Breaking Bones

By: Amanda Washington



MY POPS ONCE told me that a real man provides for his family, no matter what the circumstances. It’s ironic since the old man disappeared when I was ten, leaving my mom to raise me and my brothers alone.

I’ve spent years wondering what happened to him. Did he wake up one morning and decide he’d had enough of the responsibilities of being a man? Or did he piss off the wrong people and end up taking a dirt nap in one of the luxurious Las Vegas landfills? Regardless, he left for work one day and never bothered to show his face again.

Ma did her best in his absence, evolving overnight from a sheltered housewife into an exhausted housekeeper, pulling double shifts to ensure her family’s minimum-wage survival. She worked hard, but she could only do so much. So when I saw an opportunity to help her out, I jumped on it.

It all started while I waited outside my school for Ma to pick me up. The disapproving Principal Jones leaned against the bike rack beside me, occasionally breaking into another lecture about the importance of keeping my hands to myself. But the kids at my school were loud-mouthed punks, and my fists were the only weapon I could afford.

While we waited, a slick black-and-chrome Jaguar rolled to a stop in front of us. The front doors opened and two men dressed in suits and shiny black shoes emerged. The passenger was broad-shouldered with no neck and more muscles than any suit could contain. He approached with his head on a swivel, one hand in his pocket, and a threatening scowl. The driver was older and walked slower. He had a potbelly and a lit cigarette was hanging from his lips. He took a drag of the smoke and gave me a calculated smile. I had the feeling I was being sized up. He flicked the butt of his cigarette away and gave a slight nod to Mr. Jones. Expecting my principal to go ballistic about the man smoking on school property, I turned. Mr. Jones was walking back toward the school, leaving me alone with the two suits.

“You Gino Leone’s boy?” the older man asked, still watching me. He had a scar on his cheek and the bridge of his nose zig-zagged like it had been broken a time or two.

The mention of my pops gave me pause. When Ma had reported his disappearance, she told me and my brothers the cops would be by to ask us questions. It had been months and they hadn’t bothered. The men in front of me didn’t look like any cops I’d ever seen, but I wasn’t going to risk it. If they knew something about Pops, I wanted to hear what they had to say. I nodded. Then, because my inner voice of self-preservation told me to be a little more respectful, I added a hasty, “Yes sir. How do you know my father?”

Instead of answering, the old man stepped closer and patted me on the shoulder. I was big for a ten-year-old, but his hand was enormous. It slid down to my bicep and wrapped around my arm. Shocked, I watched his giant mitt probe my muscles. A few of his knuckles were bent funny, like they’d been broken or popped out of place too many times, which seemed odd paired with his nice suit.

“We can work with this,” the old man said. “It’ll take some training, but you got heart, kid, and that’s what matters. You did a good thing today,” he said, pulling my attention back to his face. Something lingered behind his eyes. Pride? Amusement? I couldn’t tell.

A good thing? I searched for sarcasm in his tone, but he seemed genuinely pleased with me, which didn’t make sense since I had been suspended for breaking a kid’s arm. Hell, I wasn’t pleased with myself. Mr. Jones said Mom would most likely get stuck with the kid’s hospital bill. She’d probably ground me for life. Then she’d have to pick up a third job. Just thinking about her having to work more because of my temper made me sick.

The old man grinned, splitting his face in two and making him look like a frog. “Not just a good thing. A great thing. A smart thing.” He leaned closer to me and added, “You opened doors for your future today, kid. Doors that pay well.” He eyed my too-small T-shirt, my faded jeans, and my worn sneakers. “You look like you could use a little extra cash.”

I knew exactly what I looked like, but his words still stung. I scowled at him, and he held up his hands and shook his head.

“Just an observation. No offense meant. Look, you did me a favor today, so I’m trying to return the gesture. That’s how it works with the family. You scratch our backs, we scratch yours. Now, you interested in some work or not?”

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