We stood in Ned the Butcher’s shop, Boon and me. Together
we grabbed the fat bastard by the arms and feet and hobbled
him into the dark, secluded bathroom, which had already been
furnished with the plastic carpeting. “This fat bastard,” Boon
complained to me. “Think he ever heard of Weight Watchers
in his lifetime?” I said nothing, as I flopped my side of him,
the feet, respectfully to the floor. I did it in that way because
I had always loved and respected Ned. His trouble was he
had grown stingy with the family. Not wanting to pay the
protection money anymore. Hey, if I had not pulled the
trigger on him, somebody else would have. And to boot, I,
as a made member of the Bravo family, would have gotten
two behind the ear as well, for the simple reason I had dis-
Boon unrolled the big leather tool-belt he had brought
with him. It was filled inside with a bunch of tools. Saws.
Of all different shapes and forms. Duct-tape. Ropes that were
already made into nooses. This was the part of the job I had
really hated. The hits were OK by me, but this part would
always make me a tad queasy. Morbid shit. Well, there was
a reason I was only the family hammer, and nothing more. I
could never do the dirty stuff. For some reason, I could pic-
ture God looking down on me, shaking His massive head.
Not once did I picture that when I was doing a hit, though.
A hit was different. Somebody was going to cash in on it
sooner than later. Whenever a contract was on a person’s
head, they had the entire New York City underworld on
their ass. They were already dead. So what the fuck did
it matter who pulled the trigger?
But still, I had felt a pang of remorse for Ned. He was
here for years. Since I was a little kid. He’d give my friends
and me samples of ham and turkey. “Do not eat it all; take
some home to your parents,” he would tell us, merrily. Ned’s
was one of those big, affable faces. Always a grin on it. And
I knew I was going to miss seeing it. But it was his fault, he
dug his own grave. Who in their right mind would stop paying
the Bravo family, my family, protection money? We had helped
save his establishment from the destructive little paws of local
gangs. Mexican. Black. The Irish hoodlums from out in Hell’s
“The fuck are you doing?” I asked Boon. I noticed he had
a large Bowie knife right over the deceased’s head.
“The heart,” Boon had said gruffly. “It’s the most important
thing before a job like this.”
I guess I had given Boon a strange look. So he elaborated,
as though I, a mere skilled family hammer, should know such
“The heart is the major vital organ. It pumps the blood to
all the other organs. Once you attack it, it makes the job less
messy.” And then as he plunged the large knife into what re-
mained of Ned the Butcher I could not help but cringe. Hey,
I am a human being, after all.
Boon looked at me, smiley. And I could read his mind. Was
I not a made member of the Bravo family and he, a mere associate?
How could a man so weak-willed a tenderhearted as I rise to the
ranks and he, devoted to the last, gritty to the point of a goddamn
horror movie monster, be kept on as only a clean-up boy? Boon’s
nickname had been “Scarecrow,” for obvious reasons. He would
clean up any mess expertly, professionally. Whenever we made a
hit, a serious hit, such as this one, we would call him in.
The Scarecrow – totally indispensable. But also totally under-
appreciated. In my eyes, at least. That’s why I was shocked, when
Boon had started to saw into Ned’s left leg he’d said to me, “You
know. Really, I’m no good. At anything. I can’t make any money.
I’m old. Washed up. Count your blessings, kid. You, you get to be
in charge of your own crew.”
What could I say? So what if I had been made and he, the
Scarecrow, had not? He was still a living legend in my eyes.
As well as an invaluable asset to the Bravo family. When I
had told him this he, almost halfway through poor Ned’s leg
by now, waved off what I had said. “I barely make enough
to survive, you know that? In addition to the freelance stuff,
this week I had to file for SSI benefits. Things have gotten
that bad. That terrible.” Boon smiled ironically, as he finally
got the leg he was working on off. Then he had focused all
his attention on to the other one. I had felt bad. But not for
Ned any longer. For Boon. The Scarecrow. A legend in all
the five boroughs. I had heard stories about him as a kid and
my friends and I would talk together about him in wonderment.
Had he not done good things too? When an old lady was mug-
ged on Mulberry Street, did not the Scarecrow avenge the p-
oor, battered old woman along with her honor? And that time
that poor high school girl was raped late at night, did not the
Scarecrow seek vengeance on all three of the offenders? Th-
ey were found one week after the incident, in the park. Bullets
between their eyes, and balls.
How could a man so great, so widely revered and respected
not break even in life – why was he forced to go the shameful
route, to Uncle Sam, with his hat between his legs and a hand
out? I asked him this and Boon replied, “Because this is the
only thing I know, the clean-up business. And it’s nothing.
The money is not even in it. The money’s in the things you
specialize in, and the things I have no mind for: The numb-
ers. The rackets. The shylock. The gambling. The protect-
ion money. Those are the things that will get you rich. Or
at the very least, well-off. And I have no mind for it.” Th-
ere was a sad, awkward pause as Boon said, “Never had,
Standing there, it was all so surreal. This poor old man,
doing the really dirty work. Sawing into some corpse’s legs,
getting himself dirty and sticky, doing the work everyone else
was afraid to do, could not even make ends-meet. And now he
had gone and filed for retirement benefits. He filed. There was
not even a guarantee that he would be accepted. I did not have
the heart to tell him, but my brother-in-law Dan was a lawyer.
Represented many people trying to get benefits and he had told
me one day how sad it was. “Most of them need it. Most have
worked all their lives. Or they’re in wheelchairs. Or veterans,
out on their asses.”
That was another sad thing: Boon, the veteran, who had almost
been killed in Vietnam, fighting for his country. He only comes back
to America to be spit on by the protesters and the government? I was
really fucking boiling. And I guess Boon could see it – the indignation –
in my face. Because he looked at me, and shot another one of those
good-natured smiles off in my direction.
“Relax, brother.” Boon was hacking into Ned’s arm now, and
the blood was flowing out slowly but steadily. Boon took a long
hard look at Ned the Butcher’s body, or what had been left of it,
and then back at me. “I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.” I
too started looking at Ned’s corpse and that’s when it had dawned
on me what Boon was thinking,
Tis better to be an alive kitten than a dead tiger.
Jack Bristow, a short story writer living in The United States, has written for several online publications, including, Visatergo, The New Flesh, Death Head Grin, Magnolia Press, as well as a host of others. Follow him, @RealJackBristow