The Exchange


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Scene Title The Exchange
Synopsis Sasha calls in a favour to an old friend acquaintance.
Date June 5, 2018

Jackson Heights

The rendezvous point is the only working street lamp on 34th Avenue, directly outside Travers Park. Its glow encompasses a very small radius, illuminating the trees in summer bloom and ivy-choked chain-link fences. What was once a basketball court sags in disrepair, hoop barren, cement broken where weeds have pushed the pavement apart like a warm, wet baby bird forcibly emerging from its shell.

They could not have picked a better place to meet. The northern-most territory of the New York Safe Zone is also the most structurally-damaged, and therefore one of the least populated.

The only eyes on the transaction that’s about to take place are those belonging to sleepy sparrows hidden among the leaves, or the family of rabbits nestled against one another in an overturned oil drum some fifteen feet away from the lamp post.

Nick knows they’re there because he saw the flash of their tails when he first arrived. One, two, three, four babies shepherded away by their mother, who did not chance a look over her shoulder to check if they were being pursued.

They aren’t, of course.

Nick isn’t interested in rabbits.

He’s interested in the rather peculiar voicemail he received in broken English earlier that day, and in the phone conversation that followed it some hours later, even if he’s beginning to think that his contact isn’t going to keep the appointment that he was so insistent to set.

With time on his hands, Nick has a few moments to speculate on whether it’s lucky or unlucky that he happened to be in town, having just returned from a quick job north of the border that had followed his time out west. He has the guns, though they’re still stowed in the backseat of the truck’s cab.

He hasn’t decided if he’s handing them over just yet.

He sits in the driver’s seat, watching the road, blue eyes flicking to the windows now and then, then down to the cell phone on the seat beside him. The signal’s most likely too weak here for anyone to get a message through — if his Russian friend were running behind schedule and polite enough to send him a quick omw.

Nick doesn’t think Sasha knows the acronyms of text speech very well, but maybe Delia taught him when they were roommates.

Sasha isn’t #livinghisbestlife. That’s clear the instant he first comes into view as he skirts along the edge of the park at an easy but cautious lope that’s hindered by a slight limp and a certain stiffness Nick recognizes as an injury.

When he steps into the light and approaches Nick’s vehicle, the man behind the wheel gets a better look at him: One arm dangles in a sling, both wrist and attached hand wrapped in bandages stained with yesterday’s blood, but that’s not what draws Nick’s attention. It’s the thick black stitches sewn into the left side of his face, which hold it together where the skin along his cheek and jaw appear to have been split open and cinched back together again.

Accompanying puncture wounds make it clear that this is the work of an animal, not a person, although why a dog might want to savage Sasha Kozlow, who spends his days working as a general practitioner at Elmhurst Hospital, is perhaps the greatest mystery of all.

Nick studies Sasha’s approach for a moment, his brows drawing together at the sight of the man’s injuries, though it’s not quite concern or worry — he doesn’t know Sasha and there are still some hard feelings on the younger man’s part about Delia choosing to live with Sasha and Logan several years ago. He waits a beat, to be sure Sasha’s alone, before swinging open the door and stepping out, his dome light adding to the dim illumination of that single street lamp.

“I hope you didn’t have to walk far,” he says, amiably enough, gesturing to his truck. “I could’ve met you somewhere closer.” Of course, convenience isn’t always the most important of factors when dealing in guns, especially when one of the parties involved is a government agent. “Tell me Delia didn’t give you the number,” he adds, a hint of exasperation in his British tones.

Sasha gives Nick a look that’s— flatter than he probably intends, and can be attributed to whatever pain medication he’s on. Nick thinks he might even be able to hear it rattling around in the Russian’s coat pocket.

Nyet,” he says, voice hoarse, the kind of hoarse that translates to a throat stripped from too much screaming. No, he didn’t have to walk too far. Or no: Delia didn’t give him the number.


He has his ways, wily though they are not.

“You bring them?” he asks. The guns.

The abrupt ‘get down to business’ manner of the Russian isn’t surprising, but Nick raises a brow as if it is. He leans against the truck, crossing his arms as he appraises Sasha, as if maybe he could figure out just what the guns are for and whether it’s worth risking his neck to hand them over.

“I’m here,” he says finally, “out of courtesy due to mutual acquaintances. And because I spent a bit of the past trying to take down traffickers. But I do have a few questions. Like why’s a doctor chasing down human traffickers and why I should trust you.”

He smiles wryly. “I’d ask what’s in it for me, but I’m not that selfish.”

“Eh,” Sasha says. “All selfish.”

Talking hurts. Rolling words around in his mouth makes blood gather in it, so he spits some of it out neatly onto the pavement. “You go to island lately?” he asks Nick. “Something is missing. Another mutual acquaintance, you say.”

His uninjured hand wipes the excess spittle and blood from his lower lip and chin, where it’s gathered in the stiff ginger bristles of his beard, which is in dire need of a trim.

“I try not to,” is Nick’s dry response to the question, but he sobers a little at the mention of something — someone — missing.

“Jesus, you sure you’re okay?” he asks, glancing down at the blood. “I can drive you somewhere if you need some more medical attention.”

It’s an offer he’s pretty sure Sasha won’t take, but it gives him time to grasp at his memory for who their mutual acquaintances might be. Other than Delia and the other housemates she’s spoken of, he comes up blank, so he circles back to his first instinct.

“Logan.” It’s not really a question, not in tone, but his brow does tick upward. “I’m not really in the know about home soil these days, but that’s an ugly contingent on Staten. You think traffickers took him?”

“Not think,” Sasha answers. “Know.”

Nick’s offer of assistance receives a quick, brusque shake of his his head that he immediately regrets. He presses the heel of his hand hard against his temple. “For his cat-glow, maybe. This is why he lives still.”

He runs his tongue over his front teeth, so accustomed to the coppery bite of his own blood that he can no longer taste it. “He sells these things sometimes. Things not so good. Things become problem, so they take. They take him from big Yamagato party, months ago now. You will help me get him back, yes?”

Oh, sure, his cat-glow. Nick thinks about swapping to Russian to make it easy on Sasha, but only for a short moment. He doesn’t feel all that compelled to make it easy for the man, for some reason.

As for the question pointed his way with that yes?, Nick doesn’t answer, choosing to stare, a bit steel-eyed and stony-faced, against the truck. A few seconds tick by, before he sighs, pushing off the metal and moving to reach behind the driver’s seat for the duffel bag he’s stowed there. The bag is heavy, and when he turns back, he looks at Sasha a little skeptically, unsure the man’s strong enough to carry it.

“Guns and ammo. My ass’ll be on the line if anyone knows I supplied them, so mum’s the word, yeah?” It might seem like that’s all Nick plans to do, but he glances down the road, before sighing again, blue eyes flicking back to Sasha’s. “When?”

Sasha hefts the bag over his good shoulder with a wince that judders all the way through his body. “Tomorrow,” he answers through clenched teeth as the pain is still subsiding. “Sunset. There is old meat plant on Staten Island. I go with my Tania and two Nichols sisters.”

He makes it sound like an invitation, because it is. “Four, not so many,” he adds. “Five is better, but, ah— how do you say, American? No pressure.

A low, involuntary groan yawns open in the back of his throat as he moves to leave. “Mum is word, Ruskin. Spasibo.

Thank you.

Those signs of pain make Nick squint a little. The rest of the invite list makes him lift a brow and he nods with recognition of the women listed. “Good crew. Surprised Nichols Junior isn’t bringing a whole pack of wolves along.”

He runs a hand through his dark hair at the thanks, and then nods.

“I owe him,” he says, with a shrug of one shoulder. “Just don’t tell him I said that.”

Sasha limps back into the dark, saving his half smile for after he’s shown Nick his back. He has every intention of telling Logan that, if they all come out the other side of this alive.

As with everything in life, there are no guarantees.

The driver’s side door pops back open, and Nick climbs into the truck. As he reaches back to snag the seatbelt in his hand, he feels a cold pressure applied to the left side of his throat.

He does not need to turn his head to know that it’s the flat on a knife, blade angled in such a way that it won’t separate his skin unless the person holding it rotates their grip. His eyes lift and meet another set reflected in the truck’s rear view mirror, their gaze steady and cool.

“No sudden movements, please,” the ghost of his sister says, if that’s who she is. It’s been years since he heard her voice, years since he’s had anything to compare it to.


For all that his heart jumps in his chest and adrenaline splashes coolly through his system, there’s a jaded part of Nick that thinks of course and isn’t surprised at the ambush.

It’s his sort of luck.

But who’s holding the blade — that no part of him is prepared for, and his blue eyes widen in the rearview mirror. His features twitch a little between the mix of emotions — fear, shock, confusion… joy? at seeing Eileen alive.

“Lee?” The single syllable is laden with a hundred questions, but the only one that follows it is “What the fuck?”

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