Matthew Joyce sat alone in the corner booth of the coffee shop in his hometown. He could remember sitting in this very booth when he was in high school over twenty years ago, and somehow, it all felt foreign to him. The fake leather was cracked from wear and tear, and the Formica tabletop was chipped and broken on all four corners. When he requested the meeting he would have picked a classier location, had he known the condition.
The town around him was a cesspool, no other word would be appropriate to describe it. There were couples standing on the corner, peddling their individual product without fear of repercussion, because even the police had washed their hands of the place long ago. He had remembered the days when he ran down these streets as a child, careless but knowing that they were safe. Even as a grown man and enough training under his belt to solely invade Paris, he wouldn’t run down these streets anymore, at least not without three cleverly concealed weapons.
His meeting walked through the door and spotted him immediately, although his training was different, it was similar enough to know that the best place to sit in an establishment such as this was with your back to the wall, facing the door with a clear view of the entire place. With this particular coffee shop layout, his booth was the only possible choice. As he came closer, he slid into the bench across from him, unbuttoning the suit jacket and smoothing out his tie.
“It’s been a long time,” he said not offering anything more.
“Where is everyone else?”
“Most everyone else has no interest in being here.”
“What do you want?” His steel blue eyes stared at Matthew with an impatience that he hadn’t expected.
“I am back,” was all he could offer.
He wasn’t expecting this kind of guarded conversation so he reverted back to his handler mode. In his training he had become adept at revealing only a little information at a time, just enough to keep the subject interested, but not enough to give himself away.
“Is that supposed to mean something to me, or the rest of us?”
“I hoped it would.”
The man stared at the people around him, the couple on the corner, still peddling their product, the consumers that drove their business, the sporadic good person that hid in fear of the gang bangers on the street.
“Hope is something this town lost a long time ago Matt, you should let it go, we all did.”
With that he stood and buttoned his suit jacket. Matt took notice of the standard issue Federal Bureau Of Investigation .40 caliber Glock in his shoulder holster as he dropped a five on the table, he was paying for the cup of coffee he was invited for without ever drinking it.
He turned and walked to the door, there was a ding of a bell when he opened it and just like that Matt’s brother Jonathan Edgar Joyce was out of sight. Their first conversation in over fifteen years was over in a matter of minutes.
Outside the hospital there was a picnic area used mostly for interns and doctors to escape the grind of saving lives everyday. Matt made a mental note of how many health professionals actually smoked while he waited. Franklin Joyce strolled out in a long white coat and sat at the table across from him. He sat quietly and waited for Matt to break the silence.
“Thanks for meeting me.”
“I don’t have a lot of time here Matt,” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette. Another doctor ignoring his own advice.
“Didn’t they teach you in medical school that that stuff will kill you?”
“Did you come here to give me a physical?”
“How have you been?”
Once again the conversation was guarded. His oldest brother was short and curt with him a few hours ago and now his youngest brother, just beginning his fellowship at a prestigious hospital was the same.
“Saving lives, maybe not in the all important way like murdering children over seas, but we make do here.”
“Wow . . .,” was all Matt could muster.
“Look, you took off twenty years ago to do some important work, at least that is what your one letter every couple years said. We moved on, we all did, so I am sorry if we don’t jump into your arms now that you are, I assume, back to make amends.”
Frank got to his feet and strolled away without another word and just like that, two brothers had met with him and disappeared without so much as a hello.
The house on Hedges Street was falling apart. There were shutters hanging off the windows, most of which had tape covering holes, and shingles littered the yard where they landed from their slide off the roof.
Matt strolled up the walk and found an old lawn chair rusting and laying on the porch. He thought briefly about the last time he saw that chair and then dismissed it, memories in this house were never good and he had become very adept at suppressing them. The sounds of a neglectful, heroine addicted mother and an abusive, alcoholic father never did him well when he was in a hotbox over seas.
It looked as though the home had been abandoned long ago, since he was the eldest, legally he figured he owned the place now. It had been his intention that he sell it, or maybe more efficiently, burn it to the ground. He leaned in to peer through the window when he felt the all too familiar feeling of a cold gun barrel pressed to the back of his head.
In the situation of a gun pointed at your head point blank there are only a few things you can do, the most obvious of which was do whatever the Hell the gun holder wanted you to do. Matt calmly raised his hands.
“My wallet is in my back pocket, right side, there isn’t much there, but you are welcome to it.”
The sensation of the barrel dissipated as it was pulled away from his head. “Matt,” came a familiar voice behind him. When he spun around he was faced with another face from the past. “Holy shit Dog . . .when did you get back,” his third brother said as he moved in for a hug. Matt made note of the fact that the gun was still gripped in his hand as they wrapped around him.
“Today,” he answered as he returned the hug. When they separated, Matt returned his attention to the house. “What the Hell happened here?”
“It’s a long story,” Johnson Joyce said. “Come in and I’ll tell you about it.”
“Seven years?” Matt couldn’t believe his ears.
When he had left his home over twenty years before, his little brother Jay Jay, as he was known by his friends, was a straight A student and a fairly decent track star. He had a future with running and his grades would have allowed him a scholarship if he had elected to go that route. Of course, he was only twelve years old at the time and he was bound to change a little, he just didn’t realize how much.
“Yeah, out early for good behavior.” Jay leaned back in his chair and took another long drag of his Marlboro. He looked around and surveyed the surroundings, the basement of the house littered with mold from leaks and droppings from an unknown infestation. “Had I known the shit I was comin’ out to, Ida been an asshole so they woulda kep me longer.”
“Why didn’t they tell me?”
“Look, you wrote or called what, twice a year maybe? They thought you didn’t give a shit, why would they? You didn’t did you?”
Matt looked at his brother and couldn’t even begin to atone for his absence. He felt the need to say it, but once it was out it seemed ridiculous. “It wasn’t like I was on a street corner with a payphone every night you know.”
“I know, your shit was better than ours, that’s why we left you to it.”
“That wasn’t what I was saying.”
“But it is what we were hearing.” He chuckled and lifted himself out of the chair. Walking across the cement floor, he kicked a disregarded piece of garbage that started out cardboard and, after the rain got it, ended up something else entirely.
“So how did it happen?”
“I got into running in middle school, the wrong people took notice, and next thing I knew I was running for the drug dealers, cops chasing my black ass all over town, not one fat fuzzy asshole could catch me.” He paused and dropped the ashy remains of his cigarette to the floor, squishing it with the ball of his shoe. “Ran out into the street to get away from them one day and a car swerved to miss me, hit a telephone pole. Killed the white woman inside, ten year old daughter too.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”
“It’s the way this shit goes, Dog, Johnny sat high up in his fuzzy office ignoring his crooked little bro while Brittany, rising star lawyer in some big shot law firm, didn’t lift a finger either. We all been lookin out for number one since you went away.”
“Nobody helped you?”
“Nobody helps anybody anymore, Matt, they all just following big brother’s lead.”
“What happened to the town?”
“That is a long story,” Jay jay responded.
“Well,” Matt said as he leaned back in his chair. “We have a lot of that.”
Matt stood in the lobby completely out of place, his brown work boots and jeans stood out like as a stark contrast when surrounded by the expensive wing tips and suits. He pulled his coat in closer, a futile attempt to hide the dingy t-shirt underneath. He was dressed for a day on a construction site, not for one in a law firm. He made his way to the elevator, scrutinized by the guards as he walked by. Once he pressed the button, he took note of them taking stations behind him.
The elevator let out a loud ping as the doors opened and revealed an empty car. As Matt stepped in, he was followed, and cornered by two giants. He pegged them both as Samoan, but when they had their boots on your throat, nationality didn’t mean much of anything. When the doors shut, one hit the stop button, while the other turned to face him.
“What can we do for you,” he asked, the disdain in his voice thick.
“I have an appointment with Brittany Joyce.”
“We know,” the second one said as he spun to join his partner. “You don’t look like you have much to say to her though, so why don’t you say it to us and we will pass along the message.”
Matt grinned wryly, he was outmatched, and while he knew he was faster than both of them, the small elevator car effectively neutralized that advantage. He didn’t understand the strategy of letting him get all the way to the car until that moment. However, he had no intention of involving the two gargantuan men in his family matters.
“Thanks, but I think I can handle it.” The first one, standing slightly to his right, placed a hand on his shoulder and, before Matt could say anything, drove his other hand into his stomach. Doubled over, Matt let out a loud cough and tried to catch his breath.
“Let’s try this again, shall we,” the second said as he leaned in and repeated the question.
Matt stood back up and stared up into his face.
“Could you repeat that, I am a slow learner.” the first one slammed his meaty fist into his stomach again and Matt dropped to his knees. The air was pushed out of his lungs with such force that he had to gasp extra hard to try and regain it. The first then stood over him and taunted him again.
As he got his knees under him, Matt shot up as quickly as he could, driving the top of his head into the first Samoan’s chin. He heard a satisfying crunch as he began to fall forward. The second Samoan tried to throw a hard right but Matt’s speed was useful momentarily as he ducked the blow and issued one of his own. He slammed his hand into the guard’s throat, pushing the soft spot between his thumb and forefinger into the windpipe.
Just as he turned to the first guard regaining his wits, Matt drove a punch with all the force he had into the bridge of the man’s nose, he fell to the floor not moving. He turned back one last time to the second Samoan, still clutching his throat, and swung his steel-toed work boot into his jaw, rendering him unconscious along with his buddy.
He pressed the button on the elevator again and it made his way up to the twelfth floor. As the doors opened he heard the ping again and stepped out onto the plush carpet. Just as he found the office he was looking for he heard someone behind him scream.
“You must be a good lawyer,” Matt said as he sat down in the soft leather chair.
Brittany Skye Joyce shut the door to her office and silently, collected herself, and walked around to her desk. Her face had aged a few years at least in the two minutes he had been there.
“What in God’s name are you thinking Matt?”
“How have you been?” Her face crinkled in anger, a tic he remembered from when she was a child.
“I was fine until about five minutes ago when you stormed into my place of employment and assaulted two of our security guards. Do you have any idea what they could charge you with? You broke both of their jaws.”
“And yet here I sit, like I said, you must be a good lawyer.”
“You are a military vet suffering from Post Traumatic Stress, you didn’t tell them you were my brother did you?” Matt shook his head. “Good.”
It didn’t escape him that all three of his brothers had blown him off, or more accurately, regarded him with hostility, and his only sister was already separating herself from him. He left a terrible place where he had family all around, to come to a terrible place where his family wanted nothing to do to him.
“What do you want Matt?”
“I want to know what happened.”
“What happened to what?”
“You know to what, everything, the town, the house, the family.”
“Family,” she asked almost breaking into a laugh. “You have to be kidding. You took off and let this family rot. You left the moment you could and everyone else did the same. We wanted nothing to do with that house or those people either and they all just faded away.”
“And why do none of you speak anymore?”
“We have nothing to say to each other.”
Matt leaned in closer, sitting on the edge of his chair, “I need more than that, Brit.”
“Don’t call me that, no one has called me that in a long time.”
“What do you want to know?” Her anger had boiled to the surface and she was fighting away tears as she opened up the floodgates. “Johnny is a Federal Agent and I am a lawyer at the largest defense oriented law firm in the city, Jay Jay is a criminal, which isn’t exactly a great reference point for the partners here.”
“And Frank?” Brittany paused and checked the door again.
“The partners aren’t exactly open minded about alternative lifestyles either.” The weight of what she was saying landed on his shoulders like a three hundred pound rucksack.
“What are you saying?”
“Frank is gay, Matt.”
He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin. He didn’t know which was worse, the fact that he left long ago and didn’t keep in touch and his twenty-eight year old brother never told him he was gay, or the fact that the rest of his family was close by and didn’t speak to him because of it.
“I need your help,” Matt said.
“It isn’t an option Brittany.”
“Are you threatening me, you son of a bitch?”
“Look, I just need you to talk to Frank and get him to the house on Sunday night, I am moving in and fixing it up. I will talk to Johnny and do the same.”
“And if I refuse?”
“I will be back on a weekly basis to work over the guards, and they will all know who I am.”
The place looked different when the other three siblings walked through the front door. They would have used their keys, but since the door was open there was no point. Jay Jay and Matt had worked tirelessly for three days getting ready for their visit, the floors were clean, windows replaced, and walls were in the process of being painted. The combination of the fumes and the lack of air conditioner in the ninety degree weather allowed the door to hang on it’s hinges and Johnny, Frankie, and Brittany to walk in the front entrance unimpeded.
There was little small talk as they were all funneled into the den, a small room off the living room where the lone pieces of furniture, a round table with five chairs, sat. As they took seats quietly, they all wondered what the purpose of the formal gathering could be. It didn’t escape the siblings that it had been over twenty years since the five of them sat in the same room. Not even the funerals of their parents warranted this kind of a gathering.
“Thank you guys for coming,” Matt started, breaking the ice.
“Look, I was blackmailed into being here,” Brittany said as her face stayed passive. “Can we get on with whatever it is we are here for? I have a lot of work to do.”
“As much as I hate to agree with a shark,” Johnny put in, “I have a ton to do as well.”
“Give the dude a chance, fuzz,” Jay Jay defended.
In the last three days the two of them had come a long way in repairing what had been damaged by his absence. They didn’t have much in common, but they had agreed on the goal that Matt had let him in on.
“Ok, I will get right to it.” Matt wasn’t sure how to approach the subject, so direct was the tact he decided on. “I have an idea in mind and it will be a risk, but if all of us are on board, we can make it work.” The other three just stared at him, waiting for the delivery. “I want to clean up our home. I am not talking about the house, Jay Jay and I are making that happen. I am talking about the town.”
Matt watched the reactions of the other three. Johnny stared at him with a blank look, maybe trying to decipher his exact meaning, Brittany registered nothing, waiting to hear the punch line, and Frank looked as though he struggled with comprehending.
“What are you talking about,” Johnny probed.
“I am talking about getting the filth out of the street.”
“Who are you, Bruce Wayne,” Frank mocked, chuckling to himself. “Look, I am a doctor, not the boy wonder swinging down to the streets by your side to do battle with villains.”
“Do you remember playing in the park down the street,” Matt asked.
“Doesn’t it bother you that a man was stabbed in that very park two nights ago?”
“Not really,” he shrugged his shoulders and pulled out a cigarette. “I moved away when I started to get bothered and now it has nothing to do with me.”
“It has something to do with all of us.”
“No,” Frankie argued. “My memories here were shit anyway, you wanna take out some personal vendetta on this place you go ahead. J. Edgar FBI over here wanna join up with you that’s fine,” he motioned towards Johnny in a mocking tone, “but I have nothing to do with this.”
“Wait a minute,” Johnny interceded. He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “What are we talking about here? Vigilantism? I am a Federal Agent Matt, that shit is serious.”
“Here is what I am talking about,” he pulled out a file folder and laid it on the table. “The crime in this part of town all stems from drugs, import, distribution, use. If we can stop the flow of drugs into this town, we can actually make a dent in the crime. Get our foot in the door per se.”
Johnny was the only one to take the folder and peruse it. He stopped when he got to the last page.
“Where did you get all of this?”
“An inside source,” Matt offered. Johnny turned and looked at Jay Jay.
“Have you thought of what your crew will do to you when they find out you’re squealing to the pigs Jay? This shit is going to get you knifed in the back.”
“Dem cats turned they back on me in the clink, dis shit is about surviving.” He leaned back and put his feet on the table. “You got any idea what will happen when they come to me to keep runnin for dem and I turn ’em down? Dudes will think I am squealing anyway, I’ll get my tongue cut out. Fuzzy mothas like you don’t get it, you look at me and see me as repeat offending, but if I don’t my black ass is cut.”
“So what . . .you decide a better alternative is starting a war against Wesley Stoops?”
“What??” Brittany sprang forward in her chair, she grabbed the file and flipped through it. “What are you talking about?”
“He is the key to stopping it,” Matt stated. “He is the biggest supplier in the region.”
“You don’t know that,” she screamed, slamming the folder down on the table.
“I seen it,” Jay Jay said.
“You saw what, someone sell something that they said was given to them by someone who said it was from Stoops? That is unsubstantiated and hearsay, we cant just jump to that kind of conclusion.”
Matt stood and stepped between them, he took notice to how quickly his sister jumped to defend the drug king and addressed the situation.
“Do you have reason to believe he isn’t what Jay Jay says he is?” She stayed silent, but Johnny was all too happy too answer the question for her.
“She represents him.”
The revelation hung in the air for a moment before anything else was said. “I don’t, my firm does, I represent some of the smaller people that work for him in the community. He does a lot of charity work and has a lot of people that work for him.”
“How small a worker you willin to defend in court?” Jay Jay stood up and came closer, “Cause I musta not put in enough time to get council.”
“What are you talking about,” she asked suspiciously.
“I know what he does because I did it for him. I ran personal errands for Stoops.”
“You expect me to believe that,” she turned and grabbed her coat and went to leave. “This is my life Matt, and I am not going to put everything I worked for in jeopardy because you are having a fit of nostalgia. And Frank isn’t involved either, he has too much riding on his residency to go gallivanting on some dangerous crusade.” With that she stormed out of the house and they listened quietly as her car sped off.
“For the record,” Frank said as he stood up, “I agree with her, but I can stand up for myself.” He put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder, “This is part of your job so do whatever you want, but I am out.” He followed his sister and was gone within minutes.
“I think this is a terrible idea,” Johnny said. “But I have watched Stoops get away with shit for years because people like Brittany find loopholes in a law that is built tailor made for them. If you are going after Wesley Stoops, I’m willing to listen.”