THURSDAY, 19TH NOVEMBER, 2009 – BEFORE GRAZIANO’S APPOINTMENT
The phone rang in Claire’s office, and Claire stopped a late lunch of hummus and crudités to answer it.
“Hello?” she responded.
“Claire?” asked a gruff voice on the other end.
“Lionel! Lovely to hear from you.”
“How are you today?”
“Good. Listen, Graziano is going to be here pretty soon, so we should keep this as quick as possible.”
“Sure. I still feel a little odd doing this. Charlotte’s my girl, you know.”
“I put you in an impossible position, Lionel, and I’m sorry. But I need to know what’s up with Graziano’s family.”
“I never even met the dude. Charlotte acted like he had the plague or something.”
Claire casually dunked a carrot stick into the hummus. “But you do have the information, don’t you?”
“Oh, yeah. You won’t believe what the Buonfiglios have been up to. I’ve been in the PI game for a few years, and even I haven’t come across anything like this. Thankfully, they think that I’m investigating ANOTHER Italian-Canadian family.”
“When can I get it?”
“You’ll have everything in your mailbox by the end of the day. Look, I have to take my mom to her appointment. I’ll call you later tonight.”
“Sure thing. Take care, Lionel.”
Claire hung up and ate the carrot with hummus on it. She leaned back in her chair, a look of concern on her face. “Oh, gosh,” she sighed, “I hope that I’m doing the right thing.”
THURSDAY, 19TH NOVEMBER, 2009 – DURING GRAZIANO’S APPOINTMENT
“I don’t know how to tell you this, Graziano,” Claire said, putting down her notepad.
I sat up in my chair. I had a feeling that something was about to go down. “What?”
Claire took a deep breath, and exhaled. “After our previous session, something happened to me. I ran into your mother.”
Oh, shit. I shook my head in disbelief. “How?” was my only response.
“I went to Shoppers after work, and this lady hounded me from the tampon section to the snacks section. She made rude remarks about everything that I was buying. When I confronted her, she revealed herself as your mother.”
“You didn’t tell her about me, did you?”
“No. All I said was that you deserved better.”
I nodded. “Did she reek of booze?”
“That’s Nadine,” I sighed. I settled back into my chair. “How did she find you out?”
“I had no idea. I can only assume that she was stalking me. I’ve had some interesting patients in my day, but none of them or their relatives ever stalked me.”
“I’m really sorry,” I said.
Claire shook her head. “I can handle it, Graziano. I’ve been in worse predicaments. I hired a private investigator myself.”
“I just hope you’re careful.”
“I will be. Incidentally, Graziano, have you ever felt like someone is stalking you?”
“Not since I moved back to Toronto,” I said. “My family may be a lot of things, but part of the Mafia they’re not. This is just as well, because I’d be dead by now if they were.”
“How’s your job hunting?” Claire changed the subject.
“The strangest thing happened: I was shopping, and the check-out guy asked me if I had done any modelling before. He gave me the business card of his friend, a photographer. Well, long story short, I ended up posing for her almost literally off the street. And she was SO excited to shoot me! And I had a great time doing it!”
Claire’s eyes lit up. “Good for you,” she said. “If you could, would you get into the world of modelling?”
“Maybe,” I replied. “I need more time to think. Plus, I should wait until I get my first paycheck. I know that the runways of Paris won’t be calling me anytime soon, but fitness modelling, tastefully nude photos…” I cracked a smile. “I guess it would be worth a shot.”
“I took photography classes at Concordia, while I majored in psychiatry. You do have a face that can photograph really well.” Claire sat back in her chair, and then asked, “You want to know why exactly I hired a private investigator?”
“Why, then?” I responded.
Claire leaned forward. “Graziano, I consider you more than a patient. It’s a little unethical, but having spent time with you over the weeks, I consider you the son that I never had.”
This took me way by surprise. “Really?”
She nodded. “I can’t have children, Graziano. I found that out two years into my marriage. My husband bailed out on me soon after that, and found some fertile bitch who could give him some kids.”
I didn’t know what to say at that point. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that this experienced woman of the world couldn’t have children.
“Anyway,” she continued, “when Brandon introduced me to you… I don’t know. It felt like God or whoever is up there, was giving me my chance to be a mom, if not physically, then in another capacity. I’ve never felt this way with any client. To be fair, before you came along, I never had a client under 30. I’m glad that we crossed paths, Graziano. And if I have to put myself through hell to see that you get better, then, I’ll do that.”
I was actually flattered that she said that. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Our time is up,” she said, looking at her watch.
I got up and headed for the door. “See you next week, Claire,” I replied. But then, I stopped at the door. I froze for a few moments, and then I gave Claire the biggest hug that I had ever given a woman. She hugged me back, too. After a few moments of hugging, we let go and I said something that I had never said before:
“You’re welcome, son,” Claire said with a smile. “I’ll see you next Friday. I’m sorry again about us meeting on Thursday. Things come up, you know.”
I left her office relieved and happy. I meant every word. Claire had, in the course of a few weeks, become my surrogate mom in everything but official status. It was a good feeling.
THURSDAY, 19TH NOVEMBER, 2009 – AT CLAIRE’S APARTMENT
In her kitchen, Claire fixed up a plate of roasted vegetables topped with butter, and sat down at her table. She poured herself a glass of South African Sauvignon Blanc, added a bit of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano to her vegetables, and ate.
Right in front of her plate was an open Manila folder with a pile of files totalling one inch high. As Claire ate her dinner, she studied the information on each page, beginning with the files pertaining to Nadine Buonfiglio. There were also files pertaining to Joseph, Charlotte, Nicholas, and Denise, each section colour-coded.