Friday, March 24, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 5

Chapter 4

Elaine tossed and turned all night. She was so annoyed with Nick that she felt like making him go downstairs and sleep on the couch, or doing so herself, but there was no couch to sleep on because poor Luna was saddled with it.
When Elaine finally got up, she had a splitting headache. It took all her willpower not to march straight into the sunroom and call her office in Marseille and have the background check started on her mother. She knew that Josephine, a French administrative assistant, was working at the American Consulate this morning, and had the authority to do international criminal background checks. Elaine could call the airlines herself and use her Secret Service credentials to find the flights her mother had taken to get here.
Nick was probably right, though—Kathy did very likely have a different last name now. To find out what it was, she would have to snoop through her purse, and Elaine had noticed that she had taken it into the guest bedroom with her when she went to bed.
By the time Elaine went downstairs for breakfast, she had managed to calm herself down. Kathy was already up and in the kitchen, holding Amelia in her arms and talking to Tony, who was busy cooking and making coffee.
Kathy glanced at her as she entered the room. The tentative look on her mother’s face said that she hoped her daughter would be a little warmer to her after a good night’s sleep. Elaine forced a smile and felt a bit guilty that she couldn’t find it in herself to be more friendly, and more forgiving.
Soon, Luna, Nick and Ryan joined them. Elaine took Amelia in her arms as they all ate a ridiculously big, delicious breakfast, with Tony treating Kathy like a member of the Italian Royal Family. Elaine took some aspirin and her headache eased, but only somewhat.
The moment they finished eating, Ryan wanted to drag Kathy outside to show her the tricks he’d taught Juliet to perform.
“Romeo is too stupid to learn any tricks,” he said.
“Just like most males,” Luna muttered, which got a hearty laugh out of everyone.
Even though it was still cold outside—it was mid-January and the air did not warm up until the afternoon—Kathy put on her coat and followed Ryan out the door, looking delighted to have his attention.
She left her purse hanging on the back of the chair she’d been sitting in.
Nick noticed Elaine gazing at it, with temptation, and gave her an admonishing look.

* * *
After Elaine had a second cup of coffee, she went upstairs to her office and glanced down into the backyard, at Kathy and Ryan, in the morning sun.
The little boy was now running around energetically in the grass, showing how Juliet would fetch a tennis ball and, most of the time, return it to his hand. Kathy praised him, telling him how smart he was to be able to train the dog to do such impressive tricks. Kathy looked relaxed and somehow very grandmotherly in her light gray sundress.
Elaine felt her attitude softening. Dmitry had once used a rather beautiful Russian expression, utro vechera mudreneye, which meant “Morning is wiser than evening,” and she thought that it applied now, as the sun’s slanted rays poured through the windows. Kathy probably would make an excellent grandmother, Elaine admitted to herself...
Yet the suspicious feeling persisted. She simply did not trust Kathy Brogan. Why should she?
On the other hand, could Nick be right about her “issues?” Am I just holding a selfish grudge? she kept asking herself. After all, nobody was perfect, as Nick said, and Kathy was her own flesh and blood, the only living grandparent the kids had...
Elaine turned to her desk and gazed at the telephone, imagining calling Josephine. The administrative assistant would probably notice that the last name of the person she wanted to run the check on happened to have the same last name as Elaine. Well of course she would! The young French woman was too professional to say anything, but she might mention it to somebody else at the consulate, and that would not be good.
Elaine stood there at the sunroom window, motionless, thinking for a long time, and then an idea suddenly occurred to her, a way to get to the bottom of this situation that was simple and quick.
She picked up the phone and called the main consulate number.
Oui?” a female voice said. For security reasons, staff never answered the phone “American Consulate.”
“Good morning, Josephine, it’s Elaine.”
“Oh, good morning, Elaine.”
“I have a small favor to ask you. I planned to do some work at home today and I forgot to bring an important file from the office—could you have it couriered out to my house?”
Oui, I am happy to do it. Which file?”
Elaine gave Josephine the name of a random file she knew was on her desk and told her where to find it.
“Shall I go look for it now, with you on the phone?”
“No, I’m sure it’s there, just send it when you have a free moment. And could you call me back on my mobile and tell me what time the courier will get here? I’m in and out today.”
“No problem, Elaine, I will do it.”

* * *

An hour later, Elaine and Luna were working out in the exercise room, sparring, and having a little fun. Elaine had begged off the fifteen kilometer run that Luna had threatened her with at dinner the night before, and said she’d rather have a longer sparring session instead. Getting her blood flowing seemed to help her headache.
For her plan regarding Kathy to work, she had to keep close tabs on everyone and carefully monitor the time. Josephine had called back from the consulate and told her that the courier would deliver the file about 10:45. When the courier arrived, she wanted Kathy in the kitchen, preferably alone. At the moment, Kathy was back inside the house, with the kids in the kitchen, and Tony was doing laundry. Nick was out back, working on the gazebo.
At 10:35, Elaine told Luna that she had a cramp in her shoulder. This was the truth—the bullet wound Raj Malik had given her still gave her a little trouble.
“Sorry, baby-doll,” Luna said. “Then maybe you better give me that fifteen K you owe from that decadent dinner you ate last night.”
“Owe you?” Elaine punched Luna lightly in the stomach with her boxing glove. “You owe it to yourself, fatso.”
Luna gasped. “I’ll show your skinny ass who’s fatso!” She started chasing Elaine around the punching bag.
Elaine managed to dodge her, ducking around the swinging bag and running around it in circles four or five times, but Luna finally lunged at her and tackled her to the mat. She easily put Elaine in a playful headlock.
“Okay, I’m kidding, I’m kidding, I’m kidding!”
They both got up, laughing and catching their breath. Elaine glanced nervously at the wall clock again, and Luna caught her.
In a low voice, her friend said, “What’s going on, girl? Why do you keep checking the time?”
Elaine had filled her in on the situation with her mother, but had not told her the plan she’d put into action this morning.
“It’s nothing,” Elaine said. “Just something I have to do.” She turned and moved towards the door. “I’ll go upstairs and put on my jogging clothes. Be back in a minute.”

* * *
By 10:55, the gate bell on the console had still not rung, and Elaine was getting nervous, afraid the courier could not find the house or that something else had gone wrong. She stalled Luna about going on their run, saying she needed to help Tony sort the laundry before they left, then said her socks were uncomfortable and wanted to change into a thinner pair. Luna had become suspicious, but she didn’t say anything. Elaine had also asked Ryan to go change into warmer clothes, just to distract him and get him upstairs. Amelia was taking a nap up in their room. Nick was out in the backyard, hammering away on the gazebo.
At 11:00, the bell finally rang on the security console, the loud noise cutting through the air.
Elaine entered the foyer and reached the console just ahead of Tony, who was coming out of the laundry room. As far as she knew, Kathy was still sitting at the kitchen table, well within earshot.
The screen showed a dark minivan parked outside the gate. Elaine switched cameras to a side view.
“Who the hell is that?” she said loudly.
“I don’t-a know. Maybe it’s a courier?” Tony was the only one who was in on the plan, and Elaine had coached him about exactly what to say and do.
“I didn’t request anything from the office,” she said, still speaking louder than necessary. In an alarmed tone, she barked, “Go ask Nick if he’s expecting anything. I don’t like the looks of that driver.”
Tony trotted off, moving through the kitchen. Elaine heard him open the back door.
“What’s the matter?” she heard Kathy ask, but Tony didn’t answer, stepping outside. The door closed.
The bell on the console rang again. On the screen, she could see the courier looking up at the camera.
Elaine pretended to push the TALK button. “Who are you?” she barked suspiciously. “What do you want?”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her mother moving through the kitchen, purse in her hand. Kathy glided down the hallway as silently as a cat, passed behind Elaine, and disappeared into the exercise room.
Tony came back in through the back door to the kitchen. “Mister Nick isn’t expecting anything,” he said as he walked into the foyer.
Elaine motioned to the console and whispered, “You can let him drive in now.” She darted down the hallway, on Kathy’s heels.
When Elaine reached the exercise room door, Kathy was already opening the door that led out to the far end of the back yard.
“Going somewhere, Kathy?” Elaine said.
Elaine’s mother looked sharply over her shoulder, her fingers on the door handle. Her face was pale, and she was out of breath.
“I...I was just goin’ out to play with the dogs.”
“To play with the dogs,” Elaine echoed tonelessly.
She nodded to Kathy’s bag. “You’re taking your purse to play with the dogs?”
Kathy swallowed. She glanced anxiously behind Elaine, out into the hallway. They both heard Tony say over the console intercom, “You can pull in, I’m-a opening the gate.”
Kathy desperately eyed Elaine. “I...smoke cigarettes, a little, and naturally I don’t want to do that in front of the kids...”
They could both hear the sound of the minivan coming up the driveway. Terror was written all over her mother’s face.
“It’s okay,” Elaine said calmly. “It’s just a courier.”
Kathy looked desperately towards the hallway. “Are—are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure.” Elaine paused and asked pointedly, “Who else would it be, Kathy?”
Her mother chewed her lip, her blue eyes cutting to the back door as if she was considering making a run for it.
“You can relax,” Elaine said, a little disgustedly. “I called the courier myself.”
Kathy looked past Elaine, towards the hallway, listening. Tony was opening the front door and a man with a French accent said, “Delivery for Madame Elaine Bro-ghan.”
“I’ll sign for it,” Tony said.
Kathy hissed, “You tricked me!”
          “I tricked you?” Elaine pointed angrily at the exercise bench. “You sit down right now and tell me why you’re really here!”

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