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Friday, April 28, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 30


* * *
Spyro Leandrou began to ask easier, less stressful questions, and Elaine soon found herself on more comfortable ground. Though still guarded, he seemed more or less satisfied that she wasn’t an imposter. He quizzed her about her martial arts training, participation in outdoor sports, about the two previous governess jobs, and her relationships with the parents and children. It was all relatively easy, because she had real life experience to draw upon, that of raising her own children, her own martial arts training with Luna, etc. Yet, it was clear that he wasn’t paying close attention to any of the answers—he was just sizing her up, trying to get an idea of her personality and character simply by listening to her tone of voice and watching her body language while she talked.
At one point, he asked her which commercial home schooling package she thought was best.
Kathy had mentioned this, and Elaine saw it as an opportunity to win him over.
“Well, that’s something I feel pretty strongly about myself,” she said, but hesitated, pretending to be afraid to be honest.
“It’s okay, you can speak freely. I’ve tried several of them, have my own opinions. I’m just curious about yours.”
“Well, I personally think the best of the secular curriculum packages is the Atlas System. It’s head and shoulders above the rest. That’s just my opinion.”
Leandrou smiled, and Elaine relaxed a little more. From the look on his face, she knew she had scored some points.
Her relaxation was short-lived, though. The tall man leaned back in his chair, eyeing her curiously, and the look on his face made her feel tense again.
“Let me give you a what-if situation. What if on a trip to Paris, I pre-booked an expensive private tour of the Louvre, and then my son threw a tantrum on the spot, refused to go, and said he wanted to play outside?”
Elaine considered this. “I can’t imagine a son of yours not wanting to see the Louvre.”
Spyro laughed. “Nice try. Answer the question.”
“Well…” Elaine’s mind groped for a good answer. “Okay, your son is obviously athletic, so I would do my best to get him excited about seeing the statues of the top Greek athletes and challenge him to copy their poses and demonstrate them outside, afterwards.”
Spyro nodded slowly. “That could work.”
Elaine was relieved.
“I’d like to ask you one more question,” he said, “and it’s important, maybe the most important in the whole interview. Please be as honest as you possibly can when you answer.”
“Okay,” she said, bracing herself.
Why do you enjoy being a governess? What do you get out of this job, personally?” He motioned to her, glancing down at her body. “You’re an attractive, intelligent woman—don’t you want to have your own family, your own children?”
“That’s a very good question,” Elaine said, mainly to stall and gather her thoughts—she had prepared an answer for this one, of course. “Yes, I do want to have my own family. That’s extremely important to me, but I’m not quite ready for it yet. One of the things I love about being a governess is that it’s the perfect preparation for being a mother.”
“Yes, of course it is.”
“Plus, the pay most families offer is outstanding. I make much more than I could make working in the military or any other job I could get with my college degree at this point in my life. Usually a governess job comes with a generous salary, like you’re offering, with almost all the other expenses covered, so I can put a lot of money into savings. When I have children, I want to have a sizable nest egg accumulated so I don’t have to—”
“Depend on a man?”
“No, I wasn’t going to say that. I want the nest egg so I don’t have to work and can be a full-time mother, at least for the first few years.”
“You’re a bit of a feminist, aren’t you?”
Elaine hesitated. He seemed to be baiting her, yet she could not sense what the right answer to this might be. Kathy said he and his extended family were old-fashioned Greeks.
She finally gave what she hoped was a safe answer. “My father wanted a boy, and he raised me like one. I doubt I will ever be totally dependent on a man, but it’s no political agenda on my part. It’s just my nature. I’m very independent.”
Leandrou merely nodded. It seemed like she had passed the test, at least that particular test.
As he looked back at her résumé, she stole a glance at her watch.
10:50!
She could not believe she’d been talking to him for almost two hours. She felt oddly comfortable with him now, and she actually found herself liking him, at least the part of himself that he was presenting to her. He did not seem like the monster that her mother had made him out to be. But she reminded herself that the outward impressions people made could be deceiving—Giorgio Cattoretti could charm the pants off you one minute and the next minute choke you to death and throw you over a cliff.
She also reminded herself that this man had put out a contract on her father, a contract that had been successfully executed.
The last bit of her and The Cat’s most recent conversation popped into her head:
There’s also one more thing I can tell you about Spyro Leandrou with one hundred percent certainty.
What’s that?
He’s capable of murder. More than capable.

* * *
After a few more minutes of small talk, Leandrou glanced at his watch. “Well, I don’t have any more questions for you, so I suppose we’ve reached the time in the interview where I should ask if you have any questions for me. I’m sure you do...”
“Yes I do.”
He crossed his arms, his artificial hand flashing past her, which she avoided looking at. “Shoot.”
Elaine tried not to associate that word with the dark thoughts running through her head. She reminded herself that under ordinary circumstances, she would not know anything about him. “So you have just one child, an eight year-old boy, I take it?”
“Yes, that’s right.” Spyro beamed with pride. “Alexander. He’s an amazing kid.”
Elaine smiled. “And so it’s just you and your wife and Alexander?”
Leandrou hesitated. “It’s me and my second wife and Alex. I am married to the boy’s stepmother, not his actual mother. We have some domestic staff, of course. Our main home is in Greece, on Santorini Island.”
“Oh, how beautiful,” Elaine said. “I’ve seen pictures of those white cave houses—”
“We live in one of them,” Leandrou said, with a sense of pride. “Next question?”
Elaine hesitated. “This one may not be appropriate...”
“Go ahead and ask. I’ll decide whether it’s appropriate or not.”
“What happened to your last governess? Did she leave, or—?”
“Very good question, and completely appropriate.” Leandrou shrugged. “She violated the house rules.”
“House rules..?”
“No sex.”
Elaine blinked—that was the last thing she had expected him to say.
“What I mean is, if I were to hire you, you would be free on weekends to do whatever you want with your time, go wherever you want, but you can’t bring a friend home with you, no overnight guests.” He shook his head. “To put it simply, you can’t have sex under my roof, or on my property. With anyone. Period. Ever. It’s not that I’m a prude or anything, it’s for my son’s sake, and for yours. As his governess, he will have a certain image of you, as his teacher and caretaker, and if he’s aware of your sexual behavior it will shatter that image, the same as if you saw one of your esteemed professors having sex at West Point. That wouldn’t be good, would it?”
Elaine chuckled. “No, it wouldn’t.” Sexual misconduct. That’s why Kathy said the last governess was fired. She wondered whom Gwen had slept with, and how Kathy had managed to arrange the seduction, if that’s what had happened.
“Which also means,” he said, motioning to her, “that I’m not going to be making any passes at you—you won’t have to worry about that. I learned a long time ago never to mix business with pleasure.”
Elaine nodded. “That’s nice to know. I appreciate your directness.”
“Next question?”
It was time to ask the crucial one. But she had to set it up. With awkwardness that was only half-feigned, she said, “May I ask what you do for a living? I know almost nothing about you.”
“Oh, I own a bunch of different businesses—construction materials, adhesives, lumber, steel, cement—not very interesting, I’m afraid.”
“I see.” There was one business he owned which certainly wasn’t “not very interesting, I’m afraid,” and that was the mysterious Panacea. Which segued smoothly to her next line, but she had to tread carefully.
“The reason I asked,” she said, “is that if I can do anything else to help you—I mean besides serving as your son’s governess—I would always welcome more work.”
Leandrou’s eyebrows shot up. “The salary I’m offering you isn’t enough?”
“No, no, I didn’t mean that, it’s a generous salary. But I’m always happy to take on more duties.” She smiled.
Leandrou did not smile back. Now she was afraid she’d blown it.
He said, “I’m offering a job as governess, which is a demanding position. I wouldn’t want the person charged with that responsibility to be distracted by anything else.”
“Of course not,” Elaine said quickly. “I take my governess job extremely seriously. I only meant that there are a lot more hours in a day than seven.” She smiled again and tried to look apologetic. “I’m kind of a workaholic. The fact is, nobody can give me too much to do. And I like adding extra money to my nest egg.”
Leandrou nodded, and she felt like she had saved herself, but she wasn’t sure.
“I’m also happy to drive Alexander wherever he needs to go, to sports training or lessons or shopping. I have an international driver’s license and a perfect driving record, no tickets, no accidents.” The Secret Service had made sure of that.
“Our governess does not need to do any driving,” Leandrou said, in a snobbish tone. “Alexander is driven everywhere by a chauffer, accompanied by at least one bodyguard. I have to be careful.”
“He wouldn’t need a bodyguard with me,” Elaine said confidently.
Leandrou laughed condescendingly. “Excuse me?”
Elaine frowned, truly annoyed with his attitude. “I have a black belt in karate, and extensive skill in Krav Maga, Jujitsu, Tae Kwan Do. As far as firearms go, I’m thoroughly trained on a number of different pistols and rifles, and—”
“I hardly think you qualify as a bodyguard,” he said, glancing down at her preppie-looking clothes with even more condescension. “Having a little training in college is hardly the same as real world experience.”
Elaine shut her mouth. She could not help feel insulted by this. But of course she could not tell him about any of her actual field experience, or that she had killed before.
“Anything else?” he said, as if that line of discussion was closed.
She decided to take a risk. Glancing at her watch, she said, “Well, you should know that I’m interviewing for a number of other positions, and I’m determined to find one where I can take on some extra work besides governess duties, especially with families where there is only one child. There’s too much extra time, and I’m a very energetic person. I don’t like to laze around.”
Leandrou didn’t say anything.
“I’m good with computer apps—word processing, spreadsheets, all that. And I’m familiar with basic bookkeeping—I took some accounting classes at West Point.”
With little enthusiasm, he said, “Well, if I decide to make you an offer, we can discuss it.” He uncrossed his arms and put his hands flat on the table.
She willed herself not to look at his prosthetic hand.
“Anything else?” he asked.
“I don’t think so. I just want to say that I’ve really enjoyed meeting you, Mister Leandrou, and I hope you’ll seriously consider—”
“Oh, come on!”
Elaine blinked. “Excuse me?”
He raised the prosthetic hand in the air, the gaps in the joints clearly visible. “I know you noticed this—how could you not notice it?”
Now Elaine felt uncomfortable, but she allowed herself to focus her eyes on the hand, the mechanical fingers. “Yes I did.”
He rotated his wrist so that it was palm up. The fingers started slowly moving, one by one, making a soft whirring sound. “Kind of creepy, huh?”
It was. But Elaine didn’t respond.
“I lost my hand a long time ago, stupidly, when I was a young man.” With his left hand, he pulled up his shirt and jacket sleeves, revealing the interface where his forearm ended and the bionic device began. “There are sensors in the nerves of my arm muscles that tell the motors what to do. Every time there’s a major leap forward in prosthetic technology, I upgrade to the latest and greatest. It took a lot of practice to learn how to use this one.”
He rotated the mechanical hand again, palm down, which looked robotic, and extended the index with more whirring noises. “I can type, hold a mouse or a pen—this one can do just about anything a real human hand can do. And it’s a hundred times as strong.” He grinned. “Watch this.”
He reached across the table, set the hand down beside Elaine’s empty water glass, and—with more soft whirring—the fingers began to curl around it, covering the thick base. Now Elaine could see that imbedded in the pads of the fingers, and at several contact points on the palm, there were flat spots made of metal that were flesh-colored and had squiggly indentations, like fingerprints, for gripping. “The only problem is, it’s tricky to do certain things—it’s hard to tell exactly how much pressure I’m exerting.”
He slid the glass to the middle of the table. The whirring increased in volume and pitch as the fingers clenched the heavy crystal glass tighter and tighter.
Elaine jumped as the first crack appeared in the side.
The fingers continued to tighten, with more and more force, as more cracks appeared. Suddenly the middle of the glass shattered all the way up to the mechanical thumb, with the top of the glass still intact—that piece flipped over onto the table upside down, like a little crystal crown, the jagged edges upright.
The robotic fingers continued to tighten, the whirring sound getting more and more intense...and to Elaine’s surprise, she saw that he was not looking at the disintegrating glass, but at her face. More shards fell away from the glass until there was nothing left but the very bottom, the heavy, disk-like base. That piece cracked several more times until there was nothing visible, just glass fragments and dust falling from a completely clenched fist.
“The nice thing is,” he said casually, the fingers now unfurling, whirring more loudly, a few more small shards falling from it, “you don’t have to worry about cutting yourself.”
With his left hand, he reached beside the table and pulled a small trash can up to the edge. He began sweeping the pulverized pile of glass into it somewhat clumsily, moving his arm from the shoulder and elbow, the hand itself now dormant.
When he finished, he gingerly brushed off the prosthetic hand over the trash can, blew on it a few times, inspecting it almost lovingly, she thought, until he was satisfied all the glass fragments were gone.
He looked at Elaine and smiled. “Good as new.”
Elaine swallowed.
He closed the notebook and looked at her as if he were going to summarize his impression of her. “The military schooling you have is very good. I like that. Discipline is an invaluable quality.” He gave a rueful smile. “Trying to instill it in an energetic eight year old boy is a challenge.”
Elaine nodded. “I’m sure it is.”
He glanced at his watch and sighed, then stood up. “Well, I still have two more candidates to interview.”
Elaine stood up along with him, still feeling unsettled by what had just taken place.
“I should be able to let you know something by seven o’clock tonight, at the latest. I’ll call you personally either way. I owe you that much—you’ve put in a lot of time today.” He smiled. “And you’ve been a real sport answering all my questions.”
“It was my pleasure.”
He turned towards the door, then hesitated, as if thinking, and turned back to face her. “I have to admit, I’m very impressed with you, Patricia. This decision won’t be an easy one.”
Spyro Leandrou extended his right hand to her.
It took all of Elaine’s willpower to clasp it again.


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