When Nick Bracco was just 16, his parents were gunned down by gangbangers in their hometown of Baltimore. We learn about this event in the short story, In the Beginning. Nick ends up living with his cousin Tommy and they become inseparable. They spend lots of time at Pimlico Race Course, hanging around the stalls and picking up information about lame horses and crooked trainers. This is where their childhood accelerates into adulthood.
Around this time, Tommy gets mixed up with a bookie who offers them the identity of the two kids who murdered Nick's parents. Both kids want revenge. The bookie offers the boys the resources to get the murders alone and Nick and Tommy get their chance to retaliate.
This is the very moment that defines the two cousins. Tommy wants to kill the boys and he’s ready to put them down and move to Florida to escape prosecution. Nick is onboard, but something stops him. Maybe guilt from his Catholic background. Maybe the ethics engineered into his system by his father who was a Baltimore Police Officer. A man who reeked of integrity and fairness. A man who insisted on having a black partner so he could better understand the plight of inner city kids and their challenges in a white world.
So when it came time to fire his weapon and change the fate of their lives, killing the two souls who took away his father, Nick hesitated. Tommy urged him on, but Nick could feel his father looking down on him.
It must be understood that Nick had no interest in following his father’s footsteps and joining the Baltimore Police Department. It never even occurred to him, until that defining moment when Tommy insisted that Nick didn’t follow him into a life with the Mafia.
You can learn exactly how Tommy prevented Nick from other bad choices and how Tommy acquired the colored toothpick habit and much more in the very first Nick Bracco short story: In the Beginning.