“So, why don’t you?”
“Steal it and fence it?”
“Because I don’t know any fences, man. I’m a pill-popping degenerate gambler, I’m not fucking Val Kilmer in Heat. The first person I trusted to help me move this would shoot me in the back of the head as soon as I turned my back. You, though, you do know fences, I bet, and you do know people you can trust in the criminal world. You’d be halfway to Mexico with this thing if you could.”
“Your aw-shucks shtick doesn’t fool me.”
“Apparently not,” I said. “Darn. Let me ask you—why does Yefim seem to know everything about us right now but yet he somehow can’t find us?”
“What does he know about us?”
“He knows we’re together. He even made a reference to this being Amanda’s game, and all of us caught playing it.”
“And you doubt that?”
An hour later, we set out for the Comcast Center at Great Woods in Mansfield. As we walked out to Dre’s Saab, he removed the key from his key chain and handed it to me.
“It’s your car,” I said.
“Given my substance abuse issues, do you really want me behind the wheel?”
I drove the Saab. Dre rode shotgun and stared dreamily out the window.
“You’re not on just booze,” I said.
He turned his head. “I took a couple Xanax. You know . . .” He looked back out the window.
“A couple? Or three?”
“Three, actually, yeah. And a Paxil.”
“So pills and liquor, that’s your prescription for dealing with the Russian mob.”
“It’s brought me this far,” he said and dangled the photo fob of Claire in front of his blurry eyes.
“Why the hell do you have a picture of the kid?” I said.
He looked over at me. “Because I love her, man.”
He shrugged. “Or something like love.”
Half a minute later, he was snoring.
It’s rare you deal with any KIND of illegal swap where the party with the power doesn’t change the meeting place at the last minute. It tends to root out the threat of law enforcement surveillance, because it’s hard to set up audio bugs on the fly, and teams of black-clad federal agents weighted down with boom mikes, recorder bags, and infrared telephoto lenses are easier to spot when they’re scrambling around in the background.
So, I assumed Yefim would call to change the meet at the last minute, but I still wanted to get a lay of the land in case he didn’t. I’d been to the Comcast Center at least two dozen times in my life. It was an outdoor amphitheater cut into the woods of Mansfield, Massachusetts. I’d seen Bowie open for Nine Inch Nails there. I’d seen Springsteen and Radiohead. A year back, I saw the National open for Green Day and thought I’d died and gone to alt-rock heaven. Which is to say, I knew the layout pretty well. The amphitheater was a bowl with a long, high slope running down to it, and lower, wider slopes curving around in gradual swirls, so that if you continued to walk in a circle one way, you would eventually run out of road at the amphitheater itself. And if you walked in a circle the other way, you would eventually reach the parking lot. They set up the T-shirt kiosks on these slopes alongside the beer booths and the booths for cotton candy, baked pretzels, and foot-long hot dogs.
Dre and I walked around for a bit as a hesitant snow fell in the gathering dusk. Flakes appeared in the darkening air like fireflies, then melted on contact with whatever they touched—a wooden booth, the ground, my nose. At one of the wooden booths near a stand of turnstiles, I looked right and left and realized Dre was no longer with me. I turned back and walked up one slope and then down another, following my faint footsteps on the dampening pavement. I saw where his broke off and I used the last one I could make out as an arrow. I was walking past the VIP box seats toward the stage when my phone rang.
It was Amanda. “Where are you guys?”
“One could ask you the same thing.”
“My location doesn’t matter right now. I just got a call that they’ve changed the location of your meeting. What meeting is that, by the way?”
“We’re at the Comcast Center. Who called?”
“A guy with a thick Russian accent. Any other stupid questions? He said Yefim is having trouble getting through to your cell.”
“How’d the Russians get your number?”
“How’d they get yours?”
I didn’t have an answer for that one.
“The meeting’s changed to a train station,” she said.
“Dodgeville?” I repeated. I vaguely remembered seeing the name on packages when I’d loaded trucks in college but I couldn’t have pointed it out on a map. “Where the hell’s that?”
“According to a map I’m looking at, go to 152 and head south. Not far. They said only one of you can leave the car with the cross. So you have the cross, I take it.”
“Dre does, yeah.”
“They said bring the cross or they’ll kill Sophie in front of you. Then they’ll kill you.”
She’d hung up.
I came to the bottom of the aisle, found Dre sitting on the edge of the stage, looking out at the seats.
“Meeting location’s been changed.”
He didn’t seem surprised. “That’s what you predicted.”
“Must be great,” he said, “being right all the time.”
“That’s how I come off, uh?”
He stared at me. “People like you wear your self-righteousness like—”
“Don’t blame me because you fucked your life up. I don’t judge you for any of that.”
“Then what do you judge me for?”
“Trying to get into the pants of a sixteen-year-old.”
“In many cultures that’s considered normal.”
“Then move to one of those cultures. Here, it just means you’re a douche bag. You don’t like yourself? Don’t put it on me. You don’t like the way your life turned out? Welcome to the club.”
He looked out at the seats, suddenly wistful. “I played a pretty mean bass in this band I had in high school.”
I managed not to roll my eyes.
“All these things we could have been,” he said. “You know? But you gotta choose a path, so you choose it, and you find yourself exiting med school knowing only one thing for certain—that you’re going to be a subpar doctor. How do you embrace your own mediocrity? How do you accept that in any race, for the rest of your life, you’ll arrive with the back of the pack?”