“There is no way she can afford a lawyer and I doubt she’d take it well if we’d offer to cover for it, so you must convince her to take it.” Alik continued.
Maksim didn’t say anything, but he knew Alik was right. He’d already considered paying for the lawyer and not let the state give him anyone from conveyor belt, but he knew that would be the last he’d talk with Laura.
“It won’t be easy, but I have a feeling, coming from you, it would make more sense.”
“You have more confidence in it than I do.”
“You have a way with people.” He shrugged and leaned back, turning his eyes out. “So!” He said a bit louder, “I want ice cream on mine. Do you think we could take a detour?” His tone might have been light and bright, but there was a sheen of predatory in it. The only place to get ice cream that wouldn’t melt up by the time they got home would be handled by the same skunk, who sold cigarettes to underage kids.
Their eyes met for a moment and Maksim felt his body relax.
“Hey, do you mind if I have a private chat with the boy?”
Something had taken root in Alik’s mind and Maksim wondered if it was the same idea he was thinking of?
“Which one?” He teased.
“The boy, who stole the cigarettes?” His voice fell low, but it didn’t lose the edge of laughter.
“He didn’t steal them.”
“I know, you can’t get out of that shop without her giving you the stink eye.”
Maksim snorted. “You sound a lot like them.”
“Thank you! At least that we have in common!” He rose.
“You have to ask Laura, if she agrees – she’s responsible for them.”
“Well, I hope she is young enough to enjoy good pranking!”
Maksim frowned, not understanding what his brother meant, but he had to keep an eye on the road instead and on the car that was starting a maneuver around a big truck ahead of it.
He glanced at the mirror and saw Laura’s speculative stare like she was trying to see through Alik’s smiling mask. There was definitely something going on, but the way he didn’t seem to want to share it with the rest of them was making him squeamish. She did told Ergo and Petro it was OK to go with him though and soon the trio was sitting on the front seat so he could hear everything they discussed. The boys kept looking at his way, as if to confirm they were alright and he told them so, he’d step in if Alik went overboard.
“I want you to tell me exactly how you got your hands on the cigarettes.” Alik went straight to the point and the boys faces fell. Petro’s shoulder pressed into Ergo’s, as if to offer support and Ergo’s hand ran unknowingly to squeeze down on Petro’s trousers.
“I can see you are two smart little devils, and I’m not judging you. I just want to know exactly,” he pressed on that word, “how she sold it to you. Did you ask for it? Did she gave you a random one or did you ask specific mark? Did she take them from under the counter or gave you one from the rack behind her?”
Boys eyes widened. Maksim saw the questions rising in their little heads – how would he know? He knew, because they weren’t the only ones! He had only occasionally borrowed some from older friends, but Alik must have bought them himself if he knew what to look for!
It came like a flood, their explanation. Speaking over each others, finishing each others sentences, they told him everything. Nothing about the incident with the locals, but they spilled a lot of small details on the shopkeeper’s mistake.
“So?” Maksim asked after their conversation died, he’d asked what kind of ice cream they wanted for their honesty and assuring them they’d done the right thing before sending them back to Laura. They didn’t tell her, what they’d spoken about, but the way they kept staring at the man in the front seat with their eye whites shining, they’d been impressed.
“So!” Alik snapped, his face full of anger and disappointment. His eyes traveled away for a moment, before they gave up, did a rainbow jump and came back on him. “Yes, I had chimney mouth when I was a kid! So what?”
“I don’t care what you did as a kid.” Maksim huffed. “Why were you asking them, where she keeps the smokes?”
“No reason.” He snapped, and sprouted his hands over the first seat, suddenly dead serious.
By the time they arrived at the shop’s parking lot, his leg was pouncing up and down annoyingly enough that after parking the bus, he snapped at him. Instead, he got up without any response and started out of the bus, beckoning both the twins, Anton and Kaspar to go in with them.
Maksim went with them, seeing as the women were caught up under the sleepyheads and Jevgeni was sitting by Joni.
Alik turned to Maksim with his hands in his pocket, he looked more serious than he had ever seen him. “When we go in, can you keep her attention on you?”
“Why?” But instead of answering, he headed after the boys, out of his hand’s reach when he tried to grab him and pull him back. “Alik!” He ran after his younger brother, seriously worried.
“Just do it, OK?” Alik hissed, pulling the door open to let them in.
“Alright, alright!” He sighed and took a quick inventor on what he had to work with. Four most fastest-moving boys in the punch, though he could use Victor and his snake right now. Maybe, he mused, chuckling nervously, maybe he should allow Victor to get one after all? Instead he saw something flash in Anton’s small hand and he let out a sigh.