Friday, March 31, 2017

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

Chapter 7

At seven a.m. Monday morning, Luna Faye and Elaine Brogan left the farmhouse in Luna’s SUV, heading for Lyon. Kathy was still home with Nick and Tony, with both men keeping an eye on her.
Elaine and Luna spent most of the three-hour drive planning their pitch. Their appointment with Director Valdez was at 11:45—he grudgingly agreed to give them fifteen minutes between two other appointments. Valdez was the Service’s new Director of European Operations, the man who had replaced Raj Malik.
Luna reported directly to him.
Traffic on the A7 motorway was heavier than expected in spots, and it was already 11:25 by the time they reached the center of Lyon. Luna was driving aggressively now, passing vehicles at every opportunity, afraid they would be late for the meeting.
During the last few minutes, Elaine had grown quite tense. It wasn’t just because she was afraid they would be late for their appointment. She was bothered by the fact that the “informant” who had given them the financial information on Spyro’s holding companies was her own mother. This was clearly a conflict of interest on Elaine’s part and a blatant violation of Secret Service guidelines.
As Luna veered the SUV off the motorway and onto the Autoroute du Soleil, which ran alongside the Rhône River and led to Interpol Headquarters, Elaine decided she needed to give Luna an out.
“If you don’t want to take the risk and get involved in this, I don’t blame you. I can meet with Valdez by myself.”
“Don’t worry about it, baby-doll. I’m cool with it.”
“But what happens when Valdez finds out she’s actually my mother? He will find out, sooner or later, Luna. You know he will.”
Luna chuckled. “You’ll get taken off the case and have your wrist slapped.”
“And you?”
“What are they gonna do, fire me?”
“Yes, probably, if they find out you knew she was my mother.”
Luna shrugged. “You worry too much, baby-doll. If Spyro Leandrou is as crooked as we think he is, nobody will give a rat’s ass how he appeared on our radar screen. If he’s into drugs or arms trafficking, like we think he is, he’ll be a big score for Valdez, his first major collar in his lofty new position as Director of European Operations. He’s just getting his feet on the ground, and he needs a high profile bust under his belt. Besides, the FBI and IRS are already onto Leandrou, they don’t have any hard evidence yet.” Luna glanced at Elaine. “Be more confident, Elaine. After taking Raj down, you and I have some real clout—we be bad-asses now, girl.”
Elaine laughed, but she wasn’t so sure.

Chapter 8

Whenever Elaine visited Interpol Headquarters, where the Secret Service’s European Operations team was housed, she felt small.
Situated on a narrow strip of land between the Rhône River and a man-made lake in the Parc de la Tête D’Or, at first glance, the huge building might have been the corporate headquarters of some incredibly dull international conglomerate. The massive structure was arranged in a hollow square, with four sprawling wings surrounding a central courtyard, roofed by a glass pyramid six stories off the ground. Only the coiled razor wire that topped the green fence that circled the perimeter, and the heavily-armed gendarmes in camouflaged fatigues stationed around, tipped you off that this was nobody’s corporate headquarters.
Over six hundred people worked inside the complex. This included the relatively small United States Secret Service staff as well as law enforcement officials from fifty-four other nations. In addition, one hundred and twenty police officers on temporary assignment from Interpol member countries also had offices there.
Inside the main door was a swath of two-inch thick bulletproof glass emblazoned with the Interpol logo that protected the staff from attack. As would be expected, security was super-tight. Since Elaine’s official workplace was in Marseilles, she did not have an ID that gave her access to any part of the building.
After sliding her passport and Secret Service ID into a drawer that opened in front of her, she had to empty the contents of her bag and purse onto an X-ray conveyer, then step into a full body scanner.
“Sorry about that,” Luna muttered, when Elaine finally emerged on the other side. As she pieced her belongings back together, she was handed her temporary ID by a formal French receptionist who told Luna that she had to “remain with ze visitor at all times.”
They walked down a long hallway and into the light-filled atrium in the center of the building, which was lush with palms, ferns, and ivy. The elevator was inside a glass cylinder. After Luna inserted her ID into the reader inside, they took it up to the fifth floor where the Secret Service offices were located. In total, Luna had to use her keycard three times just to get from the lobby to her office.
As Elaine followed Luna through the maze of cubicles that was allocated to the U.S. Secret Service staff, Elaine felt self-conscious, and a little awkward. She and Luna may have been “bad-asses” now, as Luna said, but they were also distrusted, Elaine felt, by the rest of the staff, and to some extent, feared. Nobody liked whistleblowers no matter how heinous the crimes that their colleague(s) had committed. Most of the current agents were new to the Lyon office, as the staff had been shuffled as an extra security measure to cut any ties they might have had with Raj.
Martin Valdez had one of the larger, coveted corner offices, with a splendid view of the wide, green Rhône... To Elaine’s relief, they were three minutes early for their meeting, and his administrative assistant immediately buzzed him on the intercom.
The director rose from his desk to greet them and shake hands.
“Agent Faye,” Valdez said cordially, as they entered. He turned to Elaine and quipped, “And what do you know? Agent Elaine Brogan, the Queen of Counterfeits!”
Elaine laughed. “I’m not sure if I like that title.”
Martin Valdez was as straight as they came. After the scandal with Raj Malik, the Service took no chances with his replacement. A devout Catholic and family man, Valdez was almost a poster boy for Hispanic professionals at the Service. He was shoved into the limelight at every opportunity by the PR department to show how “diverse” the organization was now, and how high minorities could rise within its ranks.
But Valdez would have risen quickly with or without the PR department’s help. Graduating at the top of his class from Stanford Law School, he not only had a sharp, incisive mind, but the rare ability to make people feel immediately at ease around him, as if he was on your side and completely understood your point of view.
Elaine liked him. She had only met him a couple of times, but she felt no distrust coming from him. In fact, he seemed to be grateful for the opening in the organization that she and Luna had created by eliminating his corrupt predecessor. Rumor was that Valdez had long-term political ambitions.
He was dressed in a perfectly fitting gray suit with a dark red tie. Elaine was glad she and Luna both looked their best—she was wearing a navy business suit and flats, and Luna was dressed in a maroon pantsuit that was as intimidating as it was flattering.
As they sat down in the chairs opposite his desk, Elaine saw the top page of the file on Spyro Leandrou open in front of him—they had emailed it to him and he had apparently printed it out.
He motioned to the file. “Why don’t you walk me through this, Agent Faye. To be honest, I really didn’t have time to get into it...”
“No problem, sir.” Luna rose and stood beside him.  She began going through the printout, page by page, explaining all the shell companies, and how she thought Leandrou was involved in money laundering and possibly some large scale and very serious illegal activity.
When she finished, she sat down beside Elaine.
Valdez leaned back in his chair, thinking, gazing at the printouts. “From what I can gather, Leandrou is a respectable citizen in good standing with the community, at least in Pittsburgh, pays all his taxes, donates a lot of money to charities, and neither the FBI and IRS have been able to find a damn thing on him.”
“That’s certainly true, sir,” Luna said, “but both agencies want him investigated.”
Valdez laughed. “Of course they do.”
“Sir?” Luna said.
“They want us to stick our necks out to get the dirt on him, if there is any, and then they’ll rush in and take the credit when they collar him.  At the press conference, they’ll be at the podium, with us standing along the back wall.”
“But we do have more leeway to investigate abroad, sir. And we don’t really have to involve them, do we?”
Valdez glanced at his watch, sighed, and looked back at the printout. It was obvious he did not like the idea of going after Spyro Leandrou, but on the other hand, it was also obvious that he was tempted. Luna was right—a high profile bust would be a nice feather in his cap at this juncture. But was it worth risking a harassment lawsuit from Leandrou?
Frowning, Valdez turned to the very last page of the printout. It was a photocopy of the Panacea business card. “What the hell is this, anyway? You didn’t explain it in the text.”
“That’s because we honestly don’t know what it is, sir.”
As Valdez opened his mouth to say something else, Elaine pulled the actual card from her pocket and slid it across the desk to him.
He picked it up and inspected it closely. “Just looks like an ordinary business card to me,” Valdez said. He flipped it over, glanced at the blank back side, and flipped back to the front, then ran his thumb across the silky surface. “But a damn fancy one. Looks like they cost about ten bucks each.”
Elaine and Luna exchanged a glance—it was exactly what Nick had said.
Valdez didn’t notice, and he looked at Elaine. “What about an RFID chip?”
Elaine shook her head. “We checked.”
The director shrugged. “Then who knows? Maybe somebody gave it to Leandrou. It could be anything. It might just be a massage parlor in Athens.”
“Our source told us there was a whole box of them in his home safe.”
Valdez raised an eyebrow. “Your source...”
Luna glanced uneasily at Elaine. Her back was rigid as steel now, but she masked her anxiety.
 “Yes, sir. Spyro Leandrou’s wife. That was in the cover email we sent.”
“I saw that.” Valdez looked from one face to another. “What I want to know is, why exactly did Leandrou’s wife come to you? Why not the Greek police, if that’s her and Leandrou’s main residence?” Valdez frowned. “I don’t understand—how did she even find you two?”

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