"You've got to go to a hospital, Eddie."
"A hospital? You nuts? You might as well drive me to the Daily News." His voice was quavering and whispery with morphine. "This can't get out. This -"
"I can't do what you need, Eddie," Delaney said. "You need a surgeon."
"You did it in the Argonne, Doc!"
"And botched it for too many guys."
"You didn't botch it for me!"
"You need a professional surgeon, Eddie. Someone whose right hand works right, not like mine. Someone at St. Vincent's."
"Anybody comes in shot, the nuns call the cops."
"Let me see what I can do," Delaney said. "Your phone working?"
"Yeah," Bootsie said. "Over there."
Delaney called St. Vincent's, identifi ed himself, asked which surgeons were on duty, and held on. His eyes moved around the club, the blood and disorder, and Eddie Corso moaning, and the sallow man guarding the door, and Bootsie nibbling at some cake left on the bar. His gaze fell on the framed photographs of prizefi ghters and ballplayers, of old picnics, feasts, weddings, and then on the browning photograph of the remnant of the battalion. In a gouged field in France. All of them were still young, the farm boys and the city rats, and he could see Eddie Corso laughing like a man who'd won a lottery, always joking, as brave as any man Delaney had ever known. He saw himself too, off on the side, with his medic's armband, his face gaunt, a cigarette in his good right hand.
"Hello, hello," came the voice on the phone. "This is Dr. Zimmerman."
"Thank God," Delaney said, relieved that it was this particular young intern. "Jake, I need a big favor."
It was after eleven when Bootsie dropped him off at the house on Horatio Street. They had taken Eddie Corso through an old delivery entrance at the side of the hospital and hurried him into surgery. If he lived, there would be no records. If he died, it didn't matter. Around ten, Jake Zimmerman came out, young and bony and frazzled, and told Delaney with a nod and a thin smile that Eddie would survive. The nuns would bring him along after the operation, adhering to their own special vows of silence.
"By the way," Zimmerman said, "where'd your patient get those scars? One on the back, one on the leg?"
"The Argonne," Delaney said. "I sewed him up. That's why it looks so bad."
"You never told me that."
"It was a long time ago, Jake."
In another life. Now he was on Horatio Street, with the snow still blowing hard. Bootsie's exhausted breathing had fogged the windows. Delaney opened the door.
"Thanks, Bootsie," he said.
"Thank you, Doc."
Then he reached over and touched Delaney's arm.
"You're a good fuckin' man, Doc."
"I wish," Delaney said, and stepped into the driving snow.
He looked up at the small brick house, the one he'd been given at her death by Evelyn Langdon. Ten years ago now, in a good year, before the goddamned Depression. She was the last of the old Protestant families who had come to the street in the 1840s, fl eeing cholera and the Irish, building their impregnable brick and brownstone fortresses. He had kept her alive until she was seventy- three. She had outlived her two children and all of her friends. When she died and the will was read, there was a note to Delaney, explaining that the house was now for him and his wife, Molly, and his daughter, Grace. You have been my last and perhaps truest friend. Please use this house to enrich human life.
Well, I did try, he thought as he opened the iron front gate under the stoop, remembering Evelyn's note. I tried, and too often failed. Most of all, I've failed those I loved the most.
Then he noticed the disturbed snow on the stoop itself, and, at the top, a fog rising on the tall glass windows of the vestibule. It was like Bootsie's fog in the car, a streaky, uneven fog made by breathing. He hurried up the steps, gripping the iron banister with his good left hand. Foot marks were drifted over with fresh snow. He glanced back to the street, but Bootsie was gone.
Copyright © 2007 by Pete Hamill
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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