than a month later, Paolo brought me back into his employ. My second career with Paolo involved me only with his number two, Julian. I worked jobs that were more hush-hush than before and asked no questions. One of the jobs was stealing a bag from some computer nerds. The bag turned out to be full of Russian property. The Russians came after me, and I had no escape or backup from Paolo. Paolo was going to use what I stole to crush the Russians and he was going to let them kill me before he did it. The Russians were going to act as Paolo's payback for what I did to Tommy. Paolo was also using me to create confusion for the Russians, who had no idea who I worked for and no way to find out after I was dead. Once I figured out that Paolo hung me out to dry, I stole the bag back for the Russians, and they moved on the Italians first. The whole ordeal ended in blood with me in the middle. I saved Paolo's life, and told him I was out. He honoured the deal for almost two years.
forget what I said. You and me are square. I need you for a job. The kind of thing you used to do. Please, it has to be you. I'll pay you whatever you ask, just meet with me.”
    This was a new side of the man who had plotted to kill me. He seemed sincere in his desire to peacefully meet. He called me
, “son,” trying to rebuild our bond over the phone like a horrible telephone commercial. “If you need to see me so bad, why didn't you come yourself?”
    “This is a delicate situation. Leaving would attract too much suspicion,” he said.
    “Sending Johnny attracted suspicion,” I said. My voice was cold and flat, betraying nothing.
    “Why? What did he do? Where is he? I told him how I wanted this done. Put him on.”
    “Johnny crossed the line and he paid for it. You crossed the line too. I told you we were done. All you did today was force me to move.”
    There was a heavy sigh that must have come from deep down inside Paolo fifteen hundred kilometres away. “I was wrong about what I said about you. You're not a crow. You're a lioness. You know what lionesses do,
They protect their cubs. I sent Johnny to ask nicely, and what do you do? You overreact like a hungry cat.”
    “The fancy punk kidnapped an old lady before he even met me. He wasn't here to talk.”
    Paolo laughed in my ear. “Ah, you see, I'm right. You are a lioness. You protected your own from the jackals, didn't you? Johnny was overeager, probably angry. He knows what you did to Julian — everyone does.”
    I crippled Julian before I left the city. He was Paolo's number two and a hero to all of the up-and-comers. He was a vicious dinosaur who made his bones crushing other people's. “Julian and I were bound to collide one day. People aren't mad we fought, just that I won.”
    “They aren't mad,
; they hate you for it.”
    “And you want me to come back to that because you think I'm some lion?”
    “Not a lion,
, a lioness — the mother. This has nothing to do with you being less than a man. No, it's because you left two of your cubs back in my jungle. Those cubs are still here nestled in their bar. I keep them safe for you. Now I need you to do something for
cubs. I need to see you.”
    “Give me a number,” I said. He did, and I spoke up. “I'll tell you where and when.” I closed the phone before he could argue.
    I made it across the border into Quebec just as my eyelids started to get heavy. I found a motel off the highway and paid cash for what was left of the night.
    I hit the mattress and all of the trouble I had sleeping over the past months didn't touch me in the lumpy bed. I slept and dreamed for the first time in ages. I dreamed of a city awash in violence and shadows. I dreamed of it and smiled.

    The motel alarm clock woke me before the sun and told me my eyes had been closed for four hours. The sleep felt longer; it felt like the kind of sleep you wake from to find the day half over. I showered and changed

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