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!"
Of one thing Livia was certain, neither Marcia or Sofia were to be trusted fully. She was suspicious that either one of them or both, individually or together, could have ambitions of taking over the business, and thus had every reason to plot Tony's downfall. Livia knew this because of her own ambitions for power and control.
As potential opponents, she somehow had to get under their defences, to build a strong personal relationship with each, despite their distance over the years. Her new best friendships would be threefold, discrete and discreet, would include Mary Flaherty... while she needed them.
Whilst the three women had met as a trio before, Livia decided that she wanted to meet them each alone. She felt she needed to find out what level of allegiance, or enmity either of them had towards Tony. On the face of it, from what they had said earlier, both of them wanted to see Tony out of the way, dead and buried.
Or so they had said... but with Tony gone, what would that mean for Marcia and her lifestyle?
And Sofia, seemingly a bit more hard-nosed than Marcia, why should she be interested in Tony's demise?
This was the second time in a single afternoon that Paolo had got his marching orders. Had he thought he was going to get some time together alone with her, he was very wrong. He was off for an evening alone, going over in his own head the arrangements for Terry's funeral.
Livia had arrangements of her own to make. She wanted to arrange a meeting with the other two women in the Monelli clan, Marcia and Sofia. She had always seen them as potentially dangerous, individually a partial match to her own skills, ruthlessness and ambitions. But if combined...
‘That Flaherty woman is something else!’ thought Paolo, ‘she’s scary!’ He shuddered, thinking about the diamond issue again. With Livia described as “me friend’ and getting such a discount, he was most concerned that Livia and Sofia should not meet, lest that wretched diamond ring is on display.
But right now he needed to get these brochures back to Livia and put the decision making in her court. When he arrived back at Livia’s he was rather thrown when she pleasantly dismissed him, saying.
“I’ll leave all the arrangements to you, Paolo. You know what I want. I trust you.”
Half-price. Well that was the first that Donal had heard of it and a frown immediately appeared on his brow, but disappeared just as quickly when he caught Mary’s imperious look. Half-price it would have to be! He was the youngest sibling and knew his place.
Donal put together a series of leaflets and a brochure for Paolo to show to Livia.
Paolo found Donal most obliging and thanked him. Then Mary gave him his marching orders.
“Off ya go now, Paul. Oi’m sure you can foind yer way back. Me brother and oi have business to discuss.”
Donal showed Paolo a range of caskets and funeral carriages and discussed how the cortège would progress and arrangements for the opera singer to lead the procession and the route from Livia’s house in the wealthy Essex suburbs to Terry’s Catholic Church in London’s East End.
The costs shown on the printed material for the various elements were eyewateringly high. Paolo couldn’t help worrying about Livia’s reaction when the estimate arrived. However, Mary sensed his discomfort and, without reference to her brother Donal, said.
“Don’t you worry about the money Paul, Donal’s doing it half proice! For me friend Livia!”
Donal, a dapper little man in his mid forties, appropriately dressed in a dark suit, came out to greet them as Mary pulled up. It was as if he had calculated with precision her journey time. Precision... good for a funeral director, and some might say against stereotype for an Irishman.
In an instant it was obvious who was in charge. Donal was most deferential towards Mary and ushered his guests into his office.
“Dis is Paul. He’s doing the legwork for the Monellis.” Paolo didn’t like being positioned like that, but said nothing.
Donal acknowledged him with a nod.