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If you want to see some sin, forget about Paris.

Go to Kansas City.

THE FIX

KANSAS

CITY,

APRIL,

MISSOURI

1929

“DON’T GO GETTING above yourself, boy.” Trey slid a glance at the old man beside him, his eyebrow raised in question. Boss Tom Pendergast’s glance slid across the street toward the prim young woman who’d caught Trey’s eye. She was short, her cheeks filled out, with clear peaches’n’cream skin. She had sleek chocolate brown hair rolled up into a fat bun, which meant it was long and thick and straight. She wore a fashionable blouse and trousers of good quality fabric and construction, but they were all the wrong cut and color. He could only guess at her figure, but he’d seen hundreds of women nude, so he had a pretty good idea she was an hourglass with just enough plump in all the right places. She and another girl were walking toward Kresge’s with their schoolbooks clutched to their chests, chatting and laughing. Her friend was blonde, with a cute permed bob and she was wearing a pretty dress. “You know who that jane is?” Boss Tom asked. “Nope.” “Dot Albright. Her daddy’s a Mormon bishop.” Trey’s eyebrows shot into his hairline. “On your payroll?” Boss Tom shook his head. “Not him, no. He’s straight, works for himself. He just doesn’t get in his congregants’ business, even if their business is with me. And you know those folks’re armed to the teeth.”

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Trey was too, and he wasn’t somebody who could legally be shot on sight. “But they let their girls wear trousers.” “The one in trouser’s Gil Scarritt’s daughter. Marina.” Trey pursed his mouth. That was … interesting, especially when the girls suddenly caught him staring. The pretty blonde in the pretty dress curled her lip. “Told you not to get your hopes up.” The interesting brunette in the trousers blinked at them innocently then looked at the pretty one with a scowl. Their lighthearted discussion turned into something more contentious. “Two preachers’ daughters,” Trey mused. “Why’s a Pentecostal lettin’ his girl wear trousers?” “His idea of a chastity belt.” Trey nodded approvingly. “That’s logical,” he said. “Inconvenient and a damned shame, but logical.” “Her?” Boss Tom hooted. “Marina?” “Yeh. Pretty girls are a dime a dozen and I got a dozen of ’em on my payroll. How old is she?” “Sixteen. What is wrong with you? She’s no looker.” “Likely not to anybody else, no.” “You have weird taste in dames.” Trey’s taste was in interesting-looking dames. As he watched, the pretty one dragged the interesting one into the drugstore, with one last sneer over her shoulder at them. “Trust Reverend Albright’s girl to know what’s what,” Boss Tom muttered, turning away. “I thought you said he was a bishop.” “He is. Reverend’s his given name.” Trey had heard stranger. “Dunham,” Boss Tom rumbled, amusement heavy in his deep voice. “You wrestle that bluenose into bed and knock her up, I’ll turn the keys to 1520 over to you, as is, free and clear.” Trey was so shocked he barely kept his cool. “Marina, you mean?” “Yes, Marina. Albright stays out of my way and I stay out of his.”

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Trey thought about that a few seconds. Finally he said, “That’s some bounty, Boss. I might start thinkin’ you don’t like the good Reverend Scarritt.” “Don’t start up thinkin’ again, boy. People get in trouble that way.” Not Trey. And what Trey thought was that this wasn’t a bet so much as an order. Trey didn’t hesitate to take orders he had several good reasons to carry out. “An’ if I don’t?” Boss Tom gave him a stone-cold glance. Definitely an order. Shit. “Tell you what, Dunham. I know you want to buy 1520 Main. I also know you are nowhere near being able to buy it at my price and you never will be.” That was debatable. “So I’m giving you a sporting chance. You have two months. And if you think marrying her’s gonna get the job done, think again.” Marriage was not in Trey’s plans. “Consider it done.”

PART I

SPEAKING IN TONGUES

1

“MARINA,” DOT SAID LOW as they turned away from the two men who were looking at the drugstore which the girls were about to enter, “make like you didn’t see them.” Marina glanced at Dot, confused. “They weren’t looking at us.” “Yes they were,” Dot said firmly, grasping her arm and directing her into the entryway, then through the door, then to their usual booth. “You can’t pay them any mind or they’ll take it as an invitation.” “Them who? Do you know them? An invitation to what?” Dot sighed heavily and picked up the menu. “Men. Grown men. No, I don’t know them. But you can’t give any man any reason to think you want their attention.” “Doesn’t your mother tell you anything?” Marina flushed and looked down at her menu. “Mm hmm. Why doesn’t your father let you wear dresses?” Marina sighed and recited Father’s oft-given sermon on the virtues of women in trousers. “So we won’t be a temptation to men and to guard us against roaming hands and to remind us that we’re women of God.” “Yes. Those men wanted to let their hands roam on us.” “On you,” Marina muttered, trying not to be resentful. Dot was beautiful. Marina was not. “The old guy, well … You got me there. He wasn’t interested in us. But the blond was,” she insisted. “In you.” “Oh, now you’re just being silly,” Marina pooh-poohed, knowing she could safely dismiss everything Dot had just said. Dot didn’t argue anymore. She mused over the menu until the waitress came by. “You gals want anything but your usuals?”

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Marina suggested she and Dot split an order of onion rings to go with her catawba flip and Dot’s cherry lime phosphate. While they waited, they were approached by several boys in succession who gave Marina a scant hello then moved on to flirting with Dot, who flirted right back but without giving them any reason to think she wanted the attention. Marina didn’t know how she did it, flirting without seeming to flirt at all, keeping a number of boys on her leash, making them work for her attention, and doing her bidding just for the chance to buy her a phosphate, be invited to one of her church’s dances, or escort her to a moving picture show. It was one reason Marina’s mother had never liked Dot, even though Dot was smart about such things. Another reason was that she was a devil-worshipping Mormon. To appease Mother and allow her to keep company with Marina, Dot’s mother had assented to allow Dot to attend Marina’s church on Wednesdays even though Marina’s parents would never allow her to reciprocate. In spite of Marina’s parents’ feelings, Marina was allowed to run with Dot because God told Father it was Marina’s duty to convert Dot to the true word of God and to save her soul. No matter how much Marina loved Dot, though, it was depressing watching boys fawn over her who never gave Marina anything but a polite smile, if they noticed her at all. Dot accepted the attention as if it were her due, but since neither girl was allowed out alone with a boy, if a boy wanted to spend a Saturday afternoon with Dot, he had to have a friend who would be willing to squire Marina. If the friend didn’t pay enough attention to Marina, Dot punished both boys by never speaking to them again. Marina hated being a pity date. After Dot had spent an appropriate amount of time flirting, she shooed them all away with a laugh. “We have to study, boys,” she cooed. “We’ll catch up tomorrow, same time, same place.” Dot gave Marina a wink as they opened their schoolbooks. They began with a math problem Marina had been having difficulty with in class, but in one sentence, Dot’s explanations had left Marina in the dust.

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Dot didn’t notice. Their sodas and onion rings came, but Marina was now hopelessly lost. “Dot, I’m more confused now than I was in class today!” she finally wailed. “Maybe I can help,” came a deep voice from above them. They both jumped and, to Marina’s shock, it was the blond young man from outside—and he wasn’t staring longingly at Dot. “Um … ” Marina began warily, even as Dot harrumphed. He ignored her. “Your friend … ?” He then lifted an eyebrow at Dot. Her mouth compressed, and she pointedly refused to give her name. He turned back to Marina. “She loves math too much to teach it well, which I do not mean as an insult.” “You probably can’t add two and two,” Dot said caustically. “Dot!” Marina gasped. Embarrassed by her friend’s behavior, she scooted to her left to allow the stranger to sit beside her. “I am so sorry. Dot’s never rude,” she said, glaring at her. Dot cocked her eyebrow at her, unrepentant. “My name’s Marina. Scarritt,” she added, turning back to the man. “Trey,” he said affably, casting a vague smile at Dot, the kind of smiles boys usually threw at Marina. “Trey Dunham.” “This is Dot Albright,” she said. “Dorothy Albright,” she said pointedly. “Miss Albright to you.” Marina wanted to demand Dot account for her bad behavior, but now was not the time. “Dot’s really smart and I’m … really not.” “Everybody’s smart in their own way,” he said matter-of-factly, then told the suddenly attentive waitress he wanted a lime rickey. “Thank you. And the table’s on me.” “We can pay for our own food,” Dot said smartly. “We do it every day.” “Dot!” Marina snapped again. “I’m sure you can and do, Miss Albright,” he said politely. “It would be my pleasure if, for today, you’d allow me.” She huffed. “Ugh. All right.” “I’m not sure what I did to offend you, miss,” Mr. Dunham murmured earnestly, “but I apologize.”

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“It’s not what you did,” she said smartly. “It’s what you might do.” His eyebrow rose. “I … might ask your friend to have a phosphate with me tomorrow.” Marina gulped down her shocked gasp. “If that’s okay with you.” There wasn’t a hint of sarcasm in his voice. He was earnest. He really wanted Dot’s approval. “Hrmph. We always have phosphates together.” He inclined his head. “I understand. I’m sure you can find a boy to round out the table.” Dot was clearly stymied. He wasn’t making fun of her. He was taking her seriously. He understood that Dot was trying to protect Marina. Most importantly, he wasn’t giving up. “All right,” Dot said imperiously. “Let’s see your math.” Trey gestured for Dot’s pencil. “May I?” She flipped it at him, but he caught it deftly, then turned to Marina. “The formula is A squared plus B squared equals C squared,” he began. “These are the numbers you already know.” He drew arrows from the numbers in the problem to the letters. There was one letter not matched up. “You have to find this number.” Marina scowled at the paper. “That’s all?” Dot started. “Yes. You just plug in the numbers where they go like a switchboard operator. Whatever you do to one side, you have to do to the other until there’s only one letter and one number. That’s the answer to the problem.” “Well, that seems simple enough,” she said, totally bemused, taking the pencil. It wasn’t that simple, but she managed to get farther into the problem than she had before. “Now I don’t know what to do.” “You rearrange them until the letter, which is the number you don’t know, is the only thing left on one side of the equal sign and only one number on the other side. Think of it like rearranging furniture.” He demonstrated all the steps he had to take to make one number equal one letter. And the light came on.

2

MISS DOROTHY ALBRIGHT was going to be a pain in Trey’s ass, he thought darkly as Marina dove into the next few problems with glee. He could barely keep himself from returning the girl’s glare. He wondered how subtle he could be in backing her off without Marina getting his point. “Miss Albright,” Trey began respectfully, hating that he had to show such deference to a sixteen-year-old girl. “I appreciate your concern for Marina. It’s not often people have friends as trustworthy and protective as you.” Dot looked at him suspiciously. She knew he was going to take this somewhere, and, Trey thought, she might even know where he was going to take it. “I imagine it’s difficult to watch out for someone not as experienced as you.” Her eyes narrowed. Marina was half paying attention, but too happy whenever she got a problem right, with a little nudge from Trey here and there, to care. “Or perhaps you’re not used to having to watch out for her?” he asked slyly. Her lip curled. Then he mouthed, Jealous? That made her face flush and her nostrils flare, but she couldn’t very well throw a drink in his face or accuse him of using Marina without in turn being accused of begrudging Marina some male attention. Trey didn’t think she was. He’d observed her flirt and she was as walled off in her dress as Marina was in her trousers. She simply handled

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men differently because while she liked the attention, she knew men and what they wanted. She’d known Trey for what he was the second she laid eyes on him and he wasn’t sure she didn’t know Boss Tom on sight if he and her father were acquainted. He looked her up and down with a sneer because Trey was surrounded by pretty women, some of whom wanted his attention. Dot wasn’t special. If he accused Dot of being jealous, that could never be taken back and he’d put her on notice that he had no problem doing it. So if Dot cared for Marina at all, she’d keep her mouth shut. But, as Trey had hoped, Dot got the message loud and clear and casually took a sip of her drink, flipped open a book, and began to read as if that was what she intended to do all along. Marina, on the other hand, was zipping through her problems. It was simple if one didn’t overthink it, but Trey had had to be taught this way too. He had been as hopelessly lost as Marina and getting all the terms and concepts out of the way had been a revelation to him. He understood exactly how Marina was feeling at the moment and it was the first inkling that, in addition to the fact that he didn’t want to stop staring at this girl, he might actually be able to stand talking to her for more than half an hour. Then she looked up at him with a delighted smile, her brown eyes sparkling. “Thank you!” she breathed. Trey just stared at her, shellshocked and speechless. No, she was never going to be pretty and at first glance, she was interesting, but now she was arresting. “Um … you’re welcome,” he muttered, feeling like the uncoolest cat in the world. Then he shook himself because if he didn’t pay attention, his speech would start slipping. “Don’t let your math teacher confuse you tomorrow. It’s just matching up your numbers and letters—you’ll always be one number shy—” “Sometimes two,” Dot said airily. “Yes, and there’s a way to figure that,” Trey said, tamping down his irritation, “but you probably won’t have to do that for a while. Then you

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just work the problem around until you have a letter on one side and a number on the other and that’s your answer.” “Thank you so much!” she breathed again, her genuine gratitude so disconcerting Trey didn’t quite know what to do or say. His girls threw him a thanks, daddy-o for this, that, or some other thing just because he was the boss, but girls like his knew kindness always came with a price and nobody was grateful for a “gift” they’d have to pay for eventually. Marina wouldn’t know that, of course, but Trey didn’t know what unconditional gratitude felt like. He didn’t like it at all. “You’re welcome,” he repeated softly. So he taught her how to do a math problem. So what. What he did like was that she thought he’d given her something valuable. “What do you do for a living?” she asked out of the blue. “I sell insurance,” he said by rote. “Oh,” she said, a bit bewildered. Maybe she didn’t know what that was, but high school girls wouldn’t need to, he supposed. “The only thing I know about insurance is that the offices are boring when you’re waiting on somebody to finish their business.” He smiled. “Say something bad happened to your house,” he began. “If you had bought insurance, the insurance company would pay to rebuild your house and replace all the stuff you lost. You buy an insurance policy and then you make payments. Then when the bad thing happens, you get that back and a lot more.” Her brow wrinkled. “Well, what if nothing ever happens to your house? Do you get that money back?” “No. You’re making a bet. You’re betting that it will happen. The insurance company is betting that it won’t happen. Nobody who loses a bet gets their money back.” “But neither of you want it to happen, not like horse racing, where you’re betting for the thing you want.” Trey risked a peek at Dot, who seemed interested in the conversation in spite of herself. “True. So what I do,” he continued, “is get people to bet me that

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something bad will happen to them. They throw their money in the pot. They never see that money again unless something bad does happen, in which case, I have to pay whatever the terms of the bet were.” “And you still have money left over because there are so many other people betting, but nothing happens to them,” she said. “Yes,” he said, sort of surprised she came to that so quickly. “Good.” “How old are you?” Dot asked abruptly. “Twenty-four.” “You’ve got some nice duds.” “I make a good living,” he replied patiently, still trying to hold his tongue. He looked back at Marina. “Enough to support a wife and family.” Both girls stilled. “You already have a wife and a family?” Dot asked carefully, not in challenge, but to verify what she thought he said. “No,” he replied with as unthreatening an expression as he could muster. “Oh,” she said softly, relaxing. Her permanent scowl faded a little and she gave him a tight smile. She began fussing with her napkin and her drink, wiping off the table, the base of the glass. Marina, flushed, worried the pages of her math book. No, he wasn’t going to marry her, but the only way to get in any preacher’s daughter’s trousers was to let her think he was seriously courting her. Except right now it was time for a strategic retreat. He slid out of the booth. “Miss Scarritt,” he said soberly. “Miss Albright.” Dot wouldn’t look at him, but Marina gave him a very shy glance and smile. “Thank you again,” she said softly. “I can’t stop saying it, I guess.” The corner of Trey’s mouth turned up a little. “You’re welcome. May I … Will you be here tomorrow?” “We come here every day after school,” she said shyly. “Until our homework’s done. We have to be home by six.” “Mm hm. Well, ladies, I’ll see you around.”

3

TREY DIDN’T KNOW whether to be mad or glad about the afternoon’s success, which put him in an unsettled mood for the evening. Freshly bathed, dressed, and shaved, he headed to the mezzanine of the speakeasy he’d spent the last four years managing for Boss Tom, turning it from a rundown barely speak serving sodas and near-beer (with stronger libations available for those in the know) into a successful speakeasy with only three raids to his name. Furthermore, last year’s Democratic National Convention had been very good to him, bringing in more resident customers who hadn’t known 1520 Main existed. His customer base was a good bit of black and white, middle class and rich, Irish, Italian, and Jewish, commingling on the dance floor to long jam sessions with a collection of cool cats who knew how to blow horns and play bass. His burlesque show was a draw and his poker tables were full. His meager menu was decent, but people didn’t come to 1520 to eat. His female whores were bright, pretty, and popular. His male whores were good at their jobs and kept their mouths shut. He carried the finest cigars Cuba could manufacture, his dope was pure, all his whisky was branded and uncut, and he was the only purveyor of Remus whisky in town. As long as Trey didn’t make his own alcohol (which could be smelled), didn’t run a race wire as part of his gambling operations (the results of which he would be pressured to give to certain Machine associates before the bets were called), had a bona fide restaurant (that did an adequate amount of business), didn’t offer honk-and-hooch curbside delivery, and didn’t allow teenagers, the cops not on his payroll left him alone, the Prohibition crusaders didn’t care about him, and

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William Rockhill Nelson’s Kansas City Star had bigger fish to fry. Trey had good hooch, good cigars, good food, good drugs, good music, good games, good whores, good service, in a clean, classy space specially tailored for the middle class who wanted to feel rich and upper middle class who just wanted a good time and some Remus whisky. It was true Trey wanted to buy 1520 Main. It was true that on Trey’s salary, he had enough to dress the part of a successful speak manager but should not have enough to buy the business. It was true that even if he did buy the business, he would no longer be under Tom’s protection unless he paid for it. It was also true that there were a few cats in town slobbering to take Trey’s place as 1520’s manager, and Trey suspected that if he couldn’t get Marina pregnant at all, he’d be replaced or worse. He’d worked far too hard to step aside for someone else, and he certainly did not want to take a swim in the Missouri River. But Boss Tom didn’t know what he didn’t know, which was, first, that Trey’s long-held bootlegging operation was still operating in the shadows and he was hiding his profits from Boss Tom; and, second, that Trey was skimming Boss Tom’s profits off the speak. He was careful about stashing it. He knew how to hide it in the books Boss Tom examined every month. He kept a relatively large payroll and ostensibly paid his people higher-than-market wages, which Boss Tom took to be generous and therefore worthy of approval. Trey slept on the couch in his nicely appointed office and worked alongside his employees to keep the place in tip-top shape. Trey also did most of what Boss Tom asked him to do. He could deliver an impressive number of votes for whatever candidates Boss Tom was backing. He helped needy families get back on their feet whenever Boss Tom was made aware of them. He carried out hits when he felt the cat deserved it; if he didn’t know the cat, didn’t know what he’d done, or didn’t think he deserved it, he politely declined, citing speakeasy business. There were few cats in town who’d say no to Boss Tom, but Trey was very good at his job, he respectfully gave good reasons for not wanting to carry out a hit, and he would help bury a body if nobody else was available.

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Trey had also never made the mistake of asking Boss Tom for a favor. The only time Trey went to Boss Tom was with cash or news of a completed errand. Boss Tom didn’t like that Trey was not on the hook for anything, but he did admire it and as long as Trey made money and was honest and loyal, he left Trey alone and made everybody else in town leave him alone, too. There was nothing about Trey that gave off the stink of dishonesty

or wealth. It took time to build up cash skimming and the discipline to resist greed. It took a sharp eye for paper trails and a truck full of

patience to continue bootlegging without it being traced back to him. He had enough cash squirreled away to see the underside of rich, but he wasn’t going to get wealthy until he had his own operation. And once he got Marina Scarritt pregnant in the allotted time, he’d

be a speak owner instead of a speak manager. Boss Tom always kept his

promises, particularly if he thought he was being generous, and he would keep this promise if Trey delivered. Without getting the particulars or thinking too much about the fact that he was obliged to do it in any case, Trey had begun his project right

away. Sixteen was about the right age to begin courting, but Marina was

a very young sixteen and that made him a little uncomfortable.

Except … it wasn’t a courtship and Trey didn’t have two years to do it right even if he was courting her. Boss Tom expected to keep the speak and get whatever revenge on Gil Scarritt he thought he needed to get in such a roundabout way. Trey wished he’d thought about it before he’d shot off his mouth, but Boss Tom was right: He couldn’t buy the speak outright. It would expose his skimming and bootlegging, which would absolutely earn Trey a concrete overcoat and a swim in the Missouri River. Well, what was done was done and Trey would think about consequences later, as he usually did. After visiting his mezzanine office and locking it behind him, he headed up to the top floor of the speak. He went into the common lavatory, unlocked and opened an empty closet, locked it behind him, then pulled a ladder down out of the ceiling and climbed into

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the attic, drawing the ladder up after him, and locking it in place. This was his real office. Unlike the rest of the speak and the “office”

he kept at the back of the mezzanine, this was spartan. There was a desk.

A kitchen chair. A filing cabinet. And one giant safe. It was hot up here, dusty, dark, cramped, and the ceiling was barely

six feet high. Trey, at six foot two, had to stoop, but he spent most of his time here sitting at his desk counting cash and doing books. He flipped on the light, went to his safe, twirled the combination this way and that, opened it, and pulled out several glassine envelopes of different types of drugs to stuff in his inner suit coat pockets. He had to have enough to last most of the night so he wouldn’t have to come up here when the house was rocking. On the second shelf of the safe were two sets of ledgers. One was for Boss Tom to examine at the end of every month. The other was for Trey’s eyes only. He had a third set in his mezzanine office for Treasury’s benefit, and a filing cabinet down there full of numbers to back them up. Everything was in complete order for any ol’ passerby to peruse—if they could read his handwriting. On the safe’s bottom shelf was a stash of cash Trey didn’t like keeping here no matter how secure. Every once in a while, he took a stack

to the bank and it looked to be about time for another run. Today, however, was payday, so he took out the pay envelopes he’d already prepared and stuffed them in another pocket. Once he had closed up his hideyhole and clipped down to the mezzanine of the speak, he shot his cuffs out and adjusted his collar. He looked out over the rail to see that the joint was a little quieter than it usually was at eight o’clock, but that was because there were two chautauquas in town and a tent revival—led by one Reverend Gil Scarritt—to boot. On top of that, all his good-time girls were having their bleeding time together, which they did every month, so this week’s take would be slim. “Never trust anything that bleeds for a week and lives,” he muttered. “Mean as shit, to boot.” He’d lock them up if he could, just to keep them

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from slapping every customer he had. Just one of those things. He managed his cash flow well enough to make up for that one week every month, but though the chautauquas were only one day each, he’d forgotten about them and the tent revival that went on all week. Entertainment was entertainment. Trey returned to his fake office—where he slept on the divan—and stashed the payroll, then locked it back up and took his throne at the rail of the mezzanine, a corner wall to his back, settling in with a whisky and a cigar to watch the relatively sparse activities and wonder why Boss Tom hated Scarritt so much, and if it was bad enough to wager 1520 Main on it, why he hadn’t just killed the motherfucker. Scarritt was a fire-and-brimstone Pentecostal preacher. Spoke in tongues, faith healed, the whole works, which was why Trey had been shocked that his daughter was wearing trousers. But in a competition between being able to toss up a girl’s dress or seeing a slight curve in shapeless trousers, he supposed any father would prefer the latter. No cat was going to spend the time to get into a girl’s trousers if she also had to be persuaded to take them off. And now … that was exactly what Trey had to do if he wanted this speak. He did. He wanted this speakeasy so badly he could taste every drop of whisky that had ever soaked into the floorboards. For the last four years, he’d poured his heart and soul into turning this place into the low-key moneymaker it was. The good Reverend Scarritt lived a pretty fine life on his lambs’ tithes and from all accounts, he was a showman. Maybe Trey should get in the evangelism racket. That had to be a lot less stressful. Was that Tom’s problem with the reverend? He couldn’t get a piece of Scarritt’s action? One whole dollar could not go to both vice and virtue. One third of this town spent it on vice. Another third on virtue. The last third was trying to survive, and their little extra went to God, too. No more than any ol’ bribe.

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Hey, God. Please accept this two bits as a token of my esteem for you. Also, if you wouldn’t mind … I could sure use some help … But Boss Tom would take care of the surviving third if they’d let him whereas Scarritt was never going to do anything for them but take their two bits and promise things on God’s behalf. “Wrestle a sixteen-year-old preacher’s daughter with a chastity belt into bed and get her bakin’,” he grumbled. He had faith in his powers of seduction. Marina Scarritt’s interesting-looking face flashed in his mind. Not that much faith. Almost none. He’d figure it out, though. He had to. He wanted the speak and he wanted not to fail a task Boss Tom had given him, perhaps at the cost of his job. He didn’t know what would happen to him if he failed, but the threat was clear. “Fuckers.” They all were, every last one of the people Trey ran with, did business with, dug graves with, and drove out-of-towners to the polls with. They weren’t friends. Or even allies, most of the time. Their currency was favors and Trey preferred a clean exchange: task-cash, cash- task or favors that stacked up to his benefit. There was almost nothing that could bring a preacher man down faster than his unmarried daughter knocked up by one of Pendergast’s underbosses. Trey couldn’t think of one reason Pendergast would be willing to simply hand over 1520 Main to shame a cat all the way out of his profession instead of simply killing him. Maybe that was worse than death; Trey didn’t know. The music started up again, and the food started coming out of the kitchen at a faster pace. A pretty waitress dressed in next to nothing slid a steak under his nose without a word. In his throne at his table with good steak, good whisky, and a good cigar in front of him, he ran this joint and the one block of Kansas City it was on with Boss Tom Pendergast’s blessing. “Hey, daddy-o,” Ethel purred as she slid her ass into the chair next to him.

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“Spit it out and get back to work,” Trey said absently. “I was gonna be nice about this,” she said testily. “But since you got nasty, I will. Stop waltzing into the bathroom this time of the month while we’re using it. Better yet, get your own place.” “You share your cunt with six cats a night and you’re prissin’ ’cuz I take a bath while you’re tending your woman needs? We got one bathroom.” She snarled at him. “You’re lucky I don’t move upstairs and you’re welcome to find a different gig with a pimp who don’t put a leash around his girls’ necks or wanna sample his wares. Won’t hurt my feelin’s none and this town’s lousy with pretty girls who need some cash and don’t mind gettin’ it on their backs.” She huffed and flounced off, rattling the chair to punctuate her pique. It might be nice to have his own place with its own bathroom. He didn’t mind sleeping on a divan, but he sure as hell didn’t like sharing a bathroom with the ten women and three men who lived and worked upstairs. The third floor had eight rooms, another common bathroom, and a very tiny room with two bunkbeds. The eight singles were rented out, and he kept the bunk room empty for emergencies. Commandeering one of the second-floor bedrooms was out of the question because he’d either be sharing it or losing money. Which left him another problem to solve: He couldn’t seduce Marina

when he didn’t have a decent place to do it. He didn’t care about living at

1520 Main because all he needed was a roof and food. It was one of the

only ways he could pinch enough pennies to make the risk of getting caught skimming worth it. So it actually shocked him that he was in a dither over Marina Scarritt. Peeling Dot Albright off her was going to be a problem because the girl had made sure he knew she had his number. Worse, she and Marina did everything together, which was more than likely mandated by their parents. He’d stood in the doorway of Kresge’s and watched Marina sit with a

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vaguely resentful expression as boys fawned all over Dot. He didn’t think Dot had noticed Marina’s unhappiness, but Trey could read people no matter how much they wanted to hide themselves. Dot wasn’t inviting male attention. She would get it whether she wanted it or not (definitely not), so she was forced to work around it. As for Trey’s taste in interesting-looking dames, that had always been the case. A girl who caught his eye would invariably be the less- attractive one in a pair. Usually she was smart, could hold a decent conversation, and could give him some frame of reference for respectable speech and behavior. He went with girls who had large vocabularies and good accents. He went with girls who could teach him manners without knowing they were teaching him. He went with girls who wouldn’t give it up until he’d seduced them to capitulation. All he wanted was the yes. Once he got it, they weren’t interesting anymore, so he left them with their newly awakened passions unfulfilled. He either disappeared or they got tired of his refusal to pop the question and dumped him. So the fact that Marina was interesting looking, smart (although she didn’t think so), and more respectable than any girl he’d gone with so far intrigued him. The fact that she was young and painfully naïve for her age bothered him. It shouldn’t bother him at all. Maybe what bothered him was that this, he couldn’t forge, fudge, or fuck up. It was too important. “You up over a dame?” asked another one of his girls, who twirled a chair around and straddled it. She was nice and really didn’t belong here, a preacher’s daughter who’d succumbed to a cat with fewer morals than Trey and took what he’d been working for. “Sorta,” he muttered. “You need help.” “You know I don’t fuck my own girls.” “No, I mean, I have a friend—” He looked at her from under his brow. “Who she work for?” Her mouth turned down a little. “Nobody,” she murmured. “Not yet

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anyway. I thought—” “Not lookin’ for a side piece, thanks. She’d be better to find a cat who’ll marry her.” Sally scowled. “Willya let me finish? That’s not what I’m talking about. She’s got a bun in the oven. She’s on the street. ’Bout to give up. She needs a job and there’s plenty to do around here. Hell, she could clean our floor. I’ve been after you for a housekeeper forever.” She had a point, but housekeepers made him no money when his whores should be cleaning their own rooms. “Yeah, and then what?” “And then what, she sells the baby and goes on as usual, and then what. You aren’t making any money on the bunkroom anyway and there’s four beds in it.” He really did need a housekeeper for the upper two floors. Nobody else would clean the bathrooms—at least, not the way Trey wanted them cleaned. “A’ight, I’ll talk to her, but I ain’t promisin’ anything.” “Thank you, Trey!” she breathed with almost as much gratitude as Marina had showered him with this afternoon. This was still tainted but the conditions were up front and clear-cut. “Yeh, yeh, yeh. Where’s Gio?” “With Mrs. Rogers. She came early.” “And often, hopefully,” Trey said approvingly. That lusty broad would be riding Gio all night. His gigolos made a lot of money during the moon week because some cats were so desperate they’d take a man and a few cats only wanted men. What had surprised Trey was how many well-heeled women there were in town who wanted to taste the underside of life while their husbands were tasting the underside of life elsewhere. And there were more than a few well-heeled husbands who didn’t want to touch their old, fat wives and sent them to 1520 when they got whiny. One old, fat cat brought his young, beautiful wife and watched while Brody fucked her the way her husband wanted to, but couldn’t. 1520 Main was the only joint in town that openly kept men, but so far as anybody knew, they serviced women exclusively.

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That wasn’t where the money was. Men slipped up the back stairs if they wanted cock and slipped a godawful amount of cash to Trey, who would keep their names—and the cash—off Boss Tom’s books. Men didn’t pay for sex. They paid for silence. Lickety split, Sally was back with her friend, who looked like she’d been gassed in the Great War. He gestured to the chair beside him while Sally took herself off to dance with whichever cat had called her. “You ever cleaned house?” he asked casually, clipping the end of another cigar. “For my mama, sir,” she said with a trembly voice. He lit his cigar and puffed on it until the end glowed red. The girl carried herself as though she had been thoroughly betrayed and was too dragged down by life to be able to carry herself upright, much less keep house. It was one reason why he never actually fucked any of the good girls he seduced, not even so much as a finger through their drawers or a flick of their nipples. He might leave them brokenhearted or angry or both, but not despoiled or betrayed. “What’s your name?” he asked abruptly. “Ida. Merrifield.” “’Kay. You’ll be responsible for keeping the second floor spic’n’span. You clean the bedrooms, wash the sheets, make the beds, dust the furniture, clean the windows, Hoover the rugs, make sure the second and third floor bathrooms look like nobody ever uses ’em. You clean the third floor hallway. Sunday and Monday off. If we need help down here cleaning up after close, you do that, too. Two dollars a week plus room and board till you pop.” It wasn’t a lot of money, but she looked like she’d been given the world. It was probably more money than she’d ever seen and he was throwing in all her necessities. “You’re cute. You stay past your baby bein’ born and shipped off to some well-heeled family, you go to work on your back and make me money ’stead’a costin’ me, y’hear?” That made her turn greenish, but those were his terms. If a stupid

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hick like him could figure out how to have an end game and save money to get to it, so could she. “I’ll let you work on your feet if you have your own place by then or you can pay me room and board. Got no problem widdat. Get Sally to show you the supply closet and bunkroom, and get your stuff moved in if you have any, grab some food, and go to bed. You start tomorrow, eight a.m.” “Yessir,” she whispered and scrammed. By this time it was ten and people were beginning to stream in. Soon the place would be rockin’ with music, dancing, drinking, gambling, fucking, and business, same as any other Tuesday night. “Mr. Dunham?” Trey looked up to see a cat with a shock of red hair, dressed in work clothes, holding his bowler in front of him. “Seamus. You got a message for me?” “Uh, no, sir. I wanted to talk a minute.” Trey waved at the seat that Ida had just vacated. “Make it snappy.” “Yes, sir. I wanted to discuss an idea I had … ” He was reciting this speech from memory. “ … about distributing some of your heroin.” “Nope.” “Mr. Dunham, I know several dens in town that would be happy to pay—” “I said no. I control where my dope goes, and it goes here. If the dens want it, they can come to me directly. I don’t do wholesale.” “It would be retail, though. A seventy-thirty split, your advantage.” Trey was about to give him a good piece of his mind when a well- dressed woman appeared at his table. “What can I do you for today, Miss Skiada?” “Two decks, please,” she said sweetly, then made a production of opening her pocketbook to look for cash, while Trey made a production of searching his inner coat pockets for two tiny glassine envelopes of cocaine. “You sure two’s enough?” he asked, casting a glance down to the speak floor at her table, where three other flappers were snorting cocaine

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through rolled-up bills. She clucked her tongue and handed Trey a ten. “They can buy their own. Not my fault I can afford more, is it?” Trey grinned and handed her the dope. “That’s my girl.” She waggled her eyebrows playfully then disappeared down the stairs, only to reappear below Trey’s feet, headed for her table. Meanwhile, Seamus Byrne looked on with a hint of resentment. “I could move more than you can sell here.” “What you’re really telling me is that you can’t find a supplier who’ll front you.” He flushed. “Get you some seed money together and then maybe somebody will supply you, but it won’t ever be me.” “You’ve got this town sewn up and you expect me to be able to scrape together some seed money?” Trey was getting irritated. “You don’t get to start at the top; you gotta pay your dues, and I paid mine. Lazia paid his. Boss Tom paid his. And I don’t have this town sewn up. I have a little bitty piece of it. Other than the Remus whisky, everybody else has the same dope and booze I do.” “C’mon, Mr. Dunham … ” “Yanno, I don’t like it you come to me to beg when you wouldn’t dare go to Boss Tom or Lazia and ask them.” “You’re about my age. You were me not so long ago. I figured you’d understand.” “I’ve been bootlegging since I was twelve years old. What were you doing? Suckin’ on your mama’s tit?” Seamus’s jaw ground. “Now, look, I’mma give you some advice. Begging ain’t gonna get you anywhere in life. You gotta work for what you want and sometimes you gotta take what you want. I see you begging me for what I got, but I don’t see you workin’ like you oughta be and you damn sure don’t have the moxie or firepower to take it from me.” “Then let me come to work for you and prove myself.” Trey would be a fool to invite this sniveling little snake into his

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operation. “Go ask Boss Tom if you can go to work for Ready-Mix.” The boy’s face flushed a little. “But … that’s … ” “Hard work,” Trey said firmly, “which is what you don’t wanna do. ’Cuz you’re lazy. You wanna start off at the top and think you don’t have to do nothin’ for what comes in.” An envelope containing a fat stack of cash was, unfortunately, dropped on Trey’s table right at that moment, and one of his runners dropped into the chair beside him. It was standard operating procedure. Trey didn’t let his runners go until he’d counted the money. Trey didn’t miss the way Seamus’s eyes bulged when Trey withdrew the stack and began counting, his fingers flying faster than Seamus could keep up. When he was done, he straightened the stack, stuffed all but a twenty back in the envelope, and shoved the envelope in his inner coat pocket. “Good job,” he said, handing the runner his pay. “Whatcha got going tomorrow morning?” “Nothin’ yet, sir.” “A’ight. Be here at ten. Bring your kin. Gotta make a bank run.” “Yes, sir. G’night, sir.” “Whatever you need him for, I could do,” Seamus said with a touch of desperation. “You know, prove to you I got what it takes.” Trey slid a look at the boy. Yes, he was Trey’s age and Trey was a man, but Seamus was wet behind the ears, lazy, untrustworthy, and covetous. Trey wished his collection ritual hadn’t happened right in front of Seamus, but on the other hand, it would rub his nose in the fact that Trey was, no matter how small, still a top dog in the Machine. “Byrne,” he said with a finality he hoped would do the trick, “I’m not going to hire you. I damn sure am not going to trust you with my dope or a gun. Go find a job, gather you some seed money, whatever, set up your own operation, but don’t come back here again wantin’ somethin’. You ain’t gonna get it from me.”

4

“FATHER,” MARINA SAID respectfully Wednesday morning over breakfast, trying for the umpteenth time to get what she wanted, “it’s really only politeness.” “Will there be dancing there?” he asked calmly. “I … don’t know.” That was true. She didn’t know if there would be dancing at Dot’s Friday-night church get-together. “Marina, I’m very happy that you’re being so patient at working with Dot. She seems to be coming around to Jesus.” Not at all. “But I am not going to allow you to go socialize with her people. Dot is a lovely girl in spite of her upbringing and I think she can be saved.” Marina was innocent about a lot of things, like why Dot insisted men were only out to get girls, but she understood manners because it was what she’d been taught all her life. If one kept constant company with a person, it was good manners to reciprocate an invitation whether one wanted to or not. It was finally time she turned to Mother. She explained this carefully, as respectfully as she could. There was no shouting in this house, unlike Dot’s, where shouting was a sport. She would prefer shouting because the tense politeness hid too many things she didn’t understand. Father only shouted from the pulpit, but that was the voice of God thundering through him, so it didn’t count. Mother listened politely, then her gaze flicked up to Father’s. They communicated in that silent way that made Marina uncomfortable. Not for the first time, she wished she had siblings so that she was not always the focus of their attention. “And,” she added for good measure, having only just thought of it, “if

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her parents were to see me as a good example at their service, they might come around too.” “You do have a point,” Father said gravely after a moment or two of thought. “I’ll pray on it.” And God would tell him no. God gave Father almost everything he asked for. Occasionally, God gave Marina what she asked for, but not until she asked her father to pray for it. That was how Godly families functioned and Marina wouldn’t dare ask God for anything herself. The only other thing she wanted was to keep Trey Dunham’s attention and she couldn’t ask her parents for that even if she wanted to. While she knew that her parents had begun courting when Mother was sixteen, Father had been eighteen, not twenty-four. She wasn’t quite sure how her parents would react if a twenty-four-year-old came calling, even if he did have a respectable and well-to-do business and was looking for a wife. Marina wasn’t anywhere close to becoming a wife, but she was holding yesterday afternoon close and hoping Mr. Dunham would pop into Kresge’s this afternoon. Dot didn’t like him, but wouldn’t say why after meeting and talking to him. That bothered Marina. Dot took a dislike to very few people at first meeting—none that Marina could think of immediately—so why was she stuck on him? Marina bit her lip and looked down at her plate. Mr. Dunham was very handsome. He hadn’t fawned over Dot like every other boy, handsome or not. Was Dot … jealous? It was a thought she didn’t want to think, but … “No, I’m not jealous!” Dot hissed at lunch when Marina broached the subject, “and I’m hurt that you think I would be. There’s something wrong with him.” “Like what?” Marina asked, exasperated. “He’s lying. He’s lying about who he is and what he wants.” “How do you know?” Dot shook her head in frustration. “I don’t know. It’s just … I have a feeling.”

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That made Marina’s spine tingle. Dot’s feelings were right one hundred percent of the time, when she had them, which wasn’t very often. She and Dot spent the rest of the day not speaking to each other, or at least, not passing notes in class. They walked from school to the bus stop to wait for the bus that would take them downtown. They rode in stiff silence until they got to their stop. As they walked to Kresge’s, Dot muttered, “I could be wrong.” “What does Bishop think?” Marina asked reluctantly. Dot’s father wasn’t half as strict as Marina’s, but with Bishop Albright, there were lines one did not cross. “I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want you to get in trouble.” Marina and Dot lived three blocks apart, but their parents had never met. Dot’s father would if asked, but Marina’s father absolutely would not stand in the presence of a Satan-worshipping polygamist. Never mind Bishop only had one wife and had never met anybody who had more than that. Marina knew they didn’t worship Satan at all. Or at least, when she was around, they didn’t. Maybe Satan-worshipping families could be nice. She didn’t know. That didn’t mean Bishop wouldn’t lecture Marina as if she were his daughter if he thought she was out of line. He never had, but Dot’s brother’s friends got yelled at for stupid things they did and Marina didn’t want to get in trouble with Bishop any more than she wanted to get in trouble with Father. “That man seems to like you,” Dot said, still muttering, as they entered Kresge’s and found their booth. “I don’t … You know, in case I’m wrong. Maybe … I wouldn’t have to … I mean, when we went … ” “Maybe you wouldn’t have to find me a date?” Marina asked softly. “Yeah,” Dot admitted reluctantly. “I’d … like that. If you had your own somebody and weren’t miserable.” “I have fun,” Marina protested. “Not enough. Speaking of that,” she said, suddenly back to her perky self, “did your parents say yes to Friday night?” “Father said he’d pray on it.” Dot deflated immediately. “Are you

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coming to church with me tonight?” “I always do.” “So … could you … ?” “No,” she said firmly. “I am not getting saved. I’m not getting baptized. I’m not joining your church. Marina, I just come with you to be nice. That’s all.” She paused, then blurted, “I don’t like your god.” Marina blinked and looked at her. “My God?” she asked, confused. “He’s yours too. He’s everybody’s God. He’s just … God.” “Then I don’t like him,” she said firmly. Marina’s spine started tingling once again. Nobody should blaspheme God that way. “You think, if I don’t get saved, that I’m going to burn in a lake of fire, right?” Marina nodded sadly. “Yes.” “But what about the people in Africa? They don’t know anything about Jesus. Maybe they’d want to get saved, but don’t have the chance. He’s gonna send them to a burning lake of fire too?” “Um … ” To tell the truth, that had always bothered Marina. “But you say he loves everyone. Well, if he loved everyone, then he’d give those people a chance. So the only thing I can think is that he doesn’t love everyone. The God I learn about on Sunday doesn’t do that to people.” Marina didn’t say anything because, while she didn’t understand Dot’s doctrine, she couldn’t refute her own. She’d asked Father the same thing and he’d droned on about something she really didn’t understand, then preached it that Sunday in a way that confused her even more. “Do you have your skit ready for the talent show next week?” Marina asked, to shoo away her confusion. “Still practicing. Do you have my dress ready?” “I’ll bring it over tomorrow so we can fit it.” The waitress interrupted them for their order, which was the usual, without onion rings this time because neither of them was hungry and Marina had to get home—

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“Ladies.” Marina and Dot both jumped, startled, and looked up. There was Mr. Dunham, as dapper and fashionable as he had been the day before in an ivory single-breasted suit coat over a tan vest and white shirt, white- polka-dot navy tie, and navy-and-white two-tone Oxford shoes. He had his tan fedora in his hand and his longish, slightly curly golden-blond hair was tousled. “Uh, hi,” Marina said breathlessly as she slid over to make room for him. She took a quick peek at Dot, who was busy rummaging in her bag for probably nothing. “I … didn’t think you’d really come.” The corner of his mouth tilted up the tiniest bit. “I come when and where I want to.” He glanced across the table. “Hello, Miss Albright.” “Hi,” she tossed back, her voice muffled in her bag. “Lime rickey,” he said to the waitress, who gave him the once-over once again, which made Marina nervous. She was much prettier than Marina, so it really wasn’t difficult to believe that Mr. Dunham was sitting here for some other reason than a simple desire to get to know Marina. “Miss Scarritt,” he began. “Oh, Marina, please,” she said quickly. “Thank you. Trey, to you.” “All right. Trey,” she said, trying the word on for size. “Your father has revival this week, doesn’t he?” She wasn’t surprised he’d figured out that she was Reverend Scarritt’s daughter. There were bills posted all over town. “Yes. Do you want to come?” “Very much. If you don’t mind my inviting myself.” “Oh no! Father would love to meet you.” Dot coughed into her hand and Marina cast a glare across the table. “I see Miss Albright doesn’t agree,” Trey said, shocking both of them because no one was that forthright. It might be considered rude if he hadn’t said it in such an unsure manner. “Well,” Dot began, taking up the challenge as she always did, “you’re twenty-four. We’re sixteen. Reverend Scarritt might not think it’s seemly

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for you to be courting Marina. If that’s your intention.” He grimaced just a little and Marina’s heart sank so far down she thought she might be sick. “I would like to get to know Marina better,” he told Dot matter-of-factly, “but only with her father’s permission, which I can’t ask for if I don’t meet him.” He looked at Marina. “I don’t hold with sneaking out at night, running around, being disobedient and disrespectful to one’s parents.” Marina’s bottom lip was open in shock. “But we just met yesterday!” “Marina, I’m twenty-four, as Miss Albright pointed out. I’m a busy man and I don’t have time to talk to girls I don’t want to get to know better. We may or may not get along eventually, but I can’t find out unless we spend time together and I won’t spend time with you behind your parents’ backs. Meeting here for after-school sodas and homework is just fine for a couple more days but after that it’s just another form of sneaking.” “Oh,” she squeaked. “It would be nice if I also had Miss Albright’s permission, but I’m willing to try to earn it if she’ll let me.” “Hrmph. If Marina wants you here, I’m not going to drive you away.” “I appreciate that.” Their drinks came and after the waitress had left, he said, “No onion rings? Homework?” “Revival,” Marina said. “I was late yesterday because we missed the bus and it embarrassed my mother.” His brow wrinkled. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. May I take you and Miss Albright home? Since I was planning to attend anyway?” “Oh, that would be lovely,” Marina gushed. “Dot’s coming tonight, too. She always comes with me on Wednesdays.” Trey’s eyebrow rose and he looked across the table, then back at Marina. “You don’t attend the same church?” “No,” Dot snapped. “I’m a Mormon.” Marina sighed. She said that as defiantly as she ever said it to anybody. She was automatically hostile the second religion was brought up, just daring somebody to shoot her.

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“Oh,” he replied, surprised. “And your parents allow you to go to a Pentecostal church?” “My parents trust me not to get sucked in.” “Dot!” Marina cried, hurt. Dot had the grace to look abashed, but Trey was chuckling. “I see.” He pulled his watch out. “Well, drink up, ladies,” he said, sliding it back in its pocket. “Don’t want to be late and embarrass Marina’s mother.”

5

REVEREND SCARRITT WAS everything Trey thought a preacher ought to be: Only a little shorter than Trey, medium build, handsome, and finely dressed. He was much older than Trey expected, considering his daughter was only sixteen, and his duds weren’t as expensive as Trey’s but a preacher ought to at least pretend to be down-market. The good reverend was also as fake as Trey. Trey, however, was used to being able to fool shady cats who were looking for any excuse to whack him, and the reverend was used to being taken at face value by men who were desperate for God’s grace and women who wanted Scarritt’s attention. That he was handsome made the job ten times easier. Trey was even willing to bet he had a side piece or two. The missus was tall and willowy, wore fashionably feminine trousers, and had probably been considered a great beauty in her time. That had been quite a while ago for her, too, and time had not been good to her, making her look much older than her husband. The good reverend definitely had a side piece. The missus’s makeup was expertly applied. Her fashionably bobbed and permed hair was dyed blonde to cover the gray, although it was about time for her to get her roots done. Then there was Marina, who looked nothing like either one of her parents, was nowhere near as fashionable, and where her mother was trying very hard to look young and stylish (she was stylish), Marina seemed to be trying to look old and stodgy. In his head, Trey had already stripped Marina down, re-dressed her, cut her hair, and put some makeup on her. Then she’d be eye-catching, although up against Dot, she’d never—

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Oh, for God’s sake. Marina’s parents wanted to keep her hidden, which would make Trey’s job harder. Men with Trey’s looks (not to mention money) didn’t walk out with girls like Marina without an ulterior motive. What he had to do was convince her parents he had seen something in her nobody else did. Well, he did, but how was he supposed to describe “interesting”? She caught his eye. He could look through all that camouflage and see what was there. But he couldn’t say that. They would shut him down immediately. It had to be something else. Perhaps he could play the tutor role for a while and let that simmer a little. “Come in, young man,” said Reverend Scarritt imperiously after shaking his hand, “come in.” That surprised Trey a little. He’d have bet Scarritt would keep him standing in the foyer for a barely polite amount of chatter, ask a few polite questions, politely tell him to enjoy the night’s service, and politely give him the boot. “Where did you meet Marina again?” he asked, directing Trey to a comfortable chair in the front parlor. “Mrs. Scarritt, Marina, could you excuse us?” Trey looked around. It was a very nice front parlor, with charmingly worn furniture, gleaming millwork, bookcases full of very important- looking books and papers, and Bibles and bouquets of lilacs on every surface. It was exactly as cozy and modestly fine as a parsonage parlor should be. “Kresge’s, sir,” Trey said. “Yesterday. I was walking by and heard Marina struggling with an assignment, thought I’d see if I could help, and found her to be smart and interesting.” “Ah … smart, you say,” Scarritt said speculatively as if Trey were lying. “Yes, sir. I enjoy the company of smart girls who are also polite and love God.” “Ah … hunh.” The love God might have been too much. “And do you

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have a church?” “No, sir. I’ve been looking for one, but haven’t found any preachers who move me with the Spirit.” Where was this shit coming from? Had he paid that much attention to his Sunday school lessons growing up? “I saw a bill for your revival after I met Marina. Things working mysteriously and whatnot.” Trey leaned forward and worried the brim of his fedora. “If you want to know the truth, sir,” he said earnestly, “I think God’s hand is in my having met Marina and I don’t question God’s hand. He’s blessed me too much to ignore his voice.” Scarritt observed him speculatively, but Trey knew he was assessing the extent of Trey’s blessings. “You do seem to do well for yourself,” he finally said. “Selling insurance, Marina says?” “Yes, sir. As I said, God’s blessed me.” “And after a few minutes’ conversation you think you would like to see Marina on a more regular basis?” “She expressed the same concern. But besides listening to God’s voice, I’m busy preparing a home for a future family. As I told Marina, we may or may not get along but I refuse to dilly-dally and I refuse to disrespect her and her parents by keeping my presence from you.” Trey was laying it on thick, he knew, but Scarritt was nodding slowly like a wise man. This cat had been putting on a drama for easily conned folks so long he probably didn’t know what was real anymore or when he was the mark. Scarritt was silent for a few more seconds, then said abruptly, “You’re welcome to stay for supper, Mr. Dunham—” “Trey, please, Reverend.” “Trey. And attend service with us this evening. I’ll pray on this and seek God’s will.”

To Trey’s thinking, supper was a goddamned catastrophe. The food was awful, the conversation was boring, and the reverend was a prick. What made him an insufferable prick was the upper-crust accent. Trey would

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like to emulate it but it sounded fake to his ears. He couldn’t pinpoint why. By contrast, the missus and Marina were so silent they might as well not have been there at all. Trey was no stranger to a long con, but the beginnings of a new one were always rough. He was running up against the edges of his theological knowledge and he wasn’t even going to try bullshitting his way through it. He had to give examples of the other preachers’ methods that didn’t “move” him spiritually. He was congratulating himself on having scraped through that, only to be asked where he lived! “I have a room off my office, but I decided to look for a little house perfect for a newlywed couple to grow into a family of three.” “Where’s your office?” Trey gave him the address he used when he needed a respectable one. It really was an insurance agency, and Trey paid the cat who ran it to be able to use the address, have packages sent, and have messages taken. But Trey had never given it to anyone who might drop in. “I travel too much to justify the expense,” he explained when Scarritt asked him why he didn’t get a room. “Ah. Frugal too.” “I cut corners where I can.” That was the absolute truth. Then came the questions about where he was from (“Minneapolis”), where he’d traveled (“Well, I haven’t been to China”), if he’d been to Italy (“Rome is very grand”), what his favorite place was (“Definitely Seville, in southern Spain”). The reverend was adequately impressed, which was a good thing because Trey was never going to admit he was a farm boy from a hick town halfway between Columbia and St. Louis, had never been anywhere but a library, and the only reason he liked southern Spain was because there was a chunk of it right smack dab in the middle of Brush Creek and he had a lot of reasons to be near Brush Creek, mostly having to do with mixing concrete and burying folks there. If the Country Club district was an actual representation of Seville, Spain, then Trey knew he’d like it. If he ever went. Which was not likely. But Scarritt, it seemed, had been everywhere.

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Trey didn’t believe half what Scarritt said. Either he was letting Trey weave enough rope to hang himself or he didn’t know Trey was bullshitting, which meant he was also bullshitting. Trey absolutely believed Scarritt had been to Europe, but not as a tourist. Trey heard war stories all the time. Some men bragged, some men wouldn’t speak of it at all, and some men ended up drinking a lot of tears with their hooch. “You were in the Great War, sir?” Trey asked politely. “Yes,” Scarritt said shortly, which meant he wasn’t a cat who told war stories. He wanted to have the sophistication of having travelled to Europe on something other than a warship, doing something more sophisticated than digging ditches. After three eternities and a second plate of awful food, Scarritt excused himself to get ready for the evening’s service. The missus and Marina would do their after-dinner chores and get ready. Trey was welcome to inspect the reverend’s library. Trey was ready to inspect the bottom of a glass of whisky. But books were Trey’s second favorite thing, so he made himself comfortable in front of the parsonage’s biggest bank of bookcases. A cat could tell a lot about another cat by the books he kept on his shelves, which wasn’t the same as what he actually read. But in this case … Bottom shelf, books on baseball, boxing, and horse breeding and racing. Baseball and boxing, Trey understood. The horses said something Trey thought he understood, but couldn’t be sure. Second shelf up, travelogues and reference books of many different countries. Third shelf up, histories of the Great War, religious histories—a good portion of which were about Mormons—and biographies of famous people Trey would consider good people. Top shelf, textbooks from the seminary—Baptist, looked like. Some Methodist and Lutheran. A bunch of Bibles, various types and editions, and an equal number of concordances. Trey went back to Scarritt’s disproportionate anti-Mormon

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collection, which told him a whole lot more than everything else put together. Mormons were a weird Christian sect with a twitchy trigger finger because it was Missouri law Mormons could be shot on sight. Trey thought the Extermination Order was a bit much for a few quiet people, but one of the things Mormons had a reputation for doing was spinning gold out of straw. Any group that large and that cohesive with money was to be feared. Like … the Machine. But the Machine and the Mormons co-existed like bees and flowers. They were the only honest men in town and teetotalers to boot. Boss Tom had Mormons in every position of money and booze control because they could be trusted with both, make money multiply like magic, and could also back it up at the point of a gun. They claimed Jesus Christ as their savior, but they preferred the temple-clearing Jesus to the peace-and-love-preaching Jesus. They also had less love for the federal or state government than they did for the outfits. They had the money, firepower, and balls to take on the Machine and the Mafia. They wouldn’t win, but they’d do some serious damage before they got obliterated. And Boss Tom would lose his trusted bean counters. They didn’t like the Machine, but they had families to feed like everyone else. Missouri simply didn’t bother with Prohibition much unless somebody was going to profit, and Kansas City was openly wetter than the Mississippi, so the Mormons didn’t feel obliged to obey a law the state and city didn’t feel obliged to obey which didn’t affect them anyway. It was also telling that despite Scarritt’s obvious antagonism toward Mormons, he allowed Marina to run with Dot. His desire to keep Marina hidden from men’s gazes must run deep. Then there was the fact that Pendergast wanted to steer clear of Dot’s bishop-daddy. It was just another reason Trey had to get Marina and Dot separated. Trey searched the rest of Scarritt’s bookshelves for any fiction

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whatsoever, but there was none. Upon reflection, it didn’t surprise him. Too bad, too, because that was a topic upon which Trey could expound for days. In fact, once Trey got out from under the Machine and into a nice little house just right for a newlywed couple, the first thing he’d do would be to install a very large library and stock it to its gills. Nobody knew that Trey was a country boy turned gutter rat who cleaned up good, with a thirst for money, which he could not get without knowledge. He didn’t want to be some ignorant mob boss, stupider than the men he ran just because he had money and didn’t mind putting people in concrete at the slightest thing. Trey had put men in concrete (not at the slightest thing) (he wasn’t that hot-headed), but he was far more educated than almost everybody else in his circles. Not educated enough. He had not yet read every book at the Kansas City Public Library and he had yet to read the latest Agatha Christie novel. Knowledge was power and he found power in everything. Even the most insignificant, forgettable books he read had nuggets he could use and he wrote these down in a little notebook he carried in his breast pocket. It was only his extensive reading that made it possible to speak well in respectable circles, although his rube accent and bad grammar habits gave him away if he weren’t careful. He couldn’t afford to speak properly day-to-day and he hovered precariously between the two, sometimes slipping into one or another because at some point, it all blended, none of it sounded right anymore, and he got confused. Then there were the words he mispronounced because he’d never heard them and seen them spelled at the same time. Tucson was not, in fact, pronounced tuckson. Fortunately, the very kind girl he was going with at the time gently corrected him before he made a fool of himself in front of anyone else. He stopped seeing her very soon after that, he was so embarrassed. He purposely mispronounced words he did know because his cohorts would accuse him of putting on airs, but then he’d forget when he needed to remember and …

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Most days, Trey didn’t know which language to use, where, and with whom. It was all a jumbled mess in his head and mouth. It was exhausting, and he was almost to his limit, particularly because Scarritt’s speech was head and shoulders above Trey’s carefully practiced educated middle-class accent. Trey was thinking about this when Scarritt walked in fixing his cuffs. “You have an impressive library, Reverend,” Trey said, once again struggling with his accent. “Thank you,” he returned absently. That was not a cat who read for pleasure, else he’d have puffed up like a banty rooster. “Do you read fiction, sir?” “No,” Scarritt said and Trey braced for a long explanation. “It’s a waste of time.” That wasn’t what Trey had expected. “Oh. Not because it’s sinful?” “My congregation reads the Bible. The second I preach against something that may or may not tempt them to sin, it will make it attractive. There is likely good to be found there, but just as likely sin and the last thing I want to do is whet an appetite to sin.” Trey couldn’t fault the logic. “And I would have to read it to find the good, but it has never interested me. Marina struggles with her literature assignments in school, and quite honestly, I’d be bored, too.” Of course she was bored. It was assigned. Talking about themes and symbols and metaphors and whatnot killed any enjoyment whatsoever. He was gonna fix that. Pronto. She may never like algebra, but dammit, he would make her enjoy reading so they could have something to talk about. He only had a few weeks to get this girl pregnant with proof, and it would be harder to do if he couldn’t talk to her. And the first book Trey was going to coach her through was Elmer Gantry.

6

THE MASSIVE CIRCUS tent was packed. Squished between Mother and Trey, Marina was hot, sticky, and utterly miserable. While she appreciated the excuse for close contact with Trey, it was more than offset by the hot and sticky part. Her trousers were midweight for fall and early spring, but this April was unseasonably warm. Even if it were ten below, all the people here would make coats unnecessary. Not for the first time, she wished she were allowed to wear the light and floaty dresses Dot got to wear. In fact, Dot’s mother required her to wear dresses to church. Any church. And her mother didn’t care if almost every other woman in Reverend Scarritt’s congregation dressed in trousers. Marina was breathless sitting so closely to Trey, and she didn’t have to look into his cold blue eyes to know he was taking in every inch of her homely face and hair. She wanted to stare right back into that pretty face and golden hair and lovely smile that made her heart race every time he flashed it at her. He could afford to be somewhat bold in assessing her because he was a man. A boy would blush and stammer and look away. Marina was expected to blush and stammer and look away, which was precisely what Trey made her do. So sitting beside him was easier than sitting across from him. Doing so at supper would have been agony just for that, but, worse, Father had picked at Trey about every little thing as if he were lying about who he was when anybody could see Trey was exactly who he said he was. Marina was so embarrassed, she’d kept her head down all through the meal and escaped to the kitchen as soon as possible. Normally, Father would ask her about her studies and to account for her marks because,

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quite frankly, she was terrible at school. Father was getting impatient and she had to find some way to improve them. That discussion wouldn’t have embarrassed her. Trey would have found out the extent of her struggles and offered to help her. Her next chance to bring her math grade up was Thursday and she hoped she could remember what Trey had taught her. She’d done well on her homework, shocking her teacher, who had demanded she stay after class to demonstrate her swift and miraculous comprehension. “Marina,” Trey whispered in her ear. It startled her that his mouth was so close to her face. “You don’t look a thing like your parents.” She was surprised he hadn’t blurted that out the second he met her parents. Most people did. She finally looked at him, his mouth now a suitable distance from her face. She thought. She didn’t know. “Everyone says so,” she said simply. “Father says I must be a throwback.” “Hm. They’re a lot older than parents of a girl your age.” She nodded. “They didn’t think they could ever have children. I was a miracle baby. Like Samuel.” “Ah.” Her brow wrinkled. “You do know that story, don’t you?” His mouth twitched. “I know my Bible lessons, yes.” The service began with a rousing band and choir, tambourines and joyful voices belting praises to the Lord. Marina and Dot rose with everyone else. Trey followed. The congregation raised their hands high and began to sway like kelp in the ocean. Mother and Marina did not participate. She didn’t know why Mother didn’t, but Marina didn’t because she was not spiritually gifted, which was a source of great sorrow for Father. Dot didn’t, of course. Trey didn’t, either. Marina turned her head just enough to study him without detection and was surprised to see him tense. Uncomfortable. He’d said he was looking for a church whose preacher sent the Spirit through him, to move him to repentance. Was this the first revival he’d ever been to? Well, Dot had been uncomfortable her first few times too. She went to church faithfully but, she explained, her services were quiet with

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congregational singing. They had an organ, that was all. It was Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday nights when they were loud and had entertainments that weren’t church services. Dot simply saw Marina’s church services as an entertainment, which … Marina scowled. That hurt. But if Dot didn’t come to church with Marina, Marina’s father wouldn’t allow her to run with Dot at all. Maybe, just maybe, Marina should consider Dot’s presence a gift and be grateful for it. She lifted her voice in praise when it was time. So did Dot, who loved to sing but couldn’t carry a tune, which knocked Marina off her notes. Trey didn’t sing, but maybe he didn’t know the words. She bent clear over and snatched a hymnal out from under her folding chair, then offered it to him. He took it with a bare glance and nod of thanks, then looked up at the hymn board before flipping to the page. Father came out to great fanfare, as always looking resplendent in his long white frock and green knee-length cowl embroidered with the cross. All went quiet. He bowed his head. Marina and Dot did too. Trey did. Then the prayer began. It was long, his voice rising and falling with the Spirit’s touch. To her great shame, she found herself not listening. She was thinking about Trey. And her school marks. And Trey. And her math test tomorrow. And Trey. And if he could also help her with her English assignment. And civics. He couldn’t help her with P.E., and she had home ec licked six ways from Sunday. She hesitated to ask him if he would come to Kresge’s tomorrow, but she had an English test Monday and— Oh, who was she kidding? She wanted him to come because he was paying attention to her, he seemed to like her, and he was going out of his way to court her properly. Even though she had wanted a suitor so badly, if she didn’t like him, she wouldn’t be squirming with excitement that he was here. It saddened her that he thought they might not get along, but it was only logical. Girls and boys broke up all the time because they stopped being able to get along. The only thing she could do was to accept the

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possibility and enjoy him now. “We praise you Father in Jesus’ name amen.” The preaching began. It wasn’t much different from the prayer, only louder, more intense. Softer, more urgent. He called people to repentance and, weeping, they stumbled up the aisle to the altar, fell on their knees and re-dedicated themselves to Jesus. He called upon the sick and crippled, the blind and deaf. They healed and walked, saw and heard. Marina was always in awe of how God worked miracles through Father’s hand. She sneaked another peek at Trey, who seemed just as awestruck. “Brother Trey!” Father boomed, startling Marina, Dot, and Mother. Trey’s jaw dropped. Marina’s father was looking directly at him, holding his hand out. “We have a seeker in our midst, Brothers and Sisters!” Father roared, closing his hand and strolling away to the other side of the stage. “A young man seeking God, seeking repentance, who has not had God’s grace visited upon him in quite a while and misses it. That, Brothers and Sisters, is a man of God, knowing His grace, having felt the Spirit, but unable to recapture it because no other congregation has stirred him! Shall we stir him with God’s Holy Spirit? Say amen!” Amen! Someone broke out in song, a deep voice. The choir picked it up. The band followed. The congregation—at least four hundred people— fell in behind. “Come, Brother Trey!” Father bellowed over the music. He was strolling leisurely back toward them, looking at Trey. Trey looked back with an odd expression on his face Marina supposed was God working within him. He took a deep breath, his chest expanding, and stepped forward to the altar where he dropped to his knees and bowed his head. Marina clasped her hands to her breast and nearly cried with joy. The congregation saw and the music swelled to ear-splitting. Trey had found his church home. With Marina.

7

TREY STALKED INTO 1520 at two in the morning as livid as he had ever been in his entire life. With one direct challenge as to Trey’s intentions with Marina, Scarritt had put him on his knees. It had been a humiliating show of obeisance Scarritt demanded and Trey wanted 1520 so badly he did it, which made him as much of a whore as his gigolos, on his knees in front of Scarritt figuratively sucking his cock, Scarritt looking at him with a calm smirk of satisfaction. Now Trey had a very good idea why Boss Tom hated him so much he was willing to hand 1520 over to Trey, and Trey didn’t need to know particulars. He also now knew why Boss Tom thought getting Marina pregnant would wipe that fucking smirk right off his face. And Trey was more than willing to comply because he couldn’t justify murdering that son of a bitch. Not yet anyway. “You’re late,” Vern said as Trey stalked by the bar. The place was packed to the rafters and the band was jamming, and it still wasn’t nearly as loud as it was in that fucking tent. “I got Jesufied,” Trey snarled, ready to snap anybody’s neck. Vern’s eyebrow rose. “Already?” “Whaddaya mean, ‘Already?’” “Scarritt’s gonna put you through hell, makin’ sure you know who’s boss.” That snapped the remaining thread on Trey’s temper. “Goddammit!” he roared, putting his fist through the mahogany bar top. Trying to anyway. “Motherfucking son of a goddamned bitch,” Trey swore with the pain that exploded through his knuckles and arm so hard he sprouted tears.

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Vern looked at him calmly. “How are you going to explain a broken hand to Scarritt, nice insurance salesman like you? Had to use your right hand?” “I’m left-handed, you motherfucker! An’ it ain’t broke! Get back to work!” Could this night get any worse? He stalked halfway to the stairs before turning right back around and snatching a bottle of whisky off the backbar. “Get Ethel to my office. I know she’s not doing anything!” He snatched a brick of ice out of the brand new freezer before going up to his mezzanine office, then dropped himself on his divan. He laboriously opened his bottle and tipped it up, drinking a quarter of it in one swig and grimacing at the heat racing down the back of his throat. “God, you’re pathetic when you lose,” Ethel sneered, from the doorway, cloth wraps in her hand. Of course she’d know. “Battle, not the war. Shut up and strap my hand.” She folded her legs to sit on the floor in front of him, and they were silent as she worked, carefully weaving tweed strips in and around his fingers like a boxer, then over his knuckles. “This may surprise you,” Ethel said quietly, startling him, “but I want you to win that bet.” That sure as hell did surprise him. “Whatta you care?” “Have you thought about what you’re going to do if you lose?” “If I win, things go on as normal except I’ll have to pay Boss Tom for protection. If I lose, things go on as normal. If I don’t get her pregnant at all, then I’m gonna have some problems.” Her lashes fluttered up. “What?” “Getting her pregnant was an order,” he muttered. “Getting it done in two months was the bet.” Ethel’s mouth pursed into an O. She looked a little peaked, to boot. “How do you plan to do that? You need access and she’s a preacher’s daughter and she wears trousers and she’s sixteen and you’re twenty- four … Unless her daddy’s jake with his kid courting so young, you won’t

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get any chances at all.” “Ethel, as God as my witness, I have no idea how to get in her trousers.” “Well, you do have a knack for getting in a good girl’s drawers—” “I have never gotten in a good girl’s draws.” “No, because you dump them as soon as they say yes. I think you’re something else for doing that, but now you have to.” It was the have to that made it an unattractive endeavor. “She’s buttoned up tighter than your ordinary good girl.” She bent back to his hand. “It’s not just you. It’s all of us. If you go down, we all do.” “This is not the only whorehouse in the city.” “No, but it is the only whorehouse in the city where we’re treated with a little bit of respect, with the only pimp in town who makes sure of it.”

Trey shrugged. “That’s life, doll.” “Trey,” she tried again while she knotted the ends and sat back to look him square in the face, “this is our home.” It was his, too. It was the only home he’d had since his father died and he loved it. “I am the most selfish cat in town. Why’d you think I’d do it for you?” She scowled. “Boss Tom gave you an order. You save yourself, you save us.” “Yeah, well, if you’re hintin’ around I goose her along a little bit, that ain’t an option.” “Ask me, it’s the only way you’re gonna get it done in time,” came Vern’s crackly voice from the doorway. “Little bit in a sodypop, she’ll never know. Need three cases of gin tomorrow.” Trey opened his mouth to give his old wizened bartender a good dressing-down, but he’d vanished. “Don’t you learn anything watching shit that goes down here every night?” he demanded of Ethel. “I wasn’t hinting and I wouldn’t like it, but if you get stuck … You told me once if you had a soul, you’d sell it to the devil to own this place.”

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“Why are you so goddamned sure I won’t be able to do this on my own?” “I’m thinking about what-ifs,” she said testily, smacking his injured hand. “Goddammit,” he hissed. “Which you didn’t do before you made that bet.” Trey sighed heavily. “A’ight, what got your draws in a twist?” “Solly Weissman was here with his boys tonight.” Immediately disturbed, Trey rubbed his mouth and chin. “Shit,” he whispered. Solly “Cutcherheadoff” Weissman was Boss Tom’s personal bodyguard and Trey had no personal need to kill the cat even though he deserved it for various things. Nobody in town wanted to deal with him. He was one of the cats who hit up the speaks with a race wire to get the results of any given race before the bets were called. Solly was a big guy, six-four or thereabouts and at least three hundred pounds, and everyone was so intimidated they gave him what he wanted. Trey didn’t run a race wire for that very reason, so why had Solly suddenly popped up at 1520? It couldn’t be to keep an eye on Trey for Boss Tom; Solly wasn’t that smart and the bet was only two days old. “Ran up a tab they didn’t pay, said something about being on the house, wanted Alice, but she knew he wouldn’t pay so whatever she said to him got him to back off quick.” “You think he found out about the bet?” “He said some things that make us think he did. If so, it’ll be all over town by Saturday.” The more Trey thought about the situation, the more he realized how deep in hot water he’d gotten himself. Trey didn’t gamble against the house but somehow he’d managed to fuck up when it mattered most. Why? Because Boss Tom had something Trey wanted. And that had been Trey’s fatal mistake: coveting someone else’s racket instead of taking his money and building his own somewhere away from the Machine. Just like Seamus Byrne. He’d gotten caught by his

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own greed in spite of his intentions. “She’s not completely disgusting, is she?” Ethel asked. Trey shook his head. “She’s my type. Little younger than I’d like but she’s got some smarts up under that bun that she doesn’t know are there. Daddy doesn’t know they’re there, either, or else he doesn’t care.” “Oh, that’s peachy. Propose.” “Condition of the bet was that marrying her wasn’t going to qualify as winning.” “You don’t have to marry her. You just have to propose. You’d get access as a fiancé that you wouldn’t get as a suitor.” He grimaced. “Not sure if he’ll count that as cheating, and if he thinks he might lose he might accuse me of it.” “Oh.” They sat there and looked at each other, Trey and Ethel, the way they had when Ethel had told him she was tired of waitressing and was moving upstairs, which would mean the end of sharing the divan. It wasn’t a painful memory; in fact, Trey barely remembered when he and Ethel had been lovers. But Ethel had been with him a long time and he could see why she might fear her life being upended because Trey was a stupid shit. “How’s Ida working out?” he muttered, looking away first. “Good,” she said with some measure of surprise. “She’s a good girl. Quiet. Does a good job. So far.” “A’ight, get back to work.” “‘Why, thank you, Ethel,’” she sneered. “Why, thank you, Ethel,” he sneered in return as she huffed out of his office on a whiff of perfume. The door slammed and Trey hung his head between his knees. “God almighty, what have I done?” he whispered, then attempted to get stinking drunk.

8

MARINA WAS SHOCKED when Trey appeared at Kresge’s the next day. “What happened?” she breathed in horror, looking at his bandaged right hand. “I’m a little bit too embarrassed to say, Marina,” he said sheepishly. “That looks painful,” Dot said with a small grimace. “It is,” he affirmed, “which is why I need a lime rickey to wash down some aspirin.” Marina slid over immediately and patted the seat, which he took with a nod of thanks. “How was your test today?” he asked her. She gasped a little. “Oh! It was hard,” she began, “but I took my time and tried to remember what you taught me. I don’t know what marks I’ll get but I’m hoping for an S.” Trey nodded approvingly. “How’d you find revival last night?” Dot asked Trey with no sarcasm. Trey seemed to perk up a bit and said, “Good, good. I may be able to settle in.” Marina’s heart sank. “May?” Trey looked at her and said gently, “I can re-dedicate my life to Jesus anywhere, anytime. I can do it at night when I get on my knees to pray. I don’t need a preacher to help me speak to God.” Marina’s brow wrinkled because that was wrong. “That’s what we believe,” Dot said softly. Marina looked across the table at Dot, who wasn’t looking at Trey, but at Marina. “He’s Pentecostal and he thinks that, too.” “Methodist,” he corrected. “But no protestant church says you have to go through a preacher to get to God.”

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“Father prays for me!” Marina protested. “Well, good fathers should pray for their children.” That wasn’t what she meant, but— He glanced at Dot to include her in the conversation, then back to Marina. “I’m looking for a church to make my own and a preacher I can talk to when I have theological questions. I don’t need anybody to intercede for me.” Marina tried again, even though he had taken the conversation so far above her head she felt like she had Tuesday. “My father says the man is the head of the household and God speaks to him for his wife and children.” “That’s not the same thing,” Dot put in. Marina looked at her warily because now it felt like Dot and Trey were ganging up on her about things they thought Marina didn’t quite understand. “God tells the man how to serve his family, not—” “Serve?” Marina interrupted. “That’s the woman’s job.” Dot huffed. “It’s everybody’s job. Everybody serves each other!” “But—” “Hold up, there, ladies,” Trey said smoothly. Marina flushed. She’d forgotten he was there. “Is this a perennial argument?” “A what?” Dot asked. “Yes,” Marina told Trey, then told Dot. “Perennial argument. One that keeps popping up all the time. Like gardening. You know. Perennials, annuals.” “Ohhhhhh,” Dot replied, sitting back and letting it be, but clearly not happy about it. Trey cleared his throat. “I didn’t mean to be the cause of one. Marina, I’ll be happy to come to your church for as long as we’re keeping company. Some churches just have to be gotten used to.” “You’re Methodist?” Dot asked and Trey nodded. “So your services are pretty quiet.” Again he nodded. “Have you ever been to a Pentecostal church before?” “Ah, no,” he said with a wry laugh. “It’s different,” she said sagely, and again, Marina felt left out. Stupid. Childish.

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“As long as I can sit by Marina, I think I can get into the swing of it.” Marina glanced at him to gauge his sincerity, but now he was soberly studying the menu card. “Trey.” All three of them looked up and Marina’s mouth dropped open. “Gene Luke!” Trey exclaimed in delight and hopped up to shake his hand, then withdrew it with a pained grimace. “Apologies. What brings you by?” Mr. Luke was possibly the most handsome man Marina had ever seen, with black hair, brown eyes, and light olive complexion. He’d turn any girl’s head and that included a girl whose head had been turned two days before by someone else. He was dressed as finely as Trey, which, along with his coloring, would ordinarily make Marina think he was Sicilian. Father had frequently lectured on the evils of Sicilians, who brought Satan with them wherever they went, along with guns, liquor, and girls. Marina wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with them bringing their families, but she didn’t dare ask. Father tolerated Dot’s place in Marina’s life. He would not tolerate a Sicilian anywhere near Marina. But with a name like Gene Luke, he most definitely wasn’t. Gene Luke was also not comfortable at having caught Trey’s attention, and his sober expression was not inviting. “Ladies,” Trey said cheerfully, “this is my associate, Gene Luke. Gene, that is Miss Marina Scarritt and that is Miss Dorothy Albright.” Gene inclined his head. “Miss Scarritt,” he said, his voice as sober as his expression. “Miss Albright.” Marina and Dot traded wary glances then murmured their hellos. Marina noted that Dot wasn’t her bright and bubbly self, which meant she was as wary of this man as Marina was, which might bother her more if she hadn’t been just as wary of Trey two days ago. Now they were chatting about religion as if they were friends. “Hey, join us!” Trey said, clapping his uninjured hand on Gene’s shoulder and practically pushing him into the seat next to Dot, who

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scooted toward the wall so fast she knocked the napkin holder over with her elbow. “Careful there, Dorothy. Sodas and onion rings. On me.” “Uhhhh … ” Gene said with the faintest glare at Trey. Marina didn’t know about this. Dot was uncharacteristically quiet and withdrawn. Dot’s cheeks were a little flushed and she wouldn’t look at Gene. “Dot, why don’t you come over here and sit with me so Trey and Gene can sit together?” Dot started. “No, no!” she said brightly. “Trey, you stay there with Marina. I, um, I … ” Marina had never seen her so discombobulated and she didn’t like it. Dot mumbled, “Um, hi. Gene. Nice to meet you.” Oh, of course. Sitting next to Gene meant she didn’t have to look at him. “Likewise you, Miss Albright,” he mumbled in return, barely glancing at her. This was not normal male behavior around Dot, as he clearly did not want to be here at all, much less sitting next to her. “So! Gene!” Dot said with fake gaiety that Marina didn’t like. “What do you do?” Even if Dot hated a boy, she wouldn’t be mean. She wouldn’t ignore him. But she wouldn’t go to any extra trouble to be sociable. This was altogether something different. “I work for Trey, Miss Albright,” he stiffly replied with an accent that sounded familiar, but unplaceable. Again Marina and Dot traded glances. “He’s one of my salesmen,” Trey clarified as he gestured for their waitress. None of them spoke while Trey ordered for Marina and Dot and himself, then gestured to Gene, who said, “Vanilla phosphate, please.” “Anything to eat, sweetie, or are you sharing the basket?” the waitress asked in a suspiciously flirtatious voice. Gene’s mouth tightened a little. Dot stiffened a little. He didn’t look up at the woman. “No. Thank you.” “Hrmph,” she sniffed, then sauntered off. Dot was staring at her hands, which were working a napkin over, and Gene looked like he was about to bolt for the door. “Marina,” Trey drawled. “Do I see the latest Agatha Christie sticking

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out of your handbag?” “Oh!” she said, twisting to get it, suddenly feeling very much in cahoots with Trey to save a sour social situation. Why he didn’t let Gene go she didn’t know, but since Gene worked for Trey, he wasn’t going to leave no matter how much he wanted to. “Not the latest one, no. The librarian said it was due in later this year.” “And you’re just now getting around to reading last year’s?” “I’m re-reading it. For the third time. I’m picking out all the clues so maybe someday I can solve one of them before the villain is revealed.” Trey gave her a surprised look. Then he nodded his head as if he were truly impressed. “But if you do, they won’t be any fun.” “Oh sure they will!” she said, delighted at his response. “The fun would be figuring it out and seeing if I was right.” He winked at her. “I like the way you think.” “Ahem.” Dot cleared her throat and said at the space between herself and Gene, “I need to … um … powder my nose. If you could … ” “Oh, of course,” Gene said immediately, scrambling to allow Dot out of the booth and standing well away from her. “Ah, Trey,” he said as Dot disappeared toward the back. “I have a client to meet at—” He took his pocket watch out. “Five.” “Don’t let me keep you,” Trey said affably. He hurried out the door, snatching his fedora from the front hat rack as he went, the bells jangling behind him, which left Marina and Trey alone. There was no buffer now, and Marina’s heart started to race. Her mouth went dry. Her ears started to buzz. “Hi,” Trey murmured. Marina turned her head and tried to look into his eyes, but she couldn’t move them away from the knot in his tie. “Hi?” He nudged against her. “You know I like you, right?” Her eyes flew to his. “Why?” she blurted. She might have been embarrassed but she really wanted to know. “You’re interesting,” he replied promptly. “I like interesting girls.”

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“I’m not very smart.” He smiled softly and reached up to tuck a wisp of hair behind her ear. “I told you. Everybody’s smart in their own way.” She waved a hand at Dot’s place. “She’s smart. In every way.” “You had to explain ‘perennial argument’ to her.” Marina blinked. “Um … oh.” “Maybe,” he said, his voice softer and deeper now, “she’s a numbers person and you’re a words person.” Marina huffed, her nervousness gone, replaced by irritation. “If I were a words person, I wouldn’t be getting an M in literature. And I’m definitely not a math person or I wouldn’t have an I.” “You read a lot, then?” “Yes,” she sighed with resignation. “It’s one of my favorite things to do. It seems I can’t stop long enough to do what I’m supposed to.” “Mm hmm,” he hummed slyly. Marina felt her face heat up with her admission and his little bitty tease. “It’s the themes and symbols and motifs I don’t understand.” “Moteefs,” he mused. “You’re reading a mystery for the third time to pick out the author’s patterns. Anybody who does that understands those things without having to be told, but you’re confused by the terms. The theme is the moral of the story. Agatha Christie’s theme is usually that the villain makes mistakes, so if you don’t want to get caught, cover your tracks. Motifs are the same things popping up over and over again, the patterns you’re trying to pick out. The symbols are the clues that help Detective P—the detective—solve the mystery. If he sees a ring, it reminds him of something different he saw. They’re not related, but in his mind they are.” Marina studied him in awe that he knew so much and understood how to teach her. “How can you be a numbers person and a words person?” she blurted. He shrugged. “I read a lot. Everything. But in my line of work, I had to learn how to be a numbers person if I was going to be any good at it. I taught you what I was taught.”

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That made sense. “So what are you studying right now? In English?” She crossed her arms over her chest and sulked. She should be embarrassed, but she wasn’t. Nobody cared if a girl was smart if she was pretty, but Marina wasn’t even pretty. “A Tale of Two Cities,” she muttered. “Hey, that’s a great book! It only seems like a drag because it’s an assignment, but sometimes they pick really good stuff. You have to read it like you picked it, like you want to read it so you can have some fun at the same time.” She scowled. “Really? Well, what’s it about?” “Your teacher’s going to tell you all sorts of things about the French Revolution and what this means and what that means and yes, themes and symbols and all that, but if you’re reading it to pick those out for a test, you’re not going to like it. But that’s not what the story is about. So I’ll tell you it’s about two cats and a girl. One cat’s rich and nice. The other’s a lawyer and a lout. They’re both in love with her. And the story is which one she picks and why and what happens to the other one. The moral of the story—the theme—is what happens to the other one and how he got there and why he made the decisions he made.” She blinked. “Really?” He nodded sagely. “But I’m not going to tell you that part because you should read it to find out.” “She picks the rich one.” The corner of his mouth twitched up. “Is that who you’d pick?” “I’d pick nice over lout.” “What if you’re in love with both of them?” Marina gave him a haughty look. “No decent girl can be in love with a lout.” His smile started to appear. “’Zat so? But how can you tell?” “I’d be able to tell if you were a lout,” she said, rolling her eyes. “What if—and this is just a what-if, mind you— What if they were both nice but had different ways of showing it?”

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She scowled at him. “That doesn’t make any sense. You can tell the difference between the ways nice men show that they’re nice.” “There are a lot of ways for a lout to prove he’s nice, although sometimes it doesn’t look like what you might think of as nice.” “Like for example?” “Have you ever heard the expression ‘cruel to be kind’?” “Well, of course, but I don’t remember where it’s from.” “Hamlet. Shakespeare.” She nodded. “I see what you mean, then. The girl lives her life thinking he’s a lout, but he wasn’t really but she’ll never know.” “Exactly. And the lout lives the rest of his life without her.” “Is that what happens in this book?” “I am not going to tell you,” he said archly, making her smile. “That’s cheating.” “Is it cheating to trick me into wanting to read the book?” He winked at her again. “Cruel to be kind.” Marina laughed. “I don’t believe you could ever be cruel.” His eyebrow rose and he gave her a wicked grin. “You think?” “Yes,” she said firmly. “Miss Scarritt, you must truly be a daughter of God, to have that kind of faith in a man you just met.”

9

TREY WAS BARELY able to duck the fist that came at him when he walked out of the bathroom later that night. “You son of a bitch!” Gio bellowed. Trey continued to comb his hair without missing a beat. “Cute, ain’t she? Told you she was.” “You set me up!” “No,” Trey replied calmly, leading the way downstairs and into his mezzanine office, trying to figure out how to pronounce Poirot now that he knew how to pronounce motif. Gio slammed the door behind him. “I need you to get that little bitch off my back while I get Marina into bed. I promised you a sweet payday if I won the bet, and you’ve done worse things to make money.” That brought Gio up short. “Bitch?” “God, yes. She’s got me pegged sideways an’ her soft little puppy teeth been diggin’ inna my heels. The last thing I need is for her fangs to get any longer or sharper and start diggin’ inna my ass.” Gio curled his lip in confusion. “Uh … are we talking about the same girl? Dot? Albright? Blondie?” “Yes,” Trey sighed, knowing there was a lot wrong with this conversation, but not what and no time or energy to figure it out. “She was climbing the wall to get away from me.” “And you were hanging off the edge of the booth to get away from her.” Trey was done with this conversation. “You’ve got a new client who asked for you by name. Mrs. Cohasset. She’ll be here around nine, so go get your glad rags on.” “Another one,” Gio groaned, turning. “I’d rather fuck that cocksucker Heyse.”

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“Because you like getting your cock sucked,” Trey pointed out, “and none of your female clients will pay to do it when their husbands make ’em do it at home. So I guess,” he continued slyly, “the real question is how badly do you wanna get outta this racket and out of your uncle’s reach? Enough to keep a very pretty, cynical, and vicious Mormon girl occupied while I seduce her best gal? I’m not even askin’ you to kiss her, much less seduce her. Just distract her. Shit, take her to Woolworth’s and do algebra together—” “I don’t know algebra.” “I cannot have her daddy on my ass, you see what I’m sayin’?” Gio took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I want out of here completely, Trey. Out of the racket, out of this town, out of the country if I must, but alive and well and gone because it’s only a matter of time before someone finds me. I don’t have enough cash to do that yet and find a living that does not include killing or fucking.” “Boss Tom ain’t gonna put up with outsiders in this town. Lazia already told Capone to keep his troublemaking in Chicago, ’cuz his kind ain’t welcome here. The New York families are too preoccupied with killing each other to care what’s happening here.” “I don’t think you understand how ruthless my uncle is. It was bad enough I botched the job—” “On purpose.” “—but then ran instead of facing him like a man.” “A dead man.” “I wasn’t going to kill a man with his little girl right there watching, much less screaming at me not to hurt her daddy, which meant I would have to kill her too, to keep her mouth shut.” “In other words, you are not a dependable assassin.” “I was.” Until that little girl had pulled Gio’s humanity from the pit of his belly and showed it to him. And how did the not-dead daddy repay him? It had gotten around New York what a spineless coward Giuseppe “the Clutch Hand” Morello’s hitman nephew was, at which point Morello

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iced the man himself. Gio might have gotten killed for genuinely botching a hit, but he might not have. Humiliating Morello carried a death sentence, and the bounty on Gio’s head was high. It would occur to him that Gio would fall in with bootleggers, but it would never occur to him that Gio would take up whoring. Gio didn’t think he was good for much else, but Trey had stopped arguing about what he could be good at if he thought about the future and had a little faith in himself. “Clear that brat outta my path to Marina long enough for me to get her knocked up and I will set you up with enough money to go wherever it is you wanna go.” When Gio didn’t move and the glower on his face hadn’t faded, Trey said, “What.” “Not enough.” “Whattaya mean, that’s not enough? It’s a fair trade. More than, stacked up against each other.” Gio leaned over the desk and got in Trey’s face. “Do you plan to conduct this courtship entirely at a soda fountain after school over homework and Wednesday nights speaking in tongues?” “No,” Trey said archly, putting his hand on Gio’s face and shoving him back. “I have activities planned because unlike you, I am used to dating nice girls.” “Activities,” Gio said flatly, flopping into one of Trey’s cushy chairs. “Yeah, you know. Look.” He handed Gio the paper on which he’d made lists and lines and arrows and boxes. Gio’s expression faded into confusion. “The library?” “Girl’s a reader,” Trey said, his excitement burgeoning for a completely different reason. Gio curled his lip. “No wonder you like her. They both stink of bluestocking. Baseball?” “She needs to have some real fun else she’s gonna get tired of me before I can get in her trousers then I’mma have to make noises about marriage and whatnot. And you know what Vern thinks I should do?” “Brody and Alice thought it was a good idea too.”

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“And?” “And I said I’d kill anybody who spiked an innocent.” Trey nodded approvingly. “You’ll have a whole soul in no time, and I betcha Dot could help you pull all those bits and pieces together.” Gio scowled. “I’m going to hell. Don’t need to drag a nice girl with me.” With all the bodies under Gio’s belt, he probably was going to go to hell— “Hey, now, wait a minute. Can’t you go to confession? Be absolved of all that?” “Even if I could, I wouldn’t. My luck, some priest would send it back to New York and then I’d be knocking on Satan’s door without last rites.” “Isn’t there something where that’s a sin? Reveal what’s said in a confessional?” “Priests can be bought. Speaking of priests—” Then Gio too suggested Trey work up to a proposal or at least close to one. “Making noises isn’t the same as making promises.” “To Boss Tom it would be,” Trey said darkly, irritated. “I said one thing to her once that could be taken that way just to bait the hook, but if he thinks he can welsh on a technicality after I’d done what he wanted, he might do it.” “Closing up loopholes,” Gio murmured absently, looking at the list. “Yeah, I gotta play this straight, otherwise I’d have a ring on that girl’s finger right now, plan the wedding for a coupla years from now and then poof. One baby, no groom.” Gio’s mouth pursed, then he looked at Trey. “Does Lazia know about this?” “That’s Boss Tom’s problem, not mine.” “It will be if Lazia suddenly wants a nice speakeasy.” “Lucarelli,” Trey burst out, “he runs the North side. I run this little bitty bit right here. All I want’s to own this little bitty bit right here so I can sell the fucker. If he wants to buy it, that’s jake.” “And what would you do after that?” Gio mocked. “Sell insurance?”

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“Yeah,” he drawled. “Sure, why not.” Gio looked back at the list. “Fairyland. Never been there. Moving pictures. Picnics. Fishing. Preachers’ girls go fishing?” “Not them,” Trey said. “Marina ain’t the only one I gotta seduce. Albright lets Dot run half wild an’ obviously he has good reason to trust her, although I wouldn’t if I were her daddy, looker like ’at. Scarritt’s the one with the stick up his ass. The way to get to him is baseball, fishin’, and huntin’, which I swore I’d never do again, but here I am.” “That is not what will get his attention. Baseball, probably, but fishing and hunting, no. Golf. Tennis. Gentlemen’s clubs. Boxing. Try that.” So Scarritt’s books on skeet shooting and racing had told Trey exactly what he thought they’d said. “Aside from the fact that I can’t golf or play tennis—” “No. Listen. Men like that don’t want to do things regular folks do. They want to be somebody, feel important. Look how he’s built his congregation. At least five hundred people raising Cain every Sunday, like he’s the new messiah. He’s got that thing, what popular folks have—” “Charisma.” “—down pat and his tent revival’s popular enough for us to take a hit. He’s Jesus’s version of a mob boss and he’s got something you want so you’re dancing on his strings. He knows that, only he doesn’t know why.” “Goddammit,” Trey muttered, his face in his hands and his elbows on his desk. “Men like Scarritt want a seat at the wealthy man’s table in society.” “He doesn’t seem like the type to mingle with Pendergast or Lazia, and they’re not accepted in Kansas City high society, anyway.” “He doesn’t want a seat at the Machine or Mafia table. He doesn’t even want a seat at Nelson’s table. He wants a seat at Rockefeller’s table. He can’t get that, so he built his own table.” And Gio didn’t think he was good enough to sit at anybody’s table, no matter how lowly.

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“Hey, you jake with fuckin’ men?” Trey asked, for once genuinely curious. Gio shrugged. “That’s where the money is, isn’t it? But that’s like asking me if I’d rather eat solid turds or drink the runs straight out of somebody’s ass.” “You could just try to go straight again and dig ditches. Disappear into the prairie, settle down with a nice girl.” Gio said nothing for a moment. “Thought about it,” he muttered. “But, Trey … Here, I have hope I can get out because I got some cash stashed to leave. I’d never be able to pay for more than my next meal digging ditches and forget about feeding a family.” “The moral of the story is that crime does pay.” That made Gio laugh in spite of himself. “And hopefully Boss Tom and Lazia won’t get a whiff of me when they go to Atlantic City.” The big shindig of all the country’s crime bosses was next month. If Morello got to bitching at either Pendergast or Lazia about his runaway hitman, it might not be long before one of them put the pieces together, provided either of them had ever paid attention to Trey’s employees. “They ain’t gonna hand you over even if they did know who you were and that you’re here. They’d want you doing what you were doing in New York. So, Dot? You gonna help me or not? Enough cash so you can run all the way out to California if you need to.” Gio sighed. “Man, I just want to find a nice girl to settle down with who won’t know anything about this—” Trey caught something in Gio’s voice. Trey felt that way every time he thought about his inability to offer for 1520 without tipping his hand about where he got the cash. It was longing, soul-deep and painful. Trey had never wanted anything as badly as he wanted this speak and now it was within his grasp. So Gio wanted a nice girl the same way Trey wanted 1520. He’d never known that. Gio wasn’t going to get what he wanted. Not in this town, at least. Not in Chicago or New York, certainly. Not when the only nice girls he

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knew were the Catholic ones in his family’s sphere and the only other women he knew were here. Nice girls didn’t come here and loose women weren’t here to get married and have babies. So perhaps it was no wonder Gio was pissed at Trey for introducing him to a nice girl who would never suspect who he was, where he came from, or what he did now. And if a sweet Mormon girl with some worldly savvy ever found out, it would crush Gio in ways his family and whoring hadn’t managed to do. “All right,” Trey grumbled. “I get your point about Dot. I’ll pay you and give you a bonus on the back end. Do somethin’ about your Brooklyn accent ’cuz ‘Gene Luke’ ain’t gonna pass with the way you talk.” “They did not notice my accent.” “It was loud as hell to my ears, and it won’t be long before they hear it. Or else they did and were too polite to let on.” “I’ve done as well as I can by myself.” Trey grunted. “And I’m not working. Not in bed, I mean. Not as long as I have to be around this girl.” “What?!” Trey roared. “She’s clean. Pure, you know? I don’t want my filth to rub off on her.” “She’s unclean enough to know we’re not on the up’n’up.” Gio shrugged nonchalantly. “Knowing and participating are two different things and that girl’s too stubborn to be seduced. I like that. I can practice on being respectable—just like you—with a girl I don’t want, but is the kind of girl I want. And I don’t want to have to come back here and fuck three people after every innocent little outing we just went to.” He crumpled Trey’s list into a ball and shot it into the waste bin. “Peanuts and Crackerjacks in the afternoon with two sweet girls, sticking my dick into some old, fat broad or her husband that night. No. No fucking way.” “If she don’t know,” Trey said testily, reaching into the waste bin and digging his list out, “then what difference does it make?” “Yes or no. I keep Dot off your back, I keep my room and board, and

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I get a paid vacation. I’ll go back to work when you win. If you win. And if you do, I will also get one hundred percent of my tips, and then I won’t mind working so much. You’ll have the dough whether you win or not because Tom’s not going sell and if you win, you don’t have to fork it over.” Trey was flabbergasted. “You just said it yourself! You don’t know how to do anything else and make this much cash!” “Exactly. I make too much money for you to fire me if I’m going back to work in two months. So take it or leave it.” Trey’s main male earner was not going to be earning for two months. He was going to take a hit, but he had no reason to pinch pennies anymore, which was why he could afford the brand-new freezer in his kitchen. “Not a vacation,” Trey finally said. “You maître d’ with Holly, keep an eye on things, flirt with the customers, bounce if you have to. Help watch the place so I can go be with Marina like the regular nine-to-five cat I told her I am. Especially Wednesday nights. And you move up to the bunk room with Ida so I can hire another gig.” Gio thought for two seconds. “I can do that. And you pay for somebody to fix how I talk since you think it’s such a problem.” First it was a housekeeper and now this. Trey hated the idea of paying somebody to do a job he already had covered, but Gio would be sitting on his ass collecting pay anyway. So he could fucking well work. He also hated having to shell out for diction lessons when Trey managed just fine by ear, but there was no way either girl’s father would let them walk out with a Sicilian. An upper-class Midwestern accent was the only thing he could do to pass as marginally Anglo-Saxon. It was only for two months, a short-term investment for a long-term gain. Trey could be patient when he had to be, but he didn’t have to like it.

“Fine.”

10

“MARINA,” FATHER ASKED her Sunday morning at breakfast, “is your beau going to be at church this morning?” “I don’t know. He didn’t say anything about it yesterday.” “How was the ballgame?” His question surprised her. He was never interested in what she was doing, unless it involved her school marks. “You weren’t out very long, certainly not enough for a ballgame, much less a picnic.” “I don’t really know,” Marina admitted low. “I don’t understand the game. And he brought his friend Gene, who doesn’t seem to like anything.” In fact, he seemed downright mad. It had made Dot so uncomfortable, Marina had asked Trey to take her and Dot home, claiming chores she had to do that she’d forgotten about. “He must be bringing his friend for Dorothy,” Father said approvingly. “He doesn’t like her.” “It’s difficult for a man to respect a wild girl like her,” he replied gently. “Perhaps you can suggest she behave more circumspectly.” Marina almost blurted that when Gene was around, Dot was so circumspect she turned into a shadow of herself. She didn’t flirt, didn’t look him in the eye, barely spoke to him. Gene said little more than Dot did, but— “He acts as if he’s being paid to round us out.” “If Trey has to pay someone to put up with Dorothy,” he said, “then he must be serious about courting you. I for one am pleased. And you, Mother?” “I have my reservations,” Mother said shortly.

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As much as Marina was envious of Dot’s ease with boys, she didn’t like this Dot at all. No life, no smiles, no … confidence. Gene sucked out everything that made Dot the girl Marina loved. She was going to have to discuss this with Trey and she didn’t want to. She dreaded it, the way she dreaded any confrontation at all. But this was a man who was courting her. Would he stop wanting to keep company with her if she confronted him? He was her beau and she wanted to keep him that way. It had been difficult to remember that at school Thursday and Friday because boys still flocked to Dot while looking right through Marina. Marina didn’t have a boy hanging around her at school being conspicuous about wanting her attention. I have a beau! she wanted to scream. He’s a man not a boy and he’s MINE! But neither she nor Dot had said anything about Trey, not to each other, not to anybody else. For one, people would think she was making up wild tales. For two, Trey was a sore point between them and Gene was going to be a bigger one. After breakfast, Marina put her apron on over her church outfit and did the dishes, her mind in a whirl. She didn’t want to lose Trey, but what if he didn’t like her challenging him about Gene’s presence? On the other hand, she couldn’t ask Dot to tag along on their dates without a fourth because Dot didn’t like any boy enough to do the asking. She wouldn’t put up with his sense of conquest. If Marina had to choose between Trey and Dot, she’d choose Dot. Which made Marina very, very sad. Trey was her first beau and though Dot hadn’t ever had a beau, either, it was only because she didn’t want one. Marina didn’t think Trey would be at church because he’d made it clear he was uncomfortable with her services and didn’t think he needed a preacher at all, except to talk theology with. Marina couldn’t remember the last time a man had come to the parsonage to discuss questions of theology with Father. There were a few women in their congregation

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who did but that was because, Father said, though their husbands were men of God, they could not satisfy them. The husbands were not to be blamed or judged, as every man had his strengths and weaknesses. A woman ought not be deprived of knowledge just because her husband couldn’t give it to her. Marina could only hope that someday, Trey would want to discuss theology with Father. Father left the parsonage about twenty minutes before Marina and Mother did. “Are the dishes finished, Marina?” “No, Mother,” she said as she took her apron off and folded it over the chair. “I’ll finish after church.” “You’ll stay until you finish them,” she retorted. Marina’s mouth dropped open. “But … ” “Don’t argue with me. Finish them and don’t be late.” “Um … all right,” she said weakly at Mother’s back, wondering why Mother had taken that harsh tone with her. And why she’d suddenly wanted the kitchen cleaned completely before church when that was not Marina’s routine. Mother never interfered with Marina’s cleaning routine. But now she had and Marina only had about ten minutes to finish and get to services. She was surprised when she got to her spot on the pew to see Trey sitting with a Marina-sized space between him and Mother. His legs were crossed and he was fiddling with his fedora, looking around— “Marina!” he said with a smile and hopped up to offer his hand. She put hers in his, but was still so confused by Mother’s behavior that her attention was divided. She resisted when Trey tugged on her hand to look down at Mother, who sat stiffly, one leg crossed over the other, staring straight ahead. “Mother … ” “Did you finish the kitchen?” she asked tersely. “Yes.” Her mouth tightened, but she didn’t respond. Only then did Marina

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give her attention to Trey, who didn’t seem to have missed that. Oddly enough, he directed Marina to the spot he’d been occupying and sat between her and Mother. “Mr. Dunham,” Mother snapped. “That is Marina’s seat. If you would be so kind … ?” “Certainly,” he replied with alacrity, and stood, allowing Marina to slide left. Marina and Trey had barely situated themselves before the choir and band began the service, but any delight Marina would have felt at Trey’s presence was completely snuffed out by Mother’s completely uncharacteristic behavior. “Mother,” she whispered, “what have I done?” “Shush, girl,” she hissed. “Don’t disrespect your father.” Marina bit her lip and slid down an inch in the pew, folded her hands in her lap, and looked down at them until it was time to rise and praise Jesus. The service passed in a blur, Marina unable to even enjoy Trey’s beautiful singing voice. First Dot, then Gene, now Mother, getting in the way of her enjoyment of Trey’s company. Perhaps that was why she had to remind herself she had a beau. Sunday school was just as bad. Marina didn’t dare speak to Trey even though she needed to reassure Trey when he seemed uncomfortable. It had been the same with Dot, getting her used to the Praise the Lord!s and Hallelujah!s and Amen!s, speaking in tongues, demonstrations of the Holy Spirit working in people, and healings. Marina was quite sure Mormon and Methodist services would make her uncomfortable. If only she were allowed to visit and see for herself … After services, when everyone gathered in Fellowship Hall for cookies and punch, Trey murmured to her, “Why are you unhappy?” For some reason Marina didn’t know, she told him what had happened this morning and why it was distressing. Then, because he seemed to be sympathetic, she dove into the topic she dreaded. “Dot is uncomfortable with Gene.”

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“I noticed,” he said grimly. “That’s really why you wanted to go home after the third inning, isn’t it?” Marina flushed a little but nodded. “Well I … I don’t understand baseball, to be honest. There seem to be so many little bitty things about it that I miss and— Well, anyway, I’m worried that she’s not herself around him. She’s usually so peppy.” “If Dot doesn’t come along, you won’t go on outings with me? Or did

I misunderstand?” “Mayn’t,” she corrected. “Our parents don’t allow us to step out with

boys alone. It’s just … I’m the one who usually has the pity date, which is why I don’t understand … ” She trailed off. “She wants me to have my own date who is not interested in her so we can walk out and she won’t have to worry that I’m not having fun. She may not like you, and I really don’t understand why, but she’s willing to come along so I won’t be unhappy.” He looked surprised. “But I don’t want to have to worry about her fun, either. So … ” Here came the bad part. “Are you … paying Gene to walk out with her?” He looked appalled. “He’s a very proper gentleman.” “That is not the way boys act around Dot, proper or not.” “He’s not a boy, Marina. He’s a man. Men have different things expected of them. Nobody looks twice at a clumsy boy trying to impress

a girl. But when a man, especially one with a respectable, well-paying job,

asks a girl to step out, it means something. Now, it is true that I asked Gene if he would be willing to square our party the same way Dot asks her dates for you, but he doesn’t want to give Dot the wrong impression, so he goes too far the other way.” Marina sighed, understanding completely. “My father says a real man wouldn’t put up with Dot and that he would have to be paid.” “Even if I were paying him, would it make any difference?” “Yes,” she said, feeling impatient but hoping she didn’t show it. “Dot is not one to take a boy—man—seriously because she is not serious. She wants to go to college and be independent. A modern woman. So even if he

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were serious, he’s not going to get anywhere. If you were paying him, he would need to act like he’s happy to be there and entertain Dot. That would be the job he was being paid to do, wouldn’t it?” Trey pursed his lips. “That is a good point.” “Maybe you should pay him so he’ll do the job right.” “Even better point. I like the way you think,” he repeated solemnly. She smiled a little and ducked her head. She wanted to brush that aside the way she brushed aside why he was interested in her, but the uncommon phrasing made her believe he meant that. “Now, as for your mother, I expect she’s uncomfortable with her daughter growing up and doesn’t know what to do or how to act. I think you should just be patient with her.” Marina nodded solemnly. “Yes. Yes, I suppose so.” “I’ve noticed quite a few people looking at us over here in the corner talking between us. Perhaps it’s time you introduced me?” Yes. Yes! This handsome, Godfearing man had now come to church with Marina twice and had stayed after for socializing, and everyone wanted to know who he was. Either she had a beau or, more likely, he was a family friend and being polite. Suddenly, Dot, Mother, and Gene didn’t seem important all. Homely, meek, and not-very-bright Marina Scarritt had a beau and everyone would know!

11

“GIO!” TREY BELLOWED when he stalked into 1520 after yet another disaster with Marina. “What!” Gio barked back at him from Trey’s table above, watching and smoking. Yes, it was only noon, but they had enough Sunday sinners to justify being open this early, and Trey’s assistant day manager had Sundays off. The only reason Trey didn’t kill Gio right then, witnesses be damned, was because he wasn’t sitting in Trey’s chair. Trey bounded up the stairs and slapped the back of Gio’s head then dropped in his own seat. “Goddammit, you completely fucked up yesterday.” Gio glared at him. “We already had that conversation.” “Yeah, well, today it was just as bad.” “I wasn’t there, so you can’t blame me.” “What I can blame you for is Marina bringing up the topic of whether I am paying you to be Dot’s date.” His eyebrow rose. “Girl’s sharper than I thought.” Trey ignored that. “I didn’t say yes or no, but then she said I should so you’ll do the fucking job right.” “She said that.” “She didn’t say ‘fucking.’” “Damn,” Gio drawled, clearly as impressed as Trey. “Exactly. I’m paying you. Do the fucking job. What about this girl’s got your nose out of joint?” “I don’t want her to get the wrong idea about my intentions.” “That’s what I told Marina. She informed me that Dot’s future plans do not include men.”

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“Pretty sure they don’t include women,” Gio said dryly. “They include college,” Trey said archly, also strangely proud of that. Before he could wonder why, he realized he shouldn’t have said it at all because now Gio was slumping in his chair. “College,” he muttered, pressing his fingers into his eyeballs. Trey glared at him, his patience almost at its breaking point and he wasn’t even a week into this con. To be fair, today’s disaster wasn’t all Gio’s fault. Marina’s mother was in a snit over Trey’s attentions—or so he assumed, since that was how he would expect a mother to be if her sixteen-year-old daughter was being courted by a twenty-four-year-old man and she couldn’t put a stop to it because the father was allowing it. But Marina was damn near devastated by her mother’s disdain, and watching her confusion and hurt was painful. Marina’s pragmatism as to how to solve the Dot-and-Gene problem was surprising, but it was a problem she could solve, which she couldn’t do with her mother. “Look, Gio, I know you want a nice girl—” “And I have no hope for one, for anything better than this—” He gestured around. “—and she reminds me every minute I’m with her. And now I find out she plans to go to college. This girl’s so far above me I can’t see the soles of her feet through the clouds.” “So what. She’s perfect for you to practice on, which is one reason you agreed to this. So do it and quit acting like you’re about to strangle her. You are in no danger of becoming an object of that future Carrie Nation’s affections. All you gotta do is ask her questions about herself and listen. You act like you’ve never been around a girl you like before.” “I haven’t been around many girls at all,” he drawled contemptuously. “No father’s going to let their girl walk out with a Morello kid, much less one who was made when he was fifteen.” Trey chewed on the inside of his cheek. What to do, what to do. “Alice!” he roared. Soon enough, she clattered down the stairs while wrapping herself up. “Yeah, Boss?” He pointed at Gio. “Teach him how to act around nice girls he likes.”

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Alice blinked. “No, it’s not you,” Trey said impatiently. “He needs practice at being around nice girls.” “I’m a nice girl?” she asked incredulously. “Used to be. You didn’t forget all ’at, didja? You got a week to turn Gio into a goddamned Gatsby.”

12

MARINA’S MOTHER WAS short with her for the next three days, and not even Trey and Gene waiting for her and Dot at Kresge’s every afternoon could make her feel better. Marina did her chores and made herself scarce. Father either didn’t notice or didn’t care, but he was pleased when she brought home an E on her math test. “What happened?” he asked over dinner Wednesday just before church. “Last week, Trey showed me how. Remember? I told you how we met.” “Oh, yes. Yes. Excellent.” He perused the test, his lips pursing here and there. “He did well, then. I like that young man more and more.” Marina was very, very pleased by this. “And English?” “We had a pop quiz,” she said proudly and handed it over. “I got a perfect score!” His eyebrows rose and took it. “A Tale of Two Cities,” he mused. “Mm hmm. Mm, I see, yes.” He slid her a glance. “Did he help you here too?” “He didn’t tell me answers or spoil the story for me. He just told me how to read the story in a way I could understand and enjoy it. Well, turns out, I was already doing that, but I just wasn’t calling them the right things and I was getting confused. It was easy after he straightened all that out for me. I even wrote a little essay at the end there for extra credit.” “Mm hmm. ‘The Noble Lout.’” He read through it then nodded approvingly—perhaps impressed. “I hope,” he said as he passed it back to her, “that he doesn’t come to see you as merely a pupil.”

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Marina hesitated. “What do you hope for?” “Well,” he said matter-of-factly, “you’re a bit too young yet, but he seems intent on settling down and I would not object if he should find you a suitable wife in a year or two, provided he remains interested.” Wife! Marina caught her breath. She hadn’t allowed herself to even think the word, much less anything else. “We don’t know anything about him,” Mother said tightly, sawing at her liver’n’onions. “They met last week. He has helped her with her homework.” “And come to church!” Marina said earnestly. “He re-dedicated himself to Jesus the first night.” “Kneeling at the altar means nothing,” she said dismissively. “Now, Mother,” Father said gently, “our little girl’s growing up. We can’t keep her here forever.” Marina didn’t like this discord between her parents. To her recollection, Mother had never contradicted Father’s wishes, or if she had, she hadn’t done it in front of Marina. On the other hand, Father made a point Marina had never thought of: What was she going to do when she graduated from high school and … didn’t have a beau? Was she going to stay at home, being a burden to her parents? Girls got married soon after high school or, as in Dot’s case, went to college to become teachers or nurses. Marina didn’t want to go to college or become a teacher or nurse, but she had no skills or talents to make her own way in the world. “Mother,” Marina ventured, “do you want me to stay after high school?” She slammed her fork down and glared at her. “Why wouldn’t I? You’re—” Marina waited, relieved because if this was why she was angry … “I’ll stay if you want me to, Mother,” she said softly. “Nobody will want to marry me and I won’t be suited to do a single thing on my own and when Dot leaves for college, why … Well, I just don’t want to be a burden to you.”

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Mother seemed to relax a little and flicked a glance at her. “Of course you’re not a burden, Marina. But Mr. Dunham does seem rather determined.” Marina shrugged, reality asserting itself once again. “He’s a lot smarter than I,” she murmured, looking down at her plate and picking at her liver. She hated liver. “And handsome. A prettier girl will turn his head soon enough and she’ll be smarter than I ever will be. I would just like to enjoy having a beau for a little while. May I, Mother?” Marina’s mother studied her for what seemed an eon, then sighed. “I see. You’re right of course.” Marina felt vaguely disappointed in her easy agreement. “I don’t suppose any harm can come of keeping company with him until you—until he gets bored, as young men do, so long as Dorothy is with you. I can say a lot of bad things about her, but in this case her off-putting behavior may be advantageous.” Until he gets bored of you … Marina nodded sadly, suddenly seeing herself at twenty, still sitting at the table with her parents and discussing … something. Twenty-five. Thirty. No beau. No job. Just chores and books and taking care of her elderly folks. “May I be excused?” she asked quietly. “I want to finish the kitchen before church so I have time to do tomorrow’s assignments after.” “Of course.”

Marina’s heart raced in delight. He was here! Again! And so was Gene! Trey smiled at her as she and Dot rearranged themselves to give the men room to sit with them. She’d had no reason to think Trey would be here, as at Kresge’s, he had said nothing of attending, much less Gene. He leaned into her and whispered, “I think you were right about Gene.” “I know,” she whispered back. “Has Dot said anything?” Marina shook her head because the service was starting and she

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didn’t want to give Mother a reason to be mad at her again—except she couldn’t stop thinking about everything that had happened since Monday afternoon. Gene had started off a bit on the shy side, but made an effort to ask Dot about her interests haltingly, as if he couldn’t quite form his vowels properly. Dot had made an effort to look in his eyes and answer, but she couldn’t look at him for more than a few seconds and she’d stammered a lot. Tuesday had been a bit better, as Gene remembered what Dot had said and got her to open up just a teeny bit more. This afternoon, Dot had started off more her perky self, but she was nowhere near normal. Then after a few false starts, Gene asked her about her church and Dot lit up like Fourth of July fireworks. Once again, Marina felt herself allied with Trey as they exchanged glances and merely listened. Marina and Dot had never discussed her religion this deeply because Marina didn’t want to hear it and Dot didn’t want to expose herself too much in case Marina found it too off-putting. It was their only real barrier to knowing everything about each other. But just about the time Marina was getting uncomfortable with Dot’s beliefs, she felt Trey’s hand under the table, closing around hers. She shot him a surprised look and he smiled wryly at her. She couldn’t help but smile back because it said he no more wanted to hear this than she did. Going against every discomfort in her body, she forced herself to squeeze Trey’s hand lightly. Gene, on the other hand, seemed to be soaking in every word, watching Dot raptly while she spoke with joy Marina hadn’t ever seen her display, and made giant gestures with her hands. Gene sipped his phosphate, asked for another, nibbled on the onion rings, and never once took his eyes off her or interrupted her. When she finished a thought, he asked a question that sent her off again. “Soooo how does your god decide who goes to hell?” he asked. “Oh,” she said brightly. “We don’t believe in hell.” Of course, Marina already knew that, but that had caught Trey’s attention too. “You don’t believe in hell,” he said flatly, his first

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contribution to the conversation. “No. After judgment, the worst sinners of all sinners go to a place that’s like Earth, but a whole lot prettier. I don’t know what they do there. I think I might be bored after a while.” “The worst of the worst,” Trey repeated. Dot nodded. “My father says spending eternity with your regrets is enough hell for anybody. You don’t need to burn for them, too.” Gene and Trey exchanged glances. “Regret,” Gene said carefully. “Not guilt.” Dot shook her head. “You don’t learn anything from guilt. Guilt makes you stay in one place. You learn from regret and you can go forward, doing better as you learn more. At least, that’s what my father says.” “If you’re spending eternity with your regrets, you’re not learning anything,” Trey pointed out. “If you don’t have any way to advance, it’s just guilt spelled differently.” Dot blinked. “Oh. You’re right, I suppose. In that case, it must fade because punishment isn’t the point. Justice is. The punishment is not having God’s presence with you all the time, but my father says some people don’t want that anyway and so why would God make them feel his presence if they don’t want to? For those people, that’s a mercy.” Marina was watching this very carefully because she expected both men to challenge her, especially Trey. Gene had mentioned he’d grown up Catholic. Trey was Methodist. They and Marina all believed in a place of eternal torment. Dot was finished, eagerly looking between Gene and Trey for more questions. Trey sat back and folded his arms across his chest and said, “Huh,” while contemplating the back wall of Kresge’s. Gene, on the other hand, stared at Dot, who stared right back with bright eyes and a happy smile. As Marina watched, Gene’s expression subtly changed from surprise to the same look every other boy who wanted Dot’s attention gave her. And Dot didn’t notice.

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Marina drew her lips between her teeth and wondered if Trey had noticed, but it didn’t matter. Marina decided to keep her thoughts to herself because she suspected Trey was now paying Gene, so she wasn’t quite sure if Gene was acting. Finally Gene spoke. “Everybody. Everybody’s saved. Nobody goes to hell.” “Everybody,” Dot affirmed. “There is no burning lake of fire. My father says on Judgment Day, you get what you deserve, but you’re probably going to be content with it.” Gene gestured toward Marina. “But you go to her church on Wednesdays.” Dot’s smile faded a little. “I’m being nice. Marina knows that. I wish her father would let her come to my church or even our activities, but—” “What activities?” he asked. “You don’t have church on Wednesday nights like everybody else?” She shook her head. “We have our weekday meetings on Tuesdays, which aren’t at all like other churches, but on Fridays and Saturdays, we have talent shows or plays or dances—” “You dance?” Trey blurted. Dot nodded. “I know most churches don’t, but we do.” “What kind of dancing?” “Oh, the Lindy Hop,” she gushed. “I love the Lindy Hop.” “You do?” Gene asked thinly, his complexion paling a little. “Oh, yes! My dance partner and I—” “You have a dance partner? Are … you and he … ?” “Oh, no,” Dot said airily. “He’s never walked out with a girl at all. He said he and his best friend are going to live together and be confirmed old bachelors.” Gene nodded sagely. Trey’s mouth pursed. “That’s why I like him. He doesn’t make cow eyes at me.” Marina sighed and stopped listening to study the wall on her left, the wallpaper she saw every afternoon, but had never had a reason to examine this closely. “ … outfit Marina made for me. I wish she could come and see for herself.”

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Marina, jolted out of her melancholy, cast a vague smile across the table. “Marina,” Gene asked politely, “would your parents allow you to go to Dot’s talent show if Trey and I went too?” Marina was stunned, but Dot squealed and clapped her hands. “Oh, that’s a wonderful idea! Yes, Marina, you must ask. Your parents like Trey and if they meet Gene, too … ” “I’ll ask,” Marina murmured. “But I doubt it. Your parents won’t mind if Gene goes.” Dot’s face fell. “But I wanted you to see it, too. Mama wishes she had time for you to teach her how to sew as well as you do, but with a new baby and all … ” Dot kept chattering about her brand-new baby sister and Marina’s head started to hurt. Yes, she wanted to go to Dot’s church Friday night to see her do her skit in the talent show in the dress Marina had made for her. Yes, she wanted to go with Trey and Gene. No, she wouldn’t be allowed to. She started when Trey nudged her. “Hey, listen, you two mind if we got some air?” Dot and Gene both waved them off, Dot never missing a beat, while Trey slid out of the booth and assisted Marina out. Once they were outside, Marina cleared her throat. “Um, thank you. We … don’t talk about those things.” “Why not?” he asked soberly, stepping around her to walk closest to the curb, his hands behind his back. “My father says they’re sinful and I … ” She took a deep breath. “I don’t know how to put it into words. You say things that help me understand what I think, but I can’t do that for myself.” “Try me.” He’d understood her so far, so she began. “I don’t know how Dot can call herself a good girl when she dances. And the Lindy Hop. That’s— Boys touch you— Places. So they can throw you in the air. And then your dress— Um … ” Her face heated. “Um.” She cleared her throat.

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“Anyway, it’s not proper, those dances.” Trey didn’t speak for a long while as they strolled up Main Street to Petticoat Lane and turned the corner toward Walnut. “Dot’s generally a kind person, isn’t she?” Marina gasped. “Oh, yes, of course! I didn’t mean to say she wasn’t.” “I know. Aside from the Lindy Hop, she’s a proper young lady, is she not? I get that impression, anyway.” “Yes.” “Would you say your father would not let you run with her if he thought she was not a proper young lady, fit for his daughter to keep company?” “My parents don’t like her.” “Is it her or her religion?” Marina thought. “Is there anyone your parents would absolutely forbid you to run with?” Marina shrugged. “Lots, I suppose. The girls my age at church and most of the girls at school have their own cliques. They don’t want to run with preachers’ daughters.” “But Dot is at least acceptable.” “My father says God told him I am to work on saving Dot’s soul.” “But Dot thinks her soul is already saved. She thinks your theology is just as misguided as your father thinks hers is. She’s just not intimidated by yours the way your father is hers.” Marina took umbrage at that. “My father is not intimidated by anything!” “Of course not,” he said immediately, without a trace of sarcasm. “I apologize. Anyway, Gene seems to have gotten his act together, don’t you think?” he teased. Marina smiled up at him. “Yes, thank you. But I don’t think you’re going to have to pay him anymore.” Trey stopped cold. “What do you mean by that?” Marina tilted her head. “He just fell in love with her.”

13

TREY DIDN’T SAY much to Gio on the way back from Marina’s church service, which he would ditch if he could. He hated those services. It seemed wrong, somehow, all that hootin’ and hollerin’ and yellin’ at Jesus and God like you could command them to do your will. Trey had gone to church his entire childhood until his mother died. He didn’t know if he believed in God or any deity at all, but if he did, he sure as hell wouldn’t expect God to take orders from his kids. He didn’t know how much longer he could take Scarritt’s bluster, especially since he knew the faith healing was an act and the speaking in tongues was likely drug-induced or, so he had read once, religious ecstasy, which wasn’t too much different from being high. “What’s up your ass?” Gio asked Trey before he headed upstairs to call an early night. “We got Marina’s parents to let her go to Dot’s Friday night.” Yeah, that had been a coup—not one he’d wanted to win. “It ain’t a good idea for me to go, which I tried to tell you before you got all lawyerly with Scarritt.” Gio was silent for a few seconds. “Oh. Albright.” “Yeah,” Trey drawled snidely. “An’ Boss Tom’s bean counters. ‘Gene Luke’ ain’t gonna register if you mind your accent. ‘Trey Dunham,’ on the other hand, will.” “You could have said you were busy right up front, not let me get that deep. You want to go, don’t you?” “No, but Marina does an’ her parents won’t let her. Prolly the only chance she’ll ever have.” “And you want to give her what she wants.”

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“Givin’ her what she wants is part of the seduction.” “Mmm hm. Leave early.” “No, I ain’t showin’ up at all. Family emergency. You can squire Marina ’cuz Dot’s gonna be tied up with her show an’ whatnot. Her parents ain’t gonna know ’cuz Scarritt’s drivin’ her there himself.” “This is giving me a headache.” “You stuck me in this corner. It ain’t me Marina wants to go for,” he insisted. “It’s Dot.” Gio closed his eyes and shook his head. “Marina’s a sharp cookie. She don’t know how to explain anything in words, but she gets to the heart of it right away and works out the words from there. More or less.” “She hasn’t made us yet.” “No, but Scarritt shoulda made me by now. If a conman can’t do it, why should a sheltered preacher’s daughter be able to?” Gio nodded slowly. “She does have the makings of a good moll.” Trey’s eyebrow rose. “Noticed that, did you?” “Any girl who isn’t offended that you might be paying your friend to take care of hers and suggests that you do so if you aren’t already is a girl who doesn’t mind solving a problem any way it needs to be solved.” “Exactly. And right now, that is the problem an’ you’re gonna cover for me. Keep the story simple ’cuz she notices damn near everything an’ can tell a lie from home plate to the outfield fence. Too many details, she’ll know the story’s got holes even though she can’t put less than two thousand words to it. She’ll stack ’em up in her brain until she has enough clues to work with. Even if she comes to the right conclusion, she won’t believe it.” “Why?” “She thinks she’s too homely and stupid to snag a cat.” “She’s not homely,” Gio mused. “It’s the way she dresses and does her hair. Took me a while to see it.” “Exactly. Her folks are keepin’ her ugly an’ stupid. It’s just I ain’t never fooled by that. Even if Dot gussied her up, she wouldn’t believe it.

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She’s got too many people eager to tell her she’s homely an’ stupid. I’m tryin’a fix the stupid part ’cuz her marks’ll be the proof. I can’t do nothin’ about homely.” “She tells you all that? Just wears her heart and mind out on her sleeve like that?” “Everybody tells me their problems eventually. Marina needs somebody to talk to who’ll listen and not run over her with theories and suggestions and insistin’ she’s right.” “Dot.” Trey nodded. “Just like tryin’a teach her algebra. Dot goes around a problem but never really solves it. Like her collection o’ little boys. ’Stead o’ givin’ ’em the cold shoulder, she flirts with ’em just enough to keep their feelin’s from bein’ hurt.” “She likes the attention and perqs.” “She didn’t have no problem tryin’a cut me down to size, but I’m a big dog. She got a tender heart under all that ego an’ cynicism an’ boys her age are just puppies. She ain’t a puppy-kicker.” Trey slid a glance at Gio. “Kinda like you.” “And Marina’s a lot like you.” Trey’s mouth twisted bitterly. “That’s givin’ me too much credit.” “Maybe so.” “Dot, on the other hand, grew up suspicious of everybody ’cuzza the Extermination Order. Plus, her daddy’s connected. He has a reason to raise a cynical girl.” Gio snorted. “‘Cynical.’ That’s an understatement. You know she walks around heavy?” Trey’s head whipped around and his mouth dropped open. “The hell you say!” “I asked her why her father lets her run wild since she carries the Extermination Order like it’s a badge of honor. She said God’n’Colt would protect her, then showed me her piece to reassure me that I don’t have to worry about her any more than her parents do. And never ever say a word to Marina. Or you. She also wanted to see how I’d react,

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which Alice said was her way of finding out if I have the stones to handle her.” “Goddammit,” Trey whispered, running his hand down his mouth. “I shoulda thought’a that. Only she don’t know that ain’t the only reason her daddy’d load her down. We are.” “I’d rather be hogtied and beaten to death by a crowd of Black Hand soldiers than get shot by an annoyed sixteen-year-old girl—” Trey barked a laugh. “—but if she thinks I’m interested in her church, she won’t look past that.” “That was pure genius.” “Pure luck.” Trey glanced at Gio. “You buy all that shit?” “Oh, hell no. The dancing’ll be sticky.” “I suggest you learn the Lindy Hop then. Don’t look good, your girl havin’ a dance partner that’s not you even if everybody does know he’s queer as a three-dollar bill.” Gio growled as they both headed up the stairs. “You really like Marina, don’t you? Genuinely.” Trey thought for a few seconds. “Yeah,” he finally said, half surprised. “Yeah, I do.” “Would you marry her if you could without losing this place?” “I wouldn’t know yet in any case,” he said matter-of-factly, “but it don’t matter ’cuz it ain’t never gonna happen.” “Except it’s not just about the bet anymore.” “Let’s just say,” he muttered as he headed to the bathroom to take a long, hot bath. “I’d’a rather paid cash for this place ’cuz I got a feeling it’s gonna cost me a whole lot more’n sixty large.”

14

THURSDAY AFTER SCHOOL, Trey and Gene were waiting for Marina and Dot in their booth at Kresge’s. Marina had said nothing to Dot about Gene’s feelings for her, but Dot was noticeably more peppy all day and less inclined to flirt with anybody not named Gene. She wasn’t flirting with Gene, either. Marina couldn’t tell if Dot was in love with Gene or not, but she sure was happy to see him and the fact that she didn’t notice his change in demeanor was telling. “Hello, boys,” Dot said gaily as she stood at the table waiting for Gene to slip out of the booth and allow her in. “Ladies,” Trey and Gene said at the same time. “Hi,” Marina said softly as she slid into the booth Trey had vacated and patted the seat. “Hi yourself,” he returned just as softly. Dot and Gene were paying no attention whatsoever after Gene asked how her day had gone and he listened attentively. It might have seemed like an act, but Dot could make a study hall of one sound like a grand adventure. “How’s your hand?” Marina asked Trey. “You aren’t wearing a bandage anymore.” “Better,” Trey said, holding it up and flexing it, albeit slowly and with a grimace. “More aspirin, I suppose.” “How was your day?” “You have good days and bad ones. Had to pay out on a policy today.” “Oh, I’m sorry. Was it a lot of money?” “I don’t care about the money. A family was put out of their house

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and their baby died. There is no amount of money in the world that can make up for that.” Marina clapped her hands to her mouth, horrified. “Oh my. Oh, goodness gracious.” He nodded soberly. “That is the worst part of my job, watching people’s lives get wiped out. Could be anything. Their pipes could burst and flood their house. All their whatnots and pictures and memories, gone. Robberies. That’s usually just stuff, but having someone break into your house disturbs your peace. You can’t replace that, either.” His sorrow was real and deep, and Marina felt it. Gathering all the courage she could, she reached out and took his hand. He wrapped his other one around hers and gave it a little squeeze and a smile. “Thank you.” He paused, then said, “You’re a good woman, Marina.” It was said so sincerely, she swallowed her hurt and pain and envy at the compliment. “Thank you,” she murmured. His brow wrinkled. “Was that … wrong? I meant it, I truly did.” She smiled. “I know you did. Thank you. I appreciate it.” “Please don’t fib,” he said lightly. “Tell me why that upset you.” Marina bit her lip and again had to swallow but now because she couldn’t seem to speak. She didn’t want to tell him but he was too perceptive and persistent. They’d been meeting every day for a little over a week but the fact that he knew she was distressed made it seem like they knew each other far better than their short acquaintance would indicate. “Hey, why don’t we head outside?” The day was warm when they emerged. Trey put on his fedora after Marina positioned her wide-brimmed sun hat on her head. They turned right and headed to Petticoat Lane. He didn’t take her hand, which disappointed her a little and he kept a respectable distance between them. “Why did that upset you?” he asked again. “Anybody can be a good woman,” she blurted. They strolled for a while without speaking. Then he said, “Would interesting be better?”

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She bit her lip. “Not much.” “What would be?” “Pretty,” she whispered. “You’re not,” he said flatly, and she gasped, her head snapping up. He looked at her steadily and said, “I don’t like pretty girls.” Marina blinked because that didn’t make sense. “‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’” Marina was thoroughly confused. “Tolstoy. Anna Karenina. That was a metaphor. Pretty girls are all alike; every interesting girl is interesting in her own way.” Marina had so many feelings and thoughts and questions she didn’t know which one to pick first. “What’s the difference between a simile and a metaphor?” Trey stopped cold, blinked at her, his mouth partially open, then laughed, stuck his injured hand in his pocket, and rubbed his chin with his other hand. “The second I think I understand you, you surprise me.” He looked back at her with a grin, then he waggled his finger at her. “That’s what I mean, Marina. How’s this. I could look at you all day long and listen to you talk because you say the most unexpected things.” Marina was hopelessly lost and now felt like a sap. She gulped, knowing her face was completely scrunched up. “I … ” He leaned toward her, still grinning. “I could look at you all day long,” he repeated. “Better?” His words seeped into her mind, but they seemed to float there. “Um … yes? I … don’t … ” He waggled his eyebrows. “I don’t believe you.” His smile vanished. “What do you mean, you don’t believe me? You think I’m acting?” Her brow wrinkled. “White lies,” she murmured, looking downward. “To make me feel better.” “If I didn’t like you, I wouldn’t bother trying to making you feel

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better. Trust me, doll, I don’t give out compliments.” “Nobody thinks I’m smart,” she said flatly. “You don’t think the way everybody else does,” he insisted. Marina shook her head slightly. “Say … you’re a frog with a bunch of others. You all want to get across

a pond. It’ll be easy because there are a whole lot of lily pads. But you’re

stronger than your friends so you jump over a whole lot of lily pads and get to the other side of the pond a whole lot sooner. You don’t even notice there are any lily pads between you and the one you want to get to.” She blinked. She might not like being compared to a frog but she sure liked hearing she was the strongest one of a group and didn’t need all those lily pads. “So I’m … efficient?” His face lit up. His eyes sparkled. “Yes! And it takes a very smart person to be that efficient. The trick is to trust your efficiency. You don’t.” Marina was watching him with eyes wide, all the words he said making no sense because she had always been homely and, at best, an average student. She wanted to believe him. She believed he was sincere. But if he was, he was simply the oddest person she had ever met. “I’m telling you why your marks don’t make you stupid and standing next to your pretty friend doesn’t make you homely.” That was a new way of looking at it. Marina thought. “Comparison.” “Yes,” Trey drawled, sounding very pleased. “The difference between

a simile and a metaphor is the word ‘like.’ I didn’t say happy families were like pretty girls. I said they were pretty girls.” Marina’s mouth opened wider and she began to smile. No, she couldn’t have stopped it if she tried, and launched herself at Trey. She didn’t care she was being too forward. She didn’t care she was not being a proper girl. She pushed herself away from him and clasped her hands in front of her chest. “Thank you! You make everything so clear!” He drew back in surprise. “All that for an English lesson in three

sentences?”

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“Yes!” she laughed. “Simile, similar, like.” His expression opened up even more. “And you know what else? I’ll bet you’ll be crackerjack at geometry.” She waved a hand. “Geometry was a cinch.” He scowled. “You say that like it’s nothing.” Confused, she said, “It is. Like home ec. Like looking at a picture of a dress and knowing how to make it. Or like reading a recipe and knowing what it’ll taste like.” He blinked. “You can do that?” She nodded and shrugged helplessly. “It’s just … something I do.” “Do you … cook? At home, I mean.” “Once in a blue moon. Mother doesn’t like my food. She thinks I use too many spices.” His eyebrow rose. “I bet you’re plenty spicy.” She nodded. “Father likes it but Mother insists. I do the baking.” He pursed his lips. “I see.” “I … know what you’re thinking,” she said with quite a bit of guilt, but she had to get it out to someone. “Mother doesn’t cook very well.” His mouth twitched a little, but he said nothing. “Sometimes I think maybe she does it on purpose so I won’t eat too much,” she blurted, adding embarrassment to guilt. “I have to watch my waist.” “I can watch it for you,” he said gravely, which made her look at him suspiciously. “It was a joke, doll,” he said dryly. “My way of saying I think it’s fine the way it is.” “What’s that called?” she asked, still warily. “Not a joke. Not sarcasm or a pun. It’s something else.” His mouth twitched. “A double entendre.” Her brow wrinkled. “Means two things, but you have to be in the know to understand the second meaning. But since you’re not in the know, I’m not going to explain it. I am very impressed you understood there was more, though.” “Double IN-tin-der,” she repeated carefully.

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“Yes. How’d you pick it up?” “It was in your voice.” She paused. “Are you … Did you go to college?” “Oh no,” he said gravely. “I didn’t even finish sixth grade.” Stunned, she blurted, “How do you know so much?” “I told you. I read a lot. If I don’t understand something, like algebra, I hire a tutor. Most everything else I got from books.” “Do you want to go to college?” He hesitated. “Don’t need to,” he said gruffly. Marina said nothing because he seemed to be … sad. But just when the silence between them became unbearable, Trey murmured, “I’m sorry. I, um … I’m a little sentimental right now because of that family I told you about. I wanted to tell you what I think about you because you never know when—” Marina’s eyes began to sting, which almost never happened, but the connection between the family who had lost their baby to a fire and never being able to talk to a loved one again was … I would just like to enjoy having a beau for a little while. They turned the corner onto Walnut. “Are you going somewhere?” she asked quietly, finally looking back at him. “Not interested in me anymore?” “No!” he said, clearly shocked. “Because if you get tired of me, I’d appreciate it if you say so and not just hint around or disappear.” He stopped cold and stared at her for a few seconds, but she didn’t drop her gaze. “Marina,” he said finally, “my mother and three older brothers died in the epidemic.” She gasped. “One morning they were there and working, happy and healthy. A week later, they were dead. My father died a year later from a broken heart. Then it was just me.” “Oh, my goodness gracious,” she breathed. “I am so sorry, I—” “I was twelve when my father died, which is why I didn’t get past the sixth grade. I had to survive. So I know a little about things happening quickly and you never get to tell someone how you feel. How I feel about you is, I think you’re the bee’s knees. No matter what happens between

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us, I will always think that.” Marina shifted her attention to the tip of his nose. It wasn’t a promise never to leave but … I would just like to enjoy having a beau for a little while. A little while. It would be best not to get too attached. “I’m sorry for your loss.” “Thank you. I appreciate it.” “And thank you for telling me.” It was all she could manage to say without blurting that what she really meant was And I’d appreciate it if you proposed to me right now and married me tomorrow. Because what would it be like, she thought as they continued around the block in surprisingly comfortable silence, to live with someone who could look at her all day long and thought she was smart and that she was the bee’s knees and told her that without any embarrassment at all?

What would it be like, Trey thought darkly as he lay on his divan and listened to the sounds of a city waking up as he was falling asleep, to know a girl so smart and sweet and intriguing, so heartbreakingly sad, to want her, to hold her and kiss her and make love to her until she was happy, and not be making plans to pull the rug out from under her?

15

THE NEXT MORNING, Trey was summoned to the Jackson County Democratic Club, which he had expected to be any day now. Trey took Boss Tom his books around the middle of every month, but not until he was summoned. Trey passed all the cats lined up a block long to ask Boss Tom a favor. Rich men asked for political favors. Poor men asked for food for their families and a job. The line to get to Boss Tom was the great equalizer. The only people who got past the line were folks bringing something to Boss Tom. “Yeah, Boss,” Trey drawled when he was shown into Boss Tom’s very small, modest office in a very small, modest building on 19th and Main, his books and an envelope of cash tucked under his arm. Boss Tom tapped his finger on his desk and Trey dropped his books and cash on them, then dropped himself into a chair. Pendergast thumbed through them and checked random lines against a book he already had open. Trey had every confidence in his own bookkeeping. He had no confidence in whoever did the bookkeeping Tom was checking against. “Why’s mine say you took delivery of forty-eight cases of my gin, but you only show thirty-six?” “’Cuz I only got thirty-six.” Trey remembered that delivery, too. “Stu checked that delivery and called me out back, said I got shorted a dozen cases. I counted ’em. Thirty-six. Called Vern out. He counted ’em. Thirty-six. Cat says, ‘Oh, no, I got another dozen comin’.’ I say okay, sign off on thirty-six—bill of lading’s right there, see the bookmark—and bring me the dozen you owe me. Cat never shows up. An’ I remember

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that ’cuz I knew he wa’n’t gonna come back. Damn near called up a notary, I was so sure.” Boss Tom pursed his lips, pulled the lading slip out and saw that it had Brody’s initials, Vern’s initials, Trey’s initials, and the delivery man’s signature. “You can’t prove he didn’t come back with the other dozen.” “No, I can’t,” Trey said firmly. “But ask your Mormons.” “I’ll do that,” Boss Tom said vaguely, snapping the ledger closed. He took the cash and began to count, saying, “And if you’re right, I’ll have you take care of it.” “Boss,” Trey said flatly. “I ain’t got a murderin’ interest in this cat an’ I’m busy with Marina Scarritt.” “How’s that coming along, by the way?” Tom asked pleasantly enough when he was finished counting, tapped the pile until it was tidy, and put it back in the envelope. “You never were one to let grass grow under your feet.” “If you know that much, you know how I’m doin’,” Trey shot back. “Handlin’ her and her little friend’s a delicate operation.” “Yeah, I want to talk to you about her little friend. You don’t catch Dot in whatever crossfire you and your gigolo—” “Maître d’.” “—gigolo are setting up, you hear me? Last thing I need is Rev Albright in my office for unpleasantness.” Trey suddenly realized Boss Tom actually respected Albright and having Gio mess with his daughter was a bit short-sighted on Trey’s part. At this point, Trey was convinced that for the last few years he’d been traveling too fast for his headlights and his brakes had just gone out. “Might be too late,” Trey mumbled. “Gio went an’ got himself smitten. He’s due at her church tonight to see some show they’re puttin’ on.”

Boss Tom groaned. “Good Lord.” “On the bright side, now he has a reason to keep her out of the crossfire.”

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Pendergast conceded that point with a grunt. “And if Albright finds out, it’s not on me.” “Nope.” “Now, Dunham, I’m a little concerned about your lack of firepower over there.” Trey’s eyebrow rose and his spine began to tingle. “I didn’t think I needed much.” Boss Tom’s eyebrow rose. “You’ve got Giuseppe Morello’s runaway hitman who now makes his living with his dick—” Oh, shit. He did know who Gio was. “—the daughter of a Mormon bishop who is my friend, my speakeasy which is now in play, an upstart mick wanting a piece of your heroin action—” Trey waved a hand. “—and various and sundry folk who want to know when and where you’re picking up your Remus whisky and storing it—” Shit! “—and you think you don’t need much?” “I’ll rethink.”

to be continued …

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