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Authors: Ken Bruen

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The Book of Virtue

BOOK: The Book of Virtue
3.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The Book of Virtue

Ken Bruen


Open Road Integrated Media Ebook


The Book of Virtue


y old man:




And that was on the weekends when he was happy. If a psycho could do happy.

His cop buddies said,

“Frank, Frank is just intense.”


Other kids go,

“My dad took me to the Yankees.”

Mine, he took out my teeth.

With intensity.

The horrors of peace. He bought the farm when I was seventeen. My mom, she took off for Boise, Idaho.

Hell of another sort.

They buried my father in the American flag. No argument, he was a patriot.

I played

“Another one bites the dust.”

He'd have hated Queen to be the band.

His inheritance?

A book.

Rich, huh?

My father died horribly. A slow, lingering, eat-your-guts-in-pieces cancer. His buddies admired my constant vigil.


I wanted to ensure he didn't have one of those miraculous recoveries. His last hour, we had an Irish priest who anointed him, said,

“He will soon be with God.”

The devil, maybe. With any luck.

He was lucid in his last moments. Looked at me with total fear.

I asked,

“Are you afraid?”

He nodded, his eyes welling up. I leaned close, whispered,

“Good, and, you know, it will get worse.”

A flash of anger in those dead brown eyes, and I asked,

“What are you going to do, huh? Who you going to call, you freaking bully?”

The death rattle was loud and chilling. The doctor rushed in, held his hand, said,

“I am so sorry.”

I managed to keep my smirk in check. He was buried in a cheap box, to accessorize his cheap soul. A week after, I was given his estate.

The single book.

Mind you, it was a beautiful volume, bound in soft leather, gold leaf trim. Heavy, too.

And well thumbed.

I was puzzled. My old man, his reading extended to the sports page in
The Daily News.

But a book?


On the cover, in faded gold was,


Like he'd know any damn thing about that.

Flicked through it


In his spidery handwriting, it was jammed with notes. The first page had this:

“You cannot open a book without learning something.”

… Confucius.

I put the book down.

“Was he trying to educate himself?”

The schmuck.

My cell shrilled.

Brady, my boss. He muttered,

“Sorry about your old man.”

Yeah. Yada, yada.

Did the sympathy jig for all of two minutes. Then,

“Grief in the club last night.”

The outrider here being

“The hell where you?”

And, unsaid,

“So your old man bought the farm. You're supposed to ensure the club runs smooth.”

The Khe San, in midtown.

Home to:

Wise guys



Low lifes


Power trippers


All R and R-ing in a place of uneasy truce.

My job: to maintain smooth and easy vibe. I didn't ask if they checked their weapons at the door but did try to keep a rack on the rampant egos. I had an assistant—in truth a Mack 5 would have been the biz—but, lacking that, I had—


A weapon of a whole deadly calibre.

Brady was a Nam wanna-be, like Bruce in his heyday, a dubious tradition begun by John Wayne with the loathsome Green Berets. Rattle on enough about a lost war and it gave the impression you were there. Sure to be shooting, Brady played “Born in the USA” like his own personal anthem. That he was from the Ukraine seemed neither here nor deceptive there.

I ran the club, and well.

Was taught by the best, my best friend, Scotty, but more of that later.

Had learned to walk the taut line between chaos and safety that growing up with a bully equips you to do. When your mother takes a walk early, you lose any semblance of trust. My old man, second generation Mick, was as sentimental as only a fledging psychopath can be. His MO was simple:

Beat the living shit out of your child, play the suck-heart songs:

“Danny Boy”

“Galway Bay”

“Molly Malone”

Sink a bottle of Jay.

Weep buckets for your own miserable self.

What they term the “Constellation of Disadvantage.”

Booze, mental illness, violence.

But books?


So what the hell was this beautifully bound edition about? I opened another page at random.


“A book must be an ice axe

To break

The seas

Frozen inside our soul.”

I was rattled.

If he could quote that, and, Jesus wept, have applied it to his own self, where the fook did that leave my dark finished portrait of him?'

Resolved to run it by Cici.

She was

Brady's babe, in every sense.

Twenty five years of age with the experience of fifty, and all of them dirty.

And ruthless.

Concealed behind a stunning face, she had that rarity, green eyes, and a mouth designed by a

She was a simple girl at heart, really.

All she wanted really was a shitload of cash.

And, like, before the spring.

Her beauty was of that unique stop-you-dead variety.

Worse, she knew it.

Used it.

Sure, I was banging her. If you live a cliché, then that's the most lame of all. But, see, I could talk to her, I think. And,

Get this:

She read.

Our club catered to the young punks, reared on the movies
Wise Guys.

They spoke a mangled Joe Peschi, convoluted by snatches of Travis Bickle.

Books? Nope.

They didn't know from kindle to
National Enquirer.
But Cici, she'd have a book running alongside her vegetarian Slurpee. Her latest was titled,
Ethics of the Urban Sister.

I shit thee not.

So, she seemed to know stuff. Couple that with an old soul glint in her amazing eyes and you had, what?

Sensuality with knowledge.

Late February, New York was colder than my old man's eyes.

An hour before the club opened, we were having the usual hassle:

Chef on the piss

Waitresses on the whinge

And a mega tab from an old guy in one of The Families who no one had the
to ask,

“Yo, fook head, you want to like, settle your freaking bill?”



As in having to ass kiss and somehow get some major green from the dangerous bastard.

Cici was down with the young guns' lingo,

Was explaining to me the essence of

“Too school for cool.”

And the extreme irrationality of adding NOT to a statement. Like

“I'm happy.”

Dramatic pause,



Fook on a bike.

But the word that annoyed me beyond coherent belief was the universal reply to seemingly any situation.


“Your wife was killed.”

“… Whatever!”

Or, even good news:

“You won the State Lottery.”

They go

“… Whatever.”

Drives me ape shit.

My old man was dead five months then. Okay, five months and change.

So, I counted. You betcha. Joy can be measured.

Cici had, in a drunken moment, told me that Brady kept a mountain of coke, and a ton of cash, in his apartment. She was laying down the seed of a plan.

Scotty had been dead three months.

We cherished the hour before Brady showed. Cici had taken my music faves on board. We had a ritual down. She'd ask,

“Caf Corretto?”

Basically the Italian version of a pick me up. Caffeine with Jameson.

The tunes: U2, with “Bad.”

The Edge proving he was indeed the owner of the driving guitar.

Lorena McKennet, with “Raglan Road.”

Vintage regret. The Irish legacy.

The Clash, with “London Calling.”

Because they rock, always.

Gretchen Peters' “Bus to San Cloud.”

Pining in beauty.

We were midway along when the door whipped open and Brady blasted in. Heavy-set, muscle and fat in contention. A squashed-in face with eyes that never heard of humor.

His opener:

“Turn off that shit.”

Meant we'd have

“Born in the USA.”

Ad nauseum.

And add ferocity.

His crudity always managed to reach new depths of offense.


“Bitch, the office. I need servicing.”

Cute, huh?


My best and, in truth, only friend.

The ubiquitous
, whoever the fook they be, say,

“The difference between one friend and none is infinite.”

Scotty was the manager of Khe Shan before me. I was taken on as his assistant. I'd been fiercely pressured by my father to follow his footsteps—heavy, brutal, as they were and join the NYPD.

Yeah, right, like hell.

I went to business college at night. Learned that school teaches you one thing: Greed rocks.

I wanted to rock.

I had a job during the day stocking shelves. And,

Get this:

Carrying customers' bags to their cars. All I ever, Christ ever, needed to know about humiliation, being almost literally invisible.


A Friday, carrying mega-freight for a guy in his forties, driving a Porsche. Dressed casual, but rich. His casual gear wasn't from Gap, unless he owned the branch, and he had that permanent tan that drives New Yorkers nuts.

Envy? Oh, yeah.

And his shoes, those Italian jobs that mock,

“Sucks being poor.”

I managed to finally get his heavy bags in the car. He never looked at me, flipped me a buck. I said,

“You're fooking kidding.”

He turned, levelled the bluest eyes outside of Hollywood, laughed, said,

“You're the help, be grateful.”

One thing genetics bestows: I've a temper.

My fist bunched instantly and he clocked it, asked,

“How dumb are you, T?”


He pulled out a hundred,

“This stir your mojo?”

I gave him the look, the one that goes,

“Keep fooking with me and see how that pans out.”

Two things happened that changed my life.

One, I decked him.

Two, my boss saw me do it, rushed out, picked the dude up, muttered profuse, insincere apologies, pledging,

“His ass is so fired.”

The guy rubbed his chin, dismissed my boss with a curt,

“Let me have a word.”


“What are you going to do now, job wise?”

The hundred was still crumpled in his hand, a trickle of blood leaking from his mouth. I fessed up.

“Don't know.”

He assessed me anew, then,

“You like clubs, as in nightclubs?”

“Sure, what's not to like?”

“You want to work in The Khe?”

That's how famous/infamous it was. Didn't even need its full title.

Was he kidding?

“Are you kidding?”


Straight up.

He was El Hombre. The guy who transformed it from a seedy mediocrity to the exclusive joint it was. He turned towards the Porsche, said,

“Be there this evening, six sharp. Wear black pants, a clip-on tie, white shirt, and shoes that fly.”

My mind was playing catch up, badly. I asked,


“Yeah, the client wants to pulp you, he goes for the tie, every predictable time.”

I couldn't help it. I stared at the vanishing Franklin. He laughed.

“For punching your new boss, you're fined the hundred.”

As the Porsche went into its beautiful rev, I shouted,

“What's T?”

“T … is for Trash.”

Later, I would discover the reason for the


Laid back


Vibe he had.

A blend of Klonapin and Tequila. Keeps not only the demons at bay but awarded a chill of the emotions as outrider.

I duly showed up at the club and muddled through for the next few weeks. Learned the biz the hard way, by mostly screwing up. Scotty was from South Detroit, not so much street wise as street lethal. Steered me through the delicate art of handling the wise guys, as in, if they didn't pick up their tabs, let it slide until the club owner decided to act. He warned,

“If you're told to ask for payment directly, get yourself a very large gun.”


BOOK: The Book of Virtue
3.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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