Excerpts One: Chapter 1
At 2:00pm on a Friday, May 14, 1948, Peter and I were called to the counseling office at Northeast Junior High School.
A man with a serious face, seated behind his desk, said, “I’m Ralph Hayes, school counselor.” He nodded toward Peter, “You must be Peter?” Peter didn’t respond. Mr. Hayes then turned to me and asked, “And you must be Andrew?”
“That’s right,” I answered.
Mr. Hayes gave Peter a quick questioning glance, and then said, “We received a call from Hennepin County Hospital. They want you boys to go down there.”
“Why?” Peter asked.
Mr. Hayes’s brown furrowed. “Your mother was rushed to emergency this morning.”
“Bet our old man hit her,” Peter said, raising his fist in a threatening gesture.
“Dad drinks once in a while and get a little carried away,” I explained.
“He’s a god-damned drunk,” Peter added.
Mr. Hayes pressed back in his chair. “You want me to take you there?”
“We can make it okay,” I responded, preferring to be alone with Peter so we could talk.
As soon as we were out of the school, Peter said, “Bet anything Dad beat Mom up again.”
“We better wait and see,” I responded.
Peter started jogging. I ran to keep up. Upon reaching the hospital, we rushed to the reception desk. “We’re here to see our mother,” I explained.
“What’s her name?”
The receptionist forced a smile and made a quick call. “Someone will be down to show you to your mother,” she said.
Within seconds a nurse approached us. She was tense as she extended a welcoming hand. “Before you go in to see your mother, I need to talk with you.” She directed us into a small room. “Don’t be shocked when you see her,” she said. “She’s heavily bandaged.” Her voice mellowed as she added, “Your mother sure loves you boys.”
“What happened?” Peter asked.
The nurse paused. “We’re not quite sure. She suffered a severe blow to the head. She was found at the bottom of the basement stairs by a neighbor. There were multiple bruises, but a blow to her head was most serious.”
“What’s Mom say happened?” I asked.
“She’s confused. She hasn’t said much.”
Peter stood. “Take us to Mom! She’ll tell me and Andrew what happened.”
“Before going in there, you need to know that she’s in critical condition.”
“Will she be okay?” I asked, worried by the despair in the nurse’s voice.
“It’s not looking good now. The next four or five hours will tell the story.”
“Show us where she is!” Peter insisted.
The nurse hesitated, her eyes studying Peter. “One more thing, be careful not to upset your mother. The doctor was against you boys visiting, but your mother insisted.”
When the door to Mom’s room opened, there was a nauseous antiseptic smell that irritated my nose and throat. Mom’s bed was tilted at an angle, and her head bulged with a gauze wrapping that covered all but her eyes. I swallowed to hold back the gastric upsurge.
There was no sign that she recognized us. Her motionless eyes focused far away. The nurse took Mom’s hand, checked her pulse. “Your two sons are here to see you, Simona.” The nurse gently squeezed Mom’s hand and said, “I’ll leave them here with you.”
After the nurse departed, we stood dumbfounded, looking at each other, unsure how to proceed in this unfamiliar circumstance. Simultaneously, we moved to the bed, Peter on one side, me on the other.
“What happened, Mom?” Peter asked. There was no response.
I reached out and took Mom’s right hand. Peter took her left hand. “Do you recognize us, Mom?” I asked. No answer. Tears swelled in my eyes. I glanced at Peter. He turned away as he wiped the wetness from his cheeks.
Seeing the hurt in Peter, I started to sob, helpless in my effort to hold back. Peter dried his face with his shirt sleeve, his teeth clenched and his body shaking with anger. “That drunken son of a bitch,” he muttered.
“Peter,” Mom said, not loud, but firm.
Peter glanced at Mom. “What happened?” he demanded.
“Peter!” Mom said in a pleading voice, squeezing both our hands. “You can’t let you anger destroy you. Do you understand, Peter?” Her voice was shaky.
“Dad pushed you down the stairs, didn’t he, Mom?” Peter persisted.
The strength of her grip faltered. I gazed with dear toward Peter. “I better go for the nurse,” I said.
Mom squeezed my hand. “No! No!” she whispered, laboring to catch her breath, her eyes closed. My heart pounded. I braced to run for the nurse.
“I … I must see each of you boys-alone,” Mom pleaded.
We both started toward the door, each offering the other to be first to talk with her. “You talk first,” Peter said. “I need time to calm down.” Peter departed.
“Come close,” Mom said, extending her hands to me. “I … I worry about the destructive anger inside him.” Mom squeezed my hand, amazing me with the power she mustered in those thin. Taunt forearms. “You must help protect him from his anger!” she begged. “Peter respects you.” She glared into my eyes with a fervor I’d never seen before. Then her head dipped forward as her mind drifted. Her grip weakened and her fingers fell away from my hands.
I readied to rush for help. Mom sensed my intent and chanted, “Andrew, Andrew.” She attempted to lean forward to give me a hug, but the strength wasn’t there. I pulled her close. “Andrew,” she whispered.
“Promise me you’ll watch after Peter. The war-damaged mind of your father has transplanted his demons onto your brother. Without your gentle influence, this evil force will be his downfall.” She clutched at me, her feeble grip frantic to convey the magnitude of her plea.
“I promise, Mom.”
The brought a prolonged grateful hug. “Can I see Peter now?” she asked.
“I’ll send him in.”
Peter was pacing outside Mom’s door. The instant he saw me, he snatched my arm. “Is Mom okay?”
“She wants to see you.”
Peter dashed into her room, leaving the door open. Just like Peter. I closed it. I walked back and forth, much slower than had Peter. I tried to make sense out of what had transpired, but my mind wouldn’t focus.
Mom’s door opened. Peter burst out, his face twisted in a fearful grimace. “We need a doctor, quick!”
Peter raced to the nurse’s station. “Mom needs help!” he demanded. A nurse hurried to Mom’s room. Within seconds several small lights flashed on the switchboard. Two men in white jackets rushed down the hall and disappeared into Mom’s room.
We stood with our eyes fixed on the door. I felt numb. Peter’s face reddened. The veins on his muscular arms and neck protruded, his fists squeezed tight.
Soon the nurse and two men emerged from Mom’s room. “This is Dr. Abrams,” said the nurse.
Dr. Abrams shook our hands. He spoke softly. “I’m sorry, fellows. We weren’t able to revive your mother. As we feared, the blow to her head proved fatal.”
My body sagged, my mind in a fog as we left the hospital. Peter walked with large steps, an angry glare in his eyes. I wanted to share my pain with him, but didn’t thin k it wise to do so now.
It would only intensify his anger at Dad. Any suggestion that Mom’s fall may have been an accident would further agitate him. Too many times he’d seen the intensity of Dad’s irrational anger, and felt he owed Mom a lot for how she protected him when he was young.
Many times she stepped in to protect him. She paid the price, but Peter was spared the brunt of Dad’s violence. As Peter grew older, bigger, and stronger, he felt obligated to repay Mom for her protection through the years. He came to consider it his responsibility to protect her.
I felt desperate to ease the guilt and anger Mom’s death brought to Peter. “You can’t be blaming yourself,” I blurted out.
Peter yelled back, “Everyone knows who killed Mom and that fucker’s going to pay for it.”
I decided to keep my mouth shut. As we got close to home, Peter’s pace quickened and the look in his eyes more intense. A fast walk for Peter was a run for me, but I had to remain on his side. Mom’s dying words weighed heavily on me.
As we approached the house, Peter burst ahead. I couldn’t keep up. He charged through the front door and searched the ground level by the time I got there. He dashed upstairs, slamming doors in disgust after failing to find Dad. Then, he bolted to the basement. I followed, watching him squeeze behind the furnace to peek behind the coal bin.
After finishing his search, Peter came toward me with clenched fists and fiery eyes, eyes that mellowed as we made eye contact.
At that instant we saw the blood stains on the concrete. My mind drifted into a trance as I gazed at the floor. I turned to Peter and in the glow of the overhead light bulb I saw tears in his eyes. I wiped my own face.
My vision blurred. Had it not been for Peter’s deep throaty sobs, I’d have never known the intensity of his pain.
Somehow, Peter’s misery hurt more than my own. I reached out and stumbled forward.
We came together in a convulsive hugging that confirmed the closeness that has always existed between us. If there was anyone with whom I wanted to share my hurt, it was Peter. I knew he felt the same.
Between us was a love Mom had ignited and nurtured, a love intensified by the evil force that plagued the mind of our father. The more ominous that devastating threat, the stronger was our need to stand together. Never had we felt the need to support one another as we did now.
Our sobbing and pain became as one. This closeness strengthened the urgency of my commitment to uphold the promise to Mom. No one knew more than Mom about the destructiveness and suffering that anger could bestow.
Mom recognized in her final words that death was not far away. She knew what had killed her. Yet, a dimension of her mind remembered the husband she knew before the war and she had patiently waited for that beauty to return. She watched for that same beauty in peter, just as I did.
As Peter backed off and glanced at the blood stain on the floor, instant anger flashed in his eyes. My body stiffened as I gazed upon my brother.
Excerpt Two: Chapter 2
The emotional drain brought on by Mom’s death sapped my energy. I wanted to rest, but had to keep an eye on Peter, who was adamant about waiting up for Dad’s return home. I tried to make my presence as casual as possible. Any confrontation on my part would only fuel Peter’s anger.
Peter gave me a sympathetic glare. “Thanks for keeping me company,” he said.
We sat quietly. My eyes drooped, my head sagged. Suddenly, my head popped up. I had dozed off. Thank God something had awakened me. I took a worried glance at Peter, who was as wide awake and intense as ever. His endurance amazed me. I’d always been curious about how long he could go without sleep. Never had I been able to stay awake long enough to find out. I had witnessed his stamina as an athlete, but never thought much about it, since it was always overshadowed by his athletic ability, that already at his young age was legendary in Northeast Minneapolis.
“Maybe we should go to bed,” I finally suggested.
“I’m staying up,” he responded.
“Tomorrow will be another big day.”
I sat up in my chair and resolved to wait it out. Soon, I slumped again, mumbling, “I doubt Dad’s coming home tonight.”
This brought a hard glare from Peter, who responded, “So where the hell is he?”
His threatening voice bothered me. “It just seems a waste of time to wait up when we don’t even know if he’ll be here.”
Peter glanced at the clock. “’Maybe you’re right,” he said.
“I think a good night’s sleep would do us bother good,” I proclaimed with finality.
Peter popped to his feet. “I’m going out lookin’ for Dad,” he said.
I felt like the wind was knocked out of me. “What chance you got to find him tonight?” I asked.
“We know his hangouts.”
Peter was right. There were many nights when Mom had sent Peter and me out to look for Dad. We almost always found him.
Peter opened the door. “Hold it! I’m going with you,” I said. As soon as I got to my feet, I felt dizzy.
“You okay?” Peter asked.
I rubbed my eyes. “Guess I got groggy sitting so long.”
“You’re not lookin’ too swift, little brother.” Peter smiled. “Maybe you better stay home and get some sleepy-poo.”
Peter knew how to spark my anger and jack me up. That’s exactly what happened. It made me face the tough reality of Mom’s dying words. To fulfill my commitment to her, I’d have to forget my frailties and do what had to be done. Keeping up with Peter wouldn’t be easy.
We started our search on Central Avenue near Columbia Golf Course. The bartenders in every hangout along the avenue recognized us. By 11:00pm we reached the bridge at St. Anthony Falls. Beyond was a proliferation of downtown bars that would complicate our search.
We had only hunted for Dad beyond the bridge a few times. The fact that his plight had brought him this far was a sure sign that he was determined to escape the pain of his troubled world.
“Where to now?” I asked.
“Last time Dad came this far we found him in lower Hennepin, down by the hooch joints,” Peter said impatiently.
“It’s tough finding anybody down there.”
“Let’s get going,” Peter responded. He took off. I followed. We went to Augie’s, the most popular strip joint. There was a doorman blocking our entrance.
“Were lookin’ for our old man,” Peter said. “He’s a big guy with curly hair. Name’s Theodore Amonovitch.”
“Nobody tells names in dis place,” said the doorman, a burly punch-drunk boxer type. He sized us up. “Bout haf an hour ago de was dis sloppy drunk, an old fart. Came outta de Saddle cross da street. He was wid a young whore. Dey cut out cross da avenue, goin’ dat a way.” He pointed north on Washington Avenue.
Before the man finished, Peter was on the move. We ran to the corner and headed north on Washington. This area was a sharp contrast to the brightly lit hustle and bustle of downtown.
On the east side of Washington was an endless line of warehouses; on the west side were grand old dirty brick office buildings.
The bars on north Washington were few and far between, just like the street lights. At the end of each long block was a single light. Like everything else on the avenue, the lights were covered with a dark film of soot from the locomotives that continuously chugged back and forth in the switchyard parallel to the street. Beneath the low-lying heavy cloud over, the oppressive humidity and smoke smudged the air and cushioned the crash of coupling railroad cars.
It weighed me down, make it tough keeping up with Peter. He looked back and slowed.
I pressed hard to catch up. It was too much for me. Peter decided to move on ahead. He knew I could take care of myself. His foremost desire was to find Dad.
I had intense pain in my side, sweat oozed from every pore of my body and clothes stuck to my skin, resisting my movement. I had to rest.
Without me, Peter moved faster. His physical endurance was no surprise to me and caused me no shame. It was a simple fact of life: Peter was physically gifted. Often times he’d performed beyong the limits of the ordinary.
Peter disappeared from view. The pain in my side had diminished, but had not gone away.
I couldn’t afford to wait any longer. I proceeded at a slow trot, increasing speed as I felt more comfortable. Several blocks ahead I spotted a dim light. After advancing another block I was able to read the sign: BURLINGTON HOTEL.
It was located on a corner, a three-story building with a bar on the ground level, with guest rooms above. I opened the squeaky door and was hit by the nauseating musty smell of booze and vomit. One step inside told me the place was deserted. I was about to leave when I heard a throaty contralto voice, “Whatcha want, handsome?”
A female figure came into view. All I could distinguish was the glow of red as the light at the end of the bar reflected off her pompadour heap of hair. Standing such that he body didn’t catch the direct ray of light, the lady presented a seductive profile. It caused a stir inside me and raised my already hot body temperature.
“I … I was checking to see if my brother stopped in here. He’s a big husky guy.”
She moved behind the bar. “The big man. He as here looking for his father,” she said, her voice shaky.
“He was here and moved on,” came a loud voice from upstairs.
Then, echoing down the stairway came angry shouting, “MOVE ASIDE!”
My muscles tightened. That was Peter’s voice. I headed toward the stairway.
The lady maneuvered in front of me. “Get the hell out of here! Understand?” she said, trying to sound tough. From close up I was amazed at her grotesque appearance and momentarily forgot what was happening beyond the stairway. She was an old woman, hiding behind a bulging red wig; mascara plastered eyes and wore elevated high heels, which gave a precarious lilt to her walk.
“Pardon me,” I said, as I jockeyed to get around her. She grabbed my arm and held tight, showing surprising strength. I jerked to free myself. She fell back. I darted toward the stairs.
She recovered and came at me swinging. Hesitant about hurting an old woman, I restrained her arms. She kicked at me in frustration, her knee catching me in the groin. It wasn’t a direct blow, but enough to briefly disable me and kindle my anger.
I intensified my grip on her arm. She became a wild banshee, twisted free, flung off her heels and charged at me, going for my groin. I let loose with an angry blow that knocked her back like rag doll. She slammed against the bar and slumped to the floor.
I scurried up the stairs and raced through the hall in the direction of the wild noises. I found nothing on the second floor. I dashed up to the third floor, puffing hard and sweating. There, I heard a thud, followed by a sharp crunching smack of a fist.
I arrived just in time to see an obese black man crumple to the carpet. As he collapsed, Peter scrambled for an object on the floor. He picking it up and showed me. It was a revolver. “The big fucker tried to shoot me,” Peter said.
My eyes fixed on the weapon. When I approached Peter, he gave me a sudden violent shove that knocked me back through the open door behind me. As I fell, a thunderous blast of gunfire sent a ringing pain in my ears. The sharp sound faded and gave way to a biting odor of gun smoke.
Peter kneeled and shook me. “You okay?” he asked.
“What happened?” I said.
Peter grabbed my hand and pulled me to my feet.
“Let’s get the fuck outta here,” he ordered.
I was dazed as I gazed into the semi-darkness, awed by Peter’s quick, decisive moves as he rushed to the end of the hall and snatched the weapon from the hand of the fallen woman.
He stuffed this weapon in his front pocket, while the other weapon still remained in his left hand. He scurried into the hall bathroom. I tagged behind, watching as he washed the revolver handle with painstaking thoroughness.
A groan from the hall ignited quick action from Peter. He knocked me aside as he charged at the black man, who had raised his head and leaned on an elbow. My body cringed in disbelief as Peter raised a fist and cracked him with a vicious blow that slammed his head against the wall.
I held my breath as Peter stood ready to strike at him again. One blow was enough. The man’s head flopped to the side and thumped on the floor. Peter waited to make sure he remained still.
I exhaled a breath of relief as Peter returned to the bathroom. After he finished cleaning the revolver, he carried it on a washcloth to the old women, avoiding the puddle of blood on the threadbare carpet. Peter deftly squeezed the old woman’s limp fingers around the revolver handle.
After sustaining this position for several minutes, he released his grip. Her fingers slowly opened.
My muscles twitched. Peter calmly rose to his feet.
“We better call the police,” I said.
“NO WAY!” Peter snarled, as he rushed into an adjourning room. There, he kneeled down and picked a wallet off the floor. “The fuckers,” he said as he looked inside before stuffing it in his pocket. Turning to the man lying on the bed, Peter pulled his legs off the mattress and raised his torso. My body slumped as I recognized our father. Peter hoisted Dad over his shoulder. I tried to help, but Peter had the task accomplished before I could lend assistance.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Peter said.
Events were moving so fast that I couldn’t think straight. I followed Peter as he carried Dad like a sack of flour. This was no small feat. Dad was a big man.
As we emerged from the Burlington Hotel, the outside air was a refreshing contrast to the nauseating stuffiness inside. The sudden jarring crash of coupling railroad cars made me shudder. We returned by the same route that had brought us on the strange adventure. As we crossed the Central Avenue Bridge near St. Anthony Falls, Peter removed the revolver from his pocket and flung it into the swift current of the Mississippi.
“Why’d you do that?” I asked.
“So nobody can find it.”
“You got me confused.”
“Just wait. It’ll make sense.” His actions disturbed me. Peter sensed my concern and stopped to explain: “I killed that old woman. The gun that killed her is the gun she holds in her hand. The police are gonna assume she got in a scuffle and accidentally shot herself.”
“Why not tell the police the truth?”
“That I killed someone? Fuck that noise. I ain’t trustin’ no police. I don’t want me ass locked in a cage.”
My head was muddled. “Want some help with Dad?” I asked.
“I’m doin’ fine,” Peter answered, breathing heavy.
Several times I offered to help, but Peter was adamant. The truth was that Peter knew I wasn’t strong enough to carry Dad’s 109 pounds. Why should he embarrass me? All I could do was tag along.
When we arrived home, Peter hauled Dad upstairs and plopped him on the bed. Dad let out a muffled groan as he landed like a dead fish. Instantly, he was snoring, oblivious to the world. I leaned over to unbutton his short and caught a whiff of his whisky breath. The putrid smell backed me off.
“Fuckin’ disgrace,” Peter said. “Let him sober up.” Peter started toward the bathroom, removing his sweat-soaked shirt. “I need to shower,” he said.
“Sure you don’t want me to inform the police?” I asked again.
“Forget it!” Peter snapped back. “I don’t want the police to know shit.”
“Don’t you think they’ll find out?”
I couldn’t answer. My thoughts remained confused as I tried to sort out the events at the Burlington Hotel. I was tempted to call the police despite Peter’s objection. Several times I made a move toward the phone, but held back, worried about what Peter might do.
I was convinced that Peter’s anger was the driving force in all that happened tonight. Anger propelled him to go out in search of Dad. Anger fueled the assault on the black man. The shooting of the old woman was an impulsive outburst of violence. Peter acted without thinking.
I envisioned Peter as a powerful steam engine charging down a mountain toward disaster.
He moved so fast and forcefully that all I could do was sit by and watch. My presence had been of little value. I was too slow and indecisive.
My worry was that the police would find out and Peter would be in serious trouble. I curled up in bed like a helpless puppy. Mom had been dead one day and already I let her down.