“You’re lying,” I said.
“I ain’t. Got this text right here from a good source. Gerry Friedman from the mayor’s campaign.” He held up the phone for Donna Maria. She put reading glasses on and read while Paulie continued. “He wants her to fuck off, too. She’s poison. But that’s besides the point.”
I didn’t want to see his fucking phone. I didn’t think I could read a word of it through the haze of rage I was holding back. I didn’t know what she was doing with Daniel, but I wouldn’t have her tried and found guilty by that stronzo.
“My split’s east of Cypress Ave.,” I said. “And south of Merced.”
“What?” Paulie twisted in his seat to face me. “You can’t redraw this now.”
I looked at Donna Maria when I said, “Yes, I can.” She did not flinch. This was going her way, I realized.
“No, fuck you.” He shot up, pointing at me, looking at Donna Maria, “What’s this asshole playing at?”
Normally, the person who stands first has seized the power in a negotiation. My father taught me that, but I taught myself how to change that without getting up.
“Ask him,” Donna Maria said.
“What the f—?”
He didn’t have a chance to drop the curse before I swept his legs from under him. He lost his balance and caught himself on the edge of the desk. I swiped the crystal Virgin from the desk and hit him on the temple. Blood sprayed on Carlos’s shirt, but he didn’t move, even when Paulie went flying into the sideboard. Dishes fell, Paulie grunted, yet I didn’t hear a peep from behind me. Just our breathing and the ticking of the cuckoo clock.
“It’s all mine, you stronzetto. All of it.”
I pulled him up by the collar. His eyes rolled to the back of his head, but he reached and slapped me. I barely felt it. Theresa had slapped me harder.
“Come on, Paulie. This is too easy.”
I dropped him, and he caught himself on the sideboard, wobbly. I almost felt bad. He’d been a brother to me until he broke with jealousy over a woman.
“You’re a dead man,” he grunted, his hand reaching for the bloodied lighter that I’d put down. I moved it an inch farther away. He reached again.
I looked back at Donna Maria. She had her arms crossed and was leaning back in her chair as if the TV was playing a rerun. Carlos was smiling, and Aldo frowned but hadn’t moved an inch. The clock ticked as always. I turned back to Paulie, who seemed to be getting his bearings.
Paulie’s fingers touched the blood-streaked crystal Virgin. Her head had fallen off, and she was just a lower half with a butane lighter sticking out of her.
I moved it another inch farther. “How many times will I have to make you pray before you understand?”
He didn’t answer but hitched himself up. I put my weight on him, pinning him under me. Stuff rattled on the shelves. I picked up the statue and put it in his hand.
“You mention Theresa again, I’m not going to kill you,” I said, wrapping my arms around his neck and pressing his artery shut. “You’re going to beg to die.”
He became dead weight in my arms, and the crystal Virgin fell out of his hand. I picked it up.
“I’ve cleaned blood off that thing twice already,” Donna Maria said.
“Third time’s the charm.” I poked a cigarette out of the pack and lit it with the Virgin Mary’s brass butane head. “He’ll come around in a few minutes.”
“I’ll deal with him,” Aldo said.
“You got other problems,” Carlo said to me. “This woman. The one he’s talking about?”
“Yes?” I suddenly didn’t want him or anyone to utter her name.
“You going to do something about it?”
“Yes, but I’m going to have to miss the cacciatore. My apologies to your daughter.”
I wasn’t in the habit of going to church anymore. It was a requirement before I turned eighteen, but once I got to college, I could beg off with studies and activities a little too easily. Once I was in my twenties, no one pretended the requirements would stick.
I still knew what to do. Stand up. Sit down. Kneel. Stand. Kneel. The standing and kneeling seemed strategically placed at the end of the mass, when legs got wobbly and the evening’s fast made attention hard to keep.
Margie stood next to me in a contrapposto pose, as if she were simply too impatient to be in that big stone box with its waxy smell and bleeding Jesus.
“You called me here to tell me you’re worried?” I whispered. “Why didn’t you just call me?”
“I needed to see you. And now I’m worried more.”
Margie always had a sense of when things were wrong with us. Back before I knew how to get in trouble, it amused me. She could take one look at Fiona and know when she was using, or talk to Jonathan for ten minutes to know he was having trouble with his wife. The only one she couldn’t read was Daddy. But no one could read him.
“I heard you went to see Daniel today.”
“Shh.” Her hush wasn’t drawn or loud, and sounded more like chh than a soothing naptime sound. “Will is watching you.”
“Watching me?” The church broke into song, and we stood, the organ drowning out our words, and the voices of the crowd keeping me from hearing the pounding of my heart.
“He’s good,” she said.
“I don’t want to be watched. I’m a grown woman.”
“Too bad. We need to talk, you and I. Right after communion.”
The woman in front of me turned around to glare, and I glared right back.
“You are in deep, playing the DA against the mob, you’re—”
“Shut up, Margie. Just shut it. I’m not talking about it with you, ever.”
“I will not sit back and watch you destroy yourself,” Margie said.
Every muscle coiled, every breath came short. I wanted to yell, to push, to fight her on everything. I wanted to say words that would cut her, about her spinsterhood, about her lost opportunities, about her authority to mother any of us.
Luckily for Margie, the woman in front made it her business to shoot us a librarian stare, and I got to funnel my anger into her.
“Turn around and mind your business,” I said.
Margie looked at me as if I’d lost my mind, and maybe I had.
I didn’t smell burned pine when he stepped next to me, probably because of the weight of the incense. Nor did I feel his closeness, probably because the nave was packed, but when he put his hand on my arm, and I felt the lightning of his touch, I knew it was him.