Tuesday, April 4, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 12

Chapter 10

Croatia is a relatively new Eastern European state, a spinoff resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union and breakup of Yugoslavia. Located only a hundred miles directly across the Adriatic Sea from the eastern coast of Italy, it is relatively small, geographically, no larger than West Virginia. But what Croatia lacks in size, it more than makes up with culture, history and natural beauty. The country’s meandering, four thousand mile coastline encompasses hundreds of small islands bathed in crystal-clear water and teeming with hidden caves, coves and rocky cliffs. The mainland boasts fortified medieval towns, castles, breathtaking mountains, and some of the most delicious cuisine in the Mediterranean.
From the newspaper article Elaine had read about Cattoretti, she knew his diamond-cutting factory was located near Dubrovnik, a seaside town. Dubrovnik was also the country’s most popular tourist destination.
Elaine decided to travel there on her fake Jenny Johnson passport, and she bought her tickets with cash, taking a connection through Munich, Germany. If the Secret Service found out she was casually dropping in on the infamous Giorgio Cattoretti for a chat, it could be tantamount to treason. Neither Martin Valdez, nor anyone else, was aware of the ongoing “cooperative relationship” she had established with the wanted criminal. With the exception of Luna, as far as anyone at the Service knew, Elaine had not seen or heard from Giorgio Cattoretti since the night he had trapped her in the fire tower in Latvia and her husband had come and rescued her.
The plane landed at the Dubrovnik Airport at ten-thirty p.m. Elaine had never been to Croatia before, but Nick had been there twice on assignments when he worked in Bulgaria, and he raved about its beauty. As Elaine boarded the bus to the city center in the darkness, she could only vaguely make out the outlines of the surrounding mountains.
The next morning, when she opened the French doors of her hotel room and stepped out onto the tiled balcony, she gasped at the breathtaking view before her. The hotel was atop one of the steep hills of the Old Town, and the orange-tiled rooftops of the ancient buildings forming an uneven crown that gently rolled down to the seaside. Sailboats and cruisers were scattered across the harbor’s glittering turquoise water. In the distance was a lovely island, lush with trees and vegetation.
She was sure that, being the owner of a diamond-cutting factory, Giorgio Cattoretti kept the location of his private home top secret, but she hoped she could manage to find the factory itself and show up unannounced. That way, Cattoretti’s devious mind wouldn’t have a chance to dream up any way to take advantage.
Finding the location of his factory turned out to be much easier than Elaine had anticipated. Right in the hotel lobby, she found a bookcase full of brochures on various tourist destinations. Sitting front and center, on the top shelf, was a colorful flyer that said, FONTANELLA GEMSTONES - TOUR A REAL DIAMOND CUTTING FACTORY! THE FIRST IN EASTERN EUROPE!
Due to the company name, there was no doubt in her mind that it was the right place. FONTANELLA was the name of the castle Cattoretti had owned in Italy. She supposed this was one way of him thumbing his nose at the Italian authorities and saying “I’m only a hundred miles away and you can’t touch me!”
The concierge booked Elaine a spot on the first English-speaking tour of the day—the bus would pick her up in front of the hotel at 11:00 a.m. She had a delicious breakfast and then, disguising herself with a scarf and a pair of dark sunglasses, she took a stroll around the city center.  She walked along the sandstone houses until she reached the famous Pile Gate, passing the Franciscan monastery, Orlando’s Column, Onofrio’s Fountain, the Sponza Palace, and the Cathedral of the Assumption. It was all fascinating, and she wandered so far away from the hotel that she almost missed the tour bus.
 I’ll have to bring the children here, she thought, as she boarded the bus. But under more cheerful circumstances.

 Chapter 11

Giorgio Cattoretti’s brand new diamond-cutting factory was located up in the hills, a few miles west of Dubrovnik, nestled between a large produce warehouse and a winery. With millions of euros’ worth of diamonds in all stages of processing under its roof at any given time, security was air tight. Armed guards and a couple of camera-equipped drones continuously patrolled the perimeter. For maximum security, diamonds were only flown in and out via helicopter from the Dubrovnik airport, which was just a short flight away. The heavily armored chopper landed on a helipad that was located in a quadrangle in the center, which was protected by two-story buildings on all four sides.
The Cat’s digs were worthy of a man who was the director of what was soon to become a hundred million dollar a year diamond-cutting factory. Fashioned after his office at DayPrinto, S.p.A., he had imported a desk from Milan that was nothing but a thin slab of highly polished Italian marble, with a plush leather throne chair to go with it. A gigantic flat screen TV covered an entire wall. A massive mahogany bookcase showed off English language copies of all his favorite and most impressive books. To assist him, he also allowed himself the luxury of hiring a sexy secretary named Petra who had a body to die for, complemented by a nearly fully-functional brain.
But there were no priceless original oil paintings on these office walls. Now that he’d gotten the factory up and running, he was beginning to remember the drawbacks of owning a totally legitimate enterprise. While being in the diamond-cutting business might sound glitzy, making a healthy profit doing that legitimate work, Giorgio discovered, was not easy. The raw diamonds weren’t stolen—they had to be bought. Worse, taxes had to be paid—lots of taxes. Income taxes, import and export duties, payroll taxes. Giorgio hadn’t run a straight business in many years, since he’d forcibly bought out the partner of DayPrinto, S.p.A., and he had forgotten how expensive it all was.

* * *
At the same moment that Elaine Brogan was boarding the tour bus at the hotel, Giorgio Cattoretti had just sat down behind his desk in his office to look over his to-do list for the day.
He was mired down in troubling thoughts about rising material costs and taxes when the intercom buzzed.
“Mister Cattoretti?” Petra said.
“Woman in lobby say she have appointment with you.”
“Appointment?” he said distractedly, and he frowned. “I don’t have any appointments this morning.”
“Maybe you forget?”
“I didn’t forget,” Giorgio snapped. Had he just been thinking she had a fully functioning brain? “Who is the hussy and what does she want?”
“She does not say. Only say her name Jennifer Johnson.”
 Giorgio glanced over at the intercom. Jennifer Johnson, he thought. The name sounded vaguely familiar.
“She have American passport,” Petra added. “Security check it.”
Then it hit him—Jennifer Johnson was the alias Elaine Brogan had used when she’d gone after Stanley Ketchum in Sudan!
Giorgio jumped up from his chair, his mood brightening. Had Elaine Brogan really come to see him? This was too good to be true. Caution kicked in, and he decided he had to make sure this wasn’t some kind of trick.
He pushed a button to bring a direct image from the lobby camera onto the big wall screen.
It was indeed the lovely woman he had spent so much time and energy pursuing, Elaine Brogan, standing there in the lobby, in the flesh. She was dressed in a business suit, a satchel slung over her shoulder, gazing through a bulletproof window that afforded a view of the manicured front lawn. She looked relaxed, and more beautiful than ever.
“Mister Cattoretti?” Petra said over the intercom.
“Tell the guard I’m coming out to meet her!”
With a grin of anticipation on his face, Giorgio shot both his cuffs and headed out the door.

Chapter 12

After Elaine had waited only a couple of minutes, she saw Giorgio Cattoretti appear behind the glass of the security desk. There was a warm smile on his face, his one uncovered eye gazing out at her with obvious pleasure. He was dressed in an expensive-looking Italian suit, a red pocket handkerchief providing a splash of color. He straightened his tie as one of the guards buzzed him into the lobby.
Before he could open his mouth, Elaine said, “Mr. Cattoretti, I’m Jenny Johnson,” and thrust out her hand. He looked a little surprised as he shook it. “We met at the trade show in Antwerp—we talked briefly about distribution in America? Do you remember me?”
“Uh, yes, I remember,” he said, glancing at the guard who was watching them.
“Since I happened to be in Croatia, I would like to take a tour of your facility, but maybe we could talk afterwards? If you have a few minutes, that is...”
Another man emerged from the security office with a basket in his hand—it was filled with visitor’s passes. He stepped over to the group of tourists. “Welcome to Fontanella Gemstones, ladies and gentlemen!” he said in a cultured sounding Slavic accent. “My name is Josep and I will be your tour guide. Please attach visitor’s passes to your clothing...”
Giorgio said to Elaine, “You really want to take the tour?” Before she could answer, he stepped over to Josep and whispered something in his ear.
The young man turned back to the crowd. “Well, guess what, ladies and gentleman, it is your luckiest day! Our esteemed director, Mister Cattoretti, will be conducting you on the tour!”

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