I shot up the freeway, making sure to keep Angel's Maserati visible in my rear view. Nina alternated between staring nervously at me and looking out the window as though she'd never seen Los Angeles before. Nikita napped in her lap. Traffic was clear, we made good time into Hollywood.
Onto Hollywood Blvd, through the crowds of tourists and hookers. This wasn't the nicest neighborhood for such a reunion, but Angel had assured me the family had an arrangement with the owners. I didn't ask what kind of arrangement. We pulled into the lot; I saw Vic's classic Lincoln sitting in a space. The four of us went up to room 211.
Angel knocked, called his name, then used the key to open the door. He stepped in, saying "Put it down, Vic, it's just us." I stepped in. Alexi was sitting up on the bed, watching TV. I said, "Alexi, we brought a couple people for you, just like we said we would." I stepped aside and Nina and Nikita nervously stepped into the motel room.
Alexi sat bolt upright, then sprang off the bed and embraced them. Nina hugged him back with one arm, bursting into tears of joy. Alexi gathered his baby up in his arms and cuddled her, kissing her, dripping tears on her face. He began to go weak in the knees, so I guided him back to the side of the bed. Nina followed, sitting down beside him. They began to talk in their own language. They would pause every few sentences to kiss. Angel looked at me and Vic and said, "Okay, this was worth it."
I said, "So I guess the question now is, what next?"
"What do you mean?" asked Angel.
"Okay, we got them reunited and all, but now what for them? We give 'em money and they run? They can't go back to wherever they were living, you know the organization is watching their place, especially now that we hit them."
Angel poked a cigarette in his mouth. Vic went and kneeled in front of the couple and gestured for the baby, which he picked up and cuddled on his shoulder, a big smile on the old mafioso's face. Angel gave me a grin and said, "Ahead of you. That's been thought through."
"How so?" I asked.
Angel puffed on his smoke. "This guy Alexi is now a felon. He's gotta keep his head down. Even an involuntary manslaughter charge would put him away for some years. As it happens, don Ventimiglia could use a full-time gardener. The three of them would live in one of the unused guest cottages, we'd dig up a car for him, they'd eat with the don's staff, he'd get a salary.... They'd be covered. Except for the car, no expense to anyone. Alexi and his family will be safe and taken care of for a while."
"Too sweet," I said. "Hell, I could live with a deal like that."
Angel laughed, "You take bigger risks than pulling weeds for what you earn."
Vic was holding Nikita up in the air, making "Woogie woogie woogie" noises, having the time of his life. Alexi and Nina watched him with the guarded happiness of all young parents. Vic suddenly said, "Whoo, someone needs changing. Don't worry, I got this, I got four daughters. Where's your bag?"
Alexi and Nina looked confused. "Our.... Bag?"
"Yeah, your diaper bag."
Nina gave a despairing look. "All was left when I was taken. I have none."
I looked at Angel. "Sounds like we need to go shopping."
"Hit the Thrifty's down the block, they'll have the basics. See about going into Macy's and getting them some clean clothes, too. They've been wearing the same crap for nearly a week now. Don't worry, we'll go in and get their stuff from their old apartment, no matter who's there."
"Have you discussed any of this with the don yet?" I asked Angel.
"Of course," he said. "He thinks it's a great idea."
"Alexi wants to go to school."
"What, and learn English?"
"Exactly. He speaks it passably, but can't read or write it."
Angel gave a confident grin. "We'll work that shit out. For the time being, they're here in this motel room. Then they move to the don's estate. They don't have a lot of choice."
I snickered. "They got TV in those guest houses?"
"Then I know Alexi will be happy. Come on, we gotta go get stuff for the baby."
Three hours later we were back, with clothes for Alexi and Nina and everything we needed for the baby. Alexi was looking forward to shaving without someone pointing a gun at him. Both of them brushed their teeth, and Nikita was buttoned up in a brand new jumper. I used the motel phone and called down to my house, to see if Bekka was home yet. Jane answered.
"No, I haven't seen her," she said. "Where are you?"
"Up in Hollywood, taking care of business. When you hear from her, just tell her things went well, and I'll explain all when I get home."
"Hold on, I think I just heard the Plymouth pull in. Wait a minute...." The phone was set down.
A minute later Bekka picked up the phone. "Babe?" she said.
"Yeah, me hon. How you doing?"
"I'm fine. How was your assignment?"
"No flaws," I said. "Right now I'm in a motel room with a reunited family. They'll be living at the don's estate, don Ventimiglia is gonna give Alexi a job as a gardener. They'll live in one of the guest houses. I'll tell you more later."
"When will you be home?" Bekka asked.
"In a few hours. What are we having for dinner?"
Bekka relayed this question to Jane, then responded, "Jane's gonna try her hand at manicotti. Sound good?"
"Sounds great. I'll call if my plans change, okay? Talk to you later."
"See you soon, love. Good bye."
I hung up the phone and said to Angel and Vic, "Look, unless you guys need me, I'm gonna take off for home, if that's okay."
Angel said, "No, we're all wrapped up here. We'll keep you updated on anything new. We'll take these three over to meet the don in the morning."
"Okay. Let me know how it goes. See you later." I started heading towards the door.
Alexi's voice cried out, "Wait, please!" I turned towards him.
He held me by the arms. "You were in a position to kill me, but you do not. You save my family. You save me. I do not know what to say. Thank you. Why do you do this?"
I put a hand on his shoulder. "Because it was the right thing to do. You and your family will be together, and safe. This is what you want, yes?"
"Yes. Will I see you again?" His eyes were blurry.
"Probably. In the meantime, do what these men tell you. They will keep you safe, and happy. You can trust them."
Nina, sensing my departure, came over with tears in her eyes. "You save me, me and my baby. Thank you." She gave me a hug, sandwiching Nikita between the two of us.
I kissed them both on the forehead. "I just did what needed to be done. You take care now, I'll see you later." I slipped from her embrace and went out the door, feeling a little blurry myself. Popping the door lock on the Fleetwood, I looked up at the room. The young family was at the railing, watching me. I gave them a thumbs-up. They smiled and waved. I backed out of the space and pulled into traffic.
I stopped at a McDonald's where I did a line of speed and got a shake. It had been a hell of a day. Now I was headed home to my own family, as impromptu as it was. I was looking forward to a manicotti dinner and the affection of Bekka and Jane, and a quiet evening in front of the TV with the two of them.
I had nothing to complain about.