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Trey didn't say much to Gio on the way back from Marina's church service, which he would ditch if he could. He hated those services. It seemed wrong, somehow, all that hootin' and hollerin' and yellin' at Jesus and God like you could command them to do your will. Trey had gone to church his entire childhood until his mother died. He didn't know if he believed in God or any deity at all, but if he did, he sure as hell wouldn't expect God to take orders from his kids.

He didn't know how much longer he could take Scarritt's bluster, especially since he knew the faith healing was an act and the speaking in tongues was likely drug-induced or, so he had read once, religious ecstasy, which wasn't too much different than being high.

"What's up your ass?" Gio asked Trey in the wee hours as they locked up the hooch and drugs. "We got Marina's parents to let her go to Dot's Friday night."

Yeah, that had been a coup—not one he'd wanted to win. "It ain't a good idea for me to go, which I tried to tell you before you got all lawyerly with Scarritt."

Gio was silent for a few seconds. "Oh. Albright."

"Yeah," Trey drawled snidely. "An' Boss Tom's bean counters. 'Gene Luke' ain't gonna register. Mine, on the other hand, will."

"You could have said you were busy right up front, not let me get that deep. You want to go, and not just to have more time with Marina."

"It's not time with Marina. It's that she really wants to go an' her parents won't let her. Prolly the only chance she'll ever have."

"And you want to give her what she wants."

"Givin' her what she wants is part of the seduction."

"Mmm hm. Leave early or something."

"No, I ain't showin' up at all. Family emergency. You can squire Marina 'cuz Dot's gonna be tied up with her show an' whatnot. Her parents ain't gonna know 'cuz Scarritt's drivin' her there himself."

"This is giving me a headache."

"You stuck me in this corner. It ain't me Marina wants to go for," he insisted. "It's Dot."

Gio closed his eyes and shook his head. "This shit is why I ran away from home."

"Marina's a sharp cookie. She don't know how to explain anything in words, but she gets to the heart of it immediately and works out from there."

"She hasn't made us yet."

"No, but Scarritt shoulda made me by now. If a conman can't do it, why should a sheltered preacher's daughter be able to?"

Gio nodded slowly. "She does have the makings of a good moll."

Trey's eyebrow rose. "Noticed that, did you?"

"Any girl who isn't offended that you might be paying your friend to take care of hers and suggests that you do so if you are not already is a girl who doesn't mind solving a problem any way it needs to be solved."

"Exactly. And right now, that is the problem an' you're gonna cover for me. Keep the story simple 'cuz she notices damn near everything an' can tell a lie from home plate to the outfield fence. Too many details, she'll know the story's got holes even though she can't put less than two thousand words to it. She'll stack 'em up in her brain until she has enough clues to work with."

"You just said she'd figure it out."

"Not all the way, but she'll get close enough to know for sure I'm workin' an angle."

"For sure? She already knows? You said Dot's the suspicious one."

Trey grimaced. "Ain't quite the same cause, but same effect. She thinks she's too homely and stupid to snag a cat."

"She's not homely," Gio mused. "It's the way she dresses and does her hair. Took me a while to see it."

"Exactly. Her folks are keepin' her ugly an' stupid. It's just I ain't never fooled by that. Even if Dot gussied her up, she wouldn't believe it. She's got too many people eager to tell her she's homely an' stupid. I'm tryin'a fix the stupid part 'cuz her marks'll be the proof. I can't do nothin' about homely."

"She tells you all that? Just wears her heart and mind out on her sleeve like that?"

"Everybody tells me their problems eventually. Marina needs somebody to talk to who'll listen and not run over her with theories and suggestions and insistin' she's right."


Trey nodded. "Just like tryin'a teach her algebra. Dot goes around a problem but never really solves it. Like her collection o' little boys. 'Stead o' givin' 'em the cold shoulder, she flirts with 'em just enough to keep their feelin's from bein' hurt."

"She likes the attention and perks."

"She didn't have no problem tryin'a cut me down to size, but I'm a big dog. She got a tender heart under all that ego an' cynicism an' boys her age are just puppies. She ain't a puppy-kicker." Trey slid a glance at Gio. "Kinda like you."

Gio scowled. "I'm an assassin by trade."

"Dot ain't gonna be a hit man for the Cosa Nostra, no."

"And Marina's a lot like you."

Trey's mouth twisted bitterly. "That's givin' me too much credit."

"Maybe so."

"Dot, on the other hand, grew up suspicious of everybody 'cuzza the Extermination Order. Plus, her daddy's connected. He has a reason to raise a cynical girl."

Gio snorted. "'Cynical.' That's an understatement. You know she walks around heavy?"

Trey's head whipped around and his mouth dropped open. "The hell you say!"

"I asked her why her father lets her run wild since she carries the Extermination Order like it's a badge of honor. She said God and Colt would protect her, then showed me her piece to reassure me that I don't have to worry about her any more than her parents do. And never ever say a word to Marina. Or you. She also wanted to see how I'd react, which was her way of finding out if I have the stones to handle her."

"Goddammit," Trey whispered, running his hand down his mouth. "I shoulda thought'a that. Only she don't know that ain't the only reason her daddy'd load her down. We are."

"I'd rather be hogtied and beaten to death by a crowd of Cosa Nostra soldiers than get shot by an annoyed sixteen-year-old girl—"

Trey barked a laugh.

"—but if she thinks I'm interested in her church, she won't look past that."

"That was pure genius."

"Pure luck."

Trey glanced at Gio. "You buy all that shit?"

"Oh, hell no. The dancing is going to be sticky, though. When I left home, the only thing I knew how to do was waltz, and I didn't have much time to socialize."

"Too many cats to ice."

"Which was why I left home."

"I suggest you learn the Lindy Hop then. Don't look good, your girl havin' a dance partner that's not you even if everybody does know he's queer as a three-dollar bill."

Gio growled. As they were finishing up, he asked, "You really like Marina, don't you? Genuinely."

Trey thought for a few seconds. "Yeah," he finally said, half surprised. "Yeah, I think so."

"Would you marry her if you could without losing this place?"

Trey turned the key in the lock. "I wouldn't know yet in any case," he said matter-of-factly, "but it don't matter 'cuz it ain't never gonna happen."

"Except it's not just about the bet anymore."

"Never was." Trey walked out of his office and trudged up the stairs to take a long, hot bath. "But let's just say," he muttered, "I'd'a rather paid cash for this place 'cuz I got a feeling it's gonna cost me a whole lot more'n twenty-five large."

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