"Don't fuck about, Paolo! So who's top of the list then?" Tony was suddenly eager to know.
"Flaherty fancies himself, doesn't he?" suggested Paolo, "And I've heard he's got a new tart he's trying to impress. Apparently he's been splashing out on diamonds for her... maybe with your money and Terry's scalp!" Paolo wondered if he might have gone a bit too far with the 'scalp' reference, but Tony just grunted.
"How the fuck did you find that out, Paolo?" he asked.
"I try to be your ears and eyes, Tony. That sometimes means drinking with some nasty little shits!"
"I've been thinking, Tony" Paolo announced late Friday afternoon.
"I do the fucking thinking Paolo! Don't you forget it!" Tony interrupted.
"Sorry... It was about Terry.." Paolo continued, bravely.
"What about Terry then?" Tony was suddenly all ears. He'd been thinking continuously about his brother and who was responsible for killing him and extorting Tony's money.
"I've been making a list of the cockiest bastards who might be trying to get a slice of the action and take you down, Tony, and claim your top spot. I don't think there are more than half a dozen who'd have the balls!"
Paolo made sure he was in Tony's office before the boss arrived every day for a week. He made himself useful and was very cooperative, initially getting no thanks from Tony, whose bad tempered outbursts Paolo rode like an expert surfer. His perseverance paid off though as by the end of the week Tony was genuinely appreciative of what the young man was doing.
"What're you being so helpful for Paolo? Expect me to give you a raise?" That was Tony's way of expressing his thanks.
And that meant time for Paolo to plant some seeds, then water them carefully.
Paolo compiled a list of known local villains whose 'business interests' were similar to Tony's organisation and who possessed the ambition and chutzpah to think themselves worthy of the top spot. Top of that list was Ronan Flaherty, whose Irish hoodlums operated very local to Tony.
Flaherty was a hard man, having come up the boxing route, winning a few minor titles and having been narrowly acquitted of manslaughter after, as a younger man, he had bashed the life out of an opponent in what the judge eventually ruled was a fair fight, following the rules of the boxing game.
The London underworld was characterised by a large number of separate gangs, often ethnically formed, operating in similar criminal fields. Mostly, each of these gangs worked within defined geographical boundaries, but inevitably, from time to time there were incursions, where one ambitious boss wanted to flex his muscles or take advantage of a particularly tasty opportunity. The result, sporadic turf wars. It was an occupational hazard.
As an Italian, Tony held a lofty view that he was top dog in the East End, now the Kray days were over. Consequently, a number of upstarts were ready to take him down.
Love life aside, Paolo was bothered that Tony, who's wife after all he was screwing, was entertaining changing notions about who might've been responsible for his brother's death. Everyone in the organisation was a suspect and Paolo's own immunity could be called into question at any time.
There was danger in pointing a finger at anyone else in the organisation in that, like Franco, it might come back to bite Paolo. He had to get very close to Tony again and try to get him thinking of external rivals. There was no shortage of gang bosses with grudges out there.
Paolo was devastated. The plans he'd had for a future with Livia were shattered. He'd been nursing unrealistic ideas. He hadn't seen the signs. The trouble was that he'd ruined his chances with Sofia too and wasn't sure how that might pan out. Nonetheless, he determined to move on, to convince himself he would be better off with younger women. Onwards and downwards.
On the other hand... regular sex with Marcia was still on the cards, so, provided he was prepared to share her with Franco... and maybe others... then he would keep a bit more than his spirits up.
“But Livia, we must meet. We’ve things to discuss, unfinished business.” Paolo didn’t realise the desperation he transmitted.
“Things? Like what Paolo? What is there to discuss? Everything’s resolved. And don’t get any silly notion about you and me. That’s just a schoolboy fantasy. It isn’t going to happen. You’ll just have to deal with it!” Livia didn’t beat about the bush. She wasn’t about to let Paolo down gently.
“But you said... I thought...” started Paolo, only for Livia to cut in.
“Well you can think again. You’re just a boy.”
Dropped like a brick... as Sofia had predicted.
The Livia that picked up his call didn’t sound overly keen to talk to Paolo.
“What is it Paolo?” she asked, slightly testily.
“When can we meet?” he replied. “I wanted to meet you off the ship, but Tony bigfooted me. I hope you’ll be OK with him. He’s in a funny mood right now, so take care... he’s looking for suspects. Be careful what you say!”
“Well..” Livia paused before adding, “that’s all the more reason we shouldn’t meet up. Not for a long while I suggest.”
Sofia’s prediction coming to pass? And not what Paolo wanted to hear.
Paolo decided he would get nowhere thinking about ‘should have dones’ so decided to try to ignore the Sofia issue, taking a ‘what will be, will be’ approach. His ability to move on was helpful in this respect. Sofia now had his £200,000 and she was smart, so most likely she would leave it at that. He wouldn’t attempt to involve Marcia, because that was an even more dangerous option.
His next focus was on Livia, who right now would be a few hours away from Southampton. He decided to call her before she disembarked and met up with Tony.
Paolo was already regretting what he’d said and how he’d reacted to Sofia’s amazing offer earlier. He was nonetheless hopeful when a text came through from Sofia until he read the four-word message ‘You will regret this’.
He didn’t need enemies, and certainly not Sofia. He cursed his stupidity and lack of understanding of a woman’s feelings. How on earth could he make it right again? And not necessarily to resume physical relations with Sofia, but to dig himself out of the doodoo.
Maybe he could use her sister Marcia to make his case? But that was dangerous too!
If Paolo was anxious earlier that evening, that anxiety level had doubled instantaneously. He tried calling Sofia immediately, but naturally she didn’t answer. He texted her with the words ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. Please come back. Please please please.’
There was no way that any of that would do the trick. Sofia was proud and felt scorned by Paolo. Whilst she might not tell Tony what Paolo had done as it might provide more problems than solutions, she would definitely scare the shit out of the young man and keep him guessing.
‘You’ll regret this young man!’ she vowed.
Given the anxiety underscoring his evening thus far, Paolo should have been relieved at this fabulous distraction. But maybe because of it, he was uncharacteristically thrown by Sofia’s actions and offer. He seemed reluctant.
“What kind of welcome is this?” demanded Sofia, grinning. “Have I just been beaten by a wankfest? Are we ‘not in the mood’ then... got a headache?” And then, anger rising, “Cat got your tongue Paolo?”
“Sorry Sofe... but it’s all a bit clinical, un....spontaneous.”
“I’ll show you spontaneous,” shouted Sofia, humiliated. She leapt up grabbed her coat and was gone.
Paolo had made an enemy.
Sofia swept past Paolo to stand outside his bedroom, facing away, leaving Paolo’s eyes following her from where he’d let her in.
Sofia then pirouetted once, clutching her coat and then a further 180 degrees, to face Paolo, flinging the coat wide to reveal her completely naked body. Paolo was speechless. She shrugged the trench coat, which fell to the floor as she stepped into the bedroom. With a bound, she leapt onto his bed and quickly arranged herself spreadeagled in a star shape, perfectly submissive.
“I’m all yours, Paolo. You’re in charge now. You choose, but nothing too violent!”
Sofia’s arrival took Paolo by surprise. She had got in the outside door to the building, which hadn’t quite clicked shut, and the first he heard was the single rap on his flat door, which, coming after his troublesome thoughts, spelt danger.
But there she was wearing a beige trench coat, and as he opened the door, her familiar perfume caught his nostrils again, prompting instant excitement.
“Hello Paolo” she said intriguingly.
“Hi” was all the surprised Paolo could muster.
“I found I had nothing on,” she added, smiling broadly.
Other than the trench coat, she was speaking the truth.
Paolo thought he might be able to reschedule Sofia for Friday night, but, like her sister before her, she wasn’t answering his calls either. That worried him.
He was concerned that now Franco seemed to be in the clear, Tony might start looking for another suspect and that might be him. Sofia had considerable power over him, and, if true that she was also intimate with Tony, then Paolo might be vulnerable.
But he countered this rationalising that by saying anything to Tony, Sofia might implicate herself. Nonetheless, his thoughts rather ruined his Friday evening.
And then Sofia dropped by.
As instructed, Paolo spent the next three days tailing Franco, reporting back daily. To make things easier, Paolo let Franco know and they even ate their sandwiches together at lunchtimes, such was the idiocy of the activity. Over a pint late on Thursday, Paolo suggested that Franco contact Tony, telling him he’d noticed that Paolo was following him and confront Tony as to what that was all about.
Franco’s bluntness in asking if there was any question about his loyalty convinced Tony that he was wrong to suspect him.
Accordingly, Paolo was called off, allowing Franco to recommence shagging Marcia.
Paolo decided he would report back that he’d followed Franco to work and home again, watched him in his local pub and nothing suspicious seemed to be going on, although he did say that he couldn’t discover Franco’s whereabouts that morning - when Franco was waking up Marcia. That way Paolo left a window of doubt regarding Franco’s activities.
But Tony wasn’t letting Paolo off that easy.
“I want you with him at all times. If he goes out, you go out too, if he pisses, you piss but outa sight, if he shags anyone... be there!”
’Been there!’ thought Paolo.
With the subject changed to football and the barmaid, Paolo gave up. He hoped that Marcia might be able to scare Franco into leaving, but he doubted it. Marcia obviously enjoyed Franco’s early morning wham-bam, so if he wasn’t concerned, then she would surely continue to be up for it.
Franco’s bold, unmoved reaction had surprised Paolo. It got him to think carefully about his next action. If he spilled the beans to Tony that Marcia was having early morning wake-up calls from Franco, then he, Paolo, might well be tasked with Franco’s torture and murder.
“Well I admire your guts if you can laugh at that, Franco! Tony can’t think of anything but revenge right now and you’re firmly in his sights.” Paolo was surprised at the relaxed way Franco received his warning.
“Look mate,” replied Franco, “Tony doesn’t do torture himself. If he needs it done he gets one of his goons, like me or you, to do it for him. Now I don’t wanna be rude, mate, but I can’t somehow see you having what it takes for torture. Ain’t saying you couldn’t kill... but you’d want it clinical.”
Paolo was rendered silent.