She should have been suspicious when she saw a man smoking on the hood of an idling sedan across the street from her apartment building. Her block wasn’t as dangerous as other streets in the waterfront district, but the entire neighborhood was too close to Old City to be properly monitored and few people chanced the streets after dark. It was too easy to run afoul of criminals.
Hindsight was always 20-20, thought Joan as her brother-in-law rose from the couch. Towering several inches over six feet, Adam smiled at her nervously as he cowered behind his smaller, older brother. Joan glowered up at him and was pleased with the results. If he had a hat, it would be twisted beyond recognition in his hands.
The twins, still awake despite the time, had gone quiet when she entered as if trying to fade into the background and pass unnoticed. Joan jerked her thumb down the hallway. “Bedtime, now.”
Joan slipped out of her shoes by the door while the kids scampered down the hall. She couldn’t believe that the man who had ostracized her family in their suburban home, who had brought down a hail of government fines and restrictions forcing them to move deep into Rochester where the permits still allowed, who had left her children crying as he was dragged away, had the gall to be in her living room. Once they were out of earshot she turned on her husband. ”What is he doing here?”
“He has a situation at work.” Joan could hear the hesitation in Henry’s voice.
Adam moved to speak, but Joan held up a hand to hold him off and walked away. She was cold, and her scrubs were filthy. Twelve hours at the hospital had left her uncomfortable and weary. If she spoke hastily, goodwill wouldn’t be on the forefront of her mind.
Henry’s footsteps followed her down the hall to their small bedroom. He caught the door before it slammed in his face and slid into the room behind her.
“I just don’t understand why he had to come here, Henry.” She slipped out of her dirty uniform without looking at him.
“He didn’t have anyone else to go to.”
“He could go away,” she pointed out.
Henry sighed, shuffled his feet in the doorway. He was defeated.
“Can you just talk to him? It’s late.”
She pulled a clean shirt over her head and counted to ten. Her temper could be unmanageable.
“He’s my brother, Joan,” Henry said.
Joan sat on the edge of their bed and jerked on a pair of pants. “He’s a criminal,” she snapped.
He took a sharp breath and she knew her words had hurt. The brothers were in the same line of work.
“It’s lucky I’ve never been arrested, then,” he murmured. Joan said nothing. Her cheeks burned, shame tempering her anger. He turned to leave when she met his eyes, pausing momentarily. “I’ll put the kids to bed.”
Joan stood after he’d gone and paced the small bedroom. She could hear boisterous laughter and giggles coming from down the hall. No doubt the twins had requested a bedtime story. She caught herself smirking. The words were indistinguishable, but if it involved anything worse than the sombrero debacle, she didn’t even want to know.
Adam wasn’t a bad man. He was just stupid, and her family had paid a high price for his mistake. She couldn’t excuse his behavior, but mostly it was the fact that he’d forgotten to check for tracers when he’d come to their house after his last job. The police caught the signal and swarmed. Apparently they’d been on his tail for weeks.
The laughter won her over. She walked toward it, careful to step over toys strewn across the hall by her absent-minded children. The newest distraction left the oldest forgotten; right now, Uncle Adam, who hadn’t been back to visit for three years, was looking pretty shiny.
Madeline sat on Adam’s lap. He was regaling her with the old story of Aladdin, though the names and events were switched in places to include such unlikely events such as Christmas and Adam himself. Even Henry and little Ethan were listening intently. They were all smiles and giggles as the wacky story unfolded.
She took a seat by Henry and listened to the story with her head on his shoulder. Joan had forgotten that Adam had a way with children. Not his own, of course. They lived in Charlotte, and he wouldn’t get travel permits until well after his parole was up. Until then, he had to live in Rochester with nowhere to legally go and no chance of being hired by employers once they pulled his background files.
Henry had been right. Adam really didn’t have anywhere else to go.
Once the story ended Henry corralled the children to bed, leaving Adam and Joan alone. Joan pulled two mugs from the cupboard above the stove and poured lukewarm coffee. Adam handed her the cream, a peace offering that came with an apprehensive smile.
“Adam, I don’t want anything to do with your two-bit drug running schemes,” she said, taking the carton.
“It’s not a scheme,” Adam corrected quickly. “We have a guy who bit the bullet.” He took a deep breath and continued without meeting her eyes. “He’s not… mobile, and he needs some help. Medical stuff, you know?”
For a moment, Joan said nothing. The somber expression on Adam’s face said this wasn’t one of his typical projects. People were already injured, and Adam preferred money over danger any day. He was out of his element and looking for help. Joan rubbed the knot forming between her eyes. This was not how she’d pictured her evening off.
“Are the police involved?” She sat at the kitchen table. He sat across from her, his meaty hands enveloping his cup, and shook his head.
“So you want me to, what, risk my family’s safety to babysit some guy until he can walk again?”
“Basically.” He looked at his coffee as if in need of something stronger. “You’d be paid double for missing work.”
Joan’s eyebrows rose, but her brother-in-law wasn’t laughing. “You’re serious.”
“Believe it or not, Joan, but I’m not actually supposed to be involved in this.” He sighed. “I answered a phone call, and here I am.”
She believed him. Adam could not afford to pay half her weekly salary even when business was good. If money was being exchanged so frivolously, his boss was calling the shots. Joan knew that small time criminals didn’t have bosses, though. “Adam, what’d you get yourself into?”
Joan noted that Adam fidgeted under scrutiny. “If you’re interested, we need to get him out of the cold. Otherwise, I should get going,” he said.
[to be continued]