by Rachel Cann
Sometimes, when he would disappear for days, I would get nervous, imagining him in Alaska, robbing banks, with a ski mask on his face, maybe even getting shot. I was feeling fat, self-conscious of my pregnancy, wearing this awful pink tent-like maternity dress. He was sporting new glasses, with a thin, gold wire frame, in place of his old horn rims, giving off the aura of a well-groomed man of leisure and he was beaming at me, deliriously happy, like a back alley Tomcat that had just found a pigeon.
“Who do you think you are, a hippy?” I barked. The waiter brought my chowder and I devoured it. If a woman can tell how much a man likes her by the amount of money he spends, this one would have let me order two steaks instead of one, and without condemnation, let me take the rolls home in a doggy bag. But if I pigged out on the bread first, as I usually did, there was hell to pay. Feeding me seemed to be his hobby ever since I started eating for two. After downing the chowder, my anger subsided somewhat and I decided to try a different tack.
“They look nice. Where did you get them?”
“It’s a long story.”
“I thought so. I’m in no hurry. Tell me.” There are only so many times you can believe a man’s away on business, especially with someone who’s supposed to be retired. He hadn’t been answering his phone, and if there were another woman, I was in one hell of a fix.
“Now don’t get excited,” he said. “Relax.” The waiter brought our dinners and we left off talking until we were sure of not being overheard. Paul was being followed by the F.B.I. because he was what they call a career criminal since he’d never held a regular job except back in the fifties when he’d owned the Mayfair nightclub in the South End of Boston.
He never told me anything, not ANYTHING that I wanted to know and I was usually very timid, never knowing what would make him fly off the handle, as you can imagine, but what with him having money, sophistication, and smarts, I usually knew enough to mind my P’s and Q’s. But today I decided to use what leverage I had since I wasn’t going to have it much longer. “I’ll make a scene, if you don’t tell me,” I threatened, not knowing exactly what I could do to break through his cool, what with his need to be keeping a low profile. Were I to do anything unseemly, cry, for example, he might give me a mustache sneer, as only he could, and leave me sitting there alone, gentleman or not. I persisted: “Now, where have you been and who picked out the glasses?”
He picked at his luncheon of smoked salmon. He couldn’t look me in the eyes and I could feel my eyebrows go into a cynical squint, the same squint I was probably born with, if my hunch was right. “The Ritz,” he said, a bit too casually, with what I read as a cocky, uncustomary smile. “I ran into an old friend on Newbury Street.”
“And he decided you needed a new look?”
“Did you read where Jackie Kennedy was in town?” Was he trying to change the subject or was he trying to make me jealous?
“Jackie Kennedy? Ha!” I hooted. “Why would she need you?”
With her millions, I doubted if she would settle for a guy like him. She had Ari, didn’t she? Still, one never knew the inner workings of a woman’s mind. Something about hanging with gangsters was appealing: intrigue, color, drama. With Paul, anything was possible. He oozed more charm than half a dozen Hollywood types I could mention, con a widow with children out of her money and make her beg him to come back, do everything but walk on water, as far as I was concerned. His self assurance thrilled me and I thought if I studied him enough, a little of what he had would work its way through my pores, into my blood and brain, so that I could be able, like him, tell shit from Shinola, which is what he said I had to learn first.
“You’ve got it wrong, kid. I need her.” My whole body went clammy. I’m certain my face blanched. “It’s not what you think,” he went on, “But if I have to go on the lam, what better place to hide than her private island? Think about it?”
I did. Better her place than mine. He’d drive me crazy. He was so picky. With servants to wait on him, bouzoukis, and retsina, he’d be happy. And more importantly, he’d be safe. I guess I should have been happy, but I kept thinking of myself. Who would I call in the spring when my cellar filled with water again? Who would I call when a store wouldn’t give me a refund? I couldn’t even get an address out of the telephone operators at information. His smooth voice always worked: “Honey,” he would say, winking at me. “Could you do me this favor…?” Their nameless hearts would melt.
“Okay,” I said, sick at heart. “Will you be able to call me from time to time?”
“After a while. We’ll work something out. They keep a record of intercontinental calls, you know. When I show up missing, the first person they’ll keep tabs on is you.” For most of my adult life, I’d be followed by private detectives and I often felt like a laboratory rat in a cage. First, it was because of my divorce, and later, because of other things.
“Do you think she’ll like me?” I asked.
“How could anyone not like you?” It was the biggest compliment he’d ever paid me. I remember every compliment I have ever heard because there haven’t been that many. To this day, I can count them on one hand. But then, a tear trickled down my cheek. It was all too much, rearranging my life, just so I could get to see him once in a while, or maybe it was my hormones running wild. I really enjoyed his company. Without him, I would feel insignificant, a blip on the T.V. screen of life. He was the prince and I was the princess, the power behind the throne. The Kingdom of Boston, home of the Red Sox and Sacco and Venzetti was ours to enjoy, a dream come true, at least for me, born and raised beyond the railroad and streetcar tracks, practically within the shadow of Harvard Yard, echelon of the best and the brightest.
“I’m just on the rib,” he said finally, probably worried I was going to ruin the white linen tablecloth at Jimmy’s. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Kidding?” I asked. “With me two weeks overdue is this any time to be playing a joke?”
My meal was stone cold. The whole point of my interrogation had been lost in his myth, just as he’d planned. How gullible I was, how naïve. He wasn’t going to tell me where he’d been or anything else unless he wanted to. I sat silent and stunned while he paid the check with a crisp one hundred dollar bill, slipping it into a little leather bound book on a tray. It was a time when the mob was gaining national notoriety, a war on organized crime. 1970. Bad guys would turn good and good guys into bad before it was over. Omertà would become a thing of the past.