“It Was So Fascinating! Here They Were, in My Little House in the Suburbs, Trying to Plan a Murder!”
I say that life in Nashville, for all its faults, must at least feel peaceful compared with those bad old days.
"That’s true," Brenda concedes. "Down here, I never worry about anybody finding me. Up there, I was always a little bit worried. But, you know, I never worried too much. Joey Merlino has that little coffee shop on Passyunk Avenue? One time I walked right up to all of Joey’s goombas hanging, and I said, ‘Hey, does anybody have a quarter for the meter?’ I don’t know if they recognized me or not. I didn’t care. I’d go back to South Philly right now and eat at the Melrose."
Of course, with Brenda, you never know how to take things. Maybe taunting Joey Merlino was her death wish talking. This was the low point of her life, around when she walked into a Shop Rite in Somerdale, New Jersey, and got caught shoplifting sleeping pills. "I wanted to eat the whole container," she was quoted as saying at the time of her arrest. "I don’t have my kid, I don’t have my husband. Everybody hates me."
But maybe it was just Brenda being Brenda, which can be a pretty defiant, lawless and candid thing.
And that brings us more or less up to date. She got off with three years’ probation for her crime of obstructing justice (the false stolen-car report). Philip, on the other hand, got a stiff I2 and a half years for the crimes to which he confessed, and it’s federal time, meaning he’ll serve 85 percent of it, minimum. Brenda filed for divorce, then withdrew the petition just before Philip was slated to testify at her sentencing hearing, where he chivalrously and dutifully downplayed her involvement. Once she was sentenced, she decided to go ahead and get the divorce, against his wishes. Their son, Paulie, is still living with his grandparents — an eight-year-old kid with a false, Witness Protection Program-engineered identity. Brenda calls there regularly, she says, leaving messages on her former in-laws’ answering machine. For months, she called and never heard back. Then, out of the blue, the phone rings, and it’s her son, and they talk a few times. But for the past two months, she says, she hasn’t heard a thing.