Big Law:A Novel(8)

By: Ron Liebman

Belfast born and bred, he had for years been a doorman at a Park Avenue co-op and was far nicer to the children of its wealthy residents than he ever was to his own boys. He was all smiles and gentle comments during the day, while surly drunk and quick with the back of his hand at night.

Our mother tolerated him, staying that hand against his boys only when he lost all control. While she was alive, our dad took her for granted. Her cancer went undiagnosed long enough to bring on a quick death. My dad no longer works. Now he spends both days and nights in a bottle.

Sean, my brother, is the chain that keeps me tethered. He never lets me forget who I am. He’s older by three years. He always looked out for me. Let me fight my own fights as a kid, but I knew he was there for me if I needed him. And now that Sean is broken, I will—no matter what—be there for him.

Honorably discharged from the marines after three combat tours, his right leg saved by battlefield triage, disfigured but workable, otherwise not a mark on him. At least on the outside.

Had Sean’s helmet strap not held, flying shrapnel from the exploding IED would have shorn off the top of his head. But its concussive effect had him lying in the road near the smoldering wreckage of his personnel carrier, immobile, helpless.

He watched the insurgents appear from out of nowhere. Saw them stand over the other two marines who just moments ago had been in the personnel carrier with him. They, too, were still alive, but down like him.

One of the insurgents was holding a gasoline can. Sean watched him pour from it, soaking the other two marines’ fatigues, and then flick on his lighter and toss it at them. He heard their screams of agony. Sean says the smell of their burning flesh is still with him.

He continued watching as one of the insurgents noticed him. Had he been shouting at them? The guy, turbaned, but in jeans and a Gap T-shirt, calmly walked over to Sean, studied him, and then raised his weapon, aiming it point-blank at his face. The guy said something in Arabic as Sean clenched his eyes shut, waiting for oblivion.

The track of automatic-weapons fire from the rescuing helicopter tore into the insurgent before he could finish the job. The others then quickly fled.

Horrible as it was, that wasn’t the worst of it.

Days before that patrol, Sean’s commanding officer had ordered him to fire at a young girl coming toward them in the Kandahar province village they were sweeping. The officer was certain she had a suicide vest strapped inside her clothes. He’d shouted at her in English to halt, not one step further. And when the young girl kept walking, he shouted his order to Sean.

Sean fired a quick burst into her, watched as the shells lacerated her body, instantly turning her into a bloody mess.

As she lay there on the ground twitching, Sean approached and used his rifle muzzle to poke at her middle. Nothing. The girl had on nothing but the powder-blue burka typical of women in this region of Afghanistan. She looked about twelve, no older.

Sean’s officer walked away as though nothing had happened. My brother knelt by the girl until she stopped breathing. At one point, just before the officer was out of range, he raised his weapon and sighted it on him but lowered it without firing.

Sean came home and then was set adrift. He goes to the VA from time to time to meet with a military shrink. Can’t see that it’s doing him any good. He’s had a series of jobs. All menial. Hasn’t been able to hold any of them.

My brother’s girlfriend, Rosy, grew up on our block. Same Irish roots. She and Sean fell in love probably in the sixth grade. Rosy was a drunk, and worse, but she truly loved my brother. She lived in the apartment with him and Seamus.

I do date occasionally. Like lots of single people my age who have precious little opportunity to meet someone outside work, I’ve met and dated women through online matchmaker sites. Until the last woman I met, I would have said it was a waste of time.

She was the exception that proved the rule. Really smart. Good-looking. And black.

No, not black Irish. Black black.

Our third time out, I arranged a dinner for us with Sean and Rosy. I chose an upscale restaurant, a place my brother and Rosy would never go to on their own.

That could have been a mistake.


I’m a meat-and-potatoes guy. Sean is, too.

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