To start at the beginning go here.
I shrugged out of my coat and stepped into the kitchen, opening up the cracked fridge to the chorus of jangling glass from the La Parfait jars that Sophie used for her various projects. Sophie always kept the commissary well stocked.
Using a loaf of pain de mie from on top of the icebox, I made myself a sandwich from the ham and gruyere cheese that I found on the inside. One thing you have to give the French, they know how to make good bread.
I was warming up the sandwich in a skillet when I heard the door open and the impossibly light footsteps of Sophie come in. Sweeping into the kitchen she smiled at me, setting down the bags of fresh vegetables she had acquired from one of the street markets she frequented. Bundled up as she was in a high-neck sweater and jeans, a throw-over knit to keep off the early spring chill, she probably charmed pretty good prices out of most merchants.
A quick kiss on the cheek was followed by a disapproving cluck at my self-serve sandwich. Returning to the bag she used some of its contents to put together a salad with small tomatoes and a vinaigrette. She set this down on the counter next to me, indicating that I was meant to eat it. The sandwich properly warmed I slid it from the skillet onto the top of the salad, grabbed a fork and headed to the couch.
Following me after she had made her own salad with warmed bread, slightly greasy from the cheese of my sandwich, Sophie joined me, looking expectantly at me with patient eyes. I speared a few leafs and shoveled them into my mouth, feeling like a bull eating grass in front of her. Sorting through what was important, I put together what I wanted to say as I chewed, the lightest expectation from Sophie filling the room.
“The driver,” I started after taking a bite of the sandwich. Sophie came to attention. “Didn’t know who the Corsican kid was, but he remembered where he dropped him off.”
“Where was this?”
“His uncle’s place.” I gestured to the apartment’s western wall, covered by a bookshelf with various paperbacks and the children’s books that Sophie had used to help me learn French. “It’s a scooter repair shop. I didn’t get to talk to him too much. Some of Mitnick’s boys showed up.” Sophie stared at me for a moment before I realized I had never actually named him. “Mitnick is the high-roller the Corsican kid mentioned. The Beard.” At having to explain this I realized it felt like a very long time since I had last seen Sophie. This filled me with a desire to pick her up and take her to bed, to lie there with her, to hold her until the world outside just went away. But even something that simple felt like a betrayal to Cheryl and the shame of it stoked a fire in me that made me want to strangle someone.
That fantasy was ground away by Sophie’s sharpened interest, the naming of Mitnick giving her something to focus on. “The one who has the girl?”
“That’s what the Corsican said. So, maybe.” Sensing there was more to it, Sophie waited, taking the lettuce off her fork in minute bites. I brushed sandwich crumbs off my hands and into the salad. “When I asked Mitnick about it, he changed the subject awfully fast though.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out the roll of Euros. “He wants me to keep an eye out in the casino for him.”
As practical as ever, Sophie eyed the bundle of money. I knew from experience she could live happily in poverty but, like most people, she preferred the comforts of life. Which she could easily get from someone like Mitnick, or maybe just some middle class slob, someone she could make happy and would take care of her in turn. Not for the first time that made me wonder what she was doing in a rundown tenement with me and how badly had Verdicchio hurt her. Before I could think on that too long Sophie asked, “Why does he wish this?”
“He’s planning something. Something Sarti isn’t too happy about.” I peeled off a few hundreds and set them on the table. After a moment a thought occurred to me that caused me to peel off a few more hundreds.
“I could visit him,” Sophie suggested, still eyeing the money. For a moment that idea caused a spike in jealousy to shoot through me, even though I had no right to feel that way.
Her eyes had acquired that cold glassiness, though, that turned them into infinite pools. Realizing she wasn’t suggesting some kind of seduction I saw a flash of her with a knife in her hand, walking through a palazzo in Venice covered in blood. I blinked that away and answered, “I think it’s a little early for that yet.”
Sophie returned to Earth, the warmth coming back to her green eyes with an almost imperceptible shake of her head. She smiled at me, the slightest merriment in her expression as if the idea had been ludicrous. “Then what shall we do?”
“Look,” I rotated towards her on the couch, causing it to groan with the shifting weight, “we don’t even know if the girl or this Corsican, this Larenz,” I dropped his name in for Sophie, “need our help. So I think we should find out a bit more before we go visiting anyone.” I emphasized the next to last word, putting it into quotations. In reality I didn’t care – for all I cared about Mitnick and Sarti we could burn them both down and I might even enjoy it. But Sophie might get hurt in the crossfire.
She smiled again, banishing whatever banshee had visited her. “Si,” she agreed. I returned her smile and finished off the salad.
After sweating it out with Mitnick’s boys I needed a shower. The ventilation in the apartment was poor enough that it was so humid I couldn’t towel all the moisture off me. I finished drying myself by standing in my boxers while ironing a few work shirts and slacks, the simple black and white of which reminded me of Simon and his more honest work. Sophie lay on the couch while I did this, ostensibly reading one of her paperbacks (Le Père Goriot), while sneaking the occasional glance my way. I pretended not to notice or that it didn’t do my ego some good.
Heading out the door in one of the freshly pressed outfits with a coat to protect it from the Spring rain, she asked me, “Are you leaving so soon?”
I stopped, looking back at Sophie, who floated in the kitchen doorway. It was enough of an image to make any man want to stay inside. Instead I said, “Yeah. I’ll need to hit the dead drop. Atwell will want to know I made contact with Mitnick.” She closed the short distance between the kitchen and the apartment’s exit. I thought I was about to get a continental kiss good-bye when she handed me an umbrella, placing its handle gently on my shoulder. “You have no hat. Take this.” I felt the weight of it on my shoulder, realizing it was the umbrella we had picked up in Switzerland, a metal cored rod with fiberglass ribs and a stainless steel tip, a shield against the elements or attackers. It reminded me of a nastier version of the truncheon the Corsican’s fat friend had carried.
I was surprised as ever by Sophie’s small gestures of kindness, but it was her sudden proximity that caused my internal temperature to rise. I took the umbrella quickly, mumbled a ‘thank you’ and left.