I leaned against the stage with him and said nothing. It was quite the view—all those seats. Beyond it, the great lawn of general seating rising into the dark sky under gently falling snow. Most nights in July, it would be full. Twenty thousand people chanting and screaming and swaying, pumping their fists toward the sky. Who wouldn’t want to stand onstage and have that view?
On some minor level, I felt bad for Dre. He’d been told by someone—a mother, I assumed—that he was special. Probably told it every day of his life, even as the evidence mounted that it was a lie, however well-intentioned. And now here he was, first career in shambles, second career about to be, and probably unable to remember the last time he’d made it through a day without substance abuse.
“You know why I never had any qualms about brokering baby sales?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Because nobody knows nothing.” He looked over at me. “You think the state knows any better about placing kids? You think anyone does? We don’t know shit. And by we, I mean all of us. We all showed up at the same shitty semiformal and we hope that somehow everyone will buy that we are what we dressed up as. A few decades of this, and what happens? Nothing. Nothing happens. We learn nothing, we don’t change, and then we die. And the next generation of fakers takes our place. And that? That’s all there is.”
I clapped him on the back. “I see a future in self-help for you, Dre. We got to motor.”
“Railway station. Dodgeville.”
He hopped off the stage and followed me up the aisle.
“Quick question, Patrick.”
“Where the fuck’s Dodgeville?”
Dodgeville, as it turned out, was one of those towns so small I’d always thought it was just an extension of another town—in this case, South Attleboro. As far as I could tell, it didn’t even have a traffic light, just one stop sign about six miles from the Rhode Island border. Idling there, I saw an RR sign to my left. So I turned left off Route 152, and after a few hundred yards, the train station appeared, as if dropped there, in an otherwise uninterrupted stretch of woodlands. The tracks ran straight into the forest—just a hard line that vanished into cowls of red maple. We pulled into the parking lot. Other than the tracks and the platform, there wasn’t much to see—no stationhouse to protect against December’s bite, no Coke machines or bathrooms. A couple of newspaper stands by the entrance stairs. Deep woods on the far side of the tracks. On the near side, the platform on the same level as the rails, and the parking lot we’d pulled into, which was lit with sallow white light, the snow spinning like moths under the bulbs.
My phone vibrated. I opened the text:
One of you bring cross to platform. One of you stay in car.
Dre had craned his head to look at the message. Before I could reach for my door, he’d reached for his and was out of the car.
“I got this,” he said. “I got this.”
But he walked away from the car and out of the parking lot. He climbed the short steps to the platform and stood in the center. From where he stood, a strip of hard black rubber fringed in bright yellow paint extended across the track.
He stood there for a bit as the snow fell harder. He took two or three steps to the right, then four or five to the left, then back to the right again.
I saw the light before he did. It was a circle of yellow bouncing in the woods, a flashlight beam. It rose, then fell and rose halfway back up again before it slid left, then right. It made the same movement a second time—the sign of the cross—and this time Dre’s head turned toward it and locked on. He raised one hand. He waved. The light stopped moving. Just hovered in the woods directly across from Dre, waiting.
I rolled down my window.
I heard Dre say, “No worries,” and cross the tracks. The snow grew thicker, some of the flakes starting to resemble bolls of cotton.
Dre entered the woods. I lost sight of him. The flashlight beam vanished.
I reached for my door, but my cell vibrated again.
Stay in the car.
I kept the phone open on my lap and waited. It wouldn’t be much of a task to simply hit Dre over the head, take the cross, and disappear into the woods with Sophie, the cross, and my peace of mind. My left hand clenched the door handle. I flexed the fingers, relaxed. Ten seconds later, I found myself clenching the handle again.
The cell phone screen lit up:
In the woods, the yellow light reappeared. It hovered, steady, about three feet off the ground.
My cell vibrated, but it wasn’t a text this time, it was an incoming call from a restricted number.
“Hey, my . . .” Yefim’s voice dropped out for a second. ” . . . you at?”
“I said where . . . ?”
The phone went dead in my ear.
I heard something thunk into the gravel on the near side of the platform. I peered out the windshield, but I couldn’t see anything, with the hood of the Saab in the way. I kept looking anyway, because that’s what you do. I gave the wipers a quick flick on and off and sloughed off the snow. A few seconds later, Dre appeared at the same spot in the woods where he’d vanished. He was moving fast. He was alone.
My phone vibrated. I heard a horn. I looked down and saw RESTRICTED NUMBER on my screen.
The windshield vanished behind a cloak of mud. The Saab shook so hard the dashboard rattled. The seat shimmied beneath me. An empty coffee cup tipped out of the cup holder and fell to the floor mat on the passenger side.
“Patrick? . . . you go . . . I no . . . stage.”
I flicked on the wipers. The mud swept right and left, thinner than mud, I realized, as an Acela blew through the station. “Yefim? You keep dropping out.”
“Can . . . hear . . . guy?”
I got out of the car because I couldn’t see Dre anymore, noticed my hood was speckled with whatever had hit my windshield.
“I can hear you now. Can you hear me?”
Dre wasn’t on the platform.
He was nowhere.
“I . . . fuck . . .”
The connection died. I flipped my phone closed, looked left and right down the platform. No Dre.
I turned back around and looked down the line of cars beside my own. There were six of them, spread out, but I saw the same liquid splashed across their hoods and windshields under the weak white lights. The Acela had vanished into the trees, going the kind of fast you thought only jets could go. The wet cars and wet platform glistened with something besides melting snow.