“How’d Angie feel about it?”
I looked over at my wife and we exchanged a small smile. “It annoyed her actually. A bit.”
“It annoyed her greatly,” Angie said.
Amanda gave us a pulse of her eyes that said: Exactly.
“Fair enough,” I said. “I apologize. Won’t happen again.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “You’re asking how I plan to go back to work at DCF when I’m shacked up with a teenager.”
“Something like that, yeah.”
He leaned forward and clasped his hands together. “Who says anyone has to know?”
I gave that a big smile. “Let me give you a picture of what the inside of my head looks like right now, Dre. I’ve got a four-year-old daughter. I’m imagining her in twelve years, shacked up, as you say, with a scumbag DCF worker twice her age who has the moral compass of a reality TV producer and hits the flask before noon.”
“It’s past noon,” he said.
“But that’s not your yardstick, is it, Dre?”
Before he could answer, Amanda said, “The bottle should be warm by now. It’s in the bowl in the sink.”
Dre got off the couch and went into the kitchen.
Amanda said, “Moral outrage isn’t going to play well here, Patrick. I think we’re all a little past that right now.”
“We’re above morality, are we, Amanda? At the ripe old age of sixteen?”
“I didn’t say I was above morality. I said I was above expressions of moral outrage that are a bit self-serving given the histories of the people in this room. In other words, if you think you get some sort of second chance to save my honor twelve years after you handed me back to a mother you knew was incompetent, you don’t. You want absolution, find a priest. One with a clear conscience of his own, if there are any of those left.”
Angie gave me a look that said: You walked into that one.
Dre returned with the bottle of formula and Amanda gave him a sweet, weary smile as she took it from him and slipped the nipple into Claire’s mouth. Claire immediately started sucking, and Amanda gave her cheek a soft caress. I wondered who were the adults and who the children in the room.
“So when’d you find out you were pregnant?” Angie said.
“May,” Amanda said as Dre took his seat on the couch, closer to her and the baby now.
“Three months along,” Angie said.
I said to Dre, “Must have been a shock for you.”
“Just a bit,” he said.
I turned my eyes to Amanda. “Thank God you’ve got a neglectful mother, right?”
“I don’t follow.”
“It must have been a lot of help hiding the pregnancy,” I said.
“It’s done all the time.”
“Oh, I know,” I said. “I knew two girls who pulled it off in high school. One was overweight in the first place, so, you know, but the other, she just bought larger-size clothes and kept eating junk food in front of everyone and nobody picked up on it. She gave birth in a bathroom stall during fifth period, junior year. School janitor walked in on it, ran back out screaming, fainted in the hallway. True story.” I leaned forward. “So, I know it’s done all the time.”
“But, Amanda, you don’t have an extra pound on you.”
“I work out.” She looked over at Angie. “How much did you gain?”
“Enough,” Angie said.
“She loves Pilates,” Dre said.
I nodded as if that made perfect sense. “And you don’t want me swearing around the baby, but you feed her formula?”
“Sure. What’s wrong with formula?”
“For a lot of women? Nothing. But you? You’re a tiger. I can see it in your eyes—someone looks at that kid wrong, you’d slash their throat.”
She nodded without hesitation.
“You’re not the type of woman gives a baby formula when she knows how much healthier breast milk is.”
She rolled her eyes. “Maybe—”
“And that baby—no offense?—looks nothing like you. Or him.”
Dre came off the couch. “Time to go, dude.”
“No.” I shook my head. “It’s not. Sit down.” I looked at him. “Dude.”
Amanda said, “Claire is mine.”
“We don’t doubt that,” Angie said. “But she didn’t start that way, did she?”
“Sit down, Dre.” Amanda shifted the baby against her chest and adjusted the bottle. She looked at Angie and then me. “What do you think is going on here?”
Dre took his seat. He took another hit off his flask, got another contemptuous flick of the eyes from Amanda.
“Well, you’ve got a bunch of lunatic Russians on your tail for a reason,” Angie said.
“Ah,” Amanda said, “you’ve met them?”
Angie shook her head and pointed at me.
“I met two of them,” I said.
“Let me guess—Yefim and Pavel.”
I nodded and noted the muscles tightening in Dre’s face. Amanda, on the other hand, looked as calm as ever.
“And you know who they work for.”
“The Borscht Butcher,” Amanda said, caressing Claire’s face again. “That’s one of his nicknames.”
“How old are you?” I said.
“Kirill’s wife, you know about her?”
“Violeta? I’ve heard stories.”
“Her father heads a Mexican drug cartel. She believes in some arcane religion that practices animal sacrifice and, if you believe the rumors, worse. She was diagnosed with severe mental problems—in Mexico. Her family dealt with it by killing the doctor. And she’s married to Kirill, not just because their marriage gives Kirill’s gang an unbreakable drug supply but because the only person crazier than Violeta is Kirill and they love each other for it.”
“And you stole their baby,” Angie said, and the moment the words left her mouth we both knew she was right.
The bottle slipped from Claire’s mouth.
“I . . . what?”
“You have the Russian mob after you and it isn’t because you’re so great at identity theft they can’t afford to lose you. Yefim took Sophie.”
“Took her,” I said. “And when he did, he said, ‘Maybe we have her make us another one.’ ” I cocked my head, got a good look at Claire. That’s where I’d seen those lips before, that hair. “That’s Sophie’s baby, not yours.”