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16

On the way back to the office, Mary took a detour through the young and hip floor at Bonner's Department Store, which was downtown near the Criminal Justice Center. The floor was actually named Young amp; Hip, which told Mary instantly that she wasn't allowed to be there. Growing up, she had only been Guilty amp; Sinful, and as a lawyer had segued right into Guilty amp; Billable.

She wandered through racks of shirts that looked too small to cover even a single breast and skirts you wouldn't have to roll to shorten. Now what fun was that? And how would you achieve that bumpy effect at the hem? She considered asking where the real clothes were, as opposed to the joke clothes, but she was on a mission. She searched for a salesperson.

'Can you help me?' Mary asked, locating a skinny young woman with about three hundred plastic clips in her hair. Each clip was shaped like a baby butterfly that had landed, quite by magic, on its own clump of hair. Mary addressed the woman without reference to her hair, pretending that a headful of insects was not only normal, but desirable. 'I need some information about a photo shoot that took place here Sunday. It was for the store. For a newspaper layout, I think.'

'Wait.' The saleswoman put a green fingernail to her cheek, and, again, Mary acted as if emerald were a naturally occurring shade in nongangrenous tissue. One couldn't question the Young amp; Hip. 'You have to ask the manager. She's over there.' She pointed, and Mary followed her green fingernail like a traffic light that said Go!

The manager turned out to be the youngest and hippest of all, which Mary should have anticipated; short, canary-colored hair that looked greasy on purpose, no discernible shame about her black roots, and a tongue pierce that created a speech impediment. The manager was otherwise tall and slender, with contacts, blue eyes and a name tag that read TORI!

'Excuse me, were you at the photo shoot at the store this weekend?' Mary asked.

'Sure.' Tori! leaned on a chrome rack of Capri pants, NEW FOR SPRING despite the fact it was midwinter. 'I'm at all the shoots. They have 'em at the store 'cause it's cheap. Swingin' in the racks, you know.'

Mary nodded. 'There was a model at the shoot named Paige Newlin. A redhead. Do you remember her?'

'Oh-my-God, her mom was just murdered, right?' Tori! squealed like they used to for Elvis, and Mary looked nervously around. The department was mercifully empty, Philly evidently not being Young amp; Hip enough. You had to go to New York for that. Mary leaned closer to Tori!

'I'd prefer you keep this confidential. I'm a lawyer working on the case, and I need to know if you saw Paige Newlin at the shoot.'

'But that is so weird, that her mom got killed and all. I saw her name in the paper. Newlin. That is sooo random.'

'Yes. Now, did you see a redhead? Long ponytail?'

'A redhead?' Tori! swirled her tongue around her barbell, which Mary gathered was helping her think. 'Uh, no. There were a lot of girls. I didn't think they were so hot.'

'Did you happen to meet any of their managers?'

'No, none of the managers come to the shoots.'

Mary considered it. Paige had said her mother was there. 'What about mothers who are managers? Like Paige's mother, Mrs Newlin.'

'I don't know. I don't remember. I was kinda busy, you know, getting the stock we needed.'

Mary sighed. 'So you didn't see Paige and her mother?'

'Nope. Can't help you out there.' Tori! clicked again, then started waving. 'Maybe Fontana can, though. She's our tailor. Fontana!' she called out, and Mary turned to see whom the manager was hailing. Coming at them with ladylike steps was a very short woman, Mary's mother's height. She wore a navy blue suit, a white shirt with a floppy bow tie, and brown shoes with sensible heels. Her glasses looked old and her smile sweet, and Mary knew instantly that they were both Little amp; Italian. She fought the impulse to run into her arms.

'I no like to tell bad things/ Fontana said, hurrying along on her little legs. The 'things' came out like 'dings,' but Mary could translate easily. If you grew up in South Philly, you could communicate instantly with any tailor, barber, or mobster.

'I don't want you to tell bad things,' Mary said, hurrying beside her, matching stride for stride. Fontana Giangiulio had to be pushing seventy but Mary could barely keep up. 'I just want you to tell me what you saw.'

'I have to do de weddin' dress now. Dey need me dere.'

I'll walk you. I don't want to interrupt your job. Just tell me, please, what you heard. It's very, very important.'

'I no like to say.' Fontana shook her head in a jittery way as she chugged forward. 'Ees no nice. Ees, what dey say, tales outta school.'

'No, it's not. If it's the truth, it's not a tale, and you can save someone's life.'

'Oh, Deo,' Fontana said, scurrying along. 'I no say.'

'You saw the Newlins on Sunday, the mother and the daughter, Paige. You fixed Paige's dress.'

'De seam, I said. No de dress. De dress, she was fine. De seam was no right.' Fontana didn't stop to frown. 'I put de clip in de back seam, to hold for de picture. Not for permanent, you know, for… come se dice, Maria' She waved a tiny hand.

'For temporary,' Mary supplied. 'For the picture, got it. So you worked with Paige.'

'I feex her seam. De customers, dey think we no hear, we no see. But we hear. We see.'

'I know, that's true.' Mary could imagine little Fontana buzzing around the models, kneeling as she chalked the hem at their feet. The tailors would be ignored because servants were invisible, especially to the likes of the Newlins. 'What did you see?'

'Oh, Madonna mia!' Fontana waved her hand again as they barreled to the escalator and climbed on. Mary took advantage of the chance to breathe, now that Fontana had to stand still for a minute. 'Dey fight, dees two!'

Mary tried to hide her excitement. 'A big fight or a little fight?'

'A beeg fight! Dey fight and dey fight! But only in de dressin' room, you see. Not where nobody can see.'

'What did they fight about?'

'De mother, she call de daughter alla names. She call her a puttana!'

'A puttana?' Mary was shocked. It meant a prostitute. A whore.

'Si! Si! Fontana no can believe!' She shook her head for half a floor, gliding downward with her chin high, upset at the very thought. 'Den de daughter, she start to cry, and de mother, she laugh.'

'Laugh?'

'Si! Si! She laugh and she walk allaway out!'

'She left?'

'Si! Si!' Fontana hopped off the escalator when it reached the second floor and took off past the makeup counter. The bright chrome of Clinique reflected on her glasses, but Mary could see her aged eyes go watery behind them. 'But de girl, she start cryin', so sad. De makeup, ees alla mess. De seam, Fontana do again, with de clip. De girl cryin' on her knees, so Fontana help de girl up. She so pretty, like angel.' Fontana motored past black and glossy Chanel, but Mary saw it as a dark blur. 'And Fontana, she hold de girl, hug de girl, until she no cry no more and she get up and she feex her makeup and Fontana feex de seam and she pretend like no ding happen.'

Mary tried to visualize it. Then what?'

'An' den she go out and dey taka her picture. Howa you like dat?'

That's terrible,' Mary said, meaning it. She knew there had been something very wrong between mother and daughter. She wondered how long it had gone on, emotional abuse like that. A long time, for Paige's powers of recovery to be so fast, her emotional scars hidden by makeup and a professional smile. Had Jack known about it? Had it been hidden in dressing rooms and behind closed doors, or was Mary making excuses for him? What had her father said, that night over coffee? If your mother was doing bad things to you, it would be my fault. 'Did anybody else see?'

'Si! Si! One person know what I say ees true.' Fontana stopped in her tracks and held up a finger.

'Who?' Mary asked, breathless.

'Jesus Christ, he know/ she said, with a faith that Mary couldn't begin to understand.

For her part, she could never fathom where Jesus Christ was when a mother called her daughter a whore.


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