The following are the first fourteen chapters of First, I Love You.
That’s half the novel! DO NOT reproduce anywhere. You may link to this page.
Copyright 2012 by Genevieve Dewey, All Rights Reserved.
**This novel contains Adult Language, Sexual Situations, and Mild Violence.**
FIRST, I LOVE YOU
By Genevieve Dewey
Copyright 2012 by Genevieve Dewey, All Rights Reserved.
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction; any resemblance to living persons is entirely coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
Warm breath billowed out in front of Tommy Gates as he stood outside the Hoover Building on a chilly February morning. He could feel his heart beating staccato and wondered, as always, at what point would the others’ eyes change from welcome camaraderie to mistrust, and sometimes, disgust. Even those that didn’t question his loyalties remained wary of what associating with him would bring. It made him feel like a little boy again, instead of a twenty-five year old man, standing to the side of the playground wanting desperately to be picked next. Wanting to fit in. To belong. To be part of a crew.
Guess that’s one thing me and the old man have in common, Tommy thought.
A quick puff of air warmed his face as he chuckled in humor. Ignoring the sick, squirming, uncertain feeling in his stomach every time he thought of his father, he straightened his shoulders and carefully arranged his face into a practiced mask of indifferent confidence.
“Fuck ’em,” Tommy huffed softly, and entered the building.
Past security, a sea of faces and bustling bodies blurred in his usually observant mind as he made his way to the room number written in an untidy scrawl on the back of a business card. He didn’t bother knocking and instead quietly slipped inside the room. It was a relatively small conference room with an oblong table in the middle, but no one was sitting at it. They were all standing along the walls, except for two men standing in front of a portable screen full of pictures and flow charts. At the front of the room, Agent Jack Underwood didn’t pause in his speech but his tired, intelligent eyes seemed to light up slightly at the sight of Tommy’s entrance.
No one else appeared to notice Tommy had arrived, or were too polite to make a point of it. Tommy took a moment to scan the room and assess the competition. Colleagues, he mentally corrected, colleagues. He could easily spot the Feds. He could always spot the Feds, even in this modern version of the FBI. There were about a dozen people in the room, including the two up front, and the Home Team were standing as a unit on the right side of the room, while three odd men out kept at least two feet apart from each other on the opposite side like they were waiting to be picked for Red Rover.
Some things never change, Tommy thought.
As Tommy glanced back towards Jack, he thought he caught a sardonic twinkle in the eye of the agent standing next to Jack at the front, as if he shared in the joke. Federal Marshal, maybe? The few he had met never seemed to recognize themselves as swimming in the same Department of Justice pool. It was doubtful he was a fellow lowly law enforcement officer sent here to be a cog in the wheel of yet another Joint Task Force for Patting Ourselves on the Back. He pursed his lips and mentally took himself to task. It wouldn’t do to start out the thing with a chip on his shoulder. He should be thanking his lucky stars his friend and mentor had listened to him, recommended him, no doubt fought for him to be here today. He was startled from his thoughts by the sound of his name.
“Tommy, glad you could make it! Everyone, I’d like to introduce you to my colleague Detective Thomas Gates of the Omaha Police Department. His extensive knowledge of Organized Crime and his underground contacts will no doubt be of great benefit to us. I’ve already briefed him on where our case stands. He’ll be working with myself and Agent James Hoffman of the DEA for the next few months in Chicago,” Jack Underwood said with a smile.
Jack gestured to the casually dressed man who had shared the conspiratorial look with Tommy. Agent Hoffman grinned, showing deep set dimples that seemed to accentuate his relaxed body language and the humor in his blue eyes. His dark complexion suggested some Middle Eastern or Northern African heritage.
“The Director has agreed to appoint Special Agents Dino D’Amato and Ginny Sommers from the Organized Crime Section to be our FBI liaisons here in DC.”
Jack nodded to a swarthy, sour-looking middle aged man on the Home Team dressed in a classic suit and a pretty blond haired woman around Tommy’s age, dressed in slacks, formfitting sweater, and the most impractical heels he had ever seen a cop wear. It wasn’t hard to guess who played ‘Bad Cop’ in their interrogations.
“Detective Gates, if you could come up here and give us a quick overview on what your department has been able to gather regarding the trafficking activity in your area?”
Tommy smiled at Jack and walked forward to stand in front of the mix of Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and a few select detectives that made up a newly formed human trafficking task force. Its members had been chosen from various larger task forces to assess the scope of a growing trafficking ring stretching from New York to Chicago along the lakes. The recent bust of a truck on the I-80 corridor in Nebraska carrying half a dozen pre-teen girls had clued Tommy in that the geographical scope of this ring was rapidly expanding. But the terrified girls weren’t talking, even with their Russian translators, and his boss at OPD felt there was no reason to suspect a larger, more organized operation was at play here. Were they being smuggled in? Perhaps. But sold on the black market? Tommy had no proof – yet – but a gnawing sensation in his gut told him that the two were connected.
But being newly made detective, against quite a lot of resistance, his ‘gut’ didn’t get much traction. Still, he was pretty sure the Russian Mafia were smuggling young girls and boys into and out of the country and using the well-trod drug routes to do it. This had to mean they were working with either the Drug Cartels or the US Mafia, maybe even both. He had bypassed the call to the Omaha division of the FBI and tipped off his old family friend, ‘Uncle’ Jack in Chicago. He knew Jack would take him seriously. Just as he had when Tommy had decided to become a cop, a dream that never would have happened without Jack’s pull. Looking at the curious, slightly skeptical faces staring expectantly at him, he thought of the only piece of advice from his father he valued, ‘When in doubt, bullshit ’til you believe it’.
It was later in the week, just as Tommy was beginning to relax, that the other shoe dropped. He and James Hoffman were walking side by side in front of Dino D’Amato and Ginny Sommers on their way to a favorite lunch hangout of the local law enforcement. Tommy was anxious to get out of DC and head to Chicago with Jack and James, but he didn’t want to jinx the progress he had made with the Task Force, so he kept up his mask of enthusiasm. They had just begun to hammer out a functional working relationship in their subunit in spite of the often clashing egos in the room and he desperately needed the connections and clout of the federal arm to bust this ring.
He didn’t mind Ginny and James so much, but Dino seemed to suspect there was more to Tommy’s story than the one he had carefully rehearsed when asked about his life back home. Dino just would not let up asking questions about Tommy’s background. Tommy had to give him credit; Dino was a good cop and could smell an obvious omission a mile away. Too bad he had all the charm of a horse’s ass.
“Is it just me, or is there a limo following us?” James asked, voice brimming with humor and a practiced sort of ennui.
Tommy frowned and kept his eyes straight ahead as he quickened his pace.
“Oh, well spotted. Not bad for a DEA slag,” Dino mocked.
“Look, can you two not bicker for five seconds? Aren’t we all on the same side? Isn’t this about interagency cooperation?” Ginny asked in a slightly breathless tone.
He could hear her struggling right behind him to catch up in her heels. Why the hell did she wear those damn things? Tommy thought.
“Which question should we answer first, Agent Sommers? Do we get milk and cookies after?” James bantered, turning around to her with his easy smile.
The man probably has the ladies falling all over him, Tommy snickered to himself and turned to share a grin with James. Unfortunately, turning his head towards James gave Tommy a clear view of the street and the limo in question and he knew with a sinking feeling it was the one he feared most.
He wouldn’t do this to me, he wouldn’t, Tommy thought.
“Best bets? Senator or ambassador. It’s a nice ride, right down to the bullet proof glass and the armor plated sides.” Dino said, dismissing the sleek black limo with a bored tone in his voice.
“Yes, Agent D’Amato, but as Agent Hoffman has already pointed out, it is following us. Why?” Ginny asked, showing the first signs of losing her perky attitude.
Tommy sighed and tried to think of a graceful way to duck his new colleagues – had he dared think potential friends? – long enough to put off the inevitable just a little bit. His scrambled thoughts were interrupted by the slow snick of a window being lowered.
“For God’s sake, son, are we going to do this all day? Get in the car, I need to talk to you,” Mickey Downey said, arching a dark eyebrow, his emerald green eyes full of implacable command. His cold gaze swept briefly over the Federal Agents and dismissed them just as quickly.
Tommy felt rather than saw the stiffened shock from Ginny and Dino as he stopped and faced his father. They moved behind him, but James remained where he stood between Tommy and the limo. Tommy knew they needed no introduction to recognize one of the most notorious mobsters – make that allegedly ‘retired’ mobsters – in the country. One of the few Irish mobsters allowed to rise to the highest ranks in La Cosa Nostra in New York. It was universally accepted this was due to his completely ruthless nature, ability to make scads of money, and the fact he was the son of a gangster who was the son of a gangster of the original so-called ‘Gangs of New York’. Michael Downey had grown up elbow to elbow with the most powerful men in the Gambino and Genovese Crime families.
His uncanny knack for making money without even trying earned him the nickname ‘Magic Mickey’ Downey. It had seemed only natural that Mickey marry the daughter of the Boss of the Gambinos, securing himself a lucrative but loveless path to second in command. When the RICO charges came down for Downey and his father-in-law, he stayed true to his code of silence and never flipped on his boss in spite of the bitter estrangement from his wife. It was the damning testimony of his mistress, Mary Gates that sent shockwaves through the community. Not that it was enough for a conviction. The jury conveniently deadlocked and Michael ‘Mickey’ Downey slipped through the system yet again. Mary Gates and her young son disappeared shortly after.
Thomas Michael Gates was not quite ten the first time his father came looking for him. To this day, he could still remember the suffocating smell of leather shoes and his mother’s stale perfume in the coat closet where she had hastily shoved him. He could see her through the crack pacing back and forth with the phone to her ear.
“Jack, Jack – you’ve got to get over here! He’s here! He’s here! How did he find us? Oh God—” she choked out.
The doorbell rang, echoing through the sudden silence. His mother never moved from her spot as if she had been frozen by one of the freeze ray guns in his favorite cartoon. The front door opened and he could hear the soft click, click, click of a man’s shoes on the faded linoleum of their small dining room and kitchen.
“What’s the matter, Mary girl? Cat got your tongue?” a gravelly voice purred.
Tommy couldn’t quite make out his mother’s face but he could hear the fear in her voice as she replied.
“What are you doing here? Why have you come? Why now?” she half sobbed.
“Where’s the boy, Mary?”
“Gone. He – he’s not here. I-I-I’ve made sure he’s somewhere safe. Somewhere you’ll never find him!”
Tommy frowned, thinking as far as hiding spots went, the coat closet across the foyer from the kitchen didn’t seem to qualify as ‘someplace you’ll never find him’. Assuming the ‘him’ was… well, him. Something was familiar about this man, he couldn’t place what, only knew that whoever he was, he was scaring Tommy’s mom. And as the resident man of the house – that’s what his mama always called him, her ‘little man’ – Tommy would have to protect her.
He looked around the closet and grabbed one of her fancy shoes she prized so much and inched closer to the door, ready to spring into action. He cracked the closet door open a small amount more as quietly as he could. The man’s back was almost hiding Mama from view as they stood on opposite sides of the circular kitchen table.
“There’s no sense in making this unpleasant, Mary. I am not here to hurt you. I’ve had a lot of time to think things through and I understand why you did what you did. Them damn Feds got to you didn’t they? Twisted things around like they always do. Always sneaking in and busting up families—”
“Is that what we were, Michael?! A family? I was your whore, nothing more!” Mama said hoarsely, then stepped back and clasped her hand over her mouth as if she’d remembered Tommy was only a room away.
“You were never that to me, Mary, and you know it! You were my life, my everything! You and Tommy were my refuge from that woman and her incessant demands. I could never please her, but with you it was easy, right, so damn good until you—”
“Until I what, Michael? Had enough? You chose to marry that – that – woman! For what? Power? Money? I was a stupid foolish girl to think you would choose me and our son! Time and time again you went back to her!”
“I had no choice, you know that!”
“There’s always a choice, Michael. Always. Well, I made mine. I chose my son over your stupid filthy business!”
“Where is he?” the man hissed.
Silence stretched on. Tommy could hear his mother’s labored breathing, stifled sobs, and the rustle of clothing as the man sat down at the kitchen table. He could see them both now in profile, Mama still standing opposite, holding herself as if cold. With a sigh, the man took an intricately carved wood pipe out of his overcoat, stuffed it with tobacco and flicked open a shiny lighter to light it. He seemed to gaze everywhere but at Tommy’s mother as he puffed on the pipe.
Tommy pushed the door open just a bit more so as to get a better look at this man, the tiny beginnings of memories tracing tingles on the back of his neck. He remembered that smell. He remembered… rocking on an old oak rocking chair while the big man read him stories, always with the funny voices just like Tommy liked it. He remembered the way the man would run his fingers through Tommy’s hair and say ‘see ya later, sport’ and kiss him on the top of his head before he’d leave.
He came and he went, Mama’s special friend. But he was always kind and gentle. This man didn’t seem nice at all. The man in his memories used to lay on the floor and play cars with him like Mama would never do. He used to tell Tommy silly stories and make Mama laugh with his funny faces and the way he’d nuzzle her neck. This man seemed… cold… distant.
But then he set his pipe down and looked at Mama.
“Mary, I didn’t come here to fight, or to hurt you, I swear. I came to make peace. How long did you think you could keep my son from me? He has a right to know his father. Boys need their fathers,” the man said, his voice tired and sad like Mama’s had been a moment before.
“Boys need love. And to feel safe. Better to have no father than one who would never, could never, put his son’s needs first.”
The man made a frustrated gesture with his hand.
“What are you talking about? The danger is over. I’ve talked with my ex-wife—”
“Oh, ho? Ex-wife now? Finally had enough did you? What does Dear Old Dad say about that?”
“I – I hadn’t heard.”
“That surprises me. I would think your friends at the FBI would have kept you informed. I mean, don’t they take care of their little rats and snitches?” he sneered.
Mama jerked as though slapped. The man seemed to regret his words.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, almost brokenly. “Maybe I drove you to it. Maybe they tricked you. It doesn’t matter anymore, because he’s gone and Theresa’s not going to fight the divorce as long as I continue to support the kids. We have two. A girl and a boy. Don’t you think Tommy deserves to get to know his brother and sister?”
Mama seemed to not hear his words, instead, stared out the window at the sprinklers futilely battling the browning grass on an already hot Nebraska August morning. Minutes ticked away and finally she said, so low Tommy had to strain to hear her,
“What I wouldn’t have given six years ago to have heard these words from you. But now?”
The front door opened with a bang.
Uncle Jack’s booming voice rang out, “Downey! Get the hell out of this house! Now.”
The man’s entire demeanor seemed to change. Gone was the pleading, tired father, and in its place a whole other man emerged, mocking and snidely cheerful like the older boys on the playground who would pick on Tommy after school.
He stood up, sauntering towards Jack and lazily drawling out, “Well, well, well, lookie who we have here. Mr. F – B – I, himself. How much they paying you to sniff around my son’s mother? Oh, they aren’t paying you to do that anymore, are they? At least that’s what I’m told. You do it for free, then? What’s that pretty little wife of yours say about that, huh?”
“Stop it!” Mama hissed.
Uncle Jack strode forward into the kitchen and calmly stood next to Mama. She seemed to lean into him. The man curled his lip and lazily popped his pipe back in his mouth, then turned so his back was completely toward Tommy. Uncle Jack’s eyes slid to Tommy’s issuing what felt like a silent warning to keep quiet. Tommy made no attempt to hide in the closet anymore, instead moved to stand just outside the door frame. He was sure that Uncle Jack would fix it. Like he always fixed it.
“Downey, I’ve asked you to leave,” Uncle Jack said firmly. “I can have the local cops here in a second if you choose to make this difficult. Mary may no longer be in Witness Protection, against my recommendations, but I won’t hesitate to have your ass locked up for harassment in a hot second. You’ve no rights to the child. You know as well as I do that his birth certificate says ‘unknown’ for the father. You never publicly acknowledged him. Even if you forced a paternity suit, the courts tend to place children with their mothers. Oh, you can smirk all you like, but if you were to bribe your way into custody, I would not hesitate to hide them from you so deep you would never find them. I don’t care if I have to call in every marker I’ve ever had to do it, I will. You once claimed to love Mary and Tommy. Do the right thing for once in your God-forsaken life and let them be.”
The man turned his head a bit and seemed to stare at Mama like was memorizing her for a test. Then, pointedly ignoring Uncle Jack, the man walked forward until he was within touching distance of Mama.
“I’m not trying to take the boy from you, Mary. I just want to be his father. You could come back with me. Come back to New York—”
Mama’s voice was firm, like it got when Tommy was whining for an extra cookie. She seemed to draw strength from Uncle Jack’s words and looked the man in the eyes. She didn’t seem afraid anymore, just resigned and very, very sad.
“No, we won’t come back with you, Michael. That part of my life is over now. Tommy’s better off here, with all his friends. We’ve made a life here. Without you.”
“You can’t cut me out of his life, Mary. I’m his father. He’ll—”
Tommy moved forward, still in his faded, too-small Transformers PJ’s, his Mama’s pointy shoe clutched in his hand like a weapon. The man turned his head enough to finally notice his presence. Tommy met his gaze as a thousand emotions he couldn’t even begin to define flooded through him.
“I – I – I dddon’t wanna go. And… and, you leave Mama alone,” Tommy finally stammered out.
Tommy straightened his shoulders and tried his best to look tough like Uncle Jack. His hand trembled. The man seemed to appraise him like a new item at the store. His eyes warmed and he smiled a slow, satisfied smile at Tommy.
“That’s a good boy, protecting your Mama. I’m proud of you, son. Do you remember me? Remember how I used to tuck you in at night, sing you songs?”
Tommy nodded. Mama let out a soft “Oh!”, clutching her chest. Uncle Jack frowned.
“But you don’t want to come home? You and your mom?” the man asked as he came towards Tommy and knelt down in front of him.
He smelled like sweet smoke and for a second Tommy remembered again what it was like to be rocked by him. Held safe and loved. Tommy looked at Mama and Uncle Jack over the man’s shoulder and thought of the new friends he was making in his new home. Mama had promised they would stay this time. He wanted to stay this time. And the man had made Mama cry and be afraid. He was pretty sure dads weren’t supposed to do that. Besides, it was Tommy’s job to protect Mama. He was her ‘little man’.
Tommy stepped around him and over to his mother. He put his free hand in hers and squeezed it hard.
The man – his father! – slowly stood and turned to meet his gaze. He looked sad again.
“Well, then, young man, I’ll make you a promise. And remember this: a man’s only as good as his word, and you have mine,” his father declared in a voice that was gentle and yet businesslike at the same time.
He held out his hand as if to shake and waited until Tommy put down the shoe and placed his sweaty palm in his large, calloused hand before continuing.
“I won’t take you from your home, son,” he said firmly. “But we will meet again, you and I. And I will always be there for you if you need me. Maybe that means nothing to you now, but someday it just might.”
His father’s hand felt warm and strong, and swallowed Tommy’s own trembling palm. His green eyes seemed to be glittering as he stared at Mama and Tommy for what felt like a long time. Then he dropped Tommy’s hand, turned and left without another word.
For months afterward, Tommy wondered and worried if he would come back and take him away from his mom. But he never did. Tommy began to imagine it had all been a dream except then the presents and letters started to come on his birthday and holidays and his mother would mutter under her breath and look scared again. It made him mad and he felt like he owed it to her to not open them.
But late at night, he would imagine what was inside, and what his father was doing. If he was rocking his other kids to sleep, telling them stories, playing cars on the floor. He wondered what it was the man did that had made Mama so scared she needed to hide. To cry herself to sleep after she thought he couldn’t hear.
He was eighteen when his father showed up again, standing at the back of the room on Graduation Day with two men Tommy had instantly recognized as bodyguards. Gone was the mystery of who his father was. He knew by then just who, and what, Michael ‘Mickey’ Downey was. Google was a mighty thing. Tommy had studiously ignored his presence, and instead focused on his beaming mother’s face sitting next to Uncle Jack and Aunt Claire. They were his family.
Surprise wasn’t a strong enough word for what he had felt when he came home from the school reception to see his father sitting at the gleaming new dining table his mother had scraped and saved for. In front of Mickey lay a neatly bound stack of eight years’ worth of unopened letters, stamped ‘Return to Sender’. His dark, almost black hair was just slightly tinted with gray at the temples and his vibrant green eyes seemed to sparkle at the sight of Tommy and his mother.
Mickey stood up and extended his hand, as he had done so many years before.
“Congratulations, son,” he had said with a smile, as if eight years hadn’t passed since they’d last spoke.
And now here Tommy was again, another handful of years later, staring at his willfully obtuse father and trying to fight through the mess of impossibly conflicting emotions he always felt when face-to-face with the man who had given him life. The man who had loved his mother deeply, but drove her to a life of desperation and fear. The father who was never a real part of his life growing up, but who had never stopped, from the moment he had learned of Tommy’s whereabouts, trying to forge a relationship. The mobster whose very lifestyle was everything Tommy despised.
“Son?” James asked, interrupting Tommy’s memories.
James was still standing sideways between Tommy and the limo, looking politely confused. Tommy met his father’s eyes and blew out a frustrated breath. He had read once that a sign of intelligence was the ability to hold two opposing ideas at the same time and still be able to function.
Tommy figured he ought to be damn near genius levels by now.
DEA Special Agent James Edgar Hoffman had heard a lot of absurd things in his twenty-nine years on this planet. There was the time a perp tried to talk him into believing aliens were responsible for the ball of Coke shoved up his ass. Or the time his great-uncle decided to divorce his wife of sixty-two years because she had ‘burnt his damned Spam for the last time’. Or just about anything on FOX News Network. But a cop with a mobster for a father had to take the cake. Or was it a mobster with a cop for a son? Either way, it wasn’t possible; there were policies against these things. Weren’t there? Four generations of Federal cops in his family, one would think he ought to know.
“Tommy, get in the car. I need to talk to you about your brother,” Downey demanded.
Aaaaand there it was. Confirmation that his new partner wasn’t who he said he was. Or he was, and he had just left out a few pertinent details. Like whether he was a good cop who happened to have an alleged mobster for a father or a mob plant wearing a badge. And to think James had just chewed Agent D’Amato’s ass for ‘sowing seeds of discontent’ before they left FBI headquarters. Man, he loved phrases like that. English had lost a lot of its aplomb with all this slang everybody used these days.
He looked at the interplay of emotions Detective Gates was struggling to hide from his face, and some of his initial shock and anger dissipated. No, he hadn’t been wrong about Tommy. Sometimes as a cop one just had a feel for these things. No other explanation, James just sort of knew. And he knew Tommy Gates was Team Law Enforcement. Even only knowing him a week.
He could practically feel the gears turning in the minds of Dino and Ginny behind them. He decided to take a gamble. Stepping completely in front of Tommy, he extended his hand towards the limo window.
“Hi. Special Agent James Hoffman. Nice to meet you,” James said.
Hard to say whose demeanor held the most shock, Downey or Gates. But Downey’s shock was quickly replaced with a speculative gleam.
Ahhh mobsters, James thought, so predictable.
Downey smiled, all practiced charm.
“Is that a Chicago accent I detect, Jimmy?”
“It’s James. Actually, you can call me Agent Hoffman. I mean, we haven’t actually been formally introduced,” James said, turning slightly to Tommy and meeting his stunned gaze with raised eyebrows.
Shaking his head slightly, Tommy said, “Uh, we need to get back, so…”
“Actually, we haven’t had lunch yet. You’re welcome to join us,” Ginny suggested.
Ah, Ginny was going to take his lead and run with it, good girl, James thought. Not Dino, though. He was all but vibrating with rage behind them.
“I’ll order in,” Dino gritted out through clenched teeth, then turned smartly and walked back towards Headquarters.
“I’ll talk to you later,” Tommy mumbled with a glare at his father and followed Dino.
James sighed. So much for Plan A. But as he and Ginny turned to go, the quickly masked look of longing and frustration on Downey’s face had him thinking this gamble just might pay out yet.
“Back from lunch already?” Jack Underwood greeted them with a smile when they filed in to the small conference room. He was seated in front of the wipe boards at the head of the long table, case files spread out and iPad in front of him.
“Oh, yeah, it was full of grins and giggles, but I lost my appetite when Detective Gates’ dear old Dad showed up,” Dino sneered as he headed towards Jack.
Standing up quickly, Jack looked worried.
“What’d Downey want?” Jack asked, all cheerfulness gone.
“So you knew?” Dino exclaimed. “How could this guy even be allowed on the police force? How could you assign him to this task force knowing he has connections to organized crime!?”
“Calm down, Dino, I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation,” Ginny said, pointedly looking at Tommy.
She sat down next to Jack on the opposite side of the table and looked expectant. But Tommy still wasn’t talking. He was looking a little pale, like he wanted to vomit, standing and staring out the windows lining the left side of the room. Agent Underwood opened his mouth, but James sent him a silent ‘I got this’ look. James sat down nearest the door they had just entered to better keep an eye on all the players, then leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the table.
Nothing like engaging in a spirited debate with a closed-minded individual, he thought, and prepared to enjoy Dino’s frustration.
“Technically,” James drawled. “Downey’s never been convicted of anything.”
“He was charged with nine counts, including racketeering, fraud, extortion, money laundering and—”
“Yeah, some twenty years ago,” James interrupted.
“And since then he has only moved further in the ranks, piling up conveniently disappearing enemies and money making schemes! Just because—”
“There’s no indication he is currently engaging in those alleged activities, for the last several years. In fact, word on the street is he’s retired—”
“He moved to Chicago! No one in the Mob ‘retires’ to Chicago!”
“—and he could be useful,” James continued, still using his deliberately bored, speaking to a child tone he knew irritated Dino.
Tommy whipped around and stared at James. Dino looked like he was about to pop a vessel.
Yep, this is going to get good, James thought. Too bad he didn’t have any popcorn.
“First, I shouldn’t have to remind you that our mission here is to isolate the players in this particular human trafficking ring,” James continued. “How they’re moving product, who’s collecting vig, so on and so forth, and determine the best way to proceed towards a win-able case.”
James held up a finger up as Dino opened his mouth to interrupt again. “And we have to use every means possible to cultivate as many… contacts… on the other side as we can. As you say, Agent D’Amato, Downey lives in Chicago, where Gates and I will be working. I personally don’t care how Tommy managed to slip through the background checks preventing cops with known mafia connections from getting on the force. All I care about is stopping these sons of bitches any way possible, and his father is in a position to provide us with—”
“NO,” Tommy all but shouted.
Everyone looked at Tommy.
Hmmmmnn, interesting, James thought.
“Look…” Tommy paused and ran his hand through his hair, panicked eyes darting between Jack and James. “Look, you know how these guys operate. There’s no way he would agree to help, it would be suicide. Retired or not, he exists only as long as he keeps the current players happy. Even if I agreed to ask, which I won’t, I barely know the guy. We’ve interacted maybe five times in my entire life. And to answer your question…”
Tommy paused again and turned towards Dino. “It’s not a secret. My mother and I were in Witness Protection so the records were sealed in his old case files. After mom left the program and we took our names back, it still wouldn’t have shown up in the police background check because my birth certificate didn’t indicate him as my father. When I applied to the Police Academy, I didn’t indicate a known Conflict of Interest on my application because he wasn’t a part of my life. Still, Jack – Agent Underwood – decided we should talk to Internal Affairs anyway and asked whether having any association with my siblings in the future would present a problem. He explained the situation since he was one of the original agents who worked the case and helped facilitate my mother’s testimony and placement with the Marshals. The commission and the board decided, based on his recommendation, that as long as I never worked any cases involving my father – not hard since he was living in New York at the time – there would be no issue. So, while it’s not exactly common knowledge, it’s not a secret either.”
“But, by your own admission, you have had interaction with him since you became a police officer and he apparently is familiar enough with you to call you son and demand your help,” Ginny interjected, though not unkindly.
“And those interactions still should have shown up in our files unless someone was actively suppressing the information,” Dino added with a withering look at Agent Underwood.
“Last I checked, you and Ginny don’t work on Gambino cases so it’s perfectly understandable you missed it,” James said disingenuously.
Jack moved to stand next to Tommy and placed a bracing hand on his shoulder, clearing his throat in an imperious manner. James sat upright at the table and Ginny leaned forward intently. Even Dino stopped glaring at James long enough to pay attention to what Jack was going to say.
“Only a few people knew Tommy was Mickey Downey’s son at the time of his trial twenty years ago,” Agent Underwood said calmly. “Downey kept Tommy and his mother in a Brooklyn brownstone and though a few of his close acquaintances knew Mary Gates was his mistress, he never publicly acknowledged that Tommy was his, to keep things smooth with his wife and his boss, who was also his father-in-law. There were whispers, speculation, nothing more. After they disappeared off the radar, there would have been no reason to bring it up in surveillance. I transferred to the Omaha division for personal reasons not too long after the hung jury, but whenever I would check in on Downey’s case, he was making every appearance of the devoted family man, no mention of a missing child in his circles.”
Jack took a deep breath and rubbed his face before continuing, “I know it goes against protocol, but I had kept in contact with Mary, visiting her from time to time in a safe location. I was known as ‘Uncle Jack’ to Tommy. When Mary chose to leave the program, her caseworker and I agreed that it was only a matter of time before Downey found them. From everything we knew of the man there was no way he had stopped looking despite appearances. So my wife and I reached out to her and suggested she move to Omaha where I could keep an informal eye on her and Tommy. It was less than a year later that Downey showed up. I believe it would have been sooner, but I think he waited until he could be sure his ducks were in a row after Giovanni Anastasio’s death.”
James looked at the frustrated frown on Dino’s face and he thought, playtime over, time to address the elephant in the room. Looking Tommy in the eye, he tried to make his body language say, ‘hey, I’m on your side, give me something to go on here’.
“It’s easy to see why an isolated event may have slipped under the radar, alleged mobsters make business trips all the time.” James said. “But if Downey’s been in contact since you’ve been a cop, however briefly, and you’ve acknowledged a relationship with your siblings, then Agents Pitney and Jackson will have known about it. So would everyone else working on cases regarding known associates of the Gambino crime family. It is a little odd that such a thing has never come to our knowledge, or the Press’s knowledge, even if we aren’t directly involved in any cases regarding Downey.”
“Pitney and Jackson do know about it,” Tommy replied. “They’ve been known to have men in unmarked cars just happen to drive by whenever these rare events occur. As far as the Press goes, I think if you looked at Gangland News, the New York Post, or any of the other Mob-watcher blogs, you’d see it’s not a secret at all that Kiki and Joe Downey have a brother from the other side of the blanket. It’s just not brought up because, as you pointed out earlier, my father was supposedly retired by the time I started interacting with my brother and sister on an occasional basis. Almost all the people who could still hold a grudge about my mother’s so-called betrayal are either dead or out of the country. I’ve never shown up in New York to open up old wounds and get the tongues wagging. It simply wasn’t news worthy. Maybe if he’d retired to Omaha it might’ve come up again, but he picked Chicago. For what it’s worth, I think my father did his best to squash any mention of me to all but a few in his circles when he was still king of the mountain, and when he ceded command, it just became… a non-issue, so to speak. As for your circles—”
“Our circles,” Ginny interrupted with an encouraging smile.
James was gratified to see that Tommy seemed to be relaxing somewhat under the unspoken tag team that he and Ginny were employing. He needed Tommy on board, not on the defensive.
“Our circles,” Tommy sighed in agreement. “Like I said, Internal Affairs knows about it, so do people keeping a watch on all things Downey and Gambino. I’m not working any cases that remotely involve him. It’s not a matter of suppressing information, it’s a matter of whether the information is pertinent, and it’s not in this case.”
“Unless Downey is not actually retired and is involved in this trafficking ring, and then it could compromise our case,” Dino pointed out.
“I don’t think that will be an issue, or I wouldn’t have assigned Tommy to our subgroup. And the Director must agree since he approved the request. Each of you brings a strength to this team. Why do you think I mentioned on the first day that he has unique contacts in the underworld? I had no intention of hiding this fact from you, I just wanted us to be further along before we played that card. Tommy deserves to be measured on his own merits, not that of his father’s,” Jack said, firm tone closing the matter.
Well said, James thought.
He was still waiting for that day himself. He’d had plenty of experience dodging expectations and resentful murmurs when he worked with the FBI on cases. James’ father was a well-known FBI agent in counter-terrorism, his grandfather was one of Hoover’s best men in the heyday of the unfettered wiretap, and his great-grandfather was a Pinkerton. James’ half-assed idea of bucking expectations was applying to the DEA, instead of the FBI.
He could still remember his dad’s outrage; ‘Anybody with a high-school diploma can become a DEA agent, it takes smarts to work for the FBI!’
To which James had rightly pointed out that several of his dad’s closest friends were highly intelligent and well-trained DEA agents, and further (since it irritated his father to be reminded of this and he loved pushing his buttons), that had it not been for certain prescient DEA agents, La Cosa Nostra would not have been exposed for what it was under a purposefully myopic Hoover. Still, debates in the Hoffman household were of degrees of law enforcement. He couldn’t fathom trying to navigate being a cop and the son of such an infamous gangster, even if said gangster was supposedly now retired.
James let the soft drone of the others’ voices slide over him as he kept picturing the longing look on Mickey Downey’s face and the conflicted one on Gates’. He’d bet his badge there was more to this story than Gates or Underwood were letting on, but every instinct in his bones was screaming that Downey had the potential to be a very valuable chess piece in this trafficking case.
Here they would be flying out to Chicago at the end of the week, right where Downey currently lived, and yet Downey had come to DC to see his son. James felt like somebody had dumped one of those thousand piece puzzles right in front of him, tied his hands behind his back and turned off the lights.
Good thing he liked a challenge.
In her mind, there was nothing in the world quite as invigorating as the smell of a new pair of designer pumps. Katherine Anastasia Downey – Kiki to her family and friends – loved a great many things, but spending Daddy’s money had to be at the top of the list. She often thought in her cynically altruistic moments, that it was almost her civic duty to put money back into the pockets they came from. Kiki spent her money on a great many different things, some important, some unimportant, but today was a rare all-about-her day. She was not going to stop shopping until she found herself a pair of Dolce and Gabanas or Jimmy Choos to match the designer necklace and earrings her mother had gotten her for her twenty-first birthday. They were one of a kind. Literally.
Her mother had cultivated a number of useful friends over the years being the daughter of Giovanni ‘Big Joe’ Anastasio and the wife of Michael ‘Mickey’ Downey, but the ones she’d made living in Paris these last several years seemed to be extra… generous… to put it mildly. Kiki might be a daddy’s girl in most respects, but her mother’s one enduring claim on her heart was the way she supported Kiki’s job as a fashion blogger for the Sun-Times. Daddy found it amusing at best.
The trouble with having a father who adored her unconditionally was being left with the feeling of never quite having earned his approval. It left her in a constant competitive state of ‘Look, Daddy, no hands!’ and the emotional dissatisfaction of him not even looking up from the paper to say ‘Knew you could do it, sweetheart.’
“Well, damn, Kiki you’re gonna be the hottest fucking thing in all of Chicago this Saturday night wearing those. Have you picked out a dress yet?” Jessica Bonanno trilled out, interrupting her thoughts.
“Like it matters, stuck here in this hell-hole,” Kiki mumbled, thoughts of her parents ruining her usually cheerful mood.
“Oh, come on, Chicago is far from a hell-hole and you know it. Besides, they have one of the best Nordstrom’s in the country. And I’m here for your party, aren’t I?”
“You know what I mean. All our real friends are back in New York. I just don’t get why Daddy had to retire to Chicago of all places. I mean, who does that?”
“Kiki, you’ve lived here for five years. You’re not a minor. You’re filthy rich. You can leave anytime. Besides, I’m not going to believe you haven’t made some friends here. I mean, I’ve got four or five cousins here I can think of, which means you do too, if you’d just reach out… And, please, no one believes your dad is actually ‘retired’.”
Jessica did the air quotes with her perfectly manicured fingers and a wiggle of her equally manicured eyebrows, forcing a laugh out of her oldest friend and cousin. She scooted closer to Kiki on the bench.
“Is… Is your brother going to be there?” Jessica asked softly, a gleam in her eye.
“Joe? Of course!” Kiki answered, surprised.
“No… I mean… you know,” Jessica whispered.
Kiki sighed and slipped the shoes back off. Not meeting Jess’s eyes, she tossed her chestnut curls in a flippant gesture. She was tired of pretending to be what people wanted her to be, so tired. There used to be a time when she and Jessica had been close, inseparable really, when she felt she could be honest with her, instead of keeping up the role she played for everyone else. But now they seemed so far apart, not just in geography, but in interests. Jess was a couple years older and married with a child, but her husband was serving 5-10 in prison, and she clearly felt fidelity was not necessary while she waited; she didn’t even use his last name. Jessica’s life was a never ending party. Most of the time it was Kiki who was drug along for the ride, but yet the papers painted her as the wild child.
“How should I know? Probably not. Not that I care,” Kiki finally replied, thinking, why does she always bring up Tommy? What’s it to her anyway?
“You’re a terrible liar. Just sayin’,” Jessica said.
Kiki forced herself to meet Jess’s eyes and started laughing. “Let’s see if they have another pair for you,” she suggested in a desperate move to change the subject.
She didn’t want to talk about Tommy because she never knew what she was supposed to think – or feel – about him. The prodigal son that Daddy made with the woman he loved far more than her own mother. Everyone knew that. The man he kept trying to pull into the fold even after he became a cop. A cop, for God’s sake! Resentment was definitely there, maybe some jealousy, but there were other emotions – other softer, sweeter emotions that far outweighed the bad ones.
And these were the feelings, oddly enough, that she felt the most defensive about with everyone but her father. One of her fondest memories was how kind Tommy was to her the day they first met seven years ago, the way he teased her out of her painful teenage shyness with silly and often really, really bad jokes. Even though he was only four and a half years older than her, and just out of high school, he had looked so grown up and oddly sophisticated in his faded jeans and Huskers T-shirt.
She smiled remembering it; little Joey running all over the hotel lobby getting into things the way restless nine-year-old boys do, Daddy all tense and silent, staring at ‘that woman’, as Mom had always called her, and Tommy – Ha! – Tommy, acting like he had just wandered into the Omaha Hilton because he had nothing better to do. But she could see in his eyes he was just as nervous as she was. Just as curious to finally meet his siblings. He was just better at hiding it than she was.
Kiki was never good at hiding her emotions. Instead, she hid herself. When she was little, she used to pretend each room in the sprawling mansion was an exhibit at the museum that Daddy would take her and Joey to on Saturdays (when he wasn’t busy with ‘work’ of course). In this room, she was an Egyptian princess, in this one a Native American princess, this other, a Mayan princess. She was always a princess. Daddy’s little princess. That’s what he’d call her in his distracted way, with a quick, whiskery kiss, the hint of pipe tobacco on his breath.
She far preferred Daddy’s smell to Mom’s. Mom always smelled like French perfume and the Benedictine she drank with her whiskey ‘for her health’. Kiki had snuck a taste in once when she was eleven. It tasted like a forest with too many flowers in it; sickly sweet, not like the wine they drank with supper. When she was younger, she was always proud to tell her friends that Daddy let them drink wine at the table with the adults. He’d wink at her and say, ‘One glass won’t hurt a Downey; it’ll put hair on your chest!’ Then he would laugh his gravelly laugh and Mom would purse her lips.
Her mom hated it when he referred to them as Downeys, even though that was their name, like it was ignoring the Anastasio blood in them. Mom was very proud of her Anastasio blood. Kiki figured Daddy did it on purpose since the only time they ever interacted after the divorce was at family suppers. Her mom had insisted in the settlement that all holidays and one Sunday a month the entire family get together for a traditional Italian supper. ‘There’s nothing more important than family,’ Mom would singsong.
Except by ‘family’, Theresa Anastasio meant her family. The first time Kiki found out about her half-brother Tommy was when her parents were having one of their many, many fights.
Kiki was busy pretending to be Princess Jasmine turning down her suitors in the throes of true never-ending love for Prince Ali Baba in the pink – ‘It’s salmon, darling!’ – guest bedroom when she heard her mother shouting. This was worth pausing for, since Mom never shouted. That was Daddy’s thing. Mom was more fond of jeering insults, crying jags, and dramatically leaving the room, all of which tended to drive Daddy’s temper through the roof.
Belly crawling to the balustrade she peeked over and watched them below.
“I will NOT stand for this one SECOND longer! You will NEVER bring up that woman’s name or her brat in my home ever again, do you hear me? How could you disrespect me this way?!”
“Disrespect you? That would imply I ever had any respect for you, Theresa.”
Mom threw her prized Tiffany vase against the wall. Daddy raised a dark eyebrow the way he did when one of his men didn’t do what he told them to do fast enough.
“Maybe the stress of the new baby has you—”
“Don’t you dare – don’t you DARE, Mickey! This has nothing to do with our son, and everything to do with your BASTARD! Do you know how much I tried to be a good wife, to ignore the fact you had that gumare, that whore on the side? That you preferred her company to mine? That you gave her your firstborn son and you barely touched me?”
“You know exactly why I married you, Theresa. Don’t play coy at this late date. It was a mutually beneficial agreement, nothing more than a business deal with added benefits. But after the trial, I tried my best to patch things up with you, to devote myself to the family we agreed to make together.”
“Bullshit! You only tried for a baby to suck up to my father because he was so furious with you for not putting a muzzle on that snitch bitch. I thought she was gone from our lives forever. Her and that boy. I thought we had a real chance finally. This whole time you’ve been looking for her. This whole time!” Mom’s voice broke on the last word.
Daddy turned away and scooped his Lexis keys off the Italian marble vanity.
“It doesn’t matter what you say, Theresa. I’m going to get my son. I’ll have my lawyer send over the papers. But understand the children stay with me. You try to fight it, and you will regret it.”
“Not for nothing, but my lawyers are gonna take you to the cleaners, you know that, right? You were nothing without me and my father. Nothing!”
“Maybe without your father, God rest his soul, but not you. Without you, I had something. And it’s past time I got it back, whether you like it or not.”
Daddy walked out the door without looking back. Mom screamed a little scream that sounded almost more like a groan, then she sat on the tile and cried. Kiki knew better than to bother her mom when she needed a good cry, so she crept down the hall to where her baby brother slept in his hand-carved crib.
“It’s ok, Joey. Daddy’ll be back. He always comes back. And he’s going to bring us a brother,” Kiki said, and then frowned. She would have preferred a sister, so they could play Princesses together.
But Daddy didn’t bring back her brother. And after Mom moved out, he spent a lot of time alone in his study. Men would come and go, sometimes they would bring her and her brother presents, sometimes they’d bring their kids, most of whom she knew from church and kindergarten she’d just started that year.
Not too long after he came back, she knocked on his study door and waited for his husky voice to bid, ‘Enter.’
“Daddy, it’s Kiki. Can I come in?”
She heard the creak of his chair then the door opened. His eyes looked tired, but they lit up when he saw her.
“Come in, princess. Sit on daddy’s lap while I write this letter to your brother.”
Kiki giggled as he swung her high and into his arms, then he pretended to stumble into his chair. He cuddled her close.
“Silly Daddy, Joey’s too young to read,” she said, nuzzling his strong chest.
“No, this is for your older brother. Tommy. You haven’t met him yet. Maybe one day,” he answered.
“Does he like to play Princesses?” Kiki asked.
Daddy didn’t answer, just chuckled as he picked up his pen and wrote:
First, I love you. I hope you enjoyed the present I sent—’
“Daddy, guess what! I read the word love!” Kiki said, feeling proud of herself.
“Very good, sweetheart, very good,” he seemed to choke out the words like something was stuck in his throat. Then he kissed her head and continued to write.
Whenever she would catch him writing to Tommy over the years, his letters would always start the same, ‘First, I love you.’ Then they would contain some mention of what Kiki and Joe were up to and always end the same way, ‘Your loving father’. It didn’t seem to matter to Daddy that the letters would come back marked ‘Return to Sender’, he would just put it in his desk drawer and write another. When she was eleven (Blame it on the Benedictine, she thought) she got up the courage to ask him why he still wrote to Tommy. He smiled his distracted smile and said, ‘Because I’m a Downey. And Downeys don’t give up until they’ve got what they want. Ever.’
She never did figure out how he got Tommy to come that day in Omaha, but she was pretty sure he stayed because of her and Joey. On the rare occasions she saw Tommy in the years after, it was always something important in their lives, not Daddy’s, and he always, always, would do his best to distance himself from their father. Tommy communicated mostly through texts and major-holiday phone calls in between those times. But this time it was going to be different. She had a plan.
Quickly she stifled the hope – hope was so dependent upon someone else, and that made one weak – and focused on a more practical emotion, grim determination. Tommy had texted her a few weeks back and said he’d be working right here in the windy city on some big case for the next several months. That only gave Kiki a short time to work with, but the only thing she prided as much as the fiercely stubborn Downey constitution was the Anastasio cunning. Downeys might not give up, but Anastasios make it happen.
Ducking Jessica on Michigan Avenue, she stopped in a tourist shop and fished her smart phone out. It only took a minute to find the phone number she needed.
“Hello?” a sweetly cheerful voice answered.
“Hello, Mary. It’s Kiki Downey. Do you remember me?”
In the gulf of answering silence, she could hear her Daddy’s voice in her head; ‘Now this here is what you call a Hail Mary pass…’
She smiled in anticipation.
The only thing that could have surprised Mary Elizabeth Gates more than a phone call from Michael’s daughter was a call from Michael himself. She hadn’t heard from either one of them for seven years. Well, she’d heard from Michael. He had a way of making his presence… known. But he hardly ever talked to her. Not directly, anyway. He preferred to communicate by proxy, for lack of a better way to phrase it. It both infuriated her and thrilled her that he did even that little, to her shame. And that was probably his point. As for Kiki, Mary had never imagined the girl had given her a second thought after their initial meeting so many years ago. Just thinking about that meeting at the hotel brought back the mixture of pleasure and pain she always felt remembering Michael. Her mind seemed to rush with memories of him like a twisted series of rapids on the river.
On the day of her only child’s high school graduation, Mary walked through the door of the house she had made her own to see his father once again sitting uninvited at her kitchen table.
He never changes, she thought in stunned exasperation.
Michael stood up and held out his hand towards Tommy.
“Congratulations, son,” he said, smiling.
Turning to Jack, she saw her old friend’s expression mirrored her own.
Jack shook his head. “You know, Downey, breaking and entering is still a crime in all fifty states,” he said.
Michael kept his gaze on their son but she could have sworn the corner of his mouth twitched a bit in humor, whether at Jack’s comment or his own sense of self-satisfaction she couldn’t tell. Tommy made no move to walk forward, instead he shoved his hands in his pockets and looked down at his shoes. Michael lowered his hand and subconsciously mirrored his movement.
Claire – bless her – put her hand on Tommy’s shoulder and said, “How about I run down to the grocery store and get us some refreshments before you open presents. Jack, you coming with?”
Without waiting for an answer, Claire grabbed Jack’s hand and pulled him back out the door. Mary was torn between the desire to leave with them and the urge as a mother to hover over her baby.
Not a baby anymore, all grown up, she thought.
“Don’t you think it’s time you opened these letters, son?” Michael asked softly.
Tommy shrugged, sneaking a glance through the fringes of his messy, dark hair. Who was going to remind him to comb his hair, now that he was going to be leaving? Her heart ached while she fought the urge to brush it out of his eyes. Tommy had her classic Gates heart-shaped face versus the more angular planes of his father’s features, but he shared Michael’s same dark hair and emerald green eyes. It was those once expressive, now cold, beautiful eyes that had been her downfall.
She had just turned nineteen when she set out to make her dreams come true in the Big Apple. She had driven away from her sleepy little Massachusetts town with nothing but a suitcase stretched almost to the breaking point, $100, and enough grit and resolve for a small army. She was working in a Manhattan restaurant as a hostess when she met Michael Downey for the first time. He came through the doors as if he owned the place, brushing the snow off his fur-lined overcoat and striding past her podium with a distracted, yet purposeful air.
“Sir!” Mary squeaked. “Sir, do you have a reservation—”
He stopped and turned smartly on his heel, cocking his head. His arresting green eyes twinkled with mischief and humor, and he grinned a grin she was sure the Devil himself had handed him. He looked like he was only maybe ten years older than her, but carried himself with an air of a much older man used to giving commands.
“You must be new here. I’m Mickey Downey. I’m here to meet some business associates of mine. In the back,” he crooked an eyebrow, indicating the VIP table set back by the large fireplace.
“Oh. Sorry,” Mary said.
She felt her face flush as red as her hair. She had only had this job a few weeks and was mindful of how lucky she was to have it. It beat working as a waitress in that dingy Brooklyn diner she had started out at by a long shot, and she certainly didn’t want to make the mistake of insulting an important patron. The long hours standing in her heels and the not-so-subtle leering of the owner was worth the increase in pay and the opportunity to rub elbows, however briefly, with people who might help launch her music career.
“Don’t worry your pretty head about it… Mary,” he said, reading her name tag.
His eyes lingered on her front a bit longer than necessary, but instead of making her feel uncomfortable it sent a warming tingle through her.
Her voice was slightly breathless as she asked, “Do you have a card? I mean, for the jar.”
He drew one out of his breast coat pocket, wrote something on the back, and leaned across her to place it in the jar with the other business cards. She could smell a sweet, musky scent on him and smiled shyly as he drew back. She waited about 2.8 seconds after he’d left to fish it out and turn it over.
Drinks? 9pm @ The Drunken Monkey.
She flipped it back over to read a Staten Island business address and Michael L. Downey, Shipping & Finance Consultant. She wasn’t sure what that meant, but she was already planning what she’d wear…
She’d made a rash choice that day, one that had changed the course of her life forever. It seemed like her life was a study in punctuated equilibrium. Things would go along swimmingly and then – bam! – one moment in time shifted course, and off she’d go in a whole new direction.
First, there was the day he came into her life. She’d fallen in love with his deep, baritone laugh that night at the bar: “Michael, why on earth do they call you Mickey? Your Christian name is so beautiful. I’m sorry, I refuse to call you Mickey. It reminds me too much of Mickey Mouse!” she’d said, then laughed ‘haha!’ like Mickey Mouse did in the cartoons. And Michael had laughed so long and hard that it brought stares.
Then, the night he discovered she had betrayed him. Her heart had broken when he walked out on her and Tommy without even letting her explain why she’d done it: “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! It’s too late! They already know everything, where you hide the extra cash, what you told me about Big Joe’s Ponzi scheme, everything! But they said, they said, if you just tell them the rest, that they’ll make a deal with you! Michael, wait, Michael, PLEASE!”
She’d never meant to deprive Tommy of a father, she’d just been… scared… alone… so terribly confused, that she hadn’t stopped to think how it would affect father and son. Jack and the other agents had convinced her that Michael would take a deal. They wanted Big Joe Anastasio, not Downey, they had told her. She could help give the FBI leverage over Michael and he in turn would give them Anastasio. If he flipped, maybe they could go on the run together. Be a family. Be free of his wife in their lives. But it didn’t play out that way. Not even close.
Jack had seemed so friendly, so concerned in those days. He and Claire were the only friends she felt she truly had in a neighborhood where she was an outsider. She had met Claire first, a fellow choir singer at Our Lady of Angels. They had bonded instantly as they were both outsiders, Claire being from Nebraska, and Mary from Massachusetts. Jack and Claire would always ask after her and Tommy; did she have enough, could they help with babysitting, how was she feeling? It had made such a contrast to the growing distance between her and Michael in that last year, and the fights they would have over his continued marriage to Theresa Anastasio. Her frustration with the secrets and lies and the company he kept grew until she couldn’t stand it.
Michael had made her so many promises, so many broken promises, that Jack’s gentle and insistent lobbying that she deserved better seemed to only accentuate those fissures in their relationship. It seemed to make a mockery of the little family she’d dreamed of having with him. She had finally made the decision to help the FBI record conversations and divulge Michael’s hiding spots in their home after Michael had refused to allow her to tell Tommy that he was his father, saying that it wasn’t safe yet. It just sort of… broke her, in a way.
Still to this day, she could remember the feel of panic and queasiness when she took the stand, the look of complete pain and betrayal in his eyes the moment he realized she would go through with it. In the back of her mind she had known that what she would testify wouldn’t be enough to convict either men on its own, but she had hoped – oh, how she had hoped – that playing that card would be enough to get him to choose her and their child over his business. They were always playing games with each other, since the moment they’d met, and this had been the ultimate game of who blinked first. He hadn’t blinked and neither had she, but who had lost and who had won?
She couldn’t regret going out with Michael that first night, getting pregnant shortly after, or the love they shared in their little home. It had been good at first. She didn’t even regret finally taking a stand against his lifestyle. Her son not only had never gotten sucked into that life, he worked daily to shut it down. But she did regret, and would always regret, not being strong enough to fight for more between them on her own terms and not Jack’s or the other FBI agents. Because that one decision she’d made had turned out to be a bigger crossroads than either of them had imagined.
So, there again, on the day of her son’s graduation, she was faced with another crossroads. But it had seemed different somehow that day, like it was not just changing course, but going backwards and forwards all at the same time. A do-over in some respects for all of them, as crazy as that thought was.
There was Michael standing in her kitchen with a bundle of letters she’d had no idea that Tommy had been secretly mailing back to him, probably out of blind loyalty to her. And there was Tommy standing opposite, too unsure of what she wanted to even look at the man who had never actually done him any harm. And if Mary were honest with herself, as lowering as that would be, Michael had never done her any harm even though in his world it must have made him seem weak after her betrayal. All those years she had lived in fear wondering how could he not hate her for what she had done? How could he not want revenge? But he had found them and done… nothing.
Mary had kept Tommy from Michael’s lifestyle, for reasons she didn’t regret, wouldn’t ever regret, but she could see in that moment on graduation day that she had done irreparable damage to both of them. She hadn’t realized until that very moment the power she had wielded. Had she ever asked Tommy what he wanted? Had she ever asked what Michael had planned before she had taken matters into her own hands and chosen for them both? Guilt choked her up.
Time to strap your big girl panties on, she thought and walked over to her son’s father.
“Hello, Michael,” she said, as friendly as she could muster.
He stared at her for a beat, wrinkles at the edges of his eyes now visible. Oh, those eyes… the way he looked at her like she was the only woman in the world.
God help me, why does it still matter? Mary wondered.
“Mary, it’s good to see you again. You look…” Michael stopped and cleared his throat, “You look well. I hope you don’t mind, I was wondering if Tommy – if the two of you – would like to join me and his sister and brother for brunch tomorrow at our hotel?”
So smooth and cool his voice was, as if all those years and miles apart and tangled up feelings had meant nothing. But his eyes told a different tale. They were full of vulnerability, like she had only rarely seen in those early years together. She thought again of his promise to their son eight years before that he wouldn’t interfere, wouldn’t take him from her, but he would always be there for him. He had made good on that promise and it would have been so easy to take Tommy from her with his connections and money. And hadn’t it broken her heart a little that he hadn’t tried, while pleasing her all at the same time? Maybe that had been his punishment for her. Or was it a test? Why did one never know the answers to these things ’til after the milk had been spilled?
Yes, life was made up of these instances in time; big moments hidden inside little decisions.
Mary turned to look at her son, at their son, “Tommy, what do you think? We can celebrate with Uncle Jack and Aunt Claire tonight, and you can spend the day tomorrow with your brother and sister, if that’s what you want,” she suggested.
Tommy’s face was a picture of surprise and confusion. Her little man was all grown up. Oh, how she had leaned on him. Too much… clearly, too much. His eyes darted between her and Michael, and then settled on the letters.
Michael cleared his throat again. “Tell you what… You read those letters, son, and think on it. We’re staying at the downtown Hilton, near the Old Market. We’ll be in the lobby, say, around 10am? You and your mother are both welcome,” he said.
Then he walked forward and put his hand on Tommy’s shoulder. Tommy shrugged away.
“Well… Congratulations,” Michael said quietly. And without another word, he was gone again.
Later that night, she and Tommy had sat on the couch and read the letters together. It was clear to her that Michael had been keeping track of them even though Tommy had never responded to any of the letters, because there were references to events in his life; ‘I hear you play hockey. Your brother likes the Islanders even at his young age… Congratulations on winning third place at the Science Fair, so far your sister hasn’t made me help her with such things, a blessing to both of us…’ Always, always, he would tie each achievement of Tommy’s to his siblings as if with his words and sheer force of will he could weave Tommy in absentia into the family tapestry.
Mary fell in love a little with those two children through those letters, a true miracle given the feelings of loathing she had held for their mother. But she’d always believed a child shouldn’t be held accountable for their parent’s sins. If Tommy hadn’t made the decision on his own to meet Joe and Kiki, she’d have gone herself out of sheer curiosity. But mostly, because Michael’s constant opening, ‘First, I love you’ seemed to burn guilt into her very heart. And he had meant it so, she knew it. He had been fond of saying the very same thing to her when he would come through her door in Brooklyn.
Maybe he hadn’t been quite as forgiving as she had thought. Still, he had kept his word and she had kept her child safe. But now their son was a legal adult, free to choose for himself if he wanted his father in his life. The least she could do was make sure Tommy knew he had her full blessing to figure out what that meant to him without her in the equation.
She and Tommy had made the decision to go the following morning, and though she’d only stayed a few moments, they were etched in her mind. Little Joe had seemed to have all of his father’s energy, none of his restraint. Kiki had been a shy, already beautiful girl who resembled her mother greatly. Thankfully, she had none of her mother’s superiority complex, at least as far as Mary could tell, since the poor girl barely spoke a word. Her intelligent eyes didn’t miss a trick though. The girl seemed to watch the awkward interplay between Tommy and Michael and Mary like they were a fascinating exhibit at the museum.
As Mary took her leave of them, Kiki said in a voice far more mature than her years, “It was nice meeting you, Mary. I hope we’ll meet again.”
And that was that, and here we are again, Mary thought, as she heard that very same voice nearly seven years later. Why on earth would Kiki be reaching out to her now? She couldn’t shake the feeling the Hand of Michael was at play here. Or maybe it was just the mad sprint down memory lane she’d just had.
She shook herself from her reverie. “Yes, Kiki, of course I remember you! What can I do for you?” she asked, trying not to betray her nervousness.
“You know Tommy’s moving here to Chicago for a while to work on some big case, and I’ve asked him to come to my birthday party this weekend. But I was wondering, it would mean a great deal to me and Tommy if you would consider coming as well? I could send you a ticket or pay for the gas, it’s only about six or seven hours to drive. I only figured, it would be a fun surprise for Tommy don’t you think, since he’s going to be away from Omaha for so long,” Kiki said in one long rush.
Well… talk about big moments hidden in little decisions…
Front Royal, VA
Sitting in his car outside the Military Academy his youngest son attended, Michael Liam Downey ran through strategies for convincing his oldest son to help him in the ultimate case of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. Trouble was, neither one of his boys were fools. Most of his life Mickey had figured the world was made out of fools, willfully blind to the realities of life, and it was their own fault if greater men were able to get one over on ’em. After all, it wasn’t the fox’s fault if the rabbit was too damn slow. As far back as the family Bible could go there had always been a Downey with a little something on the side. Sure, there were plenty of teachers, welders, carpenters, farmers in the family – respectable people, in respected professions – but there was always at least one enterprising individual ready to step into the gulf between the law and giving the people what they want.
For a price, of course.
When he was growing up in Brooklyn it was common knowledge on his block that ‘the law’ was a joke, just a tool to be manipulated to suit one’s purposes, and those that thought otherwise were just kidding themselves. All the Wise Guys knew which cops were on the take and which ones to avoid. Mickey’s Da, Pauli Downey, had run numbers and provided protection for a couple of them. Mickey was allowed to play in the back room of the butcher shop where old Two Fingers ran his books. They’d send him away, of course, when they talked real business but he heard things. He knew things, growing up in that life. And it seemed normal. Right. He figured people who lived a good, clean life were either just pretending – putting on a mask – or not smart enough to see the realities of life. It was all a game, start to finish, of who had the most greenbacks at the end of the day, of who was powerful enough to keep his loot after a friendly game of snatch and grab.
Mickey’s parents were never rich, but they never hurt for the basics and a few fineries either. Mickey’s mother Maeve was from Galway, Ireland which had endeared her to Mickey’s proud-of-his-solid-Irish-roots grandfather, not so much to Mickey’s Sicilian grandmother, Rosa Bruno, who had hoped her son would marry a nice Italian girl. After all, Pauli was working for Two Fingers Luciano; this would go a long way. Mickey’s Nonna always said they’d be as rich as any of those ‘made’ men if his Da wouldn’t ‘waste his money drinking and whoring’.
Mickey didn’t think his Da actually did all that much drinking and whoring. Seemed like all Da did was play poker with the guys at Two Finger’s, drive some cars around, and collect money. But what’d he know? Ma didn’t seem to mind; she’d just roll her eyes and scoff whenever Nonna would bring it up. His Da had died when Mickey was fifteen, leaving him to earn for his Ma and two sisters. But that was alright, Mickey had been selling stolen cigarettes, beer, and watches for years by that point anyway.
All the movers and shakers came to his Da’s funeral, an unusual and inexplicable show of respect considering Pauli Downey was just an associate, and a half Irish one, to boot. That was the day he had first met Giovanni ‘Big Joe’ Anastasio. The circles his Da ran in didn’t involve actually meeting the Boss, just his soldiers, maybe the occasional Capo. Most people didn’t even speak Anastasio’s name when talking about him, that’s how protected he was. But everyone knew who he was. In retrospect, Mickey realized that they had used the funeral as an ‘innocent’ way to meet because the Feds were tapping more and more places back then. At the time, however, he had been awed by their fancy clothes and hats and cars and the way the tough guys would defer to them. He made the decision that day he wouldn’t settle for being useful like his Da. He was the one who would be doing the using from that moment on. He would be the one with all the power and respect.
So, he’d clawed and scraped his way to the top by keeping his eyes and ears open for every money making opportunity, and not just by being the first in line, but making sure there was a healthy distance between him and the next guy. People said he had a knack for making money, had the ‘luck of the Irish’, but making money wasn’t about luck. It was about exploiting weaknesses and capitalizing on strengths. Sometimes it was in how he structured the thing, sometimes it was in how he used people’s weaknesses against them, sometimes it was both.
Mickey had no problem using his fists or a gun to make a point but he far preferred manipulating assets and brokering an intricately layered web of quid pro quos. That way, no one knew what had hit them until he was long gone, and even then, they could never quite finger him. He liked the tactical advantage it gave him. He liked the finesse involved in money work. It was a thinking man’s con. Better yet, money didn’t argue, money didn’t fight back, but it sure as hell talked. Money was tangible, by its very nature quantifiable. One either had it, or one didn’t.
Even when it never existed in the first place, he thought with a chuckle.
He was already earning enough on his number schemes to have the patronage of Big Joe when others were still busting kneecaps and knocking off banks hoping to get noticed. He worked hard to cover his Brooklyn-Irish roots with a more posh Manhattan accent. But he could blend in with normal people when he had to, and it made them not only trust him as he was fleecing them blind, but proclaim his innocence with their last breath, “Nooo, not Mickey Downey, he’s such a nice young gentleman. So well-mannered and well-spoken. Always follows the rules.”
Mickey chuckled again at the memory. “Fools, every one of ’em. Only saw what they wanted to see,” he would often crow to Big Joe.
He was past trying to ‘blend in’ and onto working his way into the fancy limos, fancy clothes, and even fancier women when he met Mary Gates. He’d been dating Big Joe’s daughter Theresa for a year and was meeting Big Joe and his cousin and nephew, both in the business, to talk about Mickey’s impending engagement. That he and Theresa would marry was a foregone conclusion from the time they first started dating. It was the best thing for everyone involved, especially to silence the men who grumbled Mickey was only a tiny bit Italian and mostly Irish. Big Joe would just laugh if anyone brought it up, and say, “But the Irish side is purebred gangster.” Everyone else would laugh because no one argued with Big Joe Anastasio.
Mickey and Theresa hung out in the same circles, had warmed each other’s beds from time-to-time, and he was her father’s protégé. He remembered thinking she’d make a good wife who’d been raised from infancy knowing how to keep her mouth shut and not ask questions. He had the engagement ring he had chosen from the bag Frank Bonanno had brought courtesy of his crew’s last heist sitting without a thought in his pocket when he met Mary at the Drunken Monkey later that evening. There was no reason why he couldn’t have a little fun before the shackles went on. No reason he couldn’t have a drink with a pretty girl even after.
Mickey stifled thoughts of Mary, as he always did, before his mind could get carried away remembering her smile, her laugh, the feel of her skin under his. Twenty years later and none of the many other women he’d had could compare to the obsession he still had for her. Twenty years! That stupid phrase ‘keep your eyes on the prize’ was wrong – he had been leading the world’s longest sleeper campaign against that woman and, quite the opposite, he felt it better for his sanity to not dwell on the quarry before the quarry had been caught… with no desire to escape this time. People said Mickey was at the top of his game when he retired, but he figured he was at the top of his game until he met her. Every decision he ever made after that no longer became a matter of ‘just business’, it was always about her, because of her, for her, against her, in spite of her.
Yeah, Devil take it, the day he met Mary Gates was the day Mickey figured he’d joined the Legion of Fools.
Now here he was, a little over twenty-five years later from the day he met her, on the backside of a mountain of money, lies, and power, practically begging one son to be in his life, and desperate to keep the other son out of it. He hadn’t thought it was going to be a problem until recently. Never saw the signs. Joey and Kiki always knew their dad was not like ‘normal’ fathers. And, hell, their mother’s family had made a few History channel specials themselves. He had never tried to sugar coat the downside to the lifestyle he’d chosen. And his children wanted for nothing, between their mother’s inheritance and his own amassed fortune. Who in their right mind chooses this uncertain life when every other option is available to them?
He had made the final steps five years ago, not only to cement this lesson in the minds of his younger children, but to sweeten his chances with his eldest. If Tommy was bound and determined to be a cop, and that it would preclude a relationship because of his profession, well then, Mickey would ‘retire’. Only for ‘normal’ people that meant 401ks and pensions. For him it meant doing the impossible. Not that it was unheard of for a fifty year old man to retire. It was just infinitely less plausible for a fifty year old so-called mobster at the top of his game. There were no hedge funds or friendly fare-thee-well parties.
That was the thing with that mountain of power; a man stands up there alone at the top kicking wildly at the hands grasping at his feet, threatening to take him down. Actually, Mickey figured it was more like one of those spinning wheels in a child’s park, stuck on an endless loop. The kid spins and spins and enjoys the powerful danger-laden rush, only after a while, all he feels is dizzy and nauseous and alone – made worse as he catches glimpses of all the other kids heading home and just wished he knew how to stop the thing or how to jump off without breaking his neck.
He had plotted his exit strategy almost from the moment he seized power from Anastasio fifteen years ago. Money had been his ticket in, money would be his ticket out. He just had to keep his mouth shut and make sure the money talked louder than his enemies. If his enemies didn’t have the ability to talk at all, even better. Five years ago he ‘retired’ in the way a man is retired from the giant corporation he worked for his whole life, yet still works as a checker at the Walgreens in the worst neighborhood in town. Meaning he watched his own back more now than he ever did before, paid daily for his freedom in cooperation and kickbacks to the Alma Mater – so to speak – and never, ever talked to the cops.
Except Tommy, he chuckled.
He didn’t mind being under the protection of men he had once ordered around … much… if it meant he could pull off what so few had done before him. He had spent his life working the long con. He’d just switched his target from the malleable minds of the populace to the very hand that had once fed him. Getting one over on professional criminals gave him enough of a thrill that, tempered with the idea he might finally get the one thing that he had never been able to buy or steal for himself, he was able to suck up the blow to his pride.
But this – this thing – might just be his undoing.
Kiki had come for supper at his home in Oak Park last week and said she was worried about Joe, that her friend’s little brother had seen him sneaking out to meet with drug dealers. Worse, that word was getting around ‘Little Joey’ wanted in on the action in the nearby Washington, DC area, playing on his family name. Kiki was worried that maybe Joe wouldn’t be given a release to come to her party. A call to the Headmaster revealed some recent infractions they had felt he ‘need not be bothered with yet’.
But Kiki had seemed so certain, and he didn’t want to upset the balance by making inquiries in his former circles. First he had to find out, had the incidents not happened, or was Joe just slick enough to not get caught? Something didn’t add up about it all. Joey had never shown any signs of wanting to follow in his family’s footsteps. Sure, he had never been shy to bandy about the Downey or Anastasio name, but to use it to throw away his future?
Joe had always planned a career for himself in the Air Force; even at a young age he always seemed to have his head on straight. It was Kiki who frittered her life away on parties and shoes and even more useless men. But he couldn’t take any chances with Joe unprotected, especially now that he didn’t have the power he once did. He was still rich, but just rich enough to be a burr in the backside of far more powerful men, not rich enough to guarantee the safety of his youngest child if he’d really gone off the rails.
He had thought it fortuitous that Tommy was in DC when these troubles arose. Mickey could appeal to his obvious deep affection for his little brother, and the fact that as a cop, Tommy was what society deemed a good role model. Sure, Mickey didn’t have much respect for the law, or its puppeteers, but he’d never heard of any dirty dealings or shenanigans associated with Detective Gates’ name. Mickey was damned proud of that, if you were to ask him. After all, if a guy had to have a cop for a son, at least don’t let him be a damned dirty cop. Maybe that’s where he differed from some of his other friends, who just assumed that Mickey had Tommy in the bag, using him as a mole. Mickey was fine with letting them think that, it was probably safer for Tommy that way anyway. But the truth was he liked that he had a man with such strong-willed convictions for a son.
The trouble with that was how he would get such a strong-willed son to stand still long enough to listen to him and, in this case, agree to intervene with Joe. Afterwards, God-willing, they could all go back to Chicago together for Kiki’s birthday. Problem solved. But as usual, Tommy wouldn’t give him the time of day. It was exhausting dealing with Tommy because Mickey felt like he couldn’t use the usual tactics he would use with a recalcitrant child. It was like trying to get a wild horse to come to him, but all he had to offer were rotten apples.
The limo door opening jarred his thoughts. Joe grinned and sat down on the seat opposite Mickey, propping his feet up.
“Hey, Dad, how’s doings?” Joe drawled.
Mickey arched an eyebrow. Joe’s grin widened.
Why is it that this silent gesture used to spark fear in hundreds of men but was completely useless on these children? Mickey thought.
He took a deep breath and leaned forward. “I was about to go in and meet with your headmaster about your recent behavior. How is it that—”
“Listen, Dad, before you get worked up, I’ve got my pass for the next five days. That’s not a lot of time to work with but I’m here to help,” Joe stated with all the certain demand of a board chairman.
When had his baby boy grown up? Fifteen years old and he was sitting here acting like he already commanded armed troops. Mickey felt completely off kilter.
“Help?” Mickey asked.
“Well, Kiki and I didn’t think that it’d be enough for Tommy to come to her party, what with the way he has of avoiding you. This way we’re seeding the clouds, so to speak. Our brother will be concerned about my ‘recent behavior’, as you say, forcing him to actually interact with you for more than a second, and then we do the family thing this weekend. Like a one-two punch, see? What do you think?”
Mickey stared at him. Joe’s bright, hazel eyes seemed to sparkle with all the enthusiasm of youth.
Well, he had the confidence down, but his strategic planning needed some work, Mickey thought with pride and relief.
“I think… that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in some time, son.”
Joe looked as if Mickey had punched him in the gut. Mickey sighed and leaned forward some more, clasping his hands.
“Now, listen, son, I appreciate you and your sister wanting to intervene, but things between your brother and me are complicated. Not just by our lifestyles, but by what his mother did, the ideas she’s put in his head, and to be honest, from my own actions. Let me give you some advice. You’ve played your hand too soon, you see? Not only would Tommy have seen through this rather quickly as soon as he talked to you – he is a cop after all – but he would then have blamed me for the thing. It would’ve set us back. People might be easy to manipulate but they aren’t like chess pieces. They’ve an annoying habit of thinking for themselves and there are so many permutations to be thought of before you put your move in play. You’ve got to anticipate all the possible moves and set about neutralizing them one by one. What’s your back up plan? And the one after that? I see on your face you haven’t got one… Was this your sister’s idea?”
Joe sat there, saying nothing.
“You don’t want to rat your sister out. I respect that,” Mickey continued. “But this has her written all over it. I should have seen that from the start, but I was just so worried about you out here all alone. There’s a lot at stake here, son, not just between me and your brother, but in my business.”
“But you’re retired now,” Joe interjected.
Mickey frowned. “Son…” he paused and looked out the window, then back at Joe, “Son, without going into the details, because you know I can’t, my survival, all of our survival depends on me laying low. Have you actually been involved in the local drug scene, or was Kiki making that up?”
“I… I haven’t actually… you know… done anything but maybe I might have… you know… told certain people I was going by ‘Little Joey’ these days and I’d be interested in getting my foot in the door, just, just so it’d get back to Tommy eventually,” Joe confessed sheepishly.
“Goddamn it, Giovanni!” Mickey exploded.
Joe cringed. Mickey counted to ten, then twenty, then thirty, then said fuck it in his mind and buzzed the intercom.
“Carlo, drive us into DC and take us to Tommy’s hotel,” Mickey’s voiced vibrated with fury.
Calm down, calm down, calm down, he told himself.
“Certamente,” his driver, bodyguard, and oldest friend said.
“Joe, you have a little over an hour to explain to me exactly WHO you have been talking to, and exactly WHAT has been said so I can do damage control,” Mickey demanded.
He was thinking about how in one way the plan (almost certainly his daughter’s handiwork) wasn’t too bad for a rookie run if it created common ground between him and Tommy, but on the other hand, it could backfire in a big way. He was convinced Tommy had been trying so hard to avoid him lately precisely because Mickey was getting to him, finally getting under his skin. Tommy had never tried so hard to put distance between them in the beginning when he had even more to prove and more to lose than he did now. In the beginning, Tommy had seemed almost indifferent, now he seemed indignant in a he ‘doth protest too much’ way. It was a tenuous position they were in right now. He didn’t want to spook him; if Tommy felt like he was being used or manipulated he might turn his back on them permanently.
But that was the least of his problems if Bonanno got wind Mickey’s youngest child was breaking the agreement between the Outfit and the Bonanno-Anastasio wing of the Gambino family. A thought suddenly occurred to him, and Mickey interrupted his son’s panicked babbling about Tony Luciano’s cousin.
“What other surprises does your sister have planned for her birthday party?”
“N-n-nothing! Nothing,” Joe said nervously.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. These children. Forget the Five Families, forget the Outfit. His children were gonna be the death of him for sure.
FBI Special Agent Eugenia Elaine Sommers not only didn’t mind when people underestimated her, she deeply appreciated it. People watching was Ginny’s favorite activity even at a young age, and it was best accomplished the least conspicuous the observer was. She had a sleep shirt when she was little that read ‘Harriet the Spy was framed’ and at least a dozen packed to the margins journals by the time she entered high-school. As an adult, Ginny always endeavored to make herself as forgettable as possible. It helped in surveillance, in being perceived as nonthreatening in the workplace, and in making otherwise smart informants feel safe enough to let their guard down and slip up.
Her only deviation from bland was her shoes, but they weren’t a weakness (not that she didn’t love a nice new pair of stilettos as much as the next girl) they were a carefully calculated move designed to say ‘These are not the droids you’re looking for’. She found that men in particular, but sadly women too, judged a person’s mental worth by the ratio of practicality to sexuality in their manner of dress. And Ginny didn’t mind exploiting this human foible. The end result being that the bad guy routinely miscalculated with her, and her coworkers routinely saw her as pleasantly feminine, yet benign, minimizing their resentment if she outshined them with her casework. Not that she was arrogant, mind you; she just took great pride in her work.
In fact, ninety-eight percent of the time, in the three years she had been an agent with the FBI, this strategy combined with her superior research skills (if she did say so herself), had worked to her advantage. Sadly, she was currently having one of those two percent moments. Five days spent in close proximity to one of the most fascinating human subjects she had met, and he thought she was a joke. Well, maybe not a joke, but certainly dismissible, a non-factor. Which was, as previously mentioned, a feeling she normally cultivated. But in this particular situation, she actually wanted Detective Gates to notice her, not dismiss her, as that clearly wasn’t helping him open up to her.
True, maybe she was overanalyzing the thing; that did seem to be the most often used phrase in her evaluations, that and ‘too verbose’ in her reports.
Really, as far as faults go, shouldn’t one err on the side of over-explaining something versus under-explaining? Ginny thought.
Though these descriptors weren’t nearly as insulting as when in her senior year of high-school she got voted ‘Most likely to pull a Professor Binns and show up to the library dead’. That wasn’t even a real category. They had made it up just for her. Just because she loved libraries and investigating things and had a penchant for getting passionately and somewhat myopically involved in a subject didn’t mean she didn’t, you know, have a real life. Well, not lately, but that was beside the point.
The point was, she loved studying people. Bad people, good people, and all the delicious grey in between. She felt it made her a better Federal Agent. She had thought about sticking with being a profiler, but she liked the newly discovered thrill of field work. She had dual majored in Anthropology and Criminal Justice, graduated in three years, and applied as an Intelligence Analyst with the FBI before the ink was even dry. As soon as the age requirement allowed, she applied for Special Agent just so she could be a professional people watcher who was also one of the top cops in the nation.
Just because she went out of her way to go unnoticed didn’t mean that everything she did, every part of her, didn’t go into being the very best she could be. Her aunt always called it ‘steer from the rear’ behavior. Ginny was reasonably certain this was meant as a censure, but she rather thought it a compliment because the ability to manipulate situations to your advantage without being the fall guy was just good strategy.
But tailing Tommy Gates on his last day in DC, she felt like her carefully constructed world was for the first time ever failing to perform as expected. He didn’t seem to fit any molds. He was a very young detective – newly made detective he had said – just a tad younger than her, but he seemed very knowledgeable about organized crime in an innate way some of her co-workers still struggled to master. They had in common being young and ambitious, both kept up a façade to keep people at bay, and both were passionate about racket-busting. The major difference was she wasn’t related to a known crime figure.
Oh, be real, Ginny, she thought.
She’d been trying to solve the puzzle of Detective Tommy Gates long before she knew that particular piece. Yes, that was the uncomfortable truth. There was something about him, and she knew that Agent Hoffman agreed if their unspoken teamwork was any indication, that didn’t quite add up. He acted overly defensive for someone with nothing to hide, yet had the endorsement of extremely discerning and respected federal agents. After the big revelation of his paternity the day before, she had gone to Agent Pitney’s desk and asked if she could do surveillance. Pitney had seemed surprised but didn’t object when she said she just wanted to check out what her new colleague was up to since Downey was in town. Not that she thought Tommy was on the take. She didn’t. Of course, she had run his accounts and arrest record just in case. Who wouldn’t? There was just… something… that was challenging about him. He was a fresh mystery… with really dreamy green eyes.
The very same black glossy limo they’d seen yesterday rolled up to Detective Gates’ hotel. Mickey Downey exited the vehicle with a young, teenaged boy who had curly brown hair and a ROTC uniform on. She was reasonably certain this was Downey’s youngest son Giovanni, known as Joe. The boy looked nervous, darting glances left and right.
Ginny waited until they entered the hotel, holstered her Colt .45, and stuffed her surveillance gear in her jacket pockets. She gambled they would be headed to Tommy’s room, so she took a different route to make sure she wasn’t spotted. At the hallway, she checked around the corner and did her best to hide behind a scrawny ficus tree at the end of the hall. Downey was talking to the boy in a low voice outside Gates’ room, then patted him on the back and knocked on the door. Downey stood to the side of the peep hole and nudged Joe in front of it.
“Tommy, it’s Joe… and… and Dad,” Joe said.
Downey made a gesture with his hands that said quite clearly, “What’d you do that for?”
“Can we come in?” Joe asked, unperturbed.
Detective Gates opened the door. He smiled at Joe and grabbed him into a bear hug, eliciting a delighted laugh from the boy. The corner of Downey’s mouth turned up in a half smirk, and he walked past them into the hotel room. Gates looked annoyed, but not surprised at this presumptuousness. Joe shrugged his shoulders, grin still in place, and followed Downey inside.
Huh…‘barely knew the guy’… riiight, Ginny thought. And seriously, it was amazing the Bureau didn’t have a huge red flag on this guy’s background check. She made a mental note not to underestimate Agent Underwood’s clout. Or was it Downey’s clout?
She waited until Tommy had shut the door, took her shoes off and crept down the hall trying to fish out her Mini Mic and ear buds from her inside coat pocket. She silently prayed no one would come down the hall and wonder what the crazy lady was doing sitting on the floor listening to music.
“What do you mean, we have a situation?” Tommy was saying.
“Don’t get mad at Dad, Tommy, it’s all my fault,” Joe said.
“You mean your sister’s fault,” Downey interjected.
“Never mind who’s to blame! You’re saying you concocted this hair-brained scheme just to trap me and him into some sort of father-son bonding session?” Tommy asked, outrage pulsing in his tone.
“Why is that such a bad thing, I mean, we’re a family! You two are going to be in the same town for an extended period of time for once, so Kiki and I were just thinking if you’d just take the time to really get to know each other instead of—”
“Can we get back to the part where you’ve been talking to drug pushers? What are their names?” Tommy interrupted.
Someone (Downey?) made an impatient sound and there was silence for a couple beats. Tommy sighed (or at least she thought it was Tommy).
“Listen, I hadn’t planned on avoiding you guys, I said I’d go to Kiki’s party and I knew that’d mean I would at the very least share a conversation or two with him. But that’s all. I’m not there for some family reunion, I’m there for a case. Frankly, it’s best for both of us if he and I just… avoid each other.”
“Oh please! You want Dad to just pretend you’re not his son while you’re in Chicago?”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“No, what you’re saying is that our Dad should just continue to – continue to want to be in your life, to love you, when you have no intention of ever letting him in? In the same town even? You want to be a part of our lives but deliberately shut him out when, without him, you wouldn’t even be our brother! How is that fair, Tommy?” Joe asked.
“I know it sounds selfish. But is it any more selfish than what he’s asking me to do? He is asking me to put aside my principles, to risk my reputation and job and act like it’s no big deal this immoral, corrupt world he lives in—” Tommy cut off as Downey interrupted him.
“That’s not what I’m asking! I’m asking to be a part of your life, however small. To love you and earn the right to be loved by you in return. And as for my so-called immoral life, how immoral is it to put family above all, to protect one’s own? Maybe some of my actions in the past – well that’s the past. I’ve moved heaven and earth, put that all aside, just to have a chance with you,” Downey roared.
“You think because you’re retired, whatever the hell that actually means, that it erases a lifetime of pain you’ve inflicted on others? That your crimes don’t matter? Why should you get to live a life of leisure surrounded by your loved ones, when you have taken that from so many people through your actions?” Tommy yelled back.
She could hear Joe making some calming noises, but the two men drowned him out, continuing their shouting match.
“What have I done that is so very different from bankers and lawyers and corporate raiders? How many lives have they destroyed? How many of them are sitting in the Cayman Islands laughing their asses off at the rest of you?”
“I doubt they used murder and the threat of violence to get what they want. And if they’ve broken the law to get what they have, then they are criminals just like you.”
“The law! The law! You know as well I do that law doesn’t equal morality! There are plenty of legal things in this life that aren’t moral, and plenty of illegal things that ought not to be. The law can be manipulated to suit anyone’s purpose and is done so every single day by so-called legitimate businessmen and politicians, and hell, even your precious fellow cops! Don’t you stand there and act like it’s so damn simple. If a business put thousands out of work, cheats them out of their retirement, pushed laws into effect that keep them from ever getting ahead, how is that they should ‘get to live a life of leisure surrounded by their loved ones’? How is breaking someone’s spirit any better than breaking their kneecaps?”
“No better, no worse. You can all sit next to each other in Hell then. Maybe what they do isn’t right either, but none of them are asking me for a relationship,” Tommy spit out.
Silence reigned again. It took Ginny a minute to realize it was Joe speaking, so calm and grown up was his voice as he said:
“None of those other guys are your father, Tommy. Whether you like it or not, we are family. Dad has made changes, to the risk of his own life, and has always tried to respect your wishes, and your mother’s wishes, always. You want to dictate the terms, the boundaries, fine. You can even continue to put time and distance between all of us but the one thing you cannot do is dictate how Dad thinks or feels! How we all feel about you,” Joe finished softly.
“Tommy, I have loved you from the very moment I felt you move in your mother’s womb and I have never stopped loving you. Never. Why is it so hard to accept this love?” Mickey asked.
Geeze, these two… pour it on, why don’t you? Ginny thought.
“It’s not about your love, ok?” Tommy replied softly. “I believe that you love me. I do, ok? And… I’ll admit that there’ve been times when it hasn’t been so bad when all of us get together, but then I go back to work and it hits me all over again… We’re on opposite sides, we think so differently. And it’s like I said, it’s no big deal if I see my sister or brother, but how does it look for you and me? I mean take these Feds I’m working with; they’re suspicious of me already after one brief interaction with you. The only one that isn’t wants me to use you for information. Secondly, I’m having trouble believing you really are retired, but whether you are or not, how does it look in your crowd? What do you tell them about your cop son?”
“If they’re already suspicious,” Joe interrupted. “And you and Dad don’t really interact now then they will be suspicious no matter what, whether you do talk or not in the future. Why not take a chance? You’re not a dirty cop, you have nothing to hide, and unless you think he’s going to be able to corrupt you, what difference does it make if he thinks so differently? He’s not in that business anymore! Maybe you could even make a difference in all our lives. And I don’t know what Dad says to his friends, but I do know ‘our crowd’ as you call it and no one cares you’re a cop because no one thinks Dad’s stupid enough to squeal. Maybe you should take that Fed up on his offer, because if you don’t believe he’s retired, what better way to check it out for yourself than to spend time with our Dad?”
Man, this kid did not fall far from the manipulative tree, Ginny thought.
She also didn’t appreciate being called a ‘Fed’ by Tommy – Detective Gates – even if that was what she was. It was the way he said it, just like before at headquarters, like they weren’t on the same team. And yet his words to his father indicated that he wasn’t on the Other Team. The room remained silent and she was wishing she had brought a visual feed when she finally heard Tommy’s voice again.
“Did you see a woman leave that white Explorer across the way?”
“What?” Downey asked.
“I’m not trying to change the subject. I just want to know if you saw a blond woman in that SUV when you arrived?” Tommy countered.
Oh crap, Ginny thought and yanked her Mini Mic out. She hustled down the hall before she could get caught spying on her own team member. When she got back, she was going to put in a travel request for Chicago.
No way was she letting Agent Hoffman get all the goods.
Tommy couldn’t decide whether he should be annoyed, flattered, or worried that Agent Sommers was stalking him. Oh, she was good, really good. But besides being a well-trained police officer, between his father’s men over the years and the other agents who had come before her, he was pretty good at spotting a tail. Funny, but he had gotten the impression that she sympathized with him like James seemed to, versus her openly hostile partner D’Amato. So why was she sticking to him like white on rice since yesterday? She was supposed to be in DC, but here she was in Chicago on a Saturday night, which no one just accidentally does. Was there something he was missing? Surely Uncle Jack would have briefed him.
Tommy fastened the cufflinks on his monkey suit and reminded himself he loved his little sister dearly, because outside of weddings and funerals, no one should willingly put on formal wear. She was having a ‘formal gathering’ for her twenty-first birthday, the theme being black, red, and white, with silly harlequin masks and hearts everywhere. Their father had rented the entire restaurant floor of the Trump Tower for her.
Retired, my ass, Tommy thought.
He wondered how Ginny was planning on getting past the security. Actually, now that he thought about it, her presence could lend some much needed entertainment to the night. Tommy chuckled as he wondered if James was already rubbing off on him. Tommy wished he could see the world like Hoffman did, relaxed and carefree, or as carefree as anyone in law enforcement could be. Tommy had been told he had a tendency to be standoffish and reserved, but if those people had spent their life living in this liminal state they’d be wary of people’s motivations as well. He wasn’t really a part of his father’s world, and he was never fully accepted in his chosen profession. He didn’t have a lot of friends growing up because he didn’t like lying, and it always came down to that.
If he didn’t, it almost always went one of two ways, people were either overeager to hear all about his gangster father, like Mickey was a hero or something, or they acted like Tommy had smallpox and got … weird around him. The truth was, at the end of the day, the Downeys were the only people other than his mother and Uncle Jack who had embraced him with open, unconditional arms. If he was being honest with himself, that was part of the reason he held them at bay, because the lure of that sense of family was so strong after so many years of it being just Tommy and his mother against the world. That was the root of his fear, that if he could love them so much even seeing them so rarely, mostly communicating via messages and calls and the internet, what would it be like being in the same town as his sister and his father for months on end? When Tommy was around them it was so easy to forget what was crawling on the underside of the rock. Like knowing he was going to get a stomachache, but eating that last slice of pie anyway.
It’s not like Tommy would ever join his father’s criminal enterprise, not that that was ever an offer on the table, but he hated the feeling like he was selling a part of his soul every time he overlooked where the money had come from. At the same time, what good did it do holding onto his pride? If he cut them off entirely it wouldn’t change his situation at work, or the way people acted around him. And so here he was again, getting sucked right back in. Maybe if he had chosen another profession it might have been easier, but he loved being a cop. He loved keeping order and peace, catching criminals. He loved being the ‘good guy’.
He loved the idea that what he did every day helped ease the fear out of some young mother’s eyes and put hope in a child’s heart. The fact that his own father put that fear in so many people’s hearts and minds over the years made him feel like he was constantly being split in two. Just because the bully was always nice to you, never stole your lunch money, didn’t make him any less of a bully, did it? Did it make Tommy partially responsible if he allowed a person like that to be in his life? He didn’t hold Kiki and Joe responsible for what their dad did, but…
A horn sounding told him his ride was here. He opened the door just as Kiki was preparing to ring the buzzer on his efficiency apartment. It was a single bedroom off the first floor foyer in a converted home that he’d rented on a month-to-month basis until the case was over.
“Hey, Kicks,” Tommy greeted her. “I need a favor. You got another one of these penguin costumes, only for a lady?”
“Why? Doesn’t it fit? I had it sent to the best tailors in town! Wait… for a…” Kiki’s pretty features changed from her ‘heads will roll’ look to girlish glee. “Oh! Do you have a date? Already?”
“No, no, it’s just I have a colleague in town, and she doesn’t know anyone. I thought it might be nice to bring her along if you had an extra dress lying around. Don’t you get samples with your job?”
“Well, I’m just a blogger. I buy products and review them. But, yes, I do have a few that would do for tonight, what size is she?” Kiki asked, bustling past him and making no secret of looking around for her brother’s mysterious ‘lady’.
“She’s not here,” he said, lounging against the door frame.
It was unseasonably warm for February, but Kiki had to be cold wearing only a huge lacy shawl over her barely-there black dress. He idly amused himself wondering how their father was going to react.
“You don’t mind, do you? I mean, I know it’s your birthday party, but…” Tommy trailed off.
“No! Of course not! I said you could bring a guest. Besides, I have a surprise planned. You’re going to loooooove it,” she sang out looking immensely pleased with herself.
“Oh? Like I loved getting blindsided by Joe in DC?” he replied.
He tried to maintain his stern Cop-face, but as always, staying mad at Kiki was like trying to stop an ice-cream cone from melting in July.
“Listen, you stand in the foyer by the door here and act all impatient for me, alright? I’ll meet you ’round front,” Tommy continued, enjoying her confusion.
He went back inside and out the kitchen door in the back. He ducked behind the next house and looped around, approaching the beige sedan he knew Ginny was in. Carefully, he snuck up to her window and sharply rapped her window with the butt of his Glock 9mm. She jumped. He grinned at her guilty, flushed face and gestured for her to roll the window down.
“What are you doing tonight?” he asked.
She stared mutely at him. He could practically hear the gears screeching to a halt inside her head.
“See, maybe if you hadn’t taken that redeye so you could continue spying on me, you might be a little more alert and prepared for that amateur bit of junior high trickeration I just did. Follow us back to Kiki’s apartment,” Tommy said when she still didn’t answer. “It’ll be worth it, I promise.”
Then he left before she could formulate a response, confident she would take the bait. Not only did she follow them, she had recomposed herself and was every bit her every-hair-in-place self when she met them in the lobby of Kiki’s apartment building downtown.
Kiki looked her up and down and tapped her red nails to her mouth. “Yes, I think I have just the thing, come on,” she demanded as she grabbed Ginny’s hand. “I’m Tommy’s sister Kiki, by the way. Since he’s being so rude, I’ll just introduce myself.”
She sighed dramatically as she all but dragged Ginny into the elevator. “Nice shoes. Gucci?”
Ginny didn’t answer; she was still staring at Tommy. “Aren’t you coming?” Ginny asked, looking dazed.
Tommy chuckled. “Nope,” he replied and waved at her as the doors shut.
He wondered what the surprise was that Kiki was planning at the party. Knowing her, it wouldn’t hurt to have some back up, so Tommy might as well put Agent Sommers to use. He was praying for an uneventful night when his father and Joe walked into the building.
“Hey, Joe, don’t you look dapper!” Tommy said, acknowledging Mickey with a nod.
When Tommy was first trying to get to know the Downeys, Mickey had insisted Tommy call him ‘Dad’, but Tommy just couldn’t do it, it felt too strange. At the same time, he couldn’t address him by his given name because that felt strange, almost disrespectful. And that made no sense at all. So he avoided saying anything at all. In a conversation with him, Tommy would use all sorts of linguistic acrobatics to escape having to use either name.
“Woah, who’s the hot blond with Kiki? Nice! Ow!” Joe broke off as Mickey smacked him upside the back of his head.
Tommy turned and looked at the supposed transformation Kiki had made with Ginny. She really didn’t look that much different, just… less clothed. Every last bit of her was perfectly put together as usual. Malibu Barbie Cop. He was fighting the mental image of what she might look like with her hair down and that bland, professional look wiped off her face when he noticed her eyes seemed to all but burn with anger, and all crosshairs were aimed at him.
What had Kiki said to her? Tommy thought, panicked at the sight of her heading purposefully towards him.
“Your sister is quite fond of mysteries and secrets. What exactly is this all about, Det – Tommy?” she hissed at him.
Wow. I should piss her off more often, he thought. This was like discovering your vanilla cupcake had a chocolate fudge center.
“Ahhmmnn,” Tommy cleared his throat. “Ginny, I’d like you to meet my brother Joe, and you’ve already met Kiki and – and you met my father in DC. Everyone, this is Special Agent Ginny Sommers of the FBI. I invited her to come with me to Kiki’s birthday party tonight,” he finished.
He could see the exact moment her brain switched gears back into work mode. Tommy knew she saw the opportunity for what it was; a chance to personally attend an event that most Federal agents usually only observed via wiretap. Ginny smiled and shook hands with Joe then turned to his father.
“We actually weren’t introduced the other day, were we, Mr. Downey? Seems to be a bad habit of Tommy’s,” Ginny said, sending a quick, amused, and very saccharine smile for Tommy over her shoulder.
Tommy and Mickey met each other’s eyes and Tommy could see plainly on his father’s face that he didn’t appreciate the inclusion of an outsider, and a Federal agent at that. But Mickey’s voice held nothing but politeness as he greeted her with a nod and a “Nice to meet you”. Then he turned to Kiki.
“For God’s sake, cover yourself up, Kiki,” Mickey demanded and led the way out the door.
Kiki ignored him, rolled her eyes at Tommy and deliberately runway-walked after their father. Joe chuckled and offered a surprised Ginny his arm. Tommy grinned. He hadn’t realized how much he missed them all. Even that jackass who called himself his father.
When they entered the crowded restaurant floor of the Trump Tower, Ginny turned to Kiki and asked, “Will I have the pleasure of meeting your mother tonight as well?”
“Oh, no, I’m afraid Mom can’t come, she’s going to be presenting a line for Fashion Week and is terribly busy at the moment,” Kiki answered cheerfully.
“What? She’s not coming to your birthday party?” Ginny asked, betraying an edge to her tone.
Was she genuinely outraged on Kiki’s behalf or playing it up to gain trust? Tommy wondered.
“Our mom lives in Paris these days. They just saw each other a week or so ago and celebrated early. Mom gave her those earrings and necklace,” Joe said, sharing a look with Kiki that had Tommy remembering his siblings were currently Up To No Good.
Tommy watched his father slip away and join Frank Bonanno and Frank’s daughter Jessica. Jessica turned and waved at them.
“Excuse me,” Kiki said and left Tommy and Ginny standing by the entrance.
Tommy pointedly looked at his brother until Joe flushed and mumbled something about getting a drink, leaving them alone.
“Listen,” they both started at the same time. She smiled, genuinely this time, and it softened her face.
“I’m sorry I’ve been so… intrusive,” Ginny said. “It’s just that it’s really important to me to make sure we’re all on the same page. A unit’s only as strong as its members, and sometimes I get the impression that you don’t really consider yourself a part of this team, especially since you seem to be withholding information. Like the fact you have a much closer relationship with your father’s family than you previously let on.”
“Did you ever consider just asking me?” Tommy countered.
“Would you have answered truthfully?” she rejoined.
He opened his mouth to retort but whatever he might have been about to say completely left his mind at the sound of a familiar voice behind him.
“Here’s a thought. How about we all just accept the fact that we are indeed all on the same team and respect each other’s private lives? Present evening excluded,” James said.
What. The. Hell? Tommy thought, turning around.
“Agent Hoffman, what are you doing here?” Ginny asked, voicing his thoughts. There seemed to be a mixture of territoriality and irritation in her tone.
Hey, lady, you’re the one crashing the party – this is his home turf after all, Tommy thought.
James seemed to be thinking the same thing because all he did was raise his eyebrows at Ginny and step further into the room. He motioned for Tommy and Ginny to follow him to a secluded area by the windows.
“I have an uncle on my mother’s side who is a 7th circuit judge. He’s personal friends with the Downey family attorney. I guess they were in the same Fraternity or something. They play golf together and probably other things my family never asks about. Chicago politics,” James said and shrugged as if to say ‘what are you gonna do?’, then continued, “I asked him if he could get me an invite. He gave me his own invitation. I have it on good authority that not only will Bonanno and a few of his men be here, but O’Rourke and Teplov plan to stop by as well.”
Ginny and Tommy exchanged looks. If the Irish and Russian contingency were here, Bonanno was certainly making some bold moves in the Outfit’s territory. The current upper echelon of the Outfit was in disarray since most of Calabrese’s crew were sent up, but all the evidence so far pointed to Outfit involvement in the Russian slave trade. Question was, was Bonanno horning in on this action or was he working with Torrio, the de facto head of the Outfit? And what part was Tommy’s supposedly retired father playing in it? Facilitator?
“As you know, O’Rourke’s got deals in place with the Colombian drug cartels. We at the DEA have been turning up more and more of his people on our raids. Be interesting to know just who’s really getting what piece of the pie. Not that I think we’ll get anything important tonight, especially seeing as none of us are ‘officially’ here, but between the three of us we might be able to get a better read on the players,” James continued.
Tommy frowned, watching his father chat with Bonanno across the room.
“The trouble is, we’ve got sort of a Schrödinger’s cat situation now. How natural are they going to act with a known cop and two federal agents here?” Tommy asked.
“Good point. I think if we split up and—” Ginny started to say, breaking off as Kiki and Jessica approached them.
“Now, Tommy, don’t be hiding back here with your friends! Speaking of which, who are you?” Kiki asked James playfully, hands on her hips.
Jessica openly checked out both James and Tommy, licking her lips like a cat with a bowl of milk. Tommy snuck a sideways glance at Ginny and saw she was as amused as he was. He winked at her and chuckled when she blushed. Hoffman drug his eyes up from Kiki’s dress to her face and flashed the dimples.
“DEA Special Agent James Hoffman. Tommy’s friend. You’re Katherine Downey. 5’1”, Brown hair, brown eyes, 110 pounds. You live in the MDA City Apartments even though you could buy the building a thousand times over. You love dogs, but don’t actually own one. You write for the Sun-Times and today is not actually your birthday. That was Tuesday,” James said, turning the watt up on his smile then twisting it into a derisive smirk.
Tommy struggled with the desire to wipe it off his face with his fist as Kiki laughed nervously. Jessica didn’t look so admiring anymore, though. She looked deeply suspicious. Kiki was still looking crossways between amused and stunned.
“Ok, first, creepy much?” Kiki replied. “Second, it’s Kiki. Third, I blog, which is entirely different, in that I actually get to speak my mind instead of being told what to write.”
“Oh, yes, it would be a shame if the literati forced us to hear that Louboutin makes such daaarling spiked heels when we know the truth, don’t we, that they should be classified as dangerous weapons. That’s some hard-hitting journalism, sweetheart,” James said mockingly, still smirking.
Kiki appeared to be at a loss for words, amusement replaced with affront.
Ok, now Hoffman was really gonna have to get popped in the mouth, Tommy thought. Which would certainly make Ginny’s precious ‘teamwork’ a little strained, but there was no way in hell he was going to let Hoffman talk to his sister that way.
Jessica stepped slightly forward. “Last I checked this was Kiki’s party. A very exclusive party. Where’s your invitation?” she asked, hostility openly evident.
James pulled out his engraved checkered invitation with a flourish.
“My uncle couldn’t make it, but he sends his regards and appreciates your family inviting him. I graciously agreed to come in his stead,” James said, still looking at Kiki in a way that was standing every brotherly hair up on Tommy’s body.
Kiki’s cheeks were flushed and she frowned down at the invitation. Tommy pursed his lips and took a step towards James. Ginny put her hand on his arm and shook her head. She walked between them and hooked her arm in Kiki’s.
“Show me where the restrooms are, will you? I’ve never been here before,” Ginny said. Jessica scanned Ginny up and down like she was assessing the competition.
Women, Tommy thought.
“Oh, sure, but I was just going to tell Tommy his surprise has just arrived,” Kiki said, sounding flustered and looking around the room.
“Kiki, for the last time, this is your birthday party. You don’t get presents for other people,” Tommy said, exasperated.
But as he glanced across the room for whatever Kiki had gotten him, he saw his father’s face had drained of blood. Tommy whipped his head in the direction of his gaze. There was Tommy’s mother standing at the entrance to the room looking about ten years younger than he’d remembered her and in a red dress that instead of clashing with her auburn curls seemed to accentuate the few golden highlights. She was sharing his father’s look of shock. Standing next to Tommy’s father, Frank Bonanno looked furious. It suddenly hit Tommy, Frank was Theresa Anastasio’s first cousin and from what little he’d heard of the family history, had always had a close relationship with Theresa.
Tommy turned to Kiki. “Kiki Downey, what have you done!?” he hissed. For the second time in five minutes she looked like someone had kicked her. He tried to dial down his anger.
“But Tommy, I just thought it would be a fun surprise for you and her, and from the sounds of it, your mother hardly ever gets out of the house. She can have a pampered vacation and see her son… I… I thought it would be a nice present for everyone!”
“You just thought you’d meddle some more, is what you thought! From the looks of it, my mom had no idea our father would be here tonight. Just what did you think you were going to get accomplished here except reanimate some dead and buried family skeletons?” Tommy ground out furiously.
“No! No, I just thought… I just thought… sometimes you have to force the issue… your mom… our dad…”
Tommy was trembling in an effort to keep his temper in check. He didn’t ever want to see his mother hurt and he could see no other outcome to this bit of chicanery. Jessica had walked across the room and was making a show of solidarity with her father, sending Kiki an incredulous look. James had lost his derisively amused look and had Cop-face securely in place, gaze never leaving Bonanno. Ginny looked… utterly fascinated. There was no other word for it. Tommy’s mother whipped around and left the room. His father raced across the room after her. Whispers broke out like a rushing waterfall.
The trouble with princesses is their utter sense of self-entitlement, James thought.
It wasn’t his job to keep tabs on mob princesses, but this one was sort of a hobby. Others did Sudoku, he did Kiki watching. Not in a creepy stalker sort of way, just casually, like one followed a soap opera or reality TV show. He could totally see her making an episode of Mob Wives Chicago once she went ahead and followed her destiny to become the wife of a dirt-bag criminal. No, he didn’t follow her around, or even run background checks on her. He didn’t have to. Katherine Downey was always in the news since she and her father had moved here from New York five years before.
The society news, that is. She appeared to be fond of benefit parties, charities involving animals, and from the sounds of her ‘blog’, shopping and more shopping. He never knew if he felt sorry for her, or fascinated by such an utter waste of a life. Beautiful, pampered, and useless. When Detective Gates had revealed his connection to Downey, his first thought had been how useful Tommy’s father could be in opening some doors for them, and his second thought, much later in his hotel room, was how ironic it was that his favorite source of amusement in the papers, besides the comics, was the sister of his new partner. Funny how life throws curveballs like that.
“So, just out of curiosity, how did you get her to come?” James asked. He kept an eye on Bonanno who was arguing with his daughter and throwing furious glances in the direction in which Downey and Mary Gates had left.
“I told her that Daddy would be away on a business trip and since Mom wouldn’t be here to interfere, it’d be nice to have her here for Tommy to not feel so lonely, and then she could have a nice vacation. I sort of said it was just us and a few close friends meeting up in the restaurant,” Kiki answered tonelessly, still looking beseechingly at her brother.
She looked like she was going to cry. James hated it when women cried. He felt like they used it as a weapon more often than not. Even his sisters, both with the Bureau and ordinarily tough as nails, did the crying thing when words failed. He looked over at Tommy, hoping he would field this one, since she was his sister after all. Tommy started to move towards the door, but Kiki grabbed his arm and turned him to look at her.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
James watched in fascination as Tommy smiled a crooked smile and brushed a curl behind her ear.
“I know, Kicks, you meant well. I’ll take care of it,” he said gently, kissed her forehead, and then moved off.
James didn’t think Tommy ought to be comforting the girl for what she had recklessly put in motion and Tommy would now have to clean up, but he knew what it was like as a brother to think the best of your siblings.
“Kicks?” James asked.
“Tommy’s nickname for me. Because I love shoes so much,” she answered with a bite to her tone and a challenge in her face.
Oh, did the little kitten want to play? James thought.
He stepped right in front of her. “You know, it occurs to me, Katherine, we could be quite useful to each other,” he said, smiling his most ingratiating smile and scanning her head to toe.
Hell, if a woman was going to go out of her way to wear so little, a man might as well enjoy the show, right?
James heard a throat clearing and remembered Ginny was still standing next to them. He turned his gaze from Kiki’s narrowed eyes to raise a questioning eyebrow at his colleague. She looked somewhere between flabbergasted and offended.
On whose behalf? James wondered.
“Yes, Agent Sommers?” he asked as polite as he could muster. He still hadn’t gotten over her crashing the party on his own home field. True, he was also crashing the party, but again, this was his territory and she was supposed to be back in DC, not sweet-talking Detective Gates into a date. He had clearly underestimated her ambitiousness.
“You were going to show me the restroom, Kiki,” Ginny said pointedly.
Kiki was clearly flustered and unsure. She kept twirling a lock of her curly, dark-brown hair and darting glances around the room. James wanted to press his advantage and didn’t appreciate Ginny blocking him, especially since they had made a pretty good tag team just days before. He needed to convince Tommy to get Downey on board, or at least to use his connection to gather information, and Kiki was another way to accomplish this, maybe even an entirely different route in. But here was Agent Sommers trying to nip that in the bud. Was this a gender solidarity thing or did she think it was a dead end?
James shrugged his shoulders and walked around Kiki, deliberately stopping right behind her and leaning down so his head was next to her ear.
“It was nice meeting you, Katherine, but I don’t want to miss out on the next Act of this little family drama you created,” he said, smiling with satisfaction when she shivered a bit. Her hair smelled like piña coladas, and he was surprised she didn’t wear any perfume. His smile slid off a bit as he caught his partner’s stony, obviously disapproving, FBI face. Ok, so maybe he was crossing some conduct lines here.
But it’s not like she was some little innocent, James thought as he walked away. And they weren’t here on official business anyway. Sighing in frustration at the missed opportunity, he noticed that O’Rourke had made it to the party, but he carried on to the entrance to accidentally-on-purpose run into Tommy and his parents.
“Let me at least take you back to your hotel,” Downey was saying as James slipped into the hallway.
“I can do that,” Tommy interjected hastily.
Mary Gates let out a ‘tuh’ and rolled her eyes.
“I’m staying right here. Kiki reserved the room. I have a spa treatment tomorrow, the whole works. I’m perfectly fine, like I’ve already told both of you. It was just a shock that’s all. Don’t be upset with the girl. I’m sure she means well,” she said.
“And like I said, you’re more than welcome to stay. Don’t run off because of me,” Downey said.
Tommy was frowning at both of them.
“I didn’t,” she said with her chin up. “It’s just that big parties aren’t my thing. You know that, Michael.”
Michael? So formal… James thought.
“My memory is just as good as it ever was, Mary girl,” Downey replied softly.
Mary flushed, opened her mouth, and then shut it again in a firm line. She turned to Tommy who was glaring at his father and gripping and ungripping his fists like he didn’t know what to do with them.
“Tommy, maybe you can walk me to my room,” she said.
Tommy nodded and placed his hand at his mother’s back, then walked to the elevator with her. Downey was wearing that same look of frustrated longing on his face he had in the limo the other day. There was silence as the elevator pinged.
“You just gonna stand there, Jimmy?” Downey finally said without turning from staring at the elevator.
“It’s James. I don’t like nicknames much. Just a quirk,” James replied, rocking back on his heels, hands in his pockets.
“You call my son Thomas then?” Downey asked, finally turning and walking towards James.
“For myself, I mean. Some party you’re throwing for your daughter here. Noticed a few of your friends in attendance,” James said.
“Mmmmn. And how’s it come that you’re here tonight? Tommy didn’t mention inviting two Feds to the party,” Downey said, voice all velvety steel, eyes cold as ice.
Good ol’ Pops has left the building and mobster Mickey was in the house, James thought cynically.
“The Honorable John Dobson is my mother’s middle brother. Maybe he thought it better for his reputation not to attend. Maybe he let me come instead, seeing as I’m a friend of Kiki’s brother,” James answered, certain butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
“Oh? And how is it for your reputation, Agent Hoffman? And let’s cut the bullshit. You’ve known my son a matter of days. I don’t care if the two of you bonded over donuts and polishing the shiny pieces of tin you call badges, you will not use my family to get to me. You got something to say, man up and say it. Understood?” Downey gritted out, every word enunciated with clear menace.
James met his gaze and didn’t blink. He let the silence stretch.
“How much do you know about the case we’re working on?” James finally asked.
“My son doesn’t share the details of his work with me. And I don’t share the details of mine. That would be… inappropriate. Don’t you think?” Downey replied, eyebrow arched.
James nodded, rocking on his heels again.
“Thing is…” James trailed off, narrowing his eyes, but maintaining eye contact. “The thing is, aren’t you retired?”
“And?” Downey asked, clearly irritated at James’ prying.
James sighed. He knew he wasn’t going to gain traction with Downey tonight. He shrugged, then assumed his more relaxed stance, the one that usually put people at ease, even the criminal types.
“For the record, I do consider Tommy a friend, regardless of how long we’ve known each other,” James said sincerely.
Downey said nothing, clearly unmoved by James’ body language or tone. After a moment, Downey walked back down the hall and into the party without looking back. James thought about the persons of interest in the other room and tried to decide if it was worth returning to the party as well.
May be better to let Ginny win this round, he thought.
“What did you mean by we could be useful to each other?” James heard a soft voice ask from the shadows.
He looked for the source and saw Kiki Downey standing by a large window. How long had she been there? How had she given Ginny the slip? How come neither he nor Downey had seen her a moment ago? It disconcerted him that she had managed to slide in under his radar.
He sauntered over to her and stood closer to her than propriety deemed normal. She didn’t back up, simply tilted her head up to look into his face. He could feel the cold of the glass window juxtaposed with the heat from her body.
“You don’t have much respect for me, do you?” Kiki asked.
“On the contrary, if I ever need to know which shoes to wear to match my tie, you’d be the first person I call. If I had your number,” James said, trying to temper the sarcasm with a charming smile.
“I’m sure you already have it, along with all the other boring background check facts you recited earlier,” she rejoined, still making no move to retreat.
James admired her nerve. Maybe this princess had a bit of her father’s steel in her after all.
“That would defeat the purpose of you giving it to me,” he said.
“What purpose would that be? And you still haven’t answered my question,” she retorted.
“How about you answer one of mine first?” James asked then chuckled as she raised an eyebrow in a pretty good impression of her father. “Why would you invite your father’s old mistress to your party when she is not related to you, was no doubt the source of great pain and embarrassment for your own mother, and her presence, you had to know, would be unwelcome with at least a few of your guests?”
“I already explained my reasons to my brother. And his opinion is the only one I care about; certainly not a rude, presumptuous, party crashing boar like yourself. You don’t know a damn thing about me,” she answered, dark eyes glittering with anger.
“What I know is there’s a lot of big important grown up things going on and the last thing Tommy needs is his spoiled little sister playing games with his family, and distracting him from this case,” he said with perhaps a bit more heat than he meant, but the smell of her hair and the glittering of her lip-gloss with the hall lights was distracting him, and he was trying to keep his mind on the task at hand.
“How dare you? You’re the outsider here! It’s you who should butt the hell out of my family’s private issues! And you’ve the nerve to say we can be of use to each other? Why the fuck should I help you with anything?” Kiki ground out.
“Tisk, tisk, such language, little girl,” James said with a smirk.
By God, she was beautiful, he couldn’t help but think.
“How about we go back to your place and discuss this like rational adults,” he finished in a playful, yet suggestive tone.
She let out a huff, clearly nonplussed by his forwardness. Then something flashed in her eyes, a sort of calculating, cynical and predatory look that had him feeling momentarily nonplussed himself.
“Alright. Let me say good-bye to my guests. You obviously already know where I live. I’ll meet you there in a half hour,” Kiki said, cool and collected once more.
It was more like an hour when she arrived at her door, but who was counting? They said nothing to each other as she let him inside. James looked around her one bedroom apartment and thought it was nothing like he’d expected. He’d expected lots of pink or maybe something trendy with splashy colors. It was all cool metals, finished wood, and retro 50’s style furniture. Frank Lloyd Wright stills peppered the room and books lined the entirety of one wall. Her windows were left uncovered and the city lights cast interesting reflections in the room. She threw her shawl and little clutch purse on the butterfly chair by the bookshelves. Then she walked up to him and grabbed his holster. He stopped her hand.
“What are you doing?” James asked, his discomfort at having underestimated her twice in one evening making him irrationally angry.
“You should make yourself more comfortable,” Kiki said seductively.
“I thought we came here to talk?” he prevaricated as he took his jacket, gun and badge off.
He could tell she was playing some sort of game and it spiked his irritation up a notch. His mood was all over the place, actually. There was frustration at the blocked opportunities by his partners and Downey to further the case tonight, mixed with his desire for her, the self-disgust that that brought, the irritation with her childish interference, and the discomfort of knowing she was right that it wasn’t his business what went on between her and her family.
But now she had decided to take his sexual sparring and call his bluff. Except he wasn’t bluffing. Did she think he would be scared off from her family this way? Maybe that would work with her usual limp-wristed boy toys, or the gumbahs who were probably too afraid of her Daddy to actually make a move, but not with him.
James hooked an arm behind her back and yanked her towards him. She gasped and put her free hand on his chest, but she didn’t push him away. She kept looking at him, eyes still full of challenge and no fear. It was like something snapped in his brain and all he wanted was to wipe that look from her eyes, to make her realize lives weren’t to be played with, manipulated. To give her a taste of her own medicine.
He gripped the back of her neck with his other hand and crushed his mouth to hers. She met his kisses with equal fervor, pressing up against him. He let go of her waist and neck and began a rough exploration of her body, not bothering to be gentle. She sunk her hands into his hair and gripped painfully, whether to give as good as she got or from passion, he didn’t know. All he knew was his body was on fire for her and all he could think about was sinking into her.
He reached down and hitched her up around his waist, walked forward, and pressed her against the wall leading to the bedroom. He moved his lips to the crook of her neck and felt her moans against his mouth. He gripped her hips and ground his cock against her, torturing himself with the feel of her and the sounds of her gasping breaths. His mouth moved down to her thin dress strap and he moved it over her shoulder with his teeth then licked a trail to her freed breast. He teased the tip of her nipple out of the strapless bra she wore and nipped at it with his tongue and teeth. Her nails dug into his back and she groaned. She grabbed his head and tugged until he captured her mouth again.
He carried her into the bedroom, all thoughts of lessons and principles and whatever excuse he had given himself for doing this gone, just desire and heat and so much need. He set her on the bed and removed his shirt as she reached down and frantically undid his belt, reaching in and finding his cock. He had to fight for utter stillness under her soft, small hands. Christ, Christ, he thought, struggling to regain the upper hand. Had he ever had it? He laid her back on the bed and pushed her flimsy dress up her hips, spread her legs wide, and bent to lick her through the sheer seamless pantyhose she wore.
Her hands gripped the satin comforter and she bucked her hips letting out tiny gasps and moans. He hooked his finger into her hose and ripped a hole where his mouth had been. She let out a startled ‘oh!’ and he set his mouth back to work, licking and fingering her until he drove her to a release. He could feel the tremors of her orgasm around his fingers inside her and raised himself up to look at her face.
She looked younger than her twenty-one years, her dark hair spread out against the cream chenille pillows, black dress bunched up, strappy heels still on. He felt the sickening sensations of guilt and shame start to build. But her eyes opened and they were smoky with desire as she reached her hand down and gripped his penis again, and he knew he wouldn’t have the strength to do the right thing and walk away.
He quickly removed his pants completely and settled over her, kissing her slowly, deeply, moving his hips against the wet opening of her.
“Do you have a—” he whispered against her swollen lips.
“In the night stand,” she interrupted. Her beautiful brown eyes seemed almost black in the moonlight.
He put the condom on and hovered for a moment over her. She ran her fingers up his chest and into his hair again, bringing his head back down to hers, and then he was pumping into her, desperate to give her a second release before he took his own. He felt her pantyhose and heeled shoes against his legs and the slick tightness of her gripping him, and it drove him wild. He was far past the possibility of gentleness and into what felt like insanity. She wrapped her arms and legs completely around him and bit his shoulder, sending him over the edge.
He groaned his release into her sweet-smelling hair and collapsed on top of her, conflicting emotions of satisfaction and shame, of guilt and mind-numbing physical pleasure, all impossibly twisted up. He slowly untangled himself and laid next to her on the bed, looking sideways at her. Her eyes were closed, lips parted, hair and makeup mussed. She looked utterly used, and achingly young and beautiful. He could see her pulse going on her neck next to the marks his rough kisses had left.
Shit, he thought, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.
Kiki wrapped her favorite fuzzy robe around herself and curled up in the dark on the divan in her little living room. She turned the TV on and absent-mindedly flipped through the channels. She could hear James entering the room behind her. She kept her eyes on the screen and fought the lump in her throat. She had proven her point, or his point, whatever, and now she wanted to know what he was up to. What he wanted from her (besides the obvious which was now out of the way) and what he wanted from her brother and father.
“Your gun and badge are on the little table by the door if you need to leave. There’s some tiramisu in the fridge if you’re hungry. I made it myself,” she said, doing what she hoped was her best impression of untroubled.
She glanced over her shoulder at him. He looked flatfooted and uncertain, the TV casting shadows across his confused face.
Good, she thought, serves him right. She was so utterly sick of people thinking they knew her, knew what kind of person she was because she was always in the spotlight. Because of who her father was, who her mother was, who her grandfather was, who everybody was, but never really seeing her.
He walked over to the small stand by the door and picked up the gun and badge, but he didn’t put them on. He ran his fingers along the intricately braided woodwork around the edges of the stand with his free hand and said, “This is a nice piece. Is it oak?”
“Tiger maple. My father made it,” she said coolly.
“Your – Downey made this?” James asked, sounding surprised.
“Woodworking is his hobby. He has to do something with all his free time now that he’s retired,” she replied with a knowing smirk, enjoying his discomfort.
He watched her with a wary gaze and slowly came towards the divan. He set his things down next to her purse on the butterfly chair, then sat on the other end of the divan. She looked back at the TV.
“I just want you to know I don’t usually put out on the first date,” he said after a while.
When her head whipped around, he flashed that devastating smile and dimples. She kept staring at him in shock.
“That was a joke, Katherine,” he said softly, his grin slipping a little in a crooked and endearing way. She could see the lights from the city reflecting in his blue eyes. She wondered in an odd, strangely disconnected way how someone with such handsomely dark features had such light eyes.
“I realize that, Agent Hoffman,” she finally said, struggling desperately to keep up her ‘I do this all the time because I’m so erudite’ Ice Queen façade.
“James. Call me James. Don’t you think we should be on a first name basis? I mean, you know,” he said with a nod towards the bedroom.
His grin slipped completely off his face as she continued to stare blankly at him.
“Listen,” he said hesitantly, and scooted closer to her. “Listen, I—”
“If you apologize for what just happened in that room I will beat you senseless with this remote and no one will ever find your body. You know I can make that happen,” she said, gritting her teeth.
He looked taken aback, then let out a long laugh. She tried not to smile, but her stupid lips were betraying her. He looked so damn charming with his dark, wavy hair all rumpled and his dress shirt buttoned up wrong.
“Ok, a) you’re half my size, b) I’m a well-trained Federal Agent, c) that remote would break before you could do any real damage,” he said, moving his hand to her thigh.
She put her hand over his and stopped its exploration. “Ok, a) my smaller size makes me quicker, b) you’re old, so I’d have the advantage of endurance, and c) I could always use your gun… James,” she countered with a smirk.
“I am not that old! I’m only eight years older than you, brat!” he protested, laughing softly now.
He leaned forward, clearly intending on resuming some of their earlier activities, but she pushed him back. His eyes flickered with something, was it uncertainty again? Regret? She couldn’t tell. He raised a hand and gently, slowly, caressed her jaw and neck.
“Did I hurt you?” James whispered, his voice definitely filled with worry.
“No,” Kiki whispered back, feeling tingly where his fingers had been. She looked down and cleared her throat. “Why don’t you tell me what you meant earlier about us being useful to each other.”
She looked back up at him when he didn’t answer. His face had that closed look again, the same one her brother got sometimes where it seemed like he was thinking nothing and seven things all at the same time. She sighed.
“You asked me earlier why I invited my brother’s mother to my birthday party since she’s not family to me,” Kiki began. “I did it because my whole life my father has been in love with her. I knew it, my mother knew it, everyone knew it. Even after she testified for the government, he still loved her and protected her from my grandfather. But I think the only thing he wants more than her is Tommy’s love. I think he feels like she stole Tommy’s affection from him, if you know what I mean?”
James said nothing, but persisted watching her closely. She shook her head in frustration, looked back at the TV, and continued speaking.
“I love Tommy. He’s always been nice to me, and I think he maybe even loves me too. But ever since I was six years old my father has twisted himself inside and out trying to get Tommy’s attention. Nothing Joey and I do ever seems as paramount as his campaign to win the heart and mind of his lover’s child. He didn’t retire for us, he retired for him. It’s hard not to feel… resentful, at times. I figured if Mary came it would force the issue between them, between all of us. Maybe get a little closure so everyone can move on.”
She paused and looked into his eyes, certain she would see that derisive look again he had held earlier, but he was frowning and simply looked pensive. She sighed again, exasperated by his non-responsiveness.
“Obviously you and my brother and Agent Sommers are working together for a reason, and since you and Ginny went to such lengths to get into my party, you need my brother for a specific purpose that I believe involves my father. And you think that I can help you with this goal. Am I right?” Kiki asked.
James was still frowning, but looking at her like he’d just seen her, just now. Like, really saw her. Finally, she thought. He opened his mouth, paused, then frowned some more. He scooted forward again and she raised her eyebrow in warning. His boyish grin finally returned.
“First, I’m sorry for my earlier comments. I was out of line. And second, you’re right, I had… hoped… that we could form a mutually beneficial arrangement,” James said gently.
She cringed at his use of that phrase thinking of the time her father had used it with her mother. Look where that had gotten her mother, gotten both her parents.
“I think we can still be helpful to each other,” he continued. “You want Tommy and your father to form a relationship, and I want Tommy to convince your father to help us on our case. If we work together then—” he stopped as she put up her hand.
She attempted to formulate a thought as her brain seemed to make that scratching record sound.
“Are you insane!?” she asked, utterly flummoxed at his logic. “There is no way in hell my father would ever agree to turn State’s evidence.”
She started to get up, but he restrained her.
“That’s not what I am saying,” he said calmly. She relaxed a little under his intense gaze.
“All we need is to close in on the people who are running a particularly nasty human trafficking ring. This is selling little boys and girls we’re talking about, Kiki. We don’t believe your father is a part of that ring, but we do believe that he may know who is. All we need is to know who the real players are, versus what they want us to think. Downey is supposedly retired, but I think you and I both know that he can’t ever fully retire without leaving the area. He’s got to at least still have casual knowledge of and interaction with the current pecking order,” James said earnestly.
She shook her head, still thinking he was asking the impossible. He lifted his finger to her mouth, distracting them both for a second by tracing her swollen lips.
“If you can help me convince Tommy to increase his interaction with your father, maybe your father’s desire to please Tommy will overcome some of his hesitancy to betray his so-called friends. We can keep his comments confidential. Make sure no one knows he’s been helping us and no one suspects his son is feeding it to us. And remember, nothing he will tell us is really betraying anyone; It’s information we could probably get on our own, just in a more expedient fashion from him,” he finished.
She studied his face, now alight with an almost child-like eagerness.
“And what do I get out of this?” she asked. “I mean, besides Tommy and Daddy mending fences. And stopping some sicko perverts. What part does, did, this play into it?” she asked, indicating them both with her finger.
His face got that pensive look again, and she wished she knew what it was that was darkening his eyes and making him seem so cautious and uncertain now when he had seemed so sure of himself earlier. His eyes dropped to her mouth then met her eyes again. He leaned forward, and this time he didn’t allow her hand to be a barrier, instead he kissed her tenderly, gently, leisurely. She sighed with the sweetness of it.
He pulled away only slightly. “This doesn’t factor into it. It never did. Tell me to leave and I will go. I promise. We can agree to work together or not, but this… this is separate,” he said against her lips.
She had meant to make him suffer, to work for it. But he was looking at her with what could best be described as puppy dog eyes, and suddenly she forgot his obvious lack of respect for her, and all she could think about was how incredibly mind-blowing that sex was with him. In all the years she had been having sex, no one had made her feel so wanted, so desperately needed. It was a heady emotion for a girl who had spent her life largely overlooked except for what her father could give.
She let him part her robe and begin an unhurried, teasing exploration of her body. This time, when he made love to her it was languid and easy and gentle and she did plenty of her own exploring. She tried to fight the fear in her heart that she was playing a game she had no chance of winning with a much more experienced adversary.
In the morning, she woke up alone and stifled the sense of disappointment it brought. They’d just met hadn’t they? It was just a hookup, that’s all. She went to the fridge and took out her tiramisu and a fork from the clean dishwasher. Her automatic coffeemaker had already brewed coffee. She opened her newspaper, enjoying the pleasant comfort of the ritual. She always made a big deal to her friends back east about missing the City, but the truth was she loved living in Chicago. Loved its history, its complexity, even its politics. Here she could just be like everybody else – mostly – and make her own path in the world of fashion and art.
She was looking at the glossy clothing ads when her front door opened. She paused with the fork halfway to her mouth, shocked to see James walk through her door with a bag of groceries in his arms. It was like her mind just jammed. Maybe she hadn’t woken up and she was dreaming.
He set the groceries on the counter and smiled that slow, cat-that-ate-the-canary smile. She felt a flash of pure hatred that he could look so gorgeous and relaxed and put-together this early in the morning like they hadn’t both only had three hours of sleep, tops. His skin looked darker in the morning light against the white shirt he wore tucked into his jeans than it had last night in his dress clothes.
“Where’d you get the change of clothes?” she asked, saying the first thing that came to mind.
“I always carry a change of clothes in my car. That, and an emergency preparedness kit, an extra gun, and… other supplies,” he answered with a wink. “You’re not really going to eat dessert for breakfast, are you? I took the liberty of getting some essentials since your fridge was mostly empty,” he continued saying, taking eggs and milk out of the bag.
“I mostly get take out during the week and cook on the weekends. Daddy came over yesterday for lunch but I sent the manicotti I made home with him. There’s really not much point to cooking when it’s just for yourself,” she said, standing up and trying to straighten out her hair. If she’d known he was coming back, she would have done something about her bed-head. He largely ignored her and continued rattling around trying to find pans and utensils.
“Why don’t you go freshen up for the day while I start this. Take your time, it’ll be a while,” he said as he measured yeast into a large glass mixer.
She was torn between annoyance at being dismissed, in her own kitchen no less, and the desire to make herself more presentable so she wouldn’t feel at a disadvantage. When she came back into the kitchen from getting showered and dressed (and she did take her sweet time, thank you very much), he was placing what looked like half-cooked, thin pancakes on a plate next to some butter.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“Beghrir. Moroccan pancakes. Try it. Put some honey on them. Want some eggs?” he asked, appraising her with an openly appreciative glance.
She knew she looked good in her plum colored scoop-necked baby doll top and skinny jeans with Gucci boots. She’d picked a come-hither outfit out especially to try and regain some measure of control. It was failing miserably. She still felt like Alice down the rabbit hole.
He sat next to her and started eating his pancake with his hand. She gaped at him. He chuckled and wiped some honey and butter off his mouth.
“My mother is Moroccan. She was adopted by my grandpa and grandma Dobson when she was eleven. He and his wife were over there doing Missionary work. Her whole family was wiped out in a disagreement. You don’t get much of that in these modern times, but every once in a while some ancient old family feud crops up. My grandparents would go back every year so she could keep in touch with her roots and because they love the place so much,” he said.
“That’s – that’s amazing, James,” she said, still feeling off-kilter.
“So, what do you normally do on a Sunday?” he asked, clearly changing the subject.
“Well, I usually take a jog along Lakeshore, do some shopping – or fiscal redistribution as I like to call it – and sometimes I go to the museum,” she answered, then took a bite of pancake.
Holy cow, this is delicious, she thought.
“Which one?” he asked, eyes watching her tongue lick her lips.
She shrugged. “I rotate. I wind up at the Museum of Contemporary Art most often. Sometimes I like to go to Navy Pier and watch the kids at the Children’s Museum. There’s something so amazing about their joyful innocence when they discover something new. And the parents always look so bedraggled, but there’s a happy sort of fatigue to it, for the most part…” she trailed off.
He was looking at her again like he had last night, like inside his head was that OnStar voice saying: ‘Recalculating’.
“But today I’m spending it with Joey before he goes back to Virginia,” she finished.
And if he was angling for an invite, he could shove it where the sun don’t shine.
The thought must have been visible on her face because his eyes twinkled with mischief and humor. The corner of his mouth lifted and he nodded. They ate in silence for a bit. It was so quiet she jumped at the sound of her phone ringing, and got up to answer it.
“Good morning, princess,” her father’s gravelly voice purred.
“Hi, Daddy,” she said. She could see James stiffen out of the corner of her eye. She knew he was listening intently.
“You left so early last night; did you get a good night’s sleep? Joe and I are on our way to pick you up, but 290 East has an accident, so it might be a bit,” he continued without waiting for her answer.
“Ok, see you soon,” Kiki said.
“Love you, baby girl,” he replied.
“Love you too, Daddy,” she answered.
James had gotten up and was cleaning his dish off. “Well, I should get going then,” he said, drying his hands.
She nodded, then walked with him to the door. “Thank you for making me breakfast,” she said, looking up at him.
He cupped her face gently with his hands, stared at her intently like he was deciding on something, then bent down and kissed her quickly.
“Remember. It’s separate,” he said, then left.
She thought he had meant it to comfort her, but it sounded more like a warning for some reason.
Mary enjoyed the cool feel of cucumbers on her eyelids, and was struggling not to giggle like a schoolgirl at the decadence of it all. It wasn’t her first spa treatment ever, but it had been so long since she’d had one that she felt like a young girl again instead of a middle-aged woman with a grown man for a son.
No, not middle-aged, that sounds so old, she thought. You’re only forty-five, for crying out loud.
But she was certainly the mother of a grown man. A grown man who clearly was having trouble accepting she had a life outside of being his mother, and more damning still, clearly thought she was as gullible as a goose. On the contrary, Mary knew that Kiki was up to something when she got that phone call, but she figured it was something more along the lines of Michael would just ‘happen’ to show up at their intimate dinner… or some such. She didn’t expect the big party, she had miscalculated that, but she did realize that Kiki had something she was planning.
It was both gratifying and strangely disappointing that Michael had clearly been as out of the loop as she was. But, Kiki’s idea of coming to Chicago and having a relaxing, open-ended vacation had sounded so pleasant, so extravagantly self-indulgent. And in exchange for the idea of an all-expense paid trip to see her only child, plus her old friends Jack and Claire, Mary was willing to play along with whatever shenanigans the girl was up to. If that meant running into Michael, so be it. Better to run into than run away.
She felt like she had spent most of her life running from something; from her family’s expectations, from her stifling small town, from Michael’s life, from herself. She made the choice to accept Kiki’s offer because she felt in her gut that something had to give. No real concrete explanation, just one of those weird tingles up the spine. There was so much unresolved garbage between her and Michael, between Tommy and his father, between all three of them really, that maybe Kiki’s idea had been a catalyst or something. Or maybe she just had delayed empty nest syndrome. But this morning when she was sitting in Mass at Old St. Patrick’s, she just knew in her soul she had made the right decision to come and to stay even after the disastrous birthday party.
Tommy had told her at breakfast that Kiki hadn’t even stayed the whole night. At her own birthday party! Mary hoped that Michael and Tommy hadn’t been harsh with her. She wished she could understand why she felt so protective of Kiki, since of course, she wasn’t her daughter, and she still to this day despised the girl’s mother. Maybe it was just there was something about her that reminded Mary of herself when she had moved to New York and met Michael. She had all that youth and energy, ready to take on the world with bright-eyed optimism and determination. Mary didn’t want to see the girl’s dreams, however naïve, get crushed under other’s cynicism like her own had.
“Explain to me exactly what the cucumbers are supposed to do?”
She sat up with a gasp, the cucumbers falling with a splat on her lap. She stared in shock at Michael lounging against the wall, still dressed in his Sunday best. Her mouth opened and closed like a fish.
“Now, talk about a racket, getting already beautiful women to shell out hundreds of dollars to lie on a slab with vegetables on their face,” he continued with that devil’s grin.
“Michael! What – what – how did you get in here?” Mary finally managed to get out.
She didn’t know what disconcerted her most; that she was sitting there with only a towel and a seaweed mud mask on, or that he had deliberately sought her out, no doubt with the aid of his daughter. Had she really been feeling protective of Kiki a moment ago? Nope, she was going to kill that girl!
He just continued to smirk at her.
“I asked you a question,” she struggled to say with as much dignity as one could with goo all over their face.
Michael jingled the change in his dress slacks, then removed his hands and walked over. She gripped the towel closer and scooted back. He frowned at her action.
“I just wanted to apologize again for my daughter,” he said.
“No need. Like I told you last night, I’m sure she meant well, and to be honest, I am enjoying having a vacation. It’s been years really. Tommy and I used to go to Worlds of Fun sometimes when he was younger or camping. But I haven’t really gone anywhere except back home to Massachusetts since he’s grown. No point in taking a vacation when it’s just you going,” she trailed off.
She cringed at her own babbling and attempted to still her hands kneading the towel. They’d made a child together for goodness sakes! Why was she so nervous? His eyes were focused on his shoes. He was still frowning.
“I’m sorry. I have you at a disadvantage. Why don’t you get dressed – the receptionist said you were almost finished in here – and we can meet for early supper in the restaurant?” he looked at his watch as he said it.
She released a short laugh. It was like going back in time with him. He was older and more distinguished looking, but still the same restless, presumptuous Michael.
“Actually, I was planning on meeting Jack and Claire for supper in Elmhurst,” she said, noticing the quick flash of anger in his eyes at the sound of Jack’s name. She couldn’t help herself and recklessly suggested, “You’re welcome to join us. Tommy will be there.”
She could see the gob-smacked look on his face at her inviting him to supper with the man that had come this close to putting him in prison, at war with the temptation to spend another evening with his estranged son.
The Devil must’ve made me do it, she thought with a smile.
“Where will you be dining?” he asked distractedly.
“Galway’s,” she replied.
He blinked. “That’s not a real restaurant, it’s a pub with food,” he said condescendingly.
“It has food and entertainment, and Claire said I will love it,” she said with her chin in the air, confident he would no longer want to come, if he ever had in the first place.
He narrowed his eyes, his lip slightly curling. She’d forgotten how much Michael liked a challenge and she squirmed nervously.
“Well, maybe I’ll drop by. Who knows? How long are you staying in town?” he asked, clearly no longer concerned with her lack of privacy.
“It’s… It’s open ended.”
She thought about lying, but figured Kiki would tell him anyway. He raised his famous eyebrow, or was it infamous?
“Can you afford to be away from your job so long?” he asked politely.
“I’m not sure what business it is of yours. Aren’t you retired from your job?” she deflected.
She didn’t know why she felt so defensive. Well, yes she did, but she didn’t know why she was still having this conversation with him and not kicking him out. He looked momentarily melancholy before he shrugged.
“I’m carving fulltime now. Keeps my mind and hands occupied,” he said as he headed towards the door.
He paused with his hand on the door handle then looked back at her over his shoulder.
“Maybe you and Tommy could drop by and see my shop sometime. I live in Oak Park these days,” he said, with a tone that suggested he, too, was feeling defensive. Then he left, shutting the door softly behind him.
Mary sat silently for a while and pondered if her courage would fail her now. She wished she knew what the right thing to do was. Stay? Go? Let him in? Push him away? She was still fussing on the conundrum that was Michael Downey when she met with Jack and Claire at the pub later.
He didn’t come.
And she couldn’t figure out why that bothered her so. It seemed as if he was always making subtle overtures, but never actually made a move. Like a lion pacing back and forth behind the bars at the Zoo, waiting… just waiting. Was he waiting for her to make the first move? Yes, that had to be it. But she had invited him and he didn’t show. Yet, he had invited her and Tommy to his home…
It hit her then with a sudden, forceful clarity. He wanted her to come to him. Wanted her to be the one to admit defeat, to surrender on his turf, on his terms. Was his pride that important to him? Or was it about revenge and humiliation after the way she left him? Maybe he saw her as just a means to an end, getting Tommy in his life. It was a lowering thought and made her angry to think it. But if that were the case, she couldn’t understand why he would have stayed away, yet kept such a close eye on her. And if he thought she would just come crawling, he had another thing coming. She was done wondering. Done speculating. Done, done, done. Two could play that game. She started formulating a plan inside her mind and tried not to dwell on the fact it made her feel alive in a way she hadn’t felt in so very long.
At the end of the week, after having visited the major museums and gone on just about every tour the city had to offer, including the gangster tour, she dropped by the Federal Building to visit Tommy and Jack. It brought her such pride as a mother to see her son working so diligently on this case and with such a distinguished Federal agent like Jack. Tommy bustled her into the workroom and introduced her to his colleagues as if she were some honored guest instead of a former stay at home mom who tutored music for a living.
She was pretty sure Agent Sommers had a bit of a crush on her boy by the end of the chat. Not that she’d say anything, mind you. If there was one thing she’d learned a long time ago it was that men needed to discover things on their own. She wasn’t sure what to make of James Hoffman though. He didn’t seem to want to meet Tommy’s eyes but was otherwise very friendly and open.
After her visit, Jack and Tommy walked her to the front of the building.
“I’m glad you and Claire are enjoying living in Chicago, Jack,” she said.
“It’s different. Living in the suburbs makes it not so bad except around rush hour. Still on its worse day it’s got nothing on back home,” he chuckled.
She knew by ‘back home’ he meant New York. She also knew how hard it’d been for him to move from Brooklyn to Omaha with Claire when his wife had gotten so sick with cancer. The doctors were not giving her a very good prognosis on her Stage Four breast cancer and she wanted to be back with her family in Nebraska for treatment. He had loved living there in New York, working in Organized Crime, and the decision to transfer to Omaha came with a demotion for him. But with the case against Michael in shambles and his wife so sick, it was an easy decision. Amazingly, surprising even the doctors, Claire had beat the odds, and Jack had settled into a good life in Nebraska.
But after Michael ‘retired’ to Chicago, Jack had jumped at the chance for another transfer. It was like neither one of them could let go of that long ago case. Mary truly hoped Jack would be able to put it behind him. After all, she had a child with Michael; it was only natural that she couldn’t let the past go, but this need Jack seemed to feel to protect her from Michael seemed like a waste of his energy. If Michael was going to do anything to them he could have long ago. And she felt like he was telling the truth about being retired. So what was the point of keeping tabs on him anymore? But like she said, you couldn’t tell a man anything, they had to come around to it in their own way.
“So what’s the deal with your friend James, Tommy? He seemed a little nervous or jumpy,” Mary said as Jack walked back in the building.
Tommy laughed as he gave her an extra hug good-bye, “Oh, I don’t know. He’s good people. I’m sure he just has something on his mind, maybe that girlfriend he’s been ditching us to go see at lunch. He about breaks the sound barrier getting out of here and comes back practically purring. But now you mention it, he has been a little weird with me since Kiki’s party. Maybe he finally realized how rude he was being to her before you showed up and just doesn’t know how to apologize.”
Mary was surprised to learn he had been there because she hadn’t figured that Tommy’s colleague would be allowed at a Downey family event.
“What do you mean, rude to her?” she wondered. “I didn’t realize you all knew each other previously?”
She must’ve worn her confusion on her face because he laughed again.
“Long story. Not important. He wasn’t there long anyway. What are you going to do with the rest of today?” he asked, obviously keen to change the subject.
“I’m sure I’ll think of something,” she answered. There was absolutely no way she was going to tell him her real plans. “Did you get a chance to see your brother again before he went back?”
“Yeah, man, that boy is growing like a weed, and he talks like he’s a Colonel already instead of a fifteen year old kid,” he said with a grin. It warmed her heart to know he was forming such a strong bond with his siblings.
“And your father?” Lord, but she hated that closed look he got on his face at the mention of Michael. It made her feel so guilty.
“He was there, of course. We went to the Museum of Science and Industry and then we all went to supper together on Joe’s last day. Don’t worry, I was on my best behavior,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“I’m sure you were, and don’t be sassy. I’m just asking because I want you to know I don’t mind if you want to, you know, continue to spend time with him while you’re here,” she said, brushing a lock of his dark hair from his forehead.
He looked at her for a beat. “Can I ask you something?” Tommy asked, looking preoccupied.
“Shoot,” she said with a smile.
“When did you realize he was involved with the Mob?”
She stared into his eyes. Was it possible they’d never talked about this? She took a deep breath. She owed him this, at the very least.
“Well… fairly early on, actually. We’d been together a handful of months when I ran into Theresa Anastasio at the church while picking up my choir music for Sunday mass. She was finalizing the last details on her wedding. Took great glee in showing me the Downey-Anastasio engagement photo they would place in the vestibule on their happy day. Michael never went to Mass back then, and I had no idea she even attended the same church. She knew about me apparently, but I had no idea about her existence in his life. That was the first time I broke it off with him. He begged me not to, said he hadn’t planned on falling in love with me, hadn’t wanted to hurt either of us, and he claimed that he was having trouble finding a way to end the engagement. I was young and naïve but not entirely stupid. I told him we were through. Then I asked my friend Claire if she knew anything about the Anastasio wedding and she told me that her husband – Jack obviously – was investigating Theresa’s father and the groom-to-be. She joked about having never sung at a Mob wedding, and it was a shame they hired some famous entertainer friend of the family instead of using our choir. It suddenly made sense to me what he’d said about not being able to find a way to end the engagement if he was afraid of her father and we’d only been dating for a few months. I was torn between sympathy for Michael – yes, sympathy, Tommy – and a sense of relief that I had ended it in spite of how much I’d come to care for him. But when I realized I was pregnant a few weeks later, I worked up the courage to tell him, hoping it might be just the thing he needed to make a clean break. Oh, don’t give me that look Tommy! I was nineteen! I was alone and pregnant. He said he loved me. But it was too late. They’d just gotten back from their honeymoon. But he promised he would take care of me. Foolish, foolish girl that I was, by the time you were born I had let him back in my heart and back in my bed. To be fair, he spent a lot of time with me and you. Way more than he must have spent with her when you factor in the work he did for her father. He did try and leave her a few times, but then she’d have some sort of breakdown and check herself into a hospital and he’d go right back to her for a little bit. I think you were two years old before I realized Theresa wasn’t really what stood in the way of our happiness. He didn’t go back to her out of love or fear. He was never afraid of her father. He wanted what her father had. He would never get a divorce as long as he needed her to get it. And yet, knowing this, I still chose to stay…” she trailed off as the waves of her memories seemed to choke her throat.
She didn’t even realize she was crying until Tommy wiped a tear from her cheek.
“And you actually want me to get to know this man better?” Tommy asked softly.
“Yes,” she declared firmly, straightening her shoulders. She watched his face battle consternation and frustration.
“Of all the crimes that can be laid at the feet of your father, the one thing he has always done right is love you unconditionally. I took you from him, without even giving him a chance to fight for you. Don’t interrupt,” she gritted out in her mom voice when he opened his mouth. “I kept you from him and he respected that, Tommy. For once in his life he put someone else’s needs ahead of his own. This isn’t about how he treated me back then or the mistakes we both made. This is about you getting to know the man I fell in love with. I believe he’s still in there somewhere. If you get to know him and, independent from your feelings about how you think he may have treated me way back then, you still decide that you want nothing to do with him, then so be it,” she finished.
The door opened behind them and James poked his head out.
“Are you just going to stand out here chatting with pretty ladies all afternoon?” he shouted at them.
Mary snorted and rolled her eyes. It was enough to break the tension though, and Tommy smiled at her as he walked slowly backwards towards the building. She waggled a maternal finger at James, blew a kiss to Tommy, then turned and went to retrieve her rental car. She had to see a girl about a man.
Kiki seemed almost giddy when they met up on Lakeshore just off Grant Park. She had a flush in her face and a smile a mile wide. They walked along the jogging trail together.
“My, what a twinkle you have in your eye,” Mary laughed.
“Oh, it’s just a nice day, don’t you think?” Kiki replied.
“Hmmmn, what’s his name?” Mary asked.
Mary was thinking whatever unpleasantness Tommy thought Agent Hoffman had to feel guilty over at the girl’s party a week ago was long forgotten by the birthday girl thanks to this mystery man. Kiki made a dismissive sound but dropped her eyes and worried her lip beneath flushed cheeks.
“I don’t know what you mean, there’s no guy. It’s just nice seeing you again. I’m glad we’re on the same page with Tommy and my dad,” Kiki said earnestly.
Mary let it drop, but she could tell when a girl was smitten. Hadn’t she been the starry-eyed girl once over Michael?
“So what’s the plan?” she asked, hooking her arm in Kiki’s.
Kiki looked surprised, but pleased at the gesture. “We just need to get Tommy over there. That’s all. Dad’ll do the rest I’m sure. You know how he is,” Kiki said as she sat on a bench by the yacht club.
Mary sat next to her and they watched the ducks toddle by in silence. She did know Michael, only too well. He had a way of saying all the right things, but it was the doing that she worried about. She wanted them to get to know each other better, but as much as she wanted her son to know his father, she wanted his father to truly know Tommy. Mary feared it would take a lot more than being in the same room for these two stubborn men to stop talking at each other, and start talking to each other. Of course, she was one to talk, no pun intended, as her current method of communicating with Michael was to not communicate with Michael. She figured she had sent the men he had watching her on quite the merry chase this week, and planned on having even more fun at his expense next week.
Maybe she’d feel bad about that later.
Mickey sighed with satisfaction as he finished the last fine sanding of the figurine he had been carving. He usually worked on furniture, but occasionally he would challenge himself with smaller hand-carved pieces. He loved the awe he still felt when a piece of wood transformed itself into a work of art. It felt that way too; as if the wood had a mind of its own, an identity struggling to get out, and his hands and tools were merely the medium with which it transformed itself. When he was a younger man he would take months to complete what now took him only a few weeks. But back then he had been consumed with making money and the woodworking had been squeezed in as a way to decompress and allow him to be the family man he needed to be.
It was never as easy for him to switch gears as it had been for some of the other guys, or for his father. Maybe it was because he was more of a money guy than a muscle man, but still, it wasn’t as if he hadn’t had to do or be party to some things that just felt like it left a permanent sort of horror in his brain. The sort of thing that made a person feel like he didn’t deserve something as pure as a child’s adoration, or a woman’s loving touch. And truth was, maybe he didn’t. But selfish man that he was, he would continue to take his cake and eat it too, as long as God saw fit to let him roam the earth.
The shrill ring of the shop phone broke his reverie. He knew it would be Frank Bonanno. Right on cue.
“What you got,” he asked without the preliminaries.
“Listen, before I head back, was havin’ a chat with those friends of ours, and they’re fine with what I’ve laid out. As long as you do your part,” Frank stated curtly.
“I’m a man of my word, Frank. You know that,” Mickey tried to curtail the annoyance in his own voice.
These people, he thought, like vultures mated with a pack of African bees. Stand still and you get it, move and you get it worse.
“Your guest list Saturday before last was … interesting … to say the least. You understand their concern,” Frank stated more than asked.
“My son will always be included in my family events. If he chooses to bring a few of his playmates then it’s no different than Kiki inviting your daughter. I believe we discussed this matter at some length already, Frank. I’m just a retired financial and shipping consultant who likes to tinker in his garage. I’m not a threat to nobody. I didn’t even take my damn ball and bat and go home, I left it to yous guys and forgot what it even looked like,” he said, voice betraying some of the street they had both grown up on, instead of the cultured tones he had worked so hard at acquiring.
“I ain’t so worried about the boy or his pals, I’m sure you’ll handle that. I was referring to your female friend. Remember how that pillow talk ended up last time, Mickey. I’m sticking my neck out for you cuz we’re family. Right? Family. You know what they say, if you can’t get rid of the ticks yourself, you just have to get the dog dipped, capiche?” Frank continued.
Mickey counted to twenty inside his head. His hand trembled so hard the Dremel tool he held in it slipped out and clattered on the floor.
“Listen… listen…” Mickey gritted out half a decibel above a whisper. “We agreed. We agreed to this arrangement and my personal life is mine. I’ve stuck to the terms. You stick to yours. I stay out of your thing… you leave me mine. Or we will have a problem,” he ended, he hoped with enough ice and menace to get the image across of what he’d do to Frank if anything happened… if anything… He felt bile rise in his throat.
“Fine, fine,” Frank’s voice was jovial now, signaling an end to business. “Gotta run. Plane’s about to take off. It was good seeing you again, Mickey. I’ll be in touch.”
Mickey didn’t bother to say goodbye he simply slammed the phone down. He breathed carefully and slowly to slow his pounding heart and racing thoughts. When he felt in control enough, he took his cell phone out and called his daughter.
“Lo?” She sounded breathless, like she’d just woken up.
“Wake up. It’s the middle of the day, princess,” he said as calmly as he could muster.
“Oh! Daddy! I – no I was just… thinking… about my next article,” she answered evasively.
He pursed his lips. He sincerely hoped the girl didn’t have another one of her boyfriends over. Though at twenty-one, he supposed she wasn’t a girl anymore.
“Well, I was just checking on you. Would you like to meet for lunch?” Mickey asked.
He could hear rustling in the background and a distinctly male chuckle. He tried to contain his irritation. The mood he was in, it was a good thing he had called before dropping by or some soon-to-be-sorry asshole would be getting his dick rammed into his teeth.
“Well, it is the middle of the day. In the middle of the week. I thought you could see if your brother wanted to meet us somewhere,” he suggested.
“Tommy already had lunch. I mean – I’m pretty sure they’re breaking for lunch right now, so by the time you get here… How about another time instead?” she ended.
Mickey couldn’t recall the last time his daughter had given him the brush off. Frank’s threats had him on edge, and he started to wonder just who was with her.
“Are you alright?” Mickey asked urgently.
“Of course! Daddy, what’s the matter?” Kiki asked, worry evident in her tone.
“Nothing you need concern yourself with, sweetheart. But I did want to ask you, I know you and Mary spent some time with each other last week. I was wondering—”
“Daddy, for heaven’s sake! Just call her already and stop using everyone else for updates. And the same goes for Tommy. This is getting a little ridiculous don’t you think?” Kiki interrupted.
Mickey was silent. First she brushes him off, and now she was interrupting him and making demands? Who was this girl?
The chime on his doorbell rang in the silence. He looked at his security monitors and saw Tommy standing at his front door. Had the world gone mad? First, his sweet loving daughter was being snippy and now his estranged son was actively seeking him out in the same day.
“I’ll talk to you later, princess. Someone’s at the door,” he said and hung up.
As he walked through the house to answer the front door, he texted Carlo:
Put a man on my p. Report all people.
“Hello Tommy, what a pleasant surprise!” Mickey said as he opened the door. Strange how much it still made his heart ache for those days back in Brooklyn every time he saw his oldest child.
Tommy looked hesitant, but he nodded and came inside. Mickey motioned for him to join him in the study just off the foyer. Once inside, his son made no secret of examining the room, but kept his hands in his pockets.
“Would you like something to drink? Have you eaten? What brings you here? Not that I mind, I’m happy you came, very happy…” Mickey stopped himself before he said any more.
He felt incredibly off-balance between Frank’s call, the one to Kiki, and Tommy’s surprise visit. He hated that feeling of not being in control. Hated it.
“Went to supper with Mom and Kiki last night,” Tommy said.
Mickey nodded. He knew that, of course. He had someone who kept an eye on Mary at all times. He knew where she went and what she did and who she met. And he knew she knew that he knew these things. It was almost like she was taunting him these last few weeks with her activities. He wasn’t sure what she was playing at, but he could practically hear the words ‘Game On’ in his head.
“They both figure that we… that is, you and I…” Tommy started to say, frustration and irritation clearly evident in his voice.
“Ah, I see. Plan A didn’t work, so we’re on to Plan B? First, Kiki rooks Joe into some convoluted plot, and now she’s guilting your mother into doing her dirty work as well?” Mickey interjected. He sighed. This girl of his. He didn’t know if he wanted to shake her for her interference or hug her close for always, always, having his back.
Tommy was half glaring at him, lips pursed. Then he, too, let out a sigh and shrugged, running his hand through his hair.
“Truth is, my mom had already mentioned something to me a couple times before last night about spending more time with you while I’m here. I think I’ve been soundly outvoted here,” Tommy said, still sounding agitated.
“And you hate that, don’t you?” Mickey asked with a smile.
This boy was so much like him sometimes it was uncanny. But he knew instinctively that would be the last thing he should say to him right now. He walked over to the wet bar in the study and fixed an Old Fashioned. It was 5:00 somewhere. He got a cooled bottle of water out for Tommy from the mini-fridge and handed it to him. Tommy was watching his movements with a wariness and body language that spoke of fatigue.
“I’ve made no secret of my desire to have you be a part of my life. Everything’s been said, what feels like a thousand times over by now. But the last thing I want is you standing in my home against your will. Out of some sense of obligation to the people you do actually care about. It pleases me to see you, but it pleases me to see you happy most of all. What would make you happy?” Mickey asked softly.
Tommy looked down at his bottle in his hand, then back up at Mickey through the fringes of his hair, and then looked away again. He didn’t answer, but he took a drink from his water and walked to the Chippendale desk in the corner of the room. Tommy fiddled with Mickey’s Al Capone bobble-head someone had given him as a joke when he first moved to Chicago. It was difficult, but Mickey bit his tongue and waited, giving Tommy the space he needed to answer.
“If I didn’t care it would be easier, wouldn’t it?” Tommy finally answered, still not looking at Mickey.
Mickey remained silent, such was his shock at hearing his son say he cared about him. Or is that what he said? Maybe by ‘cared’ he simply meant ‘cared to never have anything to do with you ever’. His confusion kept him mute.
Tommy finally turned and looked at him. “It’s not like we’re strangers. Like we just met or something. We have… loved ones in common. A shared history; a few fond memories, though long ago. We’ve spent a couple holidays and family events together. But it’s not as if we’re close either. We don’t really know each other except for facts on a sheet and a superficial understanding of likes and dislikes. And, yes, that has been intentional on my part. I’ve told you why. I haven’t been able let go of my anger at you for what you put my mother through, and I can’t help but think,” Tommy stopped and ran a hand through his hair again. “What’s the point of getting to know you better? I’m still a cop and you’re still a man who has zero respect for what I do for a living. But I’ve never claimed to be indifferent. Of course I care. I care that my own father loves me, but I also care that he obviously doesn’t respect me—”
“Now hold up just one second, son! I do respect you. I am very proud of you, and of the man you’ve become—”
“I care that you make me feel important and valued but treat others—”
“It’s true I don’t have any faith in law enforcement—”
“—with such breathtaking callousness and cruelty.”
“—or the justice system but I admire your dedication to it. I admire—”
“I care that you lavish us with obviously heartfelt gifts with money stolen—”
“—that you are a good person and a good example to your—”
“—from ‘dedicated’ and ‘good’ people who fear you—”
“Enough!” Mickey shouted.
The bourbon in his glass spilled all over his trembling hand then dripped to the worn wooden floor below. His stomach churned with tension and residual panic, and far from calming his nerves, the alcohol seemed to be ramping up the suffocating sensation of powerlessness that had threatened at the edges since Frank’s call. For years he had called all the shots. For years he had commanded respect from everyone around him. But with the one man whose respect he was so desperate to earn he was completely ineffectual. Everything was hanging in the balance on every front, and he couldn’t guarantee that a few loyal men and few billion dollars would be enough to protect his children and the woman he loved. And he had given all that power up for this man – this man! – who refused to even see him as anything but the sum of his worst actions.
Mickey took a deep breath and forced his voice into a semblance of calm. “Answer the question, Tommy. What would make you happy? How about you just answer that question and be done with it,” he demanded, setting the drink down without taking his gaze from his son’s eyes. Eyes so like his own, bloodshot with emotion.
Tommy’s Adam’s apple moved up and down and his jaw worked. His voice was choked and hoarse as he said, “I promised my mother that I—”
“God DAMN it! I asked what YOU want! YOU! Only YOU!” Mickey shouted, accidentally knocking the stained glass lamp next to him in his agitation.
It crashed to the floor, the light bulb flickering, glass breaking. Tommy stepped back. Mickey closed his eyes and gripped the chair next to him, stilling himself and his emotions the best he could. When he opened his eyes he expected to see fear or disgust in Tommy’s face, but all he saw was something akin to marvel or curiosity. A kind of far-off look, like he was thinking about a particularly confounding puzzle.
“…‘for the first time in his life he put someone else’s needs’…” Tommy whispered.
“What?” Mickey asked, feeling utterly and completely exhausted at this point.
“And you’re actually retired?” Tommy asked, eyes still looking through him.
“I – what?” Mickey asked again, now completely lost, as well as tired. And it was only the middle of the damn day. He knelt down and started picking up glass shards.
The first bars of ‘Woke Up This Morning’ by Alabama 3 started playing on Tommy’s phone. Mickey’s head jerked up and the absurdity of his son choosing that ringtone, combined with fatigue and alcohol, forced a laugh out of him.
“You kiddin’ me?” he asked and Tommy grinned awkwardly at him.
“Detective Gates,” Tommy answered into the phone. The grin left his face as he listened. “I’ll be right there.”
Tommy put the phone back in his pocket and bent eye-level with Mickey. Mickey met his gaze feeling nothing but numb, and braced himself for another rejection.
“For the record, I don’t think this is going to work,” Tommy said.
“Duly noted,” Mickey said with a nod.
“But… I’m willing to try. And since you asked, it would make me happy if you tried as well,” Tommy said softly.
Mickey sat back on his haunches and watched his son walk out the door.
“Well, what the hell does he think I been doin’?” he said to the silence.
Ginny met Detective Gates as he ducked under the police tape cordoning off the crime scene in the near-west side of Chicago.
“Hope you didn’t have anything too heavy for lunch,” she said with a grimace, “We’re still waiting on James to meet us here. I guess he went downtown for lunch. Again.”
She watched Tommy’s eyes scan the façade of the old building and the growing crowd. She wondered where he had gone for lunch but stifled the urge to ask. After having started off on the wrong foot by tailing him and crashing his sister’s party (although to be fair, he had asked her) she was trying extra hard to not be too pushy this last couple weeks. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it was killing her a little bit.
“What do we have, Agent Sommers?” he asked, all business.
“In short? One very dead Irish mobster. Mo Green special. But that’s downright polite next to the dead dog he’s holding with its genitalia cut off and shoved in its mouth,” she answered.
“Jesus,” he said, grimacing.
“Yep. CPD called us in because of who the particular vic is,” she replied.
“One of O’Rourke’s men?” Tommy asked.
“Actually, The Man himself. Yeeup,” she drawled out at his shocked expression. “Takes balls to take out the Boss, no pun intended, but it’s the message that is interesting, don’t you think? Agent Hoffman said O’Rourke had deals in place here with the drug runners. This would suggest he was getting a little greedy, or in some part was trying to cut out a more powerful partner. But it’s a classic American Mafia message, not Colombian or Russian with whom he had the majority of dealings. Makes you go ‘hmmmn’, huh? And the dog…” Ginny trailed off as she saw James approaching them.
“Well… ain’t this a peach of a present?” James greeted them with a cocky grin.
Ginny was thinking that whatever Agent Hoffman did for lunch, it had nothing to do with culinary delights.
“Present?” she asked.
“As in, O’Rourke lives in north Chicago in one of those fancy estates, yet his body is found on the near west side in a building with historic Outfit roots, of which he is not a part, near FBI headquarters. What are the odds that after only a couple weeks working together, one of our chief persons of interest just happens to show up dead, practically giftwrapped for us?” Tommy asked.
“Slim to none, given the fact that he was at your sister’s party, and the three of us in attendance did not go unnoticed. Question is, is it a message for us, or a message for your old man?” James asked Tommy.
Ginny studied Tommy’s face, but it was devoid of emotion. He turned to the building, cocked his head, and then looked back at James with narrowed eyes.
“I think that you’ve made your opinion clear, Hoffman, that we ought to ask him, but I just spoke with him and I’m certain he won’t help us,” Tommy said.
Ginny couldn’t contain herself any longer – really, it was a lost cause from the jump-off – and she stood directly in front of Tommy to pelt him with questions, “Is that where you went for lunch? Was it a personal visit, or did you go to question him about Teplov and O’Rourke like James has been asking? Did he mention anything specifically about us being there? If anyone could give us an accurate read on what Downey knows, it’d be you, so if you could—”
She took a deep breath and stopped her babbling. Ugh, what was it about this man that has me acting like a silly fangirl or Twitter stalker? she wondered.
Tommy’s mouth parted and he blinked a few times before replying, “I beg to differ. I barely had—”
“Oh please with that!” Ginny interrupted, too excited to care about politeness. “I think you and James are both right, the players are upping the stakes here. Calling us out. But we need to figure out what part Downey plays in this. Surely you see that?”
“What I was going to say,” Tommy replied with marked frustration, “was that I barely got a chance to start a conversation with him before you called me here. But he’s still putting the full court press on me, so it makes me think he doesn’t know what deals Bonanno has in place, or that we’re after Bonanno specifically. He obviously doesn’t think I’m a threat to his reputation, because I would think he would want to keep myself and my mother at bay if he were worried how it looks to them.”
“Unless, that’s what this message is about. Warning him to keep his mouth shut and distance himself from you? Or your mother?” Ginny wondered.
She noticed James was looking less like his overconfident self, and way more apprehensive. Tommy looked like he was mulling over the idea, but remained unconvinced.
“Let’s let them finish processing the scene, and formulate a plan as to how we’re going to force the issue with Downey. I think the time has come to stop pussy-footing around,” James suggested.
“Hold on now, I never agreed to this!” Tommy exclaimed.
“Listen, no offense, but you came to this case late in the day, Detective Gates. We appreciate the information you’ve been able to share with us, but we are this close to an indictment on Bonanno anyway. If you’re not gonna help us sweeten the pot with Downey’s information, then what the heck are ya here for?” James countered, Chicago accent especially noticeable.
“Excuse me, Agent Hoffman! This is a Bureau case originally. You are just as much a Johnny-come-lately as Detective Gates! He is a valued member of my team!” Ginny said hotly. What was his deal? Why was he all of a sudden trying to cut Tommy off at the pass?
They were both looking at her oddly now. Then they shared a quick, humor-filled look. Tommy started chuckling and James shook his head, then slapped Tommy on the back before walking off.
For real? she thought. What was amusing about that?
She was still fuming about the whole thing at the end of the day when she saw James in the parking garage walking with a purpose to his car, eyes steadfastly on the phone in his hand.
“Hey, hey! Wait up!” she shouted.
He turned and gave her his Devil-may-care expression, as she thought of it.
“Yes, Ginny?” he asked.
“Agent Hoffman, I want to know what that was about earlier between you and Tommy, I mean, Detective Gates,” she said.
He turned the watt up on his smile and shrugged his shoulders. Truly, she found it nauseating this practiced Peter Pan fused with Prince Charming thing he had going on. Did some women actually fall for that crap?
“Listen, I’m just trying to get Tommy to man up and do what’s necessary in the next phase of this investigation. You yourself said that he would be the best equipped of all of us to tell if Downey knows we are headed in the right direction with Bonanno,” James smarmed, then turned and started walking again.
Ugh, insensitive jerk, she thought.
“Agent Hoffman, I agree that out of all of us, Tommy – I mean, Detective Gates – is the best able to ‘read’ Downey, however, we must respect his right not to. I don’t believe you have any right to imply that he is of no use to our team without using his father for information, and frankly I have avoided saying anything for the sake of team harmony, but your behavior at Miss Downey’s party a few weeks ago was seriously out-of-line and an egregious breach of conduct,” she panted out as she tried to match his long strides walking through the parking garage.
He stopped smartly. “Oh my God, are you serious, Ginny? I mean, Agent Sommers,” he mocked. “Tommy didn’t take it as an insult what I said earlier. We’re friendly, you could say friends, even. We’ve had beers a few times this week. We get along fine. Maybe if you’d come along sometime instead of hiding in your motel room like a shut-in, reading about how other people live their lives, you’d know that. I like to think after this is all over that we could still hang out, and all be Facebook friends, but at the end of the day we’re not here to hold hands and sing cum by yah. I’m just saying what needs to be said. We have almost everything we need for a solid case, and yes, we could move forward without Downey’s information, but I for one, want Bonanno to roast for good. I don’t want to take even the smallest chance that he’ll walk. Underneath all that confusion and confliction, I believe Tommy wants that as much as we do and would be willing to use his own father to get it—”
“Like you’re using his sister?” she interrupted, blind fury from the truthful sting of his ‘shut-in’ comment causing her to throw a wild speculation out there.
“Excuse me?” James replied in a defensive tone.
“Where do you go at lunchtime, Agent Hoffman?” Ginny asked, rolling with it. Dance with what brung ya.
James walked forward, having completely lost his mask of charming consigliore, replaced by one that looked an awful lot like anger and panic fused into one.
“Where I go and what I do on my off-time will never be your business, Agent Sommers,” he replied icily, and way, way, way too defensively.
Oh, wow. She was mostly bluffing a minute ago, but… oh, wow.
“Oooh… oh, James, you didn’t,” she said, shaking her head, all thoughts of professionalism gone.
She stepped back. He stepped forward, glaring at her.
“Think. Think what you are doing here!” she demanded, grabbing his arm.
“This discussion is over,” he gnashed out, yanked his arm loose, and walked briskly to his red sports car.
Naturally, she thought numbly, he would have a red sports car. How incredibly predictable. With fumbling hands she fished her phone out and called Tommy, even though she knew he was still in the building talking to Agent Underwood.
“Tom – Detective Gates. It’s Agent Sommers. I was wondering if you’d like to meet for drinks later? Give me a call,” she said, and then she punched off, before she could change her mind.
She’d barely made it to her own car on the next level before her phone beeped a text message: When and where? T
She typed in: Giordano’s?
Again, when and where? LOL
Ummmnn, good question, she thought. If she suggested getting take-out and going to her motel that might seem too forward, but then again, they worked together and there was nothing wrong with meeting alone, but at the same time, he might take it the wrong way. Except it wouldn’t be the wrong way since it was of a personal nature sort of cloaked in a professional nature, or maybe it was just both and then the wrong way would simply be that she was thinking of him in that way… which actually was the truth, but a truth she didn’t actually want him to know just now. She kept pacing back and forth, ruining the fresh manicure on her thumbnail, then jumped out of her skin at the bleep-bleep sound of the truck next to her being disarmed.
“Whatever this is about it must be good,” Tommy said, laughter evident in his voice.
She looked dumbly down at her phone in her hand as if it would hold answers then back up at him. She’d give anything if just for once she could hold an entire conversation with this man without sounding like a complete idiot. He smiled and nudged his head towards the truck parked next to hers.
“Guess we parked next to each other. Want to just order delivery at my place instead? I’m a little peopled-out myself,” he said, apparently unconcerned by her odd behavior.
“Um… that’d be fine. I’ll just… follow you… then,” she managed to get out, tucking a stray bit of hair behind her ear.
He shook his head and walked forward until he stopped right in front of her. He reached his hand up and un-tucked the lock of hair, rendering her thoughtless as well as speechless.
“I liked it better that way,” he said, then turned and got inside his SUV.
Ginny let go of the breath of air she didn’t realize she was holding and followed him to his apartment. Once inside, she tucked her hands inside the cuffs of her sweater to keep them from fidgeting, a bad habit she had when she was nervous. Which she rarely was… except in press conferences… and job interviews… and first dates. Sadly, each was more rare than the last. And this wasn’t a date anyway. She was pretty sure. Mostly.
“I’m sorry, what?” she asked, still standing just inside the door.
“Would. You. Like. A beer?” he asked again, slowly but friendly.
He had a charming half-smile on his face. She liked the way he smiled, sort of effortlessly and understated, instead of practiced and ingratiating like Agent Hoffman. Oh, sure, James was very handsome if you go for that Raphael fallen-angel look and his dimples were probably quite effective with ninety-eight percent of the female population, but there was something about the rugged patrician features and quiet demeanor of Tommy Gates that made her feel… well… just made her feel. And she hadn’t realized how much time she spent suppressing her own feelings in favor of analyzing and recording everyone else’s emotions and actions until that very moment.
“Sure. Thanks,” she answered, feeling somewhat more confident now that she had something to do with her hands.
He looked tired as he ordered their pizza from a place just around the corner. She started to feel a little guilty about suggesting drinks when he’d obviously had a long day.
“So what’d you want to talk about?” he asked after he hung up.
Maybe telling him about her suspicions regarding James and Kiki could wait. After all, they were just that, suspicions.
“Ahhh, you know, I just… felt bad about pressuring you earlier about your dad,” she answered. His brows scrunched in confusion. She continued, “I was being intrusive again and I know it’s none of my business, what goes on between you and your family.”
He studied her for a moment and nodded his head slightly. He didn’t look angry. He didn’t look anything but tired. She fiddled with the label on her beer.
“Is there anything you wanted to talk about?” she ended up asking.
His eyebrow shot up and for a second she could see the resemblance between him and his father, except there was definitely warm humor dancing around in his eyes instead of that icy-cold nothingness in Downey’s.
“What is this, reverse psychology?” he asked, chuckling.
He got up from the bar stool he had been half sitting on, half leaning on. He started walking slowly towards her.
“No, no, no, I was just, it’s just you seem… tired and I don’t… I mean, if you wanted to talk… about anythiiing…” she trailed off nervously as grabbed her hands cupping the beer bottle.
He pulled her forward, still holding her hands while walking backwards. “Come in. Stay awhile. Make yourself comfortable,” Tommy said, guiding her gently towards an overstuffed chair by the window.
She hated those kinds of chairs. She always felt like a little kid dwarfed by its nonfunctional largeness. Something must’ve shown of her thoughts on her face because he laughed.
“This place came furnished. I’m guessing by someone with a great fondness for flower prints, oversized furniture, and from the smell of it, lots of cats,” he said, relaxing her with his humorous tone and friendly smile.
She smiled back at him. “Not a cat person yourself?” she asked.
“How about this? I ask you one question, and for every answer you give me, I’ll answer a question of your own. Sound fair?” he responded.
“Alright, but that one doesn’t count,” she said, eager to finally get some answers.
“Why are you always so nervous around me?” he asked.
Not fair! Ginny thought. Her heart started racing.
“I’m not always nervous,” she said.
“No, not always. Sometimes you’re overly ‘intrusive’ as you say, and sometimes you’re overly professional—”
“Why did you go see your father today?” she interrupted, metaphorically putting her cards on the table.
“Uh-uh. You didn’t answer the question,” Tommy said, holding her gaze.
Ginny scooted forward on the chair and set her beer down.
“Truth?” she asked, cocking her head.
“That’d be preferable,” he chuckled. He slouched back against the couch opposite of her, propping his feet up on the coffee table.
“I don’t know. I find you fascinating. I find your family… situation… fascinating. But if I knew why I get nervous around you I’d certainly do something to stop it,” Ginny answered, figuring brutal honesty was probably the best approach.
He lost his grin and was back to looking tired. “Ok,” he finally said softly.
“Ok?” she responded.
“Oooo, Kay,” he repeated slowly, arching the brow again.
He took a lazy swig of his beer and studied her some more, looking pensive. She was about to repeat her question about Downey when he finally answered.
“I went to see my father because my mother and sister have been putting pressure on me all week to do so. And I suppose it was time I made a move one way or the other on a personal level. But I haven’t made up my mind about asking him to help us with the case. It doesn’t sit right with me, and since I can’t figure out if that’s because he’s my father or because my police instincts say it’s too risky, I figure it’s best to do nothing until I do sort it out,” Tommy said.
“And what if you never sort it out?” Ginny asked.
He shrugged and wiped a hand over his eyes and forehead. The doorbell rang and Ginny sprung up out of her chair, needing something to do with her nervous energy. She paid for the pizza, ignoring Tommy’s protests, and set it on the coffee table.
“You mind if I turn on the TV?” Tommy asked, sounding a little frustrated.
“Mmn, uh-uh,” she mumbled through her bite of pizza.
She couldn’t tell if he was feeling chauvinistic or proper or something, she wasn’t sure, but it seemed only logical that she pay for the pizza since she had been the one to suggest the idea, and here they were at his place, and he was exhausted, so of course she should pay for it. So why was he…
Ugh, Ginny, stop thinking, she reprimanded herself while avoiding his gaze.
“So, my turn again. When did you decide to join the FBI?” he asked.
She met his gaze and smiled shyly. “I think I was nine. No, seriously,” she said when he looked skeptical. “I always wanted to join. Pretty much every decision I made in school and my extra-curricular activities were geared towards being able to join up as soon as the age requirement allowed.”
“Huh,” was all he said in reply.
“And you? When did you decide to join law enforcement?” she asked.
“I guess I just took the leap after I graduated high-school. My, uh, father had come to see me, and it was the first time since I was about ten that I’d seen him. It sort of… brought back all these memories of when I was little and we were in Wit Sec and I just felt like… I don’t know, it’s hard to explain…” he trailed off and frowned at his pizza, then tossed it down.
She bit her lip, willing him to go on. He looked up and narrowed his eyes at her. Then he took a deep breath and leaned back against the couch again, staring intently at her.
He sort of twisted his mouth into a weird half-smile, half-grimace then said, “I like you too, you know.”
Ginny blinked at the non sequitur. She could feel her cheeks flushing. His mouth untwisted and he looked endearingly boyish and uncertain for a minute, then he looked away from her and back at the TV. She was surprised when he continued speaking as if the moment hadn’t happened.
“I felt like I owed it to myself and to my mom and Jack to make a difference. To take a stand against what my father did for a living, so that their sacrifices wouldn’t be in vain. I guess a childish part of me wanted to stick it to my father for what he had put us through, because I blamed him for my mother going on the run. But a bigger part of me wanted to be a good example to my new siblings. But when Jack suggested he could put in a word with the Bureau, all I could feel was resentment for the way my mother was used as a bargaining chip by the Federal government, so I felt like the best compromise was to go for detective,” he said almost tonelessly, eyes never leaving the TV set.
“Ah. That explains it,” Ginny replied. “The way you sometimes say ‘Feds’ like we don’t all play on the same team.”
He slid his eyes to her and wiggled his head and shoulder in a ‘if you say so’ gesture, then continued to watch the TV, pizza and beer all but forgotten. She ate her pizza in silence for a bit, contemplating whether she should bring up his sister or continue the Q&A, and pretended to be interested in the old spaghetti western he was watching. When she had worked up the courage to broach the subject of James and Kiki, she looked over at him and realized he had dozed off. She sighed and gathered her things.
She didn’t know what possessed her, but she walked over to him and lightly brushed the messy dark locks from his forehead like she had wanted to do from the moment they had met. He mumbled something in his sleep and she beat a hasty retreat.
Tommy woke to the sound of his cell phone belting ‘Pretty Daughter’ by the Bad Livers. He fumbled for the phone in his shirt pocket and looked around for Ginny. She had obviously left.
Dammit to hell and back again, he thought, mentally kicking himself.
“Hey, Kicks, wassup?” he answered sleepily.
“Tommy, for real? You’re already sleeping at nine at night?” Kiki asked playfully.
“Some people with real jobs do that,” Tommy said, still irritated at having blown the evening with Ginny. There was deafening silence on the other end.
Shiiiit, he thought, this girl and the silent treatment.
“Sorry, Kiki, it’s just been a long day, everything ok?” he tried again.
“Tommy, did you have a fight with Daddy?”
“No, not more than we usually do. I thought it ended on a fairly positive note. Why?”
“Well, he was acting weird earlier today, and now you’re crabby, and I guess I just wondered if…”
“If?” Tommy asked when she didn’t finish, trying to tamp down his irritation.
She sighed dramatically. He couldn’t help but chuckle at it. Ahh, Kiki. She always managed to both irritate and amuse him simultaneously. Maybe this was a Downey trait, this innate ability to elicit two usually opposite emotions at the same time.
“Nevermind,” Kiki said sullenly. “Jessica’s gone back to New York and I was feeling kind of lonely. Maybe you and your lady friend would like to double date this weekend?”
“Ok, first of all, she’s not my lady friend. She’s a colleague—”
“That’s not what your mom says,” Kiki interrupted, in that obnoxious sing-song voice.
“Since when do you and my mother discuss my love life? When did you two become BFFs?” he asked, feeling decidedly henpecked.
Good Lord, these two harping on me about my father and now about Ginny? Was it ‘Fix Tommy’ Month? Tommy wondered.
“Tommy,” she said in a long-suffering tone. “Mary simply mentioned she felt there might be the potential of something between you two, and I thought so myself the night of my party a few weeks ago. If you’re having trouble making the first move, this could be the perfect way—”
“Absolutely not! I don’t need any help getting dates, Kiki, nor do I want your interference. Why can’t you for once just leave it the hell alone!?” Tommy interrupted hotly. He felt suffocated by all this poking and prodding by his mother, his sister, his father, even Ginny and James. Christ.
“Geeeeze. If you’re determined to be a grouch tonight just forget about it. I was only trying to help,” Kiki said.
“Who’s the guy?” Tommy asked curtly.
“No one. It doesn’t matter. I probably couldn’t get him to go anyway,” she said in a morose voice. She sounded even a little forlorn. His big brother instincts were fast overriding his irritation with her and transferring them to the nameless jerk his little sister was mooning over.
“What’s his name? Where’d you meet him? Has he met your dad?” he asked.
“Our dad,” she said. “For crying out loud, why do you always – and don’t interrogate me! I’m not a suspect here, I’m your sister.”
It was his turn to sigh heavily. Would this day never end?
“Alright, Kiki, let’s do this then. I’d like to meet him.” Tommy said as cheerfully as he could muster.
“No… no… like I said, I bet I couldn’t get him to go anyway. Maybe just the three of us could go out then,” she said, then heaved another one of her patented dramatic sighs.
“Tommy, if a guy hooks up with you, but he hooks up with you a lot–”
“Argh, stop right there. T.M.I.,” Tommy interrupted.
She snickered. “No, no, I just mean like, it’s not just a booty-call, or a one-off thing, but like, you know in those old movies they’d call it an affair? Maybe even a torrid affair—”
“Kicks, have you been watching old Bogart films again?”
“Would you stop interrupting?” Kiki demanded, sounding exasperated.
“There’s this guy—”
“We’ve established this.”
“Alright, alright, I’m listening,” he said.
Dear God, please no more details… he thought.
“So there’s this guy, and he’s a really nice guy, and we get along great, and we’ve spent a good bit of time together in the last few weeks. I mean not just… you know… but other things, like taking walks, and boat rides, and we went to the museum last weekend, and I think he really likes me, but I can’t be sure if it’s not just about the—” she cut off abruptly.
“About the ‘you know’?” he finished for her.
She was silent.
“Yeah, about the ‘you know’,” she answered softly, but he got the impression that wasn’t what she meant at all.
“Hmmmn. Now I’m doubly sure I ought to meet him,” Tommy said.
“Well, take for instance, last weekend I suggested we go out clubbing together with some friends and he said no. He said he wasn’t into that scene, and so I said, well, we could just meet up with some of my friends, or some of his friends at a restaurant, and he just sort of changed the subject,” Kiki said.
“Did he say you couldn’t go?” Tommy asked, his radar going up.
“No, not at all. He suggested I go ahead and go out with my friends, and we’d just get together later. So that makes it seem clandestine, doesn’t it? Like he’s ashamed of being seen with me?” Kiki asked.
Tommy didn’t like the sound of the confusion in her voice. She was old enough to drink and vote and run her own life, but he knew she didn’t have much experience with relationships. Hookups as she called them, yes. Relationships, no. It wasn’t like he was that much older than her, but his almost five more years on the planet seemed like decades sometimes with Kiki. She was pretty intelligent and usually had a good read on people, but obviously this guy had her at sixes and sevens, and that made him want to hunt this creep down and…
“Yeah, I was just thinking. It’s hard to say. You say you’ve only been seeing each other a couple of weeks—”
“But a lot in those few weeks; like almost every day.”
“Ok, but it’s still early days yet, right?”
“Well, he may just not be ready to go public yet. But you should definitely tell him your feelings about it, because if he respects you, values you, he will understand your point of view and he will give you the courtesy of what had better be a damned good reason. And I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to be seen with a beautiful, smart, funny girl like you, so if he persists with the cloak and dagger B.S., kick his stupid butt to the curb,” Tommy said.
“Tuh. Not that you’re biased or anything,” Kiki replied, but he could tell from her tone she was pleased with his response.
Man, he thought, this big brother thing was exhausting sometimes.
“Was there anything else?” he asked, rubbing his eyes.
“D’you work things out with Daddy?” she asked, sounding perky again.
“We… agreed to try,” he ground out, still feeling henpecked.
“Oh, Tommy! I’m so happy! You’ll see! Daddy’s really great if you just get to know him better—”
“Alright Kiki, I better let you go. Got a pretty full day tomorrow,” he lied.
It was still new and daunting this thought of having his father in his life as more than an acquaintance and he couldn’t pinpoint what ratio of parts were fear, hope, love, disgust, wonder, and worry, and after the day he’d had, he didn’t want to spend one more second dissecting his emotions.
“Oh, ok, Tommy… um… thanks for your advice,” she said.
“Anytime, Kicks,” he said gently.
“And… I love you,” she replied softly.
“I love you, too.”
“Yeah?” she asked, sounding happy again.
“Yeah,” he answered, feeling exasperated. “Kiki, what’s the matter with you tonight, for crying out loud?”
She just laughed and hung up.
Oh for the love of… if he lived to be a hundred, he would never understand women and their convoluted moods. He tossed his phone beside the uneaten pizza and headed for bed.
The next morning, he was trying to figure out how to call Ginny and apologize for falling asleep on her like a dolt when his mother knocked on the door. He thought about ignoring her, but he was pretty sure he’d go to Hell or Purgatory or wherever it was that sons-who-ignore-their-mothers-who-sacrificed-everything-for-you-but-had-an-annoying-habit-of-micromanaging-your-life go to.
“Hey, Mom,” he said, opening the door.
“Are you sure this is a nice neighborhood?” she asked, looking around her.
Tommy grunted and headed to the kitchen to start another pot of coffee. “It’s no different than Omaha,” he said.
“I read an article that Chicago hasn’t been able to make a whole twenty-four hours without a murder,” she replied.
He sighed. Today was shaping up to be as long as the day before.
“So, let me guess, you’re here to ask if I went and talked to my father. Well, you’re too late, Kiki called last night to confirm that, yes, I did indeed talk to him, and no harm came to any animals while making the film,” Tommy said with a smile.
His mom flushed and fussed with her hair.
Man, I love her, he thought. He loved how she fussed, worried, loved and forgave with all her heart, even those who had done nothing to earn it.
“Well. Well, I’m glad that you at least tried. We’ll just see, won’t we?” she finally said.
He just smiled at her and raised his eyebrow, deliberately trying to mimic his father.
“What?” she asked, hands on hips.
“What’s this about you and Kiki spending time with each other? Dissecting my so-called love life?” he asked her, needling just for old-time’s sake.
“I’m… we aren’t… that’s just… ffffff,” she blew out a flustered breath.
Then she laughed and shook her head. “You know what? It’s the strangest thing. I think I might’ve spent more time with your sister than I have you on this trip so far. I just can’t tell you why. I guess I always wished I could’ve had a daughter. I mean, another child in addition to you,” she said.
She looked a little wistful and regretful. It made him worry a little that she was romanticizing the past.
“But surely you don’t regret what you did?” he asked.
“No… no, I regret that it came to that. Regret what it cost us both, but I couldn’t have made any other choice I don’t think. Because I truly believe that even though God gives us the ability to make choices and pick paths, there are some roadblocks and landmarks that are just meant to be. That no matter what choice you might’ve made, eventually all roads would lead to where you are at.”
“Hmmmnn,” was all he could muster in response. He wasn’t sure he could buy that. Life seemed pretty random to him most of the time. But then again he saw a lot more of the harsher, more evil side of life than his mother did.
He chatted with his mother until he was sure she had satisfied herself that he was alright, and even promised her he would go to Mass with her on Sunday. As soon as she was out the door, he checked his phone again. No messages. He sighed and figured he ought to make the first move since it was his screw up.
He sent Ginny a quick text: Sorry about last night. Make it up to you? T
She replied immediately: Don’t worry about it, it was a long day. See you at work! GS
Well, that sounded friendly, at least. He called Kiki’s number next.
“Good morning, grumpy butt,” she answered playfully.
“Hey, I got a better idea than a double date. How about you and I spend some time with the old man this weekend,” he suggested, ignoring the squirming in his stomach at the idea of it.
“Oh, are you serious!? That’s great, Tommy. Daddy’s going to flip!” she all but squealed in his ear.
He smiled and headed out the door for work. On the way there he convinced himself that it was probably better that nothing came of it last night with Ginny anyway. There was nothing worse than mixing work with one’s personal life. He was pretty sure she must have decided as much also because she was back to her overly professional self when he saw her at work.
And it was why he was frankly stunned when, instead of heading off to her motel room after work the following Monday, Ginny actually joined him and James for Happy Hour. She’d been rather frosty towards James since the O’Rourke hit, and he began to wonder if that had really been what she had wanted to talk about the other day instead of his father. Maybe Hoffman was giving her a hard time or something. Maybe she had decided to get over her jumpiness around Tommy. Or maybe she was just worried about her ‘team solidarity’. The idea made him chuckle. In any case, he was pleased to see her, and tried to convince himself it was for professional, friendly reasons.
They settled into that pleasant routine – work, drinks, work some more – over the next few weeks, ironing out the last kinks, pulling in their undercover ops and compiling surveillance, combined with video conferencing with the New York and DC offices. But after a while, Ginny began to vacillate between looking apprehensive and seeming impatient about something around Tommy. She hadn’t suggested they go out again on their own and neither had he, but he continued to see her at Happy Hour. Eventually he began to suspect she was only attending because her day planner had told her to do so, rather than an actual desire to sit in a crowded pub or restaurant with him and James. She certainly seemed preoccupied. She would show up, order one appetizer, make stilted small talk, and be out like a shot before Tommy had finished his first beer. But that wasn’t nearly as confusing as his so-called family life.
Kiki and his mother would tag team him about his progress with his father when he wasn’t working on the case; his mother at lunch, Kiki in the evenings and the weekend. They’d find reasons why he needed to meet them at places and coincidentally – there’d be his father. Subtlety was not their strong suit. Mickey seemed to alternate between sharing Tommy’s exasperation, and a kind of philosophical complaisance. The ratio of which depended upon whether either one of these women would stick around. His mother rarely did. Especially if Kiki and she were together, they’d rush off after some contrived sale or exhibit or some such blatantly made up excuse to leave Tommy and his father alone.
Tommy didn’t know whether to feel satisfaction or pity at the look of pure frustration on his father’s face when this would happen. During these moments of forced proximity, as long as he and Mickey would avoid the topics of the law and his mother they could get along, mostly, but Tommy still felt like there was an invisible wall between the two of them. His father seemed more interested in filling in the blanks of Tommy’s childhood than what was going on in his life right now. And he’d change the subject each and every time Tommy tried to ask about Mickey’s past. Ironically, their unspoken agreement to not talk about the law, while preventing arguments, only seemed to further the disconnect between them. And then later, when Kiki or his mom would pry, Tommy felt like he was letting them down. And that made him feel resentful and guilty, and then angry.
So, about a month into being in Chicago, it was with a deep sense of relief he shook all three of his suffocating family members, and the trafficking case, to spend a Friday night at a popular club with James and Ginny. They had agreed beforehand, no work discussion allowed. Ginny showed up wearing an outfit he strongly suspected his sister had a hand in picking out because Ginny kept pulling down the skirt and crossing and uncrossing her legs like she didn’t know what to do with them. He tried his best not to look at them. Much.
James kept checking his phone obsessively, so Tommy started ribbing him about whether he and this girl he had been seeing so much of had moved on to the sexting portion of their relationship. He was enjoying watching the way it made Ginny blush furiously and nervously rearrange the coasters and napkins, when a man came up to them and slapped Hoffman so hard on his back that his phone scattered across the table. Tommy laughed.
“Sup, Hoffstops?” the jovial man greeted.
“Piss off, Russo,” James replied with more irritation than heat while putting his phone away.
“Where’s the sexy little brunette?” Russo asked, clearly intoxicated.
“What brunette? How many you had, bro?” James asked, getting up to steer the man away. Russo shook his arm off and leaned unsteadily over the table, holding his hand out to Tommy.
“I’m Teddy Russo, this jackass’s brother-in-law,” Russo said, practically falling over on the table.
Ginny had her lip curled in disgust. Tommy shook Russo’s hand and met James’ worried gaze.
“Yeah, why don’t I get you a cab, and you go on home to Steph, alright, Ted? I’m sure she’s worried,” James said while trying to tug him away.
“Ahh, she don’t care. All you Feds are cut from the same cloth, ain’t ya? Jist work, work, work, woooork,” he drawled out. “Used to be me an’ your sister were a courtin’ and a sparkin’ like you an’ that hot little number I saw you wit’ down at Millennium Park—”
“Listen, let’s get you—”
“I thought I was seein’ things,” Russo said to Tommy and Ginny. “Dis guy doin’ the tourist thing with a brunette half his age, gigglin’ under the Bean like a pair o’ teenagers, I’m tellin’ ya, it was far out. Steph’nie’s baby brudder’s gone and got himself a nose ring,” he drawled out in a booze-mangled, thick Chicago accent.
James dragged him away as Russo was making air kisses.
“I’m going to take him home, alright?” James called out, without turning back.
Tommy grinned at Ginny, expecting her to share in his amusement, but she was looking pale and a bit horrified.
“What, you’ve never seen a drunk man before?” he teased her.
“I – what?” she said in a distracted manner, fingers mindlessly kneading her clutch purse.
“Are you alright?” he asked, thinking she looked a little ill.
“I’m fine. I mean, I’m not. I think I’m going to go home, I mean, back to my motel… if you don’t mind,” she replied, then stood up, and shot out of the bar.
Well… Hell… he thought. So much for a nice relaxing evening amongst friends.
James figured, as he lounged against the grungy alley wall waiting for his snitch, that if he could just find the right way to crack Tommy, he could be free to give Kiki what she obviously wanted. He wasn’t stupid. She was making all those typical female noises about meeting the friends, maybe even the family. But they’d only been together a little over a month since they’d met at her party. And ‘together’ was stretching it a bit. Sure, they talked every day, saw each other more days than not, but that didn’t mean they were together together. And even though it was also true he couldn’t get her off his mind, found himself thinking about her at odd moments in the day, found excuses to see her when he really should be focusing on the case, still… they had barely started whatever it was that it was.
She was beautiful and intelligent and sexy and fun to be with, surprisingly so given how young she was, but going public and making it official with friends and family instead of the nameless strangers at museums and parks? He wasn’t sure even if he wasn’t trying to work her family for information if he would be ready for that. But what he did know for sure was that it couldn’t happen before Tommy agreed to get Downey on board. It would complicate things too much. Everyone would have their two cents to put in, and Downey would no doubt run the other direction or demand Kiki stop the relationship. Or both. And neither thing sat well with James.
But something was going to have to be done. Take this morning, for instance, she springs on him that they’re supposed to be meeting up with Tommy and Ginny for drinks after work. And he, naturally, balked at this idea. First, she said it while trailing her manicured nails down his lower abdomen, tracing a teasing pattern that had his mind and willpower at seriously subpar levels, and second, she cloaked it in a manner in which he didn’t have a logical reason to refuse.
“You and Ginny and my brother will just go out for Happy Hour like you’ve been doing most days. I already told my brother I’d join him and he thought it was a great idea. He doesn’t have to know you knew in advance I’d be there. We can just feel them out. We don’t have to acknowledge that we’ve already been seeing each other but it could be, like, a dry run. Ease them into the idea. You see? And anyway, Tommy needs help with Ginny, she obviously likes him and I think he likes her, but a snail could move faster—”
“Mmnnn… Katherine, you’ve got to stop with these games. People aren’t dolls… Ahhh, stop that, baby, I got to get to work,” he had said as she teased him with her hair and one delightful fingertip.
This girl ought to just change her name to Mata Hari.
But he’d ended up agreeing, because what else could he do? If he all of a sudden made an excuse not to go to Happy Hour with Tommy and Ginny it would confirm Ginny’s suspicions, and she might go to Tommy, and that would derail his progress. It was frankly a miracle she hadn’t said anything yet, especially after stupid Ted’s drunken ramblings last weekend. Added to that, he could tell by the stubborn, challenging glint in Kiki’s eyes that if he refused it would cause trouble between them.
Besides, maybe Kiki had a point. Maybe if they simply openly admired each other, flirted a bit, it wouldn’t seem like he was using her to Ginny and then she would back off her meaningful glares and pointed looks. And Tommy wouldn’t have to know he and Kiki had already been together until after they’d bagged Bonanno. If they were even still together then. Because who knew where this thing would lead? Surely something this hot and heavy would burn out soon enough. That’s why he didn’t want to involve anyone else. It was confusing enough without her family and his family weighing in on it.
James checked his watch again, worried he wouldn’t make it back to headquarters in time if his snitch didn’t show. He’d gotten a mysterious text from one of O’Rourke’s crew saying he had info on the hit on his boss, and since this confidential informant had dropped some fairly reliable info in the past for him in exchange for getting let off on a midlevel narcotics charge, James had sacrificed his lunch break to meet him. Besides, he’d obviously be seeing Kiki tonight for the Happy Hour of Doom. Maybe she’d be so grateful…
He heard a car door slamming and turned, walking towards the noise on the other side of the abandoned building. His neck prickled. He probably should have brought Tommy along for back-up but he wanted to keep this guy to himself. An O’Rourke snitch was a rare breed. He un-holstered his weapon and crept around the side, using a pocket mirror to see what was down the other alley. His CI was walking forward darting nervous glances left and right. Behind him was a man who seemed vaguely familiar standing in front of a black Lincoln.
Yep, shoulda brought backup. He flattened back against the wall.
“Hoffman! Hey, Hoffman! Come out,” he heard his snitch O’Brien say, voice trembling. “Hoffman, ain’t no use man. They already know you’re meeting with me. They just wanna talk.”
James battled with the desire to know who ‘they’ were versus the obvious disadvantage he had. It couldn’t be O’Rourke’s people or the snitch would already be dead. O’Rourke had a less than zero tolerance for rats. Meaning he tended to go the extra mile and kill a guy’s entire family to cement the message when he so much as suspected a leak. But then again… O’Rourke was now dead. Hmmmnn. He heard another car door slam.
“Come on out and play, Jimmy. Isn’t this what you’ve been angling for?” a gravelly voice James clearly recognized said.
Not the Downey I’d hoped to spend lunch with, he thought with dark humor.
James walked around the corner and faced Kiki’s father. O’Brien was shifting back and forth on his feet like he was preparing to run. The man in the suit next to the limo fondled his high caliber weapon.
Well, shit on a stick.
Downey smiled and walked forward, leaving a distance between him and the other men. James quickly weighed his options and went with his instincts.
“This isn’t about the hit, is it?” he asked politely, attempting to remain professional.
“On the contrary. I have information you and your friends might find interesting. And I’ll give it to you for a reasonable price,” Downey replied silkily.
James’ guts knotted up. This was too easy. What was going on? Downey’s eyes held cold menace, but his smile was pure honey. The classic phrase ‘Make him an offer he can’t refuse’ rang in his head.
“Depends on the information,” James replied.
Downey chuckled. “Come on now, Jimmy boy, we both know this is what you’ve been angling for,” Downey repeated. “This is why you’ve been sniffing around my daughter and schmoozing up my oldest son, isn’t it?”
James’ heart stuttered a bit. “What are you talking about?” he bluffed.
“Your little toy here’s been quite the chatty Cathy. Been selling his information to the highest bidder for quite some time now. Luckily, I find it useful to keep my ears and eyes open even in my retirement, know what I’m sayin’? With O’Rourke gone, it’s only natural the little mice come running to the nearest protector. He tells me you’re investigating an acquaintance of mine, you might even call him family. And we all know there’s nothing more important than family… ain’t that right, Jimmy?” Downey sneered.
“It’s James, Mr. Downey, and if you’ve information to aid us in our case we’d be more than happy to take it, confidentially of course,” James said as calmly as he could.
“Tell me. What kind of a man uses an innocent little girl because he doesn’t have enough balls or competence to get the job done himself?” Downey replied.
James’ ears were ringing from a combination of anger and fear. He looked Downey in the eyes and forced himself to walk forward.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” James answered slowly and firmly.
Downey reached into his coat and brought out an envelope which he opened lazily. He took out pictures of Kiki and James kissing at Grant Park. James gritted his teeth. So much for keeping the families out of it. He looked back at Downey and kept his poker face on.
“And?” he asked.
Downey looked mildly impressed. He stepped forward. They were now almost toe-to-toe. James forced himself not to step back.
“This is how it’s going to go,” Downey said softly. “You’re going to take this envelope, with these pictures and some information on O’Rourke’s connection to Teplov’s operation. You’ll find there’s nothing on Bonanno, nor will you get anything from me on him. But in exchange for this information on the Russians, you’re going to break things off with my daughter immediately. No one ever needs to know of this. See, your snitch O’Brien over there has delusions of grandeur, fancies himself moving up the ranks now his former boss is gone. So he’s going to keep his mouth shut about this meeting, because I’m going to help make his petty little dreams come true. His mouth speaks only what I tell it to speak from now on, and he understands what’s at stake if he doesn’t. You seem like a real smart boy, Jimmy, so I don’t suppose I gotta explain what’s at stake for you either. So this is a real simple case of quid pro quo between me and you. Now, I can’t make you stop fraternizing with my son since you work together, but you damn well aren’t ever going to lay a perverted hand on my daughter again. If you take this information, and you don’t leave my daughter alone, I will make sure my son and daughter understand the extent of your betrayal and then I will have your badge. Don’t delude yourself into thinking I don’t have that kind of clout in this city,” Downey finished.
“You’ve miscalculated, Mr. Downey,” James said. “Kiki and I made an agreement the first night we met. She knows exactly what I’m after. So does your son for that matter. She’s been very willing to help me.” The petty part of him enjoyed the quick flash of betrayal on Downey’s face.
“I don’t believe you,” Downey replied.
“Well, that’s probably because you’re imagining all sorts of sinister motives here and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Your daughter, as usual, is thinking of everyone but herself. She wants you and Tommy to have a better relationship. Why? Because it’s what you want. I’ve agreed to help her because it benefits me to do so. And because I think it’s a goddamned shame she has to twist herself into a pretzel just to get your attention. But she knows what I want and she agreed to help me because I convinced her that you have nothing to do with the trafficking ring, and by encouraging Tommy to spend time with you, she’d be helping her brother and me get the information we need. But I don’t need her to get that done. I need Tommy. But so far, your son refuses to ask you to help. You’ll also be gratified to know your daughter steadfastly refuses to believe you’d ever give us the information you’re dangling in front of my nose right now.”
James grabbed the envelope. “And I don’t give a rat’s ass if you believe me or not,” he finished, then turned on his heel and walked off before his courage could fail him.
He half expected to hear a bullet wiz by or Downey shout after him, but nothing happened. He made it back to headquarters in a completely numb daze and handed the information over, explaining he’d gotten it from a CI. That was enough at first to keep them occupied, but his lack of enthusiasm for this final big break did not go unnoticed. He somehow made it through the afternoon ignoring the puzzled and curious looks Tommy, Ginny, and Jack were giving him. He’d shaved months off their investigation but he couldn’t muster up interest. He couldn’t get the sick ball of lead feeling to go away in the pit of his stomach. He couldn’t see a way out of the deal he’d just made with the Devil.
He wasn’t sure just what sort of clout Downey had to get his badge stripped but he knew that he could insinuate all sorts of things by way of James’ association with Kiki if he did continue to be with her. Sometimes his feverish mind would think the Hoffman and Dobson families had plenty of their own sway in Chicago, the majority of them being involved in government or politics in some way; he could fight fire with fire. But he couldn’t be certain. He had to get this case wrapped up first to be sure of anything, and he had needed this information to do it. The needs of those exploited children outweighed his desire to be with Kiki. It had to. But the rightness of the decision didn’t make the sick feeling go away.
“Hey, Francis, lighten up,” Tommy said, nudging James as they walked into the sports bar after work.
James forced a smile. “Sorry, I guess my mind is already on indictments and depositions and so forth,” he replied, looking around.
God… what am I going to tell Kiki?
“Well, I’m just happy we didn’t need to ask Tommy’s father for anything. The more I’ve been thinking about it, the more I feel better just going with what we gathered on our own about Bonanno and Teplov,” Ginny said.
James winced and sat down. Tommy shrugged before joining him.
“I don’t think he would have given us Bonanno anyway. We’ll have to hope we have enough on our own. I actually spent an entire day in his shop with him on Sunday. Just him and me. It was weird,” Tommy said. “This man is my father and I had no idea he was such an accomplished woodworker.”
“Yeah, he’s very talented,” James muttered without thinking.
Ginny and Tommy stared at him with marked curiosity.
“Downey is into carpentry?” Ginny asked, eyes narrowing at James. Tommy was still looking at James enquiringly. James thought quickly.
“I’ve seen some of his works in the paper before,” he lied, gambling on the fact neither Tommy nor Ginny were from Chicago and wouldn’t know any better.
Tommy nodded and relaxed a bit, “He told me he mostly does furniture by request and word of mouth. He sells a few pieces at some of the smaller consignment shops around town. Not that the man needs the money or anything,” he finished with a chuckle. It was good Tommy was finally opening up about his father with them, but to James, it felt like a knife twisting in his gut because of what he was about to do.
He saw Ginny smile at something over his shoulder and he turned to see Kiki enter. She took his breath away she was so beautiful. She had done that from the first moment he saw her in person at her party, but at the time he had thought it was just because he had built her up as this fantasy in the papers. He kept thinking it would go away as he got to know her, but it had only gotten worse, this ache for her. She was dressed in a simple and elegant pair of slacks and blouse, her gorgeous chestnut curls tamed into one of those fancy braids crowning her face, the rest left loose.
She smiled a radiant smile at him. He swallowed the lump in his throat and deliberately didn’t smile back. Her smile slipped a bit and her brows hinted at her confusion, but she kept walking towards them. Tommy got up to hug her and she exchanged pleasantries with Ginny, finally sitting across from James at their table.
“It’s good to see you again, James,” Kiki said in a knowing tone, smirking.
Good Lord, this girl would never be able to play poker she was so bad at hiding her feelings. He nodded indifferently. Ginny looked between them, eyebrows raised, mouth pursed in suspicion.
“Should we order appetizers?” Tommy asked without looking up from the menu.
“Sure, it might be sometime in May before they get here though with the game on,” James replied, avoiding Kiki’s gaze.
All through drinks and appetizers he forced himself to smile and laugh with Tommy and Ginny acting as if Kiki weren’t there. Her confusion and hurt were obvious on her face. They weren’t going to announce their relationship tonight but the plan had been to flirt with each other at the very least. Yet he was shutting her down, rebuffing her advances. Tommy seemed not to notice much, but Ginny was looking at Kiki with increasing concern.
By the time their checks got there, Kiki looked delightfully furious like she had the first night at her party. He said a very forced and overly polite goodbye to her and drove the long drive back to his home in Downers Grove, trying to erase the look of hurt in her eyes from his memory. He walked into the house he had bought from his parents and shared with no one, and sat in the silence trying to figure out how he could go back on the deal and keep his relationship with Kiki without losing his badge… or his life for that matter.
The silence seemed to mock him, as did the acceptance they had a relationship just as he was about to lose it. He wished he could rewind the last several hours and not take the envelope, but then he would have the guilt of knowing he could’ve done something to help hundreds of innocent children and didn’t, made them wait a little longer for justice just because he was stuck on a pretty girl. There was a pounding on his door and repeated ringing of the doorbell. He got up and knew before he even opened the door it would be her.
She looked like an angry spitfire on his door step and his groin throbbed in need. He had a wild thought, just one more time… Just one more before he had to say goodbye.
“Just what the hell was that about tonight, James?” Kiki spit out.
He grabbed her and yanked her in, shutting the door with her body as he kissed her madly, like a desperate man.
Which, of course… he was.
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