"Come on," Brendan said. "Who do you hate?"
Ray's sign was brief: "Nobody."
Brendan nodded. "Okay. Who do you love?"
Ray gave him that face again.
Brendan leaned forward, his hands on his knees. "Who do you love?"
Ray looked down at his shoes, then up at Brendan. He raised his hand and pointed at his brother.
"You love me?"
Ray nodded, fidgeting.
"What about Ma?"
Ray shook his head.
"You don't love Ma?"
Ray signed, "Don't feel one way or the other."
"So I'm the only person you love?"
Ray thrust his small face out and scowled. His hands flew. "Yes. Can I go now?"
"No," Brendan said. "Have a seat."
Ray looked down at the chair, his face red and angry. He looked up at Brendan. He raised his hand and extended his middle finger, and then he turned to walk out of the kitchen.
Brendan didn't even realize he'd moved until he had most of Ray's hair in his hand and was pulling him up off his feet. He pulled back with his arm as if he were pulling the cord on a rusty lawn mower, and then he opened his fingers and Ray flew backward out of his hand and over the kitchen table. He hit the wall and then dropped onto the table, brought the whole thing crashing to the floor with him.
"You love me?" Brendan said, not even looking down at his brother. "You love me so you kill my fucking girlfriend, Ray? Huh?"
That got Johnny O'Shea moving, as Brendan had figured it would. Johnny grabbed his gym bag and bolted for the door, but Brendan was all over him. He picked the little prick up by his throat and slammed him against the door.
"My brother never does anything without you, O'Shea. Never."
He pulled back his fist and Johnny screamed, "No, Bren! Don't!"
Brendan punched him so hard in the face he heard the nose break. And then he punched him again. When Johnny hit the floor, he curled into a ball and spit blood on the wood and Brendan said, "I'm coming back. I'm coming back and I just might beat you to death, you piece of fucking garbage."
Ray was standing on wobbly feet, his sneakers sliding on broken plates when Brendan came back in the kitchen and slapped him so hard across the face he knocked him into the sink. He grabbed his brother by the shirt, Ray looking into his face with tears streaming from his hate-filled eyes and blood smearing his mouth, and Brendan threw him to the floor and spread his arms and knelt on them.
"Speak," Brendan said. "I know you can. Speak, you fucking freak, or I swear to God, Ray, I'll kill you. Speak!" Brendan shouted, and brought his fists down into Ray's ears. "Speak! Say her name! Say it! Say 'Katie,' Ray. Say 'Katie'!"
Ray's eyes went foggy and dull and he spit some blood up onto his own face.
"Speak!" Brendan screamed. "I'll fucking kill you if you don't!"
He grabbed his brother by the hair along his temples and pulled his head off the floor, shook it from side to side until Ray's eyes focused again and Brendan held his head still and looked deep into those gray pupils, saw so much love and hate in there that he wanted to rip his brother's head clean off and throw it out the window.
He said it again, "Speak," but this time it came out in a hoarse, strangled whisper. "Speak."
He heard a loud cough and looked behind him, saw Johnny O'Shea on his feet, spitting blood down onto the floor, Ray senior's gun in his hand.
* * *
SEAN AND WHITEY were coming up the stairs when they heard the racket, someone screaming in the apartment and the unmistakable snaps of flesh hitting flesh. They heard a man scream, "I'll fucking kill you!" and Sean had his hand on his Glock as he reached for the doorknob.
Whitey said, "Wait," but Sean had already turned the knob, and he stepped into the apartment and saw a gun pointed at his chest from six inches away.
"Hold it! Don't pull that trigger, kid!"
Sean looked into the bloody face of Johnny O'Shea and what he saw there scared the shit out of him. There was nothing there. Probably never had been. The kid wouldn't pull the trigger because he was angry or because he was scared. He'd pull the trigger because Sean was just a six-foot-two video image, and the gun was a joystick.
"Johnny, you need to point that gun at the floor."
Sean could hear Whitey's breathing from the other side of the threshold.
Johnny O'Shea said, "He fucking punched me. Twice. Broke my nose."
Sean looked to his left, saw Brendan standing in the kitchen doorway, hands down by his side, frozen. Johnny O'Shea, he realized, had been about to shoot Brendan when Sean came through the door. He could hear Brendan's breath, shallow and slow.
"We'll arrest him for that if you want."
"Don't want him fucking arrested. I want him dead."
"Dead's a big thing, Johnny. Dead's never coming back, you know?"
"I know," the kid said. "I fucking know all about that. You going to use that?" The kid's face was a mess, blood pouring from that broken nose and dripping off his chin.
Sean said, "What?"
Johnny O'Shea nodded at Sean's hip. "That gun. It's a Glock, right?"
"It's a Glock, yeah."
"Glocks kick ass, man. I'd like to get me one of those. So you going to use it?"
"Yeah. You going to draw on me?"
Sean smiled. "No, Johnny."
Johnny said, "The fuck you smiling for? Draw on me. We'll see what happens. It'll be cool." He thrust the gun out, his arm straight, the muzzle maybe an inch from Sean's chest now.
Sean said, "I'd say you got the drop on me, partner. Know what I mean?"
"Got the drop, Ray," Johnny called. "On a fucking cop, dude. Me! Check it out."
Sean said, "Let's not let this get out? "
"Saw this movie once, right? Cop's chasing this black guy on a roof? Nigger threw his ass off. Cop's like all 'Aaagh' and shit the whole way down. Nigger's so bad-ass he don't care the cop got the wife and little shits at home. Nigger's that cool, man."
Sean had seen this before. Back when he was in uniform and sent as crowd control on a bank robbery gone bad, the guy inside gradually growing stronger for a two-hour period, feeling the power of the gun in his hand and the effect it had, Sean watching him rant and rave over the monitor hooked up to the bank cameras. At the start, the guy had been terrified, but he'd gotten over that. Fell in love with that gun.
And for one moment, Sean saw Lauren looking over at him from the pillow, one hand pressed to the side of her head. He saw his dream daughter, smelled her, and thought what a shitty thing it would be to die without meeting her or seeing Lauren again.