Wednesday, April 26, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 28

Chapter 36

On Sunday morning, Elaine flew to London on her own passport and the MI6 agent picked her up at the Heathrow Airport. She had dyed her hair dark brown the day before, and she still jumped a little every time she glimpsed herself in the mirror. Nick didn’t like the look one bit—he said it made her seem too “serious.” Last night, he said he felt like a strange female had crawled into his bed when he woke up and glimpsed her the next morning. She took all this as a positive sign.
The MI6 agent’s house was located in Islington, just across the street from City University London. Elaine carried her suitcase upstairs to the guest bedroom and partially unpacked it. The bag contained her Sig Sauer pistol, broken down and hidden in the toilet kit, and another cosmetics bag that carried a variety of tightly packed electronic equipment that she would use to gather information on Spyro in the event that she actually got the governess job. She was prepared to stay in London if she was hired, and then to fly directly to Greece to start work whenever Leandrou wanted. Inside the cosmetics bag were two long-range GPS trackers, an RF detector to check for bugs, a new disposable phone that could be used in Greece, and some electronic bugs and receivers that she could plant herself in Spyro’s office or car, if necessary. She wasn’t sure she could risk taking the equipment with her—it would depend on how she went to Santorini Island, if she was able to get the job.
Elaine spent the rest of the evening holed up in the bedroom. She had almost no contact with the MI6 agent or her children. She was worried about the interview tomorrow. When she had called Bella Fotopoulos back yesterday, which she had done immediately after receiving the email in hopes of snaring one of the first interview time slots, she had found that there were no time slots, that the candidates would be interviewed in the order of their arrival in the morning—first come, first served. Elaine guessed this was a test of punctuality. Furthermore, she was informed that there was no time limit on the interviews and they could go on all day if “the client” so desired. Elaine had asked how many candidates had been shortlisted, and was surprised to hear that there were only three, including her.
When she tried to go to sleep in the unfamiliar bed, she tossed and turned, worrying that she would say something in front of Spyro Leandrou tomorrow that would blow her cover. She had no idea what would happen if the man were to find out that she was an imposter while she was sitting right across from him, face-to-face. She certainly couldn’t go to the interview carrying a weapon, even though she knew Leandrou’s security people could be close by. She and Luna had discussed it in detail and had decided that her only option would be to try to undo whatever mistake she made and, if that didn’t seem to be working, exit the building as quickly as possible, preferably through a back or side door, to make sure she wasn’t snagged by Leandrou’s men or followed. If she were to blow it, it wasn’t a total disaster unless Leandrou somehow figured out her real identity, in which case her mother might be in great danger.
Also adding to her insomnia was the full report on her father’s apparent suicide that she had received on Friday from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office. She had immediately forwarded it to Luna without opening the attachment, as she had promised. Luna told her that she would look it over this weekend, and let Elaine know on Monday what she found out, after Elaine finished the interview with Leandrou.
It was a long, sleepless night.

Chapter 37

The office building where the interviews for governess were being held, 30 St. Mary Axe, was more commonly known among Londoners as “The Gherkin.” The elegant cucumber-shaped structure was the butt of many a dirty joke and was located in the heart of London’s financial district. To Elaine, the cylindrical, gently-curved skyscraper looked more like a gigantic bullet that had been shot straight up out of the earth, spinning on its longitudinal axis, as real bullets do. Forty stories high, the building’s exterior was composed of triangular pieces of tinted glass arranged in a swirling, striped pattern and was an iconic part of the city’s skyline.
The MI6 agent did not know who Elaine was being interviewed by today, but she did know the general nature of the undercover assignment, and the danger it involved. She was able to supply Elaine with location information about The Gherkin’s elevators, emergency exits, stairwells, just in case Elaine needed to make a quick escape. She had also agreed to be parked near enough to the Gherkin to whisk Elaine away to safety, should the need arise.

* * *
Elaine arrived in the building lobby fifteen minutes early, at 8:45. She was damp from the waist down and the hellish ride on the tube took twice as long as it should have, but she made it. She was glad she had worn boots. She had trudged through the streets from the Moorgate Station, the closest one to the MI6 agent’s flat, the Circle Line train had remained stopped inside the tunnel between stations for about fifteen minutes. It was no more than forty degrees outside, with a typical winter London drizzle falling from the sky, yet the temperature inside the train car had to have been almost ninety degrees. She felt sorry for the others passengers, who had to endure this kind of thing every day—the miserable-looking Monday morning commuters were pressed up against each other like sardines.
The Vovus search firm was on the twenty-third floor of The Gherkin. As soon as Elaine stepped onto the crowded elevator, she tapped her umbrella against the floor to shake off the excess rainwater, trying not to get it on anyone else’s shoes. She was able to twist around enough to see herself in the mirror, and adjusted her new dark brown hair, still not quite accustomed to the color. She was wearing it down, straightened to fit her Oxford preppie style outfit—a tight, blue sleeveless dress, cut a little above the knee, over a cream satin dress shirt. She was wearing tan hose, and the boots were dark blue, made of suede. Her wool overcoat was light gray, and she had a cashmere scarf loosely pulled around her neck. She wore no jewelry except tiny diamond earring studs and an oversized watch.
She had decided that the Patricia Carter character she was playing would be a cross between Ms. Prentice, the director of the Bromley Academy, who was prim and proper, and a student she had known named Beth, one of her roommate’s close friends during her time in college. Beth was a shy and slovenly girl who was in the Air Force ROTC program at Brown University. Elaine met Beth several times during their freshman year. The summer following sophomore year, Beth went away to a basic training camp, and when she came back in the fall, the change in her was remarkable. There was a military air about her that was almost palpable, and the overall impression she made on people was much more positive. She seemed more disciplined and serious, and was more formal and polite in her verbal communication, speaking in a tone that was stronger and surer of herself than before. She was neater and better organized, too.
But probably the most noticeable change in Beth was that her posture had improved—she held her shoulders back, her head higher. Beth did not seem aware of any of this and was surprised when people pointed it out—the change had simply been conditioned into her over a period of months.
Elaine could understand why Spyro Leandrou thought that military training was a good thing. She had gotten a taste of it when she’d gone through her Secret Service training at Laurel. She hoped it was enough.
As the crowded elevator continued to rise in The Gherkin building, Elaine could feel her blood pressure rising along with it. People kept stepping off at various floors, the crowd thinning. By the time the doors closed again at the eleventh floor, she found herself alone. She looked into the mirror, threw her shoulders back, raised her head a little more, and peered into her own eyes through the mirror.
“My name is Patricia Carter, and I graduated from the West Point Military Academy.” She paused, then added, “Sir.”
This gave her a little more confidence. She was almost sure that no West Point graduate had ever applied for a job as Spyro Leandrou’s governess.
She needed to knock his socks off, as Tony would say.

* * *
A few seconds later, however, as she stepped off the lift on the twenty-third floor and headed towards the Vovus offices, she lost confidence and her anxiety peaked. She suddenly felt completely out of her league. She had impersonated people undercover before, but this Patricia Carter character was really pushing the envelope. She was about to be grilled face-to-face by a sophisticated, powerful man who would have her résumé in his hand and would be scrutinizing it, and her responses to his questions, for any cracks he could find. And he’d had almost an entire week to check her out based on everything she’d put on the résumé.
Now she wished she’d brought along her Secret Service ID. She had considered this, because if he caught her using a fake identity to try to get a job as his son’s governess, there was no telling what he might do, especially if he thought she might be working for a kidnapper.
When she entered the Vovus reception area, she was relieved to see there wasn’t a soul sitting on either of the two plush, modern red sofas that faced each other. She would be the first interviewee. Hopefully Leandrou could not spend too much time with her because he would have to get to the other two.
Elaine waited while the middle-aged receptionist talked on the phone to someone in Greek. The woman looked Greek herself, with an olive complexion and tight, wavy hair that was pulled back into a neat bun.
When she hung up and Elaine opened her mouth to say her name, she was so tense that for a terrifying split second she formed an “E” with her mouth.
“Patricia Carter,” she said.
The receptionist smiled. “Please make yourself comfortable. It will be just a few minutes.”
Elaine sat down and gazed out the window at the view, which would have been dazzling had the weather not been so dreary. Through the mist she could make out the River Thames meandering along the horizon...the Tower of London’s four majestic spires visible on this side of the water...London Bridge...the greenish dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral...
She heard the door from the outside corridor open again.
Here comes the competition, she thought.
A tall young man entered the office, wearing a well-tailored suit and carrying a leather satchel. He was rather good-looking, Elaine thought, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist, with the figure of an athlete.
So it wasn’t the competition after all.
He glanced around and walked over to the receptionist. “I’m here for the—”
Before he could finish, the door opened again, banging loudly. A shorter man about the same age entered, a folded, wet umbrella in his hand, who looked athletic as well. He was dressed in slacks and sport jacket and wore a green polo shirt underneath.
The first one turned back to the receptionist. “I’m here to interview for the governor job in Greece.”
“Me, too,” the second one said, stepping up to the desk and giving the first male a competitive glance.
Governor job? Elaine thought, taken aback. But then she remembered the advertisement: Governor/Governess Wanted. She had assumed they had posted it that way for legal reasons, but...
As the two men sat down on the couch across from her, Elaine felt even more insecure. They silently exchanged quick awkward glances, sizing each other up. Then they both looked at Elaine, and she turned her head and gazed out the window.
Dammit! she thought. Had Spyro Leandrou decided he might prefer a male tutor instead of a female this time? Surely not many of the applicants were men, yet two out of the three he’d chosen were male. Now she felt as if she were at a significant disadvantage. Worse: what if for some reason he had decided that this time he wanted to hire someone with a military background?
And then a terrifying thought struck her...maybe Spyro had already somehow found out that Patricia Carter was not a real person and he wanted to confront her face-to-face!
“Ms. Carter?” a female voice said from across the room.
Elaine turned and saw another dark-haired woman standing at an open door smiling politely at her, a slim notebook under her arm. “I’m Bella Fotopoulos,” she said, and stepped aside. “Will you follow me, please?
      When Elaine stood up, for a split-second she was afraid her legs would buckle underneath her.

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