The Saturday afternoon that Roy and his friends heard about the fire at Our Lady of Abandoned and Irredeemable Boys, they were on their way to see a double feature at the Riviera. The movies were Rumble on the Docks and Don’t Knock the Rock. Roy was eager to see Don’t Knock the Rock because his favorite singer, Little Richard, was in it performing “Long Tall Sally.” The boys were on foot passing through Greektown when a kid Jimmy Boyle knew named Martin Kenna, whose great-great-Uncle Hinky Dink Kenna had been a strongarm boss before Capone, came up to them and said, “You guys heard Irredeemable Boys burned down?”
It was an overcast, bone-rattlingly windy day in early March. A blizzard was supposedly on the way but the streets were clear of evidence from the last storm almost two weeks before. Neither Roy nor the Viper nor Boyle was wearing a hat; they kept their gloveless hands shoved deep into their coat pockets.
“When?” asked Jimmy.
Martin Kenna’s nose was blue. He wore a black watchcap under the hood of his gray parka. His hands were buried in the pockets and Roy bet he had gloves on.
“Real early this morning,” Kenna said, “before it got light out.”
“They know how it started?” Roy asked.
Martin Kenna shook his head. “I ain’t heard. Worst part is the main staircase collapsed as the orphans was comin’ down it. Bunch of ’em died. Fried up. Don’t know how many. You guys goin’ to the Riv?”
Jimmy Boyle nodded.
“I thought so. Nick Kilennis said Don’t Knock the Rock’s good but Rumble on the Docks is bunk.”
“No, I gotta work today at the bakery. See ya.”
“See ya,” said Jimmy.
Kenna walked away and turned the corner onto Clark. The three boys continued toward the theater. Roy wished he’d worn a hat or had a coat with a hood.
“You think somebody torched Irredeemable Boys?” he asked.
“Why’d anybody burn down an orphanage?” said Jimmy.
“For the insurance,” the Viper said. “Or maybe even an orphan was disturbed about bein’ mistreated.”
Roy got a kick out of seeing Little Richard do “Long Tall Sally” while he banged on the piano with his right foot, but Rumble on the Docks was phony like Martin Kenna said Nick Kilennis said, with a pretty boy gang leader whose hair never got mussed during a fight. Roy couldn’t get the thought of the orphanage fire out of his head, though, and after the show he told Jimmy Boyle and the Viper that he wanted to go by.
“It’s a long way,” Jimmy said. “It’ll be dark by the time we got there.”
“I got stuff to do,” said the Viper.
Roy walked by himself up Ojibway Boulevard until he came to Terhune, where he turned east toward the lake. Roy kept his head down against the wind as best he could but it didn’t do much good. He was freezing and considered giving up but Roy kept walking and when he turned onto Tecumseh Street the wind calmed down.
There were two hook and ladders and a red car parked inside the big iron gates of Our Lady of Abandoned and Irredeemable Boys. The sky was getting dark fast but from the sidewalk Roy could see the black, smoking skeleton of the orphanage. The gates were closed and no people were visible on the grounds. An old man and a woman passed by on the other side of the street but they did not stop or look over.
Roy was about to leave when he saw a white-haired man wearing a long brown overcoat appear from around the other side of the orphanage. The man got into the red car and started it up but did not drive away, just sat in it with the motor running. Then tiny dots of light flashed on and off from the ruins like fireflies. Roy figured it was the men from the hook and ladders looking for sparks and smoldering debris.
The part of the sky right over what was left of Irredeemable Boys was a very dark green while all around it was almost entirely black. For some reason Roy had stopped shivering. Instead of getting colder, the air seemed warmer. Maybe it was about to snow.