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Jack goes to visit Willie, who asks him about Judge Irwin's death. Jack tells the Boss that he will no longer have anything to do with blackmail, even on MacMurfee, and he is set to work on a tax bill. Over the next few weeks, Tom continues to shine at his football games, but the Sibyl Frey incident has left Willie irritable and dour as he tries to concoct a plan for dealing with MacMurfee. In the end, Willie is forced to give the hospital contract to Gummy Larson, who can control MacMurfee, who can call off Marvin Frey. Jack goes to the Governor's Mansion the night the deal is made, and finds Willie a drunken wreck; Willie insults and threatens Gummy Larson, and throws a drink in Tiny Duffy's face.
Tom continues to spiral out of control. He gets in a fight with some yokels at a bar, and is suspended for the game against Georgia, which the team loses. Two games later, Tom is injured in the game against Tech, and is carried off the field unconscious. Willie watches the rest of the game, which State wins easily, then goes to the hospital to check on Tom. Jack goes back to the office, where he finds Sadie Burke sitting alone in the dark, apparently very upset. Sadie leaves when Jack tells her about Tom's injury, then calls from the hospital to tell Jack to come over right away.
Jack goes to the hospital, where the Boss sends him to pick up Lucy. Jack does so, and upon their arrival they learn that the specialist Adam Stanton called in to look at Tom has been held up by fog in Baltimore. Willie is frantic, but eventually the specialist arrives. His diagnosis matches Adam's: Tom has fractured two vertebrae, and the two doctors recommend a risky surgery to see if the damage can be repaired. They undertake the surgery, and Willie, Jack, and Lucy wait. Willie tells Lucy that he plans to name the hospital after Tom, but Lucy says that things like that don't matter. At six o'clock in the morning, Adam returns, and tells the group that Tom will live, but that his spinal cord is crushed, and he will be paralyzed for the rest of his life. Lucy takes Willie home, and Jack calls Anne with the news.
The operation was accomplished just before dawn on Sunday. On Monday, Jack sees the piles of telegrams that have come into the office from political allies and well-wishers, and talks to the obsequious Tiny. When Willie comes in, he declares to Tiny that he is canceling Gummy Larson's contract. He implies that he plans to change the way things are done at the capital. Jack is taking some tax-bill figures to the Senate when he learns that Sadie has just stormed out of the office, and receives word that Anne has just called with an urgent message.
Jack goes to see Anne, who says that Adam has learned about her relationship with Willie, and believes the affair to be the reason he was given the directorship of the hospital. She tells Jack that Willie has broken off the affair because he plans to go back to his wife. She asks Jack to find Adam and tell him that that isn't the way things happened. Jack spends the day trying to track down Adam, but he fails to find him. That night, Jack is paged to go to the Capitol, where the vote on the tax bill is taking place. Here, Jack greets Sugar-Boy and watches the Boss talk to his political hangers-on. The Boss tells Jack that he wants to tell him something. As they walk across the lobby, they see a rain-and-mud-soaked Adam Stanton leaning against the pedestal of a statue. Willie reaches out his hand to shake Adam's; in a blur, Adam draws a gun and shoots Willie, then is shot himself by Sugar-Boy and a highway patrolman. Jack runs to Adam, who is already dead.
Willie survives for a few days, and at first the prognosis from the hospital is that he will recover. But then he catches an infection, and Jack realizes that he is going to die. Just before the end, he summons Jack to his hospital bed, where he says over and over again that everything could have been different. After he dies, he is given a massive funeral. Jack says that the other funeral he went to that week was quite different: it was Adam Stanton's funeral at Burden's Landing.