Mary DiNunzio sat across from the old men, deciding which one to shoot first. Her father, Matty DiNunzio, was the natural choice because he was the most stubborn, but his three friends were tied for second. They sat next to him at the conference table, a trinity of Tonys - Pigeon Tony Lucia, Tony-From-Down-the-Block LoMonaco, and Tony Two Feet Pensiera, who was called Feet, making him the only man in South Philly whose nickname had a nickname.
"Pop, wait, think about this," Mary said, hiding her exasperation. "You don't want to sue anybody, not really." She met her father's milky brown eyes, magnified by his bifocals, as he sat behind an open box of aromatic pignoli-nut cookies. Her mother wouldn't have let him visit her, even at work, without bringing saturated fats. Besides the cookies, waiting for her in the office refrigerator was a Pyrex dish of emergency lasagna.
"Yes, we do, honey. The club took a vote. We wanna sue. It's about honor."
"Honor?" Mary tried not to raise her voice. She loved him, but she was wondering when he'd lost his mind. A tile setter his working life, her father had always been a practical man, at least until this meeting. "You want to sue over your honor?"
"No, over Dean's honor."
"You mean Dean Martin?"
"Yeah. He was a great singer and a great man."
"Plus a great golfer," said Tony-From-Down-the-Block.
"Great golfer," repeated Feet. "And Bernice disrespected him. In public."
"But Dean wasn't there." Mary stopped just short of saying, He's dead. Or, Are you insane, too?
Tony-From-Down-the-Block nodded. "Dean Martin wasn't his real name, you know. It was Dino Crocetti."
Mary knew. Dean Martin, born in Steubenville, Ohio. Adored his mother, Angela. "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime." She hadn't grown up her father's daughter for nothing. In his retirement, her father had started the Dean Martin Fan Club of South Philly, and she was looking at its four copresidents. Don't ask why there were four copresidents. The fifth had to step down from prostate problems.
Mary asked, "How does it avenge his honor if you sue?"
"Mare," Feet interrupted, indignant. "Bernice insulted him. She called him a drunk!"
Mary winced on Dean's behalf. Her father shook his head. Tony-From-Down-the-Block reached for another pignoli-nut cookie. Feet's slack cheeks flushed with emotion, trumping his Lipitor.
"Mare, she hollered at him like a fishwife, in front of everybody. The mouth on that woman. So Big Joey hollered back and before you know it, he's holding his chest and falling down onna floor. She gave him a heart attack." Feet pushed up the bridge of his Mr. Potatohead glasses. "That can't be legal."
"I saw on Boston Legal, it's motional distress." Tony-From-Down-the-Block brushed cookie crumbs from a red Phillies T-shirt, which matched his unfortunate new hair color. He was single again, a fact that his red hair blared like a siren. Also that he might not own a mirror.
"That's how they always are, that club," her father said. "They never shut up. Sinatra this, Sinatra that. They think Frank was the best, but Dean had the TV show. They forget that."
"Dean was the King of Cool, 'at's all," added Tony-From-Down-the-Block, and Mary's father turned to him.
"Don't get me wrong, Sinatra was good, my Vita loves him. But he hogged the spotlight. A show-off."
"A showboat," Tony-From-Down-the-Block agreed, and Mary listened to the two men have the same conversation they'd had a thousand times. Pigeon Tony sat silently on the end, dunking a cookie into his coffee. At only five-foot-two, he was more wren than pigeon, with his bald head inexplicably tanned, his brown-black eyes small and round, and his tiny nose curved like a beak. He was quiet because his English wasn't that good, and for that, Mary felt grateful. Two Tonys were enough for one lawyer.
"But, Pop," Mary interrupted, trying to get them back on track. "Big Joey's fine now, and Bernice didn't cause his heart attack. He weighed three hundred pounds." Hence, the Big part. "In an intentional infliction case, you have to prove that the act caused the harm. And the statement she made wasn't outrageous enough."
"How can you say that, honey?" her father asked, stricken. "It's outrageous, to us." His forehead wrinkled all the way to his straw cabbie's hat. He was wearing an almost transparent sleeveless shirt, dark pants with a wide black belt, and black socks with pleather sandals. In other words, he was dressed up.
"Mare," Tony-From-Down-the-Block interjected, "the drinking wasn't for real on Dean's TV show. They put apple juice in the glass, not booze. It's show business."
Feet's face was still flushed. "Yeah. They just spread that rumor to make Dean look bad. They're always trying to ruin his reputation. Can we sue about that, too? If Dean was alive, he could sue, so why can't we? He can't help it he's dead."
Mary sighed. "Slow down, gentlemen. It costs money to sue. Even if I don't charge you, there are filing fees, service fees, all kinds of fees. You have to have money."
Feet said, "We have money."
"Not this kind of money."
"We got seventy-eight grand in the kitty."
"What?" Mary couldn't believe her ears. "Seventy-eight thousand! Where'd you get that?"
"Dean's got a lot of fans," Feet answered, and her father added:
"Dead fans. Angelo, you know, the barber down Ritner Street. Remember, his wife Teresa passed two years ago, and they had no kids. Also Mario, who had the auto-body shop on Moore, and Phil the Toot, got that nice settlement from the car accident. He passed, too, poor guy." Her father paused, a moment of silence. "They left their money to the club. We had three hundred and twelve dollars before that, but now we're rich. We can sue anybody we want."
"Anybody says anything bad about Dean, we're suing," Feet said.
"We don't even care if we lose," said Tony-From-Down-the-Block. "It's the principle. We're sick of Dean gettin' kicked around. It's gotta stop somewhere."
"Right!" Mary's father pounded the table with a fleshy fist, and Pigeon Tony looked up from his coffee. Her father and the Three Tonys looked determined, their lined faces an Italian Mount Rushmore.
"Gentlemen, how's it gonna look if you sue?" Mary fought the urge to check her watch. She had so much else to do and was getting nowhere fast. "Your club is mostly male, right?"
"Yeah, it's true." Her father shrugged his soft shoulders. "What are you gonna do? Dean was a man's man."
"It's 'cause of the Golddiggers," Feet explained, and Tony-From-Down-the-Block sighed like a lovesick teenager.
"Weren't they somethin' else?"
Mary gathered the question was rhetorical. "As I was saying, your club is mostly men. Isn't the Sinatra club mostly women?"
Feet interjected, "It's not a real club, like us. They call it the Sinatra Social Society. They don't even have bylaws, just parties."
"Their name don't even make sense," Tony-From-Down-the-Block said. "It has too many s's. You oughta hear 'em. Sounds like snakes with dentures."
"Women," Feet said, but Mary let it pass. A flicker of regret crossed her father's features. He knew where she was going, and she went there.
"Pop, let's say you take the Sinatra club to court and even that you win. How's that gonna look? A group of men beating up on a group of women? Is that really what you want?"
Her father blinked.
Feet and Tony-From-Down-the-Block exchanged looks.
Pigeon Tony dropped his cookie into his coffee. Plop, went the sound, and a pignoli nut bobbed to the black surface.
Mary pressed on. "Is that what Dean would have wanted?"
"No, he wouldn't want that," her father said, after a minute. "But we don't like people insulting Dean," Feet said.
"Plus, we gotta set the record straight," said Tony-From-Down-the-Block, and Mary got an idea.
"Tell you what. Why don't I call Bernice and ask her to apologize. Then you get what you want and nobody gets sued. You can even put it in the newsletter."
"You sound like your mother," her father said with a wry smile, and Mary laughed, surprised. Her mother would have sued. Nobody loved a good fight more than her mother. She'd take on all comers, armed with a wooden spoon.
"Bernice Foglia will never apologize," Tony-From-Down-the-Block said, and Feet shook his head.
"She buried two husbands, both from heart attacks."
"Let me try, gentlemen. Let's not get crazy." Mary needed to resolve this fast. She had three hundred things to do. Her slim BlackBerry Pearl sat next to her on the table, its e-mail screen dark and its phone set on Silent. She hated being tethered to the device, but it was corporate oxygen nowadays. Mary touched her father's hand. "Dad, why don't you take the money you'd use on a lawsuit and do something positive? Something good, in Dean's memory. Something that honors him."
"I guess we could buy somethin' for the playground," said her father, cocking his head.
"Or sponsor a softball team," said Tony-From-Down-the-Block.
"Or have a party," said Feet, and on the end, Pigeon Tony looked up.
"O andare al casinò."
And for that, Mary didn't need a translation.
Fifteen minutes later, she had ushered them out of the conference room, hugged and kissed them all, and walked them out to the reception area. The elevator doors slid open, and the Tony trifecta shuffled inside, followed by her father, to whom she gave a final hug, breathing in his characteristic spice of mothballs and CVS aftershave.
"I love you, Pop," Mary said, surprised by the catch in her throat. It was paranoid, but she always wondered if it would be the last time she would see him alive. The man was perfectly healthy, but she couldn't shake the thought. It was a child's fear, and yet here she was, over thirty, with no excuse except a congenital flair for melodrama.
"Love you, too, honey," her father said softly. He patted her arm and stepped back into the elevator. "I'm so proud a you -," he was saying when the stainless-steel doors closed, leaving Mary facing her blurry reflection, wearing an unaccountably heartsick expression and her best navy blue suit.
"Mare?" said a voice, and Mary turned, recovering. It was Marshall Trow, their receptionist, walking from the hallway in a blue cotton shirtdress and tan espadrilles. Her usual smile had vanished, and her brown eyes were concerned. "I just put a friend of yours in your office. I didn't want to interrupt your meeting."
"No problem." Mary switched her BlackBerry back on, and e-mail piled onto the screen, making a mountain she could never climb, like an electronic Sisyphus. "What friend?"
"Her name is Trish Gambone."
Trash Gambone is here?
"You know her, right?" Marshall blinked.
"Sure, from high school. Here?" Mary couldn't process it fast enough. Trash, er, Trish, Gambone personified every slight she'd suffered at St. Maria Goretti High School, where Mary had been the myopic straight-A president of the National Honor Society, the May Queen, and the all-around Most Likely to Achieve Sainthood. During the same four years, Trish Gambone had flunked Religion, chain-smoked her way through Spanish I twice, and reigned as the quintessential Mean Girl.
"She said she had to see you and it was confidential. She was beside herself."
"She was crying."
"Really?" Mary felt her heartbeat speed up. A classic fight-or-flight reaction, but she didn't know which to do.
of Lisa Scottoline's new book, "Lady Killer," will appear in two parts in The Inquirer's Magazine section on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Her column, "Chick Wit," returns to the Image section next Sunday. EndText
Best-selling author Lisa Scottoline will be making the following local appearances to read and sign copies of her latest book, Lady Killer:
12:30 p.m., Barnes & Noble, 1805 Walnut St.
7 p.m., Chester County Book Co., 975 Paoli Pike, West Chester
1 p.m., Borders Downtown, 1 S Broad St.,
7 p.m., Borders, 1001 Baltimore Pike, Springfield
7 p.m, Barnes & Noble, 301 Main St., Exton
2 p.m., Barnes & Noble, Valley Fair Mall, 150 W. Swedesford Rd., Devon EndText