Hidden behind the black bamboo plant, her blouse still damp, Angelica sipped a glass of Pinot Noir and tried to relax. She wasn’t normally much of a drinker, but her first day on the job had been quite eventful. She had known in advance there would some kind of upheaval; she had felt it coming. But ending up face to face—well, more like side-by-side—with Rory Anderson had been more stressful than she wanted to admit. No amount of red meat or power breathing could have prepared her for this. She had almost slipped into one of her full-blown panic attacks.
After the anxiety passed, she had recognized Rory’s lunch companion, Dawn DaCosta. Dawn hadn’t changed a bit. Maybe she was teasing her hair a little higher these days, but she was still squeezing into spandex-laden dresses a couple of sizes too small and making good use of the latest developments in push-up bra technology. Not that her double D cups needed any pushing. Angelica had watched her teeter out of the café on spiky heels, tipsy from too many cocktails, leaning heavily on Rory’s arm for support. He didn’t appear to mind too much.
Although Rory didn’t jump at the chance to have his fortune read, Debbi easily sold Dawn on the idea. Despite her cutesy voice and appearance, the hostess was proving to be a dedicated supporter. Dawn was scheduled for a reading on Thursday.
Angelica tipped the last few drops of wine into her mouth and made her way toward the exit. Passing the bar, she accidentally brushed against the arm of a tall man sliding off his barstool.
“Oops, sorry about that.” Angelica shifted to avoid any further bodily contact.
“No problem.” The man stuck out his hand. His fingers were long and slim, the hands of a concert pianist. Or perhaps a praying mantis. “Ian McDaniel.”
“Angelica Davenport.” Taking his hand, she looked into a pair of turquoise blue eyes set in a narrow, though handsome enough, face. He was easily over six foot, almost uncomfortably thin, with a shaggy mop of dark curls. His nose was crooked and may have been broken at some time. And his lips…
She realized with a start that she knew this man. But would he recognize her?
“Great to meet you.” He had a really nice smile. “Are you new in town?”
“That’s a good one. But I prefer ’Come here often?’ myself.”
“Ha!” His loud bark of laughter caught her off guard. Flustered, she felt her cheeks redden. But his reaction made her want to amuse him some more.
“Can I walk you to your car?” He shrugged on his suit jacket and gestured for her to lead the way.
“No, thanks anyway, but I don’t have a car.” Angelica wondered why she was sharing this information. She normally treated men like the enemy that most had proven themselves to be. It was rare for her to feel even the slightest spark of attraction. Rare and dangerous, she reminded herself.
“In that case, let me give you a ride.”
“Oh, no need. I love to walk and it’s not very far.”
“That’s actually good, because my car isn’t here. I just remembered. I left it over at the station so I’m walking, too.” He gave an embarrassed chuckle.
“Slick,” Angelica muttered as she took off.
“What?” Ian strode forward in order to catch up. She was already half a block ahead, marching at a brisk clip down Main Street. “Hey! What did you say?”
“Nothing.” She shot a scowl in his direction.
The station. Did that mean the police station? There was no train station on this side of the river. No bus station in Nyack, either.
She sped up some more. Even with his long legs, Ian had to struggle to keep pace with her.
“Hey,” he gasped, reaching for her arm. “Hold up a sec.”
Angelica jerked to a stop and whipped her arm out of his grip. He took a step back and raised his hands, obviously surprised at her strength. A group of tourists was forced to maneuver around the stalled couple in the middle of the sidewalk.
“I’m sorry, I… I didn’t mean to manipulate you. I was just hoping we could have a conversation. There’s something about your…um…” A flush spread across his cheeks.
“What, exactly, were you hoping we could converse about?” Angelica crossed her arms over her chest and glared. After the earlier episode at the Coven, her nerves were frayed. She was in no mood for playing games. Especially with a cop.
“I, uh, didn’t have a particular topic in mind.” Ian’s gaze dropped to the sidewalk. He seemed to be taking in her motorcycle boots. She instantly knew he was imagining a kick from her clodhoppers.
She read his mind, a skill that usually worked only with people she knew very well.
She resumed walking at a more comfortable pace. “I’m not going to assault you. That would be crazy considering you’re a cop.”
Ian gave her a weird look. “Well, a detective. I got promoted this summer, so no more uniform. I get to wear this monkey suit every day.” He adjusted his lapels.
At that moment, Angelica noticed the ring on his left hand.
“And married.” She resisted looking at him, feeling a disappointment in her gut that she wanted to deny.
“Guilty as charged.” He didn’t sound all that pleased about it himself.
They continued, without speaking, for several more blocks. The police station was on the opposite side of the street.
Ian paused at the corner before crossing. “So…”
“Maybe I’ll see you around.” Angelica walked on, refusing to look back.
Ian watched her go. He could tell she was pissed, but there was nothing he could say to fix that. He had no excuse for wanting to speak with her, wanting to get to know her. Nothing beyond the heavenly fragrance of her perfume and the tug of something familiar in her manner. He had an undeniable feeling that he already knew her, as if they had been friends in some other lifetime. But déjà vu wasn’t going to get him anywhere.
He wished he hadn’t screwed up their first meeting so badly, but he couldn’t figure out how he could have done better. He wasn’t above lying to a suspect, not if the end result was worth it. Somehow, he just couldn’t bring himself to lie to this woman.
And the truth—he was married. Maybe not happily. But when you first met someone, they didn’t want to hear your entire life history. They didn’t want all the sorry details about how you got your new girlfriend pregnant, did the right thing, only to watch a stillborn infant, blue and shriveled, the cord wrapped around his tiny neck, delivered into your life like a ticking time bomb, exploding all your hopes and dreams far, far into the future. Left with an alcoholic wife who was sterile, he had no chance of a family, no hope of escape. Who the hell wanted to hear all that?
“Damn it!” Angelica swore as she shut the front door. Hard.
“And hello to you, too,” Erica called from the kitchen. “Good day?”
Angelica smacked herself in the forehead. “I forgot to stop at the butcher’s. I should not have had that glass of wine and then gotten into a fight with a cop.”
“I would have to agree,” Erica said, refusing to bite.
Angelica wasn’t sure if Erica had always been this difficult to rile, or if her naturally mellow personality had been sanded even smoother by her years in therapy. Or perhaps by the latest pharmaceutical products prescribed by her therapist. Either way, it was pretty annoying.
A clatter of toenails sent a warning, then three dogs barreled straight into her, two snouts aimed directly into her crotch and one more between her knees. Angelica teetered, regained her balance, and commanded the dogs to sit.
“We’re going for a walk.” She looked each one in the eye. “You’re going to heel. No potty breaks on the sidewalk. I’m not picking up anybody’s poop. Got it?”
Erica observed from the kitchen doorway. “You act like those animals speak English.”
“You act like they don’t,” Angelica snapped. “I’m not digging out their leashes, so I have to remind them about their manners. It’s no different than with kids.” As if either one of them had any experience with raising children.
Angelica held the front door open and allowed the dogs to pass. “We’ll be back in a bit,” she called over her shoulder before shutting the door behind her softly. She already regretted taking out her frustrations on Erica.
“We’re going to get some chicken,” Angelica told the dogs. All six ears perked right up. Even Ebony understood that word.
She unlatched the gate and let the dogs through, following the pack along the sidewalk. They turned onto Main Street and continued past Koblin’s Pharmacy, past the Coven, all the way up to Midland Avenue, where Reliable Meat Market sat on the corner.
The market was a Nyack institution. The DiPetrillo family had opened this butcher shop and Italian grocery store way back before Nyack became a tourist destination. Ever since the Grand Union on Main Street had closed, the market was the only grocery within walking distance of downtown. The meat was fresh, the eggs were free-range, and an impressive selection of imported goods kept the customers coming in.
Angelica instructed the dogs to sit and stay, pulled open the heavy glass door, and stepped inside. The shop was cool and dark, dominated by the hulking meat counter in the back corner. The aroma of fresh cheeses, cured meats, and crusty loaves of bread mingled with lemony floor polish. Head-high shelves filled with dried and canned goods created two aisles down the center of the shop, partially blocking Angelica’s view of the counter. But the voice she heard speaking to Buddy, the butcher, was unmistakable.
“You ever been in there? You know that place is fucking filled with lesbians!” Rory Anderson shouted over the counter to Buddy who was running the electric meat slicer.
Buddy flipped the switch on the slicer to OFF and lowered his voice to a growl. “I don’t wanna hear another word outta your mouth about any of my customers. Especially that particular customer. You got that?”
Born into a family of butchers and crime bosses, Buddy DiPetrillo had the build and the face of a bulldog. Just over thirty years old, his jowls were already drooping, his hairline receding, but his forearms were thick with muscle. He looked like he could tear a carcass in half with his bare hands.
“Okay, okay, I hear ya. Bottom line and all that shit. Is your brother here?” Rory glanced around. Angelica quickly hid behind the marinara, peeking between jars to keep watch over the two men.
“That waste of a human life is probably smoking dope out back.” Buddy jerked his square head toward the backdoor and flipped the slicer back on.
The DiPetrillo family had lived in the three-bedroom apartment above Reliable Meat Market for as long as anyone could remember. Although Buddy and his younger brother Tony were now grown men, it appeared that neither one had ever moved out or moved on. Angelica had heard that Mama Sophia died from lung cancer several years back, leaving only their father, “The Bossman,” to keep an eye on the boys.
Rory ducked out through the back door to the screened-in porch.
Angelica tiptoed closer. Her heart threatened to beat loudly enough to give her away.
Tony DiPetrillo lounged on a couch that had seen better days. Many of them. Tony also looked as if he had seen better days, and those days were long gone. If Buddy was a bulldog, Tony was a scruffy mutt with a bad case of mange. His black hair was long and stringy, desperately in need of a wash. Same went for his faded, torn Levi’s cut-offs. His black, high-top sneakers rested on a wooden coffee table; a hairy big toe stuck out through a ragged hole. A graying, wife-beater undershirt completed his motley ensemble.
Angelica’s radar was pinging. She hesitated, reluctant to repeat the emotional upheaval of her earlier episode with Rory at the Coven. But she couldn’t ignore her intuition. She slunk as close to the back door as she dared in order to eavesdrop. Buddy, finished with his slicing, glanced up once but seemed to pay her no attention.
“Dude!” Rory greeted Tony.
“Dude,” was the mellow response.
“Not much. Wassup witchoo?” Tony words were slurred.
Angelica detected a grassy hint of marijuana in the air.
“Definitely.” Rory accepted a bottle of Bud. He brushed off a spot on the couch before taking a seat, propping his pristine penny loafers on the beat-up coffee table.
Angelica started to wonder if she would be old and gray by the time this scintillating conversation went anywhere. How long could she legitimately spend gazing at jars of oil-cured olives? She leaned forward and pretended to read the labels.
“Dude, you up for a prank?” Rory took a large swig and let out a vibrant belch. “It’ll be just like the old days. I got such a great idea for getting back at those lesbos.”
“What’d the lesbos do to you?” The lust in Tony’s voice indicated his image of lesbians had been gleaned solely from pornographic videos.
“Never mind about that. That’s not the important part.” Rory clearly couldn’t explain how a restaurant full of lesbians made him so hot he had to strip in public. “Wait ’til you hear my prank, dude. This is the best one I ever thought up. Now, we’re gonna need some condoms. Or maybe water balloons? No, we should definitely use real condoms, and something that looks and feels like sperm…maybe that K-Y jelly gunk?”
“This is gonna rock,” Tony agreed, prematurely. “I got a bunch of old condoms been sitting in my drawer since high school. Do those things expire?”
Rory ignored the question. “And dildos. Like about a dozen dildos. And we gotta get a whole bunch of guys to help out. I figure we wait until the place is packed. Then we all run in, throw the water balloons, I mean the condoms, filled with K-Y so it’s like sperm exploding everywhere, right? And then we whack all the lesbos with these fuckin’ huge dildos. And we yell something like, Cocks rock! Then we all run out again. The whole thing takes like a minute. Tops.”
They clinked beer bottles together and grinned like two chimpanzees.
“You two fuckwads ain’t doin’ no such shit.”
The grinning chimps looked up to find Al “The Bossman” DiPetrillo presiding over the porch. Not a large man, Mr. D was nonetheless a man who exuded power. He wore a black fedora, even on the hottest of summer days. A deep scar ran down the left side of his face from the outer edge of his eyebrow to the side of his mouth—the remnants of a knife fight, people said. He was old school, probably had never worn a pair of shorts since he graduated kindergarten. Relaxing meant unbuttoning the top button of his starched and pressed shirt. Even in his dress shoes and a tie, he looked like he could inflict plenty of damage. Happily.
“You know we got a big job coming up and there ain’t no way I’m gonna let you dickheads screw this up. No. Fuckin’. Funny business. You got me, Warren?” Al pointed his beer bottle at Rory’s face and enunciated each syllable as if speaking to a dunce. The bottle inched closer with each word. “I heard about your fuckin’ pranks before. You’re damn lucky you never been to jail. Yet.”
“No need to get your panties all bunched up there, Mr. D.” Rory leaned back, away from the approaching bottleneck, and tried out one of his trademark smiles.
“You say somethin’ to me, Warren?” The Bossman took a step closer, and drew his jacket back to reveal the butt of a gun hooked into his waistband.
Angelica saw the glint of metal and sucked in her breath.
“Yes, sir, Mr. D.” Rory jerked his penny loafers off the coffee table and sat up straight. “I mean no! No, nothing at all. I gotta get going now. And you don’t need to worry about me. I got your best interests at heart.”
Tony slouched even lower into the couch cushions as Rory bolted through the back door into the Meat Market, heading straight for Angelica. The Bossman shook his head in disgust.
“Move, bitch.” Rory pushed past her.
Angelica barely had time to step out of his path. As he exited the shop, she heard a chorus of barking from her three companions. Not the excited, friendly bark of greeting, this sound was low and menacing, laced with growls. A dark memory flooded her mind, tugging her back in time. Beware the wolf.
Her German shepherd wouldn’t stop barking his head off. Rory barged in anyway, brandishing a quart-sized bottle of vodka in the air. He and Tony had been drinking all afternoon and they were down to the dregs. Refusing the last slug of spit-laden vodka, she watched Rory’s head tip back, his scruffy Adam’s apple bobbing as the liquor ran down his throat. Then he grinned at her, drool pooling in the corner of his mouth.
She should never have invited them up to her bedroom. It was her fault. If her mother had been home, she would have been more discreet. Then she could have avoided what happened next.
“What the fuck is this?” Rory dove onto her bed, snatching up the stuffed Snoopy she had slept with every night since childhood. The toy had been a gift from her father on a trip to F.A.O. Schwartz when she was only five years old.
Rory grabbed the dog by the throat and ripped Snoopy limb from limb until there was nothing left but stuffing and bits of white fur strewn across the room. Tony roared with laughter, rolling on the carpet, while Rory got down on all fours, growling and shaking amputated pieces of Snoopy between his teeth.
She simply stared.
After they left, she collected the shredded remains, feeling more numb than angry. The anger came later, when she was alone in her bed. And then the tears.
But Snoopy was just a toy. A remnant of her childhood. It wasn’t like she really needed that stupid stuffed animal. She was almost able to convince herself.
A bad taste filled Angelica’s mouth. Dizzy and nauseous, she gripped the doorjamb for balance, and shoved the memories back into the darkest corner of her mind. On unsteady legs, she approached the meat counter.
“Excuse me. Hi. I’ve got three hungry dogs outside so I’m going to need a lot of meat.” She forced a smile. “Let’s start with the chickens. Are those free-range?”
The butcher wrapped her selections in thick, white paper and labeled each package with a grease pencil. After giving her change, he walked around the counter to hand over the heavy bag.
“Do I know you from somewhere?” Buddy asked. “You look sorta familiar.”
“No,” Angelica said, quickly. “I’m new here.”
“If you say so.”
As she opened the door to leave, she caught him staring after her.
After stuffing the meat into the fridge, Angelica tried to shut the door. No go. She opened it again and rearranged the packages, wondering if something was going to have to go into the freezer. Her patience level was nearing zero while her stress level was peaking. And her blood sugar was crashing. Not a good combination.
“Okay, I guess we’ve got to eat some of this tonight,” she said to the dogs. The three sat up, eyes riveted on the packages re-emerging from the fridge. A thin thread of drool dangled from Ebony’s lip.
Angelica pulled a cleaver from the butcher’s block and hacked a whole chicken into sections. Whacking the sharp blade through the flesh and bone was quite cathartic. A neck, the innards, and both wings went to Slice; the remaining halves were chopped into chunks and tossed to Ebony and Hawk. The chicken slid down their throats with a minimum of chewing. Three seconds later, all eyes returned to Angelica.
“That’s all, folks.” She gave each of their heads a vigorous rub; a cloud of dog fur floated into the air. “I hope Erica has a cleaning person because I don’t think you guys can push a vacuum. And you know that’s not in my repertoire of tricks.”
The dogs panted their laughter.
“Conversing with the animals again?” Erica approached warily, her eyes on the cleaver still dangling from Angelica’s hand.
“Oh, don’t start with me.” Angelica turned back to the counter to unwrap a second package of meat. “I’m starving, I’ve got a headache, and I’m pissed off. And I’m about to throw a steak on the griddle. You want one?”
“No, thanks. I can’t digest red meat anymore. I’ll make us a salad, though.”
“You’re not eating at the Coven tonight?” Angelica glanced over as Erica lined up raw veggies on the counter.
“No, Harry usually gets there early and keeps an eye on everything. I’ll probably join her after dinner. You want to come with?”
“Maybe. But first, I need to pick your brain. What can you tell me about Tony DiPetrillo and his father?” Angelica found the cast iron griddle and placed it over two gas burners. She turned the heat up high in order to sear the steak.
“Rumor has it that Mr. D has taken over the top spot in the organized crime division of Rockland County.” Erica spoke quietly, as if the walls might be listening. “Tony is just a minion, and I don’t think he has the brains or the ambition to move up much in the organization.”
“Are we talking Mafia?”
“I think there are several loosely connected syndicates, but yeah, as far as I know, that term covers all of the different factions.” Erica sounded like an expert on the subject, Angelica thought, impressed.
“Have you ever had any trouble from them?” Angelica watched a curl of smoke rise from the grill pan. She wasn’t going to ruin this premium piece of meat by overcooking it.
“No, none whatsoever.” Erica responded to Angelica’s concern with a small smile. “You know Buddy. He took over the butcher shop a few years ago, when his grandfather passed. He’s a little strange, I have to admit, but he seems like a pretty good guy. He’s always stayed straight, kept his business clean. Word is that he won’t launder money for his father. He gives us a high quality product for a reasonable price, so we’re happy doing business with him.”
“What do you mean by ‘strange’?” Angelica flipped her T-bone, taking a deep whiff. Feeling pleased with Buddy’s product herself, she was salivating almost as much as the three dogs.
“It’s hard to describe. Sometimes, when he’s looking at me, I get the feeling he’d like to put me through that slicer of his.” Erica tilted her head, thinking. “No. That’s not it, exactly. I just get the feeling that something is slightly off.”
“He must be a pretty tough character, to stand up to his father.” Angelica thought back to the conversation she had overheard. Mr. D didn’t sound like someone you messed with. Not if you liked feeding yourself without a tube.
“I think it might suit Mr. D just fine.” Erica tossed the salad. “It makes him look less like a gangster when his son is an upright pillar of society. And he probably has plenty of crooked businesses that launder his money.”
“Yeah, I guess he must.” Angelica speared her steak and slid it onto a plate. Bright red juices ran out. This was exactly what she needed to restore her strength.
She took a seat across from Erica at the antique pine table. The dogs shifted their positions slightly in order to keep watch over the steak as it traveled, bite by bite, into Angelica’s mouth.
“So, while I was browsing in Reliable’s, I heard Tony and Rory Anderson talking about a job they’re planning, something they’re doing for Mr. D.” Her stomach twisted at the mention of Rory’s name. “Any clue what they might be referring to?”
“Not really.” Erica forked a grape tomato into her mouth. “But I know Mr. D would never trust Tony with anything too complicated. For one thing, he’s stoned off his rocker most of the time. He didn’t come into this world with too many brain cells, and the few he has left have probably mutated from all the hallucinogens.” Tony used to deal drugs at the junior high. He had provided Erica with everything from magic mushrooms to marijuana back when she had barely entered her teens. Those drugs had done nothing to stabilize her fragile state of mind.
“Speaking of brain cells,” Angelica put her fork and knife down. “Or lack thereof, Rory was also talking about pulling a fairly harmless, but nasty prank at the Coven. Apparently he has some negative feelings toward women who don’t date men.”
“What kind of prank? Are we talking about a hate crime? Because Harriet would be more than happy to toss him out on his ass the next time he shows up.” With a co-owner of Harriet’s size and strength, bouncers were apparently unnecessary.
“Nah. Mr. D told Rory and Tony that they better not do anything so stupid, and then he flashed his gun to underline the point.” Angelica gave an evil grin. “I tell you, I would really love to catch that asshole in the act of something criminal. Seeing him rot in jail for a few years would warm my heart.”
“I know.” Erica met her eyes, confirming the understanding they shared.