Chapter Reveal: The Scarlet Night
I raised a hand to the security guard at 350 Jay Street, the big building that housed, among other things, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, where I happened to work.
“See ya, Zola.”
Murphy waved me out the doors without even looking up from his phone. Some security. Day in and day out, more than seven hundred attorneys, paralegals, interns, investigators, and other employees worked tirelessly to rid the borough of its worst criminals. The people of Brooklyn had no idea what kind of protection their justice system enjoyed.
I started as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Bureau right out of law school, determined to fulfill my family’s dreams for their rough-and-tumble son from the Bronx. Do better than what I came from. Help people instead of taking from them.
Be one of the good guys.
Well, I was doing my best.
Downtown Brooklyn was dead quiet as I made my way to the train. It was mostly home to daytime businesses and commuters, with buildings that, while they didn’t quite reach the heights of those across the East River, still made a dent in the sky. But when people say New York is the city that never sleeps, they aren’t talking about Brooklyn. Here, all sorts of things happened while the rest of the borough got a little shut-eye.
A mid-January rain was washing away the remainders of the last snow. My stomach growled, and I considered making a detour to Junior’s for a burger and a slice of cheesecake. But I knew I’d only be disappointed. After all, my grandmother’s beat theirs every time.
Instead, I ducked down into the subway toward home. Waited ten minutes on the platform for the F train. Made the twenty-minute slog back to my red brick townhouse just off Van Brunt.
By the time I opened the front door, rain was streaming off my chin and the rim of my hat. I was a walking waterfall.
“Christ, it’s murder out there,” I said as the wind clapped the door shut behind me.
I shook out my trench and wiped my shoes on the welcome mat, then hung my hat atop the coat rack. The gray fedora was one of my favorites, a knockoff of my grandfather’s (which I only brought out for special occasions). I hoped it wouldn’t shrink. My sisters could make fun of me all they wanted, but style was style, and classics never go out. I’d take a pair of wingtips over sneakers any day of the week. And every man looked better in a good hat.
“Shhh.” Frankie—otherwise known as Frances Christina Zola, the closest of my five sisters to me in age—scowled from the couch. “The baby’s finally asleep upstairs. You wake her up, Mattie, and I swear to God, I will wring your neck with that tie you’re wearing.”
I hung up my coat while I hunted down some newspaper to stuff in my shoes. Frankie’s bark was always worse than her bite. I usually came home to some variation of that threat most nights. “The baby” was Sofia, my three-year-old niece, and once she was out, that kid could sleep through a tornado.
“Whatever you say, Fran.” I leaned over the couch to peck her on the head before moving to the kitchen. “What’s the poison of choice tonight?”
“Real Housewives. I think this time there’s going to be a real fight.”
“Isn’t there always?”
Sometimes I was in the mood to hate-watch bad TV with my sister, but this wasn’t one of those nights. I couldn’t really explain it. That feeling was back. The one where everything just felt wrong. Like my skin was a millimeter out of place. Like my clothes were a size too big or small. Jumpy. Irritable. Restless.
“Bill, bill, bill…” I shuffled through the mail on the kitchen counter.
“What are you complaining about over there?”
I looked up. “The constant yoke of capitalism.”
“Big brother, you always got something to say.”
“I think that’s my line, mimma.”
I opened the fridge, hoping for leftovers. Looked like Frankie beat me to the spaghetti. Damn, I was hungry. I shut the door a little too hard, then drummed my fingers on the counter. I wasn’t really interested in cooking again.
“You’re too young for this,” Frankie said as she took a seat on the other side of the Formica.
I snorted. “Too young for what?”
“What do they call it? All this sighing and shit. Ennui?”
“Been playing the crossword again?”
“Go to hell. I know what ennui is, asshole.”
Nothing goaded my sister like being taken for a slouch. Frankie was halfway through her master’s degree in English when she got pregnant. Now she was back teaching third grade.
I smirked. “I’m thirty-six, Frankie, not a teenage girl. And no spring chicken either.”
“You shut your mouth, Mattie. You’re not stuck at home with a kid. You’re single, you got a good job, and now you actually own your own place.”
I snorted. “Barely. I’ll be paying it off until I’m dead.”
She popped over the counter to punch me in the shoulder. “Most people in this city can barely afford to buy their dinner. You should be proud of yourself. Nonno would have been.”
I shrugged, but I didn’t argue. The truth was, buying the townhouse had been one of the crowning achievements of my life. When you grow up in a crowded apartment, having the luxury of three full floors, even if it was originally a dump, is something special. I had a house. That belonged to me. In New York City.
Tonight, though, the thrill of home ownership wasn’t doing much for me.
“You’re a catch, big brother. You should be out sowing your wild oats. Or at least looking for a farmer girl to lock that shit down. Come on, you can’t say no to a challenge.”
Now we both snorted. Making agricultural jokes was pretty ironic for a couple of kids from the Bronx.
“Not tonight,” I said, settling on cereal. “Tell you what, Fran. You change the channel, I’ll pour the wine.”
Ten minutes later, I was really thinking I should have stopped at Junior’s. Maybe found my way over to Park Slope or Green Point. Tried not to come home at all. Instead I was dining on three-day-old Montepulciano and stale granola, growing increasingly annoyed with the inaccuracies of Law and Order reruns, and wishing I could swim across the river just to get as far from this damn house as I could. That feeling, that restlessness, hadn’t abated. It had just gotten worse.
It was Friday night. For once I didn’t have a mountain of briefs to get through. No depositions to bury me. I was a single man in the greatest city in the world. Fuckin’ pathetic if I didn’t get off my ass and at least try to be more interesting than a single mom and her TV shows.
The problem was that once I was “out there,” the guy I was “in here”—the good brother, the nice uncle, the fair prosecutor—disappeared. Out there, I wasn’t a good guy. And the next day, I always felt like shit.
I’d spent too many Sundays shocking priests in the confessional.
Too many dinners dodging my grandmother’s questions.
Too many mornings avoiding my own reflection.
I leaned back in the couch and peered down the hallway, toward my reflection in the mirror at the end. Glum fuckin’ mug. Frankie was right. I really did have the personality of a depressed teenager right now. Well, fuck it. If I was already miserable, who cared if I did a little extra sinning? At least then my shitty mood would be worth it.
I stood suddenly, though Frankie clearly wasn’t surprised. She didn’t even look at me, eyes glued to the screen.
I nodded, already unbuttoning my shirt as I left the room to change. “Into the city. Don’t wait up.”
Frankie chuckled. “I never do.”
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