Me and Tommy, we went aways back. He hadn’t been like the regular boys even back then. It wasn’t Tommy who lay dead at my feet, the smell of death strong in the cramped low rent tenement but it was Tommy’s handiwork. No doubt about it. Good ol’ Chuck hadn’t deserved to go the way he’d been done in but then he’d not given Tommy much of an option. We were all from the same neighborhood growing up. Dad’s in prison, Moms worked too much and we sort of ended up just taking care of each other, not a gang really but maybe a brotherhood.
We were fifteen and drunk on a hot mid-summers day. The heat was thick and wet and I remember the electricity had gone out. Our little brothers played in the water popped from a fire hydrant. We were too cool for that and bored and beginning to feel the after effects of being to young, drinking too much and being too hot. We’d decided we needed more drink before the last twelve pack we’d pilfered from Chuck’s moms kitchen wore off. Tommy’s mom had an old revolver we borrowed. The three of us, we went marching down a few blocks and were punching each other in the arms, getting the guts up to do this thing. A block away from our prey Chuck bowed out. Looking back I think that moment is what made us the adults we’d become. Tommy called him names, sent him to the sidewalk with a right hook to end all right hooks. I stood by and watched. Stunned. Amazed and if I’m honest with myself now, scared of Tommy as he stood over a broken and bloody boy we once called friend. Tommy looked at me with that demanding look like ‘what’re you gonna do now?’ I remember shrugging and laughing because I didn’t know what else to do. Tommy and I went kept the quest alive.
I had nerves and I was scared, aint too proud to admit it. Tommy didn’t care, wasn’t scared, had no nerves. He was on a quest, wrapped up in the moment, I guess. We grabbed the beer, made a bee line to the door. The clerk yelled at us. It stopped Tommy in his tracks. With the rusty pistol in hand, Tommy stepped up to the clerk and shoved the barrel into his mouth. I can’t quite recall what the clerk looked like now but I remember the blood and teeth that lie in a puddle on the counter and the choked sobs of the clerk as he choked on the barrel of the gun. Tommy opened the register drawer, and grabbed as much cash as he could fist. He smiled at the clerk; pistol whipped him, and then shot him in the knee. I think Tommy just wanted to see what it felt like to shoot someone.
Then we ran.
I drank my share of the beer as fast as I could mostly so I could forget what had just happened. Tommy languished in it like it was his victory drink.
The celebration hadn’t lasted long. The NYPD did their job and picked a bunch of us up the next morning. Tommy was an imposing figure, the Clerk picked him out with little hesitation. Tommy did five years but remained a stand-up guy and left me out of it. I moved on. He didn’t. When he got out, he kept a low profile, growing some dope here and there, selling it to the neighbors.
The body of Chuck was at my feet and I knelt down to look at him more closely. Chuck had never really recovered from the embarrassment of ‘chickening out’. He turned to oxycotin to soothe his injured pride. He started selling it, he owed money, borrowed from the wrong guy and then promised to rat that guy out. I’d been paid twenty large to come down here, rough him up a bit, and get what was owed to the people who owned me.
Chucky’s face was a mess but it was the gunshot to his chest that had done him in. I knew who did it as soon as I saw all of Chucky’s front teeth missing and the gun shot to his left knee.
The thought of Tommy with a gun and angry at me for hunting him down didn’t sit right with me. I really didn’t want to go up against him. He’d know now that my bosses wanted him. He’d be dangerous, driven into a corner. I thought about dropping it, getting out of town, but my bosses had a long reach and the thought of Tommy coming for me would haunt all the shadows. It cleared things right up.
If Tommy had one weakness it was his Mom. She’d had six kids but Tommy was the one she loved the most. The one she still called her baby. Tommy’s father had been her one and first true love. He’d died in a mine accident when Tommy had been four. Maybe if he’d stayed alive Tommy would’ve turned out different, maybe not. I went to her place, it was the same place she’d lived when we were kids but then a lot of the old neighborhood was like that. Her flat was old and worn, just like her. She hadn’t wanted to rat out her baby but a few slaps and the flash of a gun had her calling him.He showed up an hour later. He walked in with that Tommy smirk on his face. He had a pistol in his fist. I had a cut down twelve gauge pointed at his chest. He smiled, there was no mirth there. He told me he didn’t think I was so chicken-shit that I’d use his mom to get to him. It was in that lazy drawl he liked. I told him I didn’t think I was so chicken-shit to use a twelve gauge on him.