The call ended when Sofia announced that she had to get on.
“OK Paolo, I’ll call you again when the money’s cleared tonight and we can devise a plan of action... as well as another action plan for just the two of us.” She giggled, said “Byeee!” and disconnected. Paolo was left feeling very strange. It seemed he wasn’t making too many of his own decisions right now and that seriously perturbed him.
Then his phone rang again. It was Tony.
“I hope you’re on your way in.” he barked. “This fucking firm won’t run itself!”
Business as usual? Maybe.
“We’ll see.” was all Paolo said in response to Sofia’s offer to help him get his money back from Livia. He didn’t want to admit that he might have been ‘played’ by Livia. He still wanted to believe that when she returned she would reward him for what he’d done and help him take over the business. He believed in love, he believed in Livia... silly boy.
Sofia was truly exciting, dangerous and inventive, but she simply wasn’t Livia. Nonetheless, with Sofia, Marcia and Livia, maybe he could have his cake and eat it and eat it and eat it.
“Look Paolo,” Sofia wanted to build Paolo up again. “This might surprise you, but I actually like you. You’re passionate, courageous, level-headed, forward looking and have real backbone. Pretty good qualities. You’re nonetheless careless and possibly too quick to see the best in people and ignore warning signs.”
“We’ve already had fun together and if it’s still on offer despite everything, then I’d like more. But I wouldn’t want you to think I’ve gone soft on you and my share of the money. That’s mine and stays that way. I want to help you get yours back from Livia”
Paolo pushed back.
“Livia’s OK. We had something...” he started.
“Something ‘special’ you mean?” Sofia at the other end had to interrupt before he started convincing himself. “Livia has something special alright Paolo and that’s 200K of your money, that’s pretty special... and for doing virtually nothing and taking no risks. Very, very special Paolo!”
“It wasn’t like that...” he defended.
“I’m guessing,” continued Sofia, “I’m guessing you’ve never even slept with Livia either, so you’re not that special, are you?”
“Your silence tells all Paolo. You need to get real. And you need to get that money back.
“Let me continue...” Paolo, silent at the other end, was listening. “I’m assuming it is Livia as you haven’t rushed to deny it. If you’ve paid her an equal share of Tony’s ransom and have already disposed of her husband, who’s life was doubtless insured handsomely, and she has a cast iron alibi, then she doesn’t need you any more. I know that probably sounds harsh and you don’t want to hear it, but you’re smart Paolo, so think it through.”
Paolo didn’t want to hear what came next either.
“When she gets back she’ll drop you like a brick!”
Sofia was a beautiful woman by most objective standards. She had strong features, a longish nose, high forehead, dark hair, dark, deep-set brown eyes and thin-lipped wide mouth. Marcia, shared many of these features. Both had hourglass figures, although Sofia was two inches taller. It was clear they were from the same Italian stock. Both were quite striking.
Livia was different. Petite and slim in stature, she stood just 5’2” tall. Her fair hair may have been bottle-fed, but fitted her breathtakingly pretty face, perfect small nose and amazing emerald green eyes. Reason enough to hate her.
At this point Paolo was forced to speak.
“I’m having to share with you, aren’t I?”
“Yes you are. A fair division of spoils due to your carelessness. That’s business. No ifs, no buts remember?” If Paolo thought Sofia was softening and had his hopes raised that she might be open to negotiation, that clearly wasn’t going to happen.
Sofia’s issue was that this attractive, albeit rather naive, young man was being exploited and put at risk by Livia to serve her selfish ends. Sofia didn’t once hold up a mirror to review her own shortcomings. She didn’t like Livia.
“Paolo, here’s what I think. I think you’re not in this alone. I think you’ve done someone’s dirty work. I think you’ve been manipulated with someone pulling your strings...”
Sofia paused. That would have been a perfect opportunity for Paolo to have denied it. Instead he said nothing. Sofia continued...
“You have done some very dirty work and have been masterful in the way you have managed to inveigle yourself into Tony’s confidence while simultaneously extorting a modest fortune from him...”
Still no denial from Paolo.
“...and you’ve had to split the proceeds with someone... and that someone is Livia.”
It didn’t take ten minutes to work out what had gone on. Sofia and Marcia had known Livia to be behind the whole plot to kill Terry and suspected she must have worked through some young admirer to do her dirty work. That admirer was clearly Paolo, who had already virtually admitted, by non-denial, he was smitten with pretty Livia.
When she’d arrived at work and found an empty office, Sofia called Paolo back.
“Paolo, you’ve absolutely no reason to trust me, but I assure you everything we speak about here will be in the strictest confidence.”
Paolo hadn’t meant to make his whisper audible; it was just what he was thinking. Super sleuth Sofia thought she’d heard though... and she had.
“What do you mean Paolo, you wish? Is someone else involved? Who? What aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing, no, nobody and nothing!” he insisted quickly.
Sofia was processing this new information fast. She was trying hard to decipher what was going on. She needed a few minutes and somewhere private to speak to Paolo.
“Paolo, I need to speak to you, but can’t do so somewhere public like this. I’ll call you back in ten!”
“Look Paolo,” said Sofia, getting down to business, “I sincerely hope you’ve read the contents of both envelopes I left on your table, and I hope you know what it all means.” Sofia almost sounded like a schoolmaam as she continued, “You do understand about the money and the consequences of not paying me by Midnight tonight?”
“Of course,” Paolo replied. “you will have your money before Midnight. I suggest you check your account after 10pm.”
Sofia was rather taken aback. Could it really be that easy?
“Well at least you’ve still got your share Paolo.”
“I wish!” he whispered.
‘Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’ - an adage Paolo adhered to. Accordingly, he called Sofia. It was 08.30 and she would be on her way to work.
Sofia answered quizzically “Paolo?” to which he replied in a friendly tone “Sofia”.
“I thought I said no ifs or buts?”
“This is neither,” countered Paolo “it’s a when and where... and a thank you too!”
“Explain please...” Sofia was rather confused and bemused. ‘Where’s the negotiation in that?’ she thought to herself.
“When and where is our next games night?”
Sofia was nonplussed. “Really?”
“Yes... but my games next time!”
Sofia’s combination of chutzpah, sexuality and cunning made her remarkable, and remarkably scary. Paolo was feeling sore about Sofia’s treatment of him but rationalised that he’d never had such an exciting time with any woman. He admitted to himself, ruefully, it had been the most expensive sex he’d ever had.
Drawing a line under it, he was nonetheless hopeful he might even get a rematch in the bedroom stakes, although Sofia would have to offer a freeby, as his funds would be rock bottom.
A worry emerged, though, that if Marcia ever found out, she would want her half too.
Paolo’s anger was intense, but he had turned it on himself and rationalised that he’d brought it on himself. One of the characteristics that had served him well through life was the ability to ‘move on’, particularly from his mistakes. His was a mix of pragmatism, realism, forward-looking and absence of regret. He was analytical and decisive.
He quickly realised that the chips were down and that he had no practical alternative to succumbing to Sofia’s demand.... and he must do so quickly. After all, two days ago he’d had nothing.
Dangerous she might be, but Sofia was remarkable.
Paolo’s attempts at analysing why and how would not resolve the situation. He needed to project forward to know what he could do about his current dilemma.
Sofia was demanding half, no more, of his ransom gains. That was fair shares... in a warped way of thinking... but particularly because Sofia held all the cards. But she didn’t know... and couldn’t know that Livia had already claimed the other half, leaving him nothing, nix!
Sofia was clearly a dangerous woman and if Paolo chose not to pay her all she claimed, he was in no doubt what she would do.
Paolo sat down to take it all in. His initial anger morphed into feelings of fear and desperation. He couldn’t believe Sofia was doing this to him... or could he? He was busy thinking back and analysing how it could have happened. He was pretty certain when, but he internalised his anger, realising that under the circumstances he had been foolish to let his guard down with a woman he’d almost strangled in a fit of rage. Maybe that was why she was doing this to him... but maybe... probably in fact... she was hard-wired to deceive and manipulate.
The note gave account details. It continued:
You need to know that I have lodged two further envelopes containing these photographs with my solicitor, instructed to send one to Tony and the other to the Metropolitan Police should I instruct them or should anything untoward happen to me.
To give these some tangible support, one severed left index finger, with, I believe, your fingerprint on the fingernail, is being kept in a frozen state in case it is required later as evidence.
To ensure this confidential material remains confidential, payment must be cleared by Midnight tomorrow, no ifs, no buts.
The note accompanying the photographs was typewritten. It read:
Paolo. You’ve been been very clever in gaining the confidence and trust of Tony and somehow, without his knowledge, managing to extort £400,000 in ransom for his beloved brother whom you had already brutally killed. The trust he affords you can change though.
As the enclosed photographs show, you have also been rather careless in allowing someone access to your freezer and it’s gruesome contents, one of which seems to have gone missing.
Carelessness costs; in this case £200,000, 50% of your gains, to be paid into the following offshore account...
Paolo had quickly opened the larger envelope and the first thing he saw was a photograph of his tiny freezer with the five-pack of Terry’s fingers, then the same fingers out of their freezer bag and on the bedclothes next to him asleep. He felt a sudden knot in his gut. He instantly knew what this was all about. He uttered nothing until he’d skimmed his eyes over Sofia’s note. Then he spat out “The bitch, the fucking bitch. I’ll kill her!”
He might well want to kill Sofia, but a careful re-read of her note suggested otherwise.
He saw the small envelope first. It contained a card with the legend ‘THANKS!’ on the cover. Inside, Sofia had written a brief message.
Dear Paolo, thanks for a wonderful ‘games night’! You were such a good sport. Sorry I had to leave so soon, but I have to work to make ends meet. I’m so glad our ‘ends met’ (hehe!). I’m sure we’ll meet again, but they might not! Sofia X.
PS IOU repayment details and stuff in large envelope. Sx
Paolo smiled at the ‘Xes’ and reminder of their games.
A smile that quicky turned into a scowl...