Firenze – Later That Night

Janet Miller was sitting in the hotel lobby when Dreyfus got there.  Even in a grey sweatshirt and no make-up, she had her business face on, and the only thing missing was her coil notebook.  She stood up; Dreyfus gestured to the elevator and stopped at the reception desk to get his key.  When the elevator doors opened, they both stepped in, but before they closed again …

“What the hell is going on?”

“I need your help.”

“At two in the morning?”

“Please.  Let’s just get to the room.”

At the door, Dreyfus awkwardly used the key with his left hand.  He pushed it open with his shoulder and they went in.  The door closed behind them, Dreyfus walked across the room and sat down heavily in a chair by the window.

“I got shot.  It’s nothing …” Dreyfus decided against lying, “… Something’s not right, and it’s my right arm — so I can’t fix it myself.”

There was a second of disbelief.  Then Janet’s face became Ms. Miller again. “Stand up and take your jacket off.”

Dreyfus stood up and used his left hand to try and tug at his jacket.  The pain was visible.

“Stop, stop, stop!  Turn around.” Janet stepped forward, lifted Dreyfus’ jacket at the shoulders and slid it down his arms.  There was a shudder when she pulled it away from his forearm.  Dreyfus’s shirt sleeve was covered in blood, but it was mostly caked and dry — with only a thin, wet line showing where the open wound was.  Dreyfus instinctively reached.

Don’t!  Just stay still.  You need stitches and a hospital.”

“No.  We’re going to do this.  I’ll talk you through it.”

The look told him he was out of his mind.

“I can’t go to a hospital.  Too many questions.  Police …” Dreyfus raised his hand and shook his head, “Okay, let’s just bandage it up then.  I’ve got…”

“Stop!” Janet put her hand out. “Just be quiet.  I – I need to think.”  She turned her head away from Dreyfus and looked vaguely out the window.  Across the Arno there were scattered hotel and streetlights that shimmered back at her in the moving water.  It was hypnotic.  God Almighty!  Ordinary people don’t get shot in the middle of the night, or kidnapped, or God only knows …  Janet exhaled.  But this wasn’t going to go away, and she was fed up with being treated like a mushroom.  She reached forward and picked up the hotel key from the table.

“Just sit– and don’t do anything.  I’ll be right back.”  As she stepped past the minibar, she opened it, pulled out two tiny bottles of whisky and handed them to Dreyfus.  “Drink this, and don’t touch it.”  It was a scold.  And then she left.

Dreyfus unscrewed the first bottle with his teeth, opened his mouth and the cap dropped.  He drank half and held the whisky in his mouth for a second; then he swallowed.  He felt the warmth.  This wasn’t the best situation, but Miller was his only option.  And as much as he didn’t want to, he was already hardening his benevolent feeling towards her — just in case she decided to be difficult.  He drank the rest of the whisky and flexed his fingers.  The muscles still worked, but it hurt – more than it should.  And there was a swell of blood.  He put the first bottle down and picked up the second one.

He was thinking about a third bottle when Janet came back into the room.

“We need to …”

“No,” she said abruptly, pointing her finger at him.  It was the tone that made Dreyfus hesitate. “You called me.” She paused, “So just be quiet and let me do this.”  She set a couple of white, cloth napkins, a small jar and a serrated knife on the table.

“Stole them from the breakfast room,” she said, anticipating the question.  She turned and opened the minibar again, moved a couple of things and found a small bottle of cognac.  She opened it and set it on the table by the napkins.

“Alright,” Janet took a deep breath, “This is going to hurt, but it’s only your arm — so I’m just going to do it.  Put your arm on the table.”  She waited for Dreyfus to say something, and when he didn’t, she opened her handbag and took out a plastic lighter.  She set it down with everything else, pushed up her sleeves and picked up the knife.  She exhaled and stabbed it into Dreyfus’ shirt just above the elbow, then ripped it all the way around.  She reached one hand into the torn sleeve and lifted it away from his arm.  It stuck where the wound was, and she pulled.  There was a wince, and it came free.  She set the knife on the table and rolled the sleeve down his arm.  Then she poured just a bit of cognac on her hands and rubbed them together.  With her thumb and index finger, she spread the wound just slightly and used her fingernails to pick out a couple of stray threads that were trapped in the blood.  Satisfied that she’d got them all, she poured some of the cognac onto the gash and dabbed it with one of the napkins.

“That’s as clean as it’s going to get,” she said, holding the napkin tight. “You’ve nicked a blood vessel.  It’s not bad, but we need to close it.  This part is going to hurt like hell.  Make a fist.”

Dreyfus tensed his muscles, and Janet poured the rest of the cognac on the wound, dropped the bottle, and as quickly as she could, grabbed the lighter, snapped the flame and touched it to Dreyfus’ arm.  There wasn’t enough alcohol for it to flare, but it did burn.  Dreyfus clenched his teeth against the tears.  There was an acid whiff of burning hair in the air and a hint of cooked bacon.

“Hold still.”  Janet opened the jar from the table and stuck the knife in.  She pulled it out, loaded with honey and smeared it across the blackened wound.  She smoothed things with her fingers, wiped them on the napkin and cleaned the knife.

“It isn’t real honey, but it’ll do,” she said, snapping the lighter again and holding it under the knife.  She waited until the lighter was too hot to handle and then pressed the flat side of the heated knife hard against the wound.  Dreyfus shuddered and clenched his teeth again.  After a few seconds, Janet pulled the knife away.  Then she took another napkin from the table and cut it into two long strips.  She wrapped Dreyfus’ arm in the first one, then tore the second about halfway down the middle, wrapped his arm again and tied the loose ends together – tight, but not too tight.  Then she simply slumped into the nearest chair, and for the next several minutes, the two of them sat there, breathing.

Dreyfus moved first.  He unbuttoned the cuff of his torn sleeve, slid it down his arm and dropped it on the floor.  He twisted his fist a couple of times.  It hurt, but it was sturdy.  He got up and opened the minibar.

“I’ve got another whisky – uh — vodka, gin and red wine?”

“Vodka,” Janet said, standing up. ‘Do these windows open?”  But before Dreyfus could answer, she’d opened one.  She reached back for her handbag and pulled out a cigarette, lit it from the lighter on the table and blew a long billow of smoke into the air.  Dreyfus opened the small bottle of vodka and handed it to her.  He opened his own bottle and sat back down at the table.

 “Cheers!” he said, raising his newly bandaged arm. They both drank, generously.  “Ms. Miller, you amaze me.”

Janet turned her head. “My father was the gamekeeper at Pyaridge, and my brothers played rugby.”  She turned back to the night.  “You’re going to have a major scar, but it’ll be alright until somebody can look at it.”

There was another long silence.

“Now,” Janet leaned her upper body back into the room.  “You’re going to tell me exactly what the fuck is going on here, and what’s happened to Em — or I swear to Christ, Dreyfus, I’m going to get on that telephone and starting screaming until I have the Royal Marines out looking for her.”

Dreyfus smiled.   He didn’t laugh.  He knew she meant it.

A little further north, not quite in the Tuscan hills, Besnik Kovaci was frantically trying to telephone his lawyers.  He had a house full of Federal police, two incoherent half-cousins hiding in his garage and a brother who wasn’t answering his phone.  This was serious.

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