Viola Cadaverini was already used to sitting in dark rooms looking out at the streets of the city, where everything happened by itself. She could have anything she wanted, but she was happy sitting in dark rooms looking at the world, sipping black coffee and listening to jazz music turned up just high enough to strum gently in her ears. Sometimes she went outside, and though she would never admit it, seeing the sun and feeling its warmth against her skin made her happy sometimes.
The windows of Tender Lender weren't tinted. That was so the people walking around outside could see the honesty filtering through the windows. Anyone who stopped in knew what they were getting: A good rate on an even better loan, and service with a smile.
She was waiting for him to get the money. She knew he would. Maybe he was genuinely sorry. Maybe he cared. Maybe that was why she hung around Don Tigre. It was almost like a nice cup of
He was almost like coffee, so dark and so opaque. Things always worked out when Grandfather was there. People knew him. People respected him. People listened to him, and when they didn't, they disappeared. Don Tigre was like that, too, of course. People listened to him. He listened to her, called her "Violetta" like her grandfather did. When she had gotten herself all twisted up like a
he had come to the hospital and told her that her grandfather wanted him to take good, good care of his little Violetta. But it was okay, because the Cadaverini family didn't hold a grudge. Everything could be worked out given enough time. And it was a good rate. Sooner or later he was going to be able to pay the bills. Until then, she was in good hands. He didn't talk back to her. Ever. He always gave her a job to do. She always had something to do around Tender Lender, even if it was only the responsibility of baking a fresh batch of
Mmm. Just like her father used to make a long, long time ago. Maybe Don Tigre was almost sort of kind of like another father. Rough around the edges, though. Spiky. He was always nice but his voice was always a bit gruff, too gruff for her liking. Maybe that's just the way he was. He tried to smile, but it didn't look like the smile her grandfather gave whenever she went to meet him. And her grandfather was a pretty tough guy, but for a hardened old man he had a nice smile.
Sometimes when Don Tigre was giving her orders, he barked out and growled before he even realized, but of course he apologized. Eventually he stopped asking if she needed anything. Eventually he stopped asking her how her head felt long before the headaches ever really went away. Eventually he stopped thanking her whenever she brought him tea.
But money was good. Money was good. Anyone who came to Tender Lender must have known that. Eventually the money comes in. The word money always made Don Tigre smile. That was the only time he ever smiled. Not to her, not like that. But he watched over her. That didn't change. He always had one eye on her at all times when he was around. He liked to be around. Nobody else did. Nobody else ever came anywhere near her. He did. He had a bad habit of standing so close to her that she had to tilt her head completely upward to look into his face. It made her feel strange. She liked to come into the room quietly, and sometimes she caught him growling or muttering angrily to himself in the corner. Then an "Oh, Violetta! How youse doin', huh?" and a nervous laugh always made everything better. He was the only one who ever did that.
One day he asked her to do something important. He wanted her to do him a favor. He asked her in Tender Lender, when they were both alone. He stood between her and the door. She laughed. Of course, Don Tigre. After all, you know best. He held a little brown bottle and rattled it around. Come watch, he said. It was gonna be fun. Okay, she said. Don Tigre knew best. He took her to a restaurant. She had been there before. He had told her to tell the woman who owned the place that things could get a little "hot" soon. He was pretty insistent. The place had unpaid loans. Don Tigre really wanted the money. She said yes. Her grandfather knew a few things about fire. That was how he got people to listen to him. She wanted people to listen to her, too. Sometimes Don Tigre made her feel like a little corpse.
Then that one day he took her to that little restaurant. She sat and watched as Don Tigre slipped something into a man's coffee. It was okay; she made her own drinks anyway. She wasn't afraid. That's how things went. Later she pretended to poison a cup of coffee. It was salt instead. Don Tigre drank it and pretended to die.
They went back to Tender Lender, of course. Don Tigre took a pack of matches and a CD back with him. He said, "Don't tell anybodies about this, okay, Violetta?" Okay. There was no need for anyone to know, after all. He didn't listen to her any more. He took the CD out of his case and brought it somewhere. When he was gone, every little noise startled her and she looked at the door. It wasn't him. She was glad. A man came around in a blue suit and a little badge that made him look like Don Tigre did in his "outfit". He told her not to let that guy in again. She said okay. One day he went to court and he never came back. Maybe that was her fault, too. Maybe that was her doing, too. She was glad.
She could actually talk to her grandfather again then. Don Tigre had told her not to. Told her it wasn't necessary. Always stood between her and the door. Said he'd have the money. Well, he didn't need it anymore. He was gone. Her headaches went away. That was one problem gone. It was quieter without him. He used to call her "Violetta." That was her grandfather's pet name for her. "Violetta." Don Tigre was never going to call her Violetta again. Ever.