He knows where his son is. He holds onto that knowledge like it’s a stone in his pocket, rolled smooth between his fingers. There are hardly any certainties left for him anymore - he can’t know what he’ll eat tonight, where and when he’ll sleep next, what he’ll have to do tomorrow - but he can be certain of this.
Another thing he can’t be certain of, Fusco reflects as he shivers in front of the payphone, is whether or not the kid will answer his goddamn phone.
Lee picks up on the third ring, voice thick with sleep. “Hey, Dad,” he croaks.
Fusco winces, leans against the pay phone. “Is it late?”
A soft, breathy pause as Lee checks the time. “Like three in the morning.”
“Jesus,” Fusco says. “I’m sorry, kid, I forgot where I was. I’ll let you get back t…”
“No.” Soft rustling. He’s in bed. “No, it’s OK.”
“I won’t keep you up long,” Fusco promises, more to himself than to Lee. “How are you doing?”
“OK,” he says. “It’s finally hockey season. So I get to like... be on a team again.”
“You making friends?”
There’s a small hitch in Lee’s breath. “Kinda.”
So it’s bad, Fusco thinks.
“Is the language stuff still giving you trouble?” he asks.
“They all speak English too.”
“I know, but…”
Resigned: “I’m getting better, Dad.”
“Good,” Fusco says. “Good job.”
“I think I’m failing chem,” Lee tells him. He says it like a dare, like he’s asking Fusco to get pissed off and scream at him, as if Fusco could give a shit about grades. As if he ever would have screamed, even back before they had real problems.
“Just don’t flunk out,” Fusco tells him, firm. “If you do well in your classes, if you make friends, if you have fun: great. But more than any of that, I need a place for you to stay.”
“I could go with you,” he says. Lee always says it like that, like it’s a new idea. Like it’s never been shot down before. “I’m 16. That’s like an adult over here. I could...”
“Lee. No.” He sighs deeply, shifts in place. There’s no way to be comfortable. “I want you to know that I hate being away from you.”
“I know that, Dad.”
“But this is not a life you want. It probably sounds exciting when you’re stuck going to classes you don’t care about and hanging out with rich little shitheads all day, but it’s not. It’s boring and it’s hard and it just keeps going.” Fusco takes a breath. “Not forever,” he reassures, “but it feels like that.”
“When?” Lee asks him. “When’s it gonna be over?”
“Boss says soon,” Fusco says.
“You’ve been saying soon for like three months.”
He has. He’s been saying it over and over again, whispering it like a charm to his son. To himself. Soon. He never really believed it, not once. “Soon looks different, I think,” Fusco says, “to someone like my boss.”
“I wish you could quit,” Lee says. He doesn’t mean it - Fusco can’t tell him everything but Lee’s seen enough to know there’s greater forces at work, that their freedom is balanced on the good will and the word of his father’s unseen boss - but he likes to say it sometimes. A light, kiddish push against authority. Fusco doesn’t mind. He wishes he could quit too, in an abstract kind of way.
“It’s not all bad,” Fusco says, “and it’s not forever. This is gonna be over one day. OK?”
“You believe me?”
Very softly, he says, “I do.”
“Good,” Fusco says. “Then what’re you worrying about?”
“Just bullshit,” Lee answers.
“You got it.” Fusco thumps his fist against the public phone. “You hang in there, OK? Play hockey, kick ass, try to have fun. They can’t take that away from you.”
“And get some sleep,” Fusco says. “I love you.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
And then it’s over. Their conversations are never long. Fusco hangs up the public phone, wipes it down for prints out of habit more than anything else. Then he stands there a little while, hands in his pockets, breath clouding in front of his face. Then, with a heavy, thick breath, he steps out into the snow again.
“How’s your son?” she asks.
He freezes a little on the fire escape. “Don’t you know?”
“I’d rather hear it from you.”
“Bad.” He gets back to work on the hidden camera he installed a week earlier, adhered to a railing and invisible unless you were looking for it. No one seems to be. “I don’t think I can get away with telling him it’ll all be over soon anymore.”
“I suppose you want a timeline,” she says.
Fusco sits back on his heels. “Can you give me a timeline?”
“No,” she says. “I don’t traffic in exact dates, Lionel. You know that.”
He does know that. He barely knows what day it is anymore; he just moves when she asks him to. He chips away at the adhesive holding the camera to the metal until it comes away in his hand.
“What I can tell you,” she says, “is that you have already begun your last mission.”
His heart thuds. “Last, huh?”
She makes a small noise, an almost laugh. Always freaks him out a little when she does that. Makes her sound too eerily alive. “The culmination of all your work so far. It won’t be easy or brief but it is...it is significant. And rewarding.”
“Like ‘cash’ rewarding?” he asks as he tucks the camera into his bag along with the others.
“Potentially,” she says, “although that’s not what motivates you, Lionel.”
“Sister, one thing you gotta learn about people,” he says as he climbs back in through the window, “is that everybody’s motivated by cash. At least a little bit.”
“It does seem to make things easier,” she muses.
“Listen.” Fusco’s voice softens, drops. He hears footsteps, he thinks, in the next room. He wouldn’t be able to ordinarily - the music downstairs is loud - but it’s heavy boots on metal stairs and Fusco can almost feel it through the floor.
“One coming up the stairs,” she says, suddenly all business.
Fusco crosses the room, tucks himself against the wall right beside the door just in time for it to open. He watches through the crack between the door and the wall as a big guy - around six foot tall, broad shoulders, lank and dark hair, leather jacket, whiff of sweat and hair gel and management about him - rolls into the room real casual. Fusco stands perfectly still against the wall as his thick tread crosses the concrete floor, as he fusses with the safe and puts something into or takes something out of it. As he rustles with paper. As he sighs deeply, curses under his breath about some coworker who always leaves the fucking window open, and slides it shut with a groan. And then he’s gone again, closing the door behind him.
All the same, Fusco stays in place a moment longer, listening hard.
“Stay,” she says unnecessarily. And then, “He went into the bathroom. You can go.”
Fusco wrenches the door open, strides out of the office, down the hall, and clatters down the metal steps. The key to this kind of thing, to going where you’re not supposed to go, is looking confident. You just need to walk fast (but not too fast), calm (but not too calm). You need to look like you belong wherever you are. He knew that before he started living this way, but having his boss in his ear makes it even easier.
The crowd downstairs is more frenzied than they were when Fusco first came in about an hour ago. Metalheads. Not his scene. He’s too old to have liked this kind of thing, even when he was a kid. Now that he’s deep into his 50’s and trying to stay on top of a serious drinking habit, the wall of sound and the overwhelming stench of sweat and beer is pretty much the last thing he wants to deal with. But it’s not about what he wants. It’s not even about this club. It’s about the quiet place next door that his boss, for whatever reason, wants eyes on.
Anyway, Fusco doesn’t have any scene of any kind these days and a guy in a jacket and jeans doesn’t really seem out of place anywhere, so he just slides along the walls bit by bit until he’s across the club and out the door, into the cold night air.
“We good?” he asks, under his breath. He’s not worried about being heard - English isn’t so common here that he’d be understood in passing - but one of his big fears these days is being that guy on the street corner, muttering to himself. It’s basically the last career option open to him these days.
“We’re ready,” she says.
“You want to tell me what happens next?”
She seems to consider. That’s what he guesses. It’s not like she breathes, not like she makes the noises you expect somebody to make while they’re chewing something over. “We’re going inside that building tomorrow,” she says at last.
“Are we expecting a fight?”
“We’re depending on it.”
He breathes deep. “OK.”
“Not many of them,” she reassures him. “They don’t know we’re coming.”
“If you’re sure.”
He walks home. Not home - he’s only been there a week - but Fusco likes to get comfortable when he can, and it’s comfortable to think of a place as home, any place. This one’s nice, a townhouse in a good neighborhood. Rich people on vacation or away on business; he doesn’t know and doesn’t care. He just knows that their beds are big and soft, that their showers have good water pressure, that they have on-site laundry and a kitchen where he can cook his own meals. He’s cleaner and better rested than he’s been in probably a year, and if he has to be deadly quiet, if he has to wander around in stocking feet with the lights off so the neighbors don’t see anything amiss, that’s alright by him. He takes a long, hot shower, dresses in the closest thing he has to pajamas - that’s flannel pants and a jersey for a some kind of regional sports team he picked up two missions ago - and curls up in the master bedroom.
Sleeping with the earpiece in used to feel funny. He barely notices it now.
“Hey, Machine?” he asks the dark ceiling.
“Yes?” she answers.
“This’ll help people? Whatever it is?”
“Lionel,” she says, “this will help everybody.”