Mama Bones saying, “Why you no tell me?”
I wedge the phone against my ear, freeing my hands to sign a stack of checks Carmela’s presented me. We’re busy at Shore today, the guys scoring big working Walter’s accounts. Don’t tell those A.A.S.D. jerks who suspended my license, but I’ve been helping Shore’s bond desk fill orders and racking up a few commission dollars myself. My trades get routed through a phony rep number.
“Hey, I’ma talking here,” Mama Bones says.
Walter’s doing the same--banging the phones--with Shore clients--our clients--whose names and phone numbers he swiped on the way out of here. The bastard. I heard twice today from a customer that Walter called them, said Shore was bound to go broke, that we’ve already hired a bankruptcy lawyer. My pal, Walter.
“Hey,” Mama Bones says.
I should have guessed. Stockbrokering is not a great vocation for maintaining tight personal friendships. I can’t imagine what the business was like during the days of legal dueling.
“Hey, Golly Gee!” Mama Bones says. “Why you no tell me?”
I stop signing checks. Nobody’s called me Golly Gee in a while. Not since I moved here from California and learned to curse like a New Jersey native. I move the phone closer to my mouth. “Mama Bones, I did just tell you. I called to see if you needed help with that bingo-game thing, and when you asked what happened when Bluefish came to Luis’s on Monday, I--”
“Why you no tell me before you call Tony?” she says. “Is abada-bada mistake you ask this man to do something. He and his Brooklyn crew worse than Bluefish, worse than gavones. That Tony devil teach my Vittorio abada-bada things.”
“How did you know Bluefish threatened me at Luis’s?”
“I dunno. Maybe I have vision. Bye.”
She’s gone. Strange, as I said nothing to Carmela, Mama Bones’s granddaughter. Although there were lots of people in Luis’s restaurant the other day, saw what happened. Plus Mr. Vick’s bragged many times about his mother’s exercise/bookmaking business. Unless she’s booking all the bets herself, she could be tied to, or even part of, Bluefish’s gambling operation.
One thing I’m not buying is Mama Bones’s voodoo vision theory.
Sixty-six percent of the time eating dinner with my kids on Wednesday night is one-hundred percent predictable. Ryan always picks Burger King. I invariably choose Luis’s Mexican Grill. Only when it’s Beth’s turn might our evening involve actual culinary adventure. Tonight is such a night.
Beth saying, “Is this place cool, or what?”
“Looks like Dracula’s castle,” Ryan says.
I brake for valet parking at the apex of a huge circular driveway. Two-story rhododendrons line the walkway and steps.
The Locust Tree Inn & Restaurant caters to foreign and gourmet tastes, and I should take advantage, try something exotic for dinner tonight. I hear, for instance, the tube steak rocks.
“Does this place have cheeseburgers?” Ryan says.
“Only dorks eat cheeseburgers every night,” Beth says
“Hey,” I say. “Be nice.”
The kids precede me up flagstone steps. One of Branchtown’s earliest settlers snagged a fortune growing corn beside the Navasquan river, boating his crop to Manhattan. Four hundred years later, his three-story, thirty-room Tudor mansion remains the number one venue for weddings in Central New Jersey. And Wednesday through Sunday brunch, Branchtown’s priciest restaurant.
Like her mother, my daughter has Old Money tastes.
Beth saying, “I’m cold.”
“I’ve got the creeps, too,” Ryan says. “Did you see that guy who brought us our Cokes?”
It is a little weird in here. We checked out the ten-pound leather menus, started with Diet Cokes, and just ordered our thirty-dollar entrees. We’re still the only people eating.
“Do you have a jacket in the car?” I say to Beth.
“No. I thought this sweater would be warm enough, but it’s so drafty in here.”
“You picked this creep-o-rama,” Ryan says.
“Shut up,” Beth says.
“Be nice,” I say.
I take off my suit coat and wrap Beth’s shoulders. All four dining-room walls glow with dark, richly oiled wood. Gargoyles with fangs, claws, and bulging angry eyes watch us from all four cornices of the ornamental, hand-plastered ceiling. Truthfully, the monsters look a little dusty.
“Really, Pop. Did you see that waiter?” Ryan says.
“He’s just old,” I say. “People’s ears and noses never stop growing, you know. That’s why almost everybody looks funny when they get old.”
“You don’t look funny,” Ryan says.
Ouch. “Hey. I’m not old.”
Ryan and Beth glance at each other and giggle.
Outside, two pine trees have grown extra-tall, and two perfectly spaced lights shine at me through the forest. Looking out the window, the effect reminds me of giant ears and huge yellow eyes. Like a four-story cat peering at me. I shudder. Maybe Ryan’s right about this place. Creepy.
“What’s the matter, Daddy?” Beth says.
“Guess I’m cold, too.”
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Ryan says.
Figures. One trip for every glass of Coke. “We passed the men’s room on the way in,” I say. “Near the front door.”
“I’ll be right back.”
Ryan takes off at a brisk walk. Iced tea does that to me. Or maybe it’s all liquids. I think the problem might be genetic as my old man was always using the toilet. Our family road trips were planned around the availability of clean public restrooms.
I watch Ryan tack toward the hallway. His shadow dances on the wall a moment after he disappears. I’m about to turn away when a huge second shadow flashes across the same wall. My heart skips when I recognize the profile.
“Ryan!” I jump to my feet and run.
Beth calling, “Daddy, what’s the matter?”
My daughter’s frightened. Behind me, her wavering voice cuts me, makes me want to turn back and comfort her. But I can’t. That second shadow looked like Bluefish’s oversized driver, Max.