The first time they killed Jim Steele, they fed him a cocktail, light on the gin, heavy on the bleach. Now, I’m not sentimental, don’t misunderstand. Jim had it coming. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a friend, but I knew who he was well enough. Big sonofabitch. Mean. Still, it’s a lousy way to go. What I heard, he got on the wrong side of one too many people. That’s never good if you’re trying to stay on the upside of the grass. Me? I wasn’t there. I was what you would say, otherwise indisposed. But my brother, he was there. He told me later how it all went down:
“It- it was aw-w-wful. Real aw-awful.” Jackie smiled; his grin full of half-chewed hamburger. He always stuttered. If I think back, I don’t think I have a memory of him where he didn’t. Wasn’t his fault. Some cats are cool. Others are born with their tail caught in a doorjamb. Jackie just happened to be one of those. He caught a world of grief for it. When we lived in Southie, our pops would pop him in the mouth every time he did it, which was a lot. “Do it again, Jack. How many times I gotta tell you? You never learn does you? If your mother was still alive, she’d’ve reconsidered having you. Dumb bastahd.” They did that sort of thing for years. Both of them. Until the day my pops swung for him one more time, only instead of him connecting with my brother, I reached out and caught my father’s fist in mine.
“Whaddaya gonna do Bobby? Hha? Ya gonna hurt me?”
I love my brother. He’s all I have.
“You should have seen it. Bobby, you should have. N-n-ever seen nothin’ like it. His lips were like,” Jackie squeezed his face with his hands, contorted his mouth into a caricature of a fish, “you know? Like this. I didn’t- I didn’ think he needed a full gallon, but he did. I swear. A full gallon. Put up one H-h-ell of a fight too. I held him d-d-d-d-own, you know?”
“Wasn’t no big deal. J-ust his han—”
“Just his hands? Jackie. How many times I gotta tell you?”
My brother shoved a handful of fries into his mouth. How he didn’t choke was beyond me.
“They asked, okay? I’m n-n-no kid. What was I su-p-p- to do? Stand around?”
The Hell he wasn’t a kid. What was he? Twenty-one? He may as well have been twelve. It was bad enough that he was even there. A thousand times I told him: You tell them to talk to Bobby, you understand? Talk to Bobby. I’ll take care of it. Talk to Bobby.
I tossed him a napkin. “Wipe.” I watched as he did so.
“So, what happened to him?”
“What do you mean, to who? To Steele, Jackie. What, you forget already?”
Jackie smiled at me, the way he used to when it was Halloween and he had somehow ended up with the biggest haul of candy. “He foamed. Foamed like a kitchen s-sp-sp-sp—”
“Like a sponge?” I asked.
“Yeah. Like one of those. It was awful.”
It wasn’t but two days after my little brother spent an hour vacuuming up lunch on my dime that he called me at home.
Last time I heard him this upset, our father had died.
“Say that again?”