Ruin (Page 9)

Ruin (Songs of Corruption #2)(9)
Author: C.D. Reiss

It didn’t make me ill. Not a bit. It made me curious and hungry. And a little turned on. I was fascinated not by the wife but by the web of underground criminal activity and the way he’d mastered it. He’d turned East Los Angeles into his own marionette theater.

I hid my excitement behind a cold stare and a raised chin. As if she saw right through me, Margie got out of her chair and looked down at me. “I’m trying to say things so you hear them. I love you. I want to protect you. How has he protected you?”

“Maybe it’s time everyone stopped trying to protect me.” I stood up. I’d heard enough facts I already knew and the rest was conjecture. “Will needs to go back to doing whatever he was doing for Jonathan, because there’s nothing here to fix.”

I started to leave. Margie took my shoulder. “Please, Theresa. It’s going to get worse, and you’re going to be a target.”

“How could it be worse?”

“There’s a wedding,” Will said, gathering his papers and files.

“I know all about it.”

“It’s a serious imbalance. No one knows how it’s going to be rectified, but it won’t be bloodless. All I have to say is Spinelli will have to get involved. His life isn’t his own. Never was.”

“Speak clearly, Mr. Santon. Tell me what you mean. You didn’t come all this way to make insinuations.”

His mouth curled into a knowing grin. He was a nice-looking man with brown eyes and scruffy black hair he’d tamed into something conservative and nondescript. “You really are all cut from the same cloth,” he said warmly.

“Enough, Delta,” Margie cut in. “Get to the point.”

He cleared his throat and sat back. “To correct the imbalance, Donna Maria Carloni is going to have to have a granddaughter marry into a nice Neapolitan family with ties to the old country. The most likely candidate is a young lady named Irene. She’s just been flown in from Sicily, where she was educated in the old way. She is unsullied, if you will.”

It was funny, what came to mind. Will was describing a young woman educated in a particular way to achieve a certain goal and groomed in behavior and speech, much the way I’d been.

“Well,” I said. “I hope she likes it here. If she can stay a virgin for fifteen minutes, I salute her.”

“Oh, she’ll stay a virgin,” Margie said. “Because the Neapolitan who was supposed to marry her has disappeared.”

“The stupido?”

“And his girlfriend.” Will handed me a picture of a nice couple on the beach. He was dark-haired and bulky, smiling. She was cute as soda pop, mousy blonde and cap-toothed.

“Theresa,” Margie said softly. “Get out while you can. It’s chaos.”

“You were there when the thing happened with Daniel. You saw me. You saw what I went through. You want that again?”

“I’ll take it over a funeral.”

“I can’t; it’s too late. I love him, and whatever he faces, I face with him.”

“You might face it without him. He’s part of a world you don’t understand; he’ll cut you out, and you won’t even know what hit you.”

“You don’t know anything,” I growled. “You’re so closed off. You’re so scared. You run every piece of information through your worry filter, and nothing gets through unscathed. You calculate everything that can go wrong, and when you’re done doing it for yourself, you do it for the rest of us. I think you were happiest when I was alone and not taking any risks. You need to stop. You need to let me try and be happy.”

“I can offer this,” Will interrupted. “I know you won’t take protection from the authorities because of Daniel. But I can offer it to you separate from that. I have contacts in the military who can keep you safe from Paulie Patalano, Antonio Spinelli, Donna Maria. All of them.”

“I don’t even know you.”

“It’s through me,” Margie said. “Limited-time offer.”

“Thanks for the offer, Margie,” I said, “but I have mistakes to make.”

As if summoned by the word “mistake,” the latch turned, and Antonio walked in as if he owned the place. A second passed, or a fraction of one, during which all parties assessed the imminent threat of danger. Antonio was armed, as was Will; I knew that much. If either of them was worth his salt, he would smell it on the other.

“Buongiorno,” Antonio said with a smile. The three of us stood. I went to him, kissing each cheek. He put his hand on the small of my back.

“Antonio, have you met my sister, Margie?”

“I haven’t,” he said, smiling to her and offering his hand. They shook.

“Nice to meet you,” she said. “This is my friend Will Santon." They shook hands, as well. The distrust in the room was palpable, multiplying exponentially, like compound interest on a bad loan.

“Tea? Coffee?” I offered, half joking.

“A butter knife for the tension, please,” Margie said.

“Something serrated might help?” Antonio offered.

“You’d know, apparently.”

“Margie!”

“I don’t like niceties,” Margie said. “They bore me.”

“Of course, then.” Antonio spoke the words with one hand extended, as if offering peace, and the other firmly planted at the base of my neck. “Let’s skip all that. How can I help you?”

“You can let my sister answer her calls.”

“Your sister does what I ask her to because she knows what’s best for her.”

The conversation was going nowhere in a big hurry. If I knew anything about Margie, her intention had been to leave the apartment with me, and she wasn’t walking out any other way. If I knew anything about Antonio, she was going to have to walk over a dead body to do it. So, either the unstoppable force and the immovable object were going to have a meet up, or I was going to step in between them.

“I can pick up my phone any time, Margaret. But I don’t want to. I’m sorry; I wasn’t trying to worry you or stress you out. But you really have to step back and trust that if I’m not answering the phone, I’m busy. I want you to consider that no news is good news.” She started to say something, and I held my hand up. “I’m not in a bit of danger. Boredom is my biggest problem right now. Antonio,” I said, turning to him, “you tell my sister you’re bossing me around, and she’s going to get a SWAT team in here. Personally, I don’t need the aggravation.”