She looked at me as if I’d just lied when I’d told her what had happened in the shipping container.
“Wait, wait," I asked. "Did they come because they wanted to know about Antonio’s involvement? Or because they wanted to know if you had something to do with that scumbag getting beaten up.”
“You said scumbag.”
“Why did they come?”
She swiveled in her chair and hit the spacebar on one of the keyboards. The monitor flashed brighter. She faced it.
“They were fishing.” Tap tap tap. I was being shut out.
“I don’t know you anymore. I mean, I thought at first it was all crap. I thought they had it all wrong about everything. You know, like it was just Danny being a dick. But you? You? You scare me.”
When she looked up at me, her eyes were big and scared and determined all at once. She’d grown up with good parents in a bad neighborhood and had a healthy fear of anything illegal. “This is all I’ve ever wanted my whole life. I had it and lost it. I’m getting it back. My job. My work. This movie is happening. I can’t let anything get in the way.”
“Is my financing it getting in the way?” It hurt to even say it. Giving her money felt like the only productive thing I’d done in my life.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Fine. We’ll talk about this later.”
“Don’t be mad.”
“I’m not. I understand. I can’t…” I swallowed. I could barely continue. “It’s not right if I sully your work.”
“It’s not that.” She turned toward me then away.
“It is, and you know it,” I said.
“I keep thinking it would be easier if I could just get a studio to back me again. Even without LAPD hanging over the thing and the paper trail back to a loan shark. Michael’s amazing. I might cut together a trailer and see if I can get Overland behind this picture. The odds are impossible, but what the hell, right? I mean, after I got Scott involved like some film-school amateur, I deserve the problems I’ve gotten. It’s my responsibility to get out of them.”
“Just let me know.” My voice must have been thick, because she stood up and put her hands on my shoulders.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
I backed up. I didn’t want her hands on my shoulders, and I didn’t want to talk anymore. I felt filthy, and I had a compulsion to leave before she saw the depth of my wickedness.
She was worried about hurting me, but she had it backwards. I was the one who wound up hurting her every time I tried to help her. God damn Daniel for not just leaving her alone, and God damn me for not finding a way to shut him down. I went downstairs with my head held high and my shoulders dropped from the weight on them. Otto opened the car door for me. I was a princess with unearned graces, sparkly package with a bomb inside. I couldn’t live like this. I couldn’t go about my business and watch people get hurt without taking action.
When Otto stopped at a light, I leaned forward. “Are you going to eat lunch?” I asked.
“Now that you mention it…” He patted his stomach.
“How about In-n-Out? You can get me an Animal Style.”
His eyes lit up. “Great idea.”
I know I smiled, but I was so angry I could barely think. I transmitted none of that in my face or body language. I knew anyone who saw me wouldn’t know what was going on in my mind, or sense my heart palpitations. Except Antonio. From day one, he knew what my body was doing when no one else did. Good thing he wasn’t there to see me thinking through what I wanted to do to Daniel.
Otto pulled into the lot, and while he was waiting on line, I slipped away. I didn’t like doing it, and I knew he’d get into trouble, but I needed to breathe and to make my own decision about how to handle Katrina.
I tried to make peace with Paulie because Theresa had asked me to and because she was right. Doing things for Theresa’s sake was getting to be a habit.
Donna Maria Carloni agreed to broker the peace, and surprisingly, Paulie agreed to show up. I’d been Donna Maria’s consigliere for two years, and I was convinced Paulie wouldn’t let her broker anything. I was wrong.
I never should have been in the life. My father saw that it would eat me alive, but from the minute I walked in to him and demanded vengeance for Valentina, and he took the demand from me and gave it to one of his men, I was in. I didn’t even want to be, but I had changed, and the power and freedom that came with being camorrista became a need. He had no other way to protect me from myself and from the people coming after me.
Since then, not one second of my life had been my own. I was the property of Benito Racossi. His consigliere. His right hand, protected and enslaved. Then I moved on to be Donna Maria’s consigliere as payment for a debt. I was never my own man.
I must have been confusing for Theresa. I had to appreciate that. I was reluctant to expose her to the life but, at the same time, drew her in. I worshipped her virtue while destroying it. I murdered men even as I feared God’s justice. My mother had told me that a man who held the idea that he was good in his right hand and the knowledge that he was damned in his left was destined to live half a life.
The hills were a sunbaked brown and dark grey-green, thick with brush and spotted with chunky rocks, like Naples, without the ever-present shadow of Vesuvio, still and silent but boiling inside.
I turned in to a nondescript dirt driveway that any casual observer would have missed, which led to the ass end of Whittier Narrows. No one was supposed to live there. It was a preserve, not meant for residences, but Donna Maria Carloni’s dead husband had worked it out forty years ago and created an inviolate right-of-way. To attack Donna Maria, a person would have to trespass on government land, and then pass a gantlet of cameras. She ended four underbosses with her own hands to regain her husband’s perch at the top of East Los Angeles’s mafia pyramid.
I made a hand sign to the tree-perched camera: one thumb pressed against the center of my pointer finger, where the scar was. The white gate appeared a hundred feet later with another camera mounted on top of it. It opened.
A quarter mile along the brushy dirt drive, I tipped my head right, then left. The still unripe fruits of the olive trees hung heavy. The last time I’d been there, two weeks before, they’d been harvesting on rickety wooden ladders. I’d been politely summoned and told that Vito had to be dealt with. I’d found him trading in pictures of girls, babies, and threw him hard enough to dislocate his shoulder. We didn’t do that. Camorristi did not keep prostitutes or traffic women. We did not make money on the backs of children, and we did not ever sexualize them.