If there is anything that this pregnancy has shown me, it’s that I am not cut out to be your wife any longer. I am packing my bags to travel to Europe and Asia and such. I guess I don’t like you anymore.
Martin walked through the door laughing about something, waving at someone, and dropped his hat on a nearby stool. I made sure Joe was asleep before he could do anything stupid like he always did. Like kill someone’s beloved wife. He slept peacefully like an angel and I hated him for it. How could anyone sleep at a time like this?
I wore a grave face. For some reason, doing my best to be serious, I couldn’t help but smile even though I knew it was wrong and I should be sad.
“What’s this?” he asked when I handed Martin the letter I composed in Felicia’s name. I covered my mouth with my hand and pretended to be as shocked as he was. I never felt so superficial and stupid in my entire life.
He fell back against the wall, landing on the stool, forgetting his hat was there and squashing it in the process. He looked devastated. It was better this than thinking that his wife was pushed down the stairs.
“She wouldn’t do this… This doesn’t even sound like her!” He crumpled up the piece of paper and flung it across the hall.
“Joe watched her go. When I got here, he was inconsolable but I just got him down for a nap. He said she left in a panic. I don’t know what could’ve possibly been running through her head.”
“We need to find her. We need to send out search parties immediately! She’s pregnant with my baby! She’s not getting away that easy!”
“You know…” I said, trying to think up a convincing lie. “Maybe what she needs is space. Maybe smothering her with all these gangsters chasing her is only going to make her mad. Maybe she just needs time to come back.”
“Shutup!” Martin yelled and I backed away. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.” He walked upstairs and I picked Joe up, carrying him to my car and laying him down in my backseat so he could continue sleeping.
It went better than I planned and I was starting to think that I had nothing to worry about. I stayed up improving the efficiency of the drug route. It wasn’t like I could sleep. Early in the morning, Jack came in through the doors and greeted me with a solemn frown, twisting his cap in his hands.
“They still can’t find her,” he croaked. The sun wasn’t even up and yet I was still having to deal with this drama. I wasn’t aware that they started searching. I thought Martin had given up and just went to bed. Maybe he made a few calls.
“I’m sorry to hear that. What can I do to help?”
“We’ve searched high and low. Can’t find her anywhere. We’re starting to think that she might’ve got on a plane and could be anywhere by now.”
“I think it’s about time we face the inevitable and give in to the possibility that she’s gone forever.”
“Poor Martin. For him, I don’t think we should give up. You’ll search with us, won’t you?”
“I’ve got school, Jack.”
“School? You think school is more important? The poor man just had his heart ripped out. The least you could do is find his wife and make her explain what she’s done. The way the letter was left makes him think something else was going on. Possibly a hostage situation.”
“Joe’s a little boy. Can you really hold him accountable for remembering something as traumatic as watching Felicia being taken away?” Jack asked. I looked back at my brother. He was sleeping, still peacefully on the bed. Could I hold him accountable for murder? People fell down the stairs all the time. Maybe it really was an accident and he was remembering it wrong. Maybe that’s how we could’ve explained it. We might not’ve been forgiven so easily, but I doubt I would’ve been killed over it.
“Yeah, I’ll help. Whatever you guys need. So long as we don’t disappoint our customers.”
“Screw our customers. Martin is family and so is Felicia.”
Martin was not family. The only family I had was Joe. I didn’t owe Martin anything. Sure, he gave me a great startup, but I gave enough of my expertise to pay him back to make us even. If anything, he owed me.
We went to the Idlewild Airport all the way in Queens. Jack figured that if she wanted to go anywhere, she’d start at the nearest international airport. Honestly, I figured that the best place to look would be a traveling agency, but I wasn’t going to waste my time. Martin wasn’t much help. He blubbered to staff while holding up a picture of her.
“Sir, I can’t understand what you’re saying. Are you looking for this person?” the lady behind the counter asked. Martin nodded his head but added nothing else to the investigation.
“We’re searching for his wife. She left a note saying that she ran away. We want to know if you saw her come through here.”
The lady behind the counter smoothed loose strands of hair back into her beehive hairdo, then smiled awkwardly. It was a yes or no answer. I already knew the answer. Of course it was a no.
“Sorry. A lot of people come in and go out. I couldn’t tell you if I saw her or not. I’m sorry about—”
“Give me your ticket archives!” David, a loyal man to Martin, jumped over the counter and started to rummage through her desk.
“Hey!” She shouted but backed away. “Security,” she said without the conviction needed to call attention to any security guard.
David jumped back over the counter with a stack of papers in his arms. What surprised me was the woman’s lack of enthusiasm for the protection of the airport.
“What’s her name?” she asked and David dropped the papers on the counter.
“Felicia,” I said. She searched the papers, but of course, found no one.
“Maybe it’s under an alias,” David suggested and I wanted to jump out the nearest window. This could take all day.
After a few hours, I convinced Martin that there was no finding her at the airport and drove him home. When I asked if he was willing to drive, he didn’t answer and simply curled up in the back seat. Jack consoled him. Telling him lies. That his wife would be found by the end of the week and she would return home and everything would go back to normal. That would be nice. Going back to normal.
I truly didn’t expect him to react this way. When my own mother walked out on me, it was after long fights with my father. I guess he figured it was inevitable when she left and got over it quickly. I suppose Martin actually loved his wife while my father hated everything. I hated both of my parents for it. I hated Martin for the miserable way he acted without his wife.
My branch, dealing cocaine out of the warehouse, wasn’t affected by Martin’s rain clouds. Like clockwork, my men dealt with business and improved sales every day. I didn’t have to report to Martin any longer because he was on a short vacation that he promised to be back from. I almost hoped he’d stay hopeless forever so that I didn’t have to be bothered by him.
A clear daily routine started to form. School, work, prepare for the day ahead, and repeat. I almost never needed to break from it. I fell into a comfortable state of normalcy. Just like I hoped I would. I was considering quitting school just because it felt like a waste of time. I had to admit though, my favorite part of the day was reuniting with my brother, watching him run up to my car, excited to see me and tell me all about his day.
When I went to pick Joe up from school and no one, not even the teachers, knew where he was, I could only panic. I didn’t show it, of course. I had powerful enemies. But I hadn’t done anything drastically different in the past few days. Maybe Martin had done some gardening, discovered something, and wanted to return the favor.
I started by calling Jack and enlisting his help. If Martin could use his manpower to search for his dead wife, then I could use them to look for my little brother. I searched every room I came across, demanding that teachers tell me what they knew. Most were cooperative and wanted to help me, some were annoyed and shooed me away, but no one was any use in finding him.
Five elementary school teachers followed me as I frantically ran through the halls.
“Maybe he walked home and got lost,” one suggested stupidly. He hated walking distances longer than a block. He also had no reason to believe that I wouldn’t pick him up because I never let him down before. I ignored all of them and kept walking.
Before any of my men could even arrive, I heard crying. His crying. I could cry just from relief.
“Joe! Where are you!” I yelled out in the empty hall. The crying stopped and there was no answer. I thought maybe I was just hearing things. Frustrated, I kicked an ugly green locker. Punching it until I saw a dent.
There was a quiet cry a few lockers down. I walked in the direction of the cry only for the crying to stop again.
“Joe?” I asked quietly.
“It’s… dark… in here,” he sobbed.
“You idiot! What are you doing in a locker!” I yelled. It was locked but I could easily get a teacher to unlock it. He didn’t respond to me with words, only with more loud sobs that echoed in the metallic locker. Why was he always getting into stuff like this?
A teacher rushed out with a key, opening the locker and Joe fell out.
“Those damn kids,” the teacher mumbled as if she’d seen this every day. He coughed on a cry and then stood up one leg at a time.
“Some kids just pushed me in and said if I said it to anyone, they’d kill me!” he yelled and kicked my leg. He was so weak it didn’t even hurt. “You said you’d protect me no matter what! You let them hurt me!” He tried to shove me back but was too weak.
“Those idiots who throw rocks at us.”
The Patricks Gang? I knew they could be ruthless, but would they really resolve to cramming a helpless little kid into a locker?
“I hate you, Bruce! I’ll kill you next!”
I smacked him for saying that. Both for threatening me and for how revealing the word “next” was. The nearest and frankly, most helpful, teacher seemed conflicted. Like she wanted to comfort Joe but was also surprised that he chose the words that he did.
“I’m going to find them and we’ll handle it our way. Understand?” I asked Joe and he nodded pitifully. If only he had a mother to comfort him at times like these. I guess we Fores were self-sabotaging machines.
I wasn’t his mother but I held his hand as we walked back to the car. His cheek was bruised and I had no doubt that they roughed him up before they shoved him in the locker. I should’ve fought back when they threw rocks. That way, they would know not to attack Joe. They had no idea who they were messing with. I was basically the leader of a gang.
When I drove out of the school parking lot, a white pick up truck followed me. I didn’t think anything of it until I made several turns and it was still on my tail. I made a few turns into alleys just to see if they’d follow. They didn’t. But every time I got out; they’d always find their way back to me.
At a stoplight, they rode up beside me for the first time and I got a good look at them. The Patricks. One of the greatest unanswered questions in all of New York was how such morons could still function in society. I wanted to end this now. Get their attention to make them stop and understand I was through messing around.
“Joe, get the gun out of my backpack.”
Joe listened to half of what I said, as he usually did. He took the gun out of my bag and pointed it out the open window and at the driver side of the truck and fired. They sped the red light, swerving as Joe continued to misfire at them.
“Joe! Stop!” I yelled and tried to manipulate the gun out of his hands without shooting myself or him in the process. He bit me but loosened his grip and I was able to take the gun from him.
“What’s wrong with you!”
“I don’t think they’ll be bugging us anymore.”
“I was just going to intimidate them! If they saw we were armed, they might leave us alone. Like how Martin intimidated us when we first met him? You’ve just escalated things way too far!”
“Yeah, but Martin likes us. I don’t like them.”
He wasn’t understanding what I was telling him so I gave up trying. I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t help but feel a little proud of him. He saw an opportunity to strike back at the people who hurt him and he seized it.
I followed them anyway. All the way to the Patricks’ castle. Now they were the scared ones. I could tell by the erratic way they drove.
I had only seen their “castle” on once when I tried to join but was rejected for not being related to the leader. He’d live to regret that. Any man would be lucky to have me on their team.
It was only called a castle because of the size and the intricate architecture of it compared to the rest of the housing in the city. Much like Martin, Mr. Patrick lived on the outskirts of the city but it still stood out and I suppose the name “Castle” stuck. Also, it was a stupid name for a house. Fitting for the residents.
The white pickup parked recklessly as they ran out screaming for their lives. They didn’t seem injured, just terrified. So that meant Joe hadn’t succeeded in exacting his revenge.
“Stay in the car no matter what you hear or see. Get down!” I ordered. He ducked behind the dash and I figured that would be enough. I hid my gun in the back of my pants and came out with my hands in the air.
“I’m sorry! My brother got a hold of the gun and I never meant to frighten you!” I yelled.
Pat the Prick himself came out, shouting to someone behind him. He was a short, round man who wore suits two sizes too big for him. He was one of the richest men in Bayland, yet he couldn’t be bothered to wear clothes that fit him. Martin couldn’t keep his personal and professional life separate, but at least he knew how to dress himself.
“Bruce, to what do I owe the pleasure?” he asked. Consciously, I had to remember not to call him Pat the Prick to his face.
“Patrick, I realize that we are competitors, but attacking my six-year-old brother while he’s at school is uncalled for.”
“Attack your brother? Bruce, buddy, I would never—”
“Your children have. They started to follow us home and my brother lashed out without thinking.”
Patrick looked past me and at my car. I turned around and Joe’s little head was staring at us through the windshield. It disappeared when I glared back at him.
“Bruce, look, boys fight. It’s human nature. Don’t get your feelings hurt.”
I smiled, boiling with anger. We were just playing. Everything after this was just a game, right? I couldn’t imagine hating anyone more than I hated him.
“And if my brother loses his temper after playing around and shoots one of your men, well that will be a great little game then. Won’t it, buddy?” I asked.
His ugly face grew a twisted smile. I wasn’t sure what he was planning, but I made sure my face didn’t lose any confidence.
“Word around the block is that you work for Martin now. Is that correct?”
“Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t.”
“I’ll call a truce with you. You stay off my side of Bayland, I’ll stay off of yours. You look confused. West is mine, East is yours. I’m a big man. I can take what I deserve for the sake of peace.”
“Do I seem the type to kid around? Now, get out of here. West is mine, remember?”
I was so amazed by the simple and generous offer that I recounted the entire tale to Jack and a few of the other gang members that I appreciated being around. I wasn’t sure how it started, but I began playing poker as part of my routine sometime after Martin stepped down.
Joe sat next to me, staying up. His feet couldn’t even reach the floor but he was excited to be included, much like how I was when Martin included me into his game.
“And then I shot at them!” Joe’s hands pounded the table. His wide eyes matched his excited voice. The gangsters only egged him on, begging for more details. He embellished with blood and crashing cars. I scoffed as they cringed at his disturbing but childish descriptions that they somehow believed.
“No one was hurt. Only frightened. Long story short, you guys aren’t allowed on the West side of town anymore.”
“I made a deal with them.”
“What if they trick us over there and then use that as an excuse to kill us?” one of my men asked.
“No selling. Simple as that. We’ll lose a little bit of sales, but that’s okay. It’s worth the peace.”
“Yeah, sure, for you. What are we getting out of it? We’ll have to work twice as hard to make up for the new East only rule. My grandma lives on the East side. You’re telling me that I can’t sell to her and she has to buy from the Patricks?”
“You’d sell cocaine to your grandma?”
“Not the point. We just got to do it in secret. You hear that Joe? No telling,” he said. Joe shushed him and laughed.
“Joe, go to bed. You’ve been up too late,” I ordered. He stomped off to the cot in the corner of the room.
“It’s a trick anyway. He’s not going to stay out of East and you’re going to keep being messed with at school. He thinks you’re young and gullible. Looks like he’s right.”
Another chimed in at my expense. “He knows the only person he can really make a truce with is Martin ‘cause he’s the leader. He might be trying to cause a rift.”
“Maybe he knows that Martin isn’t all the way there. Maybe he knows that you run half the shebang. Maybe there’s a rat…”
“A rat?” I asked and looked at everyone at the table then down at my cards. None of my men could be rats. There wasn’t enough evidence to make that kind of an accusation. “Absolutely not a rat. I don’t question that he’s messing with us though.”
I knew I was inexperienced with higher up stuff and the only person I could really turn to was Martin. The next morning, I dropped Joe off at school and drove to Martin’s house. He was sitting on the porch in his pajamas reading the newspaper.
“Bruce? I feel like I haven’t seen you in years. Trying to run off with my gang or something?” He laughed even though that was exactly what I was hoping to one day achieve.
“I have a question. A few, really. I made a deal with Pat the Prick.”
“Bad idea. I can tell you right now that reasoning with that moron will put you in more trouble than it’s worth.”
“In exchange for them leaving us alone, we split the city up. We take the West side and they take the East.” I was expecting Martin to make a joke about it, but he stood up out of his rocking chair. He seemed taller than I remembered him being. His menacing stare terrified me and I had no idea he was capable of making me feel that way.
“They’ve been trying to intimidate me into splitting up the city ever since that wretched family rowed up in the harbor!”
“I-I’m sorry, Martin. If I had any idea, I wouldn’t’ve…”
“Out of curiosity, how’d they get you to turn my gang over on its head? Did they give you money? You greedy little man. Why don’t you work for them.” he mumbled. I was so sick of how accusatory and untrusting everyone had become over a simple deal. There wasn’t anything special about the Eastside anyway.
“Joe was roughed up by some of their kids and tried to shoot them as payback. I only tried to lessen tensions.”
“What if we really call it even. Patrick has got so many kids and grandkids living in his mansion, we could take one of his and hold him for ransom. That way, he knows how you feel.”
I couldn’t believe I was hearing this from Martin. The same man that told me children should be treated with more compassion than adults. That anyone who mistreated a child didn’t deserve to live very long. Now he was going to exploit one?
“I’m in. And so’s everyone from my warehouse,” I said and shook his outstretched hand. For the first time in a while, he seemed excited and upbeat about something.
“And then we can get Felicia back from them,” he said.
That worried me. That must’ve been why he was proposing this insane plan in the first place. He thought he would get his wife back because of it.