The Call of Bravery - By Janice Kay Johnson Page 0,1

a boy is anyone’s fault, he’s yours.”

Conall froze, steps from the bottom.

“Mine?” Mom screamed. “You know I never wanted him. You’re the one who insisted we have another kid. God knows why, when you can’t be bothered doing any real parenting. Conall wouldn’t be such a mess if you did.”

“What am I supposed to do with him? Teach him how to be a man?” Dad laughed as if the idea was unbelievably stupid. That laugh sank into the very marrow of Conall’s bones, becoming part of him. “He doesn’t have it in him.” His voice became ugly. “Is he even mine, Laura? Because I sure as hell don’t see myself in him.”

This time Mom’s scream was wordless. There was a metallic crash as if she’d thrown something like a pan. Ceramic splintered. Dad bellowed in fury; there was another crash and then a thud, the screams and yells continuing.

Conall whimpered. Feeling the way with his foot, he retreated up a step, then another. Please don’t let them hear me. Please don’t let one of them come out of the kitchen.

When terrible weeping replaced his mother’s screams, he turned and fled, stumbling, falling, banging his shins but scrambling up the stairs. He raced into his room and shut the door. Quietly, so carefully.

I sure as hell don’t see myself in him.

I’m glad, Con thought fiercely. I wish he wasn’t my father.

You know I never wanted him.

He wished she wasn’t his mother, either.

Conall cried again, and was ashamed. The snot he wiped away with the back of his hand was mixed with blood, and he didn’t care.

Sometime in the next couple of hours, all his rage and bewilderment and hurt hardened until his emotions felt petrified, like a slice of smooth stone he had on his desk that had once been wood. At first the sensation was uncomfortable, but that wasn’t surprising, was it? Think how compressed the wood must have been to become stone. All moisture squeezed out. After a while, the glossy, hard surface in his chest felt okay, and he could replay what he’d heard his parents say without feeling anything in particular.

He did stiffen when he heard footsteps on the stairs and his bedroom door opened. By this time he couldn’t open his eyes at all. If Mom pretended to care now, he didn’t know what he’d do.

But it was Duncan who swore, and said, “Have you put ice on your eyes?”

Conall shook his head.

“I’ll get you some.”

Duncan’s footsteps retreated. Eventually he came back with a bag of frozen vegetables and a washcloth to wrap it in. He said, “There’s a lot of blood in the bathroom,” and Con shrugged.

“Nose,” he mumbled, and grabbed for the bag as it slipped.

“Don’t suppose you want to tell me what it was about.”

He shook his head.

“Did Dad do this to you?” Duncan’s voice had changed a while back to sounding almost like a man’s. Now it was so hard, so unforgiving, that change was complete. “Or Mom?”

“No,” Con whispered, wincing when he realized one of his teeth was loose. He wriggled it with his tongue.

“I saw the kitchen.”

“They were fighting. This was a couple of guys.”

Duncan sighed. His weight compressed the edge of the bed as he sat. “You know, you can run away instead of getting into it every time.”

Conall shook his head.

“Sometimes it’s better to be smart than brave.”

He got it, he really did. But…there wasn’t much to him. Pride was about it. If he ran, he wouldn’t even have that. He wasn’t like his big brother.

He told himself he didn’t care, and almost believed it.

Conall shrugged again. Duncan tried to talk to him for a bit, then finally gave up and went away.

Alone again, Con realized that today, for the first time, not caring was easy.


DOMINGO GARCIA STAGGERED toward the storefront and artistically fell against the large window, which shivered from the blow but didn’t break. He slid to a sitting position on the sidewalk.

Crouching on a concrete staircase dropping to a basement apartment not thirty feet away, Conall MacLachlan watched with admiration. Garcia played a homeless guy like no one else; Conall didn’t even want to know what he’d rolled in to make him stink like that. The sacky army fatigue jacket did a great job of hiding a bulletproof vest.

As they’d hoped, the steel door to the storefront slammed open. Two big men appeared, one with a snarling Rottweiler on a leash, the other using his body to prop open the door.

Clutching his bottle of