Claudia Richards sat at the table in her kitchen, eyes closed, a burning cigarette hanging from her lips, when a knock at the backdoor made her jump.
“Oh, shit,” she said, grabbing the .357 from the table.
She hopped up and stepped over to the door, the pistol raised.
“Who the hell is it?” she said.
“It’s me, ma,” said her son, Bernard. “Open up.”
She threw the deadbolt and opened the door to let him in.
“Jesus,” she said. “You like to have scared me half to death.”
He eyed the gun in her hand.
“Ma, there’s something I got to tell you,” he said.
She took a drag on the cigarette and waved a hand at him.
“I know all about it,” she said. “Take off your jacket and sit down. I’ll fix you something to eat.”
“You don’t understand,” he said, slipping off his Phillies windbreaker.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said, pointing to a chair. “There’s a contract out on me. I know.”
A flowered plastic cover lay over the table. A rocks glass and a bottle of Old Grand-Dad sat next to an ashtray filled with butts. Her son took the chair opposite hers.
She laid down the gun and went to the stove.
“There’s macaroni and some bread. You want sausages?”
“I ain’t really hungry, ma.”
“Well, you got to eat,” she said, fixing a plate for him.
She set the food in front of him and sat down at the table. He began eating.
“I mean, a lifetime of being a good soldier—hell, more than a good soldier. I was the number one girl for three different bosses.”
“I know, ma. You told me.”
“I ran numbers, collected, and I was damn fine eye candy, too, on the big man’s arm.” She let out a sigh, stabbing out her cigarette. “Man, I was tough and good-looking.”
“I know, ma. I seen pictures.”
“Yeah, well, you don’t know everything, smart guy.”
She picked up the pack of unfiltered Camels, shook one out, and lit it with her Zippo.
“I done a hit once.”
He looked over at her, his jaw slack, his mouth full of food.
She nodded. “Didn’t know that, did you?”
He shook his head.
She blew out smoke. “You remember Tommy the Baker? He got insulted by a guy in the Genovese family up in New York. Only problem was nobody could get close enough to the guy to clip him. So they sent me. Took the train, pretended to meet him in a bar, let him sweet talk me. We went out to his Cadillac, and I did it. I shot him.”
She picked up the glass of bourbon and sipped at it.
“Man, I was nervous. Never did anything like that before. Had to shoot him twice. First one went through his shoulder, blood all over the place. He started going for his gun. I shot him again, second one through the eye. Then I got out of there.”
“I never knew that,” said her son.
“It all goes to prove what I was saying. I been a good soldier, forty-plus years, and I make one goddamned mistake, and they want to put me in a hole.”
She took another drag on the unfiltered Camel.
“I got pinched,” she said, looking at the floor. “Possession of stolen goods.”
She sat forward, leaning on the table.
“Goddamned hot cameras,” she said. “You believe that? And I got pinched. So I traded a little information to get off. So what, right? Who wouldn’t? I gave them nothing they didn’t already know. And it’s nothing Eddie the Carp can’t get out from under. They pop him, he’ll be out in twenty-four hours. I guarantee it.”
Bernard finished eating and pushed away the plate.
“So I got to talk to Joey,” she said. “First thing. He’s the boss. He knows me, likes me. He can fix this thing. I’ll be in the doghouse, but I’ll still be breathing,” she said.
Her son, Bernard, grabbed the pistol from the table.
“That’s what I was trying to tell you, ma,” he said, pointing the gun at her. “Joey sent me.”