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Deacon King Kong (15. You Have No Idea What’s Coming)

Dominic Lefleur of Building 9 spent days apologizing to Bum-Bum for starting the fight at Soup Lopez’s coming-home party. He “accidentally” ran into her on three separate occasions as she went about her business. The first time she was coming out of Five Ends. She had gone inside to place a few cans of beans in the pantry, and when she emerged he happened to be outside, which gave him the opportunity to explain that the doll he tried to give Sportcoat was not bad luck.

“It’s a custom back home in Haiti,” he said. When she seemed doubtful, he explained defensively that black Americans had their own rituals: black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, carrying a raw potato in the left pocket for rheumatism, or “holding a copper coin under your tongue during coitus.”

“Coitus?” she asked.

“Doing the nature thing,” Dominic said. “You hold the copper coin under your tongue during . . . coitus . . . to keep from getting pregnant. My first wife was from Tennessee.”

Bum-Bum received this information with a snort. “What did they feed her down there, smog? I never ever heard such nastiness. Anyway, that ain’t the same as witchery.” Still, she let him walk her home.

The next time he “happened” to be across the street from the wall of Jesus painted on the back side of Five Ends Baptist, where she stopped every morning on the way to work to silently pray for the destruction of her ex-husband who ran off to Alaska, that his testicles might be pressed in a juice maker or lopped off with a saw. Dominic happened to be marveling at the wonderful artistry of the garbage piled high on the back wall of the church under the painting of Jesus—garbage that the church sexton, Sportcoat, had somehow forgotten to haul to the curb, being that he’d unexpectedly received a bottle of Haitian Creation from his wonderful neighbor Dominic that very afternoon, who had supplied it with the hope it would spark a binge and Sportcoat would forget the garbage altogether. Which is exactly what happened. That left Dominic with the task of informing Bum-Bum that since they happened to be at Five Ends together on a Tuesday morning when sanitation picked up, it was their civic duty as residents of the Cause and respecters of all religions to clean up the house of the Lord, as it wouldn’t be right to leave garbage setting right under Jesus’s nose for a full week before sanitation came again. Bum-Bum muttered that Five Ends’ rival church, Mount Tabernacle, put its trash out faithfully, and Five Ends’ garbage was Sportcoat’s business, not hers, plus she was dressed for work in all white, being a home care attendant. But she agreed that no Christian person in their right mind could walk away while Jesus’s painting stood above a pile of garbage. Which gave them a full twenty minutes of setting out the garbage that normally took thirty seconds, since Dominic refused to let her dirty her uniform and did all the lifting while he talked. That gave him twenty minutes to explain to Bum-Bum what a mojo could do.

“Mojos,” he said patiently, as he swung a half-filled garbage bag toward the curb, “can work on a person for miles and miles.”

“How many miles?” she asked.

“A hundred miles. Five hundred miles. A thousand miles even,” he said, marching toward the curb as she followed. “As far away as, say, Alaska.”

Bum-Bum, standing at the edge of the street in front of the garbage, worked hard to keep the lightbulb that went off in her brain from showing in her face. She frowned. So even the Haitian Sensation knew about her husband’s running off to Alaska. She wondered if he’d heard the part about her ex taking up with a man. Probably, she thought. She shrugged. “It’s better to pray for the saving of an enemy’s soul than their ruination,” she said, “but tell me about it anyhow,” and allowed him to walk her to the subway as he explained the magic of rituals.

The third time he “happened” to be passing through her building, Building 17—a good fifteen-minute walk to her third-floor unit from his own apartment on the fifth floor of Building 9—it was a warm night, and Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” played out the window of an upper apartment. He arrived holding a plate of Haitian mayi moulen ak sòs pwa, poul an sòs—cornmeal with beans and stewed chicken. He knocked on her door, holding the plate and the doll, which he had ripped in half. “I’m going to make a pillow out of it,” he explained, then handed her the plate and asked her out to the movies. Bum-Bum refused. “I’m a Christian woman and I don’t do worldly things,” she said firmly. “But I’m going to Five Ends tomorrow morning. We need folding chairs. And Mount Tabernacle is offering us some.”

“I thought Tabernacle and Five Ends don’t get along,” Dominic said.

“We are Christian people, Mr. Lefleur. Their music is too loud and they fall out and speak in tongues and so forth when they gets filled with the Holy Spirit, and we don’t do that here. But the book of Hebrews twelve fourteen says ‘Strive for peace with everyone,’ which means Mount Tabernacle too. Plus my best friend, Octavia, is a deaconess there and everybody knows the police is trying to shut our church down for protecting old Sportcoat, who helped me put in my washing machine even though Housing says I’m not supposed to have one. Mount Tabernacle is with us for sure. We’ve always gotten along.”

Thus it was the sight of Dominic Lefleur, Bum-Bum, Sister Gee, and Miss Izi struggling toward the side door of Five Ends Baptist with seventeen folding chairs stuffed inside an old post office dolly, the chairs stacked six feet high, that greeted Sergeant Potts Mullen as he swung his Plymouth squad car to the front of Five Ends Baptist Church a week after Soup’s big party. Sister Gee didn’t notice him when he pulled up. Her back was to him. He watched as she peeled off from the others and moved to the rear of the church, grabbing an old-fashioned weed chopper from the back wall and stepping into a field of high weeds. The weed cutter was shaped like a golf club and she swung it high over her head, slaying weeds as she went. Had he driven by the church three weeks ago and seen that sight, he would’ve said to himself the woman looked like a cotton picker on a plantation someplace. But now he saw a woman whose long back reminded him of the sea near the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, the part of Ireland he’d seen when he’d visited, the sea gently pushing against the mountainous shore. She looked beautiful.

The three chair haulers at the side door saw him first and quickly moved inside, unstacking the chairs one by one and marching them down the basement stairs without a word. Potts parked the squad car, emerged, and walked past the side door to Sister Gee, standing in the weeded field out back.

She saw him coming, the harbor water sparkling behind him, and stopped swinging, leaning on the weed cutter with her hand on her hip as he came. She was clad in a spring dress covered with azaleas, not ordinary garden clothing, he thought as he approached. Then again she’d said she was a country woman, and country women, as he knew from his mother and grandmother, didn’t dress for success. They dressed up and worked in the clothing they had. He walked straight into the weeds to her. When he reached her she smiled, a small one that bore, he hoped, just a hint of eagerness, then nodded at his patrol car, where his young partner, Mitch, sat in the passenger seat. “Why don’t he come?” she asked.

“You scared him off,” he said.

“We don’t bite here.”

“Tell him that. You scared the Jesus out of him last time.”

She laughed. “We supposed to run Jesus into souls here, not out.”

“Come to think of it, he was an angel till you laid boots on him and sent him the other direction.”

The sight of her lovely brown face breaking into laughter and focusing tightly on him, as she stood in the dress of azaleas in the sunlit yard of weeds, made him feel light again. In that moment he realized that all the experience of thirty-two years on the NYPD and all the formal police training in the world was useless when the smile of someone you suddenly care about finds the bow that wraps your heart and undoes it. He wondered when he’d last had that feeling—indeed if he’d ever had it at all. For the life of him, he couldn’t remember. Standing there in knee-high weeds behind an old black church that he’d passed by a hundred times over the last two decades without so much as a glance, he wondered if he had ever actually been in love or if love was, as his grandmother used to say, a kind of discovery of magic. He loved the stories she read to him when he was a boy, of kings and seafaring maidens and sailors gone awry and monsters slain, all for the sake of love. “Who is it who throws the light into the meeting on the mountain?” It was a poem she loved. He tried to recall the poet’s name. Was it Yeats maybe?

He saw her staring at him and realized she was waiting for him to say something.

“I think Mitch has lost interest in this case,” he managed to say.

“Who?”

“Mitch. The other officer. My partner.”

“Good. So have I,” she said. She shifted the weed cutter to the other side and leaned on it again, one smooth hip thrust outward. “Or I’m trying to. We truck on here despite it all. Look at all these weeds.”

“You do this often?”

She smiled. “Not enough. You cut ’em down. They come right back. You cut ’em again. They come back again. That’s their purpose. To keep coming. Everything under God’s sun got a purpose in this world. Everything wants to live. Everything deserves life, really.”

“If everything deserves to live, why kill a weed?”

She chuckled. She loved this kind of talk. How was it that he could draw this foolish chatter out of her? Her discourse with her husband, what little conversation they had, was made up of stunted, dry, matter-of-fact grunts about bills paid, church business, the affairs of their three grown children, who were, thankfully, living away from the Cause Houses. At forty-eight, most days she awakened feeling like there was nothing left to live for other than her church and her children. She had been seventeen when she wed a man twelve years older than her. He had seemed to have purpose but turned out to have none, other than an affinity for football games and the ability to pretend to be what he was not, to pretend to feel things that he did not feel, to make jokes out of things that did not work for him, and like too many men she knew, daydream about meeting some lovely young thing from the choir, preferably at three a.m., in the choir pew. She didn’t hate her husband. She just didn’t know him.

“Well, I could let the weeds grow,” she said. “But I’m not a person who knows enough about what should or should not be to leave things as they are when they got no purpose that I can understand. My purpose is to keep this church open long enough to save somebody. That’s all I know. If I was a book-learned person, somebody who could use thirty-four words instead of three words to say what I mean, I might know the full answer to your question. But I’m a simple woman, Officer. These weeds is a blight to this house of worship, so I goes at ’em. The truth is, they do me no harm. They’re unsightly to me but sightly to God. And still I cuts at ’em. I reckon I’m like most folks. Most times I don’t know what I’m doing. Sometimes I feel like I don’t hardly know enough to tie my own shoes.”

“I can tie your shoes for you,” he said, his eyes twinkling, “if you can’t manage.”

The comment, offered in the lilt of his Irish brogue, brought her to a blush, and she noticed Miss Izi standing by the church door, staring in their direction. “What brings you around?” she said quickly. She glanced at Miss Izi again, who thankfully was called away by Dominic at the basement door. “Better hurry and tell it. My friend Izi there,” she said, nodding at Miss Izi’s back, “is what they call the walking news.”

“Gossip?”

“I wouldn’t call it gossip. Everybody knows everybody’s business in these projects, so why put a name to it? It’s news one way or the other.”

Potts nodded and sighed. “That’s why I come. I have some.”

“Do you now?”

“We arrested a young fella. Fella named Earl. We know you know him.”

Her smile disappeared. “How’s that?”

“We saw you. We . . . one of our guys . . . followed you. After the little ruckus over in the plaza last week.”

“You mean Soup’s party?”

“Whatever it was, they—uh, without my knowledge—had somebody roll behind you. He saw you and a big, giant fella carry Earl out of the projects to the Silver Street subway station. They saw the little deal there, where you closed the turnstiles and you two had a little talk with Earl and sent him on his way. That’s a Transit Authority violation, I’m sorry to say. A pretty big one, to close down a subway station.”

Sister Gee, thinking of Calvin in the tollbooth, felt the blood rising in her face. “It was my idea. I made Calvin do it. It wasn’t but ten minutes. Till the train came. I don’t want him fired from his job on account of my foolishness.”

“What were you planning on doing?”

“I wasn’t gonna have the man thrown on the tracks, if that’s what you mean.”

“What did you want?”

“I wanted him out of the Cause and I got him out. You can take that back to the precinct or tell it to the judge. Or I’ll tell it to the judge myself. That fella was hunting somebody. Sportcoat, most likely. That’s why he come there. I’m told that wasn’t his first time in the Cause neither. We wanted him gone.”

“Why didn’t you call the police?”

She chortled. “It wasn’t a crime for him to come to the plaza party. Somebody threw a bottle and he got struck over the head by accident. I’m telling you what God’s pleased with. The truth. That’s exactly what happened. He was in a fog when he come to. As God would have it, the darned thing didn’t kill him, just knocked him out. I reckoned he’d come out of it swinging. So I had Soup carry him to the subway and told Calvin to shut the turnstiles down till the first train come. I didn’t want nobody to get hurt. That’s all there is to it.”

“That’s called taking matters into your own hands.”

“Call it what you will or may. It’s done now.”

“You should’ve called us.”

“Why we got to have the police around every time we has a simple party? Y’all don’t watch out for us. Y’all watch over us. I don’t see y’all out there standing over the white folks in Park Slope when they has their block parties. We was just having a celebration for poor old Soup, who went to jail a boy and come out a man. Much of a man, I’d say. Where’s a man like him gonna get a job, big as he is? Soup wouldn’t hurt a fly. Do you know when he was a tiny boy, he was scared to come out the house? Used to stay inside and watch television all day. Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers and them type shows.”

“The kiddie shows?”

“Been doing it since he was a child. He’s a Muslim now. Can you believe it? All that work we put into him here.” She nodded at the church, then shrugged. “Well . . . as long as he’s got God in his life some kind of way.” She shifted her weight off the weed cutter and absently swiped at a few weeds near her feet on the cracked, dry dirt.

“So you and kiddie-show guy and the token-booth guy shut down the station,” Potts said.

Sister Gee stopped swiping at the weeds and looked at him, her face melted into the slightly angry expression she had worn when they first met. She saw his eyes slice away from hers and cut to the ground. Was that shame she saw in his eyes? She wasn’t sure.

“I shut the station down. Me alone.”

Potts removed his cap, wiped his brow with his sleeve, and replaced it on his head. She watched him closely. Every movement, she observed, was that of a man trying to maintain emotional control of himself. He didn’t seem angry. Or even disappointed. Rather he seemed resolved to a kind of silent sadness that made her, despite herself, feel drawn to him, for she knew the feeling well. She found the whole business a little worrying, that common ground, but also wildly and almost terrifically exciting. She’d forgotten what that felt like. After thirty-one years of being married, the last five of which had been a trial of silent suffering, of infrequent bursts of small, almost minuscule, useless affection, she felt a part of herself she thought long dead shaking loose and awakening.

“Shutting down the station? I don’t want to know about it,” he said. “Neither does the precinct. Neither does Transit. I made sure of that. But we arrested that fella Earl—I arrested him—and that’s something you ought to know about.”

“Why?”

“He’s . . . a suspect.”

“So’s a lot of people.”

“Okay. He’s more than a suspect. He’s no junkie. He’s what you call a strong-arm guy. A smart one. He knocks out teeth here and there. But he’s not a concern now. No worries there. We got the goods on him. We’re working with him—or he’s working with us. That’s all I can tell you. That’s between you and me. So you don’t have to worry about him coming around again. But the guy he works for. We don’t have him and he is somebody to worry about.”

“What’s that got to do with Sportcoat?”

“How many times do I have to say it? Your guy kicked off something big. I don’t know that he meant to. In fact, I’m sure he didn’t. But he’s got the wrong end of things. There’s a drug war brewing. You don’t want your guy or your church in the middle of it. These drug lords are a different breed. They don’t play by the rules like the old crooks did. There’s no handshake or silent agreements, no looking the other way. Nobody’s safe. Nothing’s sacred. There’s too much money involved.”

“What’s that got to do with us?”

“I told you before. Turn your guy in and back out of it. Stay out of the way. We can protect him.”

Sister Gee felt hot. She looked up into the sky, squinting, then raised a long, lovely brown arm to shade her eyes as she peered at him. “I’m burning up out here. Can we get in the shade?”

It was as if she’d asked him to go to the beach, or swimming, or to lounge in a cool air-conditioned library someplace, to sit and read Irish poems, the kind he liked, the simple ones, “Symbols of Erie” and “The Diaries of Humphrey,” the ones his grandmother loved and taught him.

She walked past him, wading through the weeds to the back of the church building, out of view of the side door where Dominic, Bum-Bum, and Miss Izi were loading chairs. He followed behind, noting the shapely figure beneath the dress. When she reached the shade of the old building, a cinder-block structure built on a foundation of solid red bricks, she placed her back to the wall just underneath the faded painting of Jesus with his arms spread and leaned against it, propping her foot on the wall, showing a golden-brown knee. He faced her, standing just inside the shade, his hands clasped in front of him, rubbing his thumbs, trying not to stare. Everything she did, Potts realized, every move—the gentle arcs of her neck and mouth, the way she held herself erect along the wall and stretched a long arm out to wipe her forehead with gentle silklike smoothness—made something inside him want to kneel down.

“Sportcoat ain’t hard to find,” she said. “He’s around. You wanna go get him, go ahead. It’s not gonna change nothing. Deems is still out there slinging poison like clockwork every day at the flagpole at noon. He hasn’t moved a peep toward bothering old Sportcoat, far as I know. Fact is, he’s more polite now than before. They say he’s changed a little. He don’t sell to grandmothers or little kids now. Of course that don’t matter, since they ain’t got to do but walk five blocks to the Watch Houses and get what they want. Some folks send their children to buy drugs for ’em. Imagine that? Sending a little child nine, ten years old out to buy drugs. This projects was never that way. What are we doing wrong?”

She seemed so sad as she said it, it was all Potts could do to stop himself from placing an arm around her right there, right behind the church in the shade under Jesus’s sad painted gaze, and saying, “It’s all right. I got you.”

Instead he said, “I’m speaking as a friend, miss. You—all of you—need to step back and let us do our job here.”

“Arrest Deems then. That’ll make it easier.”

“We arrest him today, ten guys will be in his place tomorrow. You arrest ten guys, ten more guys will come. You know why? They’re being bailed out. By the same man who sent that kid Earl to your little party. It’s a whole organization we’re talking about. This guy looking for your Sportcoat is part of a syndicate. You know what that means? Organized crime. That’s why they call it organized. Guys like him have legitimate businesses mixed with illegitimate ones. He’s not just one guy. He’s an operator. He’s got employees working for him. He runs a factory. The drugs they sell at your flagpole, they don’t come packaged. They come to this country raw. They need to be prepared, prepped, and packaged, just like you’d package aspirin or soda pop to sell in a store. This guy’s operation runs all the way from Queens to Georgia. It’s something you can’t get in the way of.”

“Are you interested in doing that?”

“The police? Us? Yes.”

“Well, you got us wrong,” she said tersely. “All’s we want is our Christmas Club money.”

He laughed. “What are you talking about? You step in the middle of a major Brooklyn drug operation and send the drug king’s muscle man home by subway with a lump on his head the size of Philadelphia. You threaten the same muscle man by saying you know his dead minister father. All for your church club money?”

“He came here courting trouble,” she said angrily. “And them’s hard dollars in our church club money. Nobody knows how much is in there.”

“Whatever it is, it’s not enough to risk your skin. You have no idea what you’re dealing with!” Potts said.

“You don’t live here,” she said bitterly. “I know Deems’s whole family. His grandfather, Mr. Louis, was a hard man. But it’s a hard life out here. He came to New York from Kentucky with ten cents in his pocket. He swept and mopped an office for forty years till he died. And then his wife passed. His daughter prayed in this church every Sunday for years. Between you and me, she drinks like a fish and ain’t worth a nickel. It was her son, Mr. Louis’s grandson Deems, he was the gem of that family. He was the one with all the promise. That boy could throw a ball better’n anybody around here. He had the chance to get out on account of just that one thing. Now he’s gonna die or go to jail, which amounts to the same thing. Once Deems comes outta prison, if he lives long enough to go in, he’ll be worse than he was when first he gone in. Back and forth he’ll go. None of that fits in your little reports and warrants does it? When the newspaper writes their little stories about coloreds and Spanish swinging around Brooklyn like a bunch of monkeys in trees, none of that gets in there, now does it?”

“You don’t have to eat my head off about it. The Irish got kicked and booted the same way.”

“We ain’t talking about them.”

“No we’re not. You were talking about the church money. It’s got nothing to do with this trouble,” Potts said.

“It’s got everything to do with it. That Christmas Club money is all we can control. We can’t stop these drug dealers from selling poison in front our houses. Or make the city stop sending our kids to lousy schools. We can’t stop folks from blaming us for everything gone wrong in New York, or stop the army from calling our sons to Vietnam after them Vietcong done cut the white soldiers’ toenails too short to walk. But the little nickels and dimes we saved up so we can give our kids ten minutes of love at Christmastime, that’s ours to control. What’s wrong with that?”

She waved at the weeded lot, the projects nearby, the Elephant’s old boxcar on the next block, and behind it the harbor and the Statue of Liberty, shimmering in the afternoon sunlight. “Look around you. What’s normal about all this? This look normal to you?”

Potts sighed through clenched teeth. He wondered how someone who lived in this mess could be so naïve.

“Nothing in the world is normal,” he said. “I can’t understand why you’d even hope for that.”

His comment sent the anger hissing out of her like a balloon, and her features softened. She eyed him with curiosity, then wiped the edge of her eye with the back of her hand and shifted her weight.

“Why are you here?” she asked.

“About this case.”

“No. Right here. The preaching’s inside. On Sundays. Not out here behind the church. The inside’s what you need.”

He shrugged. “Your sermons are enough,” he said. “That last one was good. I like seeing you stirred up.”

Now she frowned. “Is it funny to you, what I said?”

“Not at all,” he said. “If you’d been on the job as long as I have, you’d feel the same way. We’re the same, you and I. We have the same job, remember? We clean the things no one wants to clean. Dirt. That’s our job. We clean up after people.”

She smiled bitterly, and once again the mask she wore so well, the firm lady of strong, impatient indifference whom he’d met when he first walked into the church a week before, broke apart, revealing the vulnerable, lonely soul underneath. She’s just like me, he thought in wonder. She’s as lost as I am.

He managed to wing himself back under control and blurted, “You asked why I’m really here. I’ll tell you. First of all, I know your deacon is around. He’s good at making himself scarce. But we’re gonna get him.”

“Get him then.”

“Thing is, we’re stepping soft, trying not to rattle folks. But the people here are not making it easy. When we ask they say, ‘He was just here,’ or ‘He just left his building,’ or ‘I think he’s in the Bronx.’ They’re covering for him. But you ought to know something. And you can spread this around . . .”

He leaned in close. She noticed the lines in his face were etched with concern, and alarm.

“The man who wants your Sportcoat sent for somebody from out of town. A very dangerous guy. I got no information on him other than a name. Harold or Dean. Last name unknown. Might be a Harold. Or a Dean. Not sure. Whatever his name, he’s rough business. He’s in a different class than the knucklehead you sent off.”

“Harold Dean.”

“That’s right. Harold Dean.”

“Should I warn folks?”

“I’d stay out of that flagpole area if I were you.”

“That’s our place! Must be thirty people float by there every morning. Even Deems don’t fool with us there.”

“Gather someplace else.”

“There is no place else. We surrender the flagpole, that’s it. We’re prisoners in our own homes then.”

“You don’t understand. Your deacon is not the only guy around here who’s in danger now. I read the report. This Harold Dean is . . .”

She stared at him in silence and he halted.

He wanted to say, “He’s a killer and I don’t want him near you.” But he had no idea what her reaction would be. He didn’t even know what Harold Dean looked like. He had no information other than an FBI report with no photo, only the vaguest description that he was a Negro who was “armed and extremely dangerous.” He wanted to say, “I’m worried about you,” but he had no idea how to say it. It wouldn’t do now anyway, because she was angry again, the dark eyes glowing, the pretty nostrils flaring. So he said simply, “He’s dangerous.”

“Nothing in this world is dangerous unless white folks says it is,” she said flatly. “Danger here. Danger there. We don’t need you to tell us about danger in these projects. We don’t need you to say what the world is to us.”

He offered a thin, sad smile and shook his head. So there it was. “Us?” he said.

He took a step back, away from the shade of the church, and turned for the squad car. Another dream spent. He’d had many of them. He supposed he was glad, really. He was off the hook. The responsibility, the magic that his grandmother had talked about was a weight he was not built to bear. Love, real love, was not for everyone.

He slowly walked along the back of the church, his right hand skimming the wall, moving with the slow, unsteady gait of a man who had just witnessed a building collapse.

Sister Gee watched him drift slowly down the back of the building and felt her heart pirouette toward her feet. She felt an ache. She couldn’t help herself.

“I’m not saying you personally,” she called after him.

He stopped but didn’t turn around. “I was hoping to bring you better news,” he said. “About the case.”

Her eyes dropped to the ground and she swiped at a stray weed with her foot. She was afraid to look up. She wanted him to leave. It was too much. She wanted him to stay. It was not enough. Her emotions felt like two big waves crashing against one another. She could not ever remember being in this place before.

Finally she glanced up. He had moved to the edge of the building and was about to turn the corner toward his squad car and the side of the chuch where his partner, Miss Izi, Bum-Bum, and Dominic awaited, all of them part of the foolish world who’d never see him clearly. He was a man they were blind to, the man beyond the uniform, beyond the skin. Why she saw the man inside and others could not, she was not sure. She had thought about it after he left the church and decided that she and this officer were not the same, no matter what she’d said to him when they first met. She cleaned dirt. He chased bad people. She was a cleaning woman. He was a cop. They were both spoken for in matters of love. But that indefinable spirit, that special thing, that special song had not been heard by either of them. She was sure of that. As she watched his back slowly drift away, she saw her future and his, and knew she’d blame herself for not at least attempting to open the envelope to read whatever news the letter inside might contain. How many times had she done that, swallowed the gunk for the sake of a car, a home, a marriage, a school for her children, for her mother, for her church? For what? What about my own heart, Lord? How many years do I have left?

He had reached the corner of the church when she called out, “When you get some more news, come on back.”

He stopped. He didn’t turn but rather spoke over his shoulder. “It’s only going to be bad news.”

She saw his profile, and it was beautiful, framed by the Statue of Liberty and the harbor, with several gulls flying overhead and beyond. And because he hadn’t uttered a desire to not return, her heart grew tiny wings again.

“Even if it’s bad news,” she said, “there’s good news bound up in it—if you’re the one bringing it.”

She saw his hunched shoulders relax a little. He leaned on the church wall and gave his heart a moment to catch itself. He was afraid if he turned around, his face would give him away and he’d cause more trouble for both of them than the moment was worth. But more than that, for the first time in his fifty-nine years, despite all the poetry he read, and the wonderful Irish stories he could spin off at the drop of a hat, stories full of lyric and rhyme and hope and laughter and joy and pain, all wrapped like Christmas presents, he was suddenly, inexplicably unable to find the words to express himself.

“I’ll be happy,” he said, more to the ground than to her, “to come back and bring what news I can.”

“I’ll be waiting,” Sister Gee said.

But she might as well have been speaking to the wind. He had slipped around the corner of the church toward his squad car and was gone.

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