Tim Hickey once told Joe the smallest mistake sometimes casts the longest shadow. Joe wondered what Tim would have said about daydreaming behind the wheel of a getaway car while you were parked outside a bank. Maybe not daydreaming — fixating. On a woman's back. More specifically, on Emma's back. On the birthmark he'd seen there. Tim probably would have said, then again, sometimes it's the biggest mistakes that cast the longest shadows, you moron.
Another thing Tim was fond of saying was when a house falls down, the first termite to bite into it is just as much to blame as the last. Joe didn't get that one — the first termite would be long fucking dead by the time the last termite got his teeth into the wood. Wouldn't he? Every time Tim made the analogy, Joe resolved to look into termite life expectancy, but then he'd forget to do it until the next time Tim brought it up, usually when he was drunk and there was a lull in the conversation, and everyone at the table would get the same look on their faces: What is it with Tim and the fucking termites already?
Tim Hickey got his hair cut once a week at Aslem's on Charles Street. One Tuesday, some of those hairs ended up in his mouth when he was shot in the back of the head on his way to the barber's chair. He lay on the checkerboard tile as the blood rolled past the tip of his nose and the shooter emerged from behind the coatrack, shaky and wide-eyed. The coatrack clattered to the tile and one of the barbers jumped in place. The shooter stepped over Tim Hickey's corpse and gave the witnesses a hunched series of nods, as if embarrassed, and let himself out.
When Joe heard, he was in bed with Emma. After he hung up the phone, Emma sat up in bed while he told her. She rolled a cigarette and looked at Joe while she licked the paper — she always looked at him when she licked the paper — and then she lit it. "Did he mean anything to you? Tim?"
"I don't know," Joe said.
"How don't you know?"
"It's not one thing or the other, I guess."
Tim had found Joe and the Bartolo brothers when they were kids setting fire to newsstands. One morning they'd take money from the Globe to burn down one of the Standard's stands. The next day they'd take a payoff from the American to torch the Globe's. Tim hired them to burn down the 51 Cafe. They graduated to late-afternoon home rips in Beacon Hill, the back doors left unlocked by cleaning women or handymen on Tim's payroll. When they worked a job Tim gave them, he set a flat price, but if they worked their own jobs, they paid Tim his tribute and took the lion's share for themselves. In that regard, Tim had been a great boss.
Joe had watched him strangle Harvey Boule, though. It had been over opium, a woman, or a German shorthaired pointer; to this day Joe had only heard rumors. But Harvey had walked into the casino and he and Tim got to talking and then Tim snapped the electric cord off one of the green banker's lamps and wrapped it around Harvey's neck. Harvey was a huge guy and he carried Tim around the casino floor for about a minute, all the whores running for cover, all of Hickey's gun monkeys pointing their guns right at Harvey. Joe watched the realization dawn in Harvey Boule's eyes — even if he got Tim to stop strangling him, Tim's goons would empty four revolvers and one automatic into him. He dropped to his knees and soiled himself with a loud venting sound. He lay on his stomach, gasping, as Tim pressed his knee between his shoulder blades and wrapped the excess cord tight around one hand. He twisted and pulled back all the harder and Harvey kicked hard enough to knock off both shoes.
Tim snapped his fingers. One of his gun monkeys handed him a pistol and Tim put it to Harvey's ear. A whore said, "Oh, God," but just as Tim went to pull the trigger, Harvey's eyes turned hopeless and confused, and he moaned his final breath into the imitation Oriental. Tim sat back on Harvey's spine and handed the gun back to his goon. He peered at the profile of the man he'd killed.
Joe had never seen anyone die before. Less than two minutes before, Harvey had asked the girl who brought him his martini to get him the score of the Sox game. Tipped her good too. Checked his watch and slipped it back into his vest. Took a sip of his martini. Less than two minutes before, and now he was fucking gone? To where? No one knew. To God, to the devil, to purgatory, or worse, maybe to nowhere. Tim stood and smoothed his snow-white hair and pointed in a vague way at the casino manager. "Freshen everyone's drinks. On Harvey."
A couple of people laughed nervously but most everyone else looked sick.
That wasn't the only person Tim had killed or ordered killed in the last four years, but it had been the one Joe witnessed.
From Live By Night by Dennis Lehane. Copyright 2012 by Dennis Lehane. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow.