“I paid Tony back to the nickel,” Peter huffed. “And I don’t owe him or you shit. And you know damned well it’s sausages, not meatballs.”

“Yeah, you paid back the nickel. But a share of the profits, even a little interest, wouldn’t have killed you, would it?”

“Don’t try that sentimental crap on me, Vic. I’ve been around the block too many times to fall for it.”

“Just like a used car,” I said bitterly.

The line went dead in my ear. The pleasure of having the exit line didn’t compensate for losing the fight. Why in hell were the survivors in my father’s family Peter and Elena? Why couldn’t Peter have died and Tony been the one to hang around? Although not in the shape he was the last few years of his life. I swallowed bile and tried to shut out the image of my father the last year of his life, his face puffy, his body wrenched by uncontrollable coughing.

Pressing my lips together bitterly, I looked at the stack of unanswered mail and unfiled papers on my desk. Maybe it was time I got into the twentieth century while I still had a decade left to do it in. Make a big enough success of my work that I could at least afford a secretary to do some of the paperwork for me. An assistant who could take on some of the legwork.

I shuffled through the papers impatiently until I finally found the numbers I needed for my upcoming presentation. I called Visible Treasures to see how late I could bring them in for overnight processing. They told me if I got them there by eight, they would typeset them and create transparencies for me at only double overtime. When I got the price quote I felt a little better-it wasn’t going to be quite as bad as I’d feared.

I typed up my drafts on my mother’s old Olivetti. If I couldn’t afford an assistant, maybe at least I should blow a few thousand on a desktop publishing system. On the other hand, the force it took to use the Olivetti’s keyboard kept my wrists strong.

It was a little after six when I finished typing. I dug through my drawers looking for a manila folder to put the charts in. When I didn’t find a fresh one I dumped the contents of an insurance file onto the desk and stuck my documents into it. Now the desktop looked like the city landfill right after the trucks drop off their loads. I could see Peter looking at it, his face creasing into little rivulets of suppressed smugness. Maybe being committed to truth, justice, and the American Way didn’t have to include working in slum conditions.

I put the insurance material back into its folder and took it over to the filing cabinets, where I found a section on business expenses that seemed close enough. With a glow of virtue I stuck “insurance” in between “Illinois Bell” and “lease.” Having gotten that far, I went through the two weeks of mail sitting on the desk, writing a few checks, filing documents, and trashing the circulars. Near the bottom of the stack I found a thick white letter the size of a wedding invitation with “Cook County Women for Open Government” in engraved script on the top left.

I was about to pitch it when I suddenly realized what it was-in a fit of insanity I had agreed to be a sponsor for a political fund-raiser. Marissa Duncan and I had worked together in the public defender’s office an aeon or two ago. She was one of those people who live and die for politics, whether in the office or on the street, and she chose her issues carefully. She’d been active in our drive to unionize the PD’s office, for example, but she’d steered clear of involvement in the politics of abortion-she didn’t want anything to drag her down if she decided to run for office.

She’d left the PD a number of years ago to work in Jane Byrne’s disastrous second mayoral campaign; she now had a cushy job with a big public relations firm that specialized in selling candidates. She phones me only when she’s masterminding some great campaign. When she called four weeks ago I’d just finished a tricky job for a ball- bearing manufacturer in Kankakee. She’d caught me basking in the glow that comes from a display of competence combined with a large check.

“Great news,” she’d said enthusiastically, riding over my tepid hello. “Boots Meagher is going to sponsor a fund-raiser for Rosalyn Fuentes.”

“I appreciate your letting me know,” I said politely. “I won’t have to buy the Star in the morning.

“You always did have a great sense of humor, Vic.” Politicians can’t afford to tell you they think you’re a pain in the butt. “But this is really exciting. It’s the first time Boots has ever endorsed a woman in such a public way. He’s going to hold a party at his place in Streamwood. It’ll be a terrific chance to meet the candidate, get to know some of the people on the County Board. Everyone’s going to be there. Rostenkowski and Dixon may even stop by.”

“My heart is turning over just at the thought. How much you selling tickets for?”

“Five hundred to sponsor.”

“Too rich for my blood. Anyway, I thought you said Meagher was sponsoring her,” I objected, just to be obnoxious.

A thread of impatience finally hit her voice. “Vic, you know the drill. Five hundred to be listed in the program as a sponsor. Two-fifty to be a patron. A hundred to get in the front door.”

“Sorry, Marissa. Way out of my league. And I ain’t that big a fan of Boots anyway.” His real name was Donnel- he’d gotten the nickname when the ?72 reformers thought they could get Daley’s men of the county slate. They’d run some poor earnest wimp whose name I couldn’t even remember on the slogan of “Give Meagher the Boot.” When Daley muscle got the big guy reelected by a landslide, his supporters at the Bismarck celebration party had screamed “Boots, Boots” when he appeared and he’d never been called anything else since.

Marissa said earnestly, “Vic, we need more women out there. Otherwise it’s going to look as though Roz has sold out to Boots and we’ll lose a lot of our grass-roots support. And even though you’re not with the PD anymore, your name still commands a lot of respect with local women.”

Anyway, to make a long story short, she’d used flattery, Fuentes’s pro-choice record, and my guilt for having dropped out of political action for so long to get me to agree to be a patron. And I did have a two-thousand-dollar check beaming at me from the desk.

The thick white envelope held the invitation, a copy of the program, and a return envelope for my two hundred and fifty dollars. Marissa had scrawled on the program in her giant, schoolgirl hand, “Really looking forward to seeing you again.”

I flipped through the booklet, looking at the list of sponsors and patrons. Having agreed to hold the fundraiser, Boots had gone all out putting the arm on the regular Dems. Or maybe that was Marissa’s work. The pages glittered with judges, state reps, state senators, and directors of large corporations. Near the end of the list of patrons was my name. From some ancient yearbook or birth certificate Marissa had dug up my middle name. When I saw the “Iphigenia” jumping out at me, I was tempted to call her and withdraw my support-I try to keep my mother’s lunacy in naming me a secret known only to family.

The function was this coming Sunday. I looked at my watch-seven-fifteen. I could call Marissa and still make it to Visible Treasures in time.

Late though it was, she was still in her office. She tried to sound pleased at hearing from me, but couldn’t quite carry it off-Marissa likes me better when I’m doing favors for her.

“You all set for Sunday, Vic?”

“You bet,” I said enthusiastically. “What are we wearing? Jeans or evening gowns?”

She relaxed. “Oh, it’s casual-barbecue, you know. I’ll probably wear a dress, but jeans will be fine.”

“Rosty coming? You said he might.”

“No. But the head of his Chicago office will be there. Cindy Mathiessen.”

“Great.” I made myself sound like a cheerleader. “I want to talk to her about Presidential Towers.”

Caution returned to Marissa’s voice at once as she demanded to know why I wanted to discuss the complex.

“The SRO’s,” I said earnestly. “You know, about eight thousand rooms were lost when they cleared that area to put up the Towers. I’ve got this aunt, see.” I explained about Elena and the fire. “So I’m not feeling too crazy about Boots, or Rosty, or any of the other local Dems since I can’t find her a room. But I’m sure if I bring it to- what did you same her name was?-Cindy? If I talk to Cindy about it, she’s bound to be able to help me out.”

It seemed to me the phone vibrated with the sound of wheels turning in Marissa’s brain. Finally she said, “What can your aunt afford?”

“She was paying seventy-five at the Indiana Arms. A month, I mean.” It was past sundown now and the room was dark beyond the pool of light my desk lamp shed. I walked over to the wall with the phone to switch on the

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