Three Days In Firenze

Dreyfus opened the door and turned on the light.  There were shoes under the side table.  Shoes?  And no umbrellas.  He dropped his in the stand.  And coats hanging in the hall.  And a suitcase?  One and one and one sometimes equal two.  Emily had come to London, and she’d brought a friend.  Who was apparently planning to stay?  Dreyfus shook the rain off his coat and hung it on an open hook.  He turned into the loft that was dark except for the task light over the sink.  He flipped the hall light off and waited until his eyes adjusted.  It was less than a minute before the light from the city silhouetted two women sitting on the terrace.  Curiouser and curiouser!  He walked across the room.  He didn’t know whether they’d seen the hall light or not and he didn’t want to startle them, so he made clumsy noises opening the door.  Both women, who were sitting at the table, facing the Thames, turned.

“Ms. Miller …” Dreyfus said, stepping outside.  He saw the teapot and swallowed the rest of the remark.  Then he sat down at arm’s length from the table so he could see them both.

“A night like tonight, you two should be sitting by the fire.”

“No, the river’s fine,” Emily said without looking at him.

There was quiet — not silence. The rain played on the water below them like low oboe murmurs.  Across the river, the city hummed and moved, slow motion lights wet with whispers. Somewhere a drifting siren, somewhere the faraway rhythm of steel on steel tracks for trains — and there and again long orphan sounds with no names, swallowed by the drizzling city lights and the night and the darkness.  It was wordless melancholy, and Dreyfus could feel it surrounding the two women.

“I should – uh – I – uh – I should go.” Janet just couldn’t anymore and fussed with her teacup.    

Emily put her hand up and shook her head.  She turned and looked at Dreyfus and sat up in her chair.

“We’ve had some bad news, today.  Terrible news.  Do you remember Monica?”

Dreyfus didn’t, but it was important, so he nodded and made a sound like agreement.

“They were here a couple of years ago.  We went for drinks and the next day we went shopping — remember?  And you met us for tea at Harrods.”

Dreyfus remembered now.  He could count on one finger the number of times he’d had tea at Harrods.  He rushed to fill in the pieces.  Attractive woman, boarding school hair, clothes off the rack and – uh – John? – no – James?  James.  And a daughter – pretty thing, knees and elbows, twelve going on twenty-five.  Practically curtsied when he held her coat for her.

“She lost her daughter.”

Janet twisted her neck and looked away, and Dreyfus could see the glisten in Emily’s eyes.  This was bad.

“The police found her in the back of a car with a needle in her arm.”

Janet moved abruptly.  Her chair pushed the table and the cups rattled on their saucers.

“I can’t do this.” Her voice was wet, “I can’t.  I have to go.   I – ah — God I can’t, really, I …”

Even in the darkness, Dreyfus could see her look was cornered, frightened, fleeing.  This wasn’t Janet Miller – not the one he knew.  It worried him.

“No, you’re not going anywhere in this.  There’s a bed upstairs.  Go up and lie down.  You’ve had a horrible shock.  We need to leave this for tonight, and you need to try get some sleep.  The bed’s there.  Go.”

Janet looked at Emily.  Emily moved her head, stood up, and offered her hand.  “Come, I’ll show you.”  Janet stood up and obediently followed her to the door.

“The stairs.  Straight up.”  And hugged her friend.  For a time, the rain fell into the river.  And sometime later, Emily came back out onto the terrace.

“I’ll take that drink, now.”

Dreyfus went in, poured two glasses and came back outside.  He handed one to Emily and sat down in Janet’s chair.  They both took a serious mouthful.  The whisky was warm in the wet night.

“She’s very shaken.  How about you?”

“Jans was JJ’s godmother.  I am too, but it wasn’t the same.  Monica just included me because the three of us were at school.  For Jans, it was special.  She even went to see her last November . . .  yeah, left the country.  And they were talking about having her come up to Pyaridge for part of her summer holiday.”

There was more quiet.

“She wasn’t an addict, Dreyfus.”

Dreyfus didn’t answer.  One hit, two hits, twenty – it didn’t matter – the white powder didn’t care.  This JJ wasn’t the first teenager to experiment with evil and find it unforgiving.

The rain and the river continued, finding each other in the night and travelling together to the faraway sea.

“I don’t ask you for much.”

“You don’t ask me for anything.”

“I’m asking you for this.”

“Alright,” Dreyfus agreed.

“Come with us to Florence and find the men who did this to that poor little girl.   And make sure that they never do it to anyone else.”

Dreyfus looked out into the rain.  He sipped his whisky and turned to look at Emily.  She looked back at him.

“You need to be sure.  I’m not a policeman.”

Emily didn’t move her eyes.  “I don’t want a policeman.  They don’t deserve a policeman.  She was sixteen.”

“You never met my father?” Jonathan McCormick leaned back in his chair.  Dreyfus was impatient, but it was story time and he didn’t interrupt. “No, no, of course not.  We brought you in to solve that problem.  I remember.  You and I were just kids, then.”  (Actually, Jonathan McCormick was 21 years older than Dreyfus, almost to the day.)  There was a short moment while McCormick looked out at the grey London skyline.  Then he swivelled his chair just slightly and pointed to a conversation group, across the big room, on his right.  “You know he died in that chair.  That one.  The one I use.”  Dreyfus was suddenly interested.  “I had it all redone.”  McCormick flicked his fingers dismissively.  “And if you look closely, you can see I couldn’t quite match the leather, but it’s the same chair.  Henshaw says there’s enough McCormick blood soaked into the wood of that chair that it could be a relative.”  McCormick paused again. “That’s how she got the scar.”  McCormick touched his cheek.  “They shot her on the way in.  A couple of secretaries downstairs, Norton from security, old Matheson who used to work the lift — it was a terrible day.”  McCormick slowly shook his head, “We had a week of funerals.”  McCormick turned to face Dreyfus across the desk.      

“I kept the bullets, you know, all of them.  The boys at the Met were just hopping.”  McCormick blew a flippant gust of air, “But they weren’t going to trace them anyway.  Those guns were in the Thames before the Yard even got the call.  Nancy says it’s ghoulish, but it’s not as if they’re on the mantel.  They’re not a shrine.  Just a reminder.”

“Oh, so this is where it’s going,” Dreyfus thought and relaxed a bit.

“My father got all those people killed because he didn’t mind his own business.  He wanted to change the world, and he clashed antlers with a bad bunch who like it the way it is.”  McCormick looked at nothing through the Moon gate behind Dreyfus’ head.  “But,” he snapped back to life, “Blood under the bridge, I suppose.  So, what do we have?  Personal time and an introduction.  Alright.  Let’s call this a leave of absence.  Take whatever time you need.  Come back when you’re ready.”

(Dreyfus translated, “If you must.  Do what you have to do, do it quickly and don’t involve me.”)

“Now, an introduction.”  McCormick thought for a second, “We have a few friends in Florence, but I don’t imagine you want to have tea with Donna Ferragamo? Without knowing …” McCormick stopped, looked directly at Dreyfus and frowned a suspicion, “You’re not moonlighting for Michael Elliott and that crowd down in Pimlico, are you?”

“No,” Dreyfus shook his head, “As I said, strictly personal.”  He opened his hand in front of him.

McCormick nodded and looked toward the Moon gate, “Alright, I don’t pry.  Henshaw!”

“Yes,” the voice was mechanical and tinny.

“I need the particulars for Riccardo Ciampi, and give Sinclair a copy when he leaves.” McCormick dropped his eyes back to Dreyfus.  “When are you leaving?”

“We have a flight tomorrow morning.”

McCormick noted the “we,” but his expression didn’t change.

“Leave it with me.  I’ll telephone today.  He’ll know you’re coming and you can settle anything else between the two of you.  I’ve never met Riccardo, but we’ve worked with the family and they’re business people.”  McCormick stood up and, despite his best efforts, couldn’t resist, “But remember they’re Italian – family first.”  He stepped around the desk.  For a second, Dreyfus thought he was going to shake hands or something equally awkward, but McCormick walked over, sat in his father’s chair and opened the file he was carrying.

“Keep me informed,” he said — without looking up.  It was the end of the conversation, and Dreyfus turned without another word and left.  Henshaw handed him a slip of paper on the way out.  He read it and put it in his pocket as he stepped into the elevator beside Alan who worked the key for the ground floor.

A couple of minutes later, when Dreyfus was safely back on the street, Henshaw walked through the Moon gate.  McCormick looked up from his file.

“When you want to know what sort of mischief bad boys are getting up to, who do you talk to?”

“Their mums.”

“I’ll need Martina Ciampi’s telephone number.”

Henshaw shook the paper in her hand.  “On your desk.”

Florence is a tourist town.  Like Venice, it’s full of trudging backpacks with sensible shoes, queueing up and sitting down and taking photographs and spending money.  Every day (there is no tourist “season” anymore) from dawn until way beyond dark, the narrow medieval streets are overwhelmed by these grim-faced invaders.  But unlike Venice, in Florence, a few streets away from David and the Uffizi, there’s another city – Firenze – a tough little Tuscan town that hasn’t changed its ways since the Medici held sway on the banks of the Arno.  Dreyfus, Emily and Janet Miller chose to stay in a hotel deep in the heart of tourist country.  It overlooked the river and was within shouting distance of the Ponte Vecchio – three more anonymous foreign faces in the shadow of the Basilica.  Dreyfus would find Firenze later; right now, he was just trying to keep up with Emily’s rapid fire Italian — and Janet’s awkward what-do-I-do-with-my-hands was getting on his nerves.

“They’re going to meet us at a restaurant by the school,” Emily said as she gathered their passports, “I’ve sent the luggage up, and I’ve got directions.”

The man behind the reception desk caught Dreyfus’s eye, and they nodded acknowledgement.  Sydney’s package had arrived.  Dreyfus would pick it up later.

“I need – uh – I need, I need to change …” Janet half stood and pulled at her shirt.

“No, Jans — you’re fine.”  Emily stepped over, straightened her friend’s button line and brushed her hair back with her fingers.  “C’mon, we have to go.”

A few streets, a few turns, a few shops and shoppers, and fifteen silent walking minutes later, they found Piazza degli Strozzi.  It was long and thin, bright and grey and paved with new stones.  There were two sets of outdoor tables ahead of them, and from there, across the square, a dark-haired woman stood up.  A second, two — then steps, faster steps, a heel-clicking half run and the three women met and hugged and cried and clung to each other like rescued survivors.  Dreyfus slowed.  None of this was his, and he knew enough to casually stay away.  By the time he reached them, the tears were being sniffled and swallowed and hunted by Kleenex.  Through the sorrys and sympathies, there was suddenly a man with his hand out and …

“Jans, here — use this …”

“Let me see what …”

“Oh, Magpie. I knew you’d come.  I just couldn’t …”

Magpie? Dreyfus made a note to save that for a better time.

“Sinclair, isn’t it?”  The hand had a voice, and Dreyfus reached forward. “James Montrose, we met …”

“Yes, I remember.  My condolences.  This is a terrible time for you.”

“It’s a bad business.” Montrose’s voice shook against his middleclass upbringing.  For a few seconds they stood there, two men awkwardly aware they couldn’t help the women next to them, rescue them, make it better – fix anything.  They were without purpose.  But that changed.  A heavy Mercedes slowly rolled through the square and stopped beside them.  The driver got out.  In the afternoon sun, he wore a black leather jacket.

“Riccardo Ciampi,” he said at them.

Dreyfus looked at Emily.  She was surprised but nodded her approval.

Dreyfus turned back to Montrose.  “I’m very sorry, but I have some business to take care of, and it simply can’t wait.  Maybe we can get together later.”  Then he looked back to Emily: “Go ahead.  I’ll find you.”  As Dreyfus walked over to the car, the driver opened the rear passenger door.

Florence isn’t a large place, but it’s not built for automobiles, so it took the driver some time to cross the river and get to where he wanted to go.  Finally, he stopped beside a three-table restaurant, stuck on a narrow Y street corner.  He got out and opened the door for Dreyfus.  Dreyfus got out and saw a woman sitting at the furthest table.  She was of an age, certainly more than sixty, but after that ….  She was too handsome to have ever been a great beauty, but her cheekbones made her attractive, and her eyes made her interesting.

“You are Dreyfus Sinclair.” It wasn’t a question, and there was only a trace of Italian pronunciation.

Dreyfus nodded and didn’t wait for an invitation to sit down. “And you are?”

The woman offered a brown earthen jug.  Dreyfus reached over and poured himself a glass of deep red wine.

“Our grapes.  Do you eat?”

Dreyfus nodded and tasted the wine.  There was no suggestion of a toast.  He nodded again, set the glass down and waited.

“I am Martina Ciampi.  My son is a busy man, so I will help you with the dead English girl.” 

He turned his head slightly in a question.  Martina Ciampi smiled.

“When an English girl dies in Italy, everyone wants answers.”

Dreyfus noticed there was no traffic, no people walking, no anything except the two of them and the man standing by the car.  And even though it was a warm afternoon, most of the upper windows of the buildings around them were shuttered.  It made Dreyfus extremely aware that the gun he’d asked Sydney to get for him was sitting in a box back at the hotel.

“I don’t care about answers.  All I want to know is who gave her the White Powder.  Tell me that and we can be friends.”

A young woman came out of the tiny restaurant with a wooden platter of sliced meat, quartered tomatoes, bread and cheese.  She set it down on the table and turned away without looking at anything.

“Everyone knows Dreyfus Sinclair is a bad enemy.”  Martina stabbed a single slice of meat off the tray and held it in the air “But is he a good friend?” She slid the meat off the knife with her teeth.

“Everyone knows?”

“Powerful men have long arms, and when Jonathan McCormick sends you as his fist, people talk.  They say you’re untouchable.”

Dreyfus laughed, cut a piece of cheese and ate it off his knife.

“People say a lot of things, and this has nothing to do with Jonathan McCormick.”

“Hmm, just so.  He said you were an honest man.” Martina pointed to the tray.  “Wild boar.  Good for the stomach.”  She leaned sideways, reached into a large bag at her feet, brought out two pale blue folders and put them on the table.

“This is the police report.  It will be released with the girl’s body in two days.  Drug overdose, very sad.  It’s written in English.  You can read it if you like, but,” the woman slowly shook her head, “It’s a … a fantasy.”

Dreyfus took a slice of wild boar sausage, put it on a piece of bread and ate it.  He didn’t touch the folder.

“This is the other report, in Italian.  Will I tell you what it says?”

“Please.”  Dreyfus continued chewing and reached for his wine.

“The English girl,” Martina opened the folder and read from the first page, “Jordyn Janet Montrose died of pulmonary aspiration.”

Dreyfus swallowed, “She choked on her own vomit?”

Martina looked up from the page.

“The needle?”

“There was no heroin in her body except around the puncture wound.”

“So why,” Dreyfus reached his index finger over and tapped the first file, “This?”

Martina tilted her head.  Dreyfus thought about it for a couple of seconds.  Clearly this woman was enjoying this a lot more than he was.  It was time to speed things up.

“Alright.  I’m not playing cat-and-mouse all afternoon.  Thanks for the vino.”  Dreyfus finished the glass, set it down and stood up.  The man at the car straightened.

“Hmm, just so.  He said you were direct.” Martina closed the folder and motioned for Dreyfus to sit down, “We’ll be direct, you and I.  Your pretty English girl had a bad reaction to anesthetic and died on an operating table.  There was vaginal bruising and bleeding.”

“Abortion?” Dreyfus interrupted.  Now he was confused.  He sat down.

“No,” Martina sipped her wine, “They were gathering eggs.  Like a farmer in the hen house.”

Sunny Italian afternoons are for lazy conversations about art and love and beauty; they’re not about greasy alleyways and murky light and wicked men with dirty fingers.  It was immediately clear to Dreyfus Sinclair – a random drug overdose was unfortunate but palatable; an abducted teenager, harvested for parts, was not for public consumption.  He felt like he needed a shower, but he poured another glass of wine.  After a few seconds …

“Alright.  Who?  And where do I find them?”

Martina Ciampi delicately chose one of the tomatoes with her fingernails.  Maybe this was the man she needed, but she was too old a bunny to be taken in by a big reputation.  Men were dreadful gossips, all balls and bragging.  Still, if even half of what “they say” about this man was true, the saints had provided him for her at exactly the right moment.  Because men, like this man, were good for one thing (outside the bedroom) – violence. And Signora Ciampi needed a lot of violence right now.  She bit the tomato.  And with a little help, this man could deliver it for her.

Dreyfus did wonder what the woman across from him was thinking, but in all honesty, he didn’t really care.  He’d just been thrown sideways out of an ordinary tit-for-tat revenge story into a sinister business that was probably beyond his power to correct.  He selected another slice of wild boar and some bread and waited.  Now he needed this woman’s information, but it looked as if she was going to tell him the whole long story.

“Two brothers,” she began, “They came to Florence after Kosovo.  At first, no one cared.  Italian cities are full of people no one wants – refugees, migrants, gypsies – and the brothers fed on these throwaways.  And they got fat on the food no one else wanted.  No one complains when the faceless ones disappear or end up floating in the Arno with no kidneys.  And the brothers got rich, and the brothers got bold.  They bought businesses and brought their friends from Albania to run them.  Italians …” Martina wiped her hand through the air, “Don’t work for these men.  Now they think they own the streets.”

“Do they?”  Dreyfus asked offhandedly.

Martina sipped her wine and turned her head.  Should she lie to this man?

“Not all of them.” There was venom. “Not yet.”

Dreyfus chewed a little too deliberately.  This just kept getting worse.  Apparently, he’d stumbled into a turf war as well, but, more importantly, he’d accidently given this woman a primo opportunity to set up a game of lets-you-and-him-fight.  Smart Dreyfus was telling him to finish his wine, make his excuses and run.  But the other Dreyfus was sitting there, eating wild boar salami and wondering how much ammunition was in the package Sydney had left him at the hotel.

“But they think this can be their town, and they want to show everybody they can do what they please in their town.  They reach beyond the faceless ones.”  Martina made a claw with her hand and shook it, “To my people.  People who look at me to protect them.”

“My English girl?”

“She was at a party.  Too much to drink.  It’s happened before.”  It was dismissive, and Martina settled back in her chair and cut another piece of cheese.

Dreyfus swallowed and reached for his wine.  This was taking too long.  He needed information, not a history lesson.

‘How many?”

Should she lie to this man?

“Maybe twenty – uh – twenty hard men.  No more than that.  The rest …” Martina made a sneering face and shifted her eyes over Dreyfus’ shoulder.

He wondered if this woman was lying.  “That’s not very many.  In a place this size, you’ve got to have three times that many, maybe more.”  Dreyfus lifted his shoulder and opened his hand. “Why are you even worried?”

Martina shrugged. “The time when, the Ciampi didn’t worry about anything, but today – puh! — Italian men are soft.  They like their Lamborghini, their Gucci, their Romanian maiala.  Tight pants and no favas.  The days of the Liccasapuni are over.  Now we negotiate.  Talk.  Like bankers.”  Nobody does scorn like an Italian woman who feels she’s been wronged.

Holy hell!  This wasn’t just a turf war: it was an all-in-the-family power struggle.  Clearly, the young stuff wanted to live and let live with the Albanians, but Mamma was more interested in live and let die.  But why was this woman telling him all this?  It didn’t make any sense.  She could have (should have) just shopped the Albanian brothers as heroin dealers and been on her way.  The voice of smart Dreyfus was louder now, practically shouting at him to run … but it was too late.  The trap was already sprung.  Dreyfus felt the movement over his shoulder.  His eyes instinctively searched the table for something sharp.  The cheese knife?  Dreyfus turned just slightly as the driver stepped past.  He leaned down and whispered into Martina Ciampi’s ear.  She looked away, then looked directly at Dreyfus.

“The Albanians have taken the woman Perry-Turner.  They came to the …”

Dreyfus held a finger in the air, and for a nanosecond, his eyes betrayed his absolute fury.  Martina shuddered in surprise, and the driver stepped back and automatically reached inside his coat.

Don’t!” Dreyfus snarled.  There was a second of suspended animation.  Jonathan McCormick had warned him about this.  But he hadn’t listened.  And when he looked, all he saw was what he assumed was already there – a couple of lowlife drug dealers.  He’d been blindsided by his own expectations.  Now what?  There was only one way out.  Quit being played.  Do the unexpected, and put these people on the wrong foot for a while – all of them.  Dreyfus reached for the wine pitcher and poured some into his glass.  He looked back at Martina — measuring her – but only his eyes moved.  There was no anger in his face, just a terrible indifference — and it scared her.

“I’m not going to ask you how they know who we are,” he said evenly.  He cut a piece of cheese and took a slice of capocollo.  He’d had enough wild boar for a while.

“Just so,” Martina thought. “He said he was a deliberate man.”  But this was all wrong.  Suddenly, Signora Ciampi was wary of this man.

Dreyfus looked at the driver.  “You need to go wait in the car.”  He leaned back in his chair and turned to Martina. “And you need to tell me about these Albanian brothers.  We’ve got all afternoon, so I want the details.”  Dreyfus lifted his glass and drank.

From there, even though for the first couple of hours Martina Ciampi was practically trembling with impatience, events moved rather quickly.  Dreyfus learned what he needed to know about the Kovaci brothers and, in theory, decided to destroy their little corner of the world.  However, first he needed to slap these clowns for involving Emily and also remove her value as a bargaining chip. A delicate balance.  Eventually, he ordered coffee and excused himself to make a telephone call.

“Sydney, I need a car and a driver.  A taxi would work perfectly.”

“We don’t actually do taxis in that part of the world.  But I’ll get you what you need.”

“Something nondescript and deposable.”

“At your hotel in an hour – maybe a little longer?”

“That’s perfect.  Thank you, Sydney.  Goodbye.”

Then he finished his coffee, thanked Signora Ciampi for the information and told her he’d walk back to the hotel.  Martina, who had never seen anything like this in her life, said goodbye and sat for several minutes trying to figure out what had just happened.  When she finally stood up, she looked down at the crumbs on his plate and the red tinge at the bottom of his wine glass.  Jonathan McCormick hadn’t told her anything about this man.  She turned, to her left — in a circle — one and a half times and, standing facing away from the table, made the sign of the cross before she walked to the car.

At about the same time, Dreyfus could already see the river. (Florence is a small place.)  He stopped at a tourist kiosk and bought a hat, sunglasses and a red “Italia” shirt.  Then he bought a gelato and fought the crowd across Ponte Vecchio.  Back at the hotel, he found Janet Miller in the bar.

“What the fuck are you two playing at?”  Janet Miller was Janet Miller again.  Her eyes had flavor and spark and a lot of anger.

Dreyfus was going to say … but decided against it and exhaled seriously. “Tell me what happened.”

“Three men with guns.”  The barman started over, took a look and turned around.  “They came from …

Dreyfus made a gesture with his hand.

“No, they just opened their jackets and showed us.”

“Then what?”

“Em said she wasn’t going anywhere unless they paid the bar bill.”  Janet took a drink, “So one of them went over and paid it.”

Dreyfus smiled.

“Then when she was getting into their car, she said, ‘Tell Dreyfus his damsel is in distress.’ And they just drove away.  James was going to call the Carabinieri, but I talked him out of it.  They think you two are playing some kind of a sick joke.  Is that what you’re doing?  Because …”

“No.  No, it’s not.  Look, Janet, you have to go back to the Montroses.  The Italians are going to release the body of their daughter in two days, and you need to help arrange transportation.”

‘How do you know …?”  Janet looked pained at the mention of her goddaughter, and her face lost most of its life.

“I just know.  But this is serious.  You have to get the Montroses out of the country as soon as.  And you have to make sure they don’t come back until the rest of this gets sorted.”

“They’re coming here later to pick me up.”  The colour was coming back into Janet’s face.  She had a job to do.

“That’ll work.”

“JJ didn’t die of an overdose, did she?”

“No.  That’s what the autopsy is going to say, but no, no she didn’t.”  Dreyfus was definitely not going to give Janet Miller any more information.

A couple of hours later, Dreyfus was sitting in the back seat of a squared-off, four-door some kind of car that he couldn’t name.  He had Emily’s suitcase beside him and a 9mm Beretta in a holster under his left arm.  It was that strange time in the Italian day – too late for sunny afternoon but too early for cool breeze evening – when even the tourist streets were relatively empty.  As if the world was waiting.  Dreyfus was waiting for a gaggle of middle-aged, middle-class couples to get out of the narrow side street he wanted a little privacy on.  He could just see the blue-green neon Salut sign.  It was a one-door Kovaci brothers’ dance club, with two bored doormen waiting for the late night dance ‘til-the-Ecstasy-wears-off rush.  The couples turned the corner, and Dreyfus got out of the car.  He pulled Emily’s suitcase behind him, and in his other hand, hidden by his hip, was the Beretta.  He stopped just short of the two doormen and pulled the suitcase forward.  

“My name is Dreyfus Sinclair.  Tell your boss this is the English woman’s suitcase.  She’s going to …”

The first man stepped forward.

“Fuck o …”

On average, 9 mm bullets travel at 300 mps (metres per second.)  So, at that range, when Dreyfus shot the man in the face, he was dead before he finished the sentence and was already crumpling to the cobblestones when Dreyfus leveled the smoking gun at the second man’s head.

“Open your jacket.  Two fingers.”

The man obeyed, shaking his head.

“My name is Dreyfus Sinclair.  Tell your boss this is the English woman’s suitcase.  She’s going to want to change her clothes.  I’ll be by and collect her in a couple of days.  And you,” Dreyfus gestured with the gun, “Give your boss the message, and go back to Albania.  Because if I see you again, I’m going to kill you.”

Dreyfus let go of the suitcase, turned and casually walked back to the car.  He got into the back seat and said to the driver Sydney had provided for him: “Next.”

A few streets over, the next dance club was upscale, on a wider avenue with more lighting.  The neon Onion sign was red, outlined in yellow, and it didn’t flicker or buzz.  There was a waist-high line of stanchions along the curb, connected by coiled velvet ropes.  Nobody was waiting – it was early.  The two doormen were smaller and better dressed.  Dreyfus put on the baseball cap he’d bought earlier and adjusted the sunglasses so they sat on the peak.  He held the Beretta low against his leg as he got out of the car.  He took three long, sharp steps to cross the street and, without pausing, raised the gun and shot the larger man in the head.  The cobblestones were uneven and the shot was a little low, catching the man just under the chin.  But it was still fatal, and the bullet furrowed through the man’s brain before he had time to do anything but look surprised.  Dreyfus swung the gun to the second man.

“Open your jacket.  Two fingers.”

No Inglese.”  The man didn’t shake his head.

He was clearly no stranger to gun violence.  But he wasn’t a professional, or he wouldn’t be working the door.  Still, he was quite likely armed and was probably calculating his chances.  Dreyfus lowered the Beretta to waist high.

“Open you jacket slowly, or I’ll blow your balls off.”  For a quick glance nanosecond, Dreyfus shifted his eyes to the dead man.  The second man didn’t move.  (Gotcha!)   “I won’t ask you again.” Dreyfus added almost casually, his eyes firmly back on the man’s face.  There was no hesitation.  The man opened his jacket.

“Wider.”

He had a gun on his belt.  Dreyfus stepped forward, his eyes still on the man’s face and his gun level with the man’s crotch.  He plucked the gun out of its holster and stepped back.  It was a fashionable Glock (Death by Ikea) and Dreyfus put it in his pocket.

“On your knees.  Hands on your head.  Cross your ankles.”

The man was clumsy but complied.  He was beginning to understand he wasn’t going to die.

”My name is Dreyfus Sinclair.  Tell your boss he should have left me alone.  And you should go back to Albania.  Next time, I’ll kill you.”

Dreyfus took one step backwards, turned, went back to the car and they drove away.  It had been a couple of seconds short of three minutes.

The next address was further away from the tourist area on a quiet, unassuming street.  There was a restaurant on the corner with a few early eaters, a couple of shops that were closed and a storefront grocery.  They parked across from a narrow double door with a small metal video intercom cut into the stone.  There was a CCTV camera on a pole over the door.

“Brothel?” Dreyfus asked the driver.

“Card room.  Midsized tables.  House take maybe one million Euro on a good night.  No entry unless they recognize you.”

Dreyfus put his hat back on and steadied the sunglasses.

“When I get out, back it up about five metres, wait until I stop shooting, then pull forward so I can get in.”

Dreyfus stepped into the street, took a step forward as the car reversed behind him, and pulled the Glock out of his pocket.  He put two bullets into the double doors, right at their handles, turned just slightly and shot at the intercom.  The first bullet hit the screen in a flurry of sparks, but the next two missed and ricocheted wickedly off the stone.  Not a good plan.  He turned the gun back to the doors and emptied the rest of the clip in a straight line across where the handles used to be.  Then he turned around and got back in the car which was already going forward.  It had been less than a minute, but Dreyfus had the effect he wanted — and anyone behind the doors was dead or seriously dying.

Dreyfus held the Glock in the air.

“Souvenir or should we toss it?”

“Souvenir.”

Dreyfus dropped it forward onto the passenger seat. “That’s enough for tonight,” he said.  He reached into his side pocket, pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to the driver.  “Do you know this place?”

The driver looked at the paper, “Yeah, I know it.  North-west from here, by the airport.”

“We need to go there.  No rush.  I want to watch it for a while.  And can you get me some Semtex?”

“Semtex?”

“Uh?” Dreyfus pushed his tongue against his bottom teeth and looked out the window, “C-4.”

“Right.  No, I’m just the driver.  Did they give you a telephone?”

Dreyfus reached into his left jacket pocket and brought out a cheap flip phone.

“Call the number.”  There was a pause.  “Why did you make me reverse back there?”

Dreyfus chuckled.  “You went just out of range of the CCTV.  Cops hate anomalies.  They’ll think you were doing something and waste a lot of time trying to figure out what.”

“Aah,” the driver said and nodded his head.  He liked this guy.

The next morning, by the time Riccardo Ciampi got to his mother’s house for coffee, he was already having a great day.  Lotta was going to take the children to Roma for the weekend, and someone (rumour had it, the British Secret Service) had shot up a couple of the Kovaci brothers’ nightclubs.  Apparently, they’d made the mistake of kidnapping a member of the British Royal family.  And he could hardly wait to give his momma a more than gleeful told-you-so lecture.  Riccardo had been of the opinion that a shooting war with the Albanians would be bad for business – although, as their power grew, he had begun to regret that decision.  Unfortunately, changing his mind meant admitting to his mother that she was right, and he was wr – wr – wr – not right.  A bitter pill to swallow.  Now – well – someone else was doing the shooting, and even though it was more good luck than good management, Riccardo was very willing to take credit for his patience and wisdom

Buongioro, Momma,” he said, leaning forward and kissing Martina Ciampi on the cheek.

In a newer suburb home, not quite in the Tuscan hills, the Kovaci brothers were still in shock.  Their information had been that an insurance investigator had come to Florence to pursue a wrongful death suit against them over some English teenager.  And although they had no idea who this teenager was, they didn’t like, want or need anyone looking into their various business practices.  Their solution (a popular one, in their line of work) was massive intimidation — which always stopped these sorts of inquiries long before they were ever born.  Unfortunately, the information had been wrong, their response ill-advised, and now, on a bright Italian morning, they found themselves “thrown headfirst into a pot of shit soup.”  (A favourite expression of their maternal grandfather.)  Three dead bodies, three closed businesses, three police investigations — and, more importantly, no place to go to negotiate — had stunned them.  They’d made their own inquiries and found out very quickly that not only was this Dreyfus Sinclair a bad man to cross, but he was also connected to people who were even worse.  Albanians, as a rule, aren’t shy about trading heavy-handed violence with anyone (they don’t scare worth a hiccup) but they’re not stupid – and they are businessmen.

“What?”

“Have Guzim take the English woman her suitcase.  We need time to think.”

“Guzim is gone.  His mother’s sick.  He went home.”

Emily was not having a very good morning.  Yes, she was enjoying the cappuccino, cornetto and raspberry jam, the terrace was quiet and the view was remarkable.  The problem was she hadn’t slept well, and it hadn’t helped that three men had burst into the room in the middle of the night, asking her who she was and rummaging through her handbag for her passport.  The side effects of being kidnapped she thought — with gallows humour — and smeared jam on another cornetto.  Actually, aside from the midnight intrusion, the men had kept their distance, but Emily could feel them there, and there were a lot of them.  She trusted Sinclair, but was very aware that he wasn’t there.  And it’s one thing to know the cavalry’s coming, but you still have to survive until they get there.  She needed an advantage, a weapon.  She looked at the jam spoon and the butter knife – too delicate.  Besides, the older woman who’d brought breakfast was probably watching her and would, no doubt, count the cutlery.  Better to act as if the whole thing was as normal as crossing the road.

“Any chance of an orange juice?” she said, loud enough to be heard.

Dreyfus was asleep.  He’d spent most of the night lying in the weeds across a gravel road from two long, corrugated metal buildings.  There had been no activity until a truck with medical markings drove down the road.  The driver had opened the gate.  He didn’t use a key.  Then, suddenly, several yard lights came on, and four men came out of the first building.  They opened a big double door, and the truck drove in.  Then the lights all went out, and there were cigarettes and low, foreign language discussions with some laughter.  Later, a car drove away with only the driver inside.  Dreyfus waited until there was too much pre-dawn light and then crawled away — back to the car sitting with its hood up on the highway.  When he got back to the hotel, the night manager told him that the woman Janet Miller had checked out and left him a message that she was staying with the Montroses.  Good, old, dependable Ms. Miller! He’d call her tomorrow afternoon.  Then he went to the room and was almost instantly asleep.

Dreyfus Sinclair was invisible.  In the bright light of day, he would have looked foolish, lying in the dirt, but on the edge of the murky half-light night, as long as he didn’t move, no one could see him.  Twenty minutes earlier, he had casually walked through the chain link gate (a distressed motorist looking for a telephone) of the warehouse yard he’d watched the night before.  He found a spot on the open ground where the shadows were deepest and simply melted down into the darkness.  Now, he waited.

He slowly moved his feet to dig through the gravel so he wouldn’t slip when he jumped forward, but aside from that, he was motionless.  He’d learned long ago that most of what he did was hours of inactivity, slowly coiling the muscles for a sudden explosion of deadly action.  He’d once had a short correspondence with a Canadian military sniper who called it “planned impatience,” and that explanation suited him.  He had no illusions about the Zen of anticipation or the fear that was gathering in his armpits.  He wanted to move, wanted to rush forward, wanted to get it over with, wanted to walk away, sick with adrenaline — but he didn’t.  He waited, suspended in the darkness, unable to determine time until time began again.

There was a crack of light.  The warehouse doors opened, and the light widened as if two huge electric hands were parting the darkness.  Dreyfus could see two men.  They paused and disappeared back into the light of the building.  He felt his legs and arms tighten.  There was the noise of a truck that slowly rolled into the light and stopped.  A man got out of the passenger door and started walking to the back of the truck.  Dreyfus waited – one, two, three.  He steadied himself with one hand and pushed with his feet, springing into the air.  The sudden movement caught the man by surprise, and he flinched for the microsecond Dreyfus needed to shoot him twice.  Both bullets caught the man in the chest, and he dropped — not quite dead from the fatal wounds.  Dreyfus ignored him and ran to the back of the truck.  He went around it and dropped to one knee, shooting blindly into the dark silhouette of the walking driver.  The first bullet ricocheted harmlessly off the truck, but the second caught the man in the stomach and he folded forward.  Dreyfus put a third bullet into his slumping shadow.

Then he turned and sprayed the rest of the clip — waist-high — through the open warehouse door.  That would keep anyone who might be inside from getting brave and give Dreyfus the few seconds he needed to stuff a long futbol scarf into the truck’s fuel tank.  He pushed it down until he could smell the fuel; then he replaced the clip in the Beretta, turned, and emptied it into the open door.   He replaced the clip again, and with the other hand, snapped a cheap plastic lighter and held the flame to the scarf.  It didn’t catch, and Dreyfus moved it away before it ignited the fumes.  There was the sound of shots coming from inside the warehouse, but no distinctive whiz, so they weren’t close – yet.  He snapped the lighter again, and even though it gave away his position, he held it high and carefully lowered it to the fabric.  (Semtex would have worked so much better!)  The lighter was getting warm, but he held it steady to the tassels of the scarf.  There was a metallic crack, a tinny ting, and before he heard the whiz, a razor sting across the meaty part of his forearm.  Son of a bitch!  But the tassels were burning, and one … two … three — for God sake, c’mon! … seconds later, there was a jolt of flame, and Dreyfus released his thumb and pushed the hot lighter down into the fuel tank.  He waved the Beretta back at the warehouse door, fired several shots, turned and ran for the gate.  There was a gush of heat behind him as the fire hit the fuel, and the night sky lit up in front of him.  (Vehicles don’t actually explode when they catch fire, but they do burn vigorously.)

 It didn’t matter, Dreyfus knew the truck and everything in it was gone, and he was already through the gate, across the road and into the high weeds before he stopped and looked back.  He wasn’t the only one in a hurry to get out of there.  Three cars were already moving as the flames soared into the sky.  He touched the sting on his arm and his fingers came away wet.  It didn’t hurt – but it would.  He turned and walked, deep-breathing to settle his heart and lungs, down to the car waiting on the highway.  He got in, and as they drove away, Dreyfus reached for his telephone.  He tapped at it.

“Ms. Miller.”

“Dreyfus, it’s the middle of the night!”

“Come meet me for a drink at the hotel, and bring a needle and thread,” he said, giddy with adrenaline.

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 nasty 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 start 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.

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.

“Coffee?”

“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, we 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.

Later, behind the hotel, Dreyfus opened the car door.  Janet Miller had easily agreed to stay in the room all day and watch Italian TV.

“And no room service!  You’re not going to starve to death in 8 hours.  Eat the Pringles.”

The telephone call from Jonathan McCormick had been a little more difficult.  He had been as vague as always but made his point clearly.  The Italians were not happy with the recent turn of events, and they wanted McCormick to restore the tranquility of their city.  Jonathan McCormick, for his part, assured them that he had no interest whatsoever in whatever was happening in Tuscany; however, as a gesture, he would reach out to his vacationing employee and see when he was coming home.  He also mentioned that it was never a good idea to mix one’s personal affairs with business and that he, Jonathan McCormick, was a businessman.  Dreyfus promised his boss that this would all be over soon and he would make certain that the Italians were pleased with the result.  Then he reloaded his Beretta, reminded Janet – “Nobody through that door, but me” — and left the hotel.

As Dreyfus got into the back seat, he saw a medium-sized Dolce & Gabbana bag and looked forward at the rear view mirror.  The driver was watching.

“Two keys of C-4,” he said and reached his hand over his shoulder.  It looked like he was holding a bunch of pencils.

“You’re a day late.”

The driver shrugged and didn’t comment.  Dreyfus reached forward for the pencils.

“Detonators.  Just break them with your thumb.  The blue line is five minutes and the red one is two.”

Dreyfus looked into the bag.  There were four neat rectangular bars, but what the hell was he going to do with nearly five pounds of high explosives now?  The warehouse job was over, and Jonathan McCormick had just told him to quit doing what he was doing and come home.

“These are your problem,” Dreyfus said, putting the detonators on the seat and making a mental note to rip a strip off Sydney about this.  The driver shrugged again and looked into the rear view expectantly.  Dreyfus handed him another paper napkin from his conversation with Martina Ciampi. “Do you know this place?”

The driver read the napkin.  “Yeah, I know it.  It’s about – uh — maybe,” he drew with his finger in the air, “thirty … forty minutes.”

“Alright, let’s go.”

Ten minutes later, as the traffic out of the city thickened, Dreyfus’ telephone rang.

What the hell?  It was Michael Elliott.

“Hello?”  It was tentative at best.

“How’s Italy?”

Dreyfus chuckled.  “Too much to see but the people are nice.  I’ll send you a postcard.”

“Do that.”

There was silence.

“And?” Dreyfus could hear Elliott smiling.

“And.  Rumour has it that you and your Duchess are running around Italia, masquerading as officers of the Crown.  Do you want to enlighten me?”

Dreyfus thought about it.  This was bizarre.

“Don’t believe everything you hear.”

“Oh, I don’t.  But apparently, there’s a stack of dead bodies with your name on them and I’m told the Federal Italian police are asking questions about the British Secret Service.  You better give me something.”

A little more than an hour later …

Two men were dead, lying in spreading crimson pools, and the third was wheezing scarlet bubbles out of a couple of large calibre chest wounds.  Dreyfus smoothly took the empty clip out of the Beretta, put it in his pocket, and replaced it with a new one.  He slid the chamber back to load it and, trying to keep the fierce out of his voice, said, “Breathe, Emily.  Slowly.  It’s over.  Breathe.”

Emily, who was cowered half-hidden by a lounge chair with her arms covering her head was shaking so badly she thought she’d never breathe again.

Dreyfus waited.  There shouldn’t be anyone else in the house, but he wasn’t ready to take that on faith.  Just in case, he held the gun loosely on his arm for that nanosecond reaction time advantage.  The truth was Dreyfus Sinclair was not a very good shot.  On a static range, he could hit what he was aiming at – most times – but he was never going to win any prizes.  The reason he always walked away (so far) from deadly altercations is he didn’t hesitate.  And when you empty a 14 shot clip into anything that moves in a confined space, you’re not only going to hit something, you’re going to hit everything.  The three men on the floor were testament to that.

He kept his eyes on the far entryway, avoiding the big afternoon sunlight that slanted through the terrace windows.  The place was nice — wine and bread nostalgic Italian, probably built for a Mussolini grandee and, 80 years later, rented by the week or the month to rich tourists, minor film stars and, apparently, Albanian gangsters.  They were never going to get the blood stains off that lamp shade or out of the rugs.  It was an idle thought.  The man on the floor gurgled and died.  Dreyfus didn’t look down.

On the edge of his peripheral vision, he caught Emily unfolding and putting herself against the wall.  She pulled her knees up in front of her.  Her eyes were closed, and she was heave breathing against the rush of adrenaline sickness.  “Slowly,” he reminded her calmly.  “Deep breaths.”  Dreyfus glanced back to the terrace, but it really was over.  They needed to go.  It was always best to leave the scene of the crime quickly before the unexpected happened.  But they needed to wait — at least until Emily put some strength back into her trembling knees.  It wouldn’t take long.  Lady Perry-Turner was stiff upper lip resilient.  Dreyfus had seen this before and he knew enough to let her handle it.  They had time – not much – but time enough.  Dreyfus vaguely wondered why all Tuscan landscapes looked the same.  He had a vision of an army of paint-by-number artists turning them out in a warehouse west of Rome.  Was this one paint or a print?

“Did you kill them all?”

Emily wasn’t particularly bloodthirsty, but these men had been scaring the life out of her for the last three days.  No, they hadn’t touched her.  In fact, they’d been utter professionals and had barely even looked at her really, but Emily had been attacked by a group of men once before and she was under no illusion that she could effectively defend herself if they decided to be nasty.  And now that that unrelenting fear and tension had been released, it felt good to get a kick in.

“No, the two at the gate ran.  They’re halfway back to Florence by now.”

“Are we in trouble?”  Emily stretched her legs out.

With three men dead on the floor, it was a strange question.

“Not really.”  Dreyfus had already warned the Albanians, and he knew from experience that — as long as you didn’t start murdering family members — they were businessmen.  They would tally up their losses and get on with it.  Eight dead, two running and a burning truckload of transplantable organs and unfertilized eggs was a considerable loss.  They’d played their hand with Emily, but now that she was off the table, they were likely to want a truce.  Dreyfus wasn’t actually willing to let them off that easily, but he also knew his boss, Jonathan McCormick, was not going to let him beat on a potential client indefinitely.  So he’d already decided to give his information to the Italians and let them do the dirty work.

“But we need to go,” he said.

“Home?”

“Soon.  Grab whatever you don’t want to lose, and let’s go.”

“All I want is my jewelry.”

Dreyfus shrugged and put the Beretta back in its holster.  Emily slid up the wall.  She was still a little shaky but managed to navigate down the hall to the bedroom.  She opened her luggage, pulled out a couple of leather cases and put them in a shoulder bag.  She turned away, thought about it, turned back and found some underwear.  She balled them up and stuffed them into her bag. “With Sinclair, soon could mean anything,” she thought, and hurried back down the hallway.

The air was sweet and the high, afternoon sun was warm.  To Emily, walking down the tiny hill, away from the villa, it was as if she’d been ill and this was the first day nanny had let her go out and play.  Dreyfus walked behind her with a good view of the iron gate just in case the two men who’d run earlier decided to retest their courage.  They hadn’t.  And the gate was open and the car had been turned around on the narrow gravel road and, even though it wasn’t over, it felt like it.  At least the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t going to be the paramedics, anymore.  Through the gate and Dreyfus opened the passenger door.  Emily got in, half sat down, leaned and reached behind her.  She brought up a bundle of detonators (although she didn’t actually know what they were) and handed them to Dreyfus.  He just as casually took them and put them in his jacket pocket as he got in the backseat beside her.

“This is …” Dreyfus realized he didn’t know the driver’s name.

“I’m the driver, Signora.” He said looking at them through the rear-view.

“Of course you are.”  Emily replied, as he started the car.

Emily curled her arm around Dreyfus’ elbow.  “Did you miss me?”

Dreyfus laughed, “Well, I did have the indestructible Ms. Miller to keep me company.”  He stopped and turned his head to Emily, “The woman has skills.”  He turned his head back and faced forward.  “She does a thing with honey that would make your eyes water,” he said and shook his head slowly.  But before Emily could say anything Dreyfus reached his hand forward and shook the back of the driver’s seat. “Stop.  Stop, here.”

The men at the gate had left their car.  Or there was a car, or … it didn’t matter … the car was there and it was an unexpected opportunity.

“Pass me the Dolce bag.” Dreyfus pointed.  Emily handed it across without a word.  Dreyfus reached in and came out with what looked like a large cake of tofu. 

“I’ll be right back,” he said, got out of the car and matter-of-factly walked over to the black four-door whatever-it-was.  The door was unlocked.  Dreyfus opened it, stopped, took a detonator out of his pocket and stuck it halfway into the cake.  Then he broke the cap at the blue mark, put it under the driver’s seat and closed the door.  A half kilo of high explosive in a confined space would rip the pleasant out of this pleasant little valley and, more importantly — bring the carabinieri.  And they’d be very interested in this turn of events, especially after they discovered three dead Albanians up at the villa.

Dreyfus got back in the car.  “Alright, five minutes.”

The car pulled away, quickly but not with any suspicious speed and less than a minute later, at the village by the river, turned into the traffic on the main highway.  Maybe someone would remember the car, but even if they did …

The road was smooth and Emily, leaning into Dreyfus’ shoulder, let her eyes close and half-close and close again.  And the car motor was steady, soft noise.  And she could feel Dreyfus breathing and he was warm and three days of wary and careful and watching slowly dissolved away and Emily’s eyes were too heavy to … closed again … and maybe … and then she was asleep.  And a few minutes later when the air opened up behind them in a long angry rumble of faraway thunder, she didn’t even move.  And that’s the way they drove back to Florence.  Emily sleeping – deep and dreamless.  Dreyfus motionless watching the Tuscan countryside and ignoring the pins and needles tingling in his shoulder and arm.  And the nameless driver, driving carefully with the traffic and seriously wondering — what kind of a woman would a man kill that many people for.    

Florence is a tourist town, so nobody noticed when a couple of extra ones got out of a car behind a hotel.  And nobody bothered to pause and eavesdrop on their conversation.

“But, Sinclair …”

No!  Just stay in the hotel room.  It’s only for a couple of hours.  It’s not going to kill you.”

“But I don’t …”

“Listen to me.  Janet’s already there.  This isn’t an argument.  Do as you’re …”

“For God sake, Dreyfus!” Emily’s patience was over, “Shut up for five seconds!”  They looked at each other.  Emily exhaled, “I don’t know the room number.”

“Oh.” Dreyfus’ head bobbed.

“I was never in the room.  Kidnapped!  Remember?”  Emily stuck her face forward.

“Alright, alright.  Sorry – uh – 402.  Elevator,” Dreyfus lifted his index finger and pointed it, “Straight ahead”

Emily laughed and shook her head.  She reached up and put her palm on his cheek.  “Go do what you’re going to do.  I promise I’ll stay in the hotel.  Janet and I’ll get drunk.” She gave him a short, sharp slap, “Just make sure you come back and pick up the pieces.”

Dreyfus instinctively grabbed her wrist and bent down and kissed her, pushing his tongue between her lips.  But before she could respond, he pulled his head back and half-smiled.

“Stay – uh — relatively sober.” He nodded, knowingly, raising his eyebrows, “When I get back, this thing is going to be over and we going to go out and see what we can find.”

Emily smiled, “I look forward to spending your money.”  She turned on her heels, and Dreyfus watched her walk away.

In the hotel, Emily walked through the lobby and stopped at the bar.

“A bottle of something red.”  The barman touched a bottle. “That’ll do.  Room 402.”  Emily took the bottle and went to the elevator.  Three flights up and 402 was straight ahead.  Emily knocked on the door with the base of the bottle.

“Jans.  It’s me.  Let me in.”

Suddenly the door was flung open, Emily was hauled into the room and surrounded by Janet Miller — who was hugging and rubbing and crying and hanging on as if her friend was the last lifeboat off the Titanic.

“Jesus, Jans!  Let go!  Let go!  I can’t breathe!”

Janet let her go as the door closed behind them. “Sorry.  Sorry.” Janet sniffed and swallowed, “Hormones.  But I was so worried.  I …”

Emily held up the bottle of wine.

“Never mind.  Look what I found.  Get some glasses, and I’ll tell you all about it.  It was terrible: no orange juice!” Emily smiled slyly.  God, this felt good!

Behind the hotel, the car pulled away, and Dreyfus handed the driver another torn paper napkin.

“We need to get close to here without getting under the CCTV.”

The driver looked at the address. “No CCTV.  It’s a brothel.” The driver looked in the rear-view, “Dedicated to the rich and famous.”

“How rich and famous?”

“Local deities but the kind who don’t want to be seen.”

“Security?”

“Some.  But it doesn’t open until later – around midnight.  This time of day, it’s probably empty, maybe a frontman to chase the tourists away, or,” The driver shook his head, “Maybe cleaners?  That’s all.”

Dreyfus looked down at the bag at his feet.  This would work.

“Get me close enough to see.”

Dreyfus took the cheap flip phone out of his pocket and tapped in a number.

“Pronto?”  It was a woman’s voice.

“The brothers are going to run.  If you send your friends into the streets tonight, you’ll own them.”

“How do you know this?”

Dreyfus ignored the question. “I’m going home.  Consider it a going-away present.  Maybe sometime you can return the favour?”

“Maybe?”

“Ciao.”

“Ciao.”

Martina Ciampi sat at her desk and looked down at the black screen telephone.  She was relieved.  She hadn’t known many men like this Sinclair, and they frightened her.  She was glad he was leaving.  Don’t come back.  But the gamble had been a good one, and she needed to finish it before her son knew what was going on.  She reached forward for her other telephone and tapped a number to summon her people.  Riccardo could tell her all about it in the morning.

A couple of minutes later, Dreyfus looked out the car window at an ordinary street.  There were a few people, window boxes, shutters, a stone curb and a grocery stall down the way.  The number he was interested in had heavy doors, but even that didn’t look out of place.  Dreyfus reached down and tore a fist- sized piece of C-4 off the cake in the bag.  He rolled it in his hands like a small cigar, put on his hat and got out of the car.  As he walked over to the building, he took a detonator out of his pocket and stuck it into the explosives.  At the doors, he jammed both into the gap at the bottom and broke the pencil at the red mark.  As he walked away, he took the telephone out of his pocket, stood at the car and counted thirty seconds.  Then he tapped in a number.  There was a hollow ring and man answered in a language Dreyfus didn’t understand.

“Hi, there.  My name is Dreyfus Sinclair.  The next sound you hear is me blowing the doors off one of your brothels.  In a couple of hours, the police are going to tell you which one.”

There was a flood of English threats and obscenities.

“No, be quiet.  It’s your turn to listen.  Here’s the deal.  I’m tired of playing with you people.  You’ve got a friend of mine, but Lady Perry-Turner wants to come home, now.  So tonight, at nine o’clock you’re going to leave her in the Piazza di Santa Trinita, and she better be …”  There was a loud explosion and — even though Dreyfus was some distance away — he felt the shock wave.  Hmm, too much Semtex!  “I’m pretty sure you heard that.  So, nine o’clock, tonight, Piazza di Santa Trinita.  And we all walk away and forget about it.  Just that easy.  And a word of advice.  Don’t ever cross my path again.”

Dreyfus closed the telephone and reached into the car for the Dolce Gabbana bag.  He lifted it out and walked over to the burning entrance – camouflaged by the confusion.  He looked in.  There was a man lying on the floor, clearly alive but seriously bleeding from the wooden shrapnel.  Dreyfus turned the bag upside down and dropped the unused C-4 at his feet.

“Tell your boss, nine o’clock – tonight.”  He said pointing his finger.  The sirens were already gathering as Dreyfus walked away, folding the bag in his hands.  He got in the car, put the empty bag on the seat and took off his hat and sunglasses.

“Let’s go back to the hotel.”

It was sometime after the Tagliere that Emily finally just couldn’t stand it. “Dreyfus, you look ridiculous.”

Dreyfus, who was actually the only one of the three of them who had extra clothes, had chosen to wear the red “Italia” sweatshirt he’d bought on the first day in Florence.

“I’m a tourist” he said, pulling the Italia logo.  “And don’t throw stones.  You and your girlfriend look like a couple of cougars from Blackpool.”

Emily’s face registered the surprise insult.  “It’s not as if anybody would let us go shopping.”

But then the Tagliatelle fungi came with another bottle of wine and Emily dismissed him with a chop of her hand.

Dreyfus had gathered Emily and Janet from the hotel.  Now, as night fell, they were sitting at an outside table in a nearly deserted restaurant (a couple of Swedish boys, Gerry and Laurie from Ohio, and a tour group of five who were eager to get the bill before dark) on the Piazza Something-Or-Other, across from a dance club (ironically one of the Ciampi’s) that was just cranking up the music.  Long-day tired, they were relaxed and relieved and feeling the days of tension slipping away.  The wine helped and the food helped, and the music was just tough enough to suggest a party.  Then the music stopped and waited and started again and …

Oh. My. God!  Jans!  Listen!”

“Call him Mr. Wr …” Boom! Boom! Boom!

“Remember?”  Emily’s eyes were bright with excitement as the techno music beat across the Piazza.  There was a studied look and suddenly Ms. Miller grabbed a spoon and, with a makeshift microphone, was singing along, karaoke style.

“I know what I wa …”  Boom! Boom! Boom!

And Emily was singing too, pushing her face forward to share the microphone spoon.  And the beat changed to Rap and the two women pushed their chairs back and, hair flying, they Shuffle danced into the piazza.  Dreyfus laughed and pushed his own chair back, but he was too late: the Swedish boys — who were clearly interested in two cougars from Blackpool — had already jumped into the dance.  Then Brittany, walking by, thought “Swedish boys!” dropped her knapsack and stepped in, as well.  Not to be outdone, Dreyfus caught Laurie from Ohio’s eye and gestured.  She feigned reluctance but … a quick glance at Gerry, and she was on her feet.  She was of an age to remember the song and although a little rusty (she hadn’t danced in years) had some moves.  Gerry wasn’t sure what to do, so he sat there.  And the music played and the three of them danced — like primitive warriors sharing their victory with strangers.  Boom! Boom! Boom!

And, at about the same time, a couple of streets away and here and there all over Firenze, Albanian hard boys were being attacked, beaten and, in a couple of cases, killed.  Sometimes, the carabinieri intervened, but mostly they didn’t.  This was Martina Ciampi’s dish – eaten cold.   And the two men who could have (and would have) organized retaliation were driving hard for the coast.  They’d run with two cars, a small bag of weapons and a smaller bag of money.  They’d left the lawyers, the wives and the mistresses to deal with the mess and were headed for Ancona and an anonymous ship across the Adriatic to Durres.  The hope was the cars would pay for the passage — and if they didn’t, one of the two bags would.  But the real hope was they could disappear into the Albanian countryside before Martina Ciampi, the Italian Federal police, the British Secret Service or that madman Dreyfus Sinclair caught up with them.

The music faded, grew — Boom! Boom! Boom! — faded again and stopped.  Emily and Janet jumped at each other and hugged — and in the general chaos – people, tables and chairs – they were suddenly all together like old friends when the chef showed up with the biggest, rawest Bistecca alla Fiorentina any of them had ever seen.  There was general oohing and approval and then just confusion as everybody talked to everyone else.

“Are you two together?” Laurie asked, almost hopefully, “That’s okay.  I don’t judge.”

“No, Mr. Bad Taste is mine.  Jans and I are just old friends.  We used to dance to that song when we were teenagers.”

“Yes, we are from Lund, but we are going to school in Malmo.  And you live in London.”

“Not anymore.  The Midlands”

“We are going to London.”

“So, insurance eh?  Well, let me stop you right there.  I’ve got Whole Life – a million, five,” Gerry nodded, knowingly. “And we got Laurie Term — saves us a bit of money – but we’re pretty well taken care of.”

“No price on peace of mind, Gerry.”  Dreyfus said kindly.

And then the steaks came and Brittany, realizing the Swedish boys were occupied and no one else was interested in her adventures, grabbed her knapsack and said goodbye.  Ms. Miller fed most of her steak to Lars (or was it Gars?)  And they poured her more wine, a lot more wine.  Gerry explained his position in the Lions Club and suggested Dreyfus join a local branch while Laurie talked about her kids and was a little too touchy for Emily’s taste.  And the evening went on – through to the cantuccini with vin santo — until finally Emily caught Dreyfus’ eye, and the unexpected party in an ordinary piazza in Florence was over.

Later, with Gerry and Laurie safely back at their B and B and the somewhat destructible Ms. Miller gently snoring on their bed, Emily and Dreyfus sat together alone in the rooftop garden of their hotel.  Emily had her shoes off and her feet up on a chair.  Dreyfus slouched and stretched out with his ankles crossed.  They were tired, weary tired, with no ambition to move, and the last glasses of wine were nearly gone.

“I thought Ms. Miller was going to grab the Swedish boys and teach them the ways of the English countryside.”

Emily smiled, “Men have it easy.  A little heat, a little friction.  Girls need a lot more heat and a lot more fiction.  Besides, it’s the wrong phase of the moon.”

“Oh.  Still leaves the question, where are we going to sleep?”

Emily chuckled, “I don’t know about you, but this cougar’s going to kick Jans over to her side of the bed and I’m done.”  There was a pause.  “Are we done?”

“Yeah.  It’s over.” Dreyfus said solemnly, “The brothers Kovaci are probably back in Albania by now.”

“Is that who?  No, I don’t want to know.  Don’t tell me.  I just want them gone.”

“They’re gone.  And they’re going to spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulders.  It’s not going to take them too long to find out what frightened feels like.”

“Good,” Emily said, with a touch of acid.  She reached over and touched Dreyfus’ fingers. “Thank you.”

Dreyfus shook the solemn out of his face and smiled. “But I still get the sofa.”

Emily picked up her glass and drank the last swallow of wine. “Yes, you still get the sofa.”

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