Brighton - Michael Harvey

PROLOGUE

1971

HE FIRST met Bobby Scales along the banks of the Charles River. Kevin wasn’t doing much, skipping rocks across the gray-green water and watching light dance along the skin of oil that floated on top. He turned just in time to see Bobby clear a crook in the path. He was older, maybe twelve or thirteen, with coal black hair and features bleached white against the sun. He walked with his head down, kicking at the ground as he went, and carried a burlap bag over his shoulder. The bag was moving.

“Hey,” Kevin said. He’d seen Bobby around and knew enough to know no one fucked with him. It wasn’t that Bobby was big. He wasn’t. Or that he carried a gun or a knife. He might, but Kevin had never heard of it. Bobby didn’t have any parents. That might make a kid seem tougher, but it was mostly the way he locked on to you with that quiet, pitiless gaze. Everyone in Brighton knew Bobby Scales wasn’t messing. And he wasn’t anyone to fuck with.

“What are you doing down here?” Bobby said.

Kevin tried hard not to look at the bag, still twitching at the older boy’s feet. “Just throwing rocks. What’s in the bag?”

Bobby squatted on his heels and opened it. A dog’s head popped out, yellow teeth flashing. Bobby put a hand on the dog’s muzzle and calmed it. “I got his legs tied up so he can’t stand. He isn’t very strong anyway.”

“What happened to him?”

“You know Fat Frank?”

Everyone knew Fat Frank Tessio. He drove a green Barracuda and liked to sit by himself on a bench in the park, watching the ball games and smoking cigars in the cool, blue moonlight. One afternoon he pulled up to a curb Kevin was sitting on, short eyes buzzing and thick lips spread in a smile. Kevin was gone before Fat Frank could lean across the seat and pop the door open.

“Fucker keeps the dog tied up in his cellar,” Bobby said. “Beats hell out of him with a cut-down piece of pipe. So I took him.”

Kevin counted the ribs down one side of the dog’s flank and stopped at a half dozen. He had the lean face of a mutt, with white flecking across the neck and shoulders. His eyes were clouded and rimmed in red. When Kevin came close, the dog snapped his jaws and tried to get up.

“Better stay back.”

Kevin sat against a tree and didn’t move. “What are you gonna do?”

Bobby scratched the dog behind his ears, stubby and curled like a couple pieces of dried leather. Kevin listened to the labored breathing and watched the dog’s tongue pulse in and out.

“Going down to the riv.” Bobby pointed to a screen of trees. “You hear someone coming, you give a yell. Okay?”

Kevin nodded. He didn’t know why he nodded. Didn’t know why he didn’t run like hell. But he didn’t. Bobby carried the dog, bag and all, down the slope. Kevin shifted so he could see the silhouettes of boy and dog against the sun rubbing off the river. Bobby leaned low and pressed his head against the mutt’s for what seemed like three or four lifetimes. Then he sat back, stroking the dog’s muzzle and staring out over the water. After a bit, he started to pull rocks out of the bag, flat and heavy. He pushed the dog’s head down, closed up the bag, and tied it tight with a length of rope. Then he leaned close again and began to whisper. Kevin thought of his stint as an altar boy and the prayers the priests kept to themselves as they stood behind the altar and laid their hands over the chalice. Bobby picked up the biggest rock in his fist, raised it high, and brought it down hard. Once, twice, three times. The bag never moved. The dog never made a sound. Bobby put the rock and three others like it into a smaller satchel and tied it to the other end of the rope. He waded into the Charles until the water covered his thighs. Then he pushed the bag down and made the sign of the cross as it sank. When he came back, Kevin was still there, arms around his ribs, crying like a baby and not caring a damn bit either. Bobby sat beside him and picked up a stone, black on one side and white on the other, smooth as glass.

“I pulled him out of Fat Frank’s