Friday, November 9, 2007

BIG MONEY, Chapter 17

A hard noise echoes inside my apartment. Rapping at the door. Who the hell needs me so badly at--I check the digital clock on my night stand--three o’clock in the morning? Mallory had enough of me by midnight. And it sure ain’t Anne Marie Talbot. Is it wishful thinking to hope it might be Tony? With Bluefish’s missing cash?

I slide out of bed. The toasted cheese smell of tomato pie lingers in my living room, but the sensation’s not exactly pleasant. I stopped for eats on the way home from Branchtown’s ancient brick police station, and my stomach tells me I should have chosen lighter than Roman Ricco’s greasy pizza. Ricco’s idea of an olive oil drizzle resembles what’s left in the pan after you fry a pound of bacon.

Bang, bang, bang. Can’t be the Creeper. The front door would already be lying flat.

Peeking through a slit in the curtains, I see Gina Farascio huddled at my door. She’s wearing the same torn sweater and wild eyes I saw at the Martha.

What I don’t see until I open the door is Gina’s handgun. She yanks some kind of shiny chrome revolver from her black purse, pushes it against my chest, and rushes me back inside.

“Where’s Tony?” she says.

Her voice wavers with emotion. Fear or anger, I can’t tell which. I’ve been too interested in her comely smell, the shape of her anatomy, that inner radiance shining from her eyes. And not in any particular order.

Gina kicks the door shut behind her. “Tell me where he is or I’ll pull the trigger.”

Where’s Mallory when I need him? I’d even settle for the Eagle Scout. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen Tony since about six. Before the fire.”

The good news, Gina removes the revolver from my chest. The bad news, she lifts the gun’s muzzle level with my nose. The ugly headline, her thumb cocks the hammer.

Judging by the large bore on this chrome puppy, I’m a few pounds per square inch away from decapitation.

“Turn around and walk me through the house,” she says. “Slowly. No tricks.”

Gina drops her lusciousness onto my leather couch and stuffs the gun back in her purse. “Sorry,” she says. “I figured he’d be here.”

Her huge brown oval eyes gaze intently at me. My fear turned quickly to anger when she lowered the weapon a minute ago, but now I feel like reaching out to embrace her. And it’s more than just my groin talking. I want to soothe her soul. Honest.

“You have any scotch?” she says.


“Make it a double,” she says.

Mrs. Tony Farascio’s feeling better. She stretches her feet out on my couch and rattles her ice, sips what watery whisky remains, and nestles the now-empty drink into my carpet.

“Why were you with Tony at that hotel?” she says.

“Actually, he was with me. I had a meeting with the A.A.S.D. and Tony wanted to help.”

Gina snorts. Like Tony might have had some other motive besides kindness. Gee, why didn’t I think of that?

“What were you doing there?” I say.

“Following Tony. I know he’s been cheating on me practically since the day we were married. I’ve just never actually caught him at it. If I could be one-hundred percent sure--find him just once in the sack--I’d have the strength to leave him.”

I watch Gina push her shoes off, let them tumble to the floor. The black skirt rides up, showing me white thighs and making me dream higher. This is not a healthy or morally correct line of thought.

“The woman he went to see is an auditor with the American Association of Securities Dealers,” I say. “She’s threatening to file a damaging report about my firm. I don’t think he was up there cheating on you.”

“You think Tony was in that woman’s room on business?” she says.

“Yeah. She was in town to see me, not him.”

Gina shakes her head at me like a scolding teacher, then reaches over her head for the light switch. “I’m sleeping on your couch tonight. I don’t have to sleep with Tony’s gun under my pillow, right?”

I stand up. “Right.”

She flips off the light. “You’re a nice guy, Austin, but you don’t know shit.”

I wake up the next morning hard at work on Gina’s naked body. Only trouble, I’m dreaming. Gina’s not sharing intimate touches. She’s not sharing my bed. Mrs. Tony Farascio’s not even in my apartment.

The blanket I gave her is neatly folded on the couch. The coffee machine still drips, and a clean cup awaits me on the counter; the cup and a scribbled warning: “Make Tony tell you the truth.”

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