Mal looked in the mirror and saw a road map of mistakes. Scars traced a fractured route down his face, splintering across his torso. The worn paths were interrupted by fresh welts and discolorations, the result of his most recent misstep: three rounds, bare-knuckles, with a guy who had ten years’ experience on him. That was good for the deep yellow around the eye and the welt on the forehead. But it had been a sorry-looking mug to begin with, scarred across the bridge of the nose and along the cheekbone, crowned by dark, somber eyes. It fit poorly over the seventeen-year-old face; instead of lending it wisdom, it seemed to rob it of something vital. Beneath the blue veins riding up his arms in relief and the taut flesh of his chest, the muscles were tight, but they ached with the echo of fierce impact. It wasn’t a promising picture, so he smiled at it, showing teeth over his hard jaw.
A crack ran through the reflected smile, making it into two dislocated halves of good spirit, sloppily sewn together by some depraved surgeon. The mirror didn’t have a crack when he left just a few hours ago. It was just the mirror’s time, he supposed. Like the glass, his smile cracked and then fell away.
He touched the tender spots on his torso, figured he’d wrap his ribs with medical tape. He slipped from the gloomy little bathroom, down the short hallway. The limp he had just acquired did not help much in keeping quiet past the door of his foster parents’ room. Were they light sleepers? He hadn’t been with them long enough to know. His foster parents, who were named Gil and Janet Foster. It was ridiculous, but of all the foster parents in all the world, some of them had to be named the Fosters, didn’t they?
He made it into his own claustrophobic little cubbyhole without incident. He pulled the first aid kit out of his bag, but found he just didn’t have the strength for it. He put it back in and dropped himself into bed.
Sleep, ornery and evasive, eluded him. It was in the second hour of shifting position in the darkness that he turned and saw the message LED blinking on his forsaken cell phone. Already an ancient model at two years old, he had never bothered to learn how to employ most of its features, thus didn’t have the cool, polite female voice to inform him that he had a message waiting. He’d slipped out of the apartment for the gym at 11:30 and never carried the phone with him to a fight. The call had come between then and his return at two a.m. No one called that late unless something awful had happened.
He reached out and keyed for the message.
"Uh, hey." A face he didn’t recognize flickered onto the screen. "It’s Tommy." Mal sat up straight in his bed. Tommy. His brother. Whose face he no longer recognized. "Where are you at one o’clock?" Tommy paused for a long stretch, uncertain. There was the sound of strong wind, or something rushing, maybe water, but the image on the small screen was grainy and dark behind the face. "What am I doing calling at one o’clock, right? Maybe . . . ah . . . maybe you could call me when you get this? Doesn’t matter what time it is. Okay, so . . . you can give me a call." There was another long pause, but instead of a goodbye, the image flickered out and the cell voice informed him that the call had come in at "One. Twenty. Two. A. M."
The geolocator app was being blocked from Tommy’s end, which left no way to see where the call had come from. He dialed the number that showed on his screen and let it ring twelve maddening times before he keyed off and dialed again, this time giving it only six rings.
He stared out the grimy window and listened to a garbage truck rumble away down the dark, dirty street. Far in the distance across the water, a large insectlike shape blotted a small part of Manhattan’s silhouette of glittering lights. There was only one person who would know how to get hold of Tommy. So he got back in bed, because he wouldn’t call anyone else at three in the morning. And he wouldn’t call her anyway. Tommy hadn’t seen Mal in over two years, had done just fine without him for a lot longer than that. Tommy would do just fine without him now.
But if that was so, then how much trouble must he be in to call a brother he hadn’t seen for so long now, in the middle of the night?
Mal sat up again and picked up the cell and stared at it. He gripped it so hard that his fingers and knuckles turned white, bringing the dozens of nicks and scars into wiry relief. He keyed the goddamned number. It rang twice and he closed his eyes tight when it picked up, the small screen lighting with a man’s surprised and disheveled face.
"Hello?" The face was dulled by sleep and the voice was thick and rough.
"George, it’s Mal," he whispered, for fear of rousing the Fosters, just a slim wall away.
"What? Who is this?" George was squinting angrily into the screen.
"It’s Mal," he said stiffly. "I need to speak to Sharon."
George’s face gaped exhaustion, then shook in disbelief and moved offscreen. There was heavy breathing and then shifting and muffled voices. An ad for a sleeping pill, now available in extra-strength form, scrolled along the side of the screen.
"Mal." Her face was heavy with more than just fatigue. Her voice was hoarse and he couldn’t help wondering, despite the hour, if she was exhausted or hung over. Whatever the case, the syllable of his name came out with the same old mixture of impatience and barely contained disappointment.
"I need to find Tommy and I don’t have his number," he said without preamble.
"You need to find Tommy at three in the morning?" Even pulled from sleep, her disgust with him was evident.
"He called me up and asked me to get back to him as soon as I could, but he’s not answering at the number he called from."
She glared at him. He could see numerous responses cross her features.
"Hold on," she finally said. Her attention shifted downward while she searched the cell for the information. George asked her something and her face turned. They went back and forth for a moment and his final comment was loud and wheedling. Mal watched as the advertisement shifted, now offering medicated bandages that "soothed as they healed." There was more movement, and then she was back. "I have his number here." She gave it to him.
"That’s the number he left me," Mal said. "But he isn’t there."
"Well, that’s the number I’ve got."
"Have you spoken to him lately? Is he okay?"
"I haven’t spoken to him in months.""Months?"
He hadn’t meant to sound incredulous; certainly not, considering how long it had been since he’d spoken to Tommy himself.
"He and George," she sounded more tired now, in simply pausing, than she had when she first got on the line. "He and George had some trouble. He left, and I haven’t heard from him but twice since then. Once he gave me his new number and address and once to tell me that he was going to come by work and see me, but he didn’t." She didn’t seem very impressed with Tommy or, for that matter, with George.
"He left?" Mal’s voice was hard and accusatory, and he didn’t bother trying to hide it.
"Yes, Mal. He left. Figured he could do it all on his own, just like his brother."
They stared into the screens at each other, far more distant than the miles of space that separated them.
"Give me his address," he said.
"You’re going to go there now?"
"No. In the morning. I’m sure he’s fine."
"Sure. He’s always fine." She gave him the address, and they didn’t bother with goodbyes.
He slammed the phone down, punching it into the bed as hard as he could. He got dressed in the same jeans and hood...