“Did they get into trouble a lot?” I interrupted them, curious.
“When they were younger it was mostly just kid stuff—BB gun fights, sneaking into movies they had no business seeing, throwing oranges at cars. Remember that guy in the Corvette?” Martha’s eyes twinkled at Stevie, and he laughed, shaking his head. “Brad and Stevie were on a curve by the house, with about twenty oranges they had stolen from the groves around the pool. Every time a car would come around the curve, blam—they would peg the side of it with an orange. Now, most of the oranges were ripe and would splatter all over the side, scaring the bejesus out of whoever was driving and making a huge mess in the process.”
Stevie broke in, taking over the story, his eyes lit with excitement. “So around the corner comes this red Corvette—beautiful car, so hot that we got distracted, just staring at the thing. Brad finally snaps out of it and grabs an orange and throws it at the car. There were two sounds at once,” he said, holding up two fingers to illustrate the story. “A horn—the driver laid hard on the horn, alerting everyone within two miles. And brakes. That guy slammed full force on his brakes, squealing and leaving burnt rubber all over the place.” He laughed, slapping his hand on the table. “The guy driving the car was one of these bald ugly guys, probably right in the middle of a midlife crisis. He threw open the car door before it even fully stopped and started screaming bloody murder and running for us.”
“What did you do?” I leaned forward.
“Took off! Brad was trying to carry the orange bag with us, but it was heavy and bouncing everywhere, so finally he dropped it, and we split up, running in opposite directions. We were on residential streets by then, in Brad’s fancy-ass neighborhood, so we stuck out like sore thumbs. And this guy was fast. I had slowed to catch my breath when, out of nowhere, the guy tackled me.”
Martha held up a hand, stopping his story, and looked at me. “I’m gonna stop him right now before he starts blowing smoke into this story. Stevie starts crying like a little girl, screaming that they got the wrong guy, that he doesn’t have anything to do with oranges—basically admitting to involvement every time he opens his mouth. The guy wrestles him onto his back and pulls back his fist, telling him that he better fess up and give him both his and his friend’s name, or else he’s going to beat the hell outta him. That was back when a grown man could beat up a kid and, as long as he deserved it, no one gave two shits. So, what do you think Stevie did?”
She had a hand on her hip, another one on the counter, and was staring at me as though she expected my prediction. “He told them?” I ventured hesitantly.
“Well,” Stevie said, jumping back into the story. “As scared as I was of this middle-aged freak of nature, I was ten times more scared of Brad. But I wasn’t quick-witted enough to come up with anything on the fly.”
“So this idiot,” Martha said, “just flip-flopped their first and last names.”
“Hey—” Stevie broke in. “I was under pressure! I blurt out that I’m Steve Magiano, and that it was Brad Magiano who threw the orange, and that I had nothin’ to do with it.”
The names hit me like the middle-age Corvette owner’s fist, and my face must have shown it, for Martha flinched, then busied herself pulling out silverware.
“Magiano? You mean De Luca. Brad’s last name is De Luca. Right?” I stood, breathing hard, and stared at Martha and Stevie, who had both found other items in the kitchen fascinating.
“I f**king need honesty right now.” My voice was rigid and I saw Martha glance quickly over at me, and then look away. “What about women needing to know what they’re up against, Martha?”
“It’s not my place,” she said quietly, as subservient as I had ever seen her, pain in the eyes she quickly averted from me.
“And you?” I turned my wrath on Stevie, who was desperately trying to get a little more tea out of his empty glass.
He set down his glass and turned to me, his face unreadable. I could tell from his eyes that I wasn’t going to get any information from him, and he felt no shame at that. This was a man who had no issue with confrontation, or with withholding information.
Just minutes before, the kitchen had relaxed into a comfortable atmosphere, filled with the smells and noises of good cooking. Laughter, sizzles, pots banging. Now it seemed cold and foreign. I glared at both of them, then whirled and stormed up the stairs, hearing Martha’s sigh behind me. I flew onto the landing and turned, looking into Brad’s bedroom with the damn naked woman above his bed. She, in her black-and-white hotness, caught my fury. I strode in, climbing onto the bed and grabbed the large, canvas-wrapped frame and yanked it off the wall.
* * *
DOWNSTAIRS, MARTHA AND Stevie heard the sounds as Julia tore the portrait to shreds, slamming it against the door to break the wooden frame. He raised his eyebrows at Martha and she shook her head, turning off the burners and covering the rice. Dinner was finally ready, for all the good it did now.
“I always told that man his secrets would undo him.” Martha set three plates on the counter, and spooned rice onto each one.
“You act like he ever had a choice,” Stevie said, walking to the fridge and refilling his tea. He lowered his voice. “He was born, he grew up, he walked away from it as soon as he was old enough to make the decision. Why does it matter what she knows? You and I both know she won’t be around long, either by execution or him tiring of her. And she won’t tell anyone. Not now that she knows who he is.”
“I don’t know,” Martha said, heaping jambalaya onto their plates. “This one might be different. I fought it, didn’t want to see it, but something is different in his eyes when he looks at her. And from the evidence—don’t eat at that table, I got to clean it—she can keep up with him sexually, which is a feat unto itself.”
“So, what are you saying, he’s in love?” He spat out the words, incredulity coating the question.
“Maybe not yet, but it could get there.”
“Brad doesn’t fall in love. Even with Hillary.”
“Well, I told that boy marrying Hillary was a colossal mistake. It’s not my fault he didn’t listen then. But he hasn’t asked me now. Probably won’t, given as hardheaded as he is. But I will tell you, if that girl gets herself killed, I’ll be upset. And Brad? He’ll start a war the likes of which the Magianos haven’t seen in a long time.”