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  • Susan Russo Anderson

The Plumber

Here’s a scene from Fina’s latest standalone, Death on Atlantic Avenue. It’s told from the point of view of Fina’s half-sister, Kate. From her first appearance two books ago, she becomes an important character in the story—in the plot and in Fina’s character development. In this snippet, she meets a plumber who becomes a friend.

He was late, over an hour. Finally, the plumber called Kate, saying he had to reschedule. He made no apology.

“At the last moment?” she asked him. She could feel her cheeks burning. Lorraine had warned her about local handymen. “Much easier to get plumbers and carpenters in Brooklyn than in Manhattan, but only if you’re willing to wait. Their sense of time can be elastic.”

“It’s my boy,” he’d said by way of excuse. “Trouble at school and I’ve got to straighten it out. I’ll be late, about forty-five minutes or so.”

Kate would have called another plumber, but she didn’t know anyone else, and the owner of the deli next door advised her to wait for him. “If he had to reschedule, I’m sure it was an emergency. He’s the best. And the cheapest.”

That last word convinced her to keep the appointment because the trickle in the back room sink had become a steady leak. That plumber, Lucas somebody, had better be good in addition to being reasonable.

The more she thought about it, the angrier Kate became, but there was a customer, a regular, who needed her help, a woman whom she’d seen in the neighborhood and who kept returning, maybe because of the buffet Tessa arranged each day filled with snacks, lovely petit fours costing fortunes from Caputo’s bakery. That first day when she entered, smiling and listing from side to side, Kate knew the woman was authentic Brooklyn. With her mouth full, the customer said she was interested in the dining room set it had taken Kate and Tessa almost a full day to haul up from the basement and arrange in the window. The woman, Gladys Garibaldi, with her broad shoulders clad in a fuchsia tent dress—the kind her mother used to call a muumuu—stood in the center of the room, biting into the last of the pastries, one arm held in the air like a flabby statue of liberty while she finished chewing.

“I need a dining room suite”—suite pronounced as if she were talking about a suit—“and this’ll do just perfect, I said to myself last week when I saw it in your shop.”

“We put it in the window yesterday.”

Gladys smiled. “No matter. Course, I’ll have to take the measurements. I’ve got a small dining room, you see, and I’ve forgotten my tape.” She hefted herself up onto the display platform and touched the table, bending over to inspect the underside. She fingered the tag, smearing chocolate over the price. “Is this the total cost, I mean, for all these pieces?”

Kate nodded. Instead of letting the woman do the work herself, she got out her yardstick, and after measuring the length and width of the table, gave the numbers to the customer. “And it comes with two extenders, so you can seat eight or nine comfortably, even squeeze in twelve.”

“Nice to know.”

Kate could tell she wasn’t going to buy.

“Do you give senior discounts?”

That was something Kate hadn’t considered. She was about to shake her head when the silver bell tinkled and a man and young boy entered.

Gladys Garibaldi lumbered off the platform, eyes wide.

The man stood for a few seconds, a bucket of tools in one hand. “You called for a plumber?” he asked Kate.

He turned to Gladys. “How’s everything, Mrs. Garibaldi? Your tub okay?”

The little boy did his best to hide behind his father.

“You don’t mind if I pay you next month? I’m a little short right now.” She looked at Kate while she answered, as if the plumber didn’t exist.

“Take all the time you need. I’m in no rush. You and your husband have always been good customers.”

He was tall and blond and strong, Kate could tell by his handshake as he bent to her and introduced himself. His blue eyes were almost indigo. “Lucas Bass,” he said, “and this is my son, Henry.”

Kate leaned down and stuck out her hand to Henry and he shook it. She was not too comfortable talking to children. Tessa would have had him laughing by now, but Kate took her time. She saw that his two front teeth were missing and asked him if the tooth fairy remembered to pay him a visit.

He shrugged. “My dad said you’re Tessa’s friend.”

“We’re in business together, and yes, we’re the best of friends.”

“How come she’s not here?”

“She does a lot of work for the store, like finding things to sell, and that’s where she is right now.”

He nodded, as if he understood. “We read together. Sometimes we go out for ice cream.”

“I like your baseball cap. You like the Yankees?”

“What’s not to like?” He grinned and held out his hands, palms up.

“Good ironing job on the shirt, too. Your mom did it, I’ll bet.”

He looked down and shook his head.

“Do you like helping your dad, Henry?”

He shrugged, holding up his palms again. Grinned.

Judging by the grease on Lucas Bass’s clothes, it seemed like he’d been working all day in basements with dirty pipes. But his hands were clean, as if he’d freshly washed them, and Kate smelled the faint scent of sandalwood. He stared at her a moment too long, so she took a step back. “Is this the little boy who caused you to reschedule?”

Photo: Cover, Death on Atlantic Avenue. Cover design, Avalon Graphics

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