“So,” she said, opening a small knife. “You came early for the rabbit cacciatore, yeah?”
“I came here for an indulgence.”
“Ask.” She passed me the knife by the handle side. She wanted me to do the honors. That was her way of saying I was favored because of my background, and to refuse would be to throw her favor back in her face.
“I have a woman.” I cut the skin inside the rabbit’s thigh and up to the gut.
“I’ve heard.” She smiled and took out a beedie, a short, black cigar with a smell that reminded me of the garbage piled on the side of a Neapolitan highway.
“She’s a good woman.”
“She was in bed with that sbirro.”
I slashed inside the rabbit’s other thigh, right through the animal’s penis. “That’s over. She’s loyal to me.” I held the rabbit’s hind legs and yanked the skin off it then looked at my boss with the inside-out animal in my hands. “Once this thing with Paulie is done, I don’t want her looked at or questioned. She’s with me.”
“You say this is a small thing.”
“It is,” I protested.
“In America, yes. You can have your personal life. You marry for love. But that’s not where you’re from. Not with the job you have. You don’t own your life.”
I cleanly slashed the rabbit’s center muscles from gut to neck. Green-grey organs spilled out onto the mesh. I realized I was wound tight from fingers to core. I switched the knife hand and flexed my fingers.
She was a skinny thing, the donna, but she was formidable, ruthless, and protected. Too many men had made the mistake of underestimating her. Even though I knew my fingers could break her neck, those fingers would be attached to a dead man before they even touched her.
“You, consigliere, are part of something bigger than yourself.” She picked up the hose. “You are a man of traditions. And you are not just any man in this tradition. You are a prince. Do you think a prince can just marry anyone he wants? He has his king to consider. His country. The blood of his children. His own future.” She sprayed the rabbit carcass down, and the grey entrails fell onto the mesh. “You want some sweet pussy, you keep it. But you don’t marry it. Everyone knows this. You don’t contaminate your family or your business.”
“Let me worry about my business. You worry about yours.”
“I am.” She took the carcass from me. “You’ve heard about my granddaughter and Patalano?”
“Well, I wanted to be the one to tell you anyway. Paulie Patalano is taking Irene. He’s going to be a powerful man. You ready for that?”
“I can handle it.” My phone buzzed in my pocket. It was Otto.
“Good. Come inside,” she said.
She went and left me. I picked up. “Otto.”
“I’m sorry, boss. I lost her.”
I closed my eyes. Jesus Christ. Where could she be going? Why would she sneak away? I cursed everything: my vulnerability, my love, my powerlessness. The only thing that kept me from leaving to sniff her out was the knowledge that Paulie wouldn’t do anything while we were supposed to be negotiating a truce.
“Find her. Just find her.”
The Downtown Gate Club was in the middle of the city, down a turn to the left on Venice Bl. and a right on Ludwig Street, where the streets took on a little curve, and the trees shading the rare brick row houses got farther from the curb. A couple of blocks of oddball houses in the last sweet corner of downtown made the perfect enclave for those daring enough to make downtown a home.
A person from the north might pass it by without noticing it. But old-money Angelinos who found Bel-Air tacky, those born into a level of privilege it might take decades to wean from, knew better. They knew to turn down the driveway of a brick block building with stonecarved window treatments that sat ten feet from its neighbor. The building had been one of a row of businesses as early as the eighteen-fifties, complete with basements and stone foundations.
“Miss Drazen,” the guard said as he pulled out his clipboard. “You here for the LA Democratic Summit?”
I was, and I wasn’t, but I needed to get past the gate, and if he looked at the clipboard and found I wasn’t there, he’d let me in but not check me into the Heritage Room. “I’m here for Daniel Brower.”
“I just saw him.” He opened the gate.
The DGC was visible on satellite, but from the street, it was surrounded by enough houses and foliage that passersby wouldn’t notice an eighteen-hole golf course. Transplants didn’t know it existed. LA natives knew it was there, but few had been inside. The club didn’t try to go stealth; it simply wasn’t glamorous or flashy. It wasn’t a desirable place to be, outside of certain circles, and the board did everything in its power to stay under the radar.
I left my little blue BMW with the valet. He eyed the dent on the passenger side and said something polite before coasting away. A tall man in a uniform opened the glass and brass door for me.
The Heritage Room was as old as the club, somewhere in the order of one hundred fifty years old. The walls and floor were stone, and the ceiling crisscrossed with beams the thickness of a ship’s mast. The "Heritage" in question was the heritage of success, which tended to follow all its members. Glass cases held trophies, medals, photos, certificates, and plaques from elite tournaments. When my father had brought me there at the tender age of eight, I’d been impressed by the shiny artifacts, the high ceiling, and the marble. I’d stared at the pictures of my father and grandfather, trying to discern the real men through the oil paint and how their own moods and words came through the canvas. But not much came through. The men were painted so they could be honored and in order to erase their Irish heritage. They looked like mouse-haired WASPs. I hadn’t thought about the dulling of the fire in their hair since I was an adolescent, and seeing it again irritated me anew.
“Theresa!” Gerry came out in a light-grey suit and dress shoes, smiling at the dozen straightlaced politicians dotting the room. Gerry was Daniel’s political strategist. I’d spilled my guts to him one night, when he picked me up from set, and I’d been wondering about the state of my sanity.
He kissed my cheek and gently led me to the doors that opened out to the golf course, where we couldn’t be heard. “To what do we owe this surprise visit?”