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.
“Now you follow me Paul. We’re heading for Brentwood and oi don’t want you to lose me, because oi droive loik a banshee! You alroit wid dat?”
Paolo was glad to be following because he didn’t fancy more grilling over that bloody diamond as a captive passenger in Mary’s car. In fact, while he was following her, with quite some difficulty, he was doubly glad he wasn’t in Mary’s rough old car with her because she made the Keystone Kops look like laggards.
Somehow he kept her in sight and arrived outside a very stylish-looking funeral directors in Brentwood.
“Now den young man.” Turning her attention to Paolo, Mary was getting down to business. “Dere’s no toim loik the present, so oi’m calling me brother and we can go over and see him dis afternoon. OK?”
Mary wasn’t actually asking, but telling, so Paolo muttered “OK.” In fact, it suited him to sort it out today as it had sounded like tomorrow Tony was about to make demands on his time.
Mary called her brother to ask if he was OK too if they came over now. She didn’t ask him either, she told him.
“OK, Sis.” he replied.
“It all seems pretty special to me” interjected Livia. “Very special. If I think of anything to make it even more special, I’ll let you know, Mary.” Paolo wouldn’t have seen Livia’s wink at Mary, who picked up on it immediately.
“Well dat seems straightforward den. Lovely! Your Terry should get the sendoff he deserves.”
‘Let’s hope he does’, thought Livia mischievously. ‘Hope so!’
“Now den Livia, do ya need to check it out wid der boss first?”
“Boss? What boss?”
“I tought Terry’s brother Tony moight want to be involved.”
“He’s not my boss. I’m boss round here!”
The business of organising Terry’s funeral seemed the most straightforward of Paolo’s jobs right now. Livia explained what she wanted. Glass funeral carriage drawn by four black horses, led to the church by an Italian tenor, sharing classic arias with the communities along the way. Lavish, admittedly, but one of the ways a ‘family’ and family business kept in business was by doing things that mattered in style. And this mattered.
Mary was certain this should not be a problem for her brother.
“Now Livia, are dere any special arrangements ya need?”
“Isn’t this special enough, Mary?” asked Paolo naively.
Keeping Sofia away from Mary Flaherty should be easy, given that the two of them didn’t know each other or have any reason to meet. But keeping Livia, who now knew all about the diamond, away from Sofia might not be so easy. It would be better that Sofia neither met her sister Marcia, nor Livia, for sure. What he was also sure of was that Sofia would be flaunting her new jewel, even if she kept his name out of it.
But the small world in which they lived was a very small world... a world of wagging tongues.
Paolo realised that 'helping Livia' with the funeral meant that he'd be doing all the legwork. But hey, she was worth it, wasn't she? At least she must trust him.
Trust wasn't something Livia was overstocked with. Paolo was just a part of her plans.
"Mary, after all that stuff about the diamond, I trust Paolo will be in safe hands to go and meet your brother with you?"
"Oi'll neither say another word or tink another tought about it. Paul here knows what he's got to do!"
Paolo knew exactly what he'd got to do... keep Sofia well away!
"Bury Terry! Yer a poet who doesn't know it!" Mary couldn't be, or appear to be serious for long.But this was business and so she played serious.
"So you're wanting me to be go-between?... because that's not what I do!"
"No, Mary, all I'd like from you please is an introduction to your brother and then Paolo here can talk to him about the detail. Oh, and whilst I know our families haven't always been the best of friends, it would be nice to know we weren't being ripped off!"
"Aw Livia, how could yer tink dat?"
Paolo was irritated by the way Livia had dismissed him as 'boy', just as Mary had earlier. He was irritated that she'd distanced herself romantically from him with a wave of her hand. And he was irritated that she didn't remotely seem to care about any other sexual exploits he'd been or might be engaged in. But Paolo loved Livia... truly, madly, deeply.
For her part, Livia was keen to get down to business, her business. The businesslike tone she adopted verged on the brusque.
"Now Mary... I'd like to engage the services of your brother Donal to bury Terry."
During Mary and Paolo’s exchange about the diamond, Livia looked on mildly amused. It was clear that Mary was convinced that Paolo knew something about the diamond. Livia didn’t really care, except that it was getting in the way of her agenda, Terry’s funeral arrangements. She called time on it.
“Well Paolo, you’ve been warned, so perhaps now we can get on with what we’re here for... we still have to bury my Terry, diamond or no diamond. But I reckon if that diamond’s stuck to some other woman’s fanny now, then you’ve really got your work cut out boy!”
“You’re obviously a man in d’know too, Paul. Was it pigs do yer think? Real tempting for an underpaid scab of a pig. Worth thousands by all accounts!”
Mary had it in her mind that Paolo knew more than he said.
“You’d be smart to keep yer eyes open Paul, looking out for that diamond. Whoever’s got it won’t be able to resist flashing it around, mark my words. But it’s moine, by roit in anyone’s book and I aim to get it back. An’ if I find you know something boy, better hang on tight to yer feckin’ nuts!”
“Oi think ya do know. Word woulda got round. Oi found out and a wife’s usually the last one to foind out!” Mary wasn’t giving an inch.
Paolo took the questioning to her.
“What exactly was this diamond?”
“A big feckin’ diamond stuck to her fanny, can yer believe it? I know it’s true, ‘cos my Conor’s pal Aidan told me. He knows lots... and told me everyting... eventually... after oi’d scared the living shite out of him! Nobody’s said anyting about it so I reckon some fecker has had away wid it! Any ideas who that moight be, Paul?”
If Paolo remotely thought he could close Mary Flaherty and the subject down, he was mighty wrong.
“Well let me ask yer this den... did me son tell you about me bastard cheatin’ husband buying that tart of yours a feckin’ great diamond?”
Oh shit! She knows. How can she? Paolo was completely thrown. What could he say?
“She’s not my tart!” he said to buy a second or two of time to think.
“...and I don’t know anything about any diamond. I haven’t seen Nicole or Conor for a year or so. So how on earth would I know?”
“Power and money eh? Know her well did you? What was her name?”
Mary wasn’t letting up. Paolo figured that honesty was the best policy.
“Nicole... don’t recall her surname, we hardly went out for long.”
“And how much do you think she was into jewellery?” Mary’s increasing focus on her husband’s mistress was heading into dangerous territory for Paolo. He had to distance himself, but the jewellery question suggested that maybe Mary knew a hell of a lot more than he’d have expected. He must close this down.
“Not the kind of thing I notice, so I’ve no idea.”
“Stole her from you did he? A good-looking boy like you clearly wasn’t treating her right if my Conor could steal her away! So how comes she ends up being my husband’s shagbag?”
Paolo wasn’t sure how much Mary actually wanted to know and how much she was probing him to check his involvement, if any, in Ronan’s death. He tried to distance himself.
“I’ve no idea. I can only think that he must have seen her with Conor and made a move on her. She was the kind of girl who would be swayed by power and money.
“It wasn’t loik that wasn’t it? Well how was it then?” Mary’s tone was challenging. Paolo shot a look towards Livia, who didn’t come to his rescue by changing the subject to Terry’s funeral. Instead, her look indicated that she wanted to know too.
“The truth is that I didn’t so much introduce that girl to Conor as he stole her from me!” It was indeed the truth, although Paolo omitted to say that he wasn’t bothered by it at all.
“Are you sayin’ my Conor’s a thief?”
“Well yes... in a way!”
“Oi can’t say oi’d disagree wid dat!”
“Noice bloke, ya say? It must be a different Conor, I reckon, ‘cos my boy’s a gobshite!”
Paolo didn’t know how to react... except cautiously.
“Ah, get away wid ya! Oi’m jokin’... well half-jokin’...”
Mary’s wit was confusing Paolo. Was this woman for real? Was she dangerous as Livia had intimated in his briefest of brief briefings?
Then off she went again...
“Paul, Paul, Paul... Come to think of it aren’t you the fella who introduced my Conor to the little tart me bastard husband took up wid?”
Paolo needed to put the facts straight. “It wasn’t like that!”
Glasses charged, all sitting round Livia’s kitchen table, the conversation was about to start. First though, Mary looked Paolo straight in the eyes across the table and asked.
“I feel I should know you Powlo, or is it Paul? Aren’t you da young fella my boy Conor mentioned? But he said yer name was Paul. Drinking mates sometimes he said. Works for the Monellis. Is dat you?”
Paolo had half expected to be linked in some way to her son during the course of the conversation. He admitted, “Yeah, I’ve had a drink now and again with Conor. Nice bloke.”