“A gang,” she said, “a brotherhood. Think the Crips or the Bloods with military discipline and connections going all the way to the top of the Russian oil conglomerates.”
“Yeah. That’s where Yefim got his start. And you’ll take his word?”
“No,” I said. “I won’t. But what’s our alternative?”
After a couple of tentative yelps, the baby started crying full-force. We could hear her on the monitor and we could hear her through the door. Amanda slid off the couch and slipped on her flats. She took the monitor with her into the bedroom.
Dre took another drink from his flask. “Fuck-ing Russians.”
“Why don’t you slow down?” I said.
“You were right.” He took another drink. “Earlier.”
He ground the back of his head into the couch, his eyes rolling back toward the bedroom door. “Her. She doesn’t like me very much, I don’t think.”
“Why’s she with you, then?” Angie asked.
He exhaled up toward his own eyes. “Even Amanda, cool as she is, needs help with a newborn. Those first couple weeks? You’re going to the supermarket every five minutes—diapers, formula, more diapers, more formula. The kid’s up every ninety minutes, wailing. Ain’t much in the way of sleep or freedom.”
“You’re saying she needed a gofer.”
He nodded. “But she’s got the hang of it now.” He let loose a soft and bitter chuckle. “I thought when we first met, you know, here’s my shot—an innocent girl, untouched, uncorrupted, of blazing intelligence. I mean, she can quote Shaw, she can quote Stephen Hawking, she’s so cool she can quote Young Frankenstein, get into a debate with you on quantum physics and the lyrics to ‘Monkey Man’ on the same night. She likes Rimbaud and Axl Rose, Lucinda Williams and—”
“This going to go on for a while?” Angie said.
I said, “It sounds like you thought you could mold Amanda into your very own Nexus 6 model of every chick who dumped on you in high school.”
“No, it wasn’t like that.”
“It was exactly like that. This version wouldn’t take a shit on you, she’d adore you. And you could sit up all night and give her your rap about Sigur Rós or the metaphorical significance of the rabbit in Donnie Darko. And she’d just bat her eyes and ask where you’d been all her life.”
He looked down at his lap. “Hey, fuck you,” he whispered.
I could see the child I’d found after seven months, playing on a porch not far from here with an openhearted woman who’d adored her, and a bulldog named Larry. If I’d left her there, who would she be now? Maybe she’d be a basket case who remembered just enough of her life before she’d been snatched from a neglectful mother to know that her life here with Jack and Patricia Doyle was a lie. Or maybe she’d have very little memory of her time with a white-trash alcoholic in a three-decker apartment in Dorchester that smelled of carpet funk and Newports, so little that she’d live a well-adjusted life in small-town America and all she’d know of identity theft and credit card fraud and Russian killers from the Solntsevskaya Bratva would be things she picked up watching 60 Minutes. Even if Amanda had never been kidnapped in the first place, with Helene for a mother, her chances of growing up a healthy, well-adjusted child were somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred million to one. So the kidnapping had, in some demented way, exposed her to the knowledge that another way of life existed. One that wasn’t her mother’s life of fast food and full ashtrays. Of collection notices and ex-con boyfriends. After she’d glimpsed the world of this tiny mountain town, she’d decided to will her way back to it. And maybe, from that point on, will became her defining character trait.
“They won’t just let this go,” Dre said, “no matter what Yefim told you.”
“For starters?” he said. “Somebody’s got to pay for Timur.”
“Who’s Timur?” Angie asked, coming over to the couch.
“He was a Russian.”
“Yeah? What happened to him?”
“We kinda killed him.”
So you kinda killed a Russian named Timur to get the Belarus Cross.”
“No,” he said.
“No you didn’t kill him?”
“Well, yes, but we didn’t do it to get the Belarus Cross. We didn’t know shit about the Belarus Cross until we opened the suitcase.”
“What suitcase?” Angie sat on the edge of the couch.
“The one handcuffed to Timur’s wrist.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”
Dre considered his flask but returned it to his pocket. He played with a key chain instead, swinging the keys absently around a hard plastic fob, which encased a picture of Claire. “You heard of Zippo?”
“Sophie’s boyfriend,” Angie said.
“Yeah. Notice how no one’s seen him around in a while?”
“It did come to our attention.”
He lay back on the couch like he was in a shrink’s office. He dangled the key chain above his head so that the picture of Claire swung back and forth over his face, the shadow passing over his nose. “There’s an old movie memorabilia warehouse in Brighton, right along the Mass Pike. You go in there, you’d see an entire floor devoted to posters, half of them oversize European ones. Second floor is props and costumes; you want the NYU philosophy degree that Swayze had on his wall in Roadhouse, they got it there, not in L.A. Russians got all sorts of weird shit there—Sharon Stone’s chaps from [_The Quick and the Dead, _]one of Harry’s fur suits from Harry and the Hendersons. They also have a third floor no one goes to, because that’s where the delivery and postdelivery rooms are.” He wiggled his fingers. “I’m a doctor, lest we forget, and these babies can’t be documented at a hospital. The moment they enter the system, they’re traceable. So we deliver them at a movie memorabilia warehouse in Brighton and they’re usually on a plane out of town three days later. Some special cases, they’re out the door as soon as the cord is cut.”
“Which was the case with Claire.” Angie leaned forward, chin on her hand.
He held up one finger. “Which was supposed to be the case with Claire. But it wasn’t just me and Sophie in the delivery room. Amanda was there and so was Zippo. I’d advised strongly against it. It was going to be hard enough to give the baby up without actually seeing her be born. But Amanda overruled me, as Amanda is wont to do. And we were all in there when Sophie gave birth.” He sighed. “It was an incredible birth. So smooth. Sometimes it goes that way with young mothers. Normally it doesn’t, but sometimes . . .” He shrugged. “This was one of those times. So we’re all standing there, passing this baby around, laughing, crying, hugging—I actually hugged Zippo, though I couldn’t stand the kid in real life—and the door opens and there’s Timur standing there. Timur was a giant, a bald, big-eared, face-only-a-blind-mother-could-love Chernobyl baby. You think I’m kidding but, no, he was literally born in Chernobyl in the mid-eighties. A mutant freak, Timur. And a drunk and a crank addict. All the positives. He comes through the door for the pickup. He’s early, he’s fucked up, and he’s got a suitcase cuffed to his wrist.”