Viggo sits in the police station’s lobby and waits to see his son.
It’s a bad night to be in lockup with the other small fish, the shestyorka and pickpockets, the prostitutes, the drunk and unruly. The noise vexes even half way across the station. Such language these destitute people use. Such desperation on display, the poverty of body and of soul. Iosef somewhere among them all, as if he wasn’t raised with every advantage his father could give him, the most expensive private schools and tutors, the clothes of a made man, the contacts Viggo poured years into cultivating. How meaningless it all seems now. The lurid white lights of the police station do cruel things to Viggo’s eyes; he sits in a hard plastic seat like every other pathetic soul that has passed through this irreverent block of concrete, and waits.
He doesn’t remember being more ashamed in his life. No doubt that’s unfair; there will have been other times, back in the motherland and the spaces in between, back when he was still a small fish himself. Before he ate his way up the food chain, grinding his enemies small in his gut, spitting their bones up like asphalt pebbles. Humiliation is not an unfamiliar concept.
But he’s humiliated just the same.
Kirill leans against the wall at his side. There are empty chairs in the waiting room, but Kirill remembers where respect is owed. He wouldn’t dream of sitting in the presence of his boss.
“I can go back to reception,” Kirill says in flat, expressionless Russian. “If they’ve forgotten who is waiting, I’ll remind them. And if an insult is meant, then I would be happy to respond appropriately.” His jacket is perfectly straight, his hair slicked and combed into points as sharp as the knives he wears under his cuffs. His eyes track the security cameras with the jaded resignation of a man who has done time in a far worse place than this, and deserved every second of it.
Viggo spares him.
“No need,” he says with a sigh. “This is the land of opportunity, Kirill; all are equal here. My son receives the same treatment as all the rest. Why should he have favouritism? Does he deserve it? No. We go through when we are called, and until then we wait.”
It’s as much a penance for Viggo himself as it is for Iosef, though the grit of Kirill’s jaw says that he doesn’t like it. But if Viggo had been a better leader, Iosef would not have slipped so far off the path that was laid out for him. And if he’d been a better father, his son might even now be back at home. Talking about his day, or complaining about his homework. They might have played cards together, or one of those violent video games Iosef is so fond of, and which Viggo doesn’t pretend to understand. Perhaps he should have done. If they could have found a single thing to bring them together, perhaps they might not have ended up divided by the harsh white lights and metal wire of a New York police station.
“В семье́ не без уро́да,” he mutters. To every flock, the black sheep; Abram has often said it, and Viggo has often told him to shut his mouth if all he can do with it is complain. If Iosef is in the wrong, it is because he lacks guidance. No fourteen year old is lost beyond all hope of recovery.
He should call for a lawyer. That in itself presents a problem of unusual dimensions; he’s not short on lawyers, but none of them do shit without Avi’s pleasant menace looming over them. And Avi is not someone Viggo wants right now. In all other things, he would be. First on speed dial, the only man with an open invite into every room in Viggo’s home and permission to call at any time that suits him. Avi has never met with a problem he can’t fix. No doubt he could fix this one. Community service, or home detention. A clean slate for Iosef. A weight off Viggo’s shoulders. Avi could fix it.
But he has gone to great lengths to draw a line of professionalism in the sand between himself and Avi. There is work, and then there is family. There is distance, because without it there would be disaster. He’s not going to call Avi.
“Find me a lawyer,” he says abruptly. He doesn’t need to look at Kirill; already the man’s shoulders tighten, tension like a finger on a trigger, like a sprinter on his marks. Ready for the gunshot. “Not one of ours. Find me someone clean, and don’t tell him who he’s working for.”
Kirill disapproves, he can tell. Always a professional; the idea of intentionally choosing anything less than the best tool for the job makes his eyelids twitch. “I can call Avi,” he says without expression.
“No,” Viggo tells him wearily. “No, he’s busy. Finally taking a well-deserved vacation. A family wedding, I think; one of his cousins. I wouldn’t want to bother him over this. He handles my business ventures, not my son.”
“If he’s busy, he can suggest a good replacement.”
“I don’t want him to suggest a good replacement,” Viggo snaps with more venom than he’d intended. Kirill doesn’t even blink, but he never does. “I want you to do it, without Avi’s involvement. Now. Unless you want to leave my son in lockup for the rest of the night - and I would not blame you for that.”
The insult to Kirill’s professionalism easily outweighs the passion with which he very much wants to leave Iosef in lockup for a night, or a week, or an eternity. Nodding stiffly, cellphone materialising from an inner pocket of his coat, Kirill gets to work on making calls.
Viggo leaves him to it. The lights are too bright, the station too loud, stinking of anger, fear, weed, destitution. It’s a bad place to be. A place Viggo should be far above, after all the work he’s put in to rising beyond its reach, and all the work Avi has put in to making sure he can never be dragged back down. Anywhere would be better than the waiting room. Abandoning his guards to their tense surveillance, Viggo shoves through doors until he reaches the street, and then the alley running down one side of the station.
He’s alone, but the myriad cigarette butts that litter the street suggest that he’s not the first to seek solace away from the glare of the white lights and the officers of the law. He lights up. The cigarette’s kick is dampened by his mood. Viggo stares at the wall of the alleyway, the dirt, the city filth.
They’ll let Iosef out eventually. It was a small thing; car theft, hardly serious. But a pattern, where Iosef is concerned. He likes stealing valuables. Not the little things, chewing gum from gas stations, shoes from malls. Iosef favours expensive thefts. Cars, jewelry; if he had any charm, he might try to steal other men’s wives, and maybe someday he will. But for the moment he remains someone Viggo hardly knows and hardly respects, and his petty little rap sheet gets longer.
Viggo is aware that he should have stepped in sooner. He broods on that until the cigarette between his fingers crumbles away to ashen fragments, and he drops the butt to suffocate under his shoe. His fingers are already digging through a pocket for lighter and cigarette pack. He should quit. His doctor is always saying so. Soon, he will.
There are footsteps in the alleyway. At his side, someone else lights up.
“Third offense, huh,” Avi says. “I’m guessing that’s not counting a bunch of smaller ones that got overlooked. Kid’s young. They’re lenient on kids. For a little while.”
Viggo glances over at him, unsurprised, resigned to the inevitable. And still he can tell himself the truth, for once; he can honestly say that he tried to avoid this. “I didn’t ask for your help.”
“Yeah, I noticed.” Avi brings the cigarette to his mouth. “You mind telling me why? I showed up expecting a clean record and an easy release; instead I got the precinct captain all up in my face because he thinks he finally has your number. He doesn’t need to screw you on good old tax evasion. He can just nail your son up and then offer you a plea bargain.”
“It won’t get that far,” Viggo says heavily. “Not if you have anything to say about it.”
“Oh, I have a lot to say about it. Like, why the hell didn’t you tell me Iosef was in legal trouble?”
“It was nothing to do with you.”
“Bullshit,” Avi says. “Sir. Come on, Viggo, talk to me. The things I do for you, you think I wouldn’t do this? After all the hostile takeovers and offshore accounts, all the money laundering? You should have called me.”
Viggo lights up a second cigarette. It is, he thinks, a mark of just how pissed off Avi is, that he doesn’t offer to do it. No one would know it if they didn’t know him; the pleasant smile is firmly in place. He’s irreproachable. He smokes and smiles and only Viggo knows just how angry he is. As he should be. Viggo is in the wrong here.
“But it was personal,” he says out loud. It’s more to himself than to Avi, but Avi scoffs it away.
“Viggo, I do your taxes. There is no ‘personal’. You don’t have secrets from me.”
“I have some.”
“No,” Avi says firmly. “You don’t.” The smile slips a little, buried under something much heavier, a kind of frustration Viggo knows well. They share a look. And just this once, Viggo is the first to look away.
“There are limits,” he says. The words have a stale taste to them; he’s left them too long, and now they’re desiccated, dried up and worthless. Too old to be of use. Worn to dust by the number of times he’s recited them to himself in the hopes that repetition might teach him a lesson in restraint. It hasn’t worked particularly well. “My son, Avi. Whatever his flaws, whatever mistakes I might have made, he is my son. To involve you in this…it’s too far. You are not his father.”
“He’s the one who called me.”
Of course he is. Viggo gives a dry laugh around his dwindling cigarette. “Where did he find your private number?”
Avi shrugs. “I gave it to him. Couple of years ago, when he started really acting out. I told him not to get himself into a situation where he needed it, but if he did then I wanted him to call me right away. I’m kind of surprised it took this long. Guess he wasn’t scared enough before. The new precinct captain’s a piece of work.”
“You shouldn’t have,” Viggo says, but that too sounds unconvincing. As if Avi hasn’t done his fair share of picking the boy up from school, as if he isn’t more convincing than Viggo at pretending to care about the newest violent video games, as if he’s not the one who sighs and does Iosef’s math homework for him. Why would he not drop everything and come running home to save Viggo’s son from the mistakes he’s always making? Why should it matter? There’s no division of business and personal. They are who they are.
“I didn’t actually mind,” Avi says after a while. His cigarette hangs at his side between finger and thumb, burning low, ignored. “Any excuse not to see my family. A couple of hours is about the most I can handle.”
“I’ve never met your family.”
“Yeah, for good reasons.”
“And yet,” Viggo says. “You manage Iosef. Abram. My soldiers, all their problems. I’m not sure how you do it.”
“If you’re that interested, you can come to the divorce party in a year or two. There’s no way this marriage lasts. I almost offered to handle the prenup, and then I remembered that I don’t like any of them.”
“Your loyalties lie elsewhere.” Viggo gives up on his cigarette; it’s not burned out, but he is. He lets it drop to the filthy alley ground and watches it sizzle where it lies. It may be an omen of what’s to come. Or maybe he’s just a tired man, getting older by the year, worn down by constantly brushing up against things he won’t let himself have.
“How far did you have to travel, to come back?” He asks as if it doesn’t matter.
“Four hour drive,” Avi says. “I got the call while the arrest was happening.”
“They would not let me see him.”
“Power play. It’s fine, they’ve interviewed him already. He was smart enough to keep his mouth shut until I showed up, and then I did the talking. I can work something out.”
“Uh, no,” Avi says. “Clean record, the works, like I would have done if you’d called me when the problems started. What do you pay me for?”
Four hours, he drove. Leaving his blood relatives, his long-overdue vacation, his fleeting illusions of freedom. And for all his talk of pay, they both know this isn’t about money. Viggo hasn’t checked on Avi’s billing in years; he knows that if he did, he’d find himself undercharged. There’s a good chance this particular client will never appear on the books. Family never does.
“This is not business,” Viggo says. He’s weary of this alleyway, the stink of smoke and garbage. The police station’s glare would be better. The receptionist’s snide disrespect would be a vast improvement on the way Avi is looking at him now.
“I know,” Avi says. “I was wondering when you’d admit it.”
Viggo gives a short laugh. He has to. The sheer nerve; it’s Avi all over. No one else talks like he does and lives long enough to get away with it. The only surprise is that Viggo bothered with trying to ignore it. Some forces can’t be stopped. Some fates are set in stone.
“It’s too cold out here,” he says. “The reception was better. I doubt we’ll have much longer to wait.”
Avi doesn’t sigh. A tell that obvious would be beneath him. Still, the suggestion of it lingers, the frustration he’s resigned to. We can change the subject if you want to, Viggo. If you're too much of a coward to go there. “I came to find you when they were writing up the release papers.”
“Good. That’s good. Kirill can drop him off at home; I believe I owe you dinner.”
“You owe me a vacation,” Avi says dryly. “But I’ll take dinner if you’re offering. That Turkish place?”
“Anywhere you please,” Viggo tells him. “It’s not business. I believe it’s time we had a talk.”
Avi watches him warily. The tie he’s wearing suits him; it’s brighter than usual, adventurous in a way he usually isn’t. A good tie for a wedding, or a dinner date. He is, as always, prepared for all occasions. An admirable trait.
“Sure,” he says. “I’m always happy to talk.”
“You are,” Viggo agrees. He takes Avi’s shoulder, squeezing it the way he has done countless times. And then he lets his hand lie where it rests, the way he doesn’t do. He leaves it there as cautious understanding dawns and Avi raises his brows. He’s skeptical; that’s fair enough. For as long as they’ve known each other, and as long as Viggo has pretended there are lines they don’t cross, some skepticism is understandable. He doesn’t know why things would change. He can’t see it. To him, just another thing he does for Viggo, like so many others, because he does everything for Viggo.
But this isn’t business. It’s personal.
“Come to dinner,” Viggo says. “And then come home with me. If you're lucky, I might let you leave again by the end of the week.”
Now Avi laughs. He glances at the hand on his shoulder, and then seems to decide to try his luck. Grabs Viggo’s wrist and squeezes it affectionately. “I have to be in court tomorrow afternoon.”
“Delegate,” Viggo tells him. “It’s not a request.”
The alley is a grim, unpleasant place. But they linger a few more minutes, warding the chill off each other. And when they’re ready, they go back inside together.