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The phone call was expected. I’d received the paperwork ten minutes ago, along with a heads up from my contact in Russia. Of course, ten minutes isn’t enough to fully understand the entire picture of what I’d been sent, but with a first glance it looked bad.
“What irregularities?” Stan barked at me in Russian, “Sacha? What irregularities? The children are not going back.”
“Calm down Stan,” I shut my office door firmly, then for added security I flicked the lock. Last thing I needed was someone wondering in and catching any of this conversation. The team were still on the bus on the way home, but that didn’t mean the rest of the arena’s staff weren’t still around.
“I am calm,” he snapped, and sounded about as un-calm as any man can.
“Let me think,” I said, and reread the cover note. “Do you know Daria Sokolov well?”
“Daria is my second cousin, black sheep of her family, drugs, drink. Fuck, I need to sit down.” Then he switched to English. It never failed to amaze me how his tone changed when he moved to English, but maybe that was because he was talking to Erik. I listened to Erik attempting to calm Stan down, and then it was Erik on the phone.
That single use of my name held so many questions. The paperwork had been filed by Daria Sokolov saying she wanted to sue for custody of Pavel and Eva.
“Erik, I’m sorry this has happened.”
“Is this a legitimate claim? What do we do?”
“No, there is no legitimacy here, Stan is directly related by blood—”
“Then why does she think she can do this?” Erik asked.
Stan let out a stream of angry Russian, and I raised my voice to talk over them.
“She’s overplayed her hand,” I said, and turned to the last page. “It says on the final page that she’s willing to consider remuneration of thirty million rubles to consider withdrawing her claim.”
“Okay that sounds like a lot. What is that in dollars?”
I did a quick calculation. “About five hundred thousand.”
“That’s nothing for the kids, pay her,” Erik said quickly. “We have the money, pay her, tell her she can’t have the children.”
I sighed inwardly. Erik and Stan had a lot of money between them and could afford to pay Daria off man times over, but this was the very reason that this was even happening. They were financial targets. But I’d seen worse when it came to extortion. “We’re not paying her, in fact—”
“Just pay her, make her go away,” Erik said again.
“Listen, Erik, if you pay Daria then you’ll end up paying every other Russian second cousin of Stan’s. She’s chancing her luck here, and all we need to do is refuse, and this will be a message that will resonate and stop any future claims.”
Erik covered the phone and I heard the rumble of Stan talking, and then Erik was back. “Will you handle this for us?” he asked, and he sounded so unsure that I would say yes. Even if the Railers didn’t have me on their books now, I would do anything to keep Pavel and Eva with their new parents. They were content with Stan and Erik, and little Noah, and they deserved a stable happy life.
“Always. I will call you when I have dealt with the matter.”
By the time I had a connection to the person acting for Daria, an arrogant sounding city type who no doubt had planned his cut of the money already, I was firmly in the Russian mindset.
The exchange lasted no more than ten minutes, some back and forth, some negotiation, and I lied and suggested that the family would loveto have Daria visit and be part of the children’s lives, but that they wouldn’t pay money, and that the US courts would be backing them fully.
I knew it was enough to get them to back off, they said they’d talk to their client, but I could tell from their tone that they were done with me and this conversation. I sent through a document detailing these points, a legal document for Sophia to sign relinquishing all rights, and an offer to cover limited legal fees.
I had my answer in an hour, and called Stan and Erik right back. Stan answered and in a flurry of Russian I explained it was all done. That we’d sent a message. Stan referenced Elvis in his thanks, and both he and Erik said they owed me one.
I quite firmly told them they didn’t owe me anything, that it was my job. Of course when the crate of high end Russian vodka appeared no more than an hour after that, with a thank you balloon tied to it, then I wasn’t going to say no.
I’m not stupid.
Somehow this took most of my day, but I spent the time left walking around the arena. Team dynamics isn’t always about the team itself, very often it was issues in the arena as a whole. The parking, the locker rooms, the front office, and I talked to everyone I met. I had the feeling that the non-team staff were mostly happy at work, but there were a few issues I noted, one of them involving an angry French-Canadian goalie. They did admit Alfie had been calmer recently, but there wasn’t a single member of the cleaning staff who wanted to be on the schedule that took them near the locker rooms until they knew he’d gone home. Particularly if the Rush lost the game.
I’ll mention that to him when I next see him. Maybe point out that I thought he should mend bridges with the people he’d shouted at.
I was hard already at the thought of seeing him again. He’d been away for a while now, and I needed him as much as he likely needed me. I wondered how much work I’d have to do tonight, how much he’d need me to do for him.
I couldn’t wait.
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