Episode 22: Luchador

Kostamo hears singing and a guitar playing through the open upstairs window as he walks toward the apartment building.  Fifteen seconds later he knocks on the door.  The guitar stops.  Who is it?  Bettina asks.  Kostamo.  He hears voices talking, and Lana opens the door, and peeks out.  Are you okay?  She asks, concern in her voice.  No, he says quietly.  Bettina joins Lana at the door.  Do you want to come inside?  She asks.  He nods.  Lana motions him to follow her and leads him to the small kitchen table while Bettina grabs a glass from the cabinet, and fills it with cold water from the fridge, and then slices a lemon, and hangs it on the glass.

Do you want anything?  She asks Lana.  Lana shakes her head no, and motions Bettina to join them at the table.

He takes a sip of his water, and then sets the glass down.  Toni is pregnant.  Bettina closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.  And she hasn’t told me yet.  You know this how?  Bettina asks.  One of my men followed her to a medical building, and afterwards she sat crying in her car.  Inconclusive.  Lana says.  I had one of my guys break in and look at her records.  Conclusive.

What should I do?  He asks.  Marry her before Mike falls for her and raises your kid as his own, Bettina says.  Lana?  He asks.

What if all your assumptions are wrong?  It’s not mine, really?  Kostamo says disdainfully.  Bettina frowns at Lana.  That wasn’t where I was going, Lana tells them.  Samantha Zeller is Toni’s roommate.  If Toni asked for her advice and help on getting you back, it might play out similar to this.  So it’s suspect.

Point taken, Kostamo says.  And yet if it’s real?

Mind if I make a call? Bettina asks.  Your dad?  She shakes her head no.  Raul.  He’s probably seen a lot of this when he was a parish priest.  He’s not going to talk to me, Bettina.  May I call him?  Don’t go into specifics over the phone, he replies.

She finds his number in her smart phone and dials it.  Yes.  Raul, it’s Bettina.  Hello, Bettina.  Will you stop by the apartment?  I need your advice.  It’s urgent and important.  I’m leaving the store right now, he tells her.  Thank you.  She hangs up.

He’s on his way.  What if it’s for real? He asks Lana again.  Common law marriage.  I don’t understand, Bettina says.  They each wear a wedding ring and hold themselves out to the public as husband and wife, but there is no marriage license.  Why?  The state of Louisiana doesn’t recognize them. Toni leaves and she loses everything.  No alimony, no splitting of the marital assets, and he’ll get the kids.   Lana!  Bettina says in a shocked whisper.  Kostamo is my friend, Lana replies.  I’m not worried about him doing right by Toni.  But he needs to protect himself if he’s going to give her a second chance.

Bettina frowns.  I don’t like it.  I don’t like it either, Lana replies.  But I’m trying to think of what would be best for the children.  They needn’t ever know, and you can make it official after she’s borne you seven sons and three daughters.  His jaw drops and he looks at Bettina.  Lana doesn’t believe in birth control, Bettina explains.  We’ll see if you think differently after your first.

Lana gives her a look.  I’ll tell you what my mother told me.  That you won’t get pregnant as long as you’re breastfeeding.  When the child is weaned, then your body will be healthy enough for childbirth again.  What?  Look at all the genealogies in the Bible.  They’re spaced two to three years apart.  Not Irish twins.

That is so demonstrably false.  I have friends from college who’ve had kids back to back…while breastfeeding, Bettina states in triumph.  Because baby slept in a crib, and was fed on a schedule, not on demand, Lana replies.  What?  I slept in my parent’s bed until I was weaned.  And I got fed whenever I was hungry, which was all the time.  Talk to my mom if you don’t believe me.  I will, Bettina states emphatically, and looks at Kostamo.  That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard, he tells Lana.  She shrugs.  It used to be common knowledge, passed down from mothers to daughters.  But then came the 1960s and the pill.  Now I’m labeled a crazy person because I believe my mother over science falsely so called.

I love living with you, Lana.  Bettina says with a big grin.  She looks over at Kostamo.  Lana is such a talented singer.  Will you play “Wonderwall” for us while we wait for Raul to get here?  Lana looks between Bettina and Kostamo.  Please, Bettina begs.  For Toni, because she was the one who told me that it hurt her heart to hear you sing it when you were at police academy together.

I’ll sing it for Toni, Lana says as she gets up and heads into the living room.

The silence after Lana has finished singing is interrupted by a knock on the door.  Bettina gets up and goes to the door.  Who is it?  Raul.  She opens the door and steps into the hall, and closes it behind her.  Lana takes off her guitar and goes over and sits next to Kostamo on the couch.  A minute later Raul and Bettina come in.  Hello, Raul.  Lana says softly.  Hello, Lana.  Bettina points to a cushioned chair, and goes to get Raul a glass of water.  When she comes back, she sits on the other side of Kostamo.  She looks at Lana.  Kitchen table?  Lana nods and they all get up and head there.

After everyone is seated, Bettina looks over at Kostamo.  I told him that you were here, and asked if he’d be willing to hear what you have to say.  He agreed.  Thank you for coming, Lana tells Raul.  He nods and looks across the table at Kostamo.

Toni is pregnant, and she hasn’t brought it to my attention.  I had to find out through other channels.  Lana raised the possibility that she’s faking, abetted by her roommate Samantha, who would have the wherewithal to plant a false medical report in her file, knowing that I would find it.

Raul looks over at Lana, who is looking down at the table.  Why do you think she’s faking?  I don’t believe that Toni would drink if she suspected that she was pregnant, and because of her proximity to Sam, who has gone out of her way to help Toni before.

Bettina, having heard all of this, if you had to place odds on Toni actually being pregnant, what would they be, in percentage terms.  70%.  Bettina answers promptly.

And if he sits on his hands and waits for her to start to show, one of the guys in the band will step up, and it will be too late.  Which guy?  Raul asks.  Mike.

Two wrongs don’t make a right.  Raul says.  What you just outlined might be the best possible outcome, he tells Bettina.  He falls in love with her and is willing to raise the child as his own.  This happened before I met you.  I’ve got a past too.  Let’s start with a clean slate.   And he imagines that my bartender is the real father of Toni’s child, and withstands the beating that he’s going to receive, and ends up winning the fight against the odds.  And she’s so proud of him, and he proposes and they’re married right away. His name goes on the birth certificate – of the twins.  And they grow up in Detroit, in a home where love is.

Everyone is silent.  I’m so glad you came, Bettina finally says.  Kostamo looks at Lana.  It’s a mess, she sighs.  If I’m right, then Sam and Toni know that you now know.  And now you’re not only obligated to step up, but also to make the first move.  And if you step up, Mike and the guys will step back.  It’s just the way it is.

How should he step up?  Raul asks her.  Do you know what a common law marriage is?  When a couple cohabits together for seven years, they are considered married. Lana shakes her head no: length of time has nothing to do with it.  It’s holding yourself out as man and wife in public, without a marriage license from the state.  They would still take vows and exchange wedding bands, and she could take his last name.  Raul looks at her with a puzzled expression on his handsome face.

The material point, Raul, is that Louisiana doesn’t recognize common law marriages.  If she divorces him, she gets no alimony, no marital assets, and hence no custody of the kids.  Raul looks at Bettina.  She’s on his side, Bettina explains.

Faking or not, she won’t benefit from being married to him unless she stays faithful.  And when she proves herself to be a devoted wife and mother, then he’ll make it official.  The children will never know and will be raised in a secure home.  

Bettina takes Kostamo’s hand.  I’ll be praying for you.  Lana takes his other hand. Do the hard thing and it’ll get easier with time.  Raul looks between them.  I’ll be going now.  And gets up from his chair and heads toward the door.  Bettina follows him.   Thank you so much for coming, Raul, and for what you said.  Goodnight, he tells her.  Goodnight.  Drive safe.