"Do you think he's got someone else on the side maybe?" asked Livia. "Someone he can talk to... someone who'll listen to him and his ravings... someone who'll see you off?" Livia was deliberately stirring but wanted to test things, in particular if Marcia was aware or suspicious of Sofia providing Tony any weekend cocoa.
But Marcia seem unfazed by Livia's directness. "Unless he's got a hot date at his office... and I wouldn't have thought that was his style... the only other women here at home are me and occasionally Sofia. I'm always here and Sofe hates his guts!"
Livia wasn’t at all bothered who Marcia was at it with, but the opportunity to talk about Tony had been presented to her.
“Tony’s completely cut himself off then it seems?” Livia probed. “The odd occasions I’ve spoken to him about Terry, he’s been really weird. Like he’s closed off. Is the business suffering do you think?”
“Not sure... I bloody hope not, although what grip he’s got on it I can’t tell. I assume it’s OK, but he’s still got stacks in the bank to fall back on.... well I think he has! You’ve got me worried now Livia!”
“Having a ball? How great! How many balls though?” Livia laughed a grubby laugh, which set the lunch going really well. Marcia responded.
“Why? What’ve you heard? Who’ve you been speaking to?” she said, giggling herself, having twigged Livia’s question.
“It’s just that with Tony behaving like a zombie, it’s difficult to imagine life being a ball as such round your house.” Livia was still laughing.
“Fair point I guess, but as for Tony, we’re ships that pass in the night, except that we don’t pass or do anything in the night!” Marcia also saw the funny side of things.
Livia’s lunch with Marcia was an altogether different and more relaxed affair. It may have been that Marcia was in some way fulfilled. Living in a smart house in a ‘nice area’, she didn’t have to do much except what she wanted. What she wanted included a couple of men now and then, neither of whom was Tony, who kept his distance, and one of whom, Franco, was more ‘now’ than ‘then’, a very frequent visitor to check the kitchen he’d fitted... after-sale servicing.
In the local Moroccan restaurant, Livia asked Marcia how she was.
“I’m having a ball!”
Livia wasn’t so much needy as greedy. Her plans were quite simple... Tony would be removed, permanently, and she would take over the running of the business. Whilst the two other women might present complications, Livia had no doubt that ultimately they could be ‘managed’ or sacrificed. Sofia would seem to be the bigger threat, but Livia’s next lunch engagement with Marcia should provide more information... and information is power.
Paolo’s role was errand boy with knife. He was extremely useful right now and could be scapegoated at any time. His apparent love for Livia was to be exploited mercilessly.
The lunch ended when Sofia checked her watch and announced that she was late and had to race back to the office. Whoosh! She was away, but Livia was pleased with what she’d discovered. Next it would be Marcia’s turn.
Sofia, slightly the worse for drink as she sped back to her office, wondered why Livia had wanted to meet. She had the feeling she’d just been probed, but wasn’t sure why. She put that question onto the back burner as she successfully made the excuse to colleagues about having had to be a sympathetic ear for a needy friend.
Livia decided she’d probed Sofia enough... and she’d found out things... not definite things, but she now had strong hunches. Firstly, Livia was certain there was a romantic involvement, as yet unresolved - the ring thing. Secondly, Sofia had almost certainly slept... and might still be sleeping with Tony. Livia was pretty certain he wasn’t the romantic interest... so Sofia was probably attending to Tony’s needs... for her ultimate gain.
That might mean she had ambitions to take over the business if anything happened to Tony.
If true, Sofia herself might be trying to use Livia and Marcia.
That wouldn’t do!
Livia wasn't convinced. She knew Tony of old. Sure, he was a bully and had beaten her viciously back when she was playing him and Terry. But she also knew that when it came to women and sex, Tony was a shy guy and most unlikely to make the running.
She was pretty certain Sofia and Tony had been doing it, regularly... as a weekend activity of which Marcia was unaware... or knew about and didn't care. Livia was pretty sure Sofia would have initiated it, probably just for the hell of it.
So maybe the sisters weren't so close.
"Is that why you don't go there so often now maybe?" Livia was on the case. "Has he ever...?"
Another nod from Sofia.
"More than once?" Livia probed further.
"More than more than!" Sofia was adding fuel to the fire... and she was on a roll. Livia seemed to be getting really wound up. "Why are you bringing all this up Livia?"
"Because I don't like that bullying creature getting away with it! Did you tell Marcia?"
"I couldn't. He said he would beat me up if she got wind of it!"
"So why go back?"
"She's my only sister."
Livia was hard-wired to pick up on things, particularly drink-fuelled off the cuff remarks.
“But you’re there at weekends, aren’t you?.... If you’re saying what I think you might be saying, Sofia, you either like to live dangerously or have, let’s say, a very interesting taste in men. Or maybe you’re playing a game of your own that requires considerable skill! Are you sleeping with Tony yourself?” Livia was very direct.
Sofia realised her slip. “Absolutely not! Perish the thought! How could you think that of me Livia?”
“But Tony’s tried it on with you though?”
“You’re not suggesting your sister’s a slapper are you?”
“Well, Let me put it this way, Marcia's taste in men is quite catholic.” Sofia had barely recovered from laughing.
“But Tony’s a Catholic isn’t he?” Livia giggled.
“There’s Catholic and catholic... and then there’s Tony!”
“What’s he then?” tittered Livia.
“A belief system all of his own. A complete madman... dangerous too!”
“Why does Marcia stick with him?” asked Livia.
“He’s her meal ticket, she spends how she likes... and shags who she likes too!”
“And Tony gets none?”
“Not during the week!” drink and bravado had loosened Sofia’s tongue.
Livia’s fictitious appointment had been simply an excuse for why she was up in London, but it could also indicate that she might be preoccupied right now.
“Enough about me,” she said, “I wonder how poor Marcia is coping with Mr Grouch?”
“Mr Grouch?” asked Sofia more naively than might be expected. “Is that her bit on the side?”
“Haha!” laughed Livia. “I meant Tony... how fascinating... Marcia’s got another man eh?”
“Wouldn’t put it past her. Wouldn’t blame her either. There’s nothing going on with Tony!”
“I wonder who he is.”
“West Ham United maybe?”
Lunch erupted into laughter.
When the laughter died, there was a pause at the end of which Livia gave Sofia a look which might have said ‘Well if you want to, then go right ahead.’ Neither woman would be volunteering, but both women knew the other’s views of Tony.
Sofia moved the subject on. “So Livia, what brought you to Town today?”
“Appointment with a specialist.” Livia saw an opportunity for some research.
“Anything serious?” asked Sofia.
“Not sure yet... the kind of thing that’s frightening to think and talk about, so I don’t talk about it.”
“When will you know?”
Apart from the ring thing, Livia’s lunch with Sofia was the kind of small talk two women not close to each other might engage in. Sofia was sympathetic to Livia’s loss, but quickly moved on when Livia talked about Tony.
“Do you still go over to Marcia’s on the weekends?” asked Livia, “or is your love life keeping you here?” she added mischievously.
“Not as often,” replied Sofia, “why do you ask?”
“Wondering if you’d noticed how strange Tony’s behaving lately. Terry’s death really cut him up.”
“Cut him up? What a brilliant idea! When?” suggested Sofia, prompting a laugh.
Despite noticing that Sofia was fiddling with her finger and deducing that it might be missing a ring, Livia had no suspicions that she might be hiding what Mary Flaherty claimed was her diamond. Why should she? However, if Sofia had been flashing a brand new diamond ring, Livia might well have twigged.
Fortunately for Paolo, Sofia was smart enough not to trust Livia and certainly not to show anything off that might draw attention or envy. Unfortunately Paolo didn’t get to know this.
He called Sofia, found out she’d just met Livia, and from then on, was bricking it.
"Looks like that finger of yours is missing a ring!" Livia couldn't resist probing. "Getting one resized, or waiting for some fella to be generous?"
Sofia was easily able to handle searching questions, but as unconsciously as she had fiddled with the finger, she immediately whipped her left hand away. For someone as skilled in observation as Livia, that was a real giveaway... and indicated secrecy and embarrassment. Nonetheless, the reply was cool, as you might expect from one cool customer such as Sofia.
"Chance would be a fine thing!" she sighed, "and it's the wrong finger too, damn it!"
Livia noticed things. It was an excellent characteristic. What many might think as some almost psychic power was in reality just observation and making connections.
Sofia fiddling with a ring finger lacking a ring said to Livia that either there'd been one there and Sofia had temporarily removed it.... why? Or it was wishful thinking, probably about some romantic involvement... who?
Sofia wasn't stupid. When Paolo entreated her not to wear the diamond ring out and about, she knew it could be dangerous. She wouldn't back down with Paolo, but maybe it wasn't smart to wear it out... not yet.
Sofia met Livia in a little eatery in Beauchamp Place, close to her Knightsbridge office. Over a glass of wine and simple salad, Sofia started with sympathetic comments surrounding Terry's death. She hadn't forgotten though how she, Livia and Marcia had met to plot the demise of the twins not long back a few streets away. But Sofia was treading carefully, always unsure of Livia's motives.
Livia broke the tone by asking brightly, "How are you Sofe? How's the love life?" When asked this, Sofia unconsciously fiddled with her right-hand 'ring finger' which was missing its ring. Livia noticed.
"Hi Marcia... Livia. Haven't seen you for ages. Fancy meeting for lunch this week to catch up? Somewhere local maybe. I've heard there's a new Moroccan in Chigwell doing a brilliant plate of mixed Meze at lunchtimes."
"I know it: it's very good. How about tomorrow?" Marcia seemed very keen.
"Can't do tomorrow; got to see my consultant I'm afraid. Thursday maybe?"
"OK... Your consultant?... Is it serious?"
"Hope not! Shouldn't be... fingers crossed. But I must say Marcia I'm rather worried about Tony. How does he seem to you?"
"A miserable bastard... so no change there!"
Both women laughed.
Livia was decisive, she didn't delay. She called Sofia's mobile.
Sofia answered, surprised but friendly.
"Hi Sofia" began Livia "sorry I've not been in contact since... y'know. It's all been a bit... difficult, what happened and Luca being around and whatever. I feel I'm coming up for air now."
"Must've been difficult for you and Luca... oh and Tony too" Sofia was sympathetic.
"Oh Tony... well he seems to be completely off the scale!" supplied Livia, continuing, "look... I'm up in town for an appointment tomorrow. Can I buy you lunch and we can catch up?"
"Sounds a terrific idea!"