“That’s a fucking answer?” I said.
“Correct use of the word fuck. Well done.”
“Don’t be a bitch. And no clever quips. Just answer.”
She sighed. “I think I liked you better when you acted like a lady. But all right; before you tear my face off, Will works for me. He finds things out, does research, and kidnaps my sisters when necessary. He’s a good guy. You should be nice to him.”
“Antonio’s going to show up about five minutes after he finds out you’re here.”
“That’s the problem, isn’t it?”
“I’m making tea. Do you want any? Or is it just bust in and run?”
“Coffee,” Margie said.
“Dark and bitter, I presume?” I stormed into the kitchen before she had a chance to answer.
Why did she make me feel like a prepubescent? Was it because she was more of a mother to me than my actual mother, who popped designer pills between emotional outbursts? Margie had earned the mother role by giving me affection and gaining my trust where no one else had, but her methods were drastic and overbearing, and apparently included breaking and entering.
“You broke into this apartment because you don’t like who I’m sleeping with?”
“‘Don’t like’ is mild. Very Old Theresa. New Theresa would say something more colorful. So I’ll tell you this. The guy you’re fucking terrifies me, and I’m just going to spoon-feed you some sense before Daddy gets wind of it.”
A phone rang in the other room. I peeked in, wondering if it was Antonio. Santon placed piles of files on the coffee table and answered his phone. Margie dialed hers. I heard everything while I slapped the pieces of the coffee maker together.
“Good evening to you too, little brother.” She turned to look into the kitchen. I ducked away. “You have Will Santon’s team flying to Vancouver to watch Kevin Wainwright?”
Margie, single at forty-seven, had never been in love as far as I knew. She’d been a model of sharp, dirty, cut-and-dried sense; even her tone over the phone to our brother was tidy and utilitarian. As if love made sense. Love didn’t stay on budget or check to see if the ledger balanced. Love didn’t care if all things were equal. Love bathed the books in red, shredded documents, spent more than it brought in one month and paid too much income tax the next.
When I came in with cream and sugar, I heard Jonathan’s voice, made tinny though the phone as he shouted, “Physically and irrevocably hurt.”
“You know, Jonny,” Margie said, “I don’t mind you getting paranoid and crazy, but you’re doing it on my dime.”
Jonathan growled something, and I went back into the kitchen.
“Now you’re getting nasty,” said Margie pointedly, yet without an ounce of upset in her voice. “I gotta pull him, Jonny. I’m sorry.”
She hung up just as I came back with the coffee. “I just lied for you.”
“You want a medal?”
“I’d like some appreciation.”
“For coming into my apartment uninvited? Because I didn’t answer your texts in the right amount of time? Because you don’t approve of the man I love?”
“Oh, it’s love now. Great.” She tossed her phone on the coffee table and grabbed a cup. “I’ve never seen anyone make a good decision for love.”
“Love is its own decision,” Will cut in. “It chooses you.”
“Thanks, Delta,” Margie said. “You can engrave that on your headstone.” She turned back to me. “You already made it clear you wanted nothing to do with what I had to say. I stopped caring what you wanted when Dad asked if you were really with that guy from the Catholic Charities thing.”
“What did you tell him?” I said.
“I laughed. But he knew I was evading.” She snapped open a briefcase and swung it over to Will. It was his, and she was hurrying him.
“He can’t control who we’re with,” I said.
“He does like to try.”
“And you?” I glanced at Will, then back to Margie. “What is it you’re trying to do?”
Will cut in. “We’re educating you.” He removed a file and opened it on the coffee table.
Antonio. Even his mug shot made me tingle. The curl of the smirk. The jaw set in anger. The tousled black hair. He was younger in the photo and had a reckless edge. His mouth was shaped for a different language, and the lines around his eyes were somehow unset, reversible. He watched me from a wallet-sized rectangle stapled to a document that told me what had been implied but never stated.
“Antonio Spinelli is the bastard son of Benito Racossi.” Will put his elbows on his knees, the angle of the sun cutting his face into dark and light sides. “By the time he found out who his father was, he’d already made a name for himself as a petty criminal and pickpocket. He went to his father to settle a dispute between himself and another thief who’d stolen a shipment of his bootleg cigarettes. He was eleven. A prodigy, even by Neapolitan standards.”
“Look at you.” Margie, arms crossed, leaned back in the chair. “You got a face like a brick wall. You don’t want to hear it, because you already decided you don’t care. This mug shot, it’s Interpol’s. He was accused of killing the men who killed his wife.”
This story wasn’t new or shocking, though I guess it should have been. I guess if anyone else heard their lover had murdered someone, they’d be upset. But I wasn’t just anyone. I was a savage.
“She took a car bomb that was meant for him,” Will said. “He was visiting a client in a neighboring town. His business partner drove, which saved Spinelli’s life and ended his wife’s. He killed the two guys allegedly responsible.”
“And?” I flipped through the file, moving quickly past the photos of the bodies of the men who’d killed his wife. Allegedly killed. “It’s just a theory. Do you want me to say, ‘Oh, darling, welcome home, let me take your coat, what exactly happened with your wife?’”
“You could start by asking about the real-estate-assessment racket,” Will said. “Go on to the money laundering, the car insurance fraud out of his shop, the sideline in tax-free cigarettes, and the occasional truck hijack on the 60 freeway.”
“If that’s not enough to make you ill,” Margie said, “I don’t know why you even need a car-bombed spouse.”