He asked Martin how he looked.
“Like someone punched you in the nose,” Martin said and pushed in the cigarette lighter.
“I mean the swelling,” Frank said. “Is it worse?”
“About the same.”
The lighter popped up, ready. Martin pulled it out and rolled the handle in his fingers.
“I need a cigarette,” he said.
“Don’t start,” Frank said.
Like all security footage, the shot was at an angle from above, God’s-eye view of the clerk and the register. Grainy black-and-white, faces muddy. The guy in the video resembled any millions of guys out there. A bald, middle-aged white guy, face a wad of dough with raisin eyes. Windbreaker that did nothing to hide his gut.
But Frank knew. Knew it the way you hear a person say, “Hey” on the phone, and catch right away who they are, the mood they’re in, whether they’re sad or angry, sick or hungover.
The guy comes into frame, takes a piece of paper out of his pocket and compares whatever’s on the slip to the winning Powerball numbers posted next to the cigarette case. He gestures to the clerk. He thrusts the ticket at the man, points at it. When the clerk reaches for the paper, the guy jerks it against his chest. Then both his hands go up into the air.
That was how he always celebrated the winning shot whenever they played one-on-one in the driveway. Raised hands like a ref signaling touchdown. The pumping fists with a shout of “Loser!” came a second later. And then the side-to-side bobbing of the head. That’s what nailed it for Frank. The tick-tock of the guy’s skull in the video was unmistakable. His brother had won the Powerball.
“Martin.” Frank sat forward on the recliner. “You’ve got to see this.”
By the time Martin came in from the kitchen, the segment had ended and a commercial was on. Because a single winning ticket – one that nobody had claimed yet – had been sold in the area and the footage was from a convenience store a county over it ran again, the newscasters speculating maybe this guy was the winner.
“That’s Dean,” Frank said.
“My brother has won three-hundred-million dollars.”
Frank pushed himself out of the recliner. The move shot a fiery spike through his left knee but he ignored it, reminding himself not to stand so fast. Facing Martin, he said, “Some of that money is mine.”
Martin peered at him as he took a drag on his e-cigarette. The tip burned like a real one. “Guy always had a talent for luck,” Martin said.
Frank limped towards the bedroom. The plastic runner laid over the carpet stuck to the soles of his feet. Cheaper than replacing the worn shag. The strip was like a conveyer belt, ushering him forward.
“Assholes prosper,” he yelled over his shoulder as he dug through the mason jar on the bureau where they kept the car keys, also filled with greened pennies and Martin’s AA chips. In his rush, Frank knocked the jar over and watched Martin’s bronze six-month chip clatter down into the floor register.
“Shit,” Frank said. “Your chip fell into the heater.”
He put on his shoes while thinking of various negotiating tactics. There was always the tire iron in the car.
Martin was at his shoulder. “You don’t even know where he lives.”
“Oh, hell, of course I do.” With a foot he swept the mess of coins underneath the bureau. “I just hated him too much to ever go see him.”
“Slow down,” Martin said.
“I’ve been living in his shadow since we were kids.”
His knee buckled and he braced himself in the doorframe. Back when he boxed, Frank loved the morning after a fight, when his face felt like a wet sponge and it hurt to smile, even blink. There was nothing like a little pain to let you know you were alive. A little pain you knew would go away. But his knee was damaged beyond a little pain. A doctor said it was permanent. And was he glad he was alive? All he could say was a share of the jackpot would help that book balance.
“My bum knee is his fault,” Frank kept on after recovering. “He put us on the outs with Angeline.”
“Don’t do something stupid.”
Frank shrugged him off. As if he needed a warning, as if he didn’t know how stupid his whole crappy life was already.
The car engine hacked through a couple turns before it jumped to life. Frank gave the gas a gentle press, allowing the engine to limber up before he put it in gear. Just as he was about to take a slug from his flask, Martin came down the driveway, stirring the insides of his shoulder pack as he trotted to the car.
“This is between me and Dean,” Frank said.
“I have a meeting in twenty minutes. How else am I getting there?”
“I’m not picking you up after,” Frank said, working the stick. “I might be a while.”
Martin got in. “Jeanne will give me a ride home.”
They bounced onto the street.
“I know I had it,” Martin muttered, still pawing through his bag. “Have you seen my
“The six-months one.”
“I thought I heard you mention it.”
“Must’ve been something else,” Frank said.
Martin looked him full on. “I heard you.”
“I didn’t say anything. Why would I care about your chip?”
“That’s right, it’s just a goddamn chip.” Martin dumped the bag into his lap. Keys jangled, an Altoids tin, pens, comb.
“I just had it,” Martin said. He flicked through loose change, tissue, single chalky mints speckled with lint and dirt. He searched the pockets, turned the bag over again and gave it a solid shake. Out plopped a Smirnoff vodka mini.
“I guess that chip doesn’t matter anyway,” Frank said.
“It’s old. Something I’d forgotten about. Look, it’s not even open.” Martin dropped the glove box and moved to store the bottle.
Frank snatched it from him and tossed it out the window. “Are you crazy?” One hand on the wheel, still watching the road, he leaned down as far as he could and groped beneath his seat.
“What?” Martin said.
“Looking for the rest.” The only thing he felt was his own flask.
“There isn’t any.”
“I don’t want you hurt,” Frank said. “You’re miserable on booze.”
“Take care of yourself.”
“Doing just that.”
“Dick,” Martin said. He clicked on his e-cigarette and drew at it while staring out of the window.
Frank swung the car into the lot of the shopping plaza and backed into a space near the road, eager to drop Martin off and be on this way. His anger had slipped a few notches, replaced with more urgent thoughts of a bathroom. He’d used the can before they’d left, but already he had to pee. Morning coffee always ran through him that way.
Martin looked up from his phone. “I’ll be damned. He’s still using that alias?”
“No reason not to. He was the wonderkid. The money maker. Angeline loved him.”
His knee really hurt when he got out. Martin watched as he made a few limping circles around the car, hoping that would loosen it up. He caught his reflection in a side window and quickly turned away. Something about how the light bounced off the glass so that all his bumps and cracks sprung into high relief. Pouches beneath the eyes. Two lines that carved along both sides of his mouth; he looked like a ventriloquist dummy. He was punching towards fifty, but still.
“You going to be okay?” Martin asked.
“After I take a whiz in the alley. Now come on. I’ll call you when I know something.”
An orange Mustang roared into the lot and skidded nose-to-nose with the Taurus.
Frank couldn’t make out who was behind the tinted windows, who might be gunning for him. About a dozen people came to mind. He glanced around the parking lot, the Dollar Store, Subway, Costume Canyon. It was the kind of place cops came through now and then. He hoped that would keep the upcoming shenanigans to a minimum.
Two men stepped out. The blond driver looked like someone Frank knew, only a lot younger. The passenger was so tall his waist was nearly even with the rooftop. And not just tall, but big. Shoulders the size of bowling balls, fingers as thick as baby arms.
“Been a while,” the giant said.
“Georgie,” Frank said. “What gives?”
Frank heard Martin slip out of the car, quick, not letting the door catch when it closed. “Know what?” Frank asked, stepping towards Georgie, talking more. “How’s Angeline doing?”
Up came a hand that could’ve high-fived a stop sign. “Far enough, Frank.”
Now the driver spoke. “Give us the ticket and this will work out for everyone.”
Where did Frank know him? He was really good looking. The loose way he carried himself, the tight shirt, and the half-smirk on his face showed he knew it too.
“Is your dad Ed Grayson?”
The dude closed his door. “Fuck the chitchat. We want that ticket.”
Ed Grayson had certainly been politer. Frank sensed Martin sliding along the hood of their car, stepping slowly while Frank kept everyone talking.
“He was a good man, Ed Grayson,” Frank said. “Treated me right.”
“I’m not going to ask again.”
If the kid wasn’t carrying, something was wrong with the world. Frank knew the gun was bound to come out and then he and Martin would be in the back of the Mustang going somewhere they definitely didn’t want to go. If Angeline was involved that might mean their last car ride anywhere.
He looked at Georgie. “Talk to me.”
Georgie’s hand came down heavy on the car roof.
“Not so hard,” Grayson said.
Georgie’s throat bobbed. “We saw you on tv.”
His feet stopped moving. “What?”
“Not a smart thing, getting caught on tv,” Georgie said.
“Lucky for us you’re out from under your rock,” the other guy said.
“That was my brother,” Frank said.
“Wait, wait,” Martin said. “How’d you know we’d be here?”
A voice behind them. “Somebody in group recognized you. Word travels.”
Frank spun around.
Dean. Smiling his asshole grin that hadn’t dimmed one watt, hands on hips, logo on his t-shirt Stop Plate Tectonics. Frank’s eyes whipped up and down. His brother looked good, well-rested. Trim. The paunch he’d seen in the video was gone. And he was wearing sandals as if he was on some sort of beach vacation.
Then the shock wore off and Frank’s anger dialed all the way up. He made a fist and lowered his chin.
“Peace, brother,” Dean said, hands empty, palms open.
“The ticket,” Grayson said
Frank pulled his attention back around. He had to focus. Things were moving too fast. Georgie and Grayson were the problem. Dean could wait.
“I don’t have the ticket,” Frank said, holding the man’s gaze.
Grayson said, “Don’t screw with us.” The anger in his voice meant the gun was coming out. Frank sprang at Georgie. Georgie caught him with a stiff-arm in the chest. The other hand chopped Frank on the clavicle. He fell across the hood and swallowed a scream as pain lanced his knee.
There was a meaty smack and when Frank looked up Grayson was leaning against the car, a hand to his cheek and blood trickling through fingers from where Martin had landed his forehead. Martin stood a couple feet back, contemplating a long-barreled, chrome-plated .357 in his hand almost as if he wasn’t sure what it was.
Frank did a pushup and stood. He shook out his leg.
“You said there’d be no trouble,” Georgie said, talking over Frank at Dean.
“Keys,” Frank said.
With the gun, Martin waved Grayson aside and reached for the steering column.
But the deep rumble-purr of the idling V-8 gave Frank an idea. “No. We’re taking the car.”
“Nope,” Grayson said.
The magnum’s hammer clicked. Grayson ducked his head and moved around to Georgie.
“How about we trade?” Dean said. “Don’t want to leave these poor guys stranded.”
Frank got behind the wheel of the Mustang, turned off the radio, and backed out so Martin had a clear way to the passenger door. He waved at Grayson and Georgie standing long-faced and angry. Grayson’s eyes radiated thoughts of murder.
Dean called out. “What about your brother?”
Frank flipped him the bird. He’d tipped off Georgie and Grayson about where Martin
would be. He deserved whatever they paid out.
“He has the ticket,” Martin said.
“Get in,” Frank said.
He punched the gas and felt the yank of speed. The rear of the Mustang popped over the curb and snapped a small tree in half. He kept in reverse. At the street he stomped the brakes, skidding into a half turn that put them facing the right way and then slapped the engine into drive. It’d been forever since he’d driven a car that did what you told it to and it was so good.
Martin tossed the gun into the first storm drain they passed. Frank wished he’d remembered to grab his booze.
His brother’s Chevy gave a nice chug when you applied the gas.
Martin opened the glove compartment and turned towards Frank, smiling. He held up a pack of unopened Camels.
“Jackpot,” Martin said. His smiled turned into a wince.
He lit one, cupping the electric lighter, pulling hard to beat the wind slapping around
Frank watched him. He watched Martin lean back and sigh and let out smoke.
“What?” Martin coughed and wiped his lips. “In the grand scheme, it hardly matters.”
Frank took out a flask from the leg pocket of his shorts. He unscrewed the cap with thumb and finger; a move perfected over years while drinking on the road.
“That’ll make the bleeding worse,” Martin said.
“As you said, it hardly matters.”
Frank pushed the gas to make the light crossing Georgia Avenue. His stomach fluttered as the car rose on its shocks going over that hump at the center of every intersection, the sudden lightness that only comes with speed. It was embarrassing the way it sent nice, cozy ripples down into his balls. My god, I’m pathetic, he thought, glancing over at Martin and realizing it had been a while. Just as embarrassed thinking about it with Dean hunched in the back smirking at him in the rearview.
They turned into a residential neighborhood. He had no idea where they were going, or where they were.
“Do I really look that bad?” Frank asked. “The guy in that video was one ugly mother.”
“Security footage,” Martin said. “No one looks good.”
“Yeah, but everyone thinks it was me, not Dean.” He spoke to Dean through the mirror. “I was always the better-looking brother.”
Martin massaged Frank’s bad knee. “It’s why I married you.”
“You guys are married?” Dean asked. “Congratulations.”
“Figure of speech,” Martin said. “Frank here isn’t the romantic type.”
Frank glanced down at himself: the lip of fat frowning over his belt, legs a bit thick. “I watch too much tv. Maybe I should go for walks after dinner.”
“We’ll go together,” Martin said.
“That’d be nice.” He didn’t want to think about the bags under his eyes or that one time he’d laid a hand mirror on the bathroom counter and glimpsed his downturned face, the sagging jowls, his chin looking ready to slop away, his face not a face but a rumpled bedsheet.
“Speaking of,” Dean said from the back. “I’m starving. Let’s hit the drive-thru. Then you can get me to my car.”
Frank pulled into a McDonald’s, and catching Martin’s disapproving look, said, “I’m getting a salad.”
Martin yelled across Frank for a cheeseburger and fries. Dean said he’d have the same thing. He passed Frank a twenty.
“You could at least support me in my decision,” Frank said.
“I am,” Martin said. “It’s good you’ve decided to eat better.”
“With that calorie bomb you ordered? How would you feel if I still drank?”
Dean uttered a quiet “Not good, Frank,” and then shrank out of sight.
Martin settled his hands on the dashboard and stared at the car in front of them. “Go fuck yourself.”
“Not like you are.”
“Try losing some weight,” Martin said.
Frank was good with pain. He could take it. But the comment left him weakened and empty. His shoulders dropped and he slumped forward and clung to the wheel.
Now it was Dean’s turn. “Boys, no lover’s quarrel in front of the brother.”
“I was only asking for support,” Frank said.
“And I support you,” Martin said. “I can do that with a cheeseburger.”
Frank paid and squealed off without thanking the young woman at window. The meaty, salty smell of the burgers and fries made his mouth water. It also made him mumble angry inanities, none of which roused Martin to the bait.
Dean directed him to a park where there was a picnic shack. Afternoon on a weekday and no one was there. “I stashed my car nearby. Wait for me.” He walked off, eating the burger as he went.
Frank watched Martin flatten the burger’s paper wrapper, dump the fries on it, and squeeze ketchup over them.
“Fry?” Martin offered.
Frank gave him a nasty look and stabbed a wad of oily lettuce into his mouth, large enough the juices slipped out between his lips while he chewed.
Martin shrugged and bit the fry in half.
Frank sighed through his nose. He looked at Martin, jaw happily rolling. He studied
the age-broadened face, the wrinkles around his eyes, the ladder of lines ascending his forehead. Frank didn’t think any of it was ugly. As a map of their shared history, he found it familiar, tough, and handsome. Underneath he could still see the young guy he first met when they were skip-tracers.
He swallowed and took Martin’s hand. “He’s toying with us. We should take off.”
“I thought you wanted some of that money.”
“Can I confess something?”
Martin was quiet so Frank continued. “I’ve been drinking in secret. I couldn’t give it up but I didn’t want you to think I wasn’t committed to you.”
“I know,” Martin said. “You’re good at acting sober but I could tell.”
“It’s that I feel really bad about it. You deserve better.”
“You’ve been under a lot of stress. Living with me hasn’t been easy.”
“When we get home, I’ll pour out everything,” Frank said. I’ll go to meetings. Not yours, other ones.”
“You’re not an alcoholic, Frank.”
“But a break can’t hurt. I think it might help with my moods.”
A car drove past and then turned around. It was the Taurus.
“Get in the car,” Frank said. Martin jammed the burger in his mouth and balled the
paper around the fries. Frank left his salad.
The other car was behind the Mustang before they reached it. Georgie hopped out, pointing a .38. The pistol was a squirt gun in his hand. The bullets were big enough though.
“A LoJack,” Frank said, really only talking to himself.
“Dumbass,” Grayson said. A square of white gauze was taped below his left eye and he glared daggers at Frank.
“Let’s start again.” Georgie resettled his grip on the gun. “We want the ticket.”
“I don’t have it. Dean won the lottery.”
That made Georgie waver, the pistol coming down before he thought better and put it up again. He handed the gun to Grayson and then closed the distance. He caught Frank in the jaw with a meaty palm. Frank saw a black starburst and stumbled into the grass. Georgie’s fingers rifled through his pockets, turning out keys, phone, wallet. He picked out driver’s license, Metro card, money, and let them fall to the ground.
Holding his jaw, Frank said, “I don’t have it.” His mouth had trouble working. Martin came over and helped him stand. Georgie gave him a look that threatened another slap.
“He doesn’t have it,” Martin said. “Do you think we’d be fooling around like this if we’d hit the jackpot?”
“It’s Dean you want.” Frank was angry, but also annoyed he had to keep repeating himself.
Georgie knuckled Frank in the mouth and put him down again.
A car engine growled, tires screeched and when Frank looked up he saw his brother Dean in his convertible Lincoln cross-T with the Taurus and the Mustang.
Dean stood on the bench seat, a shotgun pointed at Georgie and Grayson.
“Frank. Martin. Get your asses in the car,” Dean said.
Frank rose to his knees, and then climbed Martin the rest of the way upright. His tongue was sloshy with blood. He cupped his mouth and felt blood drool down his wrist. He stiff-legged it over to the Lincoln, hopped butt first over the rear door and fell onto the back seat.
Dean kept the gun trained. “Drive,” he told Martin.
From the back of Dean’s bald head Frank saw a crease of skin broaden into a smile and he thought it the most logical thing that at any moment it would call him a loser. He must’ve gotten hit pretty hard.
He turned his hand over, afraid of what he’d see. Smeared red, blood also tendrilled down his wrist and forearm. He felt more blood drying sticky on his face in the speeding wind.
“I knew you’d show up,” Frank said.
Dean looked at him. The sun shone on his smooth and buffed scalp. His eyes were alert and moving across Frank, taking in details and making judgements.
“You were fat,” Frank said. “How’d you lose weight so fast.?”
“Makes sense. You didn’t want to be recognized.”
Martin cut in. “Frank, he wanted to be recognized as you.”
The car turned and Frank sank against the door. He righted himself. Dean’s expression was blank. But Frank knew him, they were brothers after all. Where Dean might fool a poker table, the tell glowed as brightly as the sun on his burnished dome.
“You wanted them to come for me.”
“The sea might look calm,” Dean said. “I had to chum the water and watch what sharks surfaced.”
“Where am I driving?” Martin asked.
Dean turned on his phone and let the GPS lady talk to Martin.
“Why?” Frank said.
“You’re the only person who looks like me,” Dean said. “I’d have much preferred a resemblance to Tom Cruise.”
They went north on the Beltway and then west to a house lost out past Rockville. Yellow stucco, set back from the road. Trees blocked the view on the other three sides. Hidden, but no so well it looked conspicuous.
Empty beer cans dotted the lawn and a car door leaned against the front porch. Martin followed the dirt stripes of tire tracks to the detached garage.
The front was set up to make the place look like a dump. Dean led them around the back where there was a pool, blue and edged in smooth marble. Slate steps followed the rise to the patio with a built-in grill and a hot tub.
Frank kneeled over the pool and splashed his face and hands clean of blood. The water felt good and he lay down on a deck chair catching a nice shade.
“Come inside,” Dean said.
Frank closed his eyes. Nope. The pool and hot tub were enough. He wasn’t letting Dean show him how well he’d done, a house full of new furniture and stainless-steel kitchen appliances, and he bet, a full bar with installed beer taps, and a mini-fridge underneath. Probably a big screen LCD tv in the bedroom, floor safe, panic room. Nope, he wasn’t letting Dean rub it in or grinding his teeth while Martin cooed fawning compliments.
“Bring me a beer when you come back,” Frank said.
“Can’t, brother. I’m sober.”
“Not you too,” Frank said.
“You’re such an asshole,” Martin said.
Frank put his arms behind his head. “What? I meant that I didn’t know he had a problem.”
“No. What you meant was, ‘Shit, another person I can’t let me see get soused.’ You’re so selfish. All you think about is how my sobriety affects your drinking.”
Frank poked an eye open. The pair hovered over him the way the nuns did in grade school. Heads trembling on goose necks, all serious faces and forced concern. He laughed and shook his head and went back to darkness.
Martin talked again. “Have a drink Frank. We’ll manage just fine. You okay with that, Dean?”
“Yep,” Dean said. “Drink up, Frank.”
“I know you have a flask,” Martin said.
What was worse? The smug tone in Martin’s voice or the fact he was taking Dean’s side? After the things he’d done for Martin during those years when his drinking had put him in the hospital over and over. The weeks and months Martin couldn’t work because he was either too drunk or too crazy with the DTs. God, he hated the way Martin’s problems ran his life, had been running his life for forever. And now he was siding with his asshole of a brother. What happened to love? Where was loyalty?
He sat up. He took out a flask and made a show of slowly unscrewing the cap. He tilted it to his lips, didn’t swallow but held the bourbon on his tongue and let the fumes burn his nose before taking it down with a wide-mouthed “ahhh.”
A leaf spiraled into the pool. It floated on the still surface, not a ripple.
Martin hauled on his e-cigarette. The smoke evaporated after it rolled over his head. Real smoke would have hung longer in the air.
“These days I’m doing the vape,” Dean said.
“Still hooked on the glowing tip,” Martin said, tilting the e-cigarette in scissored fingers. “I tried the vape but ended up smoking anyway.”
“Come on,” Dean slapped Martin on the shoulder. “Let’s leave Frank to his nap. There’s juice and sparkling water in the fridge.”
Frank watched them walk toward the house, the two so close their shoulders bumped. Martin said something he couldn’t hear and Dean laughed and did that rocking motion with his head. Frank was on his feet and hopping after them like a man in three-legged race.
“That’s enough,” he said, rounding on them. “I’m tired of you making fun of me.”
“What did I do?” Dean asked.
“I’m talking to Martin. After everything. Blackouts and hospitals and me working so you could take the time off to dry out.”
“Some other time, Frank,” Martin said and tried to push past him.
Frank pushed him backwards. The downward slope at his back, he sat heavily, his e-cigarette jumping out of his hand and disappearing into the grass.
Dean came at him and Frank felt his boxer’s reflexes – almost as if they’d been waiting for an excuse -- snap in gear. He faked left and landed a right hook to Dean’s gut, heard him grunt and then slapped Dean’s bald head the way Georgie had slapped him earlier. He followed Dean as he rolled down the slope and hoped his brother stood up so he could hit him again.
“Frank,” Martin said.
He turned and Martin punched him in the nose. The tag watered his eyes. Frank jabbed right and again sat Martin on his ass.
Dean stood and pulled out a .38 snub-nose. “Brother, you’re such a loser,” he said. Frank grabbed his wrist and punched with the other hand. Dean’s head jerked backed once, twice -- the gun went off but Frank didn’t feel anything -- third punch teeth cut Frank’s knuckles. A second shot tore into his side. He punched Dean again and let go.
Dean fell to his knees and dropped the gun. Panting, exhausted, Frank sank to his haunches. The pistol lay between them. They stared at each other. Frank picked up the .38. He pointed it at Dean and shot him in the chest. Dean lay back like a man going to sleep.
“I win,” Frank said.
While they were looking for towels to stop Frank’s bleeding, they found the lottery ticket right there on the kitchen counter.
“Mind taking the wheel a second?” Frank asked.
Martin held the car steady while Frank adjusted the roll of paper towels pressed to his side, a sloppy red mass soaked through to the cardboard tube. At least he’d only taken one. But that first bullet hadn’t gone wild. It bounced off Martin’s hip and lodged below his bottom rib. Luckily he wasn’t bleeding as much as Frank.
Frank dug out the other flask he carried and had a swig. “Give me a cigarette,” he said.
Martin lit one and stuck it between Frank’s lips. Frank handed him the flask. Martin drained it and tossed it into the back seat.
Shut tight in the unused and perfectly clean ashtray was the ticket. It bore a bloody thumbprint but the numbers remained clear.
Frank leaned onto the steering wheel. He was having trouble staying awake. “How much farther?”
Martin drew on his cigarette. He went to answer and instead coughed. Blood speckled the windshield.
“Not too far,” he said.
The hospital. It wasn’t far.