Monday, May 1, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 31

Chapter 38

When Elaine left the Vovus offices, she spotted Spyro Leandrou’s security chief sitting on one of the red couches, reading a newspaper. The instant she glimpsed the man, she knew it was Costa—he fit the description her mother had given her perfectly. “A face like a bulldog with a bad case of acne.” He had a bulbous nose that, at one time in his life, must have been well acquainted with closed fists, steel pipes, and brass knuckles.
As Elaine said goodbye to the receptionist, Costa glanced up at her, but she kept her eyes straight ahead. She walked out the door and into the corridor, her umbrella in her hand.
When she reached the elevator and pushed the DOWN button, she glanced over her shoulder to make sure he wasn’t following her. If Leandrou was still suspicious, now would be the time that he would have someone tail her and see exactly where she went next.
It was still drizzling outside. When she stepped out of the building lobby and out onto the wet sidewalk, she opened her umbrella. She walked towards the Leadenhall Market, passing the MI6 agent’s car along the way. The woman saw that she was okay and started the engine as Elaine continued. She walked several blocks until she reached the Bank Tube Station. As she descended into the entrance, she glanced over her shoulder.
As far as she could tell, nobody was following.

* * *
As soon as Elaine reached the MI6 agent’s house in Islington, she called Luna on her burner phone. She intended only to summarize the interview but ended up recounting lots of details, ending with the weird demonstration of the prosthetic hand.
“That was a little strange,” Luna said.
“What I think is even stranger is that my mother didn’t mention it, not one word about it.”
“Well, maybe she’s just so used to it that she hardly notices. He told you he lost his hand as a young man, right?”
“Maybe he’s had a prosthetic hand of some kind ever since your mother met him. Or maybe she just didn’t think it was important.”
“Maybe,” Elaine said. “Do you think Panacea could be a clinic that specializes in making super-advanced prosthetic limbs?”
“Our informant said he was trafficking contraband across international borders. There’s nothing illegal about these kind of prosthetic devices.”
“True,” Elaine said.
“Anyway, I understand why it shook you up, but you’re into science fiction now. I believe whatever contraband he’s moving around is much more mundane than prosthetic hands, and probably much more valuable.”
Elaine didn’t respond for a long moment, still going over the interview, bits of the dialogue between her and Spyro Leandrou continuing to run through her head.
“Is something wrong?” Luna said.
“I just hope I didn’t blow it by pushing so hard for the extra work.”
“Well, you had to set that up. There’s no point in going on this undercover assignment unless you can break out of the governess role. You won’t find out what he’s up to by teaching math to an eight-year old.”
“No, you’re right.”
“Fingers crossed, baby-doll. You did your best. Now all we can do is wait for his decision.”

* * *
That afternoon, the MI6 packed up and left her alone in the house. She was taking her kids up to Scotland for a ten-day vacation. Elaine had permission to stay there until she received an answer from Leandrou, just in case he decided to show up there to make sure that’s where she actually lived or was having it watched.
The afternoon dragged on. Elaine constantly checked the time, growing more and more uneasy. Spyro had promised her he would call her by seven at the latest.
For dinner, she ordered some Chinese food and had it delivered.
Seven p.m. came and went, with no word from Spyro.
She began to think that he had decided to hire one of the other two candidates for the job, one of the men, and he had simply forgotten that he’d told her he would call her personally, either way.
She considered telephoning the Vovus firm, but of course their offices had long closed by now. Anyway, even if they weren’t closed, she did not want to appear over-anxious.
At about nine-thirty, she glumly finished off the last remaining egg roll, which had now grown cold and tasted like cardboard. She realized she had become so intent on Spyro Leandrou hiring her for the governess job that she almost forgot that she was just playing a role, that she was Elaine Brogan, a Secret Service agent, and the reason she wanted the wealthy Greek business magnate to hire her was not so she could care for and educate his son, but to infiltrate his family and business and put him in prison for killing her father.

Chapter 39

Elaine woke up the following morning in a foul mood.
There had still been no call from Spyro Leandrou.
Now she was sure he had hired one of the other candidates, and the entire week of intense preparation had all been for naught. There was simply no other way to penetrate Spyro’s family or business operations.
After she showered and dressed, she went downstairs and had some coffee and yogurt, and then came back up to the guest room and called Vovus using the house’s landline. She only reached a recording that said the offices did not open until nine.
It was eight-twenty.
Just as she was hanging up the receiver, the burner phone on the dresser started ringing.
When she checked the display, she saw that the call was coming from a blocked number.
“Hello?” she said tentatively.
“Patricia?” a deep male voice said.
“Good morning. This is Spyro Leandrou. Sorry I didn’t call you last night like I promised. I had already made up my mind that I was going to hire a man instead of a woman this time, and so—”
“I understand,” Elaine said, trying not to sound disappointed.
“—I’m not finished.”
“Oh. Sorry...”
“And I took some extra time to think it over. The bottom line is, I’ve decided I’m going to give you a try.”
“That’s great news!” Elaine gushed. “Thank you...I...” She hesitated, wishing she hadn’t sounded so eager just then. He’d said they would discuss the possible extra duties. But it was too late now.
“Are you still there?” Spyro said.
“Yes, sorry, I was just moving closer to the window to get a better signal.”
“Well, don’t get your hopes up too high about the job quite yet,” he warned. “There’s one more step you need to complete before it’s final.”
“What’s that?”
“You have to meet Alexander, naturally. Or I should say, Alexander has to meet you. If he likes you, and you two get along, then you’ve got the job.”
“Of course. That goes without saying.” She should have thought of that.
“Can you fly to Greece with me today? I’m returning to Santorini this afternoon, on my private jet.”
“Today?” Elaine said, as if this was unexpectedly short notice. She glanced at her large suitcase, which was already packed exactly for this purpose.
“Just pack the necessities, so you can stay on if everything works out. We can have someone collect the rest of your things here in London and send them later.”
“We’ll meet at eleven fifteen sharp, so you’ll have to scramble. Take a taxi to the private jet terminal at London City Airport, and I’ll be waiting for you at the entrance. I’ll pay the driver when you arrive.”

Chapter 40

As soon as Elaine hung up, she called Luna on her secure phone to share the good news. But at that moment, she experienced a bout of “bad mother guilt.” Here she was about to leave her children with Nick for another indeterminate period of time and probably risk her life. She told herself that it was for the family, and for her mother, whether the woman deserved any help or not.
“I did it,” Elaine said, when Luna answered.
“Well done, girl! I was sure he would hire you.”
“I wasn’t, but thanks.” Elaine had already started gathering her things from the bathroom, and she checked to make sure her disassembled pistol was well hidden in her toilet kit—it would be her only means of defense at Spyro’s villa. “I’m afraid there’s bad news, too.”
“What’s that?”
“There’s no way I can take the electronics kit with me, not on his plane and going through private airport security and customs right alongside him.”
“Damn,” Luna said.
Elaine pulled the bag containing the electronic devices out of her suitcase and put it in the bottom dresser drawer—she would leave a note for the MI6 agent to hold onto to it.
“You’re going to be severely handicapped without that gear, Elaine.”
“I know, but—”
“What about having Dmitry bring it to you? I can send him a list and he can buy the same equipment in Moscow, at a spy shop.”
This was something they had already discussed, sending Dmitry to Santorini Island in case she needed him. Elaine considered it more seriously now. In their undercover operation request to Martin Valdez, Luna had not included the use of a civilian contractor in her budget, of course—they knew Valdez went far too much by the book and would have never signed off on it.
“Look,” Luna said, before Elaine could respond, “what if this is a trap? You have to consider that possibility. If you’re stuck on that island with no help—”
“It’s not a trap,” Elaine said, with more confidence than she felt.
“How can you be sure? Leandrou could have figured out you weren’t who you claimed to be during the interview. Or even before.”
“I don’t think so. I have to trust my instincts on this, Luna. But I think you should call Dmitry and prepare him for the possibility of joining me there, just in case.”
“Will do.”
Now Elaine remembered something that had been weighing heavily on her mind and that she had almost forgotten about, in all the stress and excitement of the interview. “What about the autopsy report?”
“I was just about to fill you in on that,” Luna said. “Unfortunately, there’s not much more useful information in it than there was in the summary. Just more details about the toxicology and urine analyses—nothing suspicious detected—but no photographs or copy of the dictated autopsy notes.” Luna paused. “I really need the whole package, Elaine.”
“How do we get it?”
“Well, I really didn’t think they would give the gory stuff to a family member, but I thought it was worth a shot. Only law enforcement professionals typically have access to autopsies, people who have some good reason to see it.”
“Which means...?”
“The easiest way to get my hands on it is to fly to Pittsburgh and get it myself.”
Elaine put the toilet kit containing her disguised Sig Sauer pistol in her suitcase. “And when do you plan on doing this?”
Tomorrow?” Elaine nearly dropped the phone. “But if you start nosing around, word could get back to Spyro!”
“I’ll be very careful, Elaine. The name of the pathologist who performed the autopsy is on the report. I checked her out online—apparently she’s retired now. I can go talk to her if I need to, confidentially.”
“But what if Leandrou finds out?”
“That’s certainly a risk, but I think we should burn the evidence-gathering candle at both ends. Hopefully we can gather enough to have Leandrou put away for the contract killing of your father, or for whatever illegal business activity he’s involved in. If we’re lucky, maybe even both.” Luna paused. “But it’s your call, Elaine. Ultimately, this is your operation.”
Elaine considered all of this as she packed the rest of her clothes into her suitcase. “Okay, go ahead and go to Pittsburgh—I think it’s a chance we have to take. But you have to be damn careful with every step you make with your investigation.”
“I know I do, baby-doll. Your life depends on it.”

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