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Page 60 of A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro 1)

“Very good. I keep the originals.”

He looked at me, saw it wasn’t negotiable, and shrugged. He looked at them one by one, taking his time, as if they were old postcards. A couple of times, he chuckled softly.

I said, “Socia, there’s something I don’t get.”

He smiled, a ghostly one. “Lot you don’t get, white boy.”

“Well, at this particular moment in time, then.”

“What is it?”

“Did you transfer the original photos from videocassette?”

He shook his head. “Eight millimeter home movie camera.”

“So, if you have the original film, why are all these people dying?”

He smiled. “Don’t have the original.” He shrugged. “First house Roland’s boys hit was a place I keep on Warren. Firebombed it, hoping I was in it. I wasn’t.”

“But the film is?”

He nodded, then looked back down at the Xeroxed photos.

Eugene was leaning forward, craning his head to get a look over Socia’s shoulder. His right hand was buried behind his back now and his left scratched furiously along his hip. His small body rippled, and I could hear a hum coming from his mouth, a low buzzing sound I doubt he knew he was making. Whatever it was that he was getting ready to do, it was coming soon.

I took a step forward, my breathing shallow.

Socia said, “Well, how about all this? Boy could have been a movie star. Eh, Eugene?”

Eugene made his move. He bounced forward, a stumble almost, and his hand cleared his back with a pistol in it. He jerked his arm up but it glanced off Socia’s elbow. Socia was turning away as I stepped forward, pivoting as I grasped Eugene’s wrist, turning my back in toward his chest. Socia’s ankle turned against the pavement. He tipped toward the ground and the gun boomed twice in the still humid air. I snapped my elbow back into Eugene’s face and heard bone crack.

Socia bounced off the pavement and rolled into the salt cone, the photocopies exploding in a flurry. Eugene dropped the gun. I let go of his slick wrist and he fell straight back to the pavement, a soft pop as his head hit cement.

I picked up the gun and looked at Angie. She stood in a target shooter’s stance, her arm steady as it swung the .38 back and forth between Socia and Eugene.

Eugene sat up, hands on his legs, blood flowing from a broken nose.

Socia lay against the salt pile, his body slack in the dark shadow of the expressway. I waited, but he didn’t move.

Angie stepped over to him and looked down. She reached out for his wrist and he rolled over on his back. He looked at us and laughed, a rich, explosive bellow. We watched as he tried to get control of it, but it was beyond him. He tried to sit up straight against the cone, but the movement loosened the salt above him and it cascaded down inside his shirt. This made him laugh even harder. He slid back down into the salt like a drunk on a waterbed, slapping it with his hand, the laughter rippling into the atmosphere and momentarily overpowering the din of cars passing overhead.

Eventually he sat forward, holding his stomach. “Hoo boy. Ain’t there no one to trust in this world no more?” He giggled and looked at the boy. “Hey, Eugene, how much Roland pay you to Judas me?”

Eugene didn’t seem to hear him. The color of his skin had taken on the unhealthy hue of someone fighting back nausea. He took deep breaths and held a hand to his heart. He seemed oblivious to the broken nose, but his eyes were wide with the enormity of what he’d just attempted and what it had gotten him. Unfathomable terror swam in his irises, and I could tell his brain was scrambling to get past it, searching his soul for the courage necessary to achieve resignation.

Socia stood and brushed some salt from his suit. He shook his head slowly, then bent to pick up the scattered photocopies. “My, my. Ain’t going to be a hole deep enough or a country wide enough to hide your ass in, child. Roland or no Roland, you dead.”

Eugene looked at his shattered sunglasses lying on the ground beside him and threw up on his lap.

Socia said, “Do that all you want. Won’t help you none.”

The back of my neck and the lower half of my ears felt sickly warm, the blood boiling in a whirlpool just below the skin. Above us, the metal expressway extension rattled as a convoy of semis roared over in a screaming cacophony.

I looked down at the boy and I felt tired horrendously tired of all the death and petty hate and ignorance and complete and utter carelessness that had assaulted me in a maelstrom this last week. I was tired of all the brick-wall debating the black versus white, the rich versus poor, the mean versus innocent. Tired of spite and senselessness and Marion Socia and his offhand cruelty. Too tired to care about moral implications or politics or anything except the glass eyes of this boy on the ground who didn’t seem to know how to cry anymore. I was exhausted by the Socias and the Paulsons, the Rolands and the Mulkerns of this world, the ghosts of all their victims whispering a growling wind of pleas into my ear to make someone accountable. To end it.

Socia was searching the shadows between the cones. “Kenzie, how many of these pictures were there?”

I pulled back the hammer on the .45 as the truck tires overhead slapped the heavy metal with relentless fury, roaring onward to a destination that could have been a thousand miles away or right next door.

I looked at the nose I’d broken. When did he forget how to cry?

“Kenzie. How many fucking pictures you give me?”

Angie was staring at me, and I knew the sounds that howled from above raged in her head too.

Socia scooped up another photocopy. “Fuck, man, this better be all of it.”

The last of the trucks rattled past, but the wail continued, pounding at a fever pitch against my eardrums.

Eugene groaned and touched his nose.

Angie looked over at Socia as he searched the ground in a crablike walk. She looked back at me and nodded.

Socia straightened and stepped under the light, holding the photocopies in his hand.

I said, “How many more will it take, Socia?”

He said, “What?” shuffling the edges of the photocopies into a neat stack.

“How many more people are you going to chew up before it’s finally enough? Before even you get sick of it?”

Angie said, “Do it, Patrick. Now.”

Socia glanced at her, then over to me, his eyes a blank. I don’t think he understood the concept of my question. He stared at me, waiting for me to elaborate. After a minute or so, he held up the photocopies. His thumb rose up the front one, pressing between Roland’s bare thighs. He said, “Kenzie, is this all of it or not?”

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