Wednesday, April 5, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 13

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Elaine hadn’t really wanted to take the tour—she didn’t have the time—but Giorgio seemed excited about showing off his latest venture. She hung back in the crowd as he led the group through a secure door and into the next room. In the center was a table with half a dozen huge diamonds on it, which, chuckling, he quickly pointed out were merely glass models.
As soon as the group had arranged themselves around the table, he began explaining the process of diamond cutting—sawing, bruting, blocking, and polishing—pausing to define the more technical terms using the glass models of the diamonds as aids. Elaine enjoyed watching him, and marveled at his confidence and enthusiasm—he had obviously become quite an expert on the subject of diamond-cutting, having set up this factory from scratch.
She glanced curiously at the faces of the tourists, who didn’t know quite what to make of this impressive man, with his roguish-looking eye patch and elegant suit. She wondered how they would react if they found out that their sophisticated and articulate host was one of the world’s most sought-after crooks, wanted not only for murder, but for currency counterfeiting, extortion, and a host of other serious crimes. He’d even been designated as a terrorist under an alias. And what would these people think if they knew that his missing eye had been stabbed out with a letter opener by the quiet blonde at the back of the group, dressed in the conservative business suit.
 After the preliminary lecture, Giorgio led the group down a long hallway with large windows running along both sides. Dozens of workers sat at shiny, complicated-looking machines, cutting and polishing, many of them gazing through magnifiers or watching video images of the stones in process.
“We use the world’s most advanced laser cutting equipment here,” Giorgio explained, “but the craft of diamond cutting is as much an art as it is a science. When we set up the factory, we hired the best in India to come and train our people, some of them third generation cutters.”
As he walked along the window, he nodded and smiled to the workers. It reminded her of the fateful day when Giorgio gave her a tour of his secret knock-off clothing design operation that was hidden in the basement of his DayPrinto company, in Milan. Elaine could not help admiring Giorgio Cattoretti—the man was the quintessential Machiavellian leader. From the telltale looks in his employees’ eyes and their careful smiles, she could tell that his employees loved, respected, and feared him in equal measure.
The group turned a corner and The Cat stopped in front of a woman who was operating a bruting machine. Elaine had learned that the machine shaped diamonds into round forms for cutting the facets by rubbing two diamonds together over a period of many hours. “If you look closely,” Giorgio said, “you’ll see that she’s bruting two pink diamonds. Pinks are the most valuable diamonds in the world.” Giving Elaine a subtle glance, he proudly said, “Most pinks come from Australia, but we’re in the fortunate position of getting most of ours from a recently discovered mine.” He smiled indulgently. “They have a very special brilliance.”

Chapter 13

When the tour was over, Giorgio led Elaine to his office and shut the door.
“That was truly impressive,” Elaine said.
“Thank you,” he said, with a slight bow. Now that they were alone, he dropped his professional demeanor and beamed at her. “I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you, Elaine. You look fabulous!” He looked her over. “Bellisima!”
“You’re looking very well yourself, Giorgio. Going straight seems to suit you.”
“Yes,” he said, smiling, but there was a slight hesitation in his response. It was subtle, too subtle for anyone to notice who did not know him well, but she had noticed a certain lack of enthusiasm during the tour, too, at certain moments. “By the way, I am donating money to those clinics in Darfur. There’s a doctor by the name of Anneke who has taken charge of the whole process.”
“Oh, yes, I know her.” Hearing Anneke’s name made her think of Stanley Ketchum, and she felt a pang in her heart. “I’m really glad to hear that, Giorgio.”
He smiled. “Anything for you, Elaine.” He motioned to his guest chair. “Please sit down, sit down, make yourself comfortable! I can have Petra get you some coffee—”
“I’m fine.” Elaine paused to glance around the interior before she seated herself—she noticed the similarity to his office in Milan.
Giorgio sat across from her in a second guest chair and crossed one leg over the other. “So, to what do I owe this great honor?” He chuckled. “When I heard you were in the lobby I couldn’t believe it—you’re always full of surprises, cara.”
“I came to see you because I need your help with a case.”
“A case?” Giorgio frowned, as if this were the last thing he expected. “What case is that?”
Elaine decided to dive right in. “I wondered if you’d ever heard of a man by the name of Spyro Leandrou?”
“Spyro Leandrou?” He thought for a few seconds. “No, don’t believe I have.” His tone seemed sincere. “A Greek, obviously. Should I know him?”
“He’s an American, of Greek heritage, lives in Greece most of the time now, on one of the islands. We’re investigating him for money laundering. He appears to be involved in some serious international criminal activity—maybe dealing illegal drugs or weapons. So far we’re running up against a brick wall. We know he’s dirty but can’t find a thing on him.”
As Giorgio listened, he touched his finger to his lip. She almost could see his mental machinery clicking away, trying to determine how he could take advantage of this.
“Why should I help you?”
Elaine shrugged. “I thought you and I were friends.” It was hard to believe she was saying this about a man who had put her and her husband in a fake black site and subjected her to torture just so he could find a diamond mine.
“We are friends, but friends scratch each other’s backs when they ask for favors. What do I get out of this?”
Elaine was surprised by his bluntness, and a little annoyed. She motioned around the fancy office in his diamond-cutting factory, a factory, that he would not have been able to build had she not found the location of the mine in Sudan and given it to him. Not to mention political protection from prosecution. “Isn’t all this enough?”
“No,” he said flatly, turning his head a little so that his eye looked directly into hers. “It’s not enough.”
Elaine sighed. He would never give up his fantasy about them as a romantically involved couple, working together as a team. “If you can dig up some useful information on this guy, I can give you a heads up if anybody tries to come after you here in Croatia. The Russians certainly would do that if they found out you’re the one who stole the—”
“Your people in Washington aren’t going to hand me to Russians, and you know it.”
“Maybe, maybe not. But there are other possibilities—the Secret Service or Department of Justice might decide to aggressively go after you, legally, and—”
“That’s not going to happen, either. They love me in this country, I told you.” He smiled confidently, showing his perfectly white teeth. “I’m a Croatian citizen now. And I have the best lawyer in the entire country on my side, who happens to be a deputy prime minister. Extradition would take years, decades, forever.”
“Yes, thanks to me.”
Giorgio didn’t respond.
“Anyway, there’s always a chance that the U.S. could organize some kind of covert operation to extract you or force you into international territory, like we did when you were in Russia.”
Cattoretti waved his hand dismissively. “Not likely, since they failed last time. You’ll have to do better.”
Giorgio touched his fingers to his lips again, and he glanced down at her neck. “You know how much I care about you, Elaine.”
“You have strange ways of showing it, Giorgio.”
“Well, when I don’t get the kind of relationship I want with a person, I tend to want to kill them.” Giorgio shrugged. “It’s a sour grapes thing, I know. Very primitive.” He raised his hands helplessly. “What can I say? I’m only human.”
Elaine didn’t smile because she knew he was only half joking. She just sat there, waiting for him to make a reasonable request.
“Well, there is something you could do for me.”
“What’s that?”
“You could give Tony back, if you wanted to.”
Elaine recoiled. Was he still smarting about losing Tony? And did the man really think people were just personal property you could trade, like cars? Then she realized he was just throwing that idea at her because he’d been unprepared and hadn’t thought of anything else.
“Tony is happy in his present situation,” Elaine said. “Not that I have any control over him. You know better than that, Giorgio.”
“He’ll leave if you tell him to. And then he’ll have nowhere else to go.”
Elaine shook her head, and actually felt sorry for Giorgio Cattoretti. He must be very lonely now, she thought.
He seemed to sense what she was thinking and realized he had revealed a little too much about himself. He let out a sigh. “The truth is, Elaine, I’ve never heard of this Spyro whatever his name is. So I can’t help you regardless. I’m sorry that you wasted your time coming all the way to Croatia.”
“Giorgio, we both know you could use your connections to at least find out who he is, what he’s involved in.”
He smiled. “I still like it when you say my name.”
Elaine ignored this and pulled the Panacea card from her pocket. When she handed it to him, she kept a close watch on his face. There was a flicker of recognition in his uncovered eye, just for an instant, but Elaine caught it.
He flipped the card over, checking the reverse side, and wordlessly handed it back to her.
Giorgio glanced at his Rolex and smiled. “Why don’t we go over to my villa for lunch? I’d love to show you the layout—it’s unusual, one of a kind. I’m doing some renovation on it. I’ve got a top notch cook, too, an Italian. He’s not as good as Tony, but—”
“I appreciate the invitation, Giorgio, but my flight leaves at three this afternoon. I only have a couple of hours here.”
“To use me for information?” He raised the brow over his visible eye. “Very nice, Elaine. Classy. Wham-bam, thank you ma’am—isn’t that the American saying?”
She raised the business card in the air. “You’ve seen this before, haven’t you?”
He shrugged. “It might look familiar, I can’t quite recall. But I can never think well on an empty stomach. Giving tours of this place always drains my energy and makes me hungry. My stomach is growling so loudly I can scarcely hear my own—”
“I really don’t have time, Giorgio. Seriously. I have to get back, I’m very busy at the moment.”
         “If you want information from me, cara, at least be polite about it.” He glanced at his watch again. “My villa is only ten minutes from here. We won’t be alone, the place is crawling with construction workers.”

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