The world seemed to tilt under Nate's feet. "No. You've made a—" The sight of Charlie's wide eyes peering out from between the metal trash cans stole his breath. A jewelry store? His heart sank to his shoes. Charlie was their mother's last hope—the family's, really—because no one expected much from Nate. He'd left school at ten. The best he could hope for was menial jobs at the dockyards or slaughterhouses, but lately he couldn't even get that kind of work. At least Charlie can read and write. And he'd do so much more, if Nate had any say in the matter.
But Charlie would accomplish nothing if he got sent up the river.
Trying to ignore the wooden club wedged against his chest, Nate thrust his hand into his jacket and drew out the package. Directing his eyes back to the two men standing in front of him, he swallowed. "I think this might be what you're looking for."
Police Chief O'Sullivan tapped meaty fingers on his mahogany desk. "Webber, I don't buy what you're trying to sell me. I've known you since you were a babe in arms. You wouldn't take a peppermint out of the candy bowl at the department St. Patrick's Day party without asking your pa first."
Because I'd get smacked up the side of the head. Sherman or Charlie could get away with those sorts of antics, but not Nate. Probably his father's attempt to make something, anything, out of his hopeless middle son.
O'Sullivan tipped his head down to stare over his wire-edged glasses. "And now I'm supposed to believe you're doing smash-and-grabs at jewelry stores?"
Nate tucked his feet under the chair to hide the holes in the soles of his shoes. Shouldn't he be in lockup? His family's legacy was the only reason he sat here in comfort. Sherm—saving him again, from beyond the grave. The idea prickled like so many needles. "Yes sir. Times are tough."
"Don't I know it. And your family got the short end of the nightstick—in more ways than one." O'Sullivan picked up the blood-stained package and turned it over. "But if this isn't the definition of red handed, I don't know what is."
Nate thrust his fingers, wrapped in Murray's handkerchief, deeper into his lap. At least he'd worked the glass free. He scrambled for a lighthearted answer, only to realize the commissioner hadn't actually asked his opinion. Silence might be the best option.
The man dumped the contents of the package across the green desk blotter—two necklaces and a ring.
Bile surged up Nate's throat. His younger sibling was on a crash course with disaster and determined to take the family with him.
"Kirschbaum Jewelry." O'Sullivan read the label on the paper. "Jewish. Is that why?"
Mr. Kirschbaum. The sweet old gentleman on the next block? Nate's jaw dropped. "No! No sir." At least, he didn't think so. Charlie wouldn't be into such foolishness, would he? "Just an impulse. Needed the money."
The older man sighed, shoving the gold chain around with the nib of his pen. "I worked with your father for years; you know that."
"And your brother, when he first joined the station."
As if Sherm had served for eons, rather than four short months. Gunned down in the street his first year as a cop. Nate managed a nod, his throat thick. "Tell me what's really going on, Nate. Was it your old man?" Deep bags drooped below O'Sullivan's eyes. Perhaps he'd never gotten over drumming his friend from the force. Not that he'd had much choice.
"No." His father was a hard man and a drunk, but he wouldn't break a toothpick if it was against the law.
"Things that bad at home? What were you planning to do—pawn the stuff? Or are you working for someone else?"
Working? The mockery of the word nearly made him laugh. He set his jaw. Best to keep his mouth shut. Isn't that what hardened criminals did?
The commissioner stood and paced in front of the window. "Do you think I'm stupid, Webber? That I don't know what's really going on here?" He turned, drilling Nate with the type of glare that could glue the most nefarious crook to his chair. "I didn't get where I am by being dumb."
"Never thought you were."
"Shut it. I'm talking." The man's voice barked, all familial camaraderie vanishing from his demeanor.
Nate turned his attention to the floor. He'd grown up with the bluster; police bravado wouldn't cower him. It had long since lost its power.
"You're here because Charlie's a coward." He jabbed a finger toward Nate's face. "Your family has been splintering since the day Sherm fell. I thought I lost one man that day. Didn't realize I was burying an entire family. Your old man turned to the bottle. Your mother never leaves the house. That younger brother of yours—"
"No talking." O'Sullivan pounded the desk with his closed fist, finally making Nate jump. "Charlie's a coward. At fourteen, he's feeding his own foolish impulses. I will not let him take the last good man from this family." Exactly what I'm trying to avoid. Charlie's the only one with a future. "That's why I'm putting you on the first train out of here." O'Sullivan slammed into his seat and drew out a sheet of paper.
Nate sat forward, his heart thrumming. "You're—you're what?"
"You're volunteering for this new Civilian Conservation Corps. It'll give you a chance to make something of yourself. It's made to order for a man like you—eighteen to twenty-five, unemployed, no criminal record."
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the paperback edition.