Friday, May 5, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 35

The tall man stepped into the room with his arms crossed, glancing at Elaine and Alex. For a second she thought he was going to be angry about them loitering in his library/office, but he was gazing at the painting as if he wanted to view it objectively. “Do you like Pollack’s style?”
“Well, I—”
“You can be honest. A lot of people think it’s not worth the canvas it’s dripped on.”
Alex chimed in. “Kathy said I could have painted it myself.” He giggled. “And that was when I was only five!”
Elaine had to laugh at this. “Well...I can’t say that I’m a big fan of modern art,” and she looked apologetically at Spyro.
“Neither am I, to tell you the truth. But when I bought this house and remodeled it, it seemed to me that classical or impressionist style paintings just didn’t fit in with the Cubist architecture and the plain, whitewashed walls.”
“I agree with you,” Elaine said. Still feeling uneasy about being in the room, she touched Alex’s shoulder. “Well, we better get back to our lessons.”
 As she turned to guide the boy out of the library, Spyro said, “Oh, Patricia?”
He motioned to the book in Alex’s hand. “Friday nights at dinner I usually quiz him on the week’s reading supplement. It’s kind of a family tradition.”
“Okay. I’ll make sure he reads it carefully.”
“Also...if a book ever arrives that you don’t feel is appropriate for him, I expect you to use your own judgment and withhold it.” He motioned to his son and said sternly, “From now on, you let Patricia open those envelopes, Alex.”
The boy nodded, but was clearly not happy about it.
As Elaine turned to leave, she wondered what kind of a book Atlas Education could possibly send that Spyro would deem inappropriate for his son.

Chapter 46

At 4:20 that same afternoon Nick LaGrange was out in the backyard of the farmhouse, working on the construction of the gazebo, when he heard the bell ring inside the house that indicated someone was at the front gate.
Romeo and Juliet immediately started barking.
“Shhh!” Nick said, listening, but he couldn’t hear the sound of any vehicle on the other side of the house. He looked over at the back door, waiting to see if Tony appeared. It was probably just a delivery truck dropping off a package for Elaine from one of the Secret Service offices that Tony could sign for.
While he waited, he wiped his sweaty forehead with the bottom of his T-shirt. With his hammer in his hand, he stepped off the base of the gazebo and down into the grass to view his masterpiece from a distance. Even though it was almost dark outside and he was working with the aid of a lantern, he could clearly see the elegant octagonal structure in its fully-finished form, all the railing and trimmings in place, painted, the cedar shake shingled roof, and even the vented “cupola” at the top. Elaine was going to love it. It would be large enough to accommodate a wide porch swing on one side that he would position to face west, so he and Elaine and the kids could sit together and watch the sunset.
The gazebo was a special gift for Elaine, one that Nick was crafting from scratch with his bare hands, and with love. He was as worried about her being away on this undercover assignment as when she’d been away on any other, but this time, he understood her need to go and had not tried to stop her. This time, she really didn’t have a choice. His instincts told him that this situation—the return of her mother and learning that her father had been murdered—was much like the one he’d recently experienced with Isabella. Elaine had to bring it to some kind of closure, no matter what, and face whatever inner demons it stirred up inside of her. He had always known that the death of her father was her deepest and most painful emotional wound, one that had lain hidden and silently festering inside her since her childhood.
He was glad he had the construction project to throw himself into, to help distract him from his worry about his wife. He only hoped that the beautiful little building would be a welcome-home gift and not a memorial.
The back door of the house suddenly opened.
Tony appeared in his apron.
“Mister Nick?” he called, glancing around in the darkness.
Nick didn’t like the expression on the skinny Italian’s face and stepped towards him. “What’s wrong?”
“Somebody asking for you at the gate. He sounds like he maybe Greek.”
Alarmed, Nick dropped the hammer in the grass and trotted to the back door, brushing past Tony. As he moved through the kitchen and into the foyer, his thoughts were racing as fast as his heartbeat—had something already happened to Elaine?
When Nick glanced at the screen on the security console, he saw the man with the face of a pit bull squinting up at the gate camera through an open car window, clearly illuminated by the spotlight mounted above.
“He’s ugly, too,” Tony said from behind.
From Kathy’s description, Nick instantly guessed who it was—Costa, Spyro Leandrou’s right-hand man. Nick steadied himself for a couple of seconds and pushed the TALK button. “Can I help you?”
“Mister Nick LaGrange?” the man said, still squinting up at the camera. The accent was definitely Greek. Now Nick was even more anxious.
“I am checking reference on Patricia Carter, your governess? She apply for job with my family.”
Nick was thrown by the “my family” and then remembered that Costa was Spyro’s cousin or some kind of relation. “What about her?”
“I want ask you few questions.”
“Why?” Nick said.
“She give you as reference.”
So that’s what this was about—he had come in person to check her reference. Strange. Elaine was already in Greece—Nick had assumed she already had the job.
He said, “An employment agency already called and I verified the reference over the phone.”
“Yes but we must do our own verify face-on-face.”
Nick let up on the talk button and looked at Tony. “Damn it, the kids aren’t the right age,” he muttered to himself.
“I no understand,” Tony said.
“Where are they now? The kids?”
“Ryan playing in the den, Amelia taking her nap.”
“Keep both of them upstairs and make sure they’re quiet. If this man comes in the house, I don’t want to hear a sound out of them. Do you understand? Not one sound.”
Now Tony looked scared. “Si.” He turned and scrambled up the steps.
Nick was busily doing the math in his head. If he remembered the details of the Patricia Carter legend correctly, she had come to take care of his kids eight years ago and they were the age they were now, three and five...which would make them eleven and thirteen...
Nick pushed the TALK button, his mind galloping ahead. “Look, I don’t see what else you need to know about Patricia Carter. She was an excellent governess for my children. Worked for me four years. There’s nothing more to say.”
“Please, Mister LaGrange?” the man said, now looking apologetic. “My boss, Mister Leandrou, want me to check references face-on-face. I only try to do my job. Only other reference Patricia give in London, and the family out of town.”
Nick hesitated, glancing towards the kitchen. There were all kinds of evidence around the house that his kids were not nearly old enough to match the information the man had. But if Nick refused to talk to him, Leandrou might get suspicious and they might really start digging. And Elaine could find herself in serious trouble.
“I’m very busy with a construction project right now,” Nick said, “but I can give you five minutes.”
He pushed the button to open the gate.

* * *
While the car was rolling up the driveway, Nick dashed through the ground floor of the farmhouse, snatching up anything that he spotted that belonged to the children. He ended up in the kitchen, where he tossed all the toddler toys and blankets and shoes into the playpen, and pulled the door that separated it from the foyer closed.
He glanced at the console display as he rushed back towards the den—the big Greek man had parked the car and was walking up the sidewalk now. When Nick reached the exercise room, he glanced around the interior, then pulled that door shut, too, just in case there was something he hadn’t spotted. He then trotted into the living room. It was the safest room to meet in...but then he noticed two framed pictures over the fireplace of him and Elaine and the kids together. The way Nick had his arm around Elaine didn’t make her look like a governess, either, at least not the kind Spyro Leandrou was supposed to be hiring.
He grabbed both pictures, hesitated, looking for a place to hide them, and then slid them both under two separate couch cushions. He got down on his hands and knees to check for any toys or other items the kids might have left under the furniture, which they were always doing, but didn’t see anything.
The doorbell rang.
Nick climbed to his feet and took a deep breath. He told himself that he could always say that he and his new wife had another baby...but there wasn’t time to think all this through. Better to stick exactly to the information on the Patricia Carter résumé.
He steadied himself, then went to the front door and opened it.
“Hello,” the man said, offering Nick his beefy hand as he stepped inside. “I am Costa.”

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