family,” Terri says.
Yeah, maybe that’s the point, Danny thinks now. Maybe it would be good to go somewhere they don’t have all those obligations—the birthday parties, the first communions, the mandatory Sunday dinners. But he knows it won’t happen—Terri is too attached to her large family, and his old man needs him.
Nobody ever leaves Dogtown. Or if they do, they come back. Danny did.
Now he wants to go back to the cottage.
He wants to get laid and then he wants a nap.
Danny could use a little sleep, feel fresh for Pasco Ferri’s clam- bake.
TERRI’S IN NO MOOD FOR preliminaries.
She walks into the little bedroom, closes the drapes and pulls the bedspread down. Then she peels off her bathing suit and lets it drop on the floor. Usually she showers when she gets back from the beach so she don’t get sand and salt in the bed. Usually makes Danny do the same—but now she don’t care. She digs her thumbs into the waistband of his swimming trunks, smiles and says, “Yeah, you’re worked up from that bitch on the beach.”
“Maybe I’m bi,” she teases. “Oh, feel you when I said that.” “Feel you.”
“I want you in me.”
Terri comes quickly—she usually does. She used to be embarrassed by it, thought it made her a whore, but later, when she talked to Sheila and Angie, they told her how lucky she was. Now she jacks her hips, works hard to make him come, and says, “Don’t think about her.”
“I’m not. I won’t.”
“Tell me when you’re going to.”
It’s a ritual—every time since they first did it she wants to know when he’s about to come, and now when he feels it building he tells her and she asks, as she always does, “Is it good? Is it good?”
She holds him tight until his thrusting stops, then leaves her hands on his back, and Danny feels when her body gets sleepy and heavy, and he rolls off. He sleeps for just a few minutes and then wakes up and lies beside her.
He loves her like life.
And not, like some people think, because she’s John Murphy’s daughter.
John Murphy is an Irish king, like the O’Neills in the old country. Holds court in the back room of the Glocca Morra pub like it’s Tara. He’s been the boss of Dogtown since Danny’s dad, Marty, fell into the bottom of the bottle and the Murphy family took over from the Ryans.
Yeah, Danny thinks, I could have been Pat or Liam, except I’m not. Instead of being a prince, Danny is some kind of minor duke or something. He always gets picked in the shape-ups without having to pay off the dock bosses, and Pat sees that other kind of work comes his way from time to time.
Longshoremen borrow from the Murphys to pay off the bosses and can’t catch up, or they put the paycheck on a basketball game that goes the wrong way. Then Danny, who’s “a strapping lad,” in the words of John Murphy, pays them a visit. He tries to do it at the bar or on the street so as not to embarrass them in front of their families, upset their wives, scare their kids, but there are times when he has to go to their homes, and Danny hates that.
Usually a word to the wise is enough, and they work out some kind of payment plan, but some of them are just plain deadbeats and boozehounds who drink up the payments and the rent, and then Danny has to rough them up a little. He isn’t a leg-breaker, though. That stuff rarely happens anyway—a man with a broken stick can’t work and a man who can’t work can’t make any kind of payment at all, not on the vig, never mind the principal. So Danny might hurt them, but he doesn’t hurt them bad.
So he picks up some extra coin that way, and then there’s the cargo he helps walk off the dock, and the trucks that he and Pat and Jimmy Mac sometimes take on the dark road from Boston to Providence.
They work with the Morettis on those jobs, getting the word and the nod from the brothers and then taking the trucks down, the tax-free cigarettes going into the Moretti vending machines, the booze going to Moretti-protected clubs or the Gloc or other bars in Dog- town. Suits like they took last night get sold out the trunks of cars in Dogtown, and the Morettis get their cut. Everybody wins except the insurance companies, and fuck them, they charge you up the ass anyway and then raise your rates if you have an accident.
So Danny makes a living, but nothing like the Murphys, who get points from the dock bosses, the no-show wharf jobs, the loan-shark ops, the gambling, and the kickbacks that come from the Tenth Ward, which includes Dogtown. Danny gets some crumbs from all that, but he don’t sit at the big table in the back room with the Murphys.
Even Peter Moretti said something to him about it.
They were walking down the beach together the other day when Peter said, “No offense, Danny, but, as your friend, I can’t help but wonder.”
“Wonder what, Peter?”
“With you marrying the daughter and all,” Peter said, “we all figured you’d get a little boost up, you know what I mean.”
Danny felt the heat rise to his cheeks. Thinking about the Moretti crew sitting around the vending machine office on Federal Hill, playing cards, sipping espressos, shooting the shit. Danny didn’t like it his name came up, especially not about this.
He didn’t know what to say to Peter. Truth was, he’d figured he’d get a boost, too, but it hadn’t happened. He expected his father-in-law to have taken him into the back room of the Gloc for a “chat,” put his arm around him and given him a piece of the street action, a card game, a seat at the table—something.
“I don’t like to push,” Danny finally said.
Peter nodded and looked past Danny out at the horizon, where Block Island seemed to float like a low cloud. “Don’t get me wrong, I love Pat like a brother, but . . . I don’t know, sometimes I think the Murphys . . . Well, you know, because it used to be the Ryans, didn’t it? Maybe they’re afraid to move you up, you might have thoughts of restoring the old dynasty. And if you and Terri have a boy . . . a Murphy and a Ryan? I mean, come on.”
“I just want to make a living.”
“Don’t we all?” Peter laughed, and he let it drop.
Danny knew that Peter was making onions. He liked Peter, considered him a friend, but Peter was going to be Peter. And Danny had to admit there was some truth to what Peter said. He’d thought it, too—that Old Man Murphy was shutting him out because he was afraid of the Ryan name.
Danny don’t mind it so much with Pat, a good guy and a hard worker who runs the docks well and doesn’t lord it over anyone. Pat’s a natural leader, and Danny, well, if he’s being honest with himself, is a natural follower. He don’t want to lead the family, take his father’s place. He loves Pat and would follow him to hell with a squirt gun.
Kids from Dogtown, they’ve been together forever—him and Pat and Jimmy. St. Brendan’s Elementary, then St. Brendan’s High School. They played hockey together, got slaughtered by the French- Canadian kids from Mount St. Charles. They played basketball together, got slaughtered by the Black kids at Southie. Didn’t matter they got slaughtered—they played tough and didn’t back down from nobody. They ate most suppers together, sometimes at Jimmy’s, mostly at Pat’s.
Pat’s mom, Catherine, would call them to the table like they were one person, “Patdannyjimmyyyyyyy!” Down the street, across the little backyards. Patdannyjimmyyyyyyy! Suppaaaaaah! When there was no food at home because Marty was too drunk to get it together, Danny would sit at the big Murphy table and have pot roast and boiled potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs, always fish-and-chips on Friday, even after the Pope said it was okay to eat meat.
With no real family of his own—Danny was that anomaly, an Irish only child—he loved the sprawling Murphy household. There was Pat and Liam, Cassie, and, of course, Terri, and they took Danny in like he was family.
He wasn’t exactly an orphan, Danny, but a near thing, what with his mother running off when he was just a baby and his father pretty much ignoring him because all he could see in him was her.
As Martin Ryan fell deeper into the bitterness and the bottle, he was hardly a fit father for the boy, who more and more took refuge on the streets with Pat and Jimmy and at the Murphy house, where there was laughter and smiles and rarely any yelling except when the sisters fought for the bathroom.
Danny was a lonely boy, Catherine Murphy always thought, a lonely, sad boy, and who could blame him? So if he was at the house a bit more than was normal, she was happy to give him a smile and a mother’s hug, some cookies and a peanut butter sandwich, and as he grew up and his interest in Terri became obvious—well, Danny Ryan was a nice boy from the neighborhood and Terri could do worse.
John Murphy wasn’t so sure. “He’s got that blood.” “What blood?” his wife asked, although she knew. “That Ryan blood,” Murphy answered. “It’s cursed.”
“Stop being foolish,” Catherine said. “When Marty was well . . .” She didn’t finish the thought, because when Marty was well, he, not John, had run Dogtown, and her husband didn’t like the thought that he owed his rise to Martin Ryan’s fall.
So John wasn’t all that unhappy when Danny graduated high school and moved down to South County to be a fisherman, of all the goddamn things. But if that’s what the kid wanted to do, that’s what he wanted to do, even though he didn’t understand that jobs on the boats were hard to get and he only got his place on the swordfish boat because its owner thought the Celtics were a lock at home against the Lakers and they weren’t. So if the owner wanted to keep his boat, young Danny Ryan was going to be on board. No reason for Danny to know that, though. Why ruin it for the kid? Pat, he didn’t understand Danny’s move, either.
“What are you doing this for?” he asked.
“I dunno,” Danny said. “I want to try something different. Work outdoors.”
“The docks aren’t outdoors?”
Yeah, they are, Danny thought, but they weren’t the ocean and he meant what he said—he wanted something different from Dogtown. He knew the life he was looking at: Get his union card, work on the docks, pick up some spare change as muscle for the Murphys. Friday nights at the P-Bruins hockey games, Saturday nights at the Gloc, Sunday dinner at John’s table. He wanted something more—different, anyway—wanted to make his own way in the world. Do clean, hard work, have his own money, his own place, not owe nobody nothing. Sure, he’d miss Pat and Jimmy, but Gilead was what, half an hour, forty-minute drive and they’d be coming down in August anyway.
So he got himself a job on the swordfish boat.
Total fucking doofus at first, no clue what he was doing, and Dick, he must have yelled himself hoarse trying to teach Danny what to do, what not to do, called Danny every name in the book, and for a good year Danny thought his first name was “Dammit.”
But he learned.
Became a decent hand and overcame the prejudice most of the old guys had that no one who didn’t come from at least three generations of fishermen could work a boat. And he freakin’ loved it. Got his drafty little cottage, learned to cook—well anyway, bacon and eggs, clam chowder, chili—earned his salary, drank with the men.
Summers he worked on the swordfish charter, winters he caught on with the boats that went out for the groundfish—the cod, the haddock, the flounder—whatever they could net, whatever the Russians or the Japs didn’t get and the government would still let them have.
Summers were fun, winters a bitch.
The sky gray, the ocean black, and the only word that could describe Gilead in the winter was “bleak.” The wind would come through his cottage like it had an invitation, and nights he’d wear a heavy hooded sweatshirt to bed. When the boats could get out in the winter, the ocean would make every effort to kill you, and when you couldn’t get out the sheer tedium would take its shot. Nothing to do but drink, watch your belly grow and your wallet shrink. Look out your window at the fog, like you was living inside an aspirin bottle. Maybe watch some TV, go back to bed, or put on your toque, jam your hands inside your peacoat, and walk down to the docks to look at your boat sitting there as miserable as you were. Go to the bar, sit around and bitch with the other guys, Sundays you had the Patriots anyway, you weren’t unhappy enough already.
But those days they could go out, Jesus Christ it was cold, colder than a witch’s tit, even with so many layers of clothes on you looked like the freakin’ Michelin Man. Thermal long johns and long-sleeve shirt, thick wool socks, a wool sweater, a sweatshirt and a down jacket, thick gloves and he was still cold. Out at the dock by four in the morning, chopping ice off the moorings and the gears while Dick or Chip Whaley or Ben Browning or whoever he was working for tried to get the engine to turn over.
Then it was through the channel and out through the Harbor of Refuge, the whitecaps splashing on the icy rocks of the breakwater, then out through the West Gap or the East Gap, depending on where the fish were. Sometimes they’d be out three or four days at a time, sometimes a week if they hit it good, and like the rest of them Danny would catch two- or three-hour naps between watches or putting the nets out and hauling them back in, dumping the catch into the holds. Going below to clutch a steaming-hot cup of bitter coffee in his shivering hands or bolt down a bowl of chili or chowder. In the morning it was always bacon and eggs and toast, as much as he could eat because the captains never stinted on the food; a man working that hard has to eat.
On the trips when they were lucky enough to hit their quota, whoever was captain would say they were headed in, and that was a glorious feeling, that you’d done your job and been rewarded and there’d be a fat check with your share of the full hold reflected in it, and the men would go back to their wives and girlfriends proud that they could put food on the table, go out to a movie and dinner.
Other times, the bad times, the nets would come up light or even empty and it seemed like there wasn’t a fish in the whole dark Atlantic Ocean and the boat would skulk back into port with a feeling of shame pervading the whole crew as if they’d done something wrong, as if they weren’t good enough, and the wives and the girlfriends knew to step lightly because their men would be angry and ashamed and feel not quite like men and the mortgages and rents might not get paid and the repairs the car needed would have to wait.
And that happened more and more. Summers, though.
Summers were wonderful.
Summers, Danny was on the swordfish boat, light and fast, on blue seas under blue skies chasing the game fish, and Danny’s post was right on the bow because he was a good harpooner. And Dick, he could find swordfish like he was one of them. A freakin’ legend out of that port. Sometimes they’d take clients out to sport-fish—rich guys who could afford to charter a boat and a crew, and they’d go after the swords and the tuna with poles and lines, and then it was mostly Danny’s job to cut bait and make sure the clients had cold beers, and they had some pretty famous people on that boat but Danny will never forget the time that Ted Williams—Ted freakin’ Williams—came on and was a good guy and tipped Danny a hundred when they were done.
Other times they went out to catch the swords to sell at the fish markets and then it was all business, Danny standing on the bow with his harpoon and when they hit a bunch of swords Danny would throw the spear, which was attached to a heavy buoy that would wear the sword down, and sometimes they’d have five or six swords tied up before they went back to fight the tired fish onto the boat and those were goddamn wonderful days because they’d come in by dusk and celebrate and drink and party and then Danny would fall face-first into bed, happily exhausted, and get up to do it again the next day.
It was one of those summers, one of those Augusts, when the Dogtown crew was down at the beach and Danny joined them for drinks and hot dogs and burgers and saw that Terri was something more than Pat’s little sister.
Her hair was black like a winter sea and her eyes weren’t blue, Danny swore they were violet, and her little body had slimmed in some places but filled out in others. Back then she didn’t have money for perfume and her mother wouldn’t have let her buy it anyway, so she’d dab vanilla extract behind her ears and now Danny jokes he can still get hard from a sugar cookie.
He remembers the first time they’d felt each other, clasped each other behind some sand dunes. Hot, wet kisses, her tongue a busy surprise flicking in and out of his mouth. He was so happy when she let him undo two buttons on her white blouse, slip his hand inside, cop a feel.
A few weeks later, one of those hot, humid August nights, parked in his car at the beach, he unsnapped her jeans and she surprised him again by lifting her hips to let his hand inside and he felt her under- neath her plain white cotton panties and her tongue quickened on his and she held him tighter and said, “Do that, yes, do that.” Another night he was rubbing her and she stiffened and whimpered and he realized that she had come. He was so hard it hurt and then he felt her small hand unzip his jeans and she dug around inside, unsure and inept, but then she grabbed him and stroked him and he came inside his shorts and had to pull his shirt over his jeans to hide the dark spot before they went back to join the gang sitting around outside the cottage.
Danny was in love.
But Terri, she didn’t want to be no fisherman’s girlfriend, no fisherman’s wife.
“I can’t live all the way down here,” she said. “It’s a half hour,” Danny said.
“Forty-five minutes,” Terri said. She was so attached to her family, her friends, her hairdresser, her church, her block, her neighborhood. Terri was a Dogtown girl and always would be, and Goshen was okay for a few weeks in the summer but she could never live there, especially with Danny gone for nights at a time and her worried whether he was coming back. And it was true, Danny knew, that boyfriends and husbands died out there, slipped off the deck into the icy water, got their brains beat out when a net boom swung wildly in the wind. Or drank themselves to death when the fishing was bad.
And there was no money in it. Not for a deckhand, anyway.
If you owned a boat, maybe you strung a couple of good seasons together, but even most of the boat owners were hurting now with the fish playing out.
Terri grew up comfortable in the Murphy house and didn’t see herself being a poor “fishwife,” as she called it.
“Daddy can get you a union card,” she said, “and a job at the port.” The Port of Providence, that is, not Gilead.
The docks, swinging a hook.
Good money, good union job, and then who knew? A move up with the Murphys. Maybe a desk job as a union official, something like that. And a taste of Murphy’s other businesses. What he would have had anyway, if his father hadn’t drunk it away, his old man getting so sloshed so often that he became a liability and the guys worked him out of the top job and then out altogether. For old times’ sake kicked him enough to live on and that was about it.
There was a day, when Danny was just a little kid, that the name Marty Ryan struck fear. Now it just provoked pity.
Danny didn’t want it anyway, didn’t want nothing to do with the rackets, the loan-sharking, the gambling, the hijacks, the union. Problem was, he did want Terri—she was funny and smart and listened to him without taking any of his bullshit, but she wouldn’t give it up without them being at least engaged, and his take from the boats wasn’t enough for a diamond, never mind a marriage.
So Danny took the card and went back to Dogtown.
First person he told about wanting to propose to Terri was Pat. “You going to give her a ring?” Pat asked.
“When I get enough money for something decent.” “Go see Solly Weiss.”
Weiss had a jewelry store in downtown Providence. “I was thinking Zales,” Danny said.
“And pay bust-out retail?” Pat said. “You go see Solly, tell him you’re with us, who it’s for, he’ll make you a price.”
Not for nothing was the unofficial state motto “I know a guy.”
“I don’t want to give Terri a diamond fell off a truck,” Danny said. Pat laughed. “They’re not stolen. Jesus, what kind of brother you think I am? We look after Solly. You ever heard of him getting robbed?”
“Why do you think that is?” Pat asked. “Look, if you’re shy, I’ll go in with you.”
So they went in and saw Solly and he sold Danny a full-carat princess-cut diamond at cost with layaway payments, no interest.
“What did I tell you?” Pat asked as they left the store. “This is how it works, huh?”
“This is how it works,” Pat said. “Now you have to go to the old man, though, and I’m not going in with you.”
Danny found John Murphy at the Gloc—where else—and asked for a minute of his time. John took him into the back, sat down at his booth, and just looked at him; he wasn’t going to make it easy.
“I came to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage,” Danny said, feeling like a dork and also scared shitless.
John wanted Danny Ryan for a son-in-law like he wanted flaming hemorrhoids, but Catherine had already warned him that this was likely to happen and that if he wanted a happy household he had better give his permission.
“I’ll find her somebody else,” John had said.
“She doesn’t want somebody else,” Catherine said, “and let’s get this done before she walks down the aisle in a muumuu.”
“Did he knock her up?”
“Not yet,” Catherine said. “They’re not even sleeping together, if you believe Terri, but . . .”
So John went through the dance with Danny. “How do you in- tend to support my daughter?”
How the hell do you think? Danny thought. You got me my card, my job at the docks, some stuff on the side.
“I’m a hard worker,” Danny said. “And I love your daughter.”
John gave him the whole “love isn’t enough” speech but eventually gave his blessing, and that night Danny took Terri out to a nice dinner at George’s and she pretended to be surprised when he got down on one knee and popped the question, even though she had told her brother to make sure that Danny was clued in as to getting a good ring without going into debt.
The wedding was elaborate, as befitted a daughter of John Murphy. Not Italian elaborate, they didn’t go as far as all that, but all the Italians were there and came with envelopes—Pasco Ferri and his wife, the Moretti brothers, Sal Antonucci, his wife, and Chris Palumbo. All the important Irish of Dogtown were there, even Marty showed up for the full wedding mass at St. Mary’s and the reception later at the Biltmore. John sprang for all that, but not for the honeymoon, so Danny and Terri went all the way across the Blackstone
Bridge to Newport for a three-day weekend.
No one was happier than Pat when Danny and Terri got married. “We’ve always been brothers,” Pat said at the rehearsal dinner.
“Now it’s official.”
Yeah, it was official, so Terri finally gave it up.
Enthusiastically, energetically—Danny had had nothing to complain about. Still doesn’t. Five years into their marriage and the sex is still good. Only problem is, she hasn’t gotten pregnant yet and everybody feels it’s perfectly okay to constantly ask her about it and he knows it hurts her.
Danny, he’s in no hurry to have a kid, doesn’t know if he wants one at all.
“That’s because you were raised by wolves,” Terri said to him once.
Which isn’t true, Danny thinks. Wolves stay.
Now he looks at the little alarm clock on top of the old dresser and sees it’s time for the meeting at the Spindrift before Pasco’s clambake. The Saturday night of every Labor Day weekend, Pasco Ferri throws a party and invites everybody. You could be just walking past Pasco on the beach in front of his house, notice the hole he’s digging, and he’ll invite you, he doesn’t care. He’ll spend all day digging that hole and laying the coals, and then he’ll go get the clams and quahogs
fresh out the water.
Sometimes Danny goes with him, stands ankle-deep in the warm mud of the tidal ponds and digs with the long-handled clam rake. It’s slow work, pulling that rake out of the bottom, digging through the mud in the tongs with your fingers to find the shellfish, and then dumping them into the bucket floating in the inner tube that Pasco ties to his belt with a frayed length of old laundry line. Pasco works steady like a machine—stripped down to the waist, his Mediterranean skin tanned a deep brown, sixty-something years old and his muscles still hard and ropy, his pectorals just starting to sag. The man runs all of southern New England, but he’s happy as hell standing under the sun in the mud, working like an old paisan.
Yeah, but how many guys has this old paisan had clipped, Danny
wonders sometimes, watching him work so peaceful and content. Or done himself? Local lore has it that Pasco personally did Joey Bonham, Remy LaChance, the McMahon brothers from Boston. Late-night whiskey talk with Peter and Paul whispered that Pasco was no gunman but did his work with a wire or a knife, so close he could smell the sweat.
Some days Pasco and Danny would go to Almacs, buy some chicken thighs, then drive over to Narrow River, where Pasco would tie a long piece of string onto the chicken, toss it out into the water, and then pull it back real slow. What would happen was a blue crab would fasten its claws onto the meat and not let go until Pasco pulled it right into the net that Danny held for him.
“Lesson for you,” Pasco said once as they watched the crab thrash in the bucket, trying to get out. Then he tied another piece of chicken and repeated the process until they had a bucketful of crabs to boil that night.
Lesson: Don’t hold on to something’s going to pull you into a trap.
If you’re going to let go, let go early.
Better yet, don’t take the bait at all.
DANNY AND LIAM HOP INTO Pat’s Camry and drive five minutes over to Mashanuck Point.
“So what are we meeting about?” Pat asks his brother.
“The Morettis are taxing the Spindrift,” Liam says, reminding him. “It’s their territory,” Pat says.
“Not the Drift,” Liam answers. “It’s grandfathered.”
This is true, Danny thinks as he looks out the window. The rest of the places on the shore kick to the Italians, but the Spindrift has been Irish since his father’s time. He knows the place well, used to get drunk there when he worked the boats, sometimes went in to listen to the local blues bands they’d book on weekends in the summer.
The owner, Tim Carroll, is a friend.
They drive past cornfields, and Danny’s always amazed that this land hasn’t been developed. The same family has owned it for three hundred years and they’re stubborn, those Swamp Yankees, would rather grow sweet corn than sell the land and retire rich. But Danny’s grateful for it. It’s nice there, farms right up to the ocean.
“So, what?” Pat asks Liam. “Tim came to you?”
It’s a violation of protocol. If Tim has a beef, he should go to John, or at least Pat. Not the younger brother, not Liam.
“He didn’t come to me,” Liam says, a little defensive. “I was having a beer, we got talking . . .”
There’s so many little peninsulas and tidal marshes along the shore, Danny thinks, you got to drive inland, then along the coast, then back toward the sea to get to any particular place. Quicker if they drained the marshes and built some roads, but that’s Connecticut, not Rhode Island.
Rhode Island likes things difficult, hard to find.
The other unofficial state motto—“If you were supposed to know, you’d know.”
So it takes a few minutes to drive to the Spindrift, when they could have just walked up the beach. But they go by road, past the cornfields and then the little grocery store, the hot dog stand, the laundromat, the ice cream stand. As they make the curve that takes them back along the ocean, there’s a trailer park on their left, and then the bar.
They park out in front.
You walk through the door, you know this ain’t no money machine. It’s an old clapboard joint, pounded by salt air and winter winds for sixty-some-odd years, and it’s a wonder it’s still standing. One good blow, Danny thinks, could knock it down, and hurricane season is coming up.
Tim Carroll is standing behind the bar, jerking a brew for a tourist. Skinny Tim Carroll, Danny thinks, a pound wouldn’t stick to him with glue. Tim’s, what, thirty-three now, and he already looks like the responsibility of running the place since his old man died is aging him. He wipes his hands on his apron and comes out from behind the bar. “Peter and Paul are already here,” he says, jerking his chin out toward the deck. “Chris Palumbo’s with them.”
“So what’s the problem, Tim?” Pat asks.
“They come in tugging their cuffs,” Tim says. “They’re here about every afternoon, drinking pitchers they don’t pay for, ordering sandwiches, burgers . . . You seen the price of beef lately? Buns?”
“Now they want an envelope, too?” Tim says. “I got basically ten, eleven weeks of summer to make money, the rest of the year I’m fucked. A few locals and fishermen nursing their beers for two hours at a time. No offense, Danny.”
Danny shakes his head, like Forget it.
They walk through an open slider out onto a deck precariously cantilevered above some rocks the state put in to try to prevent the whole building from sliding into the ocean. From out there Danny can see the whole southern shoreline, from the lighthouse at Gilead down to Watch Hill.
The Moretti brothers sit at a white plastic table next to the railing that Chris Palumbo’s got his feet up on.
Peter Moretti looks like your classic wiseguy—thick, slicked-back black hair, black shirt rolled up at the sleeves to show off the Rolex, designer jeans over loafers.
Paulie Moretti is a skinny guinea, maybe five-seven, with caramel skin, his light brown hair highlighted and permed into tight curls. Permed, Danny thinks, which is the style now but nothing Danny can get down with. Danny thinks Paulie’s always looked a little Puerto Rican, although he ain’t gonna say it.
Chris Palumbo’s something else. Red hair like he came from freakin’ Galway, but otherwise he’s as Italian as Sunday gravy. Danny remembers what old Bernie Hughes said about him—“Never trust a redheaded wop. They’re the worst of the breed.”
Yeah, Peter is smart, but as smart as he is, Chris is smarter. Peter don’t make a move without him, and if Peter does make the big step up, Chris will be his consigliere, no question.
The Irish guys pull up chairs as a waitress brings two pitchers and sets them on the table. The men pour their beers, then Peter turns to Tim. “You went running to the Murphys?”
“I didn’t ‘run,’” Tim says. “I just was telling Liam—”
“We’re all friends here,” Pat says, not wanting to get into the protocol of who told what to whom.
“We’re all friends here,” Peter says, “but business is business.” Liam says, “This place doesn’t pay tax. Never has, never will.
Tim’s father and my father—”
“His father is gone,” Peter says, then looks at Tim. “May he rest, no disrespect. But the arrangement passed with him.”
“It’s grandfathered,” Pat says.
Peter says, “They’re tax-exempt forever because thirty years ago some bogtrotter boiled a potato in here?”
“Pete, come on . . .” Pat says.
Chris kicks in, “Who do you think got the Works Department to put this rock in, the place doesn’t turn into a raft, you’re Huckleberry fucking Finn? That’s thirty, forty grand of material, never mind the labor.”
Pat laughs. “What, you paid it?”
“We arranged it,” Chris says. “I didn’t hear Tim crying then.”
Tim says, “I already use your food supplier. What they charge me for meat? I could do a lot better someplace else.”
It’s true, Danny thinks. The Morettis are already making money out of this place, what with the vending machines and kickbacks from the wholesalers. Never mind the freebies.
“And the last time you had a health inspector really go through your kitchen,” Chris says, “will be the first time.”
“Then don’t eat my fucking food, all right?”
Peter leans across the table toward Pat. “All we’re saying is that we’ve had expenses related to the place lately and we think Tim should contribute a little. Are we being that unreasonable?”
“I can’t give you what I don’t have,” Tim whines. “I don’t have the money, Peter.”
Peter shrugs. “Maybe we can work something out.”
Here it comes, Danny thinks. The demand for a tax was just a come-along. The Morettis know that Tim don’t have it. That was just to open the door for what they really want.
“What do you have in mind?” Pat asks.
“One of our people,” Peter says, “went to do a little transaction in the men’s room here last week, and Tim here got heavy with him.”
“He was dealing coke,” Tim says.
“You laid hands on him,” Paulie says. “You physically threw him out.”
“Yeah, and I will again, Paulie,” Tim says. “If my old man knew that was going on in this place—”
Danny remembers an argument that Pat and Liam had, about Liam’s trips to Miami. He goes down there on what he calls “fornications.” Danny has his suspicions about Liam’s Miami runs.
So does Pat.
Danny was there when Pat cornered Liam and said, “Hand to God, Liam, if you’re bringing back anything from Florida besides herpes . . .”
Liam laughed. “What, you mean coke?” “Yeah, I mean coke.”
“Lot of money in blow, bro.”
“Lot of jail time, too,” Pat said. “Lot of freakin’ heat from the feds and locals. We don’t need that.”
“Yes, Godfather,” Liam said. He went into his Brando imitation. “We’ll lose our judges, our politicians . . .”
“I’m not kiddin’ here, baby brother.”
“Don’t get your panties in a wad,” Liam said. “I’m not moving any coke, for Chrissakes.”
“See that you don’t.” “Jesus. Enough.”
Now Danny remembers that conversation and has to wonder what the fuck they’re really talking about here.
“Look,” Peter jumps in, “maybe we can cut a little slack on the payments if Tim would be a little flexible on this other thing.”
“Why this place?” Pat asks. “In the winter it’s nothing but fishermen.”
“Fishermen don’t do coke?” Paulie asks. “Don’t kid yourself. The worse the fishing is, the more they need. The better the fishing is, the more they want.”
Danny don’t like the remark. Hard to make a living, support your family—guys take a little consolation where they can find it. Used to be booze, now it’s blow. Well, it’s still booze, but now it’s blow, too.
“I’m just saying there are other places you could do that business,” Pat insists.
It’s true, Danny thinks. He knows at least five joints up the coast where you can score coke.
“You can’t shake your dick at the urinal those places you don’t hit a narc,” Peter says. “I thought we were all friends here. A friend denies a friend a favor?”
“It’s a big goddamn ask,” Tim says. “I could lose my liquor license. Shit, they could confiscate the place.”
Pat puts his hand out to silence him. Danny recognizes the gesture.
Seen it a hundred times from Old Man Murphy. Must be genetic. “Who do you have selling down here?” Pat asks.
“You know Rocco Giannetti.”
Danny knows him—slick twenty-something, drives a freakin’ BMW. Now Danny knows how he makes the payments, the insurance.
“Rocco is showy,” Pat says. “Loud. He attracts attention.” “What, you’re human resources now?” Paulie asks.
Peter asks, “You’d prefer someone else?” “I’d prefer a grown-up,” Pat says.
“We can do that,” Peter answers. “How about Chris here?”
There it is, Danny thinks—that was the play all along, to set Chris Palumbo up to sell coke in here. And it wasn’t the Morettis’ idea, it was Chris’s; the red-haired guinea probably got the Morettis all jacked up about the tax, then suggested the coke deal as a compromise. He’ll make on the blow, then kick up to Peter and Paul.
Pat makes his ruling. “Twice a week, during the off-season. Nothing during the summer. Chris can meet his buyer inside, but he goes out to his car to move the dope. Nothing bigger than an ounce, ever.” “We can’t do business in the summer?” Paulie complains. “What
“We don’t have to give you anything,” Liam says. “The fuck you—”
“Okay,” Peter says, shutting his little brother up. “Tim, you good with this?” Pat asks.
He’s reluctant and Danny don’t blame him. But what are you gonna do? It’s the way of the world. Their world, anyway. Pat didn’t give away nothing that the Morettis couldn’t just take. It just makes good sense to be gracious about something you can’t prevent.
Besides, Pat is looking to the future. Pasco has been talking about retiring—Mashanuck in the summer, Florida in the winter. Someone is going to step up to take the number one job and Peter Moretti might be the guy. He’s young but already a captain and big earner,
and if Moretti Senior wasn’t doing twenty in the Adult Correctional Institutions, he’d be the man, so Peter feels it’s his due. Pat Murphy knows down the line he’s going to be doing business with Peter and wants to keep a good relationship.
“You’ll square this with Pasco?” Pat asks Peter.
“We don’t need to burden him with this,” Peter answers.
A beat of silence and then they all burst out laughing. What the hell, they’re feeling their oats and their strength and their youth, knowing they’re taking over the world. Can do things without the old guys knowing, without their okay. Not that it isn’t serious fucking business, dealing dope in Pasco’s backyard without him knowing; it was just funny the way Peter said it is all, and for a few moments there they’re all friends, all boys having a laugh, putting one over.
“And Peter,” Pat says, “lay off the burgers a little, huh?” “You worried about my waistline?”
“Pay for a sandwich, you cheap prick.” That starts them laughing again.
It’s good, Danny thinks, being young in the sweet days of summer.
But, driving back, Danny can’t shake the feeling that Liam just set himself up to deal coke with the Moretti brothers.
DANNY GETS BACK, TERRI SENDS him right out again. “Take the groceries to your father’s,” she says.
She went to Stop & Shop in the morning, got groceries for them and Marty, too. Picked up Marty’s bacon, eggs, coffee, milk, bread, his Luckies, his Bushmills, his Sam Adams, his Hormel corned beef hash, his lotto tickets. Now she has it all sitting out in two plastic bags for Danny to deliver.
It’s only fair, Danny thinks—she did the shopping. Stood in line Labor Day weekend, everyone buying stuff for their cookouts.
Danny picks up the bags and heads over to Marty’s, just up the gravel street, a cottage the old man insists on renting year-round. He knocks on the screen door, doesn’t wait for an answer, and nudges it open with his foot. “It’s me!”
Marty’s sitting in his chair, where he always is, sucking down a Lucky and a beer, listening to the Sox on the radio. Ned Egan sits on the couch by the window. You usually don’t have to look too far from Marty to find Ned.
“You bring my Hormel?” Marty asks.
“When does Terri forget your Hormel?” Danny asks, setting the bags down on the kitchen counter. “Hi, Ned.”
“I thought maybe you shopped,” Marty says.
Ned gets up and starts to unpack the groceries, put them away on the shelves, in the refrigerator. Ned’s in his forties, has a body like a fire hydrant. Still lifts weights every other day. When he reaches up to put the cans away, the .38 in his shoulder holster shows.
You want to get to Marty, you gotta get through Ned, and no one is going to get through Ned. Marty Ryan’s not important enough anymore that anyone wants to kill him, but Ned ain’t taking chances. Anyway, Danny’s glad his old man has company, someone to heat up his hash for him, bitch about the Sox with.
“You get my scratchers?” Marty asks.
Marty plays the lotto like he has an in with Saint Jude. Usually he just wins a little beer money, but once he won a hundred dollars and that keeps him at it. He’s sure he’s going to hit the lottery or something and Danny wonders what Marty would do with a few million dollars if he did.
Skinny, bitter old man sitting in that chair in the same red plaid shirt that Terri gave him, what, three Christmases ago? Buttoned up to the neck, with a slice of the white T-shirt showing? Baggy, dirty old khaki trousers that Terri can talk him out of maybe once a month to wash? White socks, sandals?
Marty Ryan. Martin Ryan.
A goddamn legend.
When Big Bill Donovan came up from New York and told the Providence boys they were joining the New York branch of the ILA, it was Marty Ryan, just a kid then, who sent him packing. Marty
and John Murphy, back in the day. They stared New York down and it was New York that blinked, so we have our own union and our own docks, Danny knows. A few years later, Albert Anastasia himself came up, tried to pull the same shit, Marty told him, “We got our own guineas here.”
It was true—young Pasquale Ferri was standing right beside them. They worked it out, Marty and John and the Italians. The Irish kept the docks, the Italians took the trucking, and both unions were run from Providence. Marty and John told the outsiders that “local” meant just that—local. We didn’t leave Ireland to be a colony of any- body’s anymore. So, for years, nothing came into Providence it didn’t come through Marty Ryan, John Murphy, or Pasco Ferri. By truck or boat, didn’t matter. They had their joke about the bite they took, called it “the Paul Revere”—one if by land, two if by sea.
The stuff that walked off those boats and trucks fed Dogtown for decades. Not just the dockworkers or drivers, either. Guys who worked in the factories, making costume jewelry, tools, and just enough to cover the rent, they knew they could buy their kids a new pair of sneakers from the back door of the Glocca Morra. They could get canned goods, booze, cigarettes without paying retail to make the rich Yankees richer. Later, when the factories moved south and the buckle on the Rust Belt got tighter, guys couldn’t cover the rent and those back-door sales were a matter of survival. Men who would have put a bullet in their heads before they took food stamps would go to Marty to find out what had come off the trucks and the boats that week. Cans of soup, cans of tuna, cans of stew grew legs and walked off the docks onto family tables.
That was Marty back when his neck was thick from swinging his longshoreman’s hook and his fists. Back when he had his pride.
“You’re going to the clambake, right?” Danny asks him now. “I don’t know.”
“You should come,” Danny says. “Get out, it will do you good.” Friday nights Terri usually manages to drag Marty down to
Dave’s for fish-and-chips. Marty’s had fish-and-chips every Friday night since Danny can remember, a break in his otherwise steady diet of bacon and eggs, corned beef hash, and booze.
“I don’t know,” Marty says.
Ned don’t say anything. Ned rarely does.
One hard case, Ned Egan. When he was a kid at St. Michael’s, the priests and nuns beat him half to death trying to straighten him out. The sister would make Ned stretch his hand out on the desk, then slam the edge of a ruler down on his fingers, and he’d just look at her and smile. He’d get home, his old man would see the welt on his hand and figure that Ned had done something to piss off the sister, so he’d lay Ned down on the bed and bring a razor strap down on the backs of his legs until Ned cried.
Problem was, Ned wouldn’t cry and his old man wouldn’t give up. Those days, no one had heard of Child Protective Services, it wasn’t even a concept, so Ned took some ferocious beatings. He’d go to school the next morning with blood leaking through the backs of his pants legs, which would stick to the seat of his chair whenever he went to get up. The teachers learned not to call him to the blackboard those days so as not to embarrass the boy.
When Ned was fourteen, his old man picked up the strap and told him to lie down but Ned swung on him instead, put him on the floor, then ran out and tried to join the merchant marine. They laughed at him and told him to come back in four years. So Ned lived on the streets for a while, until Marty Ryan had a cot put in the storage closet at the Gloc, let the lad sweep up the place for a bowl of lamb stew or shepherd’s pie or whatever was left over at night.
One afternoon, Ned’s old man came into the pub with a ball bat in his hand and announced he was going to teach his no-good son a lesson he’d never forget. Marty was sitting in his booth and quietly said, “Billy Egan, unless that lesson is how to hit a curveball, I’d suggest you turn around and walk back through that door. I’m a bit short of cash now to have a mass said for you.” Ned’s old man turned milk white and walked back through the door. He knew just what Ryan was telling him, and he never stepped into the Gloc again.
The day he was sixteen, Ned quit school, went down to the docks, where Mr. Ryan got him his union card. Ned started swinging the hook, made a decent wage, got himself a little apartment on Smith Street and bought his own groceries. His father would see him in the neighborhood, he’d cross the street. His mother wrote him a letter when the old man died.
Ned didn’t write back. Far as he was concerned, Marty Ryan was his father.
Now Danny says to his dad, “I’ll drive you over there.” “Ned can bring me.”
“I’ll drive you,” Danny repeats.
Marty’s in his midsixties but he acts more like he’s in his eighties. What the cigs and booze and bitterness will do to you, Danny figures.
To Marty, anyway.
Danny remembers him lashing out, screaming, You’re just like your mother! You got that bitch’s blood! In that quiet clarity before passing out, Marty muttered, I didn’t even know I had you. I went to Vegas, had a fling with a broad I met at a bar—a year later she shows up with a kid. You. Tells me, “Here, here’s your son. I’m not cut out to be a mother.” Only truth ever came out of her lying mouth.
Truth also that Marty loved her. Kept her picture under his bed. Danny found it there one time, looking for Playboy magazines—tall, statuesque showgirl with red hair, green eyes, long legs, big tits. It was only later, during one of Marty’s drunken diatribes—this time show- and-tell—Danny realized it was his mother.
It was hard to believe, though, that his old man had ever nailed a woman like that. You looked at Marty Ryan, you didn’t see a ladies’ man. Old Pasco set Danny straight on that score, though. They were out digging clams and Pasco said, “Your father, back in his day, was one good-looking kid. Marty came to the party, hide your women.”
Danny knows his father still has the picture.