Magnetic Letters

Allie looks up and sees his brother’s spelled out W-O-L-F. “Good job, Artie,” he mumbles. Gapes at Artie for a while. His brother’s reverted to an innocence that predates their relationship. Even when they were kids, Artie played grown-up. Foraging for their food, protecting little Allie from mother’s drunken spells, teaching how to throw a punch, how to make a buck. He’d always been the leader, the warlord, the master crook. Now? Allie makes a low moaning sound, his eyes watering, sinuses burning. He tracks the fresh purple scars crossing his brother’s head, pretends they’re undiscovered country–like he doesn’t already know their contours so intimately. “Oh, Artie…why couldn’t you have just backed down? Johnny Lu woulda made a deal. He said we coulda kept the business. Why couldn’t you just back down? Why the Hell wouldn’t you listen? Jesus…now look at you. Just look at you!”

The clacking on the refrigerator slows. Artie’s hands falter.

Allie takes out his mobile phone, holds it to his ear. “Yeah…yeah, it’s me. Listen, the guys are gonna be right where I told you. Poe Park. That’s right, just on the other side of Grand Concourse. They should all be there. Yeah. Look, do you want me to come in, or not? I told you, I’ll testify, but only once I know you got all my brother’s guys off the street. They’ll fucking kill me if they’re out when I talk. Yeah…yeah, that’s right, you’re a real sharp one, Detective. Look, I want protective custody, witness protection, the whole nine. But you gotta get those guys off the street, first. Look, I’m not safe out here! You want my testimony or not? I’ll give you anybody you want, just keep these guys off me. Sound good to you? Then Poe fucking Park, alright? Jesus!” He hangs up the phone, lays his head on the table, sobs a little. “I fucking begged you, Artie. I fucking begged and I pleaded, but you wouldn’t listen! How the fuck were we supposed to stand up to Johnny Lu, huh? He’d have butchered us like pigs! I had to…I had to do what I had to do, right? But you…you wouldn’t listen. And now look at you…Jesus, why wouldn’t you listen?! I had to…I fucking had to…I’m so sorry. I didn’t think you’d end up like this…I thought if I just…if I just knocked you down, showed you you weren’t fucking bulletproof, that you’d get it, that’d fucking get it…Oh God…what did I do…”

Allie sobs for a long time.

He doesn’t notice the clacking of magnets on the refrigerator have stopped.

And he never sees his brother’s massive shadow descend on him.

Midnight ushers itself moonlessly into the Bronx, cloaking Kenny’s flight as he stumbles into the warehouse, bleeding from a bullet in his shoulder. The place is in shambles. Tools strewn everywhere. Barrels of oil knocked over. Boxes of parts thrown all about. Godzilla’s gone on a drunken rampage through the place. No workers in sight, nobody home. Kenny left his pistol back at Poe Park, is light-headed from blood loss, but with the cops waiting for him at his parents’ place, there was really no place else to go. He ambles onward.

“Allie!” he calls. “It was a fucking massacre! Cops were everywhere! Rosie and Cas are wasted, man. We gotta grab the boss and go!”

No answer.

He staggers to the back, up the rickety loft stairs, and stops. Voice lodges in his throat.

Allie’s on the floor, bent at all the wrong angles, like a spider crushed under his boot. His head is literally spun 180-degrees, face on the floor, chest facing the ceiling. His feet have been done the same deal, turned the wrong way at his ankles. Every finger’s been broken to the point that they look like tentacles.

Kenny’s knees buckle. His stomach bucks, about to reverse gears.

“Buh-boss?” he calls out. Artie’s nowhere in sight. Kenny feels his insides lurch, but it isn’t until he sees the magnetic letters on the refrigerator that he lets go, throws up all of the loft floor.


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