Michael, on the front porch.He paced.He hunched inside his
winter coat, dragged on a cigarette, picked at the spongy
floorboards with his toe. The planks were rotting, flaking
apart.What a fucking dump. Whole place was falling apart. It was
amazing how quickly a house began to disintegrate, how
opportunistic the rot and damp were. One good stomp and he could
crack any of these boards.
The screen door creaked and Ricky’s head extended
horizontally out of the door frame. “Supper.”
“Be in in a minute.”
Ricky’s head retracted into the house, the screen door
slammed, then the door snicked shut behind it. But a few seconds
later Ricky’s head was out again. “She says
“Tell her in a minute.”
“I told her. She says ‘in a minute’ isn’t
“I know ‘in a minute’ isn’t
‘now.’ That’s why I said ‘in a
minute,’ because that’s when I’m coming in: in a
minute. Jesus.” Ricky came out onto the porch, shut the door
behind him. “The fuck are you doing out here? It’s
Michael held up the cigarette.
“So come inside and smoke it. It’s
“You seen this?” Michael nudged a long splinter in one
of the floorboards with the toe of his penny loafer. He worked it
back and forth until it flaked off. “Look at
“I know. It’s a fuckin’ mess.We’ll fix it
in the spring maybe. Come on, let’s go. It’s cold,
“What’s a matter,Mikey? You got a
“No, I’m fine.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“I don’t have a problem.”
“You’ve got a puss on.”
“No, I don’t.”
“You do. I’m looking right at it. Puss.”
“I don’t have a puss.”
“You do. I’ll be in in a minute.”
“Fuck you, Rick.”
“Fuck you, Rick.”
Ricky smirked. The same charmed, blithe, princely grin he’d
been deploying since the day he was born, four years after Michael.
Ricky had smirked before he even had teeth, as if he knew, even as
an infant, that he was no ordinary child.
The gloom Michael was feeling lifted a little, enough that he could
shake his head and say “fuck you” again, warmer this
time, fuck you meaning stick around.
“Let me bum one of those,Mikey.”
Michael dug the pack of Larks from his pocket, and Ricky lit up
using the end of Michael’s cigarette.
“Jesus, would you look at this,”Michael said.
The brothers peered through the window into the dining room, where
an enormous red-faced man was taking his place at the head of the
table. Brendan Conroy settled back in his chair, made various
adjustments to his fork and knife, then shared an inaudible
uproarious laugh with Joe Daley, who sat at his left hand.
“Honestly,”Michael said, “I think I’m going
to hang myself.”
“Don’t like your new daddy?”
“What ever happened to waiting a decent
“Dad’s dead a year. How long do you want him to
“Longer.”Michael considered. “A lot
Ricky turned away. He took a deep, contented pull on his cigarette
and gazed out at the street, at the unbroken line of little houses,
all looking drab in the winter twilight. December in Savin Hill.
Cars were parked nose-to-tail up and down the street. Soon there
would be fights over who owned those spots; around here, shoveling
a parking spot was tantamount to buying it for the season.
Christmas lights were beginning to appear. Across the street the
Daughertys had already put up their five ludicrous plastic
reindeer, which were lit from the inside. There had used to be six.
Joe had broken one in high school when he came home drunk one night
and tried to ride it. The next day Joe Senior had made Joe march
across the street and apologize for riding Mr. Daugherty’s
reindeer. What he ought to have apologized for was riding Mr.
Daugherty’s daughters, which Joe did with the same gleeful
droit du seigneur he exercised over all the neighborhood
girls. Even Eileen Daugherty, the youngest of the three, took her
turn—in Joe’s car, if Ricky was remembering right. That
last coupling precipitated a brawl between Joe and Michael, because
Michael had loved Eileen ever since kindergarten. He’d
imagined that Eileen had somehow defied her genes and was not like
that, until Joe set Michael straight, explaining that his conquest
of the Daugherty sisters was really a sort of territorial
obligation, like Manifest Destiny, and he’d needed Eileen to
complete the hat trick, and anyway she had been a screamer. All of
which had led Michael to throw himself at Joe, despite Joe’s
size, because he couldn’t stop loving Eileen Daugherty even
after she had offered herself up to Joe for the ritual goring.
Maybe Michael loved her even now, deep down, the memory of her at
least.He was that kind of kid.What ever happened to Eileen? Ricky
turned back to his brother,“Hey, what ever happened
to—?” But Michael was still engrossed in what was
behind the window, a fresher outrage. “Would you look at
this? Look at Joe! What the hell does he think he’s
Inside, Joe Daley and Brendan Conroy were holding up their glasses
of pale beer, laughing.
“Look at him, with his head up Conroy’s ass. He’s
like a tapeworm.”
“Conroy could use a tapeworm.”
“Really, Rick, the whole thing, it’s just—
Doesn’t this bother you?”
“Not really. Hey, what ever happened to Eileen from across
the street? You ever hear about her?”
“No.”Michael did not glance away from the window.
Joe’s wife, Kat, came out onto the porch. “Are you guys
coming in or you want your supper out here?”
“I’m not mad—”
“He thinks Mum’s going to lose her
“I didn’t say—”
Kat thought it over. “Well,” she concluded,
“she’ll probably wait till after dinner
“There, see?” Ricky smiled.“Nothing to worry
“Come on. In.” Kat herded them inside with a dish
towel, and in they went. There was something about
Kat—Kathleen—that suggested she wasn’t taking any
shit. She was just Joe’s type, big and hippy and good-looking
and stolid, and the Daley boys as a rule did
not fuck with her.
Michael went in first, wearing a sour-mouthed pucker. Ricky gave
him a playful biff on the back of the head, and Kat rubbed his
shoulder, both gestures intended to cheer him up. The house smelled
of garlic, and the girls were bustling from the kitchen to the
table with a few last things.
Amy sped past: “Hey,Michael. Thought we’d lost
Little Joe passed without a word. Joe’s son, Little Joe, was
thirteen and had taken over the title “Little Joe” from
his father, who had been Little Joe to his own father’s Big
Joe. The Daleys did not believe in Juniors and III’s and
IV’s; too Yankee. So each succeeding Joe got a new middle
name. The current Little Joe was Joseph Patrick. At the moment he
was sulking,Michael had no idea about what.
Margaret Daley, the materfamilias, tweaked Michael about a
“disappearing act,” which tipped his mood downward
again. Over the years Michael had evolved an exquisite sensitivity
to his mother’s voice, so that he could detect the slightest
reprimand or disapproval. Margaret was well aware of this
sensitivity—Michael was her most finely calibrated son, the
quickest to take offense and the slowest to forgive—but
Margaret simply did not know how to speak without setting him off,
without triggering one of those little sensors, and so she could
not help but resent him for being thin-skinned and fragile, though
in this respect he reminded her of Joe Senior, another man
she’d never quite known, even after sleeping in the same bed
with him for thirty-some-odd years. She saw Michael’s face
fall when she mentioned his disappearing act. She regretted the
comment for a moment, then decided not to regret it. Let
him regret it. He was the one who should regret it.
Margaret would regret only that Michael might spoil their Sunday
dinner with his sulking. Michael stood behind a seat in the middle
of the table, feeling
awkward, a guest in the house where he had grown up.
“Sit down.” Conroy grinned. “You’re making
“Yeah, sit down,Michael.What is this?”
Michael looked at Joe, who continued to regard him with a
quizzical, supercilious expression that said What is this?
Joe was imitating Conroy; that was the insufferable part. Well,
Michael sighed, dinner would only last an hour or two. The sooner
it started, the sooner it would end. He could already see himself
at home looking
back on it.
Michael took his place and the others filled in around him.Margaret
at the head, opposite Conroy, in the same chair she’d
occupied forever. Ricky at the corner opposite Joe, as far from Joe
as he could get, to minimize the fighting. Kat positioned herself
next to Joe, where she could keep a stern eye on him.Michael liked
Kat and liked Joe for liking her. God bless her, Kat would take a
bullet for Joe or put one in him, as the occasion required.
But opposite Michael was his favorite, Amy Ryan, whose cool
redheaded presence was the best part of these Sunday dinners. Amy
was Ricky’s girlfriend, and Michael harbored an illicit,
quasi-romantic affection for her.Amy was wry,Amy was brave,Amy was
funny,Amy was lovely, Amy was hip, Amy was profane, Amy was
smart—her merits jostled for attention and it would have been
impossible for Michael to name the one or two he liked best.
Tonight she was wearing a white oxford shirt that may or may not
have been Ricky’s, which struck Michael as a poignant
gesture. She wore Ricky’s shirt as other girls had worn his
varsity jacket once. There was a little of the bachelor’s
yearning in Michael’s feelings for Amy. She made him question
his instinct for solitude.
The group was still unfolding their napkins when Amy mentioned,
“So, Brendan, I hear Alvan Byron is going to take over the
Strangler case.” She spent a few seconds surveying the dishes
on the table in a nonchalant way—noodles and gravy and garlic
bread—as if the answer would not make a bit of difference to
But Amy Ryan was a reporter, one of only two women on the staff of
the Observer, and Brendan Conroy wasn’t falling for
any of her career-girl tricks. “Are we on the record or
“Oh, Brendan, come on. Listen to you.We’re just
talking.Alright, you tell me, on or off?”
“Okay, off. Remember that, Margaret,” Amy said,
“we’re off the record.”
“Who could forget it?” the older woman drawled.
Conroy folded his arms. “Alright, then, here it is. Alvan
Byron will not take over the Strangler case for the simple reason
that he could not solve the Strangler case.He hasn’t got the
people or the resources or the know-how.”
“He’s got Michael,” Ricky said.
“And we’ve got Joe.”
“Ricky-y-y,” his mother growled.
Michael forked a tangle of spaghetti onto his plate and, head down,
he mixed red sauce into it with extraordinary care.
Conroy turned back to Amy. “Let me tell you something,
girlygirl, before you go dancing off and write some story about the
great Alvan Byron. Your Mr. Byron is not a cop, has never been,
will never be a cop. What Alvan Byron knows about police work would
fit on the head of a pin, with room for a few dancing
Ricky: “The great Conroy has spoken.”
Amy: “He is the Attorney General, Brendan.
Doesn’t that count for something?”
“No. See, you don’t understand. Byron’s the
Attorney General—that’s just the problem.You
don’t go to a dentist for a broken leg, and you don’t
send a lawyer to do a cop’s work. I look at the Attorney
General’s office and do you know what I see? A law
firm.Yankees and goo-goos and Hebrews, and the one lonely Irishman
named Daley, and the whole place run by a colored fellow.” He
smiled at his witticism.
“Whole outfit is upside down.”
“And you,”Michael said, “have got thirteen dead
Ricky: “Plus Joe, don’t forget. Thirteen dead
Conroy held Michael’s gaze. “We’ll find
Kat said, “Better find him fast. I don’t sleep at
night, with Joe off working and this lunatic running around. I feel
like he’s hiding in the closet somewhere, and if I fall
asleep . . .”
“We’ll catch him. Don’t you worry. It’ll
all be over soon.”
“Brendan,” Ricky said, “no offense, but
Mike’d catch your strangler before Joe gets through his first
Joe waved his knife.
“Well.” Amy sighed. “I’m just telling you
what I hear, Brendan. Byron is going to take the Strangler case.
Bet on it.”
“I’ll take that bet, girly. It’s Boston
PD’s case. I can’t imagine why on earth we would ever
give it up.”
“If Byron says you’re out,”Michael said,
“That’s what you think.”
“That’s the way it is.He’s the A.G., he’s
got statewide jurisdiction. If he wants the Strangler case, he can
just take it.”
“See, now that just shows how little you know, smart guy.
I’m sure you’re right about the legalities. But
there’s what’s legal and there’s what’s
practical, and Byron can’t solve that case without
BPD’s support. Doesn’t matter what’s in your law
books. This is the real world. And in the real world you
can’t solve a homicide without homicide detectives. Byron
doesn’t have them; we do.”
“Yeah,Mikey,” Ricky said, “you’ve been
spending too much time with your Hebrews and goo-goos.”
“And your coloreds,” Joe added.
“And Yankees,” said Amy.
Michael: “Well, maybe you’re right, Brendan. You
don’t need any help. It’s, what, a year and a half? And
what have you got? Thirteen dead girls and not one arrest.
City’s scared half to death. Hell of a job.”
“Michael,”Margaret cautioned, “that’s
enough.” Michael shook his head. He was not sure how
he’d got into this position. He did not care much about the
Strangler or Alvan Byron. He simply felt an irresistible urge to
contradict Brendan Conroy. Something about Conroy’s voice,
that sententious tone of his, brought out the worst in
Conroy seemed willing to let the whole thing pass.He would not
grant Michael the satisfaction of goading him into a reaction.
“We’ll catch him,” he repeated without any real
conviction. “You wait and see.”
“So,”Amy cut in, “you still want that bet,
“That Byron won’t butt in? Sure. I just hate to take
your money, girly-girl. How’s two bits, can you afford that?
They pay you enough at that fish wrapper?”
“Doesn’t matter. I won’t be paying
Conroy grinned and raised his glass to Amy. “I like your
style.” Michael rolled his eyes.
Joe saw Michael’s eye-rolling and misinterpreted it.
“It’s easy to make fun from the cheap
“I didn’t say anything to you, Joe.”
“I’m a cop, too.”
“I wasn’t talking about you, Joe. Just let it
“Yeah, you were. You were talking about cops. I’m a
“Your dad was a cop, too,” Conroy threw in.
“Let’s leave him out of it,”Michael said.
“I was just saying—”
“Leave him out.”
“Sorry,Michael. I didn’t mean anything.”
“He didn’t mean anything,” Joe seconded.
From the police reports,Michael had formed an image of his
father’s death: In an alley in East Boston, his heart pierced
by a bullet, Joe Senior had shimmered down to the ground, hands
pinned to his sides. That was the image Michael saw now, and it
made him venomous.
“Brendan, you might have let that chair cool off before you
sat down in it.”
“Michael!”Margaret’s tone was more astonished
Conroy was unruffled.“I see.”He simply had not
understood and now everything was clear. “Maybe I should
“So go,”Michael said.
Joe pounded the table with the butt of his fist.
Conroy dabbed the corners of his mouth with his napkin.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come.Margaret,
ladies, thank you for all this. Excuse me.”
“Brendan,”Margaret instructed, “you sit down.
This is my house, you’re my guest. It’s enough of
this.”Mother Daley could be magnificently huffy. Her late
husband had called her Princess Margaret. The three boys,more
accurately, called her Queen Margaret.
“No,Margaret.Maybe Michael’s right, it’s too
“Michael is not right.”
“Some other time. I don’t want to spoil this beautiful
“Brendan! You sit down.Michael is going to
Ricky said, “What’s he got to apologize? He
didn’t do anything.”
“Mind your own business, you.”
Brendan Conroy smiled gallantly. All the arguing was pointless.
There was no swaying him from a grand gesture. “Some other
time,” he repeated. He excused himself, got his coat, and
The seven Daleys listened as Conroy started his car and drove off.
A moment of silence.
“Michael,” Ricky said, “let me have those
For as long as the Daley boys could remember, there had been a
basket attached to the phone pole in front of the house. They had
gone through a few of them.Winters killed the steel hoops and
especially the flimsy backboards from Lechmere’s, and every
few years Joe Senior would swap in a new set, adjusting it slightly
up or down the pole to avoid the holes left by the big lag screws
he used. The current model, which had lasted the longest, had a
faded, undersized fanshaped aluminum backboard. It was hung a few
inches too high and seemed to rise even higher as you got closer to
the curb, where the pavement dipped. The boys thought of this hoop
and the pavement in front of it as their private court. Even now,
with the Daley boys all long gone from the house, there were
neighbors who did not park in front of the basket, out of old
habit, as if it were a fire hydrant. Occasionally a new neighbor or
visitor or other interloper, ignorant of the local etiquette,would
leave his car under the hoop, and the boys took it as a sign of the
decline of their city. Back in the day, no one would dream of
parking there because, as a general rule, you did not fuck with the
Daleys, particularly Joe, and in any case there was always a game
going on there.
These games were a deadly serious business. A Code
Napoléon of unspoken rules governed play. One must never
take the feet out from under a player near the basket lest he land
on his back on the curbstone, as Jimmy Reilly once did. The
Daleys’ ball was never to be used in a game at which no Daley
was present, even if the ball was sitting right there in the yard.
All parked cars were inbounds. But the sidewalk was out-of-bounds,
to discourage smaller players from running behind the basket and
using the pole to rub off a defender, a strategy deemed so
chickenshit that Joe forbid it outright. These were technicalities,
though. The real secret knowledge of these games—their whole
purpose—was the hierarchy of the boys involved. There were a
dozen local boys who regularly played, mostly Irish, all linked
through school or St.Margaret’s parish, and every one of them
knew precisely where he ranked from number one to number
There was no allowance for age or size. Nor did it matter who you
were.Michael Daley never rose above the middle of the pack, even on
his home court; Leo Madden, though his father was in and out of
Deer Island and his mother weighed three bills, was a rebounding
machine and therefore he was completely respected here. Prestige to
the winners, shame to the losers. All of it real and perfectly
quantifyable and precious as money in the lives of boys, and
So,when the three brothers drifted out to play after dinner under
the streetlight, the women gathered at the windows to watch. They
arranged themselves at the living-room windows, which looked across
the porch and over a shallow yard to the street.Margaret and Kat
stood together at one window, Amy at the other. The younger women
wore similar expressions, sharp, bemused, scornful. Queen Margaret
had the same sharp smirk, but there was bleary concern in her eyes.
She could not completely share in the womanly skepticism of
boys’ games, knowing that, however it turned out, one of her
boys would lose. She felt Kat’s arm curled around her lower
back; that helped a little.
“Margaret,” Kat said, “you should have had one
more. Two against one, it’s not fair.”
“Fair to who?”
“True.”Kat considered the problem. “You know,
Ricky should let them win, just once.”
Margaret emitted a skeptical sniff. Cigarette smoke piped out of
“Amy, why don’t you talk to him? Ricky’s got to
let Joe win sometime.” Kat gave Amy a sidelong look.
“Come on, Aim, you could find a way to convince him,
Amy raised two fingers, scissored her cigarette between them, and
removed the cigarette with a flourish. “Ladies, let me assure
you, I could lie down in my altogether on a bed of roses and it
wouldn’t make one bit of difference. Ricky’d cut off
his right arm before he’d let Joe win.”
“Well,”Kat sighed, “if Joe beats him then,
it’ll be fair and square.”
“He’s got to win sometime, right? I mean, if they play
Amy: “I just hope Joe doesn’t kill him, after that
Margaret: “If he’s going to kill anyone, it’ll be
poor Michael. I don’t know what’s got into
him.Michael’s crazy lately.”
“Don’t worry, Mum, Joe won’t kill him. Maybe
just, you know, shake him around a little.”
“Well, that’s a comfort, dear.”
Outside,Michael was hopping up and down to stay warm.
“I don’t know what Michael’s got against poor
Brendan, I really don’t.”
Amy: “I do.”
Kat:“Margaret,maybe you should enter a convent.”
“I’m not entering any convents.”
“Still got some wild oats to sow?”
Margaret turned to face the two younger women. “Now why
should that be so funny?”
Kat made a face at Amy: eyebrows raised, impressed smile,
Amy: “Nothing’s funny. So,Mum, is Brendan . . .
Kat covered her ears. “Oh, stop! Ick.”
“Stop, stop, stop!”
“I didn’t know you girls were so
Amy said, “I’m not squeamish.”
Kat watched Joe as he stood waiting for a rebound, arms up.
“Amy, you want to make this interesting?”
“Six points okay?”
“Margaret, how about you? Michael’s feeling feisty
tonight. Care to put a little cash down on the middle
“You want me to bet against my own sons?”
“Only one of them.”
Margaret shook her head.
“Go on,Mum,”Amy urged, “it’s just for
“We’ll never tell,” Kat added.
“No, thanks, dear.”
“Take Joe,” Kat pleaded. “The poor
Margaret considered it. “I’ll put a nickel on
“Oh!” Kat yelped. “You’re a horrible
Through the window they could hear the brothers ragging each other
as the game got going. Joe and Michael were a team, as usual, and
at the start they exploited their two-to-one advantage by spreading
out, forcing Ricky to cover one or the other, then passing to the
free man for easy shots. Michael was a careful player, a lurker. He
liked to slide into open spaces for unmolested set shots. At times
he moved out of the lighted area altogether, and the women had to
squint to find him in the darkness. Joe’s game was all
muscle. He moved like a bear chasing a butterfly, but his size
ensured he would always have the best position under the basket.
Together they made a decent inside-outside combination. As their
lead climbed, 2–0, 3–0, 4–0, Joe’s taunting
got louder and louder. Amy was right: Joe was pissed about the way
Brendan Conroy had been treated, and, though Michael had been
Conroy’s main tormenter, Joe directed his anger at Ricky.
There was a tacit understanding that Michael was somehow disengaged
from the grander struggle between Joe and Ricky. So if Joe was
angry, it seemed perfectly natural for him to target Ricky, not
Michael. The insults from Joe were all variations on a theme:
on,Mary . . . Does your husband play? . . . What, are you afraid of
a little contact? . . . Pussy . . .”
And then, in an instant, the game changed. Michael put up one of
his little jumpers, the kind he knocked down over and over, but
this time the shot was flat. It caught the back rim and rebounded
high, out into the street, away from the hoop where Joe was
Ricky snagged it in the air.
“Shit!” Kat hissed.
A little smiled wriggled across Amy’s lips.
What happened next happened very quickly. Ricky bounced the ball
once with his left hand, once with his right.Michael swiped at it,
and Ricky avoided him by threading the ball between his own legs,
from back to front, which left Michael behind him and out of the
play. Joe took a step toward him, like a palace guard blocking a
gate. Ricky paused for an instant to eye him up. He slow-dribbled
the ball low and to his right, extending it a few inches toward
Joe, who finally took the bait, leaning then stepping toward the
ball, a reluctant irresistible stuttery step. But it was enough.
Ricky crossed the ball over to his left hand, and he was behind
Joe. He laid the ball in: 6–1. Kat groaned,
“Mmm. It’s not fair. The way Ricky shows
“He’s not showing off.”
“Alright,”Amy allowed, “maybe a
But Amy could not take her eyes off him. Because he was showing off
for her. And because he was beautiful.His game was jazzy
and gliding and fast, she thought, but more than anything it was
beautiful. The way he moved. The way the ball moved with him, the
way it yo-yoed back to his hand. The way he spun, his body in
flight. Amy had not known Ricky when he was a high-school
hero—when he was Tricky Ricky Daley, point guard and captain
at Boston English, All-Scholastic, All-Everything; when he’d
been offered a scholarship to Holy Cross, alma mater of the great
Cousy himself—and she was glad for that. She did not want to
think of Ricky as one of those arrested men who were such stars in
high school or college that everything after was tinged with
anticlimax and nostalgia. She did not want to define him by what he
had been. And she particularly did not want to define him
as a jock because he wasn’t, not anymore.
Anyway, Ricky never talked about it. For a long time after
they’d met,Amy had had no idea the man she was dating had a
glorious past, until she’d finally met his family and
Margaret had shown her a book of clippings. In fact, for Amy the
defining moment of Ricky’s basketball career was the way it
had ended, the way he’d thrown it all away in a romantic,
stupid gesture.He’d got himself pinched with a car-trunkful
ofMighty Mac parkas that had “fallen off a truck,” as
the saying went. That was the end of Holy Cross and basketball and
Tricky Ricky Daley, and good riddance. It was all so
clumsy—so un-Ricky-like—it seemed like a setup.Amy saw
something heroic in the whole episode. Ricky had been true to some
obscure, prickly, self-destructive impulse that no one, not Amy,
probably not Ricky himself, could quite understand. He just had not
felt like being Tricky Ricky anymore, so he had stopped. And yet
Amy could not deny that she loved him more—at least she loved
him differently, saw him differently—when she watched him
play. She thought she understood in some intuitive, inarticulable
way what made Ricky do the things he did. It was something about
doing the opposite of what everyone else wanted him to do.My Lord,
how could she not love such a beautiful, wasteful man? Ricky spun
and tricky-dribbled and flew by his brothers.His hair flopped over
his forehead, grew damp and drippy. He did not say much; his
virtuosity was not news to anyone.
But Joe grew more incensed with each basket. His feet got sluggish
and he was reduced to pawing Ricky as he rushed past, or elbowing
him, or hip-checking him.
None of it mattered. Ricky scored with leaners and fades and baby
hooks, and at 19–6 Joe finally exploded. He pushed Ricky hard
into the chainlink fence behind the hoop.
“Nineteen,” Ricky said as he lay on the sidewalk.
“Hey, Mike, wanna switch teams?”
“Hey, Ricky,” Joe said, “blow me.”
“Oh, that’s good, Joe. ‘Blow me.’
Joe gave Ricky the finger and held it there.
“Some brother you turn out to be, Joe.” Ricky got to
“First you take Conroy’s side against Michael, now
this. Tsk, tsk, tsk.” Joe took a step toward him. “You
want to say that again?”
“Oh, come on, Joe, be a good loser. You’ve had plenty
of practice.” Ricky jogged out to the street and tossed the
ball to Michael for the customary check.
“You ready, Joe?”Michael asked.
Joe growled that he was, and Michael lobbed Ricky the ball. Ricky
eyed Joe again. He could end it by shooting from out here, over
Michael, but he wanted Joe to know he was going to victimize
him. Joe would not have the excuse that his teammate had
let him down. Ricky jab-stepped left and with one of his
whirling-dervish spins he put Michael behind him. He pulled up to
shoot a little bunny directly in Joe’s face. Joe waved at the
shot then gave Ricky a hard shove on the left side of his chest,
which sent him sprawling
once more on the street.
“Jesus, Joe!”Michael shouted.
“Just play defense,Michael. It’s like I’m the
only one working out here. You play like a fuckin’
Michael offered Ricky a hand and pulled him up.
“Twenty,” Ricky said.
“I’m out,”Michael said. “This is
bullshit.”He stalked back toward the house.
“Go ahead, leave,” Joe called after him.
“I’ll fuckin’ do it myself. Fuckin’
Ricky tossed the ball to Joe. “Check.”
“The fuck are you laughing at?”
“I just thought you’d want to know what I’m gonna
“What are you talking about?”
“How I’m going to win. It’s gonna be a jump shot,
right from here, right over you. Just so you know.”
Joe’s brow crumpled.Was it a trick? Or just more showing off?
It would be just like Ricky to promise a jump shot then race by
Joe, just to make him look foolish. Then again . . .
Joe flipped the ball back. “Check.”
Ricky stab-stepped to his right, a long, convincing lunge with the
ball whipping far ahead of him, almost behind Joe, and despite what
Ricky had said, Joe reacted, couldn’t help himself—he
stepped back. Just one fatal fucking step. Ricky pulled back and
shot over him. Joe’s chin dropped even before the shot
“Game,” Ricky said.
Ricky might have left it there. But the sight of Joe with that
seething expression, that muscle twitching in his cheek—Joe
looked like he might actually burst—seemed funny to him.
Ricky watched Joe watching him, and because it was the only thing
he could think of at the moment, Ricky finally blurted,
Joe took off after him.
“Oh, good gracious,” Margaret moaned, from the window.
An image flashed in her mind: the two boys rolling on the sidewalk,
punching, arms flailing, hugging each other close so neither could
extend his arm and land a solid shot. They had been, what, eleven
and sixteen? And determined to kill each other if she hadn’t
rushed out and pulled them apart. And why? Over a basketball game.
Ricky was sprinting back toward the house now. He leaped up onto
the ten-foot chainlink fence that separated the Daleys’
driveway from the neighbor’s. Joe jumped too, but too late.
Ricky scrambled up and over the fence and dropped down on the other
the diamond-mesh he grinned and panted, looking straight at
“Where’s a cop when you need one?” he said.
Amy covered her smile with her hand, as if it was impolite to laugh
at the whole thing.
“Oh, Joe.” Kat sighed. “Well, girls, we
couldn’t all bet on Ricky now, could we?”
Walter Cronkite, in voice-over: “The focus of our report is a
key store in Boston,Massachusetts.Address: three-six-four
Massachusetts Avenue. Until recently this was the busiest store in
the neighborhood perhaps one of the busiest key stores in the
world, open for business six days a week, nine hours a day in the
winter, twelve hours a day in the summer. During business hours
cars double-parked in front, and on some days more than one
thousand customers entered this door. Many proceeded to a room in
the rear of the store.We followed with a concealed microphone and
A wide shot of a storefront. The picture was in black and white,
though the TV set was a new four-hundred-dollar color console
model, one of Ricky’s mysterious lavish gifts. In front of
the store hung a sign in the shape of a key, its teeth facing up.
The sign read,
The hearing looked like a trial but it wasn’t. It was a bag
job. The “judge” was a deputy appointed by the
Commissioner, serving at the pleasure of the Commissioner, there to
do the Commissioner’s bidding. The prosecutor was an I.A.
lieutenant whose evidence consisted of a transcript of the CBS
documentary and not much else. Joe had been forced to hire a
lawyer, a shifty shyster he knew from the BMC, who made a few
desultory objections. But everyone knew the verdict. Walter
Cronkite had announced it on TV: Joe Daley was a bag man for the
crooked cops in Station Sixteen. The inconvenient fact that the
charge was true did not make the whole thing any easier for Joe to
After he testified, Joe paced the hallway on the sixth floor of BPD
headquarters,where the hearing took place. There were no reporters,
no crowds. It was a family matter, for now.
Brendan Conroy was still inside, shilling for Joe. His muffled
voice carried through the door: Joe was a good kid, a good soldier.
Third-generation Boston police. Son of a fallen cop. No one was
defending what the kid did, of course. Of course. But then, there
was honor in the way Joe’d come in there and kept his mouth
shut and refused to roll over on anyone. Now, there was a time when
cops were brothers, let’s remember. Did they mean to throw
out the baby with the bath water? Did they really want to lose a
kid like Joe Daley? Let’s not be more Catholic than the Pope
here, fellas—if they were going to start canning every cop
who ever took a few bucks, or who ate dinner at the kitchen door of
a restaurant, well, let’s face it, before long there
wouldn’t be a police department left. Anyway, the last
Brendan Conroy had heard, Walter Cronkite had not been appointed
commissioner of the Boston police.
Joe tried not to listen. He trusted that Conroy would pull it off.
Conroy knew which strings to pull.He’d take care of the whole
thing. No big deal. In time everyone would come to realize that
this whole bookie thing was no big deal.
So why did Joe feel so aggrieved? It could have been worse, after
all. The Monkey’s was not the only place Joe had ever picked
up an envelope or put down a few bucks on a puppy or on his badge
number. For Christ’s sake, if they had followed Joe around
with a camera, Walter Cronkite would have shat in his CBS trousers.
As it was, no one was going to throw Joe under the train for
stopping by The Monkey’s once or twice. So it wasn’t
the accusation that was so troubling to Joe. It was the sense of
unseen forces, the infuriating awareness that he would never quite
understand what had gone on here. He wasn’t fucking smart
enough to figure it all out, to see the connections, the
complexities. Why on earth had Walter fucking Cronkite come to
Boston? Why the key shop? Why him? Joe thought he had it sometimes,
that the truth was about to come shivering through, but it never
quite did. So the answers hovered out there in the air
just out of sight.He was like a kid.He could hear it in the way
they spoke to him, that pizzicato pick-pick-pick tone the deputy
had lectured him with—Detective Daley, you’ve
embarrassed this en-tire department in front of the en-tire
country. It was precisely the pissy tone Joe used with his own
kid when he did bad.Now the adults were meeting behind closed doors
to pass sentence on him.Well, so what could he do about
it? He was not Michael or Ricky or Conroy. Guys like Joe had to
just hold on to what they knew, cling to the catechism that had
worked for cops for a hundred years. Rule one: Keep your mouth shut
when you’re supposed to keep your mouth shut. He leaned his
forehead against the wall, mashed it against the dusty ancient
plaster.What he wouldn’t give to have Mikey’s brain
just for an hour or two, just to see things clear, to figure out
what he should do, then he could happily go back to just bulling
his way ahead without all this worry and frustration. The decision,
the right decision,would already be made. But he would never have
that kind of peace. Joe was forty-two; he was what he was.
Conroy came out of the room and marched up to Joe with his arms
extended in a conciliatory way. A reassuring smile. Everything was
taken care of.
“Not so bad, boyo, not so bad. You’ll keep your
“My job! Jesus, Bren! For Christ’s sake, I’m just
the fucking errand boy.”
“Keep your voice down—”
“Half the department’s on the sleeve, you know
“This is the New Boston.Maybe you haven’t
“What fucking new Boston?”
“Just keep your voice down, Joe. You’ll keep your job
and your lieutenant’s rank. But you’re off the
Joe shook his head and sniffed at the injustice of it.
“Joe, what did you expect? You’re lucky you’re
still in Station Sixteen. You know where they wanted to send you?
Roxbury. How would you like that, chasing spooks all
“Jesus, Brendan.What the fuck am I supposed to
“Show up in uniform for last half tomorrow.”
“You gotta be shitting me.”
“Be smart, son. Report in uniform for last half
“And do what? Walk a beat?”
“For how long? What, am I gonna walk a fucking beat the rest
of my life?”
“No. You’re going to be patient and do what I tell you.
You’re going to take the deal and lie low, play the game.
This is just politics. It’ll blow over. Remember,
boyo”—Brendan hoisted a thumb over his shoulder toward
the hearing room—“they come and go; we stay.You think
your old man and I didn’t look out for each
Joe shook his head.Whatever.
“Alright, then.What are you going to do
“Show up in uniform for last half.”
“Brendan.When am I gonna be a detective again?”
Conroy patted Joe’s meaty cheek. “When the time
A little before eleven, the cold deepened. A frigid current
streamed past. Long strings of Christmas lights stirred on
snow-shagged trees. The baby Jesus trembled in his wheelbarrow.
Long way from Bethlehem.
Joe stomped his feet, paced in circles. His shoes were the only
thing that fit him. His pants and shirt collar were unbuttoned. The
whole damn uniform had shrunk. He’d have to ask Kat to let
the pants out a little. The wool overcoat was good, at least. But
the exposed parts, his nose and ears and eyes, were singed. He kept
an eye on the Union Club across Park Street. They’d got to
know him there the past few nights, and they were pretty good about
letting him come in out of the cold. The bartender even stood him a
nip before he closed up every night. In a few minutes he’d go
across and warm up a little.He could keep an eye on the crèche
from there for a while. This was Joe’s penance, standing
guard over the Nativity scene on Boston Common overnight. The same
punishment befell a lot of cops in Station Sixteen at
Christmastime, but in the case of Joe Daley, with his televised
humiliation and his demotion and his obdurate swagger, the
assignment struck his brother cops as particularly laughable. Not
that Joe meant to stand there all night. After midnight, he would
relocate to the lobby of the nearest hotel, the Parker House,
leaving his Lord and Savior to fend for Himself. He would circle
past the manger scene a few times during the night and check in
from the call box on Tremont Street, but he did not mean to freeze
to death out here guarding a fucking doll collection.
At 10:55—Joe knew the time precisely because he was counting
down to eleven o’clock when he would walk across to the Union
Club to warm up—there was a loud smash from the bottom of the
hill, somewhere on Tremont. It was glass shattering, but in the
cold the noise was a dull crack, like the snap of a heavy branch. A
smash-andgrab, probably, or drunks down on Washington Street. Joe
took off running as fast as he dared on the icy downhill. He had to
admit, as much as he wanted to call himself a detective, this was
the sort of police work he was meant for. This was Joe at his most
natural. He was a good reactor, he could impose himself on a
situation, he could make things right, or at least make things
better. Detective work was infuriatingly slow and irresolute. It
was Miss Marple stuff, not police work. This—running like
hell after a bad guy—was police work. Meanwhile, in the
manger all was peaceful. The wind shivered the statuettes and the
tufts of grimy hay. The Virgin Mary listed fifteen degrees to
From the top of Park Street, the direction opposite the smashing
glass, came Ricky. He was slightly out of breath. He wore a wool
cap and leather jacket and Jack Purcells. His hands were plunged
deep in his pockets, his shoulders hunched. In the Common he took a
few mincing slide-steps over the ice to the Nativity scene and
stood before it. Bless me, Father, for I am about to
sin.He glanced around, then one by one he turned the statues
around so they would see nothing, Mary, Joseph, the Magi, a donkey,
two sheep, a family of very pious and awestruck Bakelite bunnies.
He would leave no witnesses.When he’d rearranged the others,
he lifted the baby Jesus out of His straw bed.“Now who left
you out here in just a diaper?” he asked the child, who
stared back with a conspiratorial beatific smile. He tucked the
statue under his arm like a football and strolled off, his sneakers
crunching in the snow.
Excerpted from THE STRANGLER © Copyright 2011 by William
Landay. Reprinted with permission by Delacorte Press, a division of
Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.