Livia didn’t have to wait long for the conversation to get serious.
“Your husband was mordered too?” Mary asked rhetorically. She knew, and it was obvious to Livia she did. Livia simply nodded.
“D’ya know why? Mary continued.
“No idea,” Livia lied.
“D’ya know how?”
“Uh-uh!” Livia shook her head.
“D’ya know where?”
“What are you Mary, the police?” Livia felt interrogated.
“Feck no!” replied Mary. “I’d sooner cut out me feckin’ eyes than be taken for a pigshite!”
Livia couldn’t help herself from laughing.
“What?” asked Mary, unaware of the humour in her words. Then she laughed too.
Mary Flaherty’s coarseness wasn’t at all Livia’s own way, but the woman made her laugh. Livia tended to be surrounded by people who treated her with respect, always mindful of what they imagined were her sensibilities. The exception was Tony who’d once beaten her up.
But Livia didn’t particularly mind coarseness, or foul language come to that, when it was firmly attached to humour. And this Mary woman was a laugh. However, Livia realised that eventually they would get down to serious stuff, the whole reason Mary was there. A fishing trip.
But even that would be interspersed with laughter.
The kitchen it was. Livia warmed to Mary instantaneously. She liked her direct manner. On the surface, she wasn’t remotely like Livia, but opposites attract. They could do business.
“Well” started Livia, as Mary took over the coffee-making process. “I’m not sure why you’re here, Mary... but I must say you don’t seem remotely what I had expected.”
“I dare say I’m not.” replied Mary. “And neither are you! I tought you’d be stuck up, y’know, full of airs and feckin’ shite. And yer pretty enough to be stuck up. Plenty of blokes would loik to be, I bet!”
At Mary’s opening salvo, both women burst out laughing. It was an amazing ice-breaker. They would be able to get down to business straight away. Nonetheless, out of politeness, Livia ushered Mary into the lounge, only to be told by her guest. “Oh, don’t go pissin’ about standing on feckin’ ceremony for me. Let’s go in your kitchen. You can tell a lot about a woman from her kitchen. And my shite of a husband said it was a woman’s place. And I say it’s the best place to cook something up!”
‘Wow’ thought Livia, ‘can this woman talk?’
Mary Flaherty had arrived at Livia’s at 11am sharp. Having opened the electric gates for her to come in, Livia had gone straightaway to open her front door in welcome. She was surprised at Mary’s car. It was a basic Eastern European car - the butt of silly jokes twenty years before. And it was at least 10 years old - not what you’d expect a successful villain’s wife to drive.
After a tentative handshake, Mary said “I know what you’re tinking. What’s with the shitty old car? Well I wouldn’t want to feckin’ stand out, would I?”
Livia immediately liked her.
Livia didn’t know quite what to expect from Mary Flaherty. The fact that the woman had been married to an influential crime boss might suggest that she would be rather flashy, but then her devout Catholicism might suggest that she would be more modestly inclined. The reality was a halfway house. Mary Flaherty was tending to plumpness, without being what would be described as fat. She was dark haired with a warm attractive face. Her Irish accent was broad, surprising for one who had lived in London for over 25 years.
But her foul mouth didn’t remotely match her looks.
Making ‘elevenses’ special for Mary Flaherty’s visit meant a shopping trip. Livia quickly raced to the local deli for homemade cakes and pastries and a bottle of Prosecco, for chilling down just in case they got on really well and elevenses morphed into lunch. But food aside, the most important things that Livia bought were non-consumables.
Livia recalled that that the Flahertys were Catholic, as so many of Irish ancestry were. She had also heard that Mrs Flaherty, Mary, was very religious. Livia sourced crucifixes, pictures of Our Lady and rosaries to display, as would any good Italian family.
With arrangements made for Mary Flaherty to come to the house at 11.00 the next day, Livia put the phone down and started thinking. Mary’s veiled hint regarding Tony left plenty unsaid and implied. As far as that Flaherty woman was concerned, Tony was suspect number one. And Flaherty vengeance was legendary. Maybe this might present an opportunity for Livia’s long-term plans, and maybe she could kill two birds (or men) with one stone, and once again be free of suspicion herself.
Mid-morning coffee would be a bit special. Friend-making was item number one on the agenda.
“We should meet.” Livia wasn’t one to shy away and so showed her lack of fear by taking the initiative to suggest meeting. “And soon by the sound of it! Can you come over to Ongar, because my son’s here and he’s very cut up about his father’s death. I can’t leave him?”
“Is it secure?” asked Mary Flaherty. “I’m not walking into enemy territory lightly!”
“I’m not your enemy Mary” Livia replied, “and since Terry was abducted and killed I’ve changed all the locks. Not even his brother Tony can get in.”
“Ah yes... Tony!” Mary Flaherty mused suspiciously.
“Do you mean to say you killed him?” Livia was trying to understand what the woman was actually saying.
“Course not, the fecker’s left me kids fatherless, shithouse that he feckin’ was. But I’ve lost a husband; I’m a feckin’ widow now like you. And some fecker’s gonna pay for it. Police reckon some tart killed him in self defence, but I think it was an organised job and moi finger seems to be pointing in the Monelli direction!”
“You don’t imagine I killed your husband do you?” Livia was horrified.
“Not you, but you might know someone who did!”
With suspicion in her voice, Livia took the phone from her son and asked tentatively.
“Hello, who is this?”
“You don’t know me but moight have heard of me husband, Ronan Flaherty.”
Ah, yes, now Livia knew exactly who she was. And knew the stories of what an arsehole her husband was and how his wife was a hard-faced bitch.
“Ah yes, and how is Mr Flaherty?” Livia hadn’t heard.
“Dead!” came the reply.
“Oh...!” Livia was quite taken aback by the directness of the woman. “I am sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t be. The fecker had it coming!...”
Livia didn’t usually answer the phone, either mobile or landline if it wasn’t someone she recognised or wanted to speak to. However, when her house phone rang, which was rare, her son answered it chirpily. It seems he wasn’t quite as upset at his father’s death as Livia made out. He was glad to be off school and back with his mother.
“Mum”, he called, “someone called Mary Flatty for you.”
“What does she want?” Livia sort of recognised the name but had never met the woman.
“Dunno, she says it’s none of my ecking business, or something like that!”
Livia’s son was devastated by news of his father’s murder. He was a sensitive boy and whilst he’d never been that close to Terry, he was very much a mother’s boy. It was his grief that prompted a level guilt in Livia. Because of this she probably mollycoddled him a bit too much. And she leant on him about as much as he did her.
He would stay with her in their house for a couple of weeks. In so doing, he was inadvertently giving Livia the opportunity to play the hermit. Best that she didn’t see people, particularly Tony.
While Sofia was patching up her disagreement with Paolo, there was no chance Livia would be doing the same any time soon.
Livia had other issues to deal with. Her Oscar-worthy performance at the mortuary had convinced the detective of her innocence in the matter of her husband’s death, and she needed to keep up the grieving widow act. But more importantly, she had to break the news to her son, who was still away at school and needed to be told, now that his mother was back.
She went to see him at school, then brought him home.
Paolo quickly twigged what was required of him. Sofia lay back and waited for the action to start.
While Paolo was at the action end of the bed, still on his knees, doing what was expected of him, Sofia started humming. Paolo was too busy to notice, although when she changed from humming to singing, he wondered what was going on up there.
“Twinkle twinkle little star” she sang. Paolo looked up to her face and hands. As she sang, she held up Nicole’s diamond to the light. “like a diamond in the sky.”
Paolo was giving double satisfaction tonight.
Playing the ‘advantage rule’, Paolo decided to play along.
“Sofia, I beg you let me shag you. I beg you, beg you, beg you!”
“You’ll have to do much better than that, young man!”
“Huh?” Paolo wasn’t sure how else he could beg.
“On your knees...” Paolo started to kneel down. A shag depended on it.
“Not here!” said Sofia and pointed towards his bedroom, “in there!”
He understood. Maybe. Still on his knees, he shuffled into the bedroom. Sofia was there first, on the end of the bed, removing her tight trousers.
“Stay boy! Wait!” she commanded.
Sofia was delighted. She was never going to ‘shop’ Paolo. She really liked him, his naivety, his good looks, his... something. He was a thug, no doubt, but he had some strange kind of wired-in honour.
And here she was, the owner of a spectacular diamond... and for what? Nothing really. Sex with this boy really was nothing to her... or rather it was something, something rather fun. A youthful energetic romp was just the way to toast their deal. But she wouldn’t be too keen, like the last disastrous time.
“Well?” Paolo asked.
“You’ll have to beg, Paolo!”
Paolo kept busy for the next couple of days. He was in the office early and left late each evening. He was being helpful to his boss. He needed to keep on Tony’s good side if his plans were to succeed.
Sofia arrived at his flat at 7.30pm, on the dot this time. Dressed uncharacteristically practically, her coat provided large inner pockets for her stash. She pushed her way in. The atmosphere was cool. The exchange was very businesslike, no words uttered, until Paolo asked...
“S’pose a shag’s out of the question?”
“Why you cheeky bugger!” Sofia wasn’t saying no.
All the arrangements were in Sofia’s court. Paolo’s apparent trust of her... and given that he had already sacrificed his £200k, she was inclined to take the risk that doing the exchange at his flat would be safe, and that he wouldn’t have any tricks up his sleeve.
Paolo wasn’t about to do anything to jeopardise getting his hands on Terry’s last finger. And although Sofia would be handing over her embarrassing photos too, Paolo realised he could never really be sure that should anything untoward happen to her, more copies might emerge.
Sofia would be staying very much alive.
Sofia’s affirmation of Paolo’s proposed deal required a bit of organisation. First, Sofia had to find and remove Terry’s finger from the back of her freezer. Secondly, she had to get the envelopes back from her solicitor. At no time had she had any intention of dobbing Paolo in, either to Tony or the police, but having witnessed at first hand - his hands around her neck - his violent, maybe murderous streak, the precaution of lodging the incriminating material seemed sensible.
Then a time and place for exchange needed to be arranged. They would meet at Paolo’s flat on Friday evening.