Firenze – Another Morning

By the time Janet Miller woke up to the sunlight in her eyes and Dreyfus sitting in the window, drinking coffee, the unseen landscape of Firenze had changed.


“Give me a minute,” Janet said, swinging her legs off the bed. “Pour — and I’ll be right back.”

Across the river, in a high-ceilinged, old wood, 19th century office building, Besnik Kovaci and his little brother were listening to their lawyers, trying to dam a tsunami of legal problems.  In the last two days, they had five dead bodies, four investigations, and now, an army of Federal police, putting everything from their financial accounts to their telephone records under a microscope.  Firenze carabinieri were one thing, but these people took their orders from Rome – beyond the reach of local bribery and intimidation.  The Kovaci brothers’ business operation – legal and illegal – was virtually shut down.  But the real problem was a forensic team at the warehouse fire had just discovered a number of charred human organs that didn’t belong to the two corpses at the scene — or to anybody else in the neighbourhood.

The brothers switched from Italian to Albanian.

“It’s him.”

“Of course it’s him.”

“We need to …”

“We need to what?  We know who his is, but we can’t find him.

“We have the woman.”

The older brother shrugged.  That hadn’t been a good idea.  The Brits liked their royals – a little too much,  actually.  But maybe – maybe, if they did it right — there might be some leverage there.  Besnik thought for a second.

“Do you remember, last year, the rockets, the Russian rockets?”

Esad looked at his brother, full of questions.

“Remember the man who wanted them?  The one who paid us?  He was British government.   MI5?  6?.  Something like that.  How did we contact him?”

Esad thought for a minute.  He remembered, but …

“Maybe he knows who …”

“He found us.  But his name was – uh — Elliott.  Michael Elliott.  And he had a telephone cut-out with Transportation.  In London.  The Ministry of Transportation, in London.  That’s where …”

“We need to find him.  He’ll know.  A man who can play with that kind of money – he’ll know.  He’ll know who this Sinclair goat fucker works for, and that’s who we negotiate with – his boss.  We’ll get his boss to call him off or, royal or not, hand the woman back in pieces.  We need to find the man Elliott and make a video of the woman.

The Italian lawyers, who had been sitting quietly, were perplexed.  They couldn’t understand how a brief conversation, in whatever language, had changed the brothers from very worried to strangely confident.  But the truth was, they didn’t actually care because – privately — they were busy trying to make sure none of them was implicated in this mess.

At about the same time, Riccardo Ciampi had kissed his mother goodbye and was walking (strutting?) out to his car.  His morning had been even better than the day before.  Lotta and the kids had left for Rome, and momma had (mostly) kept quiet while he described the latest catastrophes to befall the Kovaci brothers.  According to the information he had, the British Secret Service had not only attacked and burned one of the Kovaci warehouses but had also demanded that the Italian government investigate these Balkan criminals – to the tune of an entire detachment of federal police. 

Martina, now that her son was gone, was not happy about any of it.  Yes, this Dreyfus Sinclair had rained hellfire and brimstone on her mortal enemies, but this was beyond anything she had anticipated.  What she thought was going to be a quiet little “let’s you and him fight” war was suddenly out of control.  Federal police!  Federal police didn’t understand local sensibilities.  They didn’t care whose doors they kicked in and didn’t apologize when they got it wrong.  Setting a Federal fire to the Kovaci brothers’ operation wasn’t good for business because there was a better than even chance that the House of Ciampi would get burned, as well.  She got up from the breakfast table and walked through to her late husband’s study.  She sat down at the desk, opened a drawer and picked up one of the two telephones.  She tapped a London number.  Jonathan McCormick had started this wildfire, and it was time for him to put a stop to it.   

On an open terrace in the Tuscan hills, Emily had just finished breakfast (still no orange juice) and was beginning to wonder if she should be worried.  This was Day Three, and the older woman who had always been there wasn’t there this morning.  Plus, one of the three men who had been keeping their distance was sitting where she could clearly see him, at the front door.  And below her, at the heavy iron gate to the road, there were two more men who hadn’t been there before.  That made five altogether, and even though Emily had faith in Dreyfus, she knew that, in the real world, faith didn’t actually move mountains.  So, sipping her cappuccino, she decided maybe she should worry a little bit and figure out how to make her own way home the minute it got dark.

Janet Miller was still in the bathroom at the hotel, quietly swearing to herself.

Shit, shit, shit! This is all I need!”  She was angry at her body for betraying the stress.

A couple of minutes later, improvised, but reasonably confident, she sat down to drink her coffee.  She reached for her handbag, rummaged, felt what she was looking for and relaxed – a bit.

“How’s the arm?”

Dreyfus twisted it rapidly in the air.  “Better than new.  You did a good job.”

Janet took a mouthful of coffee.  It tasted wonderful.  “So, now what?”  She was still digesting most of what Dreyfus had told her the night before, and (from experience) didn’t really trust her hormones to be analytical.  So it was probably best not to bother the details and just get on.  Dreyfus had tried to cover the barest of the bare bones of the story, but — between the trauma and the alcohol — he wasn’t sure he hadn’t said too much.  He wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

“Why did Monica Montrose call Emily ‘Magpie’?”

Janet tilted her head at the odd question, then gave Dreyfus a short laugh.

‘It’s an old school nickname.  Em never did well at boarding school, and the second time we were together, she decided to change her name to Margaret Perry.  Just one of the girls.  Fresh start and all that.  One of the bullies – uh – Tina … Tina …”  Janet looked out the window, “Tina … oh, it doesn’t matter.  Anyway, she found out who Emily really was and started calling her Lady Magpie – Margaret Perry,” Janet moved her hand, “Magpie.  Our crowd all thought it was funny, and we used it, too.   Took the wind out of Tina’s sails, and the name stuck.”

Dreyfus smiled and gave Janet a slight nod.  He was still going to save it for the right time.

“Last night, you said you weren’t worried, but you didn’t tell me what’s going to happen.”

Dreyfus drank the last of his coffee and shrugged. “I’m going to go get Emily this afternoon.  All you have to do is stay here until we get back.”

“The Montroses are …”

“Things change.  The Montroses don’t need you anymore.  Maybe phone them if you like.  I don’t care.  But you need to stay here.  Don’t go out.  And don’t open the door to anyone but me.”

“Am I in trouble?”

“No, long as you stay here.  I’d just prefer to know where you are.  No loose ends.  Then when we get back, we’ll all go out and have a splashy dinner.”

Janet was about to mention that her suitcase and all her clothes were still at the Montrose’s when Dreyfus’ telephone hummed on the table.  He turned it over.  It was Jonathan McCormick.

“I have to take this.”

Janet raised her hand, lowered her eyes and moved her head.  She picked up her handbag and went back to the bathroom.

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