The Tagliabue Family…

I remember this moment like it was yesterday. It was outside the church, I saw the man and his children on their way in. I knew who he was, but played dumb. I asked to take their picture, for the church, y’know. Surprisingly, he said yes.

He didn’t smile, and the kids seemed to take the cue from their dad. The mom? Everyone knew she’d been gone for years. He said she left them, but the word on the street was he offed her after catching her in bed with his business partner. He was gone too.

Jimmy Tagliabue, or as most people knew him, Jimmy the Butcher. Word was, he could slice you to bits in less time than it took you to say “how d’you do?” But they never pinned anything on him.

So, there he was with his kids. The fine, upstanding family man. The boy, Jimmy Jr. and the little girl, Maria. I remember the day so clearly because it was also the day that Jimmy the Butcher died.

On the way out of church, on those very same steps, a woman came along that nobody knew and people who saw it all happen say Jimmy looked scared. And Jimmy never looked scared. She walked right up to him, standing there, holding his kids’ hands, and she shot him. Three rounds, right in the belly. She threw the gun on the ground and walked away. Everyone was too shocked to respond. She just walked away, and no one stopped her.

No one ever knew who she was either. Some think she was the sister of his missing business partner, and that may be so. Others think she was a woman Jimmy had a fling with, then jilted. And that could be true too. Jimmy was never one to keep it in his pants. But no one really knows.

The kids got taken in by relatives, of course. There would be no orphanages for Jimmy the Butcher’s little darlings. It wasn’t too long before Little Jimmy started getting into trouble. He started a gambling ring after school, taking lunch money from the other kids. Then he moved on to petty theft. By the time he was 12, he’d spent time in a Youth Camp and by the time he was 16, he was a regular. He never had Jimmy’s style, and certainly not his luck.

The little girl, though, she was different. Maria was a star. All through school, she got good grades, charmed her teachers, and won all the awards. She was captain of the cheerleading squad, and crowned both Homecoming and Prom Queen. At college, she kept up the grades and never seemed to have any problems. From the outside, everyone thought she was straight-arrow.

I lost track of her after college. I heard the occasional story. Maria was working in some politician’s campaign. She was opening a bookstore. The rumors flew, but they all seemed to say Maria had stayed away from the family business.

Thirty years later, I saw her again. A stunning blonde, all leg and sex appeal, wrapped in a bright red dress with lips to match. It was at the Governor’s Ball, and I was on my last assignment as a photographer for the paper. I was about to retire.

I got her picture and her name as she came in. Maria Tagliabue was all grown up and something to behold. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. And I couldn’t forget the time I’d seen her as a child, outside the church.

I did my job that night, taking pictures of all the beautiful people at the ball. But I also watched Maria, transfixed by the beauty she had become.

The Governor’s Ball was a lavish affair, but it was marred by tragedy. A prominent judge had a heart attack while at the ball, and one of the governor’s main opponents was caught in an unfortunate dalliance with a prostitute. That might not have been so bad, except the man was married and ran his entire campaign based on his Christian morals.

When I looked through the pictures from the night, though, I got a bit of a shock. I had to redevelop and zoom in on a few to see if I was really seeing what I thought I was.

One picture clearly showed Maria talking with the judge, she was handing him his drink. When I looked at the previous shots in the roll, there she was in the background, getting the drink from the bartender, the next shot I could just make out Maria stooping over a side table. Had she slipped something into his drink?

The other one was equally as uncertain. In a shot of the governor and his opponent, there was Maria in the background, chatting with the prostitute. In the next shot, she was clearly slipping the woman an envelope.

I was shaking, sweating with fear. What had I discovered? I pulled all the shots that could have been incriminating, and put them, and their negatives in an envelope in my safe. I told no one. The shots I turned in for the party were clean.

That was my last job for the paper. I took a month long vacation after that, and kept my suspicions to myself. But I made Maria Tagliabue my new hobby. Years of working for the paper had given my plenty of connections and I used them to get info. And what I found was surprising.

Though Jimmy the Butcher’s son hadn’t inherited his father’s abilities and slippery tendencies, his daughter had not only picked up the gene, she had refined it to an art. It was impossible to prove, but it didn’t take long to piece together a frightening picture about the beautiful woman with a tragic past. People around her died, or were caught committing crimes that were not only illegal, but shocking to those around them.

She had been married, twice. Her first husband died in a boating accident and her second died on the ski slopes in Colorado. Over the years, I followed her, watched her, and assembled pictures, stories, anecdotal evidence. I was careful. I didn’t want to get caught.

But somewhere along the line, I made a mistake. I got the note today. Handwritten on expensive paper. “We need to talk. Lunch, tomorrow at The Grange.” The note was signed simply “M”.

Ah, the WP Daily Post Writing Challenges … so much fun!