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Thursday, April 27, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 29


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Elaine was led into a small room with a closed wooden marker board on the wall and a long, finely-polished walnut table. There were only two chairs at the table, facing each other, with a notebook and pen positioned in front of them. Two heavy crystal glasses and a carafe of fresh water were positioned to the side. The warm smell of food wafted into Elaine’s nostrils. A cloth-covered table was elegantly outfitted with tea and coffee dispensers and trays of croissants, cheeses, finger sandwiches...
“Please have a seat,” Bella said. She motioned to the chair facing the door.
Elaine hesitated, glancing at the other chair, but when she looked back at the woman’s face, she got the impression that the seat she was pointing to was the “candidates chair” and that Spyro Leandrou preferred the other.
Elaine sat down, but she didn’t like the arrangement—the position would put Leandrou between her and the door. A former basketball star, he was six foot three. He would make a formidable barrier.
“Please help yourself to whatever you want,” Bella said. “Mr. Leandrou will be with you in a moment.”
“Thank you.”
Bella left Elaine alone in the quiet, windowless room.
Elaine straightened up in the chair, assuming a military posture. She glanced over at the coffee dispenser, but another shot of caffeine was the last thing she needed right now. Her heart was pounding with such intensity that when she pulled out her own notepad and opened it, her hands pulsed with the rhythm. She had made sure she wasn’t followed here, when she was on the tube, but once she arrived there was no way to tell if Leandrou had his security people waiting in the lobby or outside on the street—the building was simply too busy.
The thing she feared most was that Spyro Leandrou would somehow recognize her, even though she was sure that she did not particularly favor either her mother or father. People had often commented on that when she was a child.
Now, she sorely regretted her decision not to take along any of her real identification. That was really stupid, she told herself. It might get me killed.
She took three long, deep breaths to steady herself.
Just as she exhaled the third time, the door handle turned.
A tall man stepped into the room, a leather notebook in his hand. There was no doubt he was Spyro Leandrou. He looked much older than in his passport photo, his black hair shorter and styled, sprinkled with grey. He was wearing expensive slacks and a tweed sport coat over a cashmere sweater. A little stocky, Leandrou appeared in good shape, his body filling out his clothes in an athletic way.
With his long nose and dark eyes, his face had the hawkish features of a predator.
He smiled and stepped over to her, setting his notebook down on the table and extending his arm. “Spyro Leandrou.”
She stood up and gave a cordial smile.
There was no look of recognition on his face, thank god.
“Patricia Carter,” she said. It was hard to suppress all the anguish she felt at meeting her father’s murderer face-to-face, even though she only had Kathy’s word that he had put out a contract on Patrick.
When she reached out and shook hands, she had an unsettling feeling the instant their skin made physical contact.
There was something strange about his grip.
When his hand let go of hers, she realized it was not a real hand, but a prosthetic one. It was flesh-colored and soft, but as he lowered it to his side, she could see spaces between the joints of his fingers.
“Nice to meet you,” Spyro said, and he pulled out his chair and sat down—if he had noticed her reaction to his fake hand, he didn’t show it.
“Nice to meet you, too, sir,” Elaine said, and seated herself as well. Why hadn’t Kathy told her he had a prosthetic hand? Everything else about him seemed normal.
He leaned back in his chair, his brown eyes riveted on hers. There was an odd, knowing look on his face.
Elaine felt her pulse rising again.
“So,” he said, smiling. “You thought you were going to be a spy, huh?”
Panic flared inside her. Play dumb—deny, deny, deny!
“Excuse me?” Elaine said.
Leandrou’s smile broadened, and he flipped open his notebook. She recognized the résumé she and Luna had spent so many hours on, with the name Patricia Carter at the top. There were lots of notes scribbled in the margin.
“You went to West Point and studied Russian language,” he said casually. “I just figured you must have been planning on becoming a spy back then, huh?”
“Oh,” Elaine said, with a chuckle. She felt dizzy with relief. “No, I didn’t really plan on becoming a spy. I was simply interested in learning the Russian language, just for the challenge of it. It was either that or Chinese.”
“I see.” Using his left hand, he picked up the résumé and started skimming through it—the other hand was in his lap, out of view. “You certainly have an unusual background. I’ve reviewed hundreds of résumés for governesses over the past eight years, but never one quite like yours.” He looked up at her again. “You made such an about-face in your career, if you’ll pardon the pun. To educate yourself as a military officer and then become, well, a nanny, if you don’t mind me putting it that way...”
“I don’t mind, and the shift is not as strange as it might seem, sir.” Elaine shrugged, and she felt the perspiration on her shoulders. “I was an army brat, an only child, my father was in the military, his father was in the military—by the time I graduated from West Point, I’d just had enough of the military. The nanny career was totally unplanned—I’ve always loved children, pined for a little brother or sister when I was a kid. About the time I graduated, I heard about a job being a governess in France. It paid very well and let me see more of the world, so I took it.” She shrugged again. “And the rest, as they say, is history.”
He smiled. “I see.” Looking back at her résumé, he said, “You certainly covered a lot of ground during your childhood. Chicago, Salt Lake City, Portland, Charlotte, Dallas...”
“My father was an MEPS commander, sir. He headed up the centers that process new military recruits.”
“Yes I know. And please stop calling me sir. I feel like I’m on an army base. Mister Leandrou is fine...”
“Sorry, Mister Leandrou.” She shrugged, remembering to keep her shoulders back. “It’s an ingrained habit.”
“Military habits are good.” He looked back down at her résumé. “Pittsburgh,” he mused. “Pittsburgh is my home town, as a matter of fact.”
“Really?”
“Yes.”
“I lived there from age twelve to fourteen.”
“I see that on your résumé.” Leandrou gazed past her, a nostalgic look in his eyes, and then glanced back at her face. “You know what I miss most about Pittsburgh?”
“What’s that?”
“Those delicious meatball sandwiches. The first thing I do every time I go back to the Burgh is head straight over to Primanti’s and wolf one down.”
For a second Elaine was thrown—this didn’t make any sense. She hated to correct her potential employer during an interview, but...
“Primanti’s doesn’t serve meatball sandwiches. I think you mean Emperio.”
“Oh, yes, right. Emperio.” He smiled.
That was a test, Elaine thought.
He looked back at her résumé. “I had a friend who went to West Point.” He motioned to her and said, in a reverent tone, “Duty, Honor, Courage.”
“No, sir. I mean, Mister Leandrou. Our motto is Duty, Honor, Country. Not Courage. Country.”
Elaine was now very glad she’d done her homework. She had initially only planned to do Internet research on West Point, but Nick had pressured her into actually speaking with a female graduate and picking her brain. She had spent two hours on the phone with one found for her by the Secret Service back office.
Leandrou flipped his copy of the résumé over, looking at some notes he or someone else had made on the back. “At West Point, they don’t have freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. They call them something else...”
“Plebes, Yucks, Cows, and—” Elaine’s mind went blank. Totally blank! She raised her hand to her nose, feigning the urge to sneeze, and then expulsed some air through her nostrils. “Sorry.” At last it came into her mind, thank goodness. “Firsties.” She smiled, sniffling.
“I hope you’re not catching a cold.”
“No, no, it’s this polluted London air. I can’t say I’ll be sorry to move away from here.”
Leandrou turned the résumé back to the first page. “I apologize if I seem overly suspicious, Patricia, but I have to check everything. It’s for my son’s protection.”
“I understand,” Elaine said. Sweat was now running down her sides. “I would do the same if it were my child.”
         She hoped that no stains would show on her blouse when she stood up.

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