A PAGE OF A NEWSPAPER lay sodden on the sidewalk. MINISTER JAILED IN SEX SCANDAL, the headline read. Peter Patterson made out the words before the gusting wind caught the paper up and carried it, wet and heavy as it was, tumbling away through the mist of slashing rain. Patterson watched the paper gray and dim and vanish in the darkness. He kept walking, the wind and water whipping at his face.
The things of the flesh, he thought with an inward sigh. The things of the spirit. The things of the flesh.
He was already nervous—already afraid—and now the headline made him melancholy, too. The minister’s conviction had been a great disappointment to him, a stomach-twisting glitch in his moral universe. And yet Peter Patterson was grimly determined not to judge. The Reverend Jesse Skyles was a good man, he told himself, a true man of God. He had just fallen to temptation, that’s all. Peter Patterson had plenty of experience with temptation, not to mention falling. True, he’d never tapped anything underage, but the object of Skyles’s indiscretion had been fourteen. That was no child; they were juicy then . . . In any case, he could say this and that, make this excuse for himself and that one, but the simple truth was he had left his own trail of tears, a trail of misused women and abandoned sons. He was in no position to condemn anyone.
The things of the spirit, the things of the flesh.
It was so easy to fall. Easy to choose the life of the moment over the long consequences. A couple of drinks and a woman’s perfume began to seem like a thing worth dying for. And to leave her smile sitting there on her face like that, unkissed? Well, it just felt wrong. You’d have to be a corpse or a fool and no kind of man at all . . .
So the next thing you knew it was some ungodly hour of the morning and there you were, standing over the sprawled and sleeping wreckage of her, looking around the floor for your boxers and your self-respect. Because who were you when you were bare-assed, as it turned out? Surprise: you were that guy who’d looked his son in the eye that very afternoon and said, Do what’s right. Hand on his shoulder, expression stern, finger wagging in his face. Do what’s right, son. Treat the women with respect. Don’t be making no babies you can’t take care of. And then that selfsame night after four bourbons and a perfumed smile it was Aw, fuck it. Another mother betrayed, another son ushered into the funhouse of his father’s hypocrisy, another relationship shot to hell . . .
All part of the journey that had led him to this night.
Man, he thought, suddenly coming back into the moment, back into the full awareness of his corrosive anxiety. Man, look at this place.
It was a sight to see, all right, the city in the rain. The night city, empty everywhere, with only the wind moving in it. Without people, without traffic, the avenue was reduced to the shadowy shapes of things. The rectangles of office buildings to the left and right of him, the smaller rectangles of newspaper boxes on the sidewalk, the shepherd’s crook of a lamp pole in the light of its lamp . . . Everything seemed two-dimensional like that. Even the depth of the receding street seemed a trick of perspective.
People had taken the evacuation order seriously this time. There was not a body moving anywhere, not a footfall on the street but his. The rain spat and whispered against the macadam as if it were falling in an empty field. At moments, when the wind subsided, you could hear the stoplights changing color. You could see them swaying there above the intersections, one gleaming circle of red after another in the storm-streaked dark. Then there was a double metallic gulp, like a robot swallowing, and all the red circles turned gleaming green. There was something lonesome and almost poetic about it. The city was practically beautiful, he thought, once you got rid of the people.
Hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched, Peter Patterson trudged the final half block to the corner and ducked under the overhang of the skyscraper there. The moment he stopped walking, he became aware of how wet and miserable he was. His raincoat and his hat had protected him for a while, but now they were both soaked. His socks and cuffs were sodden from wading through the sluicing gutters. The cold was seeping into his core.
It was a hell of a night for a meeting—with the storm going and the river about to blow. A hell of a night to finally do what he had convinced himself to do.
Lieutenant Brick Ramsey saw Patterson reach the meeting point, but he lingered where he was, watching the man through the windshield of his unmarked Charger. Watching the wavering shape of the man anyway. He couldn’t see much more of him than that. He didn’t want to turn his wipers on. He was afraid the movement might draw attention to him sitting there. Uninterrupted, the rain spilled down over the glass in gusting sheets, then broken streams and droplets. Through the water, the pink glare of the downtown halogen lamps seemed to melt and run in fluid streaks of illumination. The stoplights ran in fluid streaks of red, then green. And beyond the light, in the blur and shadows, there was the wavering shape of Peter Patterson, an average-sized man in a hat and overcoat, hunched and waiting. Ramsey knew he ought to go to him, but he lingered, watched.
Ramsey figured himself for a hard man, but he didn’t like thinking about what he was about to do. Peter Patterson was nobody in the big scheme of things. He was nothing in the city hierarchy. Just a bookkeeper. Just a middle-aged drunk who’d come to Jesus and now fancied himself incorruptible. There should have been a dozen easy ways to shut him up or shut him down. They could’ve just waited him out probably. The mood would probably have passed.
But they couldn’t wait. They couldn’t risk it. Peter Patterson had crossed the line. It was one thing to come to Jesus. It was another to go to the feds.
“He wants a meet?” Augie Lancaster had murmured smoothly over the phone. “Arrange a meet. Tell him you’re the feds and arrange a meet, that’s all.”
It made Ramsey sick inside. But what else could he do? You got into these things step by step, day by day, and then there you were and you didn’t really have a choice when you came down to it. There were people who depended on you, expected things from you. Not just Augie Lancaster but the Chief of Ds and the councilmen and all the rest. You couldn’t just turn righteous on them, overnight become another man than the one they knew. Anyway, your fate was tied to theirs by this time. If they went down, you went down with them. Even if Ramsey wanted to turn righteous, that was way more righteous than he was prepared to be. No, whichever way you turned, the exit was closed and a hundred strings were pulling at you. You had to go on with it, that’s all. Just as Augie said: That’s all.
The rain drummed hard on the Charger’s roof, then crashed on it like thunder, blown by the wind. The calls for backup hissed and whispered from the radio. Looting had started half an hour ago, almost as soon as the city emptied out. The brothers, Ramsey thought with a stab of shame and distaste. The brothers were busting up the Northern District, two miles away.
The City of Hope. The City of Equality. The City of Justice.
All those high words. All those fine Augie Lancaster speeches came back to him.
“Where they have taken away your voice, I will speak for you. Where they have robbed you of your dignity, I will make them repay you. Where they have built...