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 haircolor. 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.
Excerpted from LADY KILLER © Copyright 2011 by Lisa Scottoline. Reprinted with permission by Harper. All rights reserved.