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This time when I pulled onto North 2nd Street I knew exactly where to find Ivan’s Russian Restaurant and Piano Bar. Sam gave me a worried look over the roof of the car.
“Are we sure we want to do this?”
“Sam, whatever it is that Olaf has dug up, we need. It’s probably the only way for you to fully break away from the hold your father has on you.”
He nibbled his lower lip. I padded around the car, took his chilly face in my hands, and kissed him so he would stop mutilating his lip.
“I just…your career and Taz’s,” he sighed after the lip lock ended. “There’s so much at stake. This all seems so smarmy. And if he trades you I couldn’t—”
“You know what? Your fucking shitty father can fire me today. No, I mean it,” I said when he made a sour face. “I’d gather you up and put you on a plane. We’d fly home to Finland and buy a little cabin in the woods by a river. You could paint, and I could watch you. We’d sip vodka and eat Riispuro and make love.”
“What about hockey?”
I shrugged. “I’d find a rink nearby. Or skate on the lake when it froze in the winter.”
“I thought it was a river,” he teased. I kissed him again.
“A river that runs into a lake.”
“No matter what, you and I are together at the end of all this. Either here in America or in our cabin by the river that runs into a lake. Yes?”
He closed his eyes, sighed, and then nodded. So, I took him by the hand and led him around front. There was a backdoor, but I was uncertain if we should fling it open and walk in. Who knew what was on going in the back room? Secret Russian things that we shouldn’t just stumble in on probably.
Once inside, I was happy to see the place had other diners. Stan spied us and stood up quickly, his head connecting with the chandelier hanging over the table. The piano man nodded at Sam and I as we passed, his fingers moving over the keyboard smoothly, the song something I didn’t recognize. Olaf, the giant computer hacking guy with the tight black suit and hog tattoo on his head stood behind Stan who was still rubbing his head.
“Come sit, make good talk with me. Oh, is this your beloved?” He pushed up to stand again, taking care not to ram his head into the light, and shook Sam’s hand vigorously. “Such a promise to meet you. No, wait. Not promise. Honor. Honor to meet you, Samuel. Sit, both of you. I have hot tea and sweet Russian tea cakes.”
Sam dropped into the booth and I wiggled in beside him. “Is Olaf not sitting?”
Stan looked over his shoulder at Olaf then back at us. “He is preferring to stand,” he said then poured us both a cup of tea. “Here. Drink.”
He shoved the cups to us, so we sipped and nodded and made yummy sounds. Sam was stressed, I could see it in the deep furrows of his brow.
“Now take cookies and dunk them into tea. Is amazing treat, make for warm bellies on cold nights.” Stan grinned, his gray eyes the same color as the smoky winter sweater he was wearing. I dunked a cookie. Sam nibbled a dry one. After several cookie dunks, I had to ask.
“You said that Olaf found something?” I prompted. Stan inclined his head, popped another tea cake into his mouth, and then turned to look at Olaf. The stoic man handed Stan a small envelope then walked back into the kitchen without a word said to anyone.
Someone at a different table was singing along to the song the piano man was playing. The woman singing had a lovely voice. I wished my Russian were better.
“Before I am handing this memory stick to you I am wanting to make sure you do only good things with the information it holds.”
I gaped at Stan holding the envelope in his big hand. “Define good things.”
“My father isn’t doing good things to us so—”
Stan held up a hand to cut Sam off. “I know what your father does,” the goalie relayed, leaning over the table and lowering his deep voice. Sam and I had to lean in as well to hear as the Russian song was picking up more singers. “I know he makes you lie about gay self. This is bad things. He hates men like us, tries to change us into other things – straight men – making us lie and unhappy. This is also bad things. I do not like bad things done to my good fellow gay men and women, or to my trans or fluid friends. All bad things. So, if I give you this, you promise to make things good for our friends in rainbow socks.”
“Yes, of course, we’re going to use this to free Sam, that’s it.”
He slid the envelope across the table to us. “Then go make good things happen with what is on flashing stick. But, Samuel, remember that it sometimes takes pain to make bad things good. Fighting for rights, for freedom, it is bloody many times. Now, have more dunking cookies and let me tell you of what Noah did today with Mama’s lipstick!”
“What do we owe you?” Sam asked, pulling the envelope to him as if it were a sleeping scorpion.
“Nothing. This I do for love. So, Noah and lipstick is much funny tale! He sneakered into her room and…”
An hour later we managed to break free of Stan. The man was a talker, and perhaps a savior. We’d see once we got home and fired up a laptop. Sliding behind the cold steering wheel, I cranked the engine over and sat waiting for some heat. Sam, buckled in beside me, was eerily quiet, the envelope still clutched in his hand, his soft lips pressed into a slash, his chin set.
“Sam?” I reached out to place my hand on his thigh. The denim was soft and warm under my palm.
“What if this is something really bad? I mean, what if Olaf found out my father cheated on my mother, or that I’m adopted?”
“Would being adopted be so bad? I mean, at least you’d know that you didn’t have his genes.” I gave the firm thigh a soft squeeze. Sam wrinkled his nose. “There’s no point in borrowing trouble. We’ll know as soon as we get home.”
“I just…” he blew out a long breath and started tapping his knee with the envelope that held his freedom. “I just hope it’s not too bad, something that I’ll have to make this major morality decision about.”
“I doubt that he’s done anything that will send him to prison.” I glanced at the windshield, watching the small hole in the frost growing larger. “More than likely it’s some sort of sexual thing. Infidelity or some kink. Hell, maybe he’s trolling Grindr on the sly looking for Polynesian twinks.”
“Christ.” He squeezed his eyes closed and let his head drop back to the headrest. “I can’t even imagine…”
“It is kind of freaky, but stranger things have happened. We’ll know soon enough.”
I gave his leg another squeeze, turned on the wipers, and backed out of the parking slot. The ride back to Carlisle was subdued, the envelope taking on more and more meaning the longer we thought about it. We went to Sam’s place simply because it was his home, and the beer was still there. I suspected we may have need of it, especially Sam once the truth was revealed.
We went upstairs, beer and envelope in hand, and crawled onto Sam’s bed. It was now close to four-thirty in the morning, and I had morning skate at nine. My ass would be dragging badly but sleep was not happening tonight. Sam needed me more than I needed rest.
Once we were settled, him with his laptop and me with two bottles of cold beer, he slid the flash into a USB port on his Dell, and we waited. I slid an arm around him, icy bottle dangling from my finger, and leaned in to kiss his scruffy cheek.
“Whatever we see I am beside you. Remember that. You’re not dealing with this alone no more.”
He gave me a worried peek, tried to smile, failed, and then opened up the lone file on the flash.
Sam and I spent several minutes trying to align all the bank statements that Olaf had somehow acquired. All were Henry’s and there were some pretty big red flags that jumped out from the rows of numbers.
“He’s embezzling money from the team,” Sam whispered in mortification. “And the stupid fucker’s not doing a good job of it. Look here, the money he’s taken is going into some offshore account, but that’s leaving the team strapped. Looks like he’s shuffling the cash into bad investments to try to make back the money he’s stolen but the investments are going belly up, so he has to lift more from the team account. How long did he think he could do this before someone in accounting caught on?”
I shrugged. I knew little of big money or chancy investments. All I knew was hockey and that I loved Sam. “Which is why maybe he wants to trade the better players and bring up kids from the ECHL. Pay them less, maybe cover the trail while he funnels more cash into the coffers.” I took a swig of beer. Sam did the same, his gaze never leaving the screen. “He could go to jail for that, Sam.”
“I know. Fuck. I said I didn’t want to have to make this big moralistic decision!” He shoved the laptop off his thighs then drained the beer in one long, miserable pull. Then he burrowed into my side, his shoulders caving in under the weight of it all. “What the hell am I supposed to do with that information?”
“First you make copies, and then you confront your father with it.”
“I hear an ‘or’ in there,” he murmured, his head now resting on my chest.
“Or you go to the police.” I dropped the empty and ran my fingers into his hair. He sighed like a kitten as I gently massaged his skull. “Whatever you decide, I’m here, forever.”
He wriggled into my side, and the tears came, softly and nearly silently, but they came. And I held him until dawn lit up the sky and a plan of action was formed.
*a new episode appears each Sunday, check the master list for updates.