The Short Ballad of the Live Brothers

newburgh heroinLive Pete was in trouble with the authorities again. Whether they were the City of Newburgh cops, the Group Home monitors or the Social Services people, authorities were always giving him shit. The current shit that they were concerned about involved his little brother, Live Deshawn, who had recently gotten into heroin. Though the authorities kept a pretty close watch on their screed in the Group home, boys will be boys, and Live Deshawn had started blowing smack a few months ago with the boys on the corner. At first, Live Deshawn hadn’t been paying, just sniff-sniffing a couple pale brown lines when they were around, mostly out of teenage boredom and ghetto destruction. But heroin hooked you easy, and within six months, Live Deshawn started copping off the Bloods on Liberty Street, the hell-sent boulevard that was called “an open-air drug market” by the Times-Herald Record, a paper from a few towns over.

Newburgh was too poor to afford its own paper.

Being too young to legally work, Live Deshawn couldn’t cop very often. This all changed when one of the OG bloods, Ginovese, set him up with a package. Ginovese was very business-oriented, and had wanted to find a way into the Group Home market for a while. A young customer hooked is a customer for life. Ginovese was nice enough to front Deshawn his first bundle. Ginovese even bagged it up and had a runner, his nephew, sneak it up close to the Group Home, where he passed the opportunity off to Deshawn’s trembling mitts. One bundle=ten $10 bags—Live Deshawn was able to move it in a couple days. His youngest customer at the home was 9.

The best part was, Live Deshawn was able to blow three of the 10 bags for free.

… Live Pete hated drugs. Drugs and cops. He knew nothing of his father other than he had been shot to death by the cops while his mother was pregnant with him. He didn’t know what his father had done, and never really wondered; that’s just what cops did. He hated drugs because of his cunt of a crackhead mom. When Live Pete was 6, his Mom (he had learned to forget her name) left him at home for 2 days with his infant brother. Live Pete hadn’t known what to do. As usual, his mom had cashed her food stamps in for crack money as soon as the EBT card arrived in the mail, so there wasn’t any baby puree to feed his brother. The only thing in the fridge was some Chinese food, which he spooned down his wailing brother’s throat in a tearful panic. He didn’t want his brother to die. He loved him. But the Chinese food must have gone bad after however long it had been sitting in the fridge, because, over the next few hours, all Live Deshawn did was scream and shit and puke. Live Pete had used all his strength (he was hungry too. All the Chinese food had gone to his baby brother) to clean the noxious yellow slime off his brother’s sallow skin, but, come morning, he was at a loss. His mother had left two things of use in the roach-ridden project apartment before she had disappeared. The first was a note on the fridge which read: 4 HELP: 911 Little Live Pete had dialed the numbers from the fridge on the cracked, greasy house phone. After a few tries (he had never used a phone before), the call went through, and, crying, he talked to the nice lady on the on the other end, who assured him that Help was on the way.

The first people to arrive were the cops. He knew they were cops as soon as he heard them because they were white. Their angry accents burst on his eardrums as soon as they violently shoved open the door leading to the hallway outside his apartment. They were cursing blue because the elevator was broken (had been broken for months; it would be repaired at soon as the cops complained). He saw their mag lights scan over his door, looking for the apartment number, then felt the vibrations deep into his bones as they slamslamslammed on the door. Live Pete didn’t answer the door, so with little hesitation, they kicked it open with their shiny, black boots.

Live Pete was waiting, and met them with the second thing his mother had left them with: a hunting knife.

The cops were nice enough not to use closed fists when they beat Live Pete. It was really the mace that hurt more: the doctor that saw Live Pete at the jail said that if he had inhaled any more he might have asphyxiated. After the incident (it didn’t make the papers. It was unfortunate, but what should the cops have done? Been hurt?) the Live brothers entered the Group Home system, and had been there for the last 11 years.

… Live Pete had done as much as he could to keep his little brother off drugs. Live Deshawn loved and respected his brother, but addictions can be stronger than the strongest love, especially when doing heroin was just the thing to do when you were young and black and poor and motherless in the lost holocaust that was Newburgh. Live Pete was back in the world of shit because he had beaten up Ginovese’s nephew when the young teen was delivering Deshawn’s bundle. Pete knew he really should have beaten up his brother, but he just didn’t have it in him. So he had followed Deshawn out of the Group Home after the supervisor on duty let his brother out one night (the supervisor would receive a bag for his trouble) and jumped the runner as soon as he approached Deshawn for the hand-off.

He started by knocking the runner to the ground and stomping his face.

“You see what drugs do, Deshawn? Huh?” He stomped the runner again.

“You see? Huh? You fuckin see?” Stomp.

“You want this shit to happen to you? You wanna end up like that chickenhead bitch that left us alone to starve? Huh?”

The cops closed in from both sides. It turned out that someone had snitched on Ginovese, and the police had been following the runner since he dodged out of Ginovese’s place on Liberty. The cops used closed fists this time.

As the Live brothers sat in the holding cell for the upteenth time, Pete knew that there was only one person that he could talk to that could help. Even if he was white. He needed to contact Father Ciaran.

This has been The Short Ballad of the Live Brothers, a selection from a novel I’m working on.

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