From that point on, in her own mind at least, Sofia Basta’s life had been transformed into one long fairy tale. She and Frankie married on her eighteenth birthday and moved out of the orphanage to a minuscule studio apartment in Harlem, where, as promised, Frankie had made love to her for the first time. It was the happiest four minutes of Sofia’s life.
For the next two years Sofia worked as a waitress while Frankie went to school. He was so smart he could have been anything he wanted to be, a doctor, a lawyer, a businessman. He was offered the job in L.A. before he’d even graduated, that’s how smart he was. They moved to California, packing one single suitcase of possessions and waving good-bye to New York as happily as two people ever had.
Los Angeles was everything Sofia had dreamed it would be and more. In fact her life now was so perfect, she felt guilty when she complained about anything—like Frankie having to travel for work or stay late at the office. Or like the fact that, so far, they’d been unable to conceive a child. Although this probably had something to do with how rarely her husband wanted to make love to her.
“I want it to be special,” Frankie explained. “It won’t be if we let it become routine.”
Sofia tried to convince Frankie that it would be special for her no matter how many times they did it, but he wouldn’t be moved. Sofia told herself she shouldn’t let it bother her too much. He showed her his love in so many other ways—taking intimate photographs, burning up with jealousy when other men paid her attention, complimenting her constantly on her clothes, her perfume, her hair. The sexual side would come, in time.
She’d finished baking a batch of cookies and was in the middle of changing the sheets on their bed when she heard Frankie’s key in the door. Squealing with delight, she flew into his arms.
“Baby.” He kissed the top of her head. “Did you miss me?”
“Of course I did. Every second! Why didn’t you tell me earlier that your flight was today? I’d have come to LAX to meet you.”
“I know you would’ve. I wanted to surprise you.”
Frankie looked at his adoring young wife and congratulated himself, once again. Sofia’s beauty never failed to surprise him. After only a few days away from her, she seemed to have grown more lovely, more perfect. She was an angel. The thought of another man touching her put murderous thoughts into Frankie’s head. Yet he knew with absolute certainty that he could never be the lover she wanted. It was a problem.
That night in bed, feeling her frustration as she lay next to him, Frankie asked, “Do you ever think about sleeping with other men?”
Sofia was horrified. “No! Of course not. I’d rather die. How can you ask me that?”
“You’d really rather die?” He looked at her with an intensity she’d never seen before. Sofia thought before answering, then said yes, because it was the truth. She wouldn’t have been able to live with herself if she betrayed Frankie. He was her life now, the breath in her body.
“Good,” said Frankie. “In that case there’s a man I want you to meet. An important man.” Slowly, he reached down between her legs. Sofia moaned helplessly. It had been so long since he’d touched her. Please…please don’t stop. But Frankie did stop, pulling his hand away and placing a finger over Sofia’s lips. She could have wept.
“I want you to be nice to this man. Do everything that I tell you to do. Even if it’s hard.”
“Of course, darling.” She reached for him. “You know I’ll do anything for you. But what did you have in mind?”
“Don’t worry about it now. I’ll set it up. You just do as I ask.”
Frankie rolled on top of her. To Sofia’s astonishment, he was hard. Sliding inside her, he gave five or six short thrusts and climaxed almost instantly.
For a while neither of them spoke. Then Sofia asked quietly, “What’s his name?”
“This man you want me to meet. What’s his name?”
In the darkness, Frankie smiled.
“Jakes. His name is Andrew Jakes.”
MATT DALEY LOOKED AT HIS WATCH. He had spent the last half hour sitting on an uncomfortable couch in a drab waiting room, deep within Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon. The building, looming over the river on the Quai Charles de Gaulle, was a shrine to ugly functionality, a place built by bureaucrats, for bureaucrats. A data analyst’s wet dream, thought Matt, noting the total absence of artwork or even an occasional colored rug or vase of flowers anywhere in the maze of corridors he’d seen so far. No wonder the staff look so depressed.
In fairness, he was basing this assessment on a sample of two people. The dour young Frenchman who had issued him his visitor’s pass and led him to the office of the man he’d flown halfway across the world to see, and that man’s secretary, a woman whose battle-ax features exuded about as much warmth as a Siberian nuclear winter.
“D’you think he’ll be much longer?” Matt asked.
The secretary shrugged contemptuously and returned to her computer screen.
Matt thought of his father. Harry Daley had never been to France, but had always admired Frenchwomen from afar for their poise and charm and sexiness. Boy, would Rosa Klebb over there have shattered his illusions!
Thinking about his dad made Matt smile.
If it hadn’t been for Harry Daley, he wouldn’t be sitting here.
HARRY DALEY HAD BEEN A WONDERFUL father, and an even better husband. Harry and Marie, Matt’s mom, were married for forty years and had been everything to each other. At Harry Daley’s funeral last year, scores of friends had lingered at the graveside, sharing their memories of the man Matt and his sister, Claire, had loved for as long as either of them could remember.
During the ceremony, Matt got terrible giggles when the Croatian priest’s “May he rest in peace” came out quite clearly as “May he rest in piss.” Given that Harry had died of cancer of the bladder, this struck both Matt and his sister as hilarious.
Raquel, Matt’s glamorous South American wife, didn’t see the funny side.
“My God,” she hissed in Matt’s ear, “what is wrong with you? Have you no respect? It’s your father’s funeral.”
“Oh, c’mon, honey. ‘May he rest in piss’? It’s funny. Dad would have seen the humor. Imagine what Jerry Seinfeld would’ve done with a line like that.”
Raquel said cuttingly, “You are hardly Jerry Seinfeld, honey.”
It hurt because it was true. Matt Daley was a comedy writer, but in recent years not a very successful one. Handsome in a boyish, disheveled sort of way, with a thick thatch of blond hair and apple-green eyes, his most distinctive feature was his contagious smile, a facial event that seemed to fold his entire physiognomy into one giant laugh line. In the early days of their relationship, Raquel had been attracted to Matt’s sense of humor and was flattered when amusing incidents from their life together made their way onto the hit TV show Matt worked on briefly back then. But after eight years the novelty had worn off, along with the hope that Matt’s residuals were ever going to earn them the glitzy Hollywood lifestyle Raquel yearned for. Matt now worked for a cable network that paid their bills but left them with little for the finer things in life.
“What’s she bitching about this time?” Matt’s sister, Claire, was not a fan of her sister-in-law.
“She doesn’t like funerals,” said Matt loyally.
“Probably scared somebody’s going to shine perpetual light upon her and we’ll all get to see the scars from her latest eye lift.”
Matt grinned. He loved Claire. He loved his wife too, but even he was beginning to come to the painful realization that the feeling was probably no longer mutual.
On the drive back to L.A. after the funeral, Matt tried to build bridges with Raquel.
“I’m about to start working on a new idea,” he told her. “Something different. A documentary.”
The faintest flicker of interest played in her eyes. “A documentary? Who for?”
“Well, no one yet,” Matt admitted. “I’m writing it on spec.”
The flicker died. Just what we need, thought Raquel. Another unsold spec script.
“It’s about my father,” Matt pressed on. “My biological father.”
Raquel yawned. To be honest, she’d forgotten that Harry Daley wasn’t Matt’s real dad. Harry had married Matt’s mom when Matt was a toddler and Claire a baby in arms.
“I found out recently that he was murdered more than a decade ago.”
If this piece of news was intended to shock Raquel, or even pique her interest, it failed. “People get murdered every day in this city, Matthew. Why would anyone want to sit through an hour of television about your unknown father’s demise?”