when the dealers prefer mega-store, you see what I’m saying? We’re here to help. Give you a chance to really thrive by giving you a steady supply for your dealers.’

‘All out of the goodness of your heart,’ Eve said. Kiko gave her a crooked smile.

‘I like you,’ he said. ‘You’re about as blunt as my mama. No, not out of the goodness of my heart. Out of a desire for profits.’

Eve started to negotiate a point about margins but Paul said, ‘Houston’s our territory. Just so we’re clear.’ Accepting the pricing structure, moving onto the next item on the agenda.

‘That’s all cool,’ Kiko said. ‘We’ve got no interest in invasions. Miami keeps us plenty busy.’

‘When would you need the money for the first shipment?’ Paul said, and Eve bit her bottom lip. Frank gave off a soft wine belch and smiled at Jose, Kiko’s sideman. Eve didn’t like Jose; he said little and watched faces like he was studying a map. He was short and squat, with a plain face and heavy cheeks, but his eyes were in constant motion, watching Eve, then Frank, then the rest of the table. He flicked the nail of his stubby thumb with each of his fingers in turn, like he was ticking off seconds from an internal clock. Playing dumb muscle but smart under the skin. He made Eve nervous.

‘Five million even. In cash. By Thursday afternoon,’ Kiko said. ‘We’ve got the shipment already here. Hidden in imported pottery that’s listed as antique on the manifest.’ He laughed. ‘It’s junk. Break open the bases and there’s a half kilo in each one. Stashed near the port. It’s safe as a baby.’

‘Deal,’ Paul said.

Eve took a tiny sip of red wine. Done without discussing it with her in private, and all she could do now was try to protect them in this new alliance. She glanced over at Paul’s new right-hand man, the guy who looked like a corporate drone. He was wearing a Brooks Brothers suit, pink Oxford shirt, navy tie. Like he was here to bring a kid to a prep school interview or negotiate a low-level bank deal. Everyone called him Bucks, short for Buckman, his last name, but more because he was supposed to be brilliant about new ways to make money. Eve hadn’t seen a single glow of smartness yet.

Bucks gave her a stern look back that said keep your mouth shut. Frank, always the host, raised his glass and said, ‘Here’s to good business,’ and they all clinked glasses together.

Kiko smiled at her as her wineglass touched his, like he could smell her disapproval and didn’t care.

The deal done, they dipped into the food: the thick steaks brought up from the club’s kitchen, salads crisscrossed with blue cheese, two-fisted baked potatoes crowned with cheese and chives. She nibbled at a chef salad, her appetite gone.

Five million. She had five million cleaned and sitting in twenty-two different accounts in the Caymans that she could transfer back to a bank in Houston. The only clean money they had and Paul had spent it all in a minute. The revenue streams were drying up, the muscle not yet loyal to Paul while his dad lay dying, and now their cash reserve was in play with people they’d never worked with before.

‘Hey, Frank,’ Kiko said. ‘Sing a little. Give us a few bars of “Baby, You’re My Groove.” ’

‘Please don’t,’ Paul said. ‘We’ve all heard it about nine million fucking times.’

‘That’s because it’s a timeless classic,’ Frank said. He was on his fifth glass of wine.

‘Yeah, it gets timeless about every ten years, when disco gets rediscovered,’ Bucks said. ‘Then it gets untimeless, real fast. What he won’t tell us is how much money he’s made off it.’

‘I was an artist,’ Frank said. ‘Money was for agents to worry about. Not my groove.’

‘The only groove Frank has,’ Eve said, ‘is the one his rocking chair’s wearing in the floor.’

‘Yet you love me still,’ Frank said, and she smiled because it was true.

‘The folks that make Viagra need to use this for their theme song,’ Paul said. ‘Pay you a big-ass licensing fee.’

‘Silence, please, respect for the artist,’ Frank said, and he stood and sang, a capella, the well-known refrain: I’m just saying what’s in my heart Been there from the very start And it sure ’nough’s not some move ’cause baby you’re my groove Baby you’re my grooooove…

Eve smiled at Frank as he sat back down and everyone applauded, Jose whistling through his teeth. Bucks clapped but not like he meant it. The voice was still there, worn, but clear as a bell; a tenor smooth as melting chocolate.

‘Voice of an angel, still,’ Eve said.

‘An old-fart angel,’ Frank said, but she could see he was pleased, a tiny stage better than none.

‘Man, you ought to do one of those disco reunion tours,’ Kiko said.

‘Nah,’ Frank said. ‘Club keeps me too busy. Plus they’d probably make me share a dressing room with the Village People, and ain’t no way.’

‘But rejuvenating your singing career,’ Bucks said. ‘That’s a worthy goal.’

‘Yeah, why don’t you draw me up one of your action plans, son,’ Frank said. He turned to Kiko. ‘Bucks here is a human day planner. Got more goals than a soccer tournament.’

‘Does he now,’ Kiko said.

‘Goals are vital,’ Bucks said. ‘Goals help us actualize-’

Paul interrupted like he’d heard the words one time too many before. ‘Kiko, got a couple of fine girls who can come in and dance for you. There’s a worthy goal.’

Bucks shut his mouth, like a switch had been flipped.

Kiko smiled. ‘No thanks, man. But I’d like a quick tour of the club, if Frank here would show us around. See who’s famous downstairs tonight.’

‘You sure you don’t want a little private performance?’ Paul asked, drawing out performance into way more than a hint.

‘I got a wife pregnant back in Miami,’ Kiko said. ‘But appreciate the hospitality.’

‘How about you, Jose?’

Jose shook his head. ‘No, thank you.’ Declining because his boss did, Eve thought.

‘Sure. That’s fine,’ Paul said. A little disappointed such a generous offer had been refused, Eve could tell. ‘So the money,’ he said. ‘We’ll get it for you, deliver it tomorrow night.’ Today was Wednesday.

‘Tomorrow afternoon would be better,’ Kiko said. ‘Why wait?’

‘We have to move it from overseas. Tomorrow night,’ Paul said, asserting himself too little too late, and Kiko, having won every other point that mattered, gave a slight nod. They stood. Eve rose to go but Paul said, ‘Eve, stay a moment, please,’ and she sat down, watching Frank, Kiko, and Jose leave. Bucks stayed at the table.

Paul said, ‘Bucks, go downstairs and count boobs, okay? Tell the strippers to wait a minute outside.’

‘You’re in trouble, queen bee,’ Bucks said as he went out the door and Eve felt the blood leave her face.

‘What’s the matter, Paul?’ she said.

‘I want to hear your opinion,’ he said, ignoring her question.

‘They’re asking too much for the coke. Our profit’s too thin. And they sure as hell want to get their foot in here. Kiko’s ambitious. Houston’s a workable market for him. The Dominicans here, they’ve already got ties back to Florida gangs. He could negotiate a separate peace with them. And cut us out. Easy.’

‘You thinking everyone’s trying to tear us down…’

‘They are, Paul.’ She leaned forward, covered his hand with her own. ‘They are, honey. We’re vulnerable. Any time there’s a power shift, here come the wolves. We need to do several smaller deals, boost our revenues and our profit margins, not cut one big deal with a guy we’ve never worked with before.’

‘You think I can’t handle this?’

‘You may not realize how weak we are right now. No one gets a second chance with deals like these.’

‘This puts us back on top. Get the five million,’ he said. ‘And Bucks will handle the exchange with Kiko.’

The air in the room felt weighted with smoke, with the world starting to take a left turn. Tommy would have had her handle the exchange. But she said, ‘Okay.’

‘Change is coming, Eve,’ he said. ‘Nothing for you or Frank to worry about. I’m gonna take good care of you both. But we’re gonna rethink business priorities. My dad, bless him, he wasn’t growth-minded. Bogged us down in too many small deals. You’re worried about Miami horning in here. They should be worried about me horning in on them,’

‘Paul, baby, reality check.’

‘How about a reality check on your part, Eve? Who works for who here?’

‘I’m trying to give you perspective so you make an informed decision, honey.’

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