The boxing match seemed to last forever. Janet slipped out to the patio, enduring the chill for want of some peace – and a cigarette. She sat on a clammy teak bench and slid off her blister-inducing shoes.
“Is it over?”
Janet jumped. She hadn’t even noticed Ariana, the hostess, slouching in a lawn chair nearby, smoking. Her shoes, towering heels like Janet’s, lay toppled at her feet.
“Not yet. They’re getting so antsy, they might start fighting each other soon.”
Ariana laughed, only once, a loud and unladylike outburst Janet had never heard from her before.
“Now that I would pay to watch. I should have the bookie write something up.”
She lit Janet’s cigarette and they sat in silence, the ends occasionally flaring orange in the darkness.
“What brings you out here?” Janet asked cautiously. It was rare to see Ariana away from her husband during fight night. She was dressed for the occasion – a backless red Versace – but one foot twitched nervously, and her eyes, illuminated by her cigarette, were cold.
“Commissioner Simone came by,” she said finally. “I don’t think he intended to bust anyone – just wanted us to know he was watching. It’s the third time I’ve had to lie to police to cover for Ian.”
“Only the third?” Janet said lightly. “I feel like I’ve already lied more than that for Charlie, and we haven’t even been in the business that long.”
“Well, there’s lying, and then there’s committing felonies. Don’t worry, you’ll catch up.”
“Remember when we hopped in your pool to show the girls’ teacher what normal parents we were?” Janet chuckled. “I used to think that was the height of criminal.”
A small smile twitched Ariana’s cheeks. “I had to bribe the mayor just yesterday. Made a contribution to her child literacy fund. She’s very grateful.”
“A couple weeks ago I delivered blackmail to a congressman’s doctor,” Janet returned. “Charlie made me make up some ‘feminine complaint’ because he was afraid he’d be recognized if he went. The doctor thought I was joking until he actually opened the envelope.”
“He laughed at you?”
Ariana laughed again, the same graceless bark. “While you were actively blackmailing him?”
“Oh, yes. Apparently mine is not an intimidating face.”
Ariana nearly fell out of her chair laughing. It made Janet giggle, too, not because she found her story funny but because it cheered up Ariana.
But the laughter slowly faded. “I poisoned the previous mayor,” Ariana admitted.
Janet’s cigarette froze halfway to her mouth.
“Not the poison he died from – that was the Carlyles.” Ariana gazed out over her yard. Her expression in the twilight was undecipherable: partly proud, partly disgusted. “Ian needed him out of the office for a day or two, so we had him over for dinner and I slipped something in his drink. No one suspected.”
Janet was speechless, but Ariana didn’t seem to want a response.
“It’s funny you brought up the pool party,” she continued, taking a slow drag on her cigarette. “Miss Deanna wanted to contact social services afterward. I assured her everything was fine –”
“We do that a lot.”
“– but Ian wasn’t satisfied. He concocted some threat, got some photos of her house or something, I never even saw what. And he made Rose deliver them.”
She sat forward, letting the cigarette dangle between her knees as she glared into the night. “He made our daughter walk into her second-grade classroom with an envelope full of God knows what kind of photos and hand it to her teacher.”
“Yeah. Can you imagine if Charlie ever did that to Evelyn?”
“God, he would never!”
Ariana raised one eyebrow. “Are you certain?”
Janet fidgeted with her hem. “Do you ever think about…getting out?”
“Impossible,” Ariana replied. “Of course I’ve thought about it. He uses me, he’s already using Rose – you think I never thought about it?”
“I’m sorry –”
“It’s not your fault.” She massaged one temple. “I feel like I’ve thought of everything. There are some very easy solutions – so easy – but if I didn’t make it clean, then Rose –”
“I know –”
“They would take her away and I’d never see her again.”
“I know!” Janet repeated, more harshly than she intended, but she was terrified by the concept of losing her Evelyn. “Forget I said anything.”
They finished their cigarettes and crushed their embers out on the damp patio floor. Wordlessly they stood and returned to their husbands.