Lightning fast, with criminal agility, he picked me up and threw me on the bed. I landed on my back with my legs spread. I opened them farther.
“So, felon or fool, Capo?”
He kneeled over me, hands between my legs like he owned everything there. Two fingers in. Out. In. His lips covered gritted teeth.
“You’re going with Otto,” he said, taking his slick fingers up to my clit.
“Yes, Capo,” I groaned as he drew his fingers across it. “But I miss my car. Can he follow me?”
“Agreed. But about the books, you look; you don’t touch.”
“You’ll wait.” He pinched it and I cried out. “That’s punishment for calling me tonto.”
“Oh, you bastard.” My smile belied my words.
He laughed to himself. “At least that. At least.”
I felt energized for the first time with him. Embraced. Accepted. Maybe it would even work. Maybe the solution really was to go deeper in. Dante and Virgil needed to go to the deepest circles of hell in order to find the way out.
I bounced out of bed and got ready. Otto waited outside, smoking with his four-fingered hand.
“Miss Theresa,” he said.
“Hi, Otto. Can you take me to my car?”
“I’m taking you,” he said. “And no running for food. We go; the car moves, and it stops when we get there.”
“I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t get you into too much trouble.”
He opened the back of the Lincoln. “Enough trouble for one man in one day.”
I got in. He didn’t talk much on the way to the west side but just asked where we were going. I breathed as the city went by. I breathed deep into my chest, inhaling relief and a sense of belonging, if not with Antonio’s world, then with him.
I opened the door to the loft I shared with Katrina. The air smelled stale and the surfaces had a fine layer of dust. It hadn’t been that long since we’d been there, but the lack of activity had a psychological effect on the space. It felt forlorn and empty. I went right upstairs and showered and changed. Forty minutes later, I was back in Otto’s car and then getting into the car I’d renamed the Little Blue Beemer and heading east to Zia Giovanna’s. The Lincoln followed. I had at least the impression of freedom.
I touched my St. Christopher medal, pinching it between my thumb and second finger. Antonio could guarantee my safety from many things, but he couldn’t protect me from derision and dislike. I’d have to turn that around myself.
The restaurant was packed with a lunch crowd, hipsters and businessmen who must have been from the media center down the street and a few moms with strollers parked alongside their tables. I went right to the kitchen. Zia Giovanna scuttled between the row of hanging tickets and the stove while waitresses filed in and out with heavy dishes.
She looked up, saw me, and went back to scanning her orders. “La Cannella. He said you’d be back.”
“You know why I’m here, then?”
She plucked a ticket off the rail and put it under a plate. “In the office.”
I paused, waiting for more, but she continued managing four burners, two other chefs, and a line of waitresses. I went to the office.
There wasn’t much in the room, just an ancient beige computer and a few dozen sticky notes with bits of Italian scrawled on them, some with curled, greasy edges and rectangles of bright color where another note had been on top for too long. On the desk, which was actually a shelf with two filing cabinets under it, were two bank boxes of documents.
I got to work.
I don’t know how long I stood over the rows of numbers and figures. I don’t know how many rivers and eddies of money I followed, keeping my eyes on the big picture and letting the errant details expose themselves, but at some point, it got dark, and Zia Giovanna entered with a sandwich, coffee, and wine.
“You need to eat,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said, concentrating on a little notebook of expenses. I’d honed in on a few things and gotten down to the nitty-gritty.
Zia Giovanna just stood there with her hands on her hips.
“What?” I said.
“You’ve been in here seven hours.”
“I’m not done.”
She snapped the book away. “Eat.”
She put the tray on top of the ledgers. I sighed. I was hungry, and the hot tomato sauce made my stomach rumble.
“It’s chicken parmesan,” she said. “Not even on the menu, but Antonio likes it. So I made a batch. You might as well eat it.”
“One minute.” If I ate first, I’d forget something. I slid a slim packet of notations from the pile and disconnected a page from a printout. I snapped up a couple of the dead sticky notes that had numbers I understood, and I sorted through the ledger for all the other red flags I’d identified. Once I knew I had it all, I handed Zia Giovanna back her tray with half a sandwich on it.
“Thank you,” I said. “Grazie, I mean.” She made me nervous, I didn’t know why.
“You didn’t finish.”
“The numbers don’t talk to me if my stomach is full.”
She made a face that made me feel as if I was a sick, crazy, exotic bird, then left, and I got back to work. I dammed a river of money, put signage on a river of cash, rerouted a flow of expenses, and took a pile of papers to the kitchen. Zia Giovanna had gone to manage something on the floor, and I worked quicker without her.
Dinner was at a lull, and the kitchen was empty. One waitress flirted with a sous chef who was cutting blocks of chocolate with a band saw. I went around a corner and opened the back of the pizza oven, stepping back when the blast of heat hit my face. The wood was good and hot, smoking and red. The paper would disappear in the flames, along with my spotless character.
As I stood by the flames with the documents over it, I paused. Was I really doing this? Was I really going to cross over? My impending action was not just illegal. It constituted aiding and abetting criminal activity. This was jail time. It was my soul in flames.
I hoisted the papers and books to oven level and was about to throw them in when I felt pressure on my arm. It was Antonio.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“Cleaning up the books.”
He took the pile of papers from me and closed the oven. He looked stern and almost confused.
“You are with me, but you’re not to endanger yourself. We’re going to put these back. You’re going to watch it. If anyone asks, as far as you know, the boxes have everything. Si?”