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Sophie was waiting for me back at the tenement, past the subway tiles and broken elevator, the yellow sandwich board now knocked to the floor, teetering dangerously on that precipice. I ignored it and went up the stairs.
As I hung my coat on the hat rack by the door I could hear her humming tunelessly from the tiny kitchen. The sound of plastic whisking against metal that accompanied her music told me that she was cooking.
I had learned from living with her in Venice and now in France that Sophie usually cooked when she was very happy, very sad, or very conflicted. That didn’t help me plan my approach much, though. Sophie was usually one of those things.
Thinking about the strange last couple of days I stood in the doorway of the kitchen, leaning against its frame, watching her dance minutely in front of the stove. She was wearing a nearly imperceptible camisole and a pair of my boxers, looking better in the latter than my ape self ever could. Or the former for that matter.
Watching the smooth muscles of her back I felt a desire rise in me, and I let it even as I knew I couldn’t act on it. Verdicchio’s knife work had cut something out of Sophie that had left her sensitive to anything but the softest of touches. And just thinking about making love to Sophie made me feel ashamed for wanting another woman other than Cheryl. But it was good to feel something warm that wasn’t anger, so I stood there with it for a little while.
I stepped into the kitchen, my bulk making it feel even smaller, and said hi. Sophie turned to me with a smile that didn’t reveal much more about her internal state than the cooking. She twittered something in French or Italian that I didn’t catch, still caught in my appetence, watching the rose of her lips move. I only went further adrift when the smell of whatever she was cooking hit me. It smelled delicious.
Returning to earth I said, “Sorry. What?”
Sophie gave me a slightly annoyed look that was a mirror of Cheryl and probably of all women everywhere when their domestic partners weren’t paying attention. With one corner of her mouth downturned in a perfectly mocking way she repeated herself. “I asked how was work Poverino.”
Uncertain of how much to tell Sophie, I suddenly felt like the small child she called me. I mumbled a bit, running my hands over the stubble covering my skull. In a movement only announced by the air she cut through Sophie stood in front of me the next moment and lightly slapped me on the shoulder with the spatula. “Stop,” she said, a short command reinforced by a disapproving expression.
“Stop what?” I recoiled more from the feelings Sophie was stirring up in me rather than from her play violence. It took me a step out of the kitchen though.
“Stop worrying.” She stepped closer and smiled, placing a reassuring hand on where she had just tapped me. “You are in your home, with a woman who needs no protection.” The softness of her hand brought up more conflicting feelings, but those were squashed by her words and the images they conjured: Sophie in white and red, a boy at her feet bleeding to death from a gash in his neck.
I straightened up and Sophie returned to the stove. “The high roller that the Corsican was jabbering about came back into the casino.” I thought about the quiet way the Corsican had taken the beating I’d given him. Saying he had jabbered was a disservice to him, but I didn’t correct myself. Instead I described Mitnick, with his well-dressed six feet, beard, and impossibly straight white teeth. I ended with, “He’s in some kind of dispute with Sarti.”
I was about to go into the public humiliation that Sarti had leveled on Marek when Sophie interrupted me with, “This has something to do with the girl?”
“I don’t know. Atwell is interested in what’s happening though.” A petty jealousy caused me to watch Sophie more closely with this pronouncement. Her only reaction was a slight stiffening, radiating a minor disapproval, as if she had found a hair in her food. “And what does el patrono want?”
“He wants me to find out what they’re fighting about and settle it.” The flatness of my tone stretched out like a graph charting how likely I thought that was.
Leaving a pile of dishes and pots behind her for me to clean up later, Sophie came forward holding two plates. Still steaming each was covered in pasta that was slick with a translucent sauce, sprinkled with tiny red peppers and mixed in with whatever meat or vegetables she had managed to scrounge up. She held the plate with the largest amount of pasta towards me. When I took it she said, “Perhaps the girl and this dispute have something in common.”