Thursday, April 6, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 14

Chapter 14

Elaine let Cattoretti talk her into going to his villa for lunch. She was fairly sure that he knew something about Panacea, and perhaps about Spyro Leandrou, too. If he didn’t know, she was sure he could use his criminal network to find out, and it was worth spending an extra couple of hours indulging him to get her hands on the dirt. She was fairly confident that her visit was such an unexpected surprise that there had been no time for him to lay any traps for her. He had given her his undivided attention and had not even pulled out his cellphone, let alone used it.
Before they left the office, Giorgio took off his jacket and donned a shoulder-holstered Glock.
“Owning a business like this, in a country like this, makes me a prime target for kidnapping,” he muttered.
Elaine didn’t doubt it.
One of his Croatian security guards ushered them out of the building, walking just ahead of them and opening doors and gates with his keycard. There was a beige Mercedes waiting for them in the building’s executive parking lot, the back doors open, the driver slouching beside it. Giorgio and Elaine slid into the back seat.
They drove out through the diamond-cutting facility’s main, heavily-guarded gate and were soon winding their way along a ridge, passing a winery. Rows and rows of grape vines lining a gently sloping, craggy hill. A follow-up car pursued them, driven by the guard who had escorted them out of the building, and it almost tailgated them so that no other vehicle could get in between. Elaine was impressed—they were following the same procedures the Secret Service agents used to protect dignitaries and others who did not qualify for a full police-escorted motorcade.
They drove through the hills for a few minutes and then turned down another narrow winding road, with glimpses of the sea visible between a series of huge houses built along cliffs. All of the mansions were closed off behind by high rock walls.
The driver turned down yet another narrow, bumpy road, topped with gravel. The Mercedes bounced around thirty more seconds until it came to a stop adjacent to a huge iron gate. The follow-up car stopped right behind them.
To Elaine’s surprise, their driver jumped out to open the gate, leaving the car door wide open.
“You’re guards aren’t trained very well,” Elaine commented. “He didn’t observe the Rule of Thirty Seconds.”
“What’s the Rule of Thirty Seconds?” Giorgio said.
“The driver should make a three-sixty visual scan of the area for at least thirty seconds to check for ambush before anyone gets out.”
“We have a follow-up car.”
“Doesn’t matter. That driver should observe the rule, too. And your own driver shouldn’t leave the car, either, even to open the gate. Somebody could be hiding in those bushes over there and charge.”
Giorgio smiled. “Maybe you’d like a job, Elaine?”
She only chuckled at this.
Now she noticed that the gate was held closed by a thick chain and two heavy padlocks, which the driver was opening.
“The next item on my home improvement list is a secure electric gate,” Giorgio remarked.
As the driver dragged the chain to the side and tromped back towards the car, Giorgio said, “These Croatian guys aren’t Secret Service agents, Elaine—they wouldn’t ‘take a bullet’ for me. They’re just hired muscle. If I’m ever attacked, the best I can expect them to do is defend themselves.”

Chapter 15

Cattoretti’s villa was no less spectacular than Elaine had expected. The huge three-story house was made entirely of gray stone, with graceful archways framing some of the doors and windows, surrounded by immaculately Mediterranean landscaped grounds. It was unusual, Elaine had to admit. She certainly hadn’t seen another house like it. The villa looked like a cross between a small castle and a cathedral.
As they got out of the car, Giorgio said, “This house was built in the eighteenth century by a man named Count Banjski as a summer residence, designed by a famous Italian architect of that time period. It still needs a lot of renovation, but as I told you, it’s absolutely unique, one of a kind. In fact, it was so unusual that Banjski took a page from Peter the Great’s book to protect it.”
“How so?”
“After the building was finished, he had the architect’s eyes put out with a hot poker so the man could never design anything like it.” Giorgio smiled, his one eye glittering. “How could I resist buying a house with such a history?”
Elaine wondered if Cattoretti identified more with the man who’d lost his eyesight, or the one who’d taken it.
They walked along the stone path around the side of the house. Elaine noticed there were two pickup trucks with toolboxes mounted on the back. She could hear some hammering in the distance. They passed through well-tended gardens on both sides of the path, and Elaine could smell thyme and basil in the air.
“My cook grows all his own herbs,” Cattoretti said proudly. He stopped to run his hand through a patch of rosemary and sniff it. He glanced at Elaine. “Tell your goddamn Tony to put that in his pipe and smoke it.”
She laughed.
When they reached the side door, the guard stood back and Giorgio pulled out a key to unlock it. Before he could do that, the handle turned and the door swung open.
Elaine blinked, unprepared for what she saw.
Lexy was standing there in a flowery pink Japanese robe, her wild mane of curly black hair cascading down her shoulders.
She was barefoot, holding a baby boy in her arms.

Chapter 16

“I believe you two know each other,” Giorgio said casually, as he and Elaine entered the house.
Elaine said hello, a bit awkwardly. Lexy looked as surprised as Elaine was. She didn’t utter a word, eying Giorgio suspiciously.
Ignoring this, he said, “You haven’t met Pablo,” and scooped the toddler out of her arms. The brown-eyed boy looked shyly at her, then gave a toothless grin and turned his head away.
“Isn’t he handsome?” Giorgio said. “A chip off the old block, eh?”
“Yes he is,” Elaine said, honestly. His dark features already favored his father’s, and much more so than Ryan’s, she thought.
Giorgio handed the child back to Lexy, who was still staring at Elaine, sending daggers with her eyes. She obviously had no idea what was going on.
Elaine wondered how Lexy and the baby had managed to end up here, whether Giorgio had tracked her down or she had somehow gotten herself and her baby out of Sweden and found him. Lexy had completely dropped off the radar since she had snatched Pablo from Cattoretti’s Swedish caretaker on Gotland Island and gotten away from Dmitry.
“Elaine will be joining me for lunch,” Giorgio told Lexy, but in a slightly irritable tone.
A rather heavyset man had stepped into the far end of the hallway, wearing an apron that only made him look fatter.
Tony’s counterpart, apparently.
Buon giorno, Signor,” the man said. He looked uncertainly at Elaine, then at Lexy. “Devo servire il pranzo per tre?”
“No, lunch will only be for two,” Giorgio said, giving Lexy a cold look. He glanced back at the cook. “And speak English when we have guests, damn it, I’ve told you that ten times!”
“Sorry,” the cook muttered. Looking at Elaine, he gave a slight bow and said, “I hope you enjoy dish I prepare you.”
With Pablo still in her arms, Lexy turned away and stomped off down the hallway, disappearing into another room from where Elaine could hear the sound of a television. 

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