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Erik

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Andre Torres has never flown first class before, so he thoroughly enjoys the trip from LAX to JFK. This time is technically billable so he makes a few notes about his client’s impossible situation, but mostly he takes it all in. Scotch with lunch? Absolutely! Warm cookie? Don’t mind if I do. He guiltily slips the tiny salt and pepper shakers from the meal into his carry-on bag. Maribella will appreciate the souvenir when he tells her all about it.

Maribella has probably already made up the guest room, such as it is. In truth, the guest room also contains boxes of Christmas decorations, off-season clothes, and books they still haven’t found a place for. They had intended to renovate the entire house to make the most of their limited storage and had been doing quite well until Maribella got pregnant. The tiny nursery was the last renovation they finished together and god knows when they’ll get back to work; maybe when Miranda goes to school in four years.

As interesting as these last few days have been, Andre cannot wait to get back to his wife and baby girl. After five years of marriage he is still very much in love with his wife, maybe more than ever since he became a father. Miranda is in the very mobile baby stage, getting brighter and more interesting every day. When they talked last night Maribella had mentioned that she’s starting to babble in near words, something that seems incredible. It occurs to Andre that while Miranda is, without a doubt, the most delightful child ever born, it might be unsettling for his client to share space with a baby. Did Olrik/Ivan/Erik grow up with siblings? As strange as the man is, he didn’t hatch from an egg in some enchanted forest. There must be family. Hell, there might even be children somewhere - probably fully grown or even middle-aged.

With half an hour to go before landing, Andre asks for another Scotch which is brought to him with a little ceramic dish of hot nuts.The man across the aisle gives him a look that Andre has seen hundreds of times in his life; the what-are-you-doing-here look. He saw it when he was admitted to the gifted and talented magnet school, when he started university at sixteen, and when he graduated in the top 50 at Harvard law. Andre gives the man a steady, questioning look in return until he turns away in confusion. Andre sips his scotch in contentment. He’ll go wherever the hell he pleases and anyone who objects can kiss his ass. Andre is headed for the top, and unless he’s badly miscalculated, his new pet client will help him get there.

***

The arrivals lounge at JFK is crowded but Andre has no trouble spotting his client. Erik is pacing rapidly with his duffle slung over his shoulder. It occurs to Andre that the boy is worth millions but everything that belongs to him - this new incarnation at least - can fit in a carry-on with room to spare. Andre waves him over and waits for his own luggage to arrive. Erik’s flight was fine, of course. Unlike Andre, Erik wasn’t able to enjoy a scotch, but he is surprisingly enthusiastic about the movie, which he found very funny.

“I’m going to find more of this Tarantino fellow’s work. If we end up going the foster family route, they’ll have to be liberal about films.”

“Absolutely. I can’t think of a fate worse than being stuck with Disney movies.”

Erik doesn’t get the reference, but Andre doesn’t bother explaining because his bag is on the carousel and he wants to get out of there. As they step out into a light spring shower Erik spots a town car and driver holding a cardboard sign with Andre’s name on it..

“There’s Bill Fordyce,” the boy whispers. "You’ll have to introduce me as I’m not supposed to know him.”

Torres shakes hands with the driver, noting that Bill has a gun in his shoulder holster and is very struck by the Redwing heir’s appearance.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Ostrovsky. Got to say, you’re the image of your dad.”

“Oh, geez. Please call me Erik. This is all still really weird for me.”

Andre rolls his eyes, but he has to concede that “bashful newcomer” is a good approach to this. Erik won’t be feared just yet, so he might as well be liked.

On the way to Brooklyn Andre gives the kid one last chance to change his mind. The house in Bed Stuy is small and the neighborhood is decent, but far from exclusive.

“I’ve spent time in some pretty cramped quarters, Andre,” he answers in a low voice. No point in attracting Bill’s attention. “Frankly I’m surprised you even have a house at your age given the real estate market in this crazy city.”

“It’s a row house, and it belonged to Maribella’s grandparents. Luckily for us, they kept it in the family and we ended up with it when her parents moved to Florida. It’s a great deal but it needs work, so we rent out the side that’s in better condition to build up a renovation account. The tenants are a couple with no kids. You probably won’t even see them.”

Erik nods and thinks for a moment. “None of my business, so feel free to tell me to go to hell, but does your wife’s family have money?”

Andre isn’t offended, exactly, but he is surprised. “Her maternal grandparents were Cuban immigrants and owning a home was an incredible thing for them. They got dozens of offers to sell but refused because they wanted a legacy and ended up buying the second unit. Her dad is a plumber, so he does okay, and her mother was a visiting nurse until she retired last year.”

“And your parents were similar?”

“My dad has his own book keeping business and my mom is a tailor. They’re both semi-retired now though. Why so curious?”

“I was just thinking about my old lawyer in London. Thomas Delaney. He was a smart son-of-a-bitch. Got me out of a lot of situations. He came from absolutely nothing and married a rich girl and it worked out for him. Her money gave him a boost but good god, did he run with it. I suppose that kind of marriage is very old-fashioned these days.”

“No, I get it. Marriage is a partnership in every way, and that includes money, even if it is tacky to acknowledge it. Were they happy?”

“Oh, sure. Still are, as far as I know. Delaney retired to the country ten years ago. Probably all grandkids and holidays now. Actually, I should check up on him. He’s about my age. The age I was, of course.”

“Of course.” Andre would like to know more about the “situations” Erik is referring to, but that will keep for another day.

***

Traffic is comparatively light, that is to say, not impossible, so they get to the house a little before 7 p.m. Bill pops the trunk and gives Andre a significant look as Erik hauls his bag out of the trunk without waiting for help. Andre pretends to fuss with his own luggage as the kid heads up the stairs.
“You here for the weekend?” He says in an undertone.

“Only until eight, but don’t worry, people will be around. You just won’t see them. I’ll be back Monday at nine.”

Andre shakes the drivers hand and catches up with Erik who is shifting from one foot to another on the porch.

“Were you checking on security?”

“Of course. It won’t be obtrusive.”

“I hire the best. You know that .”

***

Erik meets the family with a subdued gallantry rather absurd in a teenager. He reassures Maribella that the tiny guest room will be more than enough and unpacks his bag while the couple goes about their evening routine. Dinner is reheated enchiladas and sautéed greens with rice. Young Erik doesn’t talk much, but he cleans his plate without complaint and has three store-bought cookies for dessert. He helps clear the table and offers to help Andre with the dishes. Andre almost shoos him off until he realizes that Erik needs a break from new people, especially since one is a babbling infant.

Erik dries the dishes and puts them away quickly and efficiently, as Andre notes out loud.

“I didn’t always have servants, Andre,” Erik replies, with minimal sarcasm. I’ve been in a few combat units, not to mention a few prisons,” he adds, dropping his voice. “I could survive on my own just fine, even without money.”

“Of course you could. I just assumed it had been a while since you’d lived with a family.” Getting no response, Andre switches gears. “You were my Uncle Joe’s age. He still repairs his own clothes, smokes his own fish, grows some of his produce, keeps his place immaculate. I forget that these things were normal for his generation.”

“I used to have a wooden darning egg. Kept it in my kit along with a needle case on every campaign. I wonder if it’s still in a trunk somewhere.”

“Can you cook?”

“A few things, not the way people do today.”

“Ah, yes! Grill a martini, fry a side of bacon.”

“Corned beef hash, boeuf bourguignon, roast leg of lamb. Of course, it was all cabbage and potatoes when I was growing up. Even pork was scarce - ” the boy stops abruptly and his face goes stony. He doesn’t say another word until the dishes are done.

***

Andre and Maribella retire to the living room, ostensibly to watch television, but actually to dote on the baby and tie off loose ends of work before the weekend. Like Andre, Maribella is a lawyer, but she works for a non-profit that reviews old cases to free innocents from prison. Erik isn’t interested in Seinfeld, so he asks permission to borrow from the bookshelves, eventually settling down on the floor with Snow Falling on Cedars. Andre takes Miranda out of her mother’s arms to put her down for the night, breaking Maribella’s attention for a moment.

“Oh, geez. Erik?” She begins. “That’s a great book but it has some, uh, pretty adult themes.”

Andre watches as Erik looks up in disbelief. He stares for a moment, biting back his first response. Finally, he says, “It’s all right, ma’am. I know where babies come from.”

Maribella looks silly for a second, then laughs. “Of course you do. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m so used to protecting a baby I clean forgot what I was reading at your age.”

“Terrible things?”

“Oh, scandalous!” She grins and follows Andre in the nursery.

When they return the boy excuses himself. He wants to read and do a little work, whatever that means. Andre gives him a pen and a spare legal pad, and makes sure the spare room has water and extra blankets, just in case. His wife has two glasses of wine waiting when he returns.

“Ah, blessed quiet.”

“Yeah. That Erik is a real blabbermouth.”

“He’s on his best behavior right now. You don’t mind?”

“No, not for a few days anyway. At least this will give him a chance to learn what halfway normal people act like. He’s got military school written all over him”

“Yeah? What are his tells?”

She ticks off on her fingers. “His clothes are way too pressed and tucked. He practically bowed when we met. He stood at parade rest when he was looking at the books. He said the word ‘ma’am’ and wasn’t awkward. Oh, and did you see the way he stowed his things? I bet you ten dollars that tomorrow morning I can bounce a quarter off his bed.”

“You’re a detective. You’re right, though, he hasn’t been to a normal American school. I guess he does act pretty adult for his age.”

“Mmm. The way he dresses doesn’t help. Maybe a private school would be best. At least everyone looks kind of goofy in a uniform.”

Maribella changes the subject to work drama, but Andre’s mind keeps straying to what she’s said about Erik. Just how is he going to tell his employer that he looks like a nerd?