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Chapter 3

Chapter 3: Taking his chance

Heather Hopp-Bruce


“The Mechanic” is a novella by best-selling author Ben Mezrich. The fictional work will publish exclusively on BostonGlobe.com over the next two weeks. Read more about this book at globe.com/themechanic. Sign up to be alerted when the next installment goes live here.

Chapter Three

As the elevator doors whiffed open and Nick Patterson stepped out into the carpeted hallway bisecting the sixth floor of the Encore Boston Harbor hotel, he felt something sweeping through his chest that he hadn’t felt in so long, it took him another step before he realized what it was.

Hope.

A smile broke across his angled, somewhat sallow face, because the feeling was so foreign and absurd and impossible. Like a flower-covered unicorn on a goddamn carousel. For nearly nine years, he’d had nothing to look forward to. Even in the last few months, as the end of his time at MCI Shirley neared, there had been no sense of optimism, and no sense in optimism. A guy like him, with no family to speak of, no skills beyond what had gotten him inside in the first place, no money or prospects — what the hell did he have to be optimistic about? What did he have to look forward to on the outside that wasn’t going to get him right back inside?

The elevator doors shut behind him and his heavy work boots sunk into the carpet, each step pushing him closer to his goal. He patted the inside pocket of his jeans jacket for the hundredth time. Of course, it was still there, stiff and square beneath the denim, wrapped in a plastic sandwich bag for extra security. Nuts, how something so small and mundane could be so valuable. More valuable, in fact, than everything Nick had ever stolen, more valuable than anything he could have stolen in a dozen lifetimes. So valuable, in fact, that it might very well make the nine years he’d spent locked up worthwhile.

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Because if he hadn’t been locked up, he’d never have met that damn skinny kid with the mop of red hair and the freckles.

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He began searching the doors on either side of the hallway as he went, looking for the right number. It still seemed crazy to him, setting the meet in a place like this. Sure, he liked casinos as much as the next guy, but even at 3 a.m. it seemed too high traffic, and there were cameras everywhere. Having a record didn’t get you banned from a casino; half the degenerate gamblers in the country had records, and without the degenerates these places could never afford all those chandeliers. But it seemed sloppy to start this sort of transaction in such a public place. Of course, there was nothing illegal about meeting a guy in a hotel room, showing him something in a little plastic bag, in exchange for a nice fat down payment. But if nine years at MCI Shirley had taught Nick anything, it was that the less attention you drew to yourself, the better. He’d have been much happier to set the meeting in some bar in Southie.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t up to him. Hell, none of this was really his plan. It was all...inherited. No doubt, the kid with the mop of hair that matched the velvet in the slots parlor had picked the casino precisely because it was loud, brash, and flashy. Everything about that damn kid had been loud. The minute the kid had walked off the bus from the clearing center in Walpole, cursing at the screws as they went through the admission routine at Shirley, jawing with any inmate near enough to catch his attention, the cons had begun taking bets on how quick the kid was going to end up in the infirmary, or worse. Nick himself had been on the outs after just four days in. And maybe that was the real reason Nick had approached the kid in the TV room on his second day inside; not some internal need to help out, some unaccustomed overwhelming sense of empathy, but to protect his wager.

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Still counting doors as he moved down the hotel hallway — 621, 623, 625 — Nick could picture the look on the kid’s face as he’d laughed away the hoots and catcalls from the other inmates in the day room, the shouted threats and promises. In that, he was right; it wasn’t the noisy, pumped-up idiots and short-timers he had to worry about. Sure, they might throw a punch to earn some cred from their buddies, but they weren’t out to do any real damage. It was the quiet ones, the ones who wouldn’t even look at you as they stuck you with a shiv. Not for cred, not to make a name, but to keep order, keep things quiet and smooth. The redhead and the short-timers were just visiting. For the cons, Shirley was home.

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But the kid had just laughed, bragging that his lawyer was going to get him out in three weeks, tops, and that everything was going to change after that. Because he had something big planned after he was out, something monumental. And that’s when the kid had taken something out of his shirt pocket and showed it to Nick.

Nick touched the plastic bag through his jacket again. Truth was, when the kid had first placed it gingerly on the day room table like it was some sort of irreplaceable Fabergé egg, Nick had though it was a joke. It wasn’t until the next morning, when he’d taken the time to do a little research on the computer terminal in the cell block library that he’d fully realized what he’d seen. And by then, of course, it had been too late — for the kid. All his heavy plans, his one shot at something monumental — gone because someone didn’t like the way he had mouthed off in the shower or neglected to wipe down a weight in the yard or forgotten to courtesy flush during his time on the john. Whatever the reason, big or small, the kid had gotten a shiv in the kidney while lining up in the chow hall at breakfast, and Nick was suddenly left with a decision.

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Let it go, forget what the kid had shown him, go back to his routine, his hopeless life. He himself was only looking at another couple more months at Shirley, before he was up for parole. He could have gone back to the mindless rote, day in, day out. Or he could try something new. Take a chance. Stick his neck out for the first time in nine years and see where it led him.

627. 629. 631.

He stopped in front of the door, mentally checking the number against what had been written in the red-headed kid’s little notebook. Nick had found the notebook rolled up and jammed into the hollow, aluminum leg of the kid’s bunk, along with what Nick now carried in his jacket pocket. Once Nick had made the decision to take that chance, it hadn’t been hard to follow through; bribing a screw to get into the kid’s cell during lunch hadn’t been difficult, and although they’d already bagged the kid’s belongings to send to his next of kin, nobody had done a thorough search yet, the kind of search that only a con could properly conduct. See, to a con, every item of furniture, ever fixture, every bit of molding was a place to hide something. Nine years in, you could put a cellphone in a bar of soap or inside a biscuit from the canteen. Nick hadn’t known exactly where to look, but he’d known how to look.

And now here he was. He reached out to knock on door 633, his knuckles hitting the wood more forcefully than he’d meant, before he realized with a start that the keypad above the knob was hanging out of its mount by wires.

What the hell?

But the door was already swinging inward.