CHAPTER FIVE:

BROTHERS


You got no right. This is a family matter!

Charles and Eddie are brothers.

Yeah, we're brothers. I warned him....hundred times I warned him. 'Don't tell nobody,' I told him!

But he forgot...and he told me...and that's why you were whipping him, right? Right!

Right. He had it comin' --- I warned him! You don't know what it's like...growin' up...livin' with him...the way people look at you all the time, like you're a freak too...my ole man used to make me kiss him!

He was your brother! You were supposed to take care of him!

Brothers (Written by George R.R. Martin)


John Spirko fumbled with the keys, looking for the one that would lock the door to his brother's apartment. Putting down the box he held in one arm, he tried another key. He should have known better than to put Bernie's apartment key on his ring. After the third try, the lock slid securely into place. Impatient to be finished with this business, he slipped the key off his ring and slid it back under the door. Picking up the box again, he walked out to his van, now crammed with the contents of his brother's apartment. He glanced at the junk he had salvaged and let out a string of curses. This was the remains of Bernie's life. There was so little to show that he had ever existed, and none of it was worth anything to anyone, except to him. Shoving in the final box, he closed the door and paused to look back at the complex where his brother had lived the last days of his life.

"Bernie, you stupid son-of-a-bitch, what did you do to wind up like this?"

Irritated at himself, he wiped the back of his hand across his eyes. Not many things made John Spirko emotional, and none of his associates would ever consider him a sentimental man. A man in his business couldn't afford to allow sentimentality into his life. It could get you killed, and he was both a survivor and a killer. That fact was as cold and as deadly as his profession, but where his younger brother was concerned, it was a different matter. Bernie's death had hurt him, weakened him, as nothing in his life had ever done. Even if he were inclined to let the death of his brother go - which he was not - he could never forgive the fact that whoever had killed Bernie had started a chain reaction in John Spirko that had him teetering on the brink of emotions he had long thought buried beneath the calculating ruthlessness of his life. That his vulnerability was now exposed presented a very real threat to his survival, and he knew he had to excise the pain and the grief of Bernie's murder. Failing to do so was as good as signing his own death warrant. At some point he would slip, would hesitate a second too long, and then it would be over. He would be as cold and as dead as Bernie.

John Spirko had no beliefs except for the here and now. He had no reality other than the life of terror and death that had been his friend and family for as long as he could remember. But there was still Bernie.....there had always been Bernie. Someone had put into motion the wrong set of circumstances that had ended in Bernie Spirko's demise, and John Spirko had sworn on his own life that someone was going to pay; and in the process just maybe he'd regain his edge.

Lighting a cigarette, John took a long drag, holding it in until he felt his lungs would burst. The discomfort felt good, at least better than the tightness in his chest where his brother's murder was a gaping wound. The brothers had grown up apart after the death of their parents. Shuffled from one relative to another, it was a miracle they'd been able to keep up with each other at all. It was that very shuffling, with no place ever truly being home, that had brought each to see the other as the only true family they had. They'd seldom communicated, and neither had much of anything to do with the other's life, but there was always the knowledge that they were brothers. And now Bernie was gone. John Spirko felt the rage building inside him, kept in check only by the knowledge that Bernie's murder wouldn't go unavenged.

His fingers tightened around the slender cigarette and it crumbled, dropping to the ground where he smashed it beneath his shoe. In his profession, he was a man familiar with death. He'd sent many men there personally, but his baby brother had only been a newspaper reporter for a two-bit tabloid at that. He should have been the safe one.

He lit another cigarette and slid behind the driver's seat. Heading for the expressway, he glanced at the box next to him. Inside Bernie's apartment, he'd found his files, fifty or more micro-cassettes, and several rolls of undeveloped film. Exactly what could his brother have been investigating that had landed him a berth in the East River? John Spirko knew that whatever it was, Bernie had merely been a pawn. Only pawns were found waterlogged at the bottom of the river, and he was out to get whoever had used his kid brother. There had to be an answer in all that stuff, and then for once he'd do a hit without payment. This one was for him, and for Bernie... 'cause that's what brothers were for.


> > > > > > > * < < < < < < <

Hours later John Spirko sat in his office just outside of Brooklyn. He'd gone through all the tapes, and only three hadn't been tossed aside. He pressed the miniature earpiece to his ear and clicked on the micro-recorder. Closing his eyes, he once again listened to his brother ask, "What does Vincent look like. Tell me anything you can about him." After some moments, an unknown voice replied, "They have a sick relationship. He's not a man. I mean, he is not human." The conversation continued, but Spirko had ceased to listen.

Weeks after Bernie's death he'd followed lead after lead that led to nowhere. In the first wave of his frenzy to smoke out the murderer, it hadn't occurred to him to even look at his brother's work for a connection to his death. In John's opinion, the stories Bernie wrote for the tabloid had been too bizarre to be real and too concocted to warrant interest, much less danger. Then, with the last of his leads fizzling out, he had finally turned his attention to Bernie's life work. His brother's last story was centered around the existence of some freak man-beast or whatever it was. It was a story that John assumed had been scratched for being too far-fetched, even for his brother's risque newspaper. Now he was having second thoughts. Bernie's death was somehow linked to this story. Now that he had turned his hunter's instincts in that direction, he knew he was on the right trail. Even as cold as the trail was, he saw the pattern immediately, a pattern of unexplained murders that Bernie must have figured out, too.
Again he looked over the short list of names he'd compiled, and then made a decision. Scratching out all but one, he stared at it, tapped his pen against the name, and played it around in his mind. He felt it in the name. It was the instant recognition of one whose nature was like his own: a predator who knew the taste of death and embraced it. This was the one he would go after, for it took a killer to know a killer. Sitting back, he smiled, and after a moment, he spoke the word aloud: "Vincent."


Continued in Chapter 6