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Friday, October 9, 2015

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 6, The Extraction - Part 51

Chapter 55
Tony was finally serving the last course of the meal, tiramisu. Elaine knew it would be so incredibly light it would practically melt in her mouth.  It was his signature dessert.
He set the two plates down a little shakily.  "Has-a everything been all right?" he asked, looking from Cattoretti to Elaine.   It seemed that the preparation and serving of the meal had gotten Tony's mind off the unbearable situation they were in, but now that he was almost finished, he had become a fidgety, nervous wreck.
"It's all been wonderful, Tony," Elaine said in as soothing a tone as she could.
"Magnifico," Giorgio agreed.
"Should--would you-a like me to make coffee now?" Tony's voice trembled and was a half-octave higher than normal.
"Yes, please," Elaine said.
"No," Cattoretti said, nearly cutting her off.  "We have to talk about something important first.  Leave us alone for a few minutes, Tony."
As Tony walked away, Elaine braced herself for the worst, something despicable and loathsome, though she could not say what it was.  She had been secretly watching the sky for the past few minutes, hoping that the NATO helicopter with Nick would swoop down and save her, but she hadn't even seen so much as an airplane pass over.
"I want to talk to you about your husband," Cattoretti said.
Elaine tensed.  "What about him?"
"His life is in danger."
For a second, Elaine was afraid that Cattoretti had caught Nick, too, but she could not fathom how he could have done that.
"I know that Nick works for the CIA," Giorgio said.
Elaine frowned.  "Where did you get a crazy idea like that?"
Cattoretti studied her face.  "Don't try to tell me you don't know he works as a professional extractor.  Gene Lassiter knew about it when the Treasury Department sent Nick to Bulgaria to run the Secret Service Office there.  He told Viktor Zubov, and Zubov told me."  Giorgio hesitated, and said, "How can you live with that, by the way?  The father of your children, taking such risks?  And being a murderer, to boot?"
"Well, I don't know every detail about what Nick did before I met him.  It's his business."
"That doesn't change anything."
"What do you mean?"
"The fatwah is still out on him.  And from what I hear, the amount on his head has been upped to three million dollars."
Elaine swallowed, now unable to hide her fear.  "How could you possibly know something like that?"
"Before I came here, I made a short trip to the Ukraine, which you may already know..."
She did not respond to this.
"In any case, I have an old friend in Kiev, a confidant, I suppose you would call him, an arms dealer who has done business for years with the Chechens and other Islamic extremists.  He's apolitical, loyal to no one, will sell to any customer with the money.  We got to talking and I mentioned you and Nick, and he told me about the fatwah and the new price on Nick's head."
Elaine tried to maintain her composure, but it was difficult. 
Cattoretti just sat there, watching her.
"Why are you telling me this?" she finally said.
Looking into her eyes, Giorgio said, "Elaine, I just want you to know that no matter what happens, I'll always be there for you."
* * *
Elaine sat there while Cattoretti quietly ate his tiramisu, watching her with his one eye.  Her dessert remained untouched in front of her.
Her emotions swirled around inside her like a tornado, an awful black feeling about the news regarding Nick, coupled with a deep hatred for the man who had just given it to her.  She told herself not to believe a word of it.  Cattoretti was just trying to scare her and manipulate her, like he always did.
She pushed her chair back and stood.  "Can Tony and I go now?  I assume you've said everything you wanted to say."
Giorgio calmly pulled his pistol from his jacket and motioned to her with it.  "Sit down.  You leave when I say you can leave."
"What are you going to do, shoot me?"
"I will not hesitate to wound you, if there is no other alternative.  Now sit down."
Elaine slowly settled back into the chair.  She wanted to scream obscenities at him, call him an animal, a maniac, a twisted, sadistic monster, but what good would it do?  Now, she was actually glad he had actually leveled the gun at her.  Being reminded that he was a ruthless criminal made it easier to deal with him.
"You can dress me up in all these beautiful clothes--and I love them, I really do--but underneath, I'm still a Secret Service Agent.
He let out a little chuckle.  "And what is that supposed to mean?"
It was time to play her ace in the hole.  "It means that you're not in as powerful a position as you think you are."  She paused for dramatic effect.  "We have Pablo."
Giorgio blinked once.  "Who?"
"Pablo.  Your son."
Cattoretti was silent for a few seconds, then said, "Lexy's been filling your head with her fantasies.  That baby isn't even mine.  She's just after my money."
"It's no fantasy, Giorgio.  Your alias, Xavier Dente, is on his birth certificate and his passport, which you made for him yourself.  I've seen copies of both."
Now The Cat looked a little pale.  "You're bluffing."
"Have you talked to Anders Lundstrรถm lately?  Or have you been too busy to call Gotland Island?"
Elaine reasoned that if Anders had caught Lexy and recovered the child, he probably had no way to contact Cattoretti the past few days, and she was betting that Cattoretti had not contacted him, either.
Giorgio's eyes were wide with shock.  He leapt up from the chair, knocking his dessert plate off the table, and pointed the gun at her again.  "I say you're bluffing..."
"Am I?  Why don't you call Anders right now and find out?"  
Keeping the pistol leveled at her, Cattoretti pulled a cellphone from his pocket.  He clumsily dialed with one hand, clearly rattled by what she'd told him.
Now, Elaine thought.
She lunged forward and flipped the table onto him.  The weight of it, along with the dishes and glasses and wine bottle, slammed into his knees, the table top shattering on the tile.  The impact knocked Cattoretti backwards, towards the pool.  He teetered on the edge, madly swinging his arms, trying to regain his balance.  The telephone flew from his hand, skittering across the tile.
Elaine dove into him, head-butting him in the stomach.
They both went into the pool.
Elaine clawed at his face as they thrashed about in the water, bubbles swirling around their heads, both trying to find the gun--it was no longer in Cattoretti's hand.  In the struggle they both lost their shoes.  Cattoretti kicked wildly at her with his bare feet, and she kicked back with hers.  He tried to grab her leg.
Still holding her breath, Elaine's eyes were wide open, searching for the gun, but everything looked blurry underwater.  One of the lights in the pool was right in her face, blinding her.
Now Cattoretti was trying to get his hands around her neck.
Elaine broke free of his grip and dove deeper, desperately searching for the pistol--the pool was only about five feet deep on that end.  Cattoretti kneed her in the stomach but she barely felt it, as the power in all of their kicks and punches was retarded by the density of the water. 
She finally spotted the pistol lying right underneath the light, leaning partially against the pool's wall.  With his visual disability, she didn't think he'd seen it.
She lurched for the weapon, with Cattoretti trying to grab her legs and feet with her kicking back.  He finally clamped his hand around her left ankle, pulling her back towards him, but she kicked him hard in the face.  This time she felt his nose crunch under her heel.
At last her fingers made contact with cold metal and snatched the gun up off the pool bottom.  In a flash, she stood up and pointed the gun over the surface of the churned-up water.
"Freeze!" she yelled as he brought his head up, but Cattoretti ducked back underwater, turned, and started swimming hard towards the other end of the pool, staying near the bottom and moving incredibly fast.
Elaine aimed the gun at the vague form moving away from her, unsure of what to do.  She sloshed towards the ladder to climb out, keeping the weapon aimed at him.  He was swimming towards the far end of the pool, where the surface of the water appeared to drop off into nothingness.
He shot up out of the water.
"Stop!" she shouted, but he rolled over the side and disappeared.
For an eerie couple of seconds Elaine heard nothing but the sloshing of water, and she wondered if there was actually a sheer drop off on the other end.
Then Cattoretti sprang up from somewhere to the left of the pool.  He darted across the far side of the patio, soaking wet, blood gushing from his nose, his bare feet moving so fast she had trouble following him with the pistol. 
"Halt!" Elaine yelled again.  She clumsily fired off a round towards his ankles, but missed completely.
He darted through the door to the kitchen and disappeared again.
Elaine chased after him, veering to the side to scoop up the cellphone that had flown out of his hands earlier.  She slowed when she reached the kitchen, afraid that he might have retrieved another gun, waiting to ambush her...but then she heard a door bang shut.
Tony's head popped up from behind the island in the middle of the kitchen.
"Where is he?" Tony whispered, looking terrified.
Then they both heard a car door slam outside and the sound of an engine starting.
* * *
Elaine sprinted out of the front door of the villa just in time to see the little white Clio rolling backwards out of the driveway and onto the road. 
She dropped to a squatting position and tried to aim the pistol at the tires, but the car was so far away she merely stood up again as it tore off down the highway. 
She streaked down the driveway, with Tony on her heels, looking up and down the dark road--there was nothing in either direction, not even another house in sight.
There was no way to catch him--he was going to get away!
Elaine looked down at the cell phone in her hand...the screen was cracked, but the display was illuminated and the device seemed to be working.
She quickly started punching in Nick's number.
"He's coming back!" Tony cried.
Elaine looked up and saw a pair of headlights approaching from the same direction Cattoretti had gone. She started to raise the pistol, but the car slowed when the driver spotted she wasn't sure whether it was Cattoretti or not. 
No, the vehicle was much larger than the little Clio, she could tell that much.
Elaine stepped into the middle of the road and began waving both her hands above her head, the pistol in one and the phone in the other.  She had no problem appropriating a vehicle from a civilian--this was an emergency.  She was afraid the gun would scare them away...but the car sped up aggressively, the engine roaring. 
It was going to run her down!
Tony screamed. 
Cattoretti must have switched cars, Elaine thought numbly, as it bore down on her, the lights blinding her.
She raised the pistol to aim at the windshield, then changed her mind and turned to dive into the ditch, but at that instant the driver slammed on the brakes. 
The vehicle screeched to a halt only a few feet in front of her, the headlights in her face.
The door flew open.
To her utter amazement, Luna trotted up to her.
"Thank god--are you two all right?"

"We've got to catch him, Luna, he's getting away!"

(to be continued on Monday!)
Special thanks to Author Devika Fernando for pre-proofreading this post.

New to the Lust, Money & Murder Series?  You can download Book 1 free here.