She stopped herself to sigh, wiggling around until she was looking up at me. “I was thirteen, and he was older. We met in the same place, the Thursday of Labor Day weekend. After dinner, same as always. It was different. I was different. We sat on our rock and talked for a while. He showed me his high-school ring, and then he kissed me. You know, I didn’t think about how young I was. I just thought I liked him. And maybe I loved him. Or, maybe I just wanted to. But, God, I never told anyone this before.”
“You can stop.”
“He put his fingers in me. I came right there. I just about died. And he… he came, too, all over my shirt. I never even touched him, which I didn’t know could happen. And it was such a mess, and I was so surprised that I laughed. I didn’t mean anything by it. It was nerves, and it was funny. But I must have hurt his feelings because he hit me, and his ring caught my lip. There was blood everywhere. And that’s the scar right here. I told my dad I fell, and he didn’t say a word the whole way to the doctor. Got two stitches. When I got back to the cabin, I realized I had cum all over my shirt, in front of my dad and everything.”
She laughed to herself. A soft chuckle that sounded like nerves. I touched the scar. You could barely see it unless you were the type of man who looked for damage.
“What happened to the boy?”
She rolled over until she faced the ceiling. “They found his body at the bottom of the gulch the next morning. The rocks can be really slippery. I slept in until lunch because of the pills the doctor gave me. If I’d gotten up, who knows what would have happened?”
“What do you think would have happened?”
She stared out the window, then back to me. “I would have found him. But I was spared that. Same as I’ve been spared everything.”
I’d told Daniel that story, up to the kid at the bottom of the gulch, but I’d never mentioned the silent car ride, or the sticky adolescent semen all over my shirt. I had never felt safe telling him. Daniel had a suspicious mind, same as Antonio, but he was the DA, and ambitious, and there was no statute of limitations on murder.
From my window perch, I watched Antonio walk out of the building and toward the bench where Otto sat. Antonio had entered the camorra to avenge his wife, then come to Los Angeles to avenge his sister, and as much as he wanted me safe, and as much as I wanted to live, I didn’t want to be the subject of his vengeance. I could ruin his life while I lived, but in dying I could destroy his soul. So I stayed. For now.
Daniel was on television again, talking, talking, talking. I could count his bullet points off on my fingers, and they’d gotten tighter and meaner, undoubtedly due to Clarice’s influence. There was a distinct lean away from previous talk of generic crime fighting and more emphasis on organized crime. The fact that Antonio and I had gotten out of the yellow house, l’uovo with whatever they needed to before the DA had gotten there with his warrant seemed to burn him. He’d planned everything to a T, except the traffic caused by the arson of Antonio’s shop and me shutting off my phone.
There would come a day when near misses weren’t going to sit well with Daniel anymore. He wasn’t biting his nails or flipping his hair back, but his ambition was challenged, and there was something a little feral about him. No one liked looking foolish. No one liked failing. But Daniel played a high-stakes game, and the more he tried to win, the more I felt like a cornered chess piece.
Zo waited in the driver’s seat of my car, under the building’s sign, which read The Afidnes Tower in big gold Grecian letters.
“Hey,” Zo said as he ripped into a sandwich. “You want some?”
“No. Where’s Otto?”
“He went to feel up his wife eighty percent worth.” He laughed at his joke.
“You need a break?” I said.
“Me? Nah. We got a bunch of permits cleared for the shop. Had to do a little song and dance, but fuck, I feel like, you know, useful when I’m building shit. Or you know, when I’m telling a bunch of other guys what to build. And I want the shop up and running so that stronzo sees it and sees it good.”
“All right, all right. Easy.” I slapped his back. “Go take care of it.”
“You got it.” Zo gave me a thumbs-up and got out of my car. I took his place and headed for a little empty storefront on the east side.
My cold feelings toward Paulie surprised me. There wasn’t a woman alive who had meant as much to me as Paulie had. Maybe not even a human being. I had no brothers, and my father had been a shade of a man until I walked into his coffee shop at eleven years old to settle a dispute.
But Paulie, though a camorrista deeply tied to the Carloni family through a couple of generations of business ties, had earned my trust in the first few minutes at the airport.
I’d been photographed on the Italy side like a criminal, but once I’d arrived in Los Angeles, I was a dot in a newspaper photo. I stood a second too long under the arch of the international terminal, overwhelmed by the size, the multicolored crowd, the expanse of space and light. The public address system went on and on about loading and unloading, lines, flight times, gates. I smiled through security, had my bag inspected at customs, and got taken aside briefly for questioning. It was easy on the Los Angeles side.
I went outside to noise and smog that wasn’t much worse than Napoli, which was urban to the teeth at the center and more and more pastoral the closer you got to Vesuvio.
Paulie stood by a chrome pillar that was stained with an old spray of blackened soda. He wore skinny jeans, white shoes, and Ray Bans, which he flipped up when he saw me.
“You Racossi?” he asked in shitty Italian.
“Spinelli,” I replied, nervous about my just-passable English. I felt vulnerable without a weapon, and he must have felt like that, too. As far as I knew, it was impossible to get a gun into the airport, even for people with connections.
“Donna Carloni wants to talk to you,” he said.
“I’m not here to get involved. I’m here to finish some business and go home.”
I dragged my bag and walked away. He caught up, crossing the street to the cabs with me.
“I don’t think you can refuse.” A bus stopped near us, beeping when it kneeled, the driver shouting over an intercom for passengers to exit through the back. The noise was enormous, and the heat was oppressive.
“I don’t take orders from Sicilians.” I didn’t know if that came off right in English. In the end, it was Paulie who helped me understand the nuances of the language. But on that day, I could only use the words I knew.