Friday, April 7, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 15

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Giorgio gave Elaine a tour of the house with the same flair as he’d demonstrated on the factory tour, showing her the living room, dining room, library, home office, kitchen, and expansive back patio, which featured a heated swimming pool and a fabulous view of the sea. There was also a gym, home cinema, and a billiards room. In the back, they passed through an opening of raw wood and plastic and stopped for a minute while Giorgio talked to the workmen, who were building a separate laundry room and another bath, as well as repairing part of the roof.
He then led Elaine to the rear of the house—there were stone steps that led down to a boat dock, but as yet he had not purchased a yacht. That was also on his list of home improvements, something he would tend to in summer, when the weather was more suitable.
He showed her the upper floors, where the bedrooms were located.
“This is my room,” Giorgio said proudly, stopping at the door to show off a large space with a king-sized bed, fireplace, and sea-view picture window and balcony.
“It’s lovely,” Elaine said.
They moved farther down the hall to the doorway of a smaller bedroom. “This is for guests,” he said, pausing just long enough for Elaine to see inside. He continued to the last door, which was closed.
He rapped on it a few times, then slowly turned the handle and opened it. “This is Lexy’s and Pablo’s room,” he said, but he hung back, glancing uneasily around the unoccupied quarters, turning his head from side to side due to his limited peripheral vision.
“What’s the matter?” Elaine said.
“I’m practicing the Rule of Thirty Seconds. I’m not allowed in here.”
Elaine laughed. The room housed a queen-sized bed, a crib, a flat-screen TV, and some toys were scattered on the floor.
With a pointed look in his eye, Cattoretti glanced at Elaine and said, “She just lives here as the child’s mother, nothing more. A child needs his mother, you know.”

Chapter 17

“How did Lexy end up here?” Elaine said in a low voice, as she began eating her salad. After serving the food, the cook had shut the door and left them alone. “Did you track her down, or—?”
“More or less,” Giorgio said. “Turned out it was fairly easy.” He ground some pepper over his own salad and then took a bite. “She eventually ran out of money in Sweden and made it back to Cyprus with Pablo in tow. Not sure how she did it—she won’t say. Anyway, I found them back in her village, living with her aunt and her mother.” Cattoretti shrugged as he chewed his food. “She decided life was better with me, especially for Pablo’s sake.”
“That makes sense,” Elaine said, though it sounded like a lesser-of-two-evils situation and no doubt a tough decision for Lexy. Despite the joke he made about not being allowed in her bedroom, Elaine was quite sure that he barged in there whenever he pleased and took her sexually. She told Elaine that’s how she’d gotten pregnant in the first place, when she worked as his “housekeeper” in Cyprus.
They ate for a moment in silence. The food was tasty, but Giorgio was right—the cook was not in Tony’s league. There was something bland about the flavor—it lacked that added pizzazz that Tony infused. And the man’s personality was as bland as his cooking.
Elaine glanced at her watch—she was beginning to feel anxious about catching her flight back to Lyon. She didn’t have much time.
“So, Giorgio, are you going to tell me what that business card means?”
“So, Elaine, are you going to tell me why this so-called ‘case’ is so important to you?”
This caught her off guard. “So important to me? How do you mean?”
“You come all the way to Croatia to see me, taking such a big risk? Your superiors damn well don’t know you’re here, that’s for sure.”
She looked away. “It’s just a case, that’s all.”
“Don’t insult my intelligence, cara. You would never have come here for some routine ‘case.’ I know you. You have a personal interest in this, some kind of stake.”
She hesitated. The last thing she wanted to do was share any information with him, especially such intimate information about her mother.
“What difference does it make?” she said.
“It makes a lot of difference.” He reached over and took her hand. “I don’t mind helping you, personally, Elaine, but I have no desire to help the Secret Service organization at large. You know how I feel about that.”
Elaine gently pulled her hand away. “My mother is Spyro Leandrou’s wife.”
There, she’d said it. She had promised herself she wouldn’t tell him that, but she really had no choice, not if she wanted his help. She was desperate to punish the man who’d had her father killed, as well as the man who had actually done it.
Giorgio looked astounded. “Your mother is married to Spyro Leandrou?”
“I don’t understand. I thought she disappeared when you were only a—”
“She resurfaced,” Elaine said tonelessly.
“Oh, I see. She remarried, then?”
“Yes. The short version of the story is, my mother wants a divorce from Spyro, and she deserves one, but he threatened to kill her if she leaves him. Or he threatened to have her killed, which is the same thing. From what she says, he’s quite capable of murder, but I’m not completely sure of that.”
Elaine pulled out the Panacea business card and set it beside his plate. “I know that you’ve seen this before, Giorgio. So please tell me, what is it?”
“You’re right, I know what it is, but I don’t know where it is.”
“Excuse me?”
“It’s a clinic, of sorts, situated in some secret location.”
“Clinic? What kind of clinic?”
Giorgio gave a mysterious smile. “The top secret kind. Above top secret, I would say. It’s the most covert clinic of its type in the world.” He leaned back in his chair, wiped his mouth on his napkin, apparently done with his meal. “Panacea is the place where A-list Hollywood stars go to kick their heroin addiction. It’s the place where Saudi princes send their pregnant daughters for abortions. It’s the place where prime ministers send their mistresses to have their noses fixed.”
“Are you joking?”
“I’m perfectly serious. The staff in that clinic can turn the homeliest girl into a raving beauty. They can cure any addiction. They can take a decade off your physical appearance and add a decade to your longevity. They have access to the latest anti-aging technology. They have the best cosmetic surgeons in the world, the best addiction recovery specialists, the best OBGYNs, the best dermatologists, nutritionists, psychologists—you name it, they have it. But treatments there are incredibly expensive. They fly you there in a private jet, you have super-luxurious accommodations the entire length of your stay, you have your own personal assistant who caters to your every whim, and of course you have absolute privacy.” Giorgio motioned to her. “You could call it a top secret five star health and beauty center for the rich and famous.”
It sounded surreal, almost like science fiction. “Are you sure about this?”
“I am, yes. I only happen to know of its existence because...” Giorgio looked a little embarrassed, and he reached up and touched his cheek. “...a friend of mine told me about it when I was considering having this scar fixed.” He ran his finger along the faint white line that snaked along his jaw. It had been there ever since Elaine had known him, but she’d grown so accustomed to it she no longer noticed it.
“You really have no idea where the clinic is?”
Giorgio laughed. “Not a clue. Admittance is strictly by referral. Anyway, its clientele are a little above my pay grade, I never seriously considered going there.”
Elaine doubted that, but now she understood why she couldn’t find anything about it online. It was like something out of a James Bond movie, still a little hard to believe. She tried to imagine how Spyro Leandrou might be involved.
Giorgio tapped on the card. “This is an entry pass, a little added security, something physical to prove that you are a legitimate referral when you arrive, available only to those who have actually been there to pass on to people they trust. I never got that far, like I said, but the person I know who’s been there told me about these cards. There’s probably an RFID chip inside.”
“No, we checked, no RFID chip.”
Giorgio frowned. “Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure.”
He reached for the card, but before handing it over, Elaine held it closer to her face, inspecting the gold lettering.
“Oh my god,” she gasped.
“What?” Cattoretti said.
Elaine quickly pulled a loupe from her satchel and studied the card in more detail, running it along the gold script. “Why didn’t I see this before?”
“What is it?” Cattoretti said impatiently.
Elaine handed him both the loupe and business card. “Look above the lower leg of the P. There’s a series of numbers stacked along the inside edge—you can just barely make them out. Eight, four, one, five, one, three...? See them? They’re very fine, printed with a slightly darker shade of gold.”
“Damn, your right.” Giorgio lowered the loupe. “Microprinting.” He smiled. “Right up your alley, eh?”
As he handed the card and loupe back to her, Elaine’s mind was already racing ahead, thinking about how the card was used to gain entry to the facility.
“How did you get that card?” Giorgio asked. “What’s the connection to your stepfather?”
“That’s what I want to know,” Elaine said, and she felt a little sick. She hadn’t yet thought of Spyro Leandrou as her stepfather, but of course he was. It made the connection feel more intimate and unpleasant. “My mother snatched it—she said there’s a whole box of them in his home safe.” If Cattoretti was going to help her, he would need to know that.
“A whole box?”
“Yes. She took the card when she grabbed a package of financial data on his offshore companies. She brought it all to me, hoping I could do something with it to protect her from him.”
Giorgio shrugged. “Maybe Spyro runs the clinic, or acts as an agent or something?”
“I have no idea.” Elaine picked up the card. “My mother said she thought this was just a front for however he’s really making all his illegal money, all the cash he’s laundering through his offshore network.”
“Well, I can tell you, there’s nothing illegal about this clinic. It’s top secret, but there’s no crime in that.”
“What about the drugs they use, this anti-aging technology you mentioned? Doesn’t that involve steroids, stem cells, stuff like that?”
Giorgio shrugged. “Yes, but the clinic could easily be located in some third world country where the laws are lax about that sort of thing.” He paused, giving her a concerned look. “Are you sure you want to stir up this hornets’ nest, cara? This facility is used by some very powerful people—you could easily ruffle some big feathers. Some very big feathers.”
“I really don’t have any choice.” Elaine wasn’t about to tell him that Spyro had arranged the contract killing of her father—she would never tell him that this was her true underlying motive, the ‘personal interest’ he mentioned. “It’s for the sake of my family, Giorgio. I need some dirt on Spyro Leandrou, enough to justify an official investigation so we can request statements from the offshore banks, that sort of thing, and find out what he’s involved in so I can protect my mother and help her divorce him. I don’t care about the clinic per se. Can’t you use your contacts to check him out?”

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