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La Don-a: The Rise of the Swan - 9

Updated: Feb 19

Author's Note: I'M BACK! Warning this chapter of this Dark Historical YA contains mentions of domestic violence, mentioned/implied rape, and child abuse.

This story is told by adult Geraldine who is being interviewed by a young woman. For this reason there are some changes between the present (with adult Geraldine) and the past (with child Geraldine).

Bold: Helen (in the present)

Italics: Adult Geraldine and present narration

Regular: Past narration

Blue: Flashbacks



9 Highballs: To raising crows and losing your eyes

It has been a busy few days for Margarita as she took some extra shifts just to be able to afford something for her eldest birthday. Money was always tight in her home but if she cut back on a few things she might even be able to buy him some cake bites or if she really pinched pennies a slide of pineapple upside down cake which was his favorite. Her son wanted a baseball glove since he was tired of the kids not letting him play and making fun of him for not having one. Fortunately, she was able to find a used glove still in good condition, all she had to do was give the last payment installment and pick it up. 

Margarita smiled at the thought of her son’s expression when he ripped the newspaper and saw the glove, she never promised him that she would get it for him and simply said she would try so she knows he won’t be expecting it. Unfortunately their children were already used to disappointment at such a young age, slowly turning them jaded. Her son specifically, was a shy and mild mannered young boy that was happy with very little but she knows that although he never wants to tell her, he’s constantly bullied not only for his personality but for the things that they clearly lack compared to other kids. 

“They aren’t really his friends, they laugh and make fun of him like he’s their clown or something.” Margarita remembers her daughter's words and she worried that her son was accepting abuse because he thought  that he had to just to fit in. “I offered to punch them for him but he said no.” Her daughter was the complete opposite of her big brother, the little girl reminded her so much of Geraldine that it always made her nostalgic and a little worried about the trouble the little girl was going to get into once she grew up. Thinking of her little sister reminded her that it's been too long since she visited her family.

“Marguerite, Marguerite! There you are!”  Hearing the American version of her name that only strangers used made Margarita turn around to see her old neighbor rushing to her, panting. The woman was far too nosey for Margarita’s liking but she kept an eye on her kids when they were outside so Margarita tolerates her. “Where have you been, child?!” The old woman was also constantly bombarding her with gossip or invasive questions whenever she sees Margarita which has made her actively try to avoid the old woman.

“I was working, Mrs. Church,” The old woman glared at her. When the old woman came to the country the Americans changed her last name from Chiesa to Church which became her legal last name although she insisted that everyone used the real version of her last name as she claimed that she refused to let Americans take her identity. “Sorry, I mean Mrs. Chiesa. What’s the matter? Did something happen to the kids?”

“Not the kids but your sisters and mother.” Margarita immediately went from not interested —since she knew her children were well taken care of— to intrigued.

“What about them?”

“Have you not heard?” Margarita was getting annoyed with the older woman that was acting like she was some storyteller trying to build suspense. She had neither the patience nor the time to humor the lonely old woman.

“Obviously I haven’t.” Margarita was getting ready to move away and continue her journey home when the woman’s next words chilled her blood.

“Well, I heard they were copped.”

“What?! Are you sure you heard right?”

“Dear, I’m old, not deaf.”  

Margarita slowly began to panic, but forced herself to take a deep breath. The old woman had claimed many things that turned out to not be true before so it was possible that this was one of those times. Either way she will check on the children then go see her mother and sisters to confirm. He walked away without thanking the old woman and ignored the mumbling about her rudeness and disrespect. Her children were happy to see her and she let herself get lost in the joy of seeing them as if it were just another day. Fortunately, the woman that took care of them was happy to keep them a little longer while she checked on her family.

The apartment she was born and grew up in was only a few blocks away, which at times made her feel even more guilty for not visiting. The closer she got the more anxious she grew at the crowd that seemed to littered the streets like the residue of a parade. As she reached the street of the building where her mother and two youngest sisters still lived, her hands began to shake and her heart hammered loudly, the whole world seemed to stop around her before suddenly moving too fast. Margarita ran as fast as her thick legs could carry her once she saw the building and the police leaving. She didn’t notice all the looks sent her way as she rushed up the building stairs two at a time. Margarita just prayed that her sisters and mother were okay.

To her great shock and panic when she reached the apartment there were some people milling around the doorless entrance whispering. She became furious at the vultures almost waiting around for something bad or interesting to happen at the expense of her family. “What are you all doing there?! Shouldn't you be taking care of your own homes?!” She yelled and shoo-ed everyone away with a glare.

“No need to get like that, kid.”

“Yea, ain’t our fault your family’s so messed up.”

“Oh yea, you think any of your families are perfect? We all know that’s not true but if you want me to prove it, I will be more than happy to.” She pointedly glared at the man she knew was cheating on his pregnant wife with the neighbor on the floor below or the wife whose child was not even her husband’s. As expected from the hypocrites, those words had an immediate effect and everyone avoided eye contact with her although she could see them glare and pout like scolded children. They all walked away dejected and annoyed, as if Margarita had ruined their fun.

As she entered the apartment, Margarita was not ready for what she saw in the living room Elsie was on the floor cleaning up an alarmingly large puddle of blood. To the side Geraldine seemed to be busy talking on the phone that Anna’s husband had gotten the family as a gift so that the woman could keep in touch with her family although Anna never called and the phone was immediately disconnected after the wedding. Eventually, the family got together and pulled their wages to connect it back since it would be easier to keep in touch as they all got married and left their mother with their father. 

“Are you serious?! Can you not do this one thing? I have never asked for…” The response on the other side seemed to agitate her little sister and Margarita wondered who could be so important that they would make the temperamental Geraldine hold back for.

“Elsie,” Margarita called you her youngest sister. “What happened? Where’s mother? Who is Geraldine talking to?” The younger girl looked up, her eyes were bright red and Margarita feared the worst, the girl’s hands were as red as her eyes. It was clear that Elsie was in no state to talk let alone clean so Margarita decided to step in despite not knowing what had happened. Being a big sister and taking care of things came natural to her, “here let me, scrubbing harder won’t work.”

The youngest didn’t say anything and that worried Margarita but she didn’t push and they worked together in complete silence. The only sound heard was of them scrubbing and of Geraldine talking on the phone, the pieces of information that Margarita got from her younger sister’s call were alarming. What felt like hours later, Geraldine slammed the phone in anger before walking away, Margarita was sure she was going to leave the apartment but she saw her walk into the room and walk out holding a blanket a few minutes later. The younger girl grabbed some used nails that were pulled from different places around the house and used them to hammer the blanket as a makeshift door. 

“Fucking vultures!” The barely teenager declared none too quietly.

“Geraldine!” Margarite scolded although she was thinking the same thing.

“Don’t start, we’re way past that proper language crap.”

“What happened?” Margarita took this opportunity to get the information she’s been desperate for.

“Mother slayed the beast but apparently the king’s knights did not feel that was a woman’s job.”

Geraldine explained with a mixture of a scowl and sneer on her face like something disgusted and infuriated her at the same time. Being used to her younger sister’s manner, Margarita read between the lines and soon realized, to her relief, that the large puddle on the floor was not the blood of her mother. But before she could fully celebrate then the second part hit her, their mother was in the big house for probably protecting herself and her children. Margarita could not say that she was completely surprised, because as mild-mannered as her mother was, everyone had their breaking point and Miguel was great at pushing everyone to the edge they never knew existed. 

“Is that who you were talking to?”

“No, it was just someone I thought could help.” Geraldine’s eyes darkened and her shoulder sagged in a mixture of anger and resignation.

“And they couldn’t?”

“They could, but the prize was one I wasn’t sure I was willing to pay.” 

Margarita didn’t need further explanation, she knew the people and places that their father forced Geraldine to associate in and with. After she became a young lady, Geraldine stopped having normal friends because their father took her away from that world and often kept her in an environment not good for children, let alone a young girl. Because of this everyone in the neighborhood began to know her as Joseph Moretti’s woman. The older man was extremely possessive so everyone stood clear, even children in school and teachers, this isolated Geraldine from the world she was meant to be part of. Margarita  also knew perfectly well what prize was often demanded from women when they asked for favors so she couldn’t blame Geraldine for her reaction. 

Margarita did notice Elsie flinching, “why she do it?” Geraldine just shrugged while the youngest of them all, seemed to just sink into herself like a turtle going in its shell.

“Did she need a reason? He was an asshole that deserved it.”

“This isn’t some game Dina!” Margarita scolds her sister for her casual, almost playful attitude. It was true that none of them were fans of the man but he was still their father. It was also unnerving to see someone as young as Geraldine be so cold and casual about death and murder.

“Oh I know, I saw the body…” the admission seemed to fill the room back up with a somber air as they stared at the blood stain on the floor. The silence was cut off by footsteps rushing towards the apartment, on instinct Margarita grabbed the nearest thing in front of her and got in front of her sisters. Based on the scent of sweet flowers, Geraldine knew it could only be one person.

“I came as soon as I heard,” Dorothy walked in panting and even had to lean forward to try and catch her breath, “You won’t believe what some Boozehounds were saying at the Drum today…” Her words were cut off as she saw the stained floor, the puddle was mostly dry but the stain was still there. “So it was true, she finally did it.”

Much like Margarita, Dorothy was not shocked at all; instead within her bright and wide -almost puppy like- eyes there was a glint of pride. “Dorothy, you really should not run in such a manner,” They all heard the soft and motherly voice that could only belong to one person, “you knocked down a few people. You didn’t even wait for me to pay…” Anna stepped into the room, every bit the devoted yet graceful housewife, she even still had the apron. She was also cut off by the sight of the stained floor which she immediately turned away from but not before they saw her complexion turn a slight green color. 

“I also called Stella but she refused to come,” Dorothy declared but Geraldine merely rolled her eyes. 

“Are we at all surprised? She didn’t want to invite us to her wedding. Good riddance, one less annoyance to deal with.”

“Geraldine!” Anna always wanted them all to get along but with Stella and Geraldine that was almost impossible, the two had always been like fire and ice since the day Geraldine was born.  

“What? It’s true and we all know it,” Geraldine continued unbothered. The sisters stood silent neither able to deny her claim.

“Why she do it? I mean she had plenty of reasons, but why now?” Dorothy asked softly, all three sisters saw Elsie stiffened and Geraldine looked briefly at her before turning away, an emotion flash in her eyes but it was too quick for the older sisters to read.  

“It was my fault,” those were the first words Elsie spoke since they arrived and it made them all turn to her in surprise. 

“It was damn well not your fault, that monster deserved it and if she hadn’t done it, I would’ve, because someone that would do that to their own child or any child deserved much worse than that,” Geraldine spat out with pure fury and disgust none of which was directed at Elsie. “Hell was made for people like him and every once in a while the devil needs a little help.” The rant and the implications as well as Geraldine’s anger and Elsie’s behavior put the pieces of the horrifying image together for them.

“No....He didn’t…?” A crying Anna pulled Elsie into her arms and held her tight as if she was scared the girl would break without the older woman’s hold keeping the little girl together.

“Since when?” Margarita could feel the anger bumbling inside her, she matched Geraldine in her tone and glare but also pride in their mother. 

“Since she was six.” Geraldine responded and it was followed by colorful curse words and promises from her older sisters that she knew made her father lucky he was dead.

“Way to go mom!” Dorothy praised with pure pride and joy in her eyes and voice.

“My sisters and I are as different as night and day, we always were.” Adult Geraldine declared briefly cutting her story telling. “All of us are unique in our own way, especially the way we think and what we want from life, but in that moment, we were all in agreement that my mother had done the right thing. We couldn’t be prouder of her and what she did to defend us.” The woman gave a devilish smile that frightened Helen. It was the smile she imagined the enemies of Mama Swan saw before they met their end.

“A little late, the damage was no doubt made,” She flinched realizing what she had said but the older woman didn’t snap, just sigh.

“Better late than never, and while we all later agreed that it shouldn’t have gotten to that point, in that moment, we were still unbelievably proud…at least all but one,” Geraldine’s expression darkened at this and Helen could imagine who the older woman was talking about.


While her sisters celebrated their mother’s actions, Stella mourned the loss of her father. She isolated herself within her room and refused to do any of the chores that were expected of her. Her mother-in-law was not happy at her slacking off for no reason, as only Stella’s husband knew why she was in such a state and that was only because Stella knew that a good wife never kept secrets from her husband. The man was understanding and even covered for her with his family. He also respected her pleas not to tell them anything. His kindness and understanding instead of pleasing her just infuriated Stella because it reminded her even less of her father. In her eyes it was another sign of his weakness. 

She also couldn’t believe the audacity of her sisters asking her to return to the scene of the crime to support the woman that gave birth to them despite what she did. As far as Stella was concerned that woman was no longer her mother. Not only did she not condone such behavior but she would also refuse to jeopardize her family’s good name and reputation for them. The day Stella married into the Roberts family she stopped being a Salazar and she was perfectly fine with that. The only thing that had still connected her to that part of her life was her father and now her mother cruelly took that away.

“Do not worry father, I will make them pay,” Stella promised.

Leonard found his wife strange, she told him that her father had been murdered yet despite having younger sisters, he has not seen her show any signs of trying to communicate with them and see how they were doing. “When do you wish to depart for the funeral?” He asked when her crying and mourning had finally calmed down. The face the woman sent him was another thing he found strange. She seemed almost innocently confused but Leonard saw the slight fear flash in the woman’s eyes. 

He was not as foolish as his family believed, he knew from the very beginning that his wife seemed ashamed of her family. The fact that they were not present at the wedding was a dead giveaway especially when his father offered to pay for their railroad tickets so they could be present but the woman rejected his offer almost desperately. Part of him wanted to meet his wife’s family mainly because as his family’s black sheep he feels that they might actually have more in common than he and his wife did.

“There is no need for that,” the woman declared swiftly.

“What do you mean? You cannot be absent from your father’s funeral?!” Leonard could not believe that the person that had spent days mourning her father’s death would not want to be present for his funeral.

“There won’t be a funeral,” but Stella did not back down.

“What? Why?”

“Because there won’t!” Stella snapped before storming away, ending the conversation with a definite tone.

At first Stella had been sweet and docile, she seemed like the ideal housewife; she cooked marvelous dishes, she left the house spotless, and never hesitated to help around the house. She seemed to be okay with his presence and most importantly she did not seem too disgusted by his scarring. They slept on separate beds but still managed to coexist by giving each other space, they have yet to consummate their marriage but that was a secret kept only between them. 

Over time he has begun to see a different side to his wife, she seemed more stern, judgmental but most of all confrontational. She seemed to constantly be unhappy with the things and people around her. She treated those she deemed unworthy of her time and respect with disdain. Leonard seemed to have, unfortunately, fallen into that category but in the end he didn’t care. Leonard no longer had the energy or drive to care about anything so he let his wife’s strange behavior go without asking more questions.

“It’s just like that day,” he declared out loud, pensively.

He looked outside the window, it was a bright day but when he looked outside he didn’t see Virginia or even America. He saw the small town in Belgium where he and his troops had found some refuge from the constant fire that rained upon them like  a storm in spring that brought down the fires of hell instead of the cool waters of heaven.  That day had also been bright and despite their small troops, which was just made up of whoever survived, trepidation and fear, they found a local farmer that welcomed them in.  They were able to spend the day drinking wine and sharing stories as well as butchering the language as they tried to learn. 

He had even flirted with one of the farmer’s daughters, she was sweet and feisty. He could still remember her snarky remarks and smirky smile. “You ma-rye me and take with you.” Her eyes became bright every time he praised her for pronouncing a word correctly as he taught her English. “Keep practicing and I just might.” It was a great day, Leonard didn’t know that it would be the last good day he would ever have. 

The next day, early in the morning, all he heard was the whistling and in seconds the farm was gone along with their new friends. Soon after the small town became a battlefield from which many of Leonard’s brothers in arms did not leave and from which he barely made it out of. “I wish I hadn’t made it out at all. You are cruel,” he looked up at the sky with a glare, he suddenly hated the bright sun so he closed the curtains and let himself fall into darkness.


Two Months Later 

Weeks after their mother was arrested, four of the six Salazar sisters sat in court as their mother’s trial began, it was their first time seeing the woman as she was kept in maximum security since according to the guards she was volatile and dangerous for the simple fact that she was a woman that defied her programming. They didn’t want the men-hating woman to infect other women with wild ideas or snap and try to off the guards. It was also the reason she was brought in shackled as if she was a wild beast. 

Elsie watched with tearful eyes as her mother sent her a loving look that tried to convey that it was not her fault and that everything would be okay. Geraldine glared at the all male jury as half looked bored, others looked excited as if it was all an amusing play being put on for them, while the rest looked disgusted and slightly fearful as if her mother was some monster that would snap at any moment. 

Unlike her sisters, Margarita was a wall, she put on a brave face for her mother and her sisters earning her a smile from Ruth, who seemed to be the only one that could see the truth. Dorothy, much like Elsie, was close to tears but had more control than the little girl although her eyes glistened with her unshed tears. 

Anna had been indisposed, at least that was what she told her sisters since it was better than the truth that her husband had been so furious with the news that he beat her and broke her arm. None of them were surprised by Stella’s absence, in the end, they had more important things to worry about than their sister's petty and cruel behavior. 

“The trial had more people than normal as it was the first case in the country of a woman who had murdered her husband.” Adult Geraldine explained, remembering that day so clear she could almost smell the stench of the all male jury. “There had been cases of women that plotted and succeeded in killing their husbands with the help of their lovers but the idea was always blamed on the lover. Women were seen as too weak and dimwitted to plot something so gruesome, it helped that in all the trials the women portray themselves as docile, naive and abused.” The older woman spoke of this with pride, almost as if she was happy by these women being dismissed and underestimated.

“Why was this different?” Helen wondered. “Could she not say that she had a lover and he pushed her to do it?” Geraldine shook her head, almost disappointed that this was not a possibility. This told Helen that at the time, the woman had probably thought about it or even tried it but it didn’t work.

“Witnesses knew my father had my mother on a tight leash and that she didn’t interact with many people, especially men. She also wouldn’t have gone along with it even if it would work, my mother prided herself on being a loyal and devoted wife.”

“But this was her life!” 

“Yea, but women are conditioned from the day they are born to value their lives below all else, especially their husbands and my mother was no different.”

“I have never…” Helen tried to defend herself as a woman but she was cut off by the older woman.

“You might not think so but you have put something or someone above yourself whether it is your parents, family, work or even chores. For a man it goes God, country, them, reputation, family, wife at the very bottom. For women it goes God, husband, children, house/responsibilities, appearance/reputation, and then herself at the very bottom.” Geraldine explained with the same disgust and snark that Helen was beginning to believe was the older woman’s normal state of being.

The trial began with statements from both lawyers and the Salazar sisters all winced at the statement from their mother’s lawyer. The man clearly did not care whether their mother was declared guilty or innocent, based on the smiles and wild gestures he sent the crowd, all the man cared about was the fame that the trial would give him. “You would think he would at least have pride in his work,” Geraldine mentioned as she glared at the man that was putting on a show for others instead of defending their mother. Margarita just glared at the people that laughed and smiled as if they were at the circus and the man was the ringleader controlling the monkey that sat in handcuffs for their own protection.

“There ain’t no decency left, vultures all of them,” the eldest sneered, she was happy that her children were in school and she didn’t have to bring them. They loved their nonna and to see her humiliated in such a way would have broken their hearts like it was breaking her’s.

“Did you expect any different? It’s the trial of the century.” For once Dorothy’s voice isn’t filled with playfulness and joy. Instead there was an irritation and sarcasm in her voice that was so unlike her. She was also embarrassed when people stared and pointed at them once it became clear who they were. Even then she focused on comforting Elsie who was practically buried into her side and sending her mother one of her bright smiles as if things were the same as before.

Ruth turned to her girls whenever she could, and while the absence of Anna and Stella hurt her deeply, she was still comforted by the four girls’ presence although she would’ve preferred that Elsie not be there. The little girl was already carrying enough guilt as it was and she didn’t want to add more. As Ruth studied her four girls, trying not to look at anything or anyone else, she couldn’t be prouder of them. Margarita was strong and hard working, the young woman was unshakeable. She returned Ruth’s gaze with one of strength and promise, a promise that she will take care and watch out for her sisters no matter the outcome. That was the only thing Ruth could ever ask for from the eldest.

Ruth then turned to her little hurricane, Geraldine, the girl was a force to be reckoned with and she was still in her teens. Ruth shuddered to think of the girl’s future and the destruction she would unleash to those that angered her once she was a woman. Geraldine was fierce, fearless but also volatile and that worried her more than anything because Ruth had no doubt that the girl would shake the country and bring many to their knees, but she worried about the pain that Geraldine would cause not only to others but to herself. Ruth could see in the glint of her eyes that if the verdict was anything but ‘not guilty’ Geraldine was not going to let it go. Her eyes screamed, ‘I will get you out of this no matter what I have to do’ and that worried Ruth.  

The mother turned to her youngest watching as she buried her face in Dorothy’s side to hide her tears and Ruth hoped that Geraldine would have a moral compass in the sweet little girl. Elsie was her angel, the girl was beautiful and kind but most of all she was absolutely brilliant even with the lack of a normal education. With what she had gone through, Ruth knew that her youngest was stronger than she believed herself to be, but Ruth worries that what was done to her left lasting damages and irreversible scars. She knew that wherever Geraldine went, Elsie would follow; the little girl idolized her big sister. Ruth prays and hopes that God illuminates Geraldine so that she was not led astray and by association led her sister as well.

Then she turned to her bright star, Dorothy immediately smiled at her, but Ruth could tell that the smile was not real, a cheap imitation of her true smile. Ruth knew that in the coming times the family would need Dorothy’s free-spirit and endless joy more than ever before. Her greatest wish for Dorothy was that she be able to always be free to fly to her heart’s content although she worried about what the girl would encounter so high up in the sky.

Ruth lamented more than ever the absence of his other two daughters. Anna  was more like her than Ruth wanted any of her daughters to be. She knew what Anna tried to hide from them, she knew because that was how Ruth started when Miguel showed his true colors. The tales about tripping so many times that everyone thought she was a clumsy disaster, the sudden illness when there were gatherings that she once agreed to, and the isolation from her family. All the signs were there but Ruth had faith that Anna was stronger than her and with time and support she would be able to do what Ruth took too long to do.

Her second oldest on the other hand, was a lost cause and Ruth knew it. She had allowed her husband to bury his claws so deep within the young woman that they left marks very hard to get rid of. Even worse, Ruth remembers encouraging Stella’s obsession with making her father proud of her and earning his approval. She prayed for Stella most of all, her daughter’s soul was unprotected and open for anyone to get their hands on it and mold it. She hoped and prayed with all her heart that Stella found a good person to admire, someone that would lead her away from the dark path her father’s influence had led her down.

“Unfortunately for my mother, God was hard of hearing at that time or at least when it came to our family because the person that got their hands on Stella was much worse than Miguel,” Adult Geraldine interjected nonchalantly.

“Worst than what he did, no one could be worse than that!” 

“Not in that sense but this new puppet master had something that Miguel never did, he was brilliantly manipulative and calculating. Where Miguel could be fooled with some well placed words, this man could fool others with much less and that made him more dangerous.”


Upon returning to her chores and family dinners, Stella was greeted with annoyance and disapproval but the worst was the pity. As requested Leonard didn’t tell his family what happened and why she needed some time. They had all assumed she was having ‘woman troubles’ which her mother-in-law berated her for, “you think you’re the first woman to have issues?! This happens to all of us, yet we still have to get up to take care of the house and our families. How weak,” the older woman sneered those words before walking away. They made Stella furious but she held back, instead forcing herself to prove the woman wrong. Once more she was made to serve but never joined the family. Stella knew that if she wanted to win the family over and gain status she needed Thomas’ approval. The man was a challenge as he continued to ignore her existence no matter what she did. Stella’s biggest breakthrough came from her husband who commented on her behavior. 

“You need to stop, you’re just making it worse for yourself. There is nothing my grandfather hates more than a brown noser. The only thing he cares about is if you are of value to him. Once you no longer have any use for him, you’re as good as trash.”

Those last words held so much resentment that it became clear to her that Leonard was once a valuable asset that had been disregarded like trash. She vowed that she would not meet the same fate as him. She would continue to be of use to the older man no matter what she had to do. Stella would prove her unwavering loyalty and devotion, earning the man’s respect. 

Despite this determination, for days she was not sure of how to do this and it wasn’t until a conversation at dinner one night gave her the answer.

“How are things in the bureau?” Thomas asked his son. His tone demanding and imposing, Ernest had to swallow quickly to respond before his father grew impatient.

“Higher ups are getting frustrated as Drums are becoming better at disguising themselves.” Ernest winced like a doctor giving bad news. “They’re also rising in popularity which means people are less inclined to rat them out. We lost quite a few spies to them.”

“Weak minds should not be used for such crucial work,” Thomas scolded and Leonard rolled his eyes, the older man was holding a glass of whiskey as he berated people for falling prey to the allure of alcohol.

“I can help,” suddenly everyone turned to Stella and she hid her nerves behind a false casual confidence.

“How about you help by clearing the plates and not intruding on the conversation of men.” Her mother-in-law sneered at her but Stella ignored her because this was her chance. She finally had the older man’s attention and she was sure that if she did not take advantage of the opportunity now she would not get another.

“And what can you possibly do?” The tone was patronizing and the question wasn’t really meant to be answered but still she was acknowledged by the old patriarch and that was a win to her.

“It is not something I’m proud of but one of my sisters runs in those circles,” Stella declared with slight shame although inside she rejoiced as finally her disgraceful family and upbringing would be useful to her.

“What a shock,” This time Stella could not stop herself from glaring at the older woman, she did not want to use her final card because she was going to save it for a rainy day but she had no choice. She could see that the old man was already losing interest.

“I know that my upbringing is not the best but you must understand that she is the black sheep of the family and has made sure to soil our family’s name even going as far as spending time with the Moretti kid.” Stella dropped her bomb casually as she continued to clear the table as if she had no clue of the weight her words carried and the conversation was over. She saw how both Thomas’ and Ernest’s eyes widened, the older man was more discreet about it but still she noticed.

“Moretti? Are you sure that’s the name?!” Ernest asked with an urgency in his tone.

“Of course, everyone in the neighborhood knows Joey Moretti although the smart ones stand clear but my sister was never too bright,” Stella declared.

“Your sister is in cahoots with Joseph Moretti?” And just like that Stella knew she had won, the intrigue on Thomas’ face was clear. Even better, the man ordered her mother-in-law to take care of the rest of the cleaning while Stella sat down. “There is nothing worse than a lazy woman.”

“But of course you are loyal to your sister,” she knew she was being tested, Stella ignored the look from her husband and smiled at the old man.

“I am not loyal to those that do wrong. It is the reason my father chose me to marry away from that place.” Leonard stared at his wife in disapproval, he suspected that she was more like her grandfather than she let on but to betray her own flesh and blood, “I can get the locations of some Drums if that would help,” she offered meekly.

“Very well, if you can prove your loyalty I’m sure Ernest here can find you a position in the bureau.” Stella silently rejoiced as she began to plan how to get the information out of Geraldine even her mother-in-law’s glares and her husband's disapproving gaze could not dim her good mood.

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