Authors: Tori Carrington
The Sofie Metropolis Series from Tori Carrington
A Sofie Metropolis Novel
All Rights Reserved © 2012 by Lori and Tony Karayianni
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher.
Published by Tori Carrington a.k.a. Tony & Lori Karayianni
“It ain’t easy being Greek.” Yes, I admit shamelessly borrowing this quote from Kermit the Frog and editing it for my purposes; it helps keep certain aspects of real life and fiction in focus, especially when it comes to this sixth installment of Sofie Metropolis’ adventures. Tradition plays such a large role in life, and is especially true in Greek-American households. There are nice traditions…and not so nice ones. In the case of the former, dancing and plate breaking come to mind. The latter? Well, let’s just say in Queens Ransom, Sofie doesn’t get much opportunity to indulge in yummy Greek food. Well, unless you consider boiled potatoes, lentils and fava beans yummy. Gasp! I know, right? Curious why? Turn the page!
Of course, sons Tony and Tim are lucky they really haven’t had to endure Sofie’s dietary trials. But they are an endless source for love and laughter, both very American but incapable of denying their Greek heritage, often much to their own exasperation. And with the birth of lovely Layla, Tony’s first child with lovely Raegan Searing, life’s cycle and family tradition continues. Looking forward to spoiling her rotten in all ways Greek and American!
Agent extraordinaire Robert Gottlieb has been by Sofie’s side since the beginning, and deserves a special nod. Along with everyone else who works behind the scenes at Trident Media Group, including Adrienne Lombrado and Mark Gottlieb: Thank you for covering the business angle with brilliant aplomb so the creative end might flourish.
Publishers Edwin Buckhalter, Rachel Simpson Hutchens and Michelle Duff of Severn House are wonderfully supportive partners-in-crime and deserving of utmost appreciation.
To Patricia Longenberger, Sabrina Schlachter, Charlie and Jaelynn for turning up the music when it goes silent, understanding that deadline isn’t just a word in a book, and for providing copious amounts of “zombie” love!
And last, but by no means least, heartfelt gratitude goes to the entire Sobczak family - including little Cameron - for bringing warmth and sunshine on cloudy days and re-igniting life’s pilot light. And special friends Noreen Fitch, Alexandera Guerrero, Kenneth Guerrero, Angela Zink, Xenios and all the gang at Good Times Restaurant.& Grill.
Here’s to honoring old traditions…and creating new!
Tis the season to be jolly, fa-la-la-la-la-la, la-la-la . . .
Yeah, that about summed up my feelings on the matter.
Whoever penned the annual holiday ditty? I guess they hated winter as much as I did. Probably the writer was trying to make himself feel better through the power of suggestion. Me . . .? Well, I find absolutely nothing jolly about two feet of heavy snow, wind that stretched spiny fingers under umpteen layers of clothing to squeeze the air out of my lungs, and store sales that might result in the loss of a limb if you happened to be interested in an item an animalistic fellow shopper also happened to have her eye on.
Of course, it didn’t help that I hadn’t had a decent meal in two weeks.
It’s a Greek thing.
Oh, I know most if not all Christian religions observe advent. It’s just . . . well, let’s just say the Greeks aren’t known as the birthers of drama for nothing. Pre-holiday fasting was not merely a religious tradition; it was an all out experience. And my mom, Thalia, adhered to it as tightly as hot wax applied to certain delicate areas come bikini time. Which meant instead of tucking away plastic containers of yummy Greek food whenever I visited my parents’ a couple of blocks up from my Astoria, Queens apartment, I instead was presented with a plate bearing nothing more than a boiled potato sparsely drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper.
‘Woman cannot live on tasteless potatoes alone,’ I’d muttered yesterday, and received a Thalia cuff to the back of the head for my efforts.
Now I stood in front of my bedroom mirror admiring my new shoulder holster and distracting myself from the simple fact that I could easily remedy my limited menu by going to the grocery store. But as much as I bitched and moaned . . . well, traditions were traditions and even I followed them. For the most part. If I’d stopped at the Chirping Chicken last night on my way home for some much-needed comfort food, then that was between me and the chatty Asian cashier.
Of course, it didn’t help Thalia somehow always knew when I cheated. Revoke my bad girl card, but I, Sofie Metropolis – PI by trade, good Greek daughter by life – was utterly incapable of lying to my mother, even when I did lie.
Well, most of the time.
I withdrew my 9mm Glock and waved it at my reflection in the bedroom mirror.
‘You talking to me . . .? You . . .? Me . . .? You . . .?’ My pathetic Robert De Niro
imitation was doing nothing to boost my own idea of bad girl me.
Probably because no matter how much I’d like to think of myself as bad, I really was a good Greek girl at heart and probably always would be.
Which absolutely sucked dead canaries.
As for the gun itself and my handling of it, let’s just say my recent wielding experiences wouldn’t exactly be landing me on any Marksman Today magazine covers anytime soon. While I now made a point of carrying it everywhere – including my parents’, which resulted in my having to fish it out of the trash can draped in spinach on more than one occasion – my last scary encounter . . . well, I’m sorry to say the firearm helped me not at all. Not because it hadn’t been loaded or I hadn’t been prepared to use it. No. Rather, bullets were completely useless when it came to certain blood-draining creatures of the night.
And I wasn’t talking bats. Not entirely, anyway.
Still, despite my midnight standoff with the neighborhood vampire Ivan Romanoff’s creepy nephew, Vladimir, I was determined to return to my stance that there was no such thing as vampires.
A side note: I wasn’t having much luck.
Muffy the Mutt came into the bedroom and plopped his furry bottom on the floor next to my feet. I looked down at the Jack Russell terrier; he whined and tilted his head to the side, his tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth.
‘What?’ I asked. ‘There aren’t any such thing as vampires.’
My response indicated that the dog – that had been my first-found pet of what had become a now regular pet-detecting part of my job – could read my mind. Which, of course, he couldn’t.
He gave a sneeze and stared up at me as if to say, ‘Yeah, right.’
‘By the way, just so you know, you’re not coming with me tonight.’
He gave a low growl.
I growled back.
OK, so I was coming to understand he felt the same about winter as I did. Probably more so because I didn’t have to go outside in the snow in my bare feet the way he had to. I also didn’t have to climb the slippery fire escape to the roof to do my business in the icy wind coming off the East River, either. The same wind that found the window I usually left open for him closed most of the time, Thalia’s words ringing in my ears: ‘What, are you trying to heat the whole of New York? Or will Astoria do?’
Astoria. Manhattan’s less sophisticated younger sister that had onetime been referred to as the bedroom of New York City, but was now more about young couples raising their young families. I’d grown up here, and liked that the borough maintained much of its ethnic Greek flavor even though most of the Greeks themselves had already used the money they’d made and moved to the Long Island suburbs.
I asked my father why he and my mother hadn’t fled. He’d merely looked at me and wondered aloud, ‘And do what? Grow flowers? You can get plenty from the corner fruit stand.’
He had a point. One of my many uncles had relocated and had begun flower growing as a summer pastime, and then erected a greenhouse so he could do it in the winter, too.
He and my father had nothing in common anymore and within five minutes of finding themselves anywhere near each other, they both catapulted in the opposite direction.
The fact that my dad was still actively involved in the steakhouse he owned on Broadway might also have something to do with it. My mother once remarked that despite all intentions to the contrary, she’d ended up marrying her own father and that
father would probably never retire.
I would strongly advise no one tell my maternal grandfather how similar he was to my father. Grandpa Kosmos – or, the more affectionate Greek,
– and my father had long ago agreed to disagree and if they had any speaking to each other to do, they usually did so through my mother. And if she didn’t happen to be handy? Any available family member would do.
Family member? I’d seen them do it with the mail carrier, so let me revise that to say ‘human’.
If there wasn’t anyone else around? They didn’t speak. Period.
Conversations around the dinner table usually included this:
‘Tell what’s-his-face to pass the potatoes, would you?’
‘Ask the old man on the other side of the table if he plans to do anything with that newspaper he stole from me this morning.’
That was usually the extent of their interaction. Well, beyond my grandfather emptying the contents of whatever food platter happened to be in front of him and my mother silently taking most of it back on and handing the platter to my father, who sometimes passed as if the food had been somehow contaminated, resulting in a triumphant smirk from my grandfather.
Thalia didn’t complain too much about their juvenile behavior. I guessed because she was glad they were sitting at the same table at all.
My younger sister, Efi, on the other hand, usually ignored them both when they tried to enlist her as intermediary while my younger brother – also Kosmos – had an uncanny way of anticipating what either of them wanted and gave it to them before they had a chance to finish the first smart-ass word in their sentence.
I wouldn’t be seeing any of them tonight, at any rate. No, I was due to pick up my mother in . . .
Shit! Was that the time?
I was late.
I holstered my Glock, nearly tripping over Muffy on my way to grab my coat and purse.
‘Sorry, pal, but I already said you’ve got to stay here.’ I shrugged into my coat. ‘I’m going to a
Merely saying the word made me shudder.
‘Trust me, you don’t want to go. Absolutely no fun at all. And the food sucks.’
That seemed to be clincher. He gave a heavy sigh and then jumped up on to his BarcaLounger, did his round and round bit, then finally lay down and stared at me through reproachful eyes.
I stuck my tongue out at him, grabbed my keys and headed through the door, somewhat surprised Thalia hadn’t called at least five times already. I checked my cell as I locked up. Ooops, turned out she had. I’d put the ringer on silent while I was at the office earlier, office assistant Rosie Rodriguez’s foul mood not one you wanted to mess with.
Forget tempting the Fates; it was Rosie Rodriguez you needed to watch out for. The Puerto Rican dynamo was a force to be reckoned with when she was either a) on her period, or b) pining away over a guy who had broken her heart three months ago.
The door across the hall from mine opened.
Speaking of the guy who had dumped Rosie on her heart, his nice, Jewish grandmother, Mrs Nebitz, was about to make me a few minutes later than I already was.
‘Evening, Sofie. You’re looking pretty tonight.’
‘Hi, Mrs Nebitz. How are you?’
‘Fine. Outside my arthritis and trick knee, I’m just fine, Sofie. Thanks for asking.’
Mrs Nebitz looked like everyone’s idea of a grandmother. So much so, I was convinced it was her picture on a brand of chocolate-chip cookies claiming to be homemade. But you didn’t want to mistake her for a soft touch; she could be as rigid as a tire iron when the occasion called for it. Like when rent for the other two ‘legal’ apartments in the building came due. I’d proven myself a completely incompetent owner when it came to collecting, caving under any excuse short of ‘the money fell into the toilet and I’m air drying it now . . .’ from the three Drake Business School students in Two-B, and Etta Munson and her Evil Child from Hell, Lola, in Two-A.
Mrs Nebitz had no problem whatsoever. I was convinced she enjoyed it, even. Claimed it gave her a little something to do.
If I noticed the way she gripped her favorite cane a little tighter when she said that, I wasn’t saying.
It helped that her efforts more than made up for the fact that she was paying pretty much the same rent she had fifty years ago when she and her late, God-rest-his-soul husband first started renting the place due to New York City’s strict rent-control laws.
‘I was wondering if I could ask a favor of you,’ Mrs Nebitz said now. ‘Nothing big, mind you. Shouldn’t cause you too much trouble.’
‘Sure,’ I said. ‘What do you need?’
‘I have a bit of a leak in the kitchen sink, you see. Nothing major. Just a slow drip-drip, is all.’
‘I’ll call the plumber first thing in the morning.’
‘Oh, no need to go to all that trouble. I’m sure it’s something simple. Thinking my grandson Seth can take care of it.’
Ah, Heartbreak Seth. The hottie who had given Rosie’s heart a good stomp.
I said, ‘OK then. If he can’t fix it, let me know and I’ll give that plumber a ring.’
‘Sure. Good then.’
I started to move toward the stairs, but something told me that wasn’t the real reason Mrs Nebitz had stopped me when me she heard my door open. ‘Is there anything else?’
‘What? Oh, no no. Of course not. You go on now. You obviously have plans. I wouldn’t want to keep you.’
Yeah, I had plans: plans I wished I didn’t have.
I leaned against the wall. ‘I have all the time in the world, Mrs Nebitz. Please, share . . .’
Two innocuous words, really . . . had they been uttered by anyone other than my mother, Thalia Metropolis. As it was, I was pretty sure my face bore her handprint without her having touched me.
She closed the passenger door of my 1965 Mustang Lucille, but not tightly. I directed her to try again.
‘I don’t know why you don’t get a better car. Something newer. Your dad would probably give you the Caprice and get a new one if you said you wanted it.’
‘Yeah, well, I don’t want it.’
If I thought Lucille was a gas hog, the Caprice? The idea of keeping it filled considering the amount of running around I did was enough to make me itch.
I pulled away from the curb, the old car rocking over the deep ruts made in the tightly packed snow that was more ice now. It was after dark already and Christmas lights bled with street- and headlights, making it look like day. Almost.
My mother. As far as parents went, I supposed I could have done worse. Much worse. While she made a habit out of calling me every hour on the hour, and her top goal appeared to be marrying me off to the closest available Greek no matter how hideous, she’d done well by me and my younger brother, Kosmos, and baby sister, Efi. And, when it wasn’t advent, she usually kept me very well supplied with yummy Greek food, despite my having lived on my own for nine months now.
Saying that, I could do without her treating my career choice as nothing more than a passing phase unless it personally served her, and would prefer she not guilt me into attending events like the one tonight.
And could have totally done without her asking me to investigate my father’s possible infidelity months back.
Thankfully, he had been arranging a surprise anniversary party with my mother’s best friend and hadn’t been boinking her, as even I had feared he was.
‘So, what kept you?’ Thalia wanted to know.
‘Mrs Nebitz has a leak.’
‘Uh oh. You call the plumber?’
‘No. She’s going to have her grandson look into it.’
‘I’d call the plumber.’
‘Yeah, I’m thinking the same thing. I’m going to call him in the morning.’
She moved in a way that communicated her disapproval.
‘I didn’t want to be any later than I already was.’
Of course, I wasn’t about to tell her I’d purposely made time for Mrs Nebitz because I wasn’t looking forward to going to this . . . thing.
You see, a
was the marking of the fortieth day of someone’s passing. The Greek word, itself, literally translated into forty. Problem was, the person being remembered tonight hadn’t been family or even a friend. He’d been the only son of one of my mother’s acquaintances.