For Best Brooklyn Car Service, Call the Eights

Nicky’s Riviera splashed through reflected light on the streets that bound the Coney Island ruins together. The Wonder Wheel swayed above a midway shadowed haunted-house green. As he circled Surf Avenue, Legacy of Brutality rumbled. When he hit a stoplight at Neptune, he paused the tape and caught the score of gang violence from the AM news. He could guess which side still bled from multiple stab wounds.

Beneath an awning Yara’s face pulsed red under the strobe light. Now this was a girl passenger, though her eyes were Halloween-huge. He leaned across the seat to jimmy open the window before she shattered the glass with her urgency.

Looming from an arcade booth hung with puckered balloons, her older brother Emmanuel pulled her back by her sequins. His shirt was still streaked with the rival gang’s blood. “Finalmente,” he smiled.

Yara’s eyes were bright as filament as she hung from his fist.

“I need a car,” Emmanuel informed him. “To go where I can’t.”

Nicky smacked the wheel. “I ain’t talkin’ to you with Yara swinging like that.”

Emmanuel dropped her like an empty bottle of Kola Champagne. Yara kicked him with heels sharp as her nails. He stopped her with a kiss on the mouth that gagged Nicky too.

“I love my family. That’s why you need to get me Emilio.” He pulled a length of electrical cord from around his neck.

Nicky snapped the radio dial as if he could turn off the news he’d already heard. Yara was spitting in the sewer. “He’s your brother.”

Yara’s skinny legs jerked into the passenger side before Emmanuel could snatch her back. Nicky cuffed his hand around her ricket-thin wrist.

“I gotta stay in my neighborhood or the DMZ,” Emmanuel said. Coney Island was the DMZ. Watching rival hoods stand on line with their girls for the Cyclone was a study in gang etiquette.

Nicky shrugged. “So what if Emilio’s in the Bay Ridge Library?”

“He’s in Green-Wood.”

“He’s dead?”

“Worse.” He strangled his own fist with the electrical cord. “He’s hiding.”

Yara leaned forward, as if phantom Emilio could shelter behind her words. “Some book he read made him see ghosts of the guys he fought.”

He’s still reading?”

“He got a Colombian English teacher this year.” She rolled her eyes. “Just give him a gun.”

“We ran into los chicos enemigo after school. Followed them roof to roof. I held this monster down.” Emmanuel ground broken glass into sand with his boot. “Gave my brother a perfect target.” Glass crystals sprayed into the street. “Instead he drops the blade and runs.” He stepped into the rain-shimmering arc of the Riv’s headlights, exposing his mutilated chest.

Nicky whistled, for he could have enlisted in the same neighborhood gangs. Their strange wild girls would lurk with them, girls who looked like Tura Satana but couldn’t be stared at, unless he wanted to die before high school began. Back then Nicky saw them all in black and white, never in blood.

“I owe him a beat out.”

“Your kid brother?”

Emmanuel stuck his head like Jack Nicholson through the open window. A black slash of fingernails clawed him back. “That’s the rule.”

“He’s gotta leave enemy territory sometime.”

“I could be dead tomorrow.”

Yara squeezed Nicky’s thigh hard enough to puncture it.

“Bring him back here tonight.”

“And if he don’t wanna come?” He couldn’t imagine the acne-wracked Emilio surrendering to vengeance in the shape of a WWF wrestler.

Emmanuel shoved past the knife-edges of his sister’s body and yanked the key out of the ignition.

Nicky knocked Yara off his shoulder to kick open the door.

Emmanuel rolled the key into his fist and pantomimed a Sid Fernandez pitch over the skeletal Thunderbolt. Nicky grabbed at Emmanuel’s barbell-solid neck. He felt no beating at the throat, something he’d long suspected. A punch to his scabbing chest would prove if Yara’s thug brother had a heart.

Emmanuel slapped the key atop Nicky’s fist. “Get me my brother.” He banged the driver’s side door back on its hinges. Nicky grimaced. That was how the back door ended up tied on by a bungee cord. “I know you got one of your own,” Emmanuel warned, his face siren-blue from an oncoming patrol car. Nicky launched the Riv from the curb. He’d seen a suicide from the Parachute Jump, and his eyes had stayed on the sky, willing the body to fall back upwards, long after the arms waved goodbye. His mind was in freefall now, but nothing would let him drop his little brother.

As Yara had grown under Emmanuel’s abuse she had a trick to turn fear to resentment. She kneed open the glove compartment to rummage through Nicky’s tapes and traffic tickets. “What Genevalisse leave here for you?”

In the rearview mirror he could see Emmanuel vanish back into the darkened arcade booth to sharpen his knives away from the surveillance.

“No ghosts in my car.” Nicky cranked “Where Eagles Dare” to drown her out.

She just screeched louder. “Because she’s blonde? She’s fake blonde. She’s Puerto Rican as me.”

“She can be green for all I care.” Nicky wheeled the car around the corner. “Why’d Emilio join a gang anyway?”

“Thought it would keep him safe.”

He skidded onto the Bay Parkway. “You’re always with Emmanuel. Like you’re married to him.” He’d first seen Yara last summer at Manhattan Beach, knotted tight in a leopard bikini. She watched the ocean slither to her while Emmanuel surveyed the perimeter through mirrored sunglasses. Whenever Nicky drifted to dream about the skinny chick just a stretch of sand away, a cacophony of conga, bongos, and trombone would jolt him awake. He had to wait for the sun to almost set until her brother pulled on his undershirt, combed his hair, then strode away. The only man left was Frankie Ruiz singing, and Nicky could handle him.

“His mami never taught him to keep his hands to himself.” He damned the roach-infested mattress that had conceived that freak until the tape deck kicked into rewind. As Yara kissed him the whirring was how he imagined his blood sounded running through his heart.

“Eight-eight-eight,” the CB demanded.

He knocked the receiver off with his elbow. “Yeah, the eights.”

“The cops want you to pick up your brother.”

He pulled the receiver up by its cord. “Again?”

“Get him so they’ll stop calling us.”

“Your brother—” Yara began but he shut her down with a fist on the dashboard.

And this was why Emmanuel wanted to kill the Riv. The engine shimmied but it roared, and out-muscled any car blocking the left lane. Yara snapped her seatbelt and pulled the strap tight over her vinyl jacket until he left the car gasping in front of a fire hydrant. He banged the door on her mentholated smoke and equally toxic frown. “Stay low. They know who your brother is.”

She slid down the seat but still rolled the window down to bitch: “Tu hermano está siempre en problemas. Siempre hay que buscarlo. A cuidar de él demasiado. Se supone que se me está ayudando—”

Adios.” He stomped the few steps up to the 62nd Precinct Station, his kid brother’s second address. He wondered for the hundredth time if there were any chance he’d grow up to be a cop.

The officer aimed a pistol-like finger at him from behind the Plexiglas. “Needed free babysitting?”

“I got one call from you. Where’s the kid?”

“Eating cannolis in the break room.”

Nicky pressed his head against the cinderblock, fearing the electrical cord in Emmanuel’s fist.

“Quiet over in Coney?” The Plexiglas shivered as the officer pulled open the door to trade his prisoner for information.

Nicky’s car key scalded the sweat of his hand. “You know it.”

“You hang out with the Puerto Ricans, don’t you?”

“Just a couple girls.”

“I don’t care if their gangs fight with TEC-9s or roosters, but they need to keep it in their neighborhood.”

“I’ll let them know.”

The officer frowned, and switched to the bright light of interrogation. Nicky always forgot how fast cops could do that. “Yeah? You know them better than you’re telling me? Maybe I’ll give your dad a call.”

Nicky tried not to blink. A three-alarm-fire had collapsed a condemned panetteria into a blackened chimney, and when the arson charge was dismissed last year, his father began to rebuild. After receiving a call of gunshots heard, they pulled up to discover his father’s crew already digging a hole in which to dump what was left of the rats. “I like a clean site,” his father confessed, holstering his Colt Python.

“Nothin’ more to say? There’s a kid tubed-up in Calvary. They got a translator there ‘cause his mom don’t speak English. But I’d give her your message.” Whenever Nicky scanned to WIF580, its feedback and profanity, he thought he knew how the police felt driving from one enemy territory to another, with a street-hot girl in the front seat and a search command at his back. The officer eyed him, from his hardcore crewcut to his combat boots, then left him standing in the hall. Nicky was going to be checking his rearview mirror all night.

Frankie’s hands seemed to smoke still, so ground with ash were they, as he hurtled down the hall, arms outstretched toward his older brother. The escorting officer towered over Frankie, but couldn’t keep up with the bouncing Nikes. Frankie grinned as he ran—the school nurse reported his eyesight was 20/10 but he should never be allowed to sit in the back of the classroom—and waved as if Nicky couldn’t possibly recognize him with a cop’s hand trying to seize his weasel neck. “All sugared up,” the cop bellowed.

Frankie squeezed his brother around the shoulders. That babyish heartbeat against his chest, like Frankie was his son instead of his brother. He was damp, smelled like jail and playing with matches. Nicky wished he could leave him where he found him, safer here than with Emmanuel looking to retaliate against any rebellion, especially a boy half his size. Frankie felt kid-warm from playing outside, and when he ricocheted away, Nicky wanted to catch him back again.

“Gimme some handcuffs.”

An officer snickered over a stack of handwritten reports. “Listen to the optimist.”

Frankie punched Nicky in the rib with his blackened fist. Then he peered out the station door, through the mist and down the steps, like the predator he was. “Oh, great, you brought Yara.” He flung himself down the cement stairs faster than Nicky could slam his mouth shut. “Hey Yara!” he yelled at the Riv, sulking in its illegal parking space. “You got any that weird Spanish candy on you?”

Yara rolled up the window so fast her palm must have burned. Nicky checked the authoritative height of the doors behind him, but no one had followed him out. Yara had slid out of sight: “What they ask you?”

Nicky clamped his brother’s squirming arms with one hand as he wrested open the back door. The Sports section of the Daily News had been tossed on the back seat after a particularly hellish Mets/Phillies game had been dissected. He flung Frankie face-first onto the gory headlines.

“No, no, no. I gotta see Gerard, take me there first.” He balled a newspaper sheet and pitched it at the windshield.

“Buckle his hands down,” Yara snarled from her crouch. “Open your mouth, Frankie.”

He squinted his eyes closed and sat on his hands. She unpeeled a caramel and dropped it in his warm mouth. “Nice.” He clamped his teeth down on it. “Where’s the rest?”

“Picking up the family, buddy?” yelled a cop out his cruiser window.

Nicky squealed away from the fire hydrant space. “What’s Gerard got?”

“Black Cats, Silver Foxes, Comet Rockets–”

Yara interrupted. “Your brother’s a psycho.”

“You would know.” Was he being followed? The overcast street shone too brightly with rain.

Frankie unstuck his caramel-glued teeth together. “I like Genevalisse better.”

Nicky hit his head against the steering wheel.

“Leave him at Gerard’s,” Yara said through gritted teeth. If only he could leave his Riv there too.

“You’re killing me, Frank.” Nicky slammed the back seat with his shoulder. His brother had been entrusted to him for ragged haircuts and rock concerts, rollercoasters and Red Hots. His mother had given him more a mirror than a brother. Frankie leaped from the back seat onto the sidewalk and erupted through the front door before Nicky had yanked the parking brake. He trudged inside a foyer lacerated by years of pit bull jaws, leather jacket zippers and bass drum cases, the door now seesawing from Frankie’s triumphant entrance. Gerard’s older brother Carmen glowered at him. “Why’d you bring Frankie over?”

“He’s picking up some bottle rockets.”

“I thought he shot them all.” Carmen recoiled when he saw the Riv. “Yara locked in?”

“Why you still gotta be that way? We’re looking for Emilio.”

“’Cause I’m the one with the stitches. Looking for Emilio is a bad idea. Emmanuel had some bastard by the jugular but Emilio wouldn’t cut him. He ran away.”

“Emilio never shoulda joined a gang.”

Carmen concurred. “Ain’t a life for a guy who reads.”

The sickening sound of cymbals crashing into paneling resounded from the basement. Carmen roared as he bashed the basement door back on its hinges and slid down the stairs. Nicky let his drummer take a turn hauling his brother. “Get him outta here,” Carmen panted as he heaved Frankie at him. Nicky swung him into a full nelson. It wasn’t a good time to ask Carmen if he’d consider hiding Frankie for the night.

Frankie choked: “Can you bring my firecrackers to the car?”

Carmen’s fury shot them down the driveway and slammed the front door, shaking the rowhouses down his street.

Yara was smoldering. “Carmen don’t even say hi?”

“He’s still payin’ the ER bills from the last time you talked to him.” Nicky bound Frankie with the seatbelt. The cardboard box of Coke bottles and firecrackers rattled next to him, too tempting not to reach for, though his arms were belted to his sides. He arched over it, mesmerized by crayon boxes filled with explosive colors. “This blue pack’s gonna get shot off the Brooklyn Bridge—”

Nicky fast-forwarded. “‘Too much horror business, drivin’ late at night. .  .’ ” On the Belt Parkway a phalanx of armored trucks boxed him in, top heavy and lurching, impossible to pass. When a turbo Trans Am snaked through, Yara was shining her nails on her jacket so they shone licorice under the streetlights. The driver looked left, eyes alit on her, and licked his lips. She narrowed her eyebrows. It would take more than a Pontiac to get her out of the Riv. Yara pouted after the twin exhaust trails disappeared into a mist the same color.  “Why you don’t trade this car in?” Nicky shot back a look that he’d sooner swap her. If his car didn’t end up beneath a crusher in a Jersey junkyard tonight.

Frankie was pleading for Yara’s lighter from the isolated depths of the backseat.

Blazing graffiti swiped by their windows, even in the mist, an explosion of Krylon colors outlined black, scrawled DTKs warning seething enemies to stay out of their neighborhood. The windshield wipers cut a weeping swath so the road blurred bloody from taillights. On a clearer night the enemy would swarm from the unlit streetcorners, but the rain kept them hidden in bars, the only violence that which was broadcast from a Zenith TV. But there was always danger from vigilantes, guys who didn’t join a gang to get friends but to get alibis. Nicky kept wiping down his windshield, expecting to be either jumped or pulled over at every traffic light. Yara’s hand pressed against his arm, steadying herself against the pitching of the car and her own wild destiny. Nicky had only a steering wheel to hang onto. Black umbrellas and flying trash bags revealed from which direction the ghosts came.

Nicky and Yara scoured their sides of the street, seeking a Latin JD who didn’t care about rain anymore, only what no one else could see in it. In phone booths where receivers swung by their cords, by shops where the iron gates locked down to the sidewalk, and at the occasional mad passersby, cursing fate, the rain, the lottery, all scanned, all dismissed. “We’re leaving you here if you don’t shut up.” Yara scratched her nails at the back seat where Frankie was clanging bottles.

The gray and swallowing mist draped the spires of the cathedral, where Nicky jumped the car to the curb. He peeled Yara from his leather. “Find your brother,” he told her.

“You takin’ me out after this?”

“I’m takin’ you home.”

“You wouldn’t know what money looked like if you robbed a bank.” Yara slid over his lap out the driver’s side. He followed, regretting as she pulled her micro sequins back mid-thigh. She karate-kicked the door shut.

The graveyard yawed behind them, the stones leaning and stained brown. The iron fence punctured the lowering clouds and the grass laced over the flattened earth, soaked with rain. Nicky vaulted over the fence and lifted Yara onto the wet of the lawn. “Let’s try here first.” Frankie had already torn through the cemetery, racing through gravestones like they were goal posts. The sloshing of his sneakers faded into the fog.

Nicky shook his head. “You gave him your lighter.”

She clamped her fists in her pockets, her curling hair beaded with rainwater like a veil but her eyes searching the pocketing mist for her traitorous brother. Her heels made a sucking sound as they pierced mud dug centuries gone by. Marquez had warned it could still take her youth down too. Emilio had told her so.

The night fourteen-year-old Nicky finally got invited to bring a knife to a fight, his father had been smoking an after-dinner Montecristo. His mother, warding off his father’s latest Liz Taylor with a high-risk pregnancy, had sunk to sleep. The silence of the house could have been slit by Nicky’s exhilaration, but he concealed it in his pocket, along with the switchblade he’d traded for an Alice Cooper picture disc. He’d played the record over and over again before he’d handed it over, and ten years later could hear it still.

His father’s armchair faced the driveway, where Liquid Lustre had just polished his slick car. Nicky edged around a cloud of Cuban smoke in a last-ditch delusion that his father couldn’t see him, despite the wall of mirrors at his back.

“These scum know you’re fourteen?”

Cold sliced his spine beneath his leather jacket. “They’re my friends.”

“That where your loyalty is now?” Nicky tried not to cough at his father’s use of the word loyalty. Smoke twisted in the shining space while “I’m Eighteen” rang in his ears, loud enough he could swear his father heard it too. Did it matter he was close enough to see his father gripped a screwdriver? Not when Nicky could see his new friends kicking the glittering gravel of his front yard. He reached for the door and their night outside it. But the knob disintegrated in his hand. Bolt and button and plate snowed silver onto the carpet.

Smoke reflected in the window, his father a ghost looking back at him. “I’m changing the lock.”

Stars above the chimneys gemmed an infinity of never belonging. Nicky’s banged-up heroes were rallying where the subway roared overhead, but his teenage destiny was crushed on the rails. He felt a piercing at the back of his eyes.

“Going somewhere?”

“I was going out,” he muttered.

“That’s too bad.” His father aimed the screwdriver at the door. “You won’t have a key to get back in.”

The metal assembly shambles glinted in the lamplight. Nicky clenched the switchblade as he examined his father’s eyes. But they stayed level still, waiting to see if his son would dare escape the chainlinked front yard.

Nicky grabbed Yara’s bony hand and pulled her along. A body sat in the far corner against a marble headstone as if in bed. The face was unrecognizable, the mist shifting its shape. The mud had submerged the length of Emilio’s body so Nicky couldn’t see where his clothes ended and the wet earth began.

“Time to go home,” Nicky lied.

“I don’t want to bury anyone,” the mouth moved.

Emilio mira a ti mismo, estás mojado, estás empapado, y fangoso, levántate, por favor—”

“Shut up.” Nicky burned his lips on Yara’s Adorn-sprayed neck.

She slapped away his mouth as if he were the rain. She knelt next to Emilio and folded her legs under her, foxlike. The graves before them stood blank as if awaiting the inscription of their own names. “Why you here?” Yara hissed.

Emilio’s face was lashed with rain and thoughts falling just as hard. “This one could be me.”

Yara crossed her arms. But Emilio kept gazing at a vista of grave after grave. “This year could be my year. So many guys I know killed. For disrespect, for drugs, for stealing, for standing on the wrong corner, for a car, for an accent, for nothing.”

Nicky wished he’d left the car running so he could hear the Misfits out its open windows. Gloom sucked at his combat boots. He leaned over Emilio’s mud-plastered shoulder. “Let’s get in the car.” Nicky calculated the distance to Atlantic City, after adding his last three dollars to the gas tank. He hated to admit he didn’t want Emilio or his terrifying books buried either.

The squares of light in the high rises watched them all. “I’ll stay here.” The black curls of his hair were sculpted with mud. “Emmanuel won’t let me leave.”

“You ran anyway.” Yara’s eyes gelled to glass. “You see what they did to him? They cut him up.” She raised her voice. “You in a war.”

“Emmanuel’s gonna beat you out,” Nicky interrupted. Yara sucked in her breath. He saw from her heartbeat beneath her skin how much she wanted to live. He wouldn’t sit in the mud, not even next to her bare thighs, so he knelt next to Emilio, who smelled like a basement flood.

Emilio spoke then. “Emmanuel was beatin’ up Luis’ little brother.”

Yara shrugged, her jacket slipping off her shoulder. “Said he was a monster.”

“He was the size of the kid that just run by.”

She stopped untwisting her corset straps. “Frankie? Why was a kid that little there?”

“Same reason as me.”

Yara shoved her fists in her pockets. “Where’s the kid now?”

“Ask the EMT.” So that was the kid the cop had guilted him about. Nicky looked down into the chill of the ground fog. Emilio had sunk his arms up to his elbows in the sludge. No one would be able to extricate him if he drowned any deeper. His body seemed to have turned into a tree root, twisted and rotting.

“You didn’t do nothin’,” Nicky said, trying to reassure him.

From one ferocious slanting eye, Emilio glared. “Yeah. I know.”

And then from the sky, one fireball blazed, and then another. They could hear Frankie’s whoops as the mist exploded into chroma. The graves glowed heart attack red and asphyxiation blue beneath the sizzle of one brilliant asterisk of gunpowder after another.

“The book that Martínez gave me. There was one story after another, all sick. I shoulda given it back before I opened it. Why don’t teachers warn you? There was a kid in it, even though he was dead and buried. He could still think.”
“So can you.” Yara traced her name through the mud of his shoulder.

Emilio raised his face to the spires and the clouds that wrapped them, the stained glass, and the wind that pushed back his hair from his face, as if he watched heaven pull away from him.

“I won’t let nothin’ happen to you,” Nicky promised then.

Yara punched Nicky’s leather jacket. “You’re a liar.”

“Emmanuel can’t hurt you if he’s got no hands.”

Emilio looked up at him with something like hope, then ripped himself from the ground. Once the mud’s suction broke from his elbows and jeans, he staggered onto the headstone for balance. He wiped his hand on the roughened granite before he took Yara’s. “I been buried a long time.”

She would shove Emilio into the car like an arresting officer if he wouldn’t go. But Emilio sank his muddied jeans upon the tabloid newspapers with no resistance.

Nicky cupped his mouth as he yelled over the dead. “We’re going, Frankie!”

OK!” Frankie shrieked back. With his hawklike vision, he sprinted to the open door of the car. He was drenched with rainwater and brimstone. He climbed over Emilio as if he would sit in his lap, then laughing, pushed off next to the window. “Did you see that?

Emilio rested his head on the rain-sliding window, staring where the firecrackers had spangled the sky. “You’re a good kid, Frankie.”

Nicky caught Yara to kiss her mouth clouded with mint-scented smoke. He dried his hands across the back of her sequined minidress and up her stockinged thighs. He waited to feel her tremble as he did from her brilliance, then told her to get in.

After he opened the driver’s side door, he glanced back at the graveyard where the sky had streamed away the ash and fire. He gunned the engine and the Misfits revived. Yara leaned on his jacket, hissing in his ear how was he going to save Emilio. The dispatcher was paging him on the CB. From Frankie’s black hand, Nicky grabbed the receiver while spinning the steering wheel away from the graveyard. The smell of wet earth soaked through the air and the fate that awaited them all.

The few drifting cars out this late, fearing DWIs, swerved to the right lane. Silhouettes that feared nothing leaned against pay phones, waiting for them to ring. Frankie had fallen to sleep against the nightscaped window, still clinging to his last Coke bottle and rocket, a spell that had put even him to sleep. Emilio, layered in mud, stared at the cemetery of a city that Nicky dragged him through. Only Yara he could tell breathed, her eyes marking how fast until they collided with Emmanuel. Her jacket flared gasoline-fire yellow whenever Nicky ran a light, and he ran them all. Until he finally turned at the safety of Surf Avenue, back to the stretch of decomposing arcades, and the body of a monster abandoning the last one.

Yara grabbed Nicky’s collar with the sharp edges of her nails. When he stared her down, he could barely see where her black eyeliner met her eyelashes.

Emilio was wheezing like the Riv when Nicky forced it to go another mile on E. Yara kicked the seat back to try to shield her brother’s shame as if she had any sleight-of-hand left. Nicky waited to see if anyone in Emmanuel’s gang trailed him, but he seemed to own the avenue. He materialized from the white of the air flexing his fists, now free of electrical cord. Nicky chose not to wonder where it was.

Nicky pulled Emilio’s door open and unwrapped the bungee cord so the door hung half on its hinges. He had left the car running, “Some Kinda Hate” grinding through the speakers. “Come on out Emilio.” Too late Nicky realized how much that sounded like a threat from The Warriors.

Emilio’s encrusted eyes gazed at the sleeping boy next to him. Frankie’s arms were flung in dreams that no one else wanted to know about. Nicky extricated the Coke bottle from his hand. His subconscious didn’t need any help blowing things up.

“You better pull that coward out your car,” Emmanuel said behind him.

If only the cops had left Frankie in jail where he belonged. But Emmanuel meant his own useless brother, who was even now weeping under his mud plaster.

Usted está en tantos problemas. Yo voy a vencer fuera y que se hacen con nuestros chicos, ¿entiendes? Salir del coche.

Yara knelt by the open passenger door, praying in a language Nicky did not want to hear. Standing next to Emmanuel he could feel his rage stretch a carlength at this mud-saturated obstinence.

“Get the cord,” Nicky pointed, like he was on Emmanuel’s side. “Pull him out.”

Emmanuel knelt to scrabble for the loose end beneath the dirt and newspapers. “Why you don’t even run,” Emmanuel growled at his brother, who had already mummified any life in his limbs.

This was not the kind of gang fight Nicky had craved as a teenager. But behind Emmanuel’s back, Nicky tossed the Coke bottle to Emilio. He blinked at it through dirt tears.

Emmanuel yanked the bungee cord, but it was hooked on the floorboard of the car, and the door, once released from its weighted hinge, cracked back onto his hand. Finger bones crunched under the crescendo of “Last Caress.” Emmanuel dropped to his knees and howled. One useless hand hanging, he seized Emilio’s neck with the other.

It was then Emilio smashed the Coke bottle across his forehead. Glass crystals burst into blood. Frankie leaped from sleep to cheer.

Yara’s dark eyes glowed from the blacklit magic of the midway. For the arcades seemed to awaken behind them, all bells and balloons. Emmanuel started laughing, and hugged the brother who’d already dug his own grave. But beneath the stranglehold and triumphant cries of “mi hermano,” Emilio scowled.

“Oh you bastard.” Emilio choked a whisper only Nicky could hear. Nicky startled under Yara’s grateful mouth.  “Now he’ll never let me leave.”