We’re rapidly approaching the point of no return for Mikhail. It all seems pretty inevitable to me, but I guess I know him better than most…
I followed Carly through the small cafe, past the counter, down a hallway and up to a solid metal slab of a door. She looked up at a small camera and waved. A few seconds later the door swung open, and I was face to face with Massimo.
He leaned down and gave Carly a kiss on the cheek before turning to me and extending his hand. “Hey man. No hard feelings. Come on in.”
I took two steps back. A lot of things went through my mind in that moment, but I just, very slowly, said, “I’m not going to shake your hand.”
Massimo laughed and said over his shoulder, “Little guy’s got more balls than I woulda thought.” He turned back to me. “Ok, fine. You got your feelings hurt. So don’t shake my hand. Just get the fuck in here.”
Carly came back to the door and beckoned me. “Massimo was just doing what he was told. He’s sorry.”
Massimo really didn’t look sorry, but what was I supposed to do? I ‘got the fuck in there’. I guess he gave me credit for more balls than I really had.
There were two other people in the room – an older, big, fat, Italian-looking guy and a smaller guy in a suit. The small guy was dark-skinned, maybe Persian or East Indian. I’ve never been very good at guessing that kind of thing.
Carly was hugging the fat guy when I entered. She turned around and said, “This is my uncle, Marino.” Then she pointed to Massimo, “And that’s his son, Massimo.” She gave me a funny look that, in retrospect, was probably supposed to tell me to pretend nothing had happened between Massimo and I.
Marino gave me a big smile. He gestured at the Persian guy. “And this is Mr. Smith.” He chuckled.
Mr. Smith didn’t laugh, or smile. He didn’t look pissed off or anything, just kinda… neutral. “Mikhail, I understand you prefer to be called Mikhail?” Mr. Smith had a really cool accent. Almost British, but not quite. He waited for me to respond, so I nodded. “I understand you’re a very talented programmer.”
He was waiting again, so I said, “Yeah. I mean, I guess so.”
He nodded. “False modesty is the same as lying. I don’t like that.”
I gulped. I can never tell whether a meeting is going well or not.
“I understand you wrote a program that cracked the security on a hidden drive maintained by your company.”
“And that you did so while under the influence of a large volume of narcotics.”
I glanced at Carly, but she just pointed urgently to Mr. Smith with her eyes. “Yeah. I mean, yes.”
“Do you require narcotics to perform such programming?”
“Uh, no. I mean, that’s the first time I’ve done anything like that.”
“Would you be able to do it again?”
I gulped again. Carly and I had talked about this on the way over. Despite my hesitation, she said she knew I could do it. If she said I could, I could. “Yes.”
“Without the drugs?”
“Yes,” I said with a lot more confidence than I was actually feeling.
“Good, good…” He was about to continue, but we were interrupted by a faint banging on the door.
Massimo looked at a screen in the corner and said, “It’s that fucktard from the computer place.”
“Brad’s here?” said Carly. “What the hell?”
“I’ve met him here before,” said Massimo. “It’s no big deal.”
“Get rid of him,” said Marino.
Massimo walked over and opened the door. As soon as it cracked open, Brad yelled, “Is Mikhail in there? I need to talk to him!”
Massimo reached out, grabbed Brad by the front of his shirt and dragged him into the room, slamming the door behind him. “The fuck you thinking, yelling out there? I oughta kick your ass.”
Brad tried to smooth out his shirt but Massimo had popped some of the buttons. He looked up and noticed that I was, indeed, present. “Mikhail. Don’t do this. These are not people you want to get involved with.”
Massimo cuffed him in the side of the head.
Brad dodged to the side, but continued talking. “I’m already in this but you don’t have to be. You can still walk away.”
Brad might have wanted to say more, but Massimo punched him in the stomach and he slammed against the wall before dropping to the ground with a grunt. Marino nodded when Massimo looked over at him and the huge man leaned down and punched Brad again, knocking him flat.
Mr. Smith looked away from the scene and made eye contact with me. When he was sure he had my attention, he said, “Do I have your word that you can access the information you accessed before?”
All I was really thinking about was wishing I had gone to the bathroom before we came here, but I managed to say, “Yes.”
“Good.” Mr. Smith stood up and gave a quick nod to Marino, then turned back to me. “I doubt we’ll see each other again, but I will be watching your progress carefully. It was a pleasure meeting you.” He walked past Brad without looking down and Massimo let him out.
“Congratulations, kid,” said Marino, and he clapped me on the back.
Carly took my hand and squeezed it. “It’ll be ok,” she whispered faintly.
I have to say I wasn’t quite convinced.
“Go home and get together any stuff you really want. Don’t worry about clothes and shit like that,” said Marino. “Massimo will go with you. We’ve got a real nice place lined up and we got someone who can buy you new clothes. No need to dress like such a slob anymore.” He gave me a big grin that I assume was supposed to make me feel better.
“What are you going to do with Brad?”
“Are you kidding?” asked Massimo, and he punched Brad again when the prone man tried to say something. “This piece of shit wanted us to kill you.”
Marino frowned and held up a hand to his son. “Nothing to be worried about,” he said to me. “Carly, drive him back to his place. Massimo will meet you there later.”
And that was the last time I saw Brad.