Sofia's comment took Tony totally by surprise, for its accuracy and for her nerve. Was she saying she was sleeping with a black man like Marcia suggested? It was rare that Tony was caught off-guard, but her calmness threw him. He had to say something.
"I never said nothing about no black man!"
"I know you didn't, but that was what you were thinking." was Sofia's reply, "and that's because Marcia must have told you I was screwing a black man."
"Well are you?" Tony demanded, his anger starting to rise.
"Of course not, but Marcia thinks I am."
Not one for small talk or any other kind of preamble, it was unusual that Tony seemed to want to chat first. But Sofia half expected that and started babbling on about little Giovanna. Then Tony asked about her work as a retail property agent in the West End. He moved on to the fact that she had a lot of freedom, gathering from the long lunch hours.
Tony was being subtle, slowly bringing the conversation round, but in Sofia he had met his match.
“Don’t beat about the bush, Tony, you just want to know about my black man!”
Sofia arrived at the house, apparently full of the joys of Spring. Tony wasn’t back yet, but if it ran to usual form, he would be seeing her much later. Ballsy though she was, Sofia couldn’t help but feel a touch of anxiety amongst her anticipation. She was prepared, but he was a mercurial beast.
No sign of him until, having given Giovanna her bottle, Sofia returned to her bedroom, imagining by then Tony might be giving her a wide berth. She entered and was slightly startled to find Tony, standing. His look was a mix of smile and scowl.
“Because he’ll what, Marcia? Go on, tell me.”
“Because he’ll beat you up!” Marcia admitted.
“So he beat you up, Marcia, did he?” asked Sofia, reading between the lines.
“Promise me you won’t tell anyone or let Tony know you know?” Marcia pleaded with her sister. “Because if he thinks I’ve told anyone, and particularly you, then I’m dead, literally dead!”
“I promise; you have my word,” said Sofia, “but it’s all the more reason to kill the bastard!”
“Not before he’s suffered in this life!” said Marcia.
“How so?” asked Sofia.
“By killing his beloved brother Terry first.”
Marcia was surprised when she phoned to tell Sofia about what she’d said to Tony to divert his curiosity about getting together with Livia. Sofia laughed like a drain.
“That’s priceless that is!” she said, recovering. “I think he’s quite soft on me, the beast. Who’d have thought he’d be that jealous though, or maybe it was the fact that the guy’s supposed to be black. That’s probably more like it. That was inspired, Marcia, truly inspired!”
“You’ll have to be ready with some pretty persuasive answers though when you come over tonight, because he’ll....”
But Marcia stopped herself there.
Marcia sobbed herself to sleep that night. He was her husband, but by any measure, his assault on her was as criminal as he was. Was it just a one-off when she’d pushed him too far? No... she knew Tony, she could expect the same until he was certain she had conceived.
She rationalised that she had two choices. Either fight it every time, as was her basic instinct, or accept it and avoid any beating his anger might provoke. She chose the latter, because she had unfinished business with Tony herself.
But first she had to warn Sofia.
Why would he want another kid? Was it a knee-jerk? But time for reflection was over; she instinctively fought back.
Fighting back at that point, with Tony at his savage worst, was pointless and moreover painful. Her survival instinct resulted in blows to her head, as further struggle waned. Tony would have his way with her... and he did. She was barely conscious as he did. He left, spent but still seething.
Marcia was left, overpowered, overwhelmed and overwrought on her bed. Disheveled and sobbing, her composure was gone.
This was marital rape. Tony must suffer first... then die.
“What did you really want to talk about Tony?” asked Marcia, filling the void as Tony remained silent and unmoving.
He wasn’t silent inside. He was seething, but he couldn’t let Marcia know why. On a whim, he blurted out. “We gotta have another kid... for Giovanna.”
“No way!” exclaimed Marcia, unable to hide her disdain. This allowed Tony’s sublimated anger it’s outlet.
“Yes fucking way!” he responded, moving swiftly to grasp Marcia’s wrists. “And fucking now!”
Marcia was herself caught off-guard and it was Tony who now had the advantage. The last thing she had expected was this.
Despite having earlier been beaten and threatened into submission by Tony, Marcia remained a class act. Her apparent honesty and openness started to allay Tony's fears, but the coup de grâce was when she suggested her sister might be dating a black man. That threw him completely off the scent.
Marcia knew that among other unpleasant things,Tony was a racist. Knowing what Tony and Sofia were up to, she had successfully feigned ignorance and lit the green touchpaper of jealousy in such a way that was guaranteed to be explosive. Sofia had better watch out!
But Sofia was artful too.
"I'm not saying it's a bad thing or I want you to keep away from her, but Terry said you and her had another lunch with Sofia in London. What's that about?" Given his regular nightly activities with Marcia's sister, he worried about girl's talk and his secret getting out. And he had become rather fond of Sofia...
Marcia realised this and skilfully threw him a curved ball.
"I asked Livia to go to lunch with Sofia because I'm certain she's got a hot new bloke."
"No, Sofia. She's saying nothing, but I'm certain he's rich... and black."
"What's going on with you and Livia!" Tony added, without menace. "Terry said you was over there last week. I thought you and her didn't get on?"
Marcia was wary of Tony, but she wasn't fazed. She knew that showing any hint of fear meant trouble.
"No we didn't," she freely admitted. "But she's the only sister-in-law I've got and neither of us have many friends, so she invited me for lunch. I thought you might be pleased, seeing that you and Terry are so close too. We had a few laughs and that, but if you want..."
Marcia gave a start when Tony tapped on her bedroom door one evening. She always kept it locked at night as a precaution, not that that would keep Tony out if he was determined to get in. What surprised her was that it was a gentle tap rather than a knock, followed by "Are you awake? You got a moment Marcia? I need to talk."
This immediately seemed out of character, so something was up. Nonetheless, she opened the door and he went in. "Yes?... what is it?"
"What's going on Marcia?" he asked calmly.
"Going on?" she queried.
On his own, Tony was thinking hard.
'The bitches are up to something, I know it. And they've roped in Sofia.'
'No, that's not it. Neither Marcia nor LIvia would dare after the slapping I gave them... or would they? They've both been behaving themselves recently'.
'Clearly Marcia has no idea about me and Sofia, because that crazy cow would kill her sister if she found out.'
'What if Sofia is taking me for a complete sucker and winding up the others? She's smart and she's certainly got balls. But why?'
'Time to have a serious talk to them all!'
Something Terry said to Tony at their office in the East End set alarm bells ringing for him.
"Apparently Marcia came to lunch with Livia last week and then they both went up to Town for lunch with your Sofia yesterday.
"She ain't my Sofia! Who told you that?" Tony was determined to knock that notion on the head.
"No, I meant Marcia's sister. You're a bit touchy today brother. Anyway, it's good to see that suddenly they're all friends." Terry added.
'Few things happen 'suddenly,' thought Tony, 'someone makes them happen... and that's never good! They're up to something!'
Livia would have let it rest at that, but Marcia kept the initiative the very next week by calling Livia to say that she was meeting her sister for lunch in London, near Harrods and would she, Livia, like to join them if they could get babysitters. That seemed like a great idea to Livia. Escape!
The three met in a discreet Italian restaurant in Pavilion Road. Sofia's lunch hour seemed endless. Her presence at lunch didn't arouse Livia's suspicion, particularly after the second bottle of champagne she had insisted upon!
All a little light-headed perhaps, the conversation darkened.
Marcia went over to Livia's house in the next town. Like her own house, it was a high-spec detached place consistent with the affluent Essex golden triangle. 'New money' exclaimed its presence.
Livia's kitchen was certainly something and they sat and ate a very nice lunch, and more importantly drank rather a lot of the Prosecco magnum that Marcia brought. She'd come by taxi so as not to cramp their style.
Livia was quite guarded initially, unsure why Marcia had come over. They did moan about their respective spouses, but gave away little.
Marcia did detect some issues though.
Livia was surprised to get the call from Marcia. She hadn’t seen or heard from her for well over six months. Strange.
“Hi Liv,” Marcia started. Very familiar, thought Livia straight away. “Oh hi!” she replied.
“Liv, I got to thinking. We’re both always stuck at home, so maybe we ought to make the best of it. What say we meet up for lunch and then we can moan about our husbands over a glass of Prosecco?”
“Sounds good”, lied Livia. “Why not come here and I can brag about my new kitchen?”
“Great! I’ll bring the booze... when’s best?”
“When you say ‘bring him down’, Sofe, how far exactly do you plan to go?”
“Well how far is there?” asked Sofia.
“The mortuary, I guess.” was the answer.
“Well that's far enough then!” Sofia added, in her deepest voice.
“There’s one problem though, you know.” said Marcia. “Terry. He may be the weaker, but take Tony down and you’ll have him to reckon with... or take him down too... or quit!”
“That’s true.. Terry would be lost without Tony. You have to be cruel to be kind!” Sofia laughed. “But we’ll need help!”
”Livia!” the women declared in unison.
“I’m saying nothing.” said Marcia.
“You don’t have to, you already have without saying a word. I spend lots of time round your house and I’m not stupid. He must have done something to really bad to you and yet you’re sticking around. I don’t want to know, but if I needed a reason to get Tony, that’s plenty enough for me! Add to that the reality that until very recently he didn’t like me at all, then that’s an even more interesting challenge. I don’t like him or his kind... but you have to keep your enemies close, until...
"The only thing I don't quite get, Sofe, is why you want to take Tony down just for being a lousy shag. Bit extreme don't you think?" Marcia chuckled again.
Composed once more, Sofia explained. "I've seen the change in you Marcia over the past year. And I see how you guys hate each other. I know we never used to be close, but when someone messes around with my big sister, they mess around with me. You were such a gutsy woman... now you're not."
"Excuse me!..." Marcia bristled.
"It's true... and there's only one person responsible for that!"