Editor’s Note: In the tradition of the old serials, I’m releasing the first chapter of my short story, “Their Last Game.” Look for more chapters in subsequent days.
Where our story begins.
The first day of summer in 1971, Bobby Gallagher rode his bike to the corner of 46th and Van Ness Streets and met his best friends Mario and Vince Donatello, and the boys rode down Van Ness the short block into Friendship playground.
Bobby lived in Spring Valley with his parents Mike and Liz, older brother JP and sister Anna, but the brothers lived in Tenleytown above their family bakery.
Bobby’s parents said the Donatello’s bread was the best in town, but his mom’s warning not to hang around the brothers from the wrong side of the tracks was lost on him.
Bobby and Mario were 11 and going into the sixth grade at Annunciation Catholic School, but Vince was going into the eighth, but should have been going into ninth.
Bobby was tall and thick- chested while Mario, of average height, was muscular and quick. And already shaving a face dotted with acne, Vince lumbered after the others when they got off their bikes at the basketball courts.
Bobby went to the clubhouse and came out with a basketball, and they entered the courts, passing a three-on-three game between Jesuit and DeLasalle High School boys. Bobby observed Chuck Alfoghinis playing with the DeLasalle boys and knew not to mess with him.
A glistening, snorting bull of a man-child, who came from a large, tough family, a menacing brown crew cut revealed his skull’s veins. Two brothers had been thrown out of DeLasalle, and their old man allegedly slapped around their mom.
Everyone at Friendship knew Bobby was JP Gallagher’s brother. Something of a local legend, JP seemed destined for a college basketball career before he blew out his knee his senior year at Jesuit. Bobby dribbled to a basket opposite the court where the three-on-three game was played.
Wanting others to see JP in him, he rose to shoot and made three shots in a row. When he missed, he retrieved the ball near the chain link fence surrounding the court and saw Harrison Bentley outside it. A geeky, sissified, rich mama’s boy, he came around periodically and became annoying when the others didn’t let him join them.
Bobby believed some of Harrison’s behavior wasn’t completely his fault; he had two last names and went to St. Dunstan’s where they made kids dress like old men in blue blazers with elbow patches and grey trousers.
Bobby observed Harrison giggling, trying to hide his braces, and he said to Bobby, “My sister can shoot better than you.” Bobby collected the ball and tossed it to Vince, and glanced again at Harrison.
“Who’s that snot?” Mario said to Bobby.
“Some kid from my neighborhood: Harrison Bentley,” Bobby said, clenching his teeth, imitating Thurston Howell III from “Gilligan’s Island.” He observed the Donatellos laugh and glance at Harrison.
“Hey, little Gallagher,” Alfoghinis, from across the playground, said, “It’s your game.” The DeLasalle boys were bigger and stronger, but not quicker than Bobby and Mario. The DeLasalle boys also couldn’t fight through Vince’s picks, and Bobby and Mario had ample time to shoot.
With each basket Bobby and Mario made, the DeLasalle boys grew rougher. Then Alfoghinis knocked Vince into Mario as he shot. Vince called, foul, and the brothers reeled backward, but Bobby stepped in and said to Vince, “Be cool, man. Just one more hoop and this game is ours. They’re not worth it.”
Bobby saw one of the DeLasalle boys pick up the ball and go in for a layup. Annoyance quickly replaced Bobby’s disbelief when he heard Harrison, still safely behind the fence, giggling like a schoolgirl again. Bobby said to the kid who made the layup, “Didn’t you hear him?”
“That big goon,” the kid said, “has been moving on those screens all game.”
“What do you mean? He’s just standing there.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, little Gallagher, he can’t extend his arms like that,” Alfoghinis said.
His voice quivering, Bobby said, “You’re just hacked because you’re losing to kids.”
Alfoghinis said, “It’s our ball.”
“Alfoghinis,” Bobby said, “you’re a bully and a cheat and if you’re that desperate, we’re going to go.” He wanted to add his old man was a drunk and wife beater and his brothers thugs.
Leaving the court, Bobby heard Harrison laughing, and he said, “So, the little baby is going home.” Bobby slugged Harrison in his mouth, cutting his hand on Harrison’s braces.
“Are you alright?” Mario, not even looking at Harrison, said to Bobby.
“Yeah, but what about my mom? She’ll want to know how I cut my hand.”
“Just tell her,” Mario said, “you hit it against the fence or something. She’ll believe anything.”
Bobby laughed and smiled at Mario, and the three of them got on their bikes and rode away and left Harrison – his hand on his bloody mouth and whimpering and sniffling – not sure what hit him.