“What if I’d been with Dre?”
“But you weren’t. That wasn’t accidental. Since the day Timur and Zippo died, and I ended up with Claire and the cross in my possession?” She shook her head slowly. “Nothing’s been accidental.”
“But if everything hadn’t gone according to plan?”
She turned her palms up on her knees. “But it did. Kirill never would have allowed himself to be led to a place like this if everything didn’t look perfectly logical in a very logically fucked-up way. Everybody had to play their parts to a T. In my experience, the only way that ever happens is when people don’t know they’re playing parts.”
“Come on.” She chuckled. “You suspected. How many times did you ask why I’d made myself so easy to find? We had to make it easy—the combined intellect of Kenny, Helene, and Tadeo couldn’t solve a TV Guide crossword. I had to make sure the bread crumbs were croutons.”
“So how soon after Timur died did Yefim find you?”
“It took him about six hours.”
“And I asked him how he felt about having a boss so sloppy he’d send a moron like Timur to pick up something as priceless as the Belarus Cross. That got the wheels turning pretty quick.”
“So the plan was always to make Kirill desperate enough and embarrassed enough that a palace coup would look inevitable from the outside.”
“We refined it as time wore on, but that was the general objective. I got the baby and Sophie, Yefim got everything else.”
“And what about Sophie? What happens next for her?”
“Well, rehab for starters. And then maybe we’ll go visit her mom.”
“You mean Elaine?”
She nodded. “That’s her mom. It’s all about nurture, Patrick, not nature.”
“And what about your nurturer?”
“Beatrice?” She smiled. “Of course, I’m going to see Bea. Not tomorrow, but soon. She’s got to meet her grandniece. Don’t you worry about Bea. She never has to worry about anything for the rest of her life. I’ve already got a lawyer working on Uncle Lionel’s early release.” She sat back. “They’re going to be fine.”
I watched her for a bit, this almost-seventeen-year-old going on, what, eighty?
“You feel remorse about any of this?”
“Would that help you sleep? To know I feel remorse?” Amanda pulled one leg up on the bench and propped her chin on her knee and peered across the space between us. “For the record, I don’t have a hard heart. I just have a hard heart for ass-holes. You want crocodile tears, I don’t have them. For who—for Kenny and his rape jacket? Dre and his baby mill? For Kirill and his psycho-bitch wife? For Timur and—”
“What about yourself?” I said.
“Yourself,” I repeated.
She stared back at me, her jaw working, but no sound leaving her mouth. After a time, her jaw stopped moving. “You know what Helene’s mother was?”
I shook my head.
“A gin-soaked mess,” she said. “She went to the same bar for twenty years to smoke and drink herself into an early grave. When she died, no one from the bar went to her funeral. Not because they didn’t like her, but because they’d never learned her last name.” Her eyes clouded for a moment, or it could have been the reflection of the river. “Her mother? Pretty much the same. Not a McCready woman I know of ever graduated high school. They all spent their lives dependent on men and bottles. So twenty-two years from now, when Claire’s going off to grad school, and we’re living in a house where roach-races aren’t our primary form of entertainment and the electric has never been shut off, and collection agencies don’t call every night at six? When that’s my life, then you can ask me how many regrets I have about my lost youth.” She pressed both palms together above her knee. Seen from a distance, she might have appeared to be praying. “Until then, though, if it’s okay with you? I’ll sleep like a baby.”
“Babies get up every couple hours and cry.”
Amanda gave me a gentle smile. “Then I’ll get up every couple hours and cry.”
We sat there for a few minutes with nothing to say to each other. We watched the river. We huddled into our separate coats. Then we both stood and walked back to the others.
Helene and Tadeo shifted in place by the front of the SUV, listless, in shock. Sophie held Claire and kept looking at Amanda like she was going to found a religion in her name.
Amanda took Claire from Sophie and looked at her motley crew. “Patrick is going to take off for public transportation. Say bye to him.”
I got three waves, Sophie’s accompanied by another apologetic smile.
Amanda said, “Tadeo, you said you’re over at Bromley-Heath, right?”
Tadeo said, “Yeah.”
“We’ll drop Tadeo first, then Helene. Sophie, you’re at the wheel. You’re sober, right?”
“Okay, then. We’ve got to make one stop. There’s a Costco up Route 1 a couple miles. They got kids’ stuff.”
“This ain’t time to shop for toys,” Tadeo said. “Man, it’s Christmas Eve.”
She grimaced at him. “We’re not getting her toys. We’re getting her a car seat base and a car seat. Drive all the way back to the Berkshires without one? Damn, man.” She ran a hand over Claire’s fine brown hair. “What kind of mother do you think I am?”
I walked to the bus station. I took the bus to the subway. Took the subway to Logan Airport. I never saw Amanda again.
I met my wife and daughter in Terminal C of Logan. My daughter did not, as I’d always imagined she would at a moment such as this, run into my arms in slow motion. She hid behind her mother’s leg in one of her extremely rare shy moments and peeked at me. I came to her and kissed Angie until I felt a tug on my jeans and looked down to see Gabby peering up at me, her eyes still puffy from the nap she’d taken on the plane. She raised her arms.
I picked her up. I kissed her cheek. She kissed mine. I kissed her other cheek and she kissed my other cheek. We leaned our foreheads together.
“Miss me?” I asked.
“I missed you, Daddy.”
“You said that with such formality. ‘I missed you, Daddy.’ Was your grandma teaching you how to be a proper lady?”