Excerpt

The Nightworkers

Brian Selfon

The following is an exclusive excerpt from The Nightworkers, by Brian Selfon. Shecky Keenan's family is in danger, and he's probably the reason why. He moves money for unscrupulous clients, assisted by his bagman nephew and thief niece. Their new runner is missing, and so is the $250,000 he was carrying. And as trust wears thin, and threats begin to loom, the little family must ensure it won't fall apart.

Family. Shecky Keenan once thought he’d never have one. But on the day before Emil’s murder, he walks into his home, wiping sweat from his face, and here they are, seated in his dining room. The cousins are both orphans, and though everyone in this room is mixed race, Henry and Shecky look white, and Kerasha, black. For Shecky this proves a point. The three of them are the family he glued together, and Shecky wouldn’t want any other.

Tall, angular, and sinewy, Henry is the closest thing to a son Shecky will ever get. His mother, Molly, was Shecky’s first cousin. A part-time artist and full-time boozer, she drank herself into a car crash when Henry was seven. His father, Alessandro, went down three years later, dying with a brain tumor, but technically from an aneurysm. Poor bastard. Alessandro spent his last year in the psych ward, the tumor having made a monster of the gentle man.

And how Henry has changed. He was a chubby fifth-grader when he moved into Shecky’s house on Hart Street. Couldn’t sleep alone. A crier at home but a brawler at school—Shecky shivers now, remembering the stories. The pencil he stabbed into one kid’s hand, the combination lock he slammed into the face of another. To his credit, Henry never started fights, and he backed down from fights with smaller kids. Give him a worthy asshole, though, and Henry would get to work. Guidance counselors and teachers all said the same thing: Henry’s fights were red and dirty—eye pokes, crotch kicks, quick hits to the throat. Half the fights, though, Shecky never heard a word about. Henry would just come home battered and bandaged. Wouldn’t say nothing, had no peaceful way to let out his feelings. A little ball of fury. But look at him now, how he’s grown into his anger. A rugged man, broad shoulders, broad chest. Well over six feet tall, and his legs stretch under the table and rest on the opposite chair. You wouldn’t guess that Henry and Shecky share any DNA at all. But fuck appearances, the proof is here on the dining room table.

The sketch pad in front of Henry is bigger than a pizza box, and in his hand is a pencil. He picks this stuff up at the art-supply store over on Myrtle Avenue. Wasted beer money, other kids probably think. It’s almost a joke: a strong, physical kid like Henry, laboring— and  that’s  the  word  for  it,  laboring—over  sketches.  The  paintings Henry keeps in the basement, but the sketches Shecky finds every- where around the house. On the back porch he’s found sketches of that tabby that hunts and fucks in the alley. In the upstairs office, where Henry is working more and more these days, Shecky finds the desk covered with sketches of the faces and back rooms Henry has gotten to know through the family business. The kid has a red streak, but here he sits, trying to turn that into a kind of beauty. And maybe speaking back to his mom, too.

Shecky loves thinking about this, the artistic spirit in the family. He was a four-year member and two-term treasurer of the drama club at Bushwick High School. (Stole from it far less than he stole for it, when Jesus knows he could have cleaned the thing out.) Still a thespian as recently as last Christmas, when he played the Ghost of Christmas Future in the Watts Community Theater’s annual production.  So  he  understands  Henry’s  need  to  express  something  true. Knows the power of the urge, the violence in it, and how when it comes up, you can’t fight it. You’re the vehicle, and something wicked does the steering.

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Henry’s been in this house twelve years now—twelve—and each year has passed like a breath. Hard to believe. The downside to happy times, what life takes from you in kind, how time can just up and vanish. But Shecky will pay it, pay double if that’s the ask. He who grew up amid such squalor and violence, getting passed like a dirty joint among a trio of vicious uncles. Uncle Samuel, who beat him, wrecked his ankles with a pipe. Uncle Joseph, who used Shecky’s name and social security number, busted out Shecky’s credit for drinking money. Let’s not talk about Uncle Tomas.

Henry rotates his sketch pad ninety degrees. Goes at it from an- other angle. His face is lined with concentration, the palm of his right hand black from the pencil. The kid may brawl again, but at this moment, and Shecky’s lonely years taught him to appreciate moments, Henry is an artist.

Shecky’s eyes turn to Kerasha, his second charge. The miracle of her arrival last month is still so fresh that sometimes, when he’s walking distracted into his own kitchen, he can startle at the sight of her. Or he’ll step into the bathroom and wonder at the smell of lavender, and it’ll take him a beat to remember that it’s her lotion. Her bathroom, for that matter—he and Henry moved their toiletries to the one downstairs. She’s beautiful, Kerasha, with sharp eyes, quiet feet, and quick hands. Shecky may be biased, but in his opinion, the three of them make a perfectly wonderful, perfectly Brooklyn family of misfits.

“I have an update,” Kerasha says. “My little project.”

“Let’s hold that thought,” Shecky says. He tilts his head toward Henry, who, thankfully, hasn’t looked up from his  sketch pad. Kerasha gives Shecky a coconspirator’s tight smile: we’ll talk later. Then she turns back to her book.

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Give the girl credit, she’s been working from the day she moved in. And she didn’t bat an eye when he explained that the family business depended on compartmentalization. “I’ll trust you just like I trust Henry,” he told her. “But you’ll have to trust me about when to look away.”

How at ease, how in place she looks now, reclining on that leather armchair Shecky keeps in the corner. Used to be his own favorite seat, when  he  wasn’t  at  the  table  eating,  but now he wouldn’t touch it without permission. And he’s glad for this, glad she’s claiming her own space here. She has a foot on the windowsill, another swaying to the rhythm of—wait, what’s she reading—Jesus fuck, it’s Sophocles. No lightweight, this one. But this morning it was a poetry chapbook. Each day means a new book for her, sometimes two, and this worries him.

They’re all stolen.

They can put her back.

The cage doesn’t care that she mostly grabs paperbacks, which, God knows, are worthless these days. All the cage knows is predicate felon—the pharmacy bust, then the escapes.

All the cage knows is, Welcome back. But he won’t let it happen.

You mean you won’t let it happen again, a wicked voice whispers. A dim memory from his cousin Paulette’s filthy apartment, which Shecky visited exactly once: a big-eyed skinny girl, small and quick. And those big eyes had fixed on him, reached into him—and then he’d looked away, and kept on looking away. For years. And then he’d heard she got caught, her sentence maxed, then extended, because of the escapes. And suddenly his half-forgotten visit to Paulette’s apartment was all he could think of, his memory of the big-eyed girl never

leaving him alone. Her stare was on him again, defiant. Vulnerable.

I’m smarter, I’m faster, she said without saying. You don’t know what I can get away with. You don’t know what I’ve done. Her stare had been like a middle finger, but he’d sensed the longing behind it. She knew he couldn’t keep up, but she’d wanted so badly for someone to try.

And now, settling into his seat at his dinner table, Shecky finds himself back in the moment he completed the application to be Kerasha’s parole sponsor—which he’d signed here, in this very seat. He remembers how he’d turned the pages one last time, double- checking everything he’d written, and how it had dawned on him that he’d hardly had to lie at all. Almost against his principles, to submit a legitimate document like that. At no profit. But he’d felt, and still feels, that this submission was a promise.

You have a home here, he thinks at Kerasha, looking at her across the room. This is your home, and I’ll be your family.

As long as you’ll have me.

Kerasha, fucking mind reader that she is, sneaks him a melting half smile as she turns a page.

“My home, my family,” Shecky says, hearing his voice shake, hop- ing the kids wouldn’t tease him. My family—what’s left of it.

Someday he’ll tell the kids about Dannie, his big sister. He wants to tell Henry about the girl who, like him, was quick to raise her fists. And Kerasha might be interested to hear that Sophocles ran in the family, Dannie having played the title role in the high school production of Antigone. And Kerasha might laugh to hear that when Antigone’s suicide was announced in the play, Shecky—just a child then—had screamed so loudly, and so insistently, he’d had to be carried from the theater.

But think about what Dannie would see if she were here. The artist-enforcer, with his sketch pad. The thief and her poetry. And Shecky himself, a grizzled fixer who, following Dannie’s lead, dabbles in theater. Yes, if Dannie were here, she’d see a miracle. Home. Family. If there are any holy words left, here they are.

And Jesus fuck, Shecky needs them. Because there are unholy words, too, and the fuckers have been coming at him fast.

From outside: a car ignition. Shecky jumps, goes to the window— just a blur going around the corner, too late to see anything. Unsettled, he returns to the table with a put-on smile.

“Everything okay?” Kerasha’s eyes point him back to the window. She obviously wants to talk about her update, but he’s not ready, and besides, Henry’s here.

“Just a car. Startled me.”

But the truth is, Shecky is far past startled, and he has his rea- sons. The email from Bank of America last Wednesday: Transfer de- nied. Coming at him old school, on Saturday, a paper letter from Chase: Internal inquiry. And the Capital One letter in his drugstore PO Box just yesterday: Account closure.

Shecky has heard nothing definitive, and he can’t investigate when the accounts aren’t in his name. But these notices, when pieced together, form a question that could come only from the devil. And this question had Shecky springing up in bed at three o’clock this morning, had him coughing out fear until his eyes were wet.

They’re wet again now.

Blearily, then, he looks at Henry, sharpening his pencil. At Kerasha, turning another page. At the empty chair, where Dannie will never sit. And Shecky can’t ignore it any longer—the question that’s been whispering all this time.

Are they on to me?

Shecky rises and goes into the kitchen. Fires up the oven broiler. Opens the cabinets, takes down dishes, glasses. Considering, all this time, how little the kids know—about him, about anything.

Too fucking young.

How could they imagine that you could wake up twenty years old, and by the time you sit down for lunch, you’re fifty-eight. That it’s possible to have no real memories from half your life, that time can disappear in you, and a lonely heart can shrink and turn cold.

But how his races these days, thumping warm, thumping in double time, in makeup time, when he steps into a room and sees family. Over twelve years gone now, his cold, lonely quiet. Feels like a thousand.

Oven ready, apple-chicken sausage inside. Water boiling, rigatoni added. A dash of salt. In the wok: olive oil, green pepper, red pepper, sliced eggplant. Shecky, a part-time waiter when he was in his twenties, returns to the dining room with dishes, glasses, and silver. “How are we today?” he asks, setting the table. “What have we done, who have we seen?”

Silence, though Kerasha is giving him a loaded smile: Do you really want to know what I’ve seen? Now?

When Shecky shakes his head no, Kerasha shrugs and goes back to Sophocles.

Not like pulling teeth, small talk with these two. Teeth break off sooner than you’d think. More like pulling off hands. But fuck it, he’ll love them, he’ll be here for them, even after . . . Stop it. Don’t think about them leaving. Don’t follow that thought, don’t even look at it. But the thing about time is, you can turn away from it all you like, it’ll wash everything away just the same.

The table is set. Shecky makes a quick visit to the ground-floor bathroom, where he pushes open the frosted-glass window and scans the alley. Inventory: garbage bin, recycling bin. Two rusting bicycles, a cracked plastic snow sled, a pile of loose lumber. No sign of the tabby, no sign of danger—just an ordinary summer evening.

He wants so badly to believe this.

He closes the window. Flushes the toilet and runs the sink, for appearances. Comes out, returns to the dining room, and here they are, both of them at the table now—his kids.

“Guys, come on, I’ve been looking at spreadsheets all day. Give me something. A grunt. An anything. Kids, please.” Desperately: “Are you alive?”

The scratch of Henry’s pencil. Kerasha’s eye roll, but also the little upturn of her mouth.

Kids, he thinks, shaking his head at himself. Henry is twenty- two, Kerasha twenty-three. They’re already grown up, they’ll move out and on. It’s your core hope for them—it has to be—and when it’s fulfilled, you’re alone.

Shecky returns to the kitchen. Checks the sausage, turns down the flame under the vegetables. Returns to the dining room with beer bottles for everyone.

Guinness from a bottle—his father would reel, slap, shout. Fucking sacrilege, he’d say, and disown him all over again. But that’s fine, Shecky isn’t like his father. He’s alive, for one, and thank Jesus. And second, he’s in the one place his father was never to be found: home with his family. Shecky wonders, though, what the racist bastard would make of this pack of mutts.

“Moving past the palaver,” Shecky says, as if he weren’t the only one talking, “and turning to the business.” Business: the word is hardly out and the kids’ eyes are up, they’re facing him, Henry even putting down his pencil. Money can divide a family, but in this house, there’s comfort in shoptalk.

“We’ve got two heavies tomorrow.” He looks to Kerasha to make sure she’s following.

She raises an eyebrow: Really, Uncle Shecky, you’re testing me?

Shecky smiles an apology, but it was just last week that he began her training. Explaining, as they chopped vegetables together, that a heavy was a heap of loose cash, ten thousand or more, which had to be magicked into bank money—clean, respectable, and pseudonymized.

“The first heavy’s a rough two-fifty in dirties,” Shecky says. “The second heavy is an exact three hundred thousand in crisps.” He again looks to Kerasha: You still with me?

Now she raises both eyebrows.

Shecky smiles another apology, but really he’s not sorry at all. Can’t be too careful. Profit from the two heavies tomorrow means a mortgage payment for the family. So, yes, Kerasha’s always watching, always listening, and can take in a room like a police wire. But it’s important that she understands how you can tell a client by the kind of cash they bring in: the office jobbers with their “crisp” cash, usually flat and clean. The street clients, whose crumpled, stained bills have to be handled with rubber gloves.

“Big day for the family tomorrow,” he says, tapping a spoon against his bottle. Getting the kids to look up at him. “Bag of crisps, bag of dirties. How about a round of Guess the Client? What belongs to who? And the prize will be—”

“Dirties are from Red Dog,” Henry interrupts, “crisps are from the Paradise Club.” He doesn’t give Shecky a chance to confirm he’s right—which, of course, he is. “And speaking of Red Dog . . .” Henry looks up with a hesitant smile. “A friend of mine had this idea.”

Shecky’s body tenses. Ideas from Henry’s friends are rarely good, and there’s a certain friend—a girl, a lunatic—whom Shecky would be glad to see out of the family picture.

“We were talking about how maybe with Red Dog,” Henry says, licking his lips as if readying his mouth for what he’ll say next. “Since I brought in the business . . .” He coughs, obviously uncomfortable with what he’s saying. As he fucking well should be. Henry forces a smile as he at last gets it out: “Maybe I should get a cut.”

Shecky’s breath is like a snort. “You were talking to a friend about our work?”

“Nothing specific,” Henry says quickly. “Just basic business principles. Like if I’m doing regular work, I get regular pay. I’m staff. But if I’m bringing in clients—especially a big one like Red Dog—doesn’t that . . .”

Kerasha completes the trail-off: “Make him a partner.”

It’s like a wineglass has been dropped: no one moves, the air itself cries danger. Then there’s a beep from the kitchen, the timer for the vegetables. “You’re getting ahead of yourself,” Shecky says to Henry, standing up. His voice is flat, cool, and much stronger than what he’s feeling inside. He walks calmly to the kitchen. There, only there, does he allow himself to lean against the counter and feel the full weight of the challenge.

Henry, a partner. Not looking up to Shecky, but standing beside him. Not a child anymore. Not his boy.

How will I protect him?

Eyes dry, hands steady, Shecky returns to the dining room carry- ing three large serving plates. “And here you go, plenty for everyone.” He dishes out the sausage, the veggies, the pasta. He sits, finally. The kids’ eyes are on him, waiting for his grace. “Thank you for being here,” he says at last. “Thank you for being my family.”

The kids say their thank-yous and get to eating.

The silence that begins the meal is awful. They’re waiting for an answer.

Shecky keeps his face neutral. Takes a moment to collect himself. A cut for Henry—a personal cut, separate from the family’s—what would that mean, and what could that lead to? Henry moving up? Or out? Those empty, quiet nights; those empty, quiet years—Shecky pushes them back and puts on another smile. “Hey. We’re all in this house together.” The smile feels like it’s fighting with his face. “What’s ours is all of ours.”

“No disrespect,” Henry says. “I’m just saying, my role has already changed. So maybe we can acknowledge that.” He turns to Kerasha. “You’re objective, you’ve got no stake in this. What do you think?”

Kerasha almost laughs. “Ref this fight?” A slow head shake. “First thing you learn in the cage—never take a side till you know who’s got the shiv.”

Shecky is done with his smile now. Done with this whole fucking conversation. “This isn’t rule by committee. There’s a right way to do this, and it’s not everyone for themselves.” He’s certain this is true. Certain the kids can understand this. Okay, Henry is immature. He has that red streak, and worse, he has artistic aspirations. The opposite of good business sense. But at the end of the day, Henry is responsible. More than that—let’s face it—he’s irreplaceable. His quick temper, the power in his arms and fists, his willingness to start fights—it’s good for the family business. Competitors back down. Late payments come in. And while violence is never Shecky’s first choice, it is, none- theless, always on the table.

“Income is family money,” Shecky says. “If you want, we’ll go over the numbers, and—”

“Okay, let’s do that.”

After the two heavies. After we’ve gotten confirmations that the money went through. Next will be—what, the tenth? That’ll make it three full months we’ve been doing business with Red Dog. A full quarter year. And you’re right—he is a major client. It’s something to celebrate.” Shecky goes into the kitchen and comes back with whiskey and three shot glasses. He pours and distributes. “Tomorrow we’ll do another clean job for the client. And by the end of the week we’ll have a better sense of how much business he means for us.” He raises his glass. “Sláinte.”

Shecky feels Henry’s eyes on him a long time. Then the kid nods and downs his shot, and air comes back into the room. Henry’s backed down, remembered his place. Punk. Love him to death.

“Both transfers need to happen tomorrow,” Shecky says, after the kids have had a quiet minute with their food. To Kerasha he adds, “Not ideal, but it happens.” He asks Henry, “Do you have runners?”

A runner,” Henry says. “My Thursday guy.”

Shecky lowers his fork. “What happened to your other guys?” “Well, I used to have Thursday and backup. Then backup was

playing games, getting sloppy, a little skimmy, and I had to throw him against a wall.” He extends and pulls in his fingers. “His face did something to my hand.”

Shecky  shrugs.  “As  long  as  you  can  do  your  job.  That’s  what matters.”

“But that’s not all that matters. Not to me.”

And there he goes, looking at his sketch pad again. He’s lucky I’m a softy, Shecky thinks. Lucky I love him. Because Jesus fuck, the job isn’t just money, it’s us! These chairs, this table. Your bed, where you bring that girl. Our home, your fucking art supplies. Love has a price tag. Survival has a price tag. How can you live on it, and not under- stand where it comes from?

Not now, Dannie whispers to him. Mind your timing.

Gone for decades, she’s still his life’s stage manager. Had been an actual stage manager, working for community theater when she died. He sat in at rehearsals, heard her say, “Keep quiet. You’ll have your lines, but you have to let the other guy talk.”

Shecky gives Henry a moment to feel he’s been heard. Then he says,  “This  isn’t  about  your  art.  This  is  about  your  Thursday  guy. He can’t do both. We can’t put two bags on one guy. We’d risk—”

“I’m sorry, Uncle Shecky,” Henry says, “but you’ve got to let me handle this.” When Henry draws himself up straight, his chest seems to grow. His hand grips the pencil, shaking with emotion, and Shecky’s eyes fix on that point. “I’ve been managing the runners since winter,” Henry says. “It’s my job, I know how to do it.”

The focus of the world is that pencil point—all else, a blur.

Timing, Dannie says again. Wait for your moment. Concede, re- treat. The kid is too unsettled, and you’re too pissy, to have this conversation tonight.

“Let Thursday handle the crisps,” Shecky says. “We can trust Thursday.” Crisps are always tempting, the bills so new and clean. One of Henry’s first jobs—years ago now, different protocols—was helping Shecky count money for the Paradise Club. Henry would undoubtedly still recognize the white-and-blue currency bands this client uses, and the neat stacks in their leather briefcases. Beautiful—Shecky remembers how taken aback Henry was—how he actually raised a hand, as if to shield his eyes, the first time Shecky opened a Paradise Club briefcase for him. It’s like a box of light.

“So we’re good with the crisps,” Shecky says now. “But the dirties need other hands.”

Henry scowls, obviously biting his tongue. A moment later, though, he’s talking sense—pencil down, thank Jesus—and going through the options. Or lack of. One veteran runner is out of town, another got herself shot in a club, another is—

“So use a pup,” Shecky says. But then, seeing the happy surprise on Henry’s face, he quickly adds, “Not your buddy, though. Not him.”

Henry’s smile turns into an angry line. “Why not?” Because you like him too much.

“Sorry,” Shecky says, cutting his sausage with more exasperation than appetite. Henry’s frustration is coming at him like a chemical cloud. Shecky remembers hearing about this friend, remembers how Henry’s been itching to promote him. And why not? Henry trained this guy months ago, and according to the ledger Shecky keeps in his upstairs office, this pup hasn’t lost or pinched a penny. There’s noth- ing unusual in this, Henry’s an effective handler. What’s unusual is that Henry once asked whether the pup could come over for dinner.

“His name’s Emil,” Henry had said. “He’s different.”

Henry  doesn’t  have  company  over  often.  Never  had  many friends—and no, that girl doesn’t count as a friend. It’s the old or- phan’s curse, how lonely need can scare people off. And so when Henry asked if Emil could come over, Shecky had wanted to say, Of course! How about tonight?

But the rules.

“The rules mean safety,” Shecky had said, “and not just for us.” The clients depended on it. So did the runners. “Think about his safety. Your buddy’s.” There were lines you couldn’t cross with the guy who carried your bag. “You’ll do him no favors,” Shecky said, “if you bring him in too close.”

Henry was disappointed then, but tonight, Shecky can tell, this disappointment is hardening into something else. “I’m trying to tell you something,” Henry says. “This friend is important to me. He’s more than just a buddy. He’s teaching me, and—and—you’re not even letting me talk!”

Henry’s chair scrapes across the floor. He stands and takes up the sketch pad, and at his full height Henry towers over Shecky. Looks down at him. And then he turns, and in four long strides, he’s at the basement door. Here he pauses. Looks back.

“If my lives can’t fit together here,” Henry says, “I can’t promise I’ll choose this one.”

The slam of the basement door. A long echo. The earth has buckled and  now  it’s  still,  but  there’s  no  telling,  Shecky  knows,  whether  a bigger quake is yet to come.

Absently rubbing his hands, his chin, Shecky is warmed by the sight of Kerasha, who’s waving a forkful of sausage at him. “His loss,” she says. “They don’t serve this at Franklin.”

Affection, gratitude—Shecky takes it in like oxygen. Thank Jesus for this girl, he thinks, picking up his napkin. Wiping his eyes. It’s silly, breaking up inside like this—an old underworlder like him, who’s seen and heard some bad things. Done some pretty fucking bad things himself, but vulnerability is the price of family. Good riddance, lonely years, but not a day now without a bruise.

It’s not the first time Henry’s stormed off like this. It kills Shecky every time, though—slays him, as Henry said in his more annoying days. The family dinner has always been the supreme house rule. Family of two, now family of three, the rule is the same: together at the table. Guinness for him, whatever for the kids. A fresh loaf from Regina Bakery, the catch of the day from Katti’s Fish Market. Or maybe some slab of red, chopped and stewed, or braised and roasted, or maybe just seared under the foot-level blue flame. Roasted veggies and baked potatoes, or yucca and seared sprouts, each meal laid out on the clean-enough tablecloth. The curtains are open as long as there’s some orange left in the dusk. And there’s no TV, no “back- ground music”—Shecky remembers how Dannie had abhorred noise for the sake of noise. “We need silence,” she’d say. “It draws us out.”

And you were right, Dannie, look at us. Listen: The only sound here is family. Our days, our stories. The putting aside of grievances, the rebraiding of the threads. The sharing of bread. These things matter.

Taking  Henry’s  plate  to  the  kitchen,  covering  it  with  foil,  and putting it in the refrigerator, Shecky wishes Dannie were here, even as a ghost. Wishes she could see him with the kids, watch the family dinners (not this one, obviously), and know how carefully he’d listened to her.

She was a high school actor, then a waitress and a community theater stage manager, and then she was dead, killed on his birthday. That was her whole story, a fucking one act.

But is it really over? All the way over? Isn’t this her next act—me with the kids? The way she taught me, looked out for me, loved me when no one else did—aren’t I doing the same for them, and isn’t she alive in this house, as long as they’re here?

Shecky closes the refrigerator, makes espressos, and returns with them to the dining room. Two go on the table, the third he brings to Kerasha. She’s back on the old armchair, at peace with Sophocles. Henry’s seat is empty. Shecky looks to the basement door. He thinks about Henry storming off and remembers how another house had shaken when Dannie walked out of it for the last time. That friend of Uncle Joseph’s having come around one too many times, trying to mess with her. And Dannie finally saying to hell with it and going off to live with her boyfriend. Leaving Shecky alone with their uncle.

And this reverberating silence goes on until Kerasha, her eyes still on Sophocles, breaks it—and her uncle—with two soft words.

“It’s back.”

So this is her update. It’s back—said simply, as if it didn’t matter. But Kerasha must have seen him fidgeting around the room, leaving and coming back. Sneaking looks at her, opening his mouth as if to ask but then closing it again with a quick glance at Henry’s empty seat. He mustn’t know, not until Shecky is ready for him to know.

But the family is in the hands of the devil.

Shecky moves food around his plate. Sausage on fork, sausage off. Pointless. Can’t eat. At last, he forces himself to say, “Tell me everything.”

“Last time I saw the Chevy,” she says, “it was parked on our side of the street. This time he was opposite. Farther away, but at a better angle. No tree in the way.”

“At a better angle to see us,” Shecky says. Part of speaking to Kerasha is filling in the gaps. “It’s a guy?”

She’s not quite smiling, but there’s pride coming off her. “I got a good look.”

“Did he look like a cop?”

An eyebrow raise, noncommittal. “Do you want me to bring you his badge?”

“Seriously. Do you think he’s a cop?”

A shrug. “Doesn’t have to be. Though he’s definitely too old to be a straight-up hood.” She sips her espresso. “Gray polo shirt, couldn’t see his pants. Saw his arms, though—definitely works out. I think he’s short. Hard to tell, but something about the way he was sitting.” Another sip. “Should I be worried?”

“Yes,” Shecky says, getting up. Bringing dishes into the kitchen. He clears the food scraps into the compost bin. Loads the dishes into the sink and turns on the hot tap. Waits for the water to steam, squirts bio-based dish soap into the basin.

Shecky rinses out the beer bottles, pours himself another whiskey.

Fuck.

She first told him about the blue Impala a couple of weeks ago. It faces this way or that, she said. Sometimes there’s no one inside, and sometimes there’s this guy. Sometimes in a Nets hat. Different spots, different hours, but always, always in sight of the house. Is he police?

But we’ve been so careful, Shecky tells Dannie. We have our system, our fallbacks, our double-blinds.

Could he be a hitman? But who would bother? We’re just us, a nobody fixer and his kids.

Could he be—

Every answer seems wrong, because this presence is wrong. Shecky has denied this man, has obsessed over him, has retched up into the toilet at three in the morning because of him. But still this shadow haunts his home.

“Home,” Shecky says, more to himself than to his niece—but she is listening, here open. “Means nothing if you can’t keep it safe.”

__________________________________

 

From The Nightworkers by Brian Selfon. Used with the permission of the publisher, MCD. Copyright © 2020 by Brian Selfon.




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