Chris warmed inside, almost believing him. “So I won’t lose my superpowers?”
“No.” The Rabbi chuckled.
“I met someone,” Chris said, after a moment
“Really?” the Rabbi asked, intrigued. “Who?”
“One of the moms. Larkin’s mother. Heather.” Chris liked her name. It was so feminine. He hadn’t said it aloud until this very minute.
“You like her?”
“Yes.” Chris had to admit it. He liked Heather. He flushed. It felt like high school, which, in a way, it was.
“You’re sure the son’s not a suspect?”
“You’re not letting your feelings for the mom cloud your judgment about the kid, are you? I’d hate to see you get hurt.”
“So then. You know the rules.” The Rabbi emitted a puff of cigar smoke. “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”
Chris burst into laughter, like a relief of a pressure valve. He’d never gotten involved with any woman on an operation before, but he knew it happened. “I wouldn’t do anything, and it’s not going anywhere. Nothing can jeopardize this operation now that Alek’s on my ass.”
“But even wanting it, that’s a step in the right direction.” The Rabbi’s expression softened. “It’s good to want a relationship. You’re getting older. You’re entitled to a family.”
Chris didn’t know if he was entitled to a family. He had gotten this far without one.
“I want you to think about what I’m saying. Curt Abbott is one helluva guy, and I really like him. So does Flavia, and she’s smarter than I am, and the girls, and Fred. Don’t stay out because you’re afraid to come in.”
“I’m not,” Chris shot back, but he wasn’t sure which was in and which was out. To him, he was in, and they were out.
“Then why? Why this operation, really? This is just us, now. You’re going toe-to-toe with Alek, for what?”
“I know why,” Chris said, thinking aloud. “I want to protect my kids. These kids. One of them is mixed up in something, maybe more than one of them. But they’re good kids and they can’t know what they’re getting into.”
“You don’t know that.”
“True, but it’s a hunch. They’re young. Naïve. They’re all unwitting.” Chris felt a new conviction and heard the truth in his own words. Maybe the kids were standing in for him, for all of his boyhood. No one had protected him, and he knew how that had felt. Now he could protect them. He hadn’t realized it until this minute, clarifying his mission anew.
“Then stay. And however it ends, I hope that woman is still there for you.”
“We’ll see.” Chris checked his watch. “Gotta go.”
The neon sign glowed REGAL CINEMA MULTIPLEX CENTRAL VALLEY, and Chris joined the back of the crowd swelling into the theater, mostly teenage boys. He had learned from his audiotapes that Evan and Jordan were going to the movies tonight, and after he’d left the Rabbi’s house, he’d had just enough time to wire himself. He’d taped the microphone to his chest under his polo shirt, and the controller was in his pocket so he could turn it off and on remotely, saving him hours of listening to irrelevant details of a target’s everyday conversation.
Jordan and Evan shuffled ahead in the middle of the throng, visible because they were so tall, and Jordan had on his Musketeers baseball cap, worn twisted backwards. The crowd shifted forward, and Chris kept his eye on them as they went through the door. He watched them join the line at the concession stand, where every teenage boy was buying oversized tubs of popcorn and sodas.
Chris lingered at the back of the lobby, pretending he was reading the menu, which was endless, including nachos, hummus, and pizza. He couldn’t remember what they sold in the movies when he was little; he’d been to the movies only once, as a child. He didn’t even remember which movie he’d seen. All he remembered was that when he’d looked over, his foster mother’s eyes had been teary. He hadn’t had to ask why.
Evan and Jordan got their popcorn and sodas, headed to the ticket taker, and had their phones scanned, and Chris followed. Jordan and Evan went down the hall to the theater and went inside, and Chris let a few people pass before he entered and took the first seat on the left. He passed the next few hours watching the movie, a decibel-blasting superhero sequel, but in the back of his mind was his conversation with the Rabbi.
It’s okay to want a relationship. You’re getting older. You’re entitled to a family.
After the movie was over, Chris got a bead on Jordan and Evan, heading toward the side exit. It was time to make his move, and he left his seat just as they were reaching the line. “Jordan, Evan!” Chris called to them, managing a look of surprise.
“Hi, Coach!” Jordan smiled, but he looked unusually drawn, and Chris flashed on the scene at practice this morning, remembering how upset they’d been over Abe’s death.
“Yo, Coach,” Evan said, already looking down at his phone, and the three of them left the theater together, squeezing into the hallway.
“How’s your face feel, Jordan?” Chris gestured to the injury on his cheek, which had scabbed over.
“A lot better.”
“Good. What did you think of the movie?”
“Awesome,” Jordan answered.
“Totally,” Evan answered, still looking at his phone. They trundled out to the main lobby, to the exit doors, and out of the building. People passed them, lighting cigarettes, checking phones, and pulling out car keys as they left for the parking lot.
Chris stayed close to Jordan. “Hey guys, you want to go out and grab a coffee or something? It’s not that late, and I know you’ve had a tough day, after what happened to Mr. Y. We could go next door. We don’t have to move the cars.”
“Okay.” Jordan smiled with a shrug.
“Why not?” Evan said, texting.
The night was dark and cool, and they walked the length of the multiplex with Evan texting on his phone. Jordan fell into step with Chris, who put his hand in his pocket, found the remote control for the wire, and pressed ON. “It’s so sad about Mr. Y,” Chris said after a moment.