In this excerpt from Kiss the Ladies Goodnight, Legato’s toughness gets tested by a young suburban punk named Tolliver who’s not too eager to answer questions. “All right, tough guy,” Tolliver said. “Tell me about the worst beating you’ve ever taken.”
Legato sat in front of the guy, then pointed to a small scar under his left eye. “How about I tell you about this. See the scar?”
Tolliver smirked. “Yeah, I see that. What, you get that from some mugger or maybe the bully from Brooklyn high school?”
Legato shook his head. “When I was a kid, there was this guy on the block, never knew his real name but they called him Tweaks. Every block had one. Dude used to sniff glue day and night, lived for the shit, dug through dumpsters to find an extra tube. That guy. The neighborhood joke, everybody laughed at his sorry ass – the way he’d twitch and stutter. The way he’d get lost in mid-conversation if you asked him how he was doing.
“Then he moved up to heroin and the shit wasn’t funny anymore. He started robbing people, hiding in alleyways with a tire iron. He’d be in and out of prison and some days you’d see him with bloodstains on his collar that he wouldn’t explain.
“One day I come home from school, hearing screams in the hallway as I walk up – Mama’s screams. When I get there, Tweaks is there, this baseball bat in his hand and Mama’s laying on the floor, arms up, bracing for a swing. Then he looks up, staring at me, kind of laughing, but it’s hard to tell with Tweaks. He raises the bat over Mama, says to me, ‘You better talk some sense to your mother. You hear me? I need money and this is not going to get it!’ He shows me this tiny wad of cash. He stares into Mama’s eyes. ‘Come on, lady! You got more than that!’ Mama was shaking, kept whimpering ‘no’ over and over. She’s looking at me, she’s looking back at Tweaks and I’m scared. Daddy was gone by then, no man in the house. So Mama had a gun, kept it hidden under the bathroom sink. I scampered away, straight to the bathroom, hoping I could get back before it was too late. I was going to shoot this guy, right between the eyes if I had to. I was going put down Tweaks before he put Mama down.
“But then I got back into the living room, that revolver shaking in my hand like an egg timer. I aimed it at his chest, but there’s something about holding a gun and aiming it at somebody. Tweaks started laughing, then came after me with his hand out. He may have been out of his mind, but he knew I didn’t have the heart. I was only twelve, could barely pee straight. And I was talking about shooting somebody? I tried to take aim at his chest again, but I lost my nerve. He turned around, raised his bat and started to swing for Mama’s head. And I fired three shots, two went through his ribcage, sent him to the carpet, shaking like a marlin somebody plucked from the river. The third shot? It went into a mirror off to my left side. A splinter came back and got me just under the eye.” He pointed to the scar again.
The punk said nothing.
“You ready to cooperate with me, Tolliver?”
“Yes, sir,” he mumbled, back erect now, almost respectfully. No more jokes.