"It's sedition if they do it."
"Oh, come on, boy, let's not be overly dramatic."
"They're officers of the law, Dad, the first line of national defense. If they even talk about walking off the job, that's treason. No different than a platoon that walks away from the field of battle."
"It's a little different." Joe's father sounded exhausted.
Connor looked up when Joe entered the room and this was usually where such conversation ended, but this time Connor kept going, his eyes loose and dark.
"They should all be arrested. Right now. Just go down to the next BSC meeting and throw a chain around the building."
"And what? Execute them?" His father's smile, so rare these days, returned for a moment, but it was thin.
Connor shrugged and poured more whiskey into his glass.
"You're half serious." His father noticed Joe now, too, as Joe placed his book sack up on the counter.
"We execute soldiers who walk away from the front," Connor said.
His father eyed the whiskey bottle but didn't reach for it. "While I may disagree with the men's plan of action, they have a legitimate beef. They're underpaid--"
"So let them go out and get another job."
"--the state of their quarters is unhygienic to say the least and they're dangerously overworked."
"You sympathize with them."
"I can see their point."
"They're not garment workers," Connor said. "They're emergency personnel."
"He's your brother."
"Not anymore. He's a Bolshevik and a traitor."
"Ah, Jaysus H," his father said. "You're talking crazy talk."
"If Danny is one of the ringleaders of this and they do strike? He deserves whatever's coming to him."
He looked over at Joe when he said this and swirled the liquor in his glass and Joe saw contempt and fear and an embittered pride in his brother's face.
"You got something to say, little tough guy?" Connor took a swig from his glass.
Joe thought about it. He wanted to say something eloquent in defense of Danny. Something memorable. But the words wouldn't come, so he finally said the ones that did.
"You're a piece of shit."
No one moved. It was as if they'd all turned to porcelain, the whole kitchen, too.
Then Connor threw his glass in the sink and charged. Their father got a hand on his chest, but Connor got past him long enough to reach for Joe's hair and Joe twisted away but fell to the floor and Connor got one kick in before his father pushed him back.
"No," Connor said. "No! Did you hear what he called me?"
Joe, on the ground, could feel where his brother's fi ngers had touched his hair.
Connor pointed over his father's shoulder at him. "You little puke, he's got to go to work sometime, and you got to sleep here!"
Joe got up off the floor and stared at his brother's rage, stared it straight in the face and found himself unimpressed and unafraid.
"You think Danny should be executed?" he said.
His father pointed back at him. "Shut up, Joe."
"You really think that, Con'?"
"I said shut up!"
"Listen to your father, boy." Connor was starting to smile. "Fuck you," Joe said.
Joe had time to see Connor's eyes widen, but he never saw his father spin toward him, his father always a man of startling speed, faster than Danny, faster than Con', and a hell of a lot faster than Joe, because Joe didn't even have time to lean back before the back of his father's hand connected with Joe's mouth and Joe's feet left the fl oor. When he landed, his father was already on him, both hands on his shoulders. He hoisted him up from the floor and slammed his back into the wall so that they were face-to- face, Joe's shoes dangling a good two feet off the floor.
His father's eyes bulged in their sockets and Joe noticed how red they were. He gritted his teeth and exhaled through his nostrils and a lock of his newly gray hair fell to his forehead. His fingers dug into Joe's shoulders and he pressed his back into the wall as if he were trying to press him straight through it.
"You say that word in my house? In my house?"
Joe knew better than to answer.
"In my house?" his father repeated in a high whisper. "I feed you, I clothe you, I send you to a good school, and you talk like that in here? Like you're from trash?" He slammed his shoulders back into the wall. "Like you're common?" He loosened his grip just long enough for Joe's body to slacken and then slammed him into the wall again. "I should cut out your tongue."
"Dad," Connor said. "Dad."
"In your mother's house?"
"Dad," Connor said again.
His father cocked his head, eyeballing Joe with those red eyes. He removed one hand from Joe's shoulder and closed it around his throat.
His father raised him higher, so that Joe had to look down into his red face.
"You're going to be sucking on brown soap for the rest of the day," his father said, "but before you do, let me make one thing clear, Joseph--I brought you into this world and I can damn sure take you out of it. Say 'Yes, sir.' "
It was hard with a hand around his throat, but Joe managed: "Yes, sir."
Connor reached toward his father's shoulder and then paused, his hand hovering in the air. Joe, looking in his father's eyes, could tell his father felt the hand in the air behind him and he willed Connor to please step back. No telling what his father would do if that hand landed.
Connor lowered the hand. He put it in his pocket and took a step back.
His father blinked and sucked some air through his nose. "And you," he said, looking back over his shoulder at Connor, "don't let me ever hear you talk about treason and my police department ever again. Ever. Am I quite clear?"
"Yes, sir." Connor looked down at his shoes.
"You . . . lawyer." He turned back to Joe. "How's the breathing, boy?"
Joe felt the tears streaming down his face and croaked, "Fine, sir."
His father finally lowered him down the wall until they were face-to- face. "If you ever use that word in this house, it'll not get this good again. Not even close, Joseph. Do you have any trouble comprehending my meaning, son?"
His father raised his free arm and cocked it into a fist and Joe saw that fist hovering six inches from his face. His father let him look at it, at the ring there, at the faded white scars, at the one knuckle that had never fully healed and was twice the size of the others. His father nodded at him once and then dropped him to the floor.