“Right Paolo,” she said before he could embark upon any introductory small talk. “I promised ‘games night’ and that’s just what I bring!”
“First things first Paolo, can you put this bottle of Prosecco in your little freezer to give it a rapid chilling.”
(How does she know I have a 'little freezer'? Has she seen in it. Did she see anything she shouldn’t have?).
“And now…” she continued, “some music.” With that she took out her phone and called up an old Bob Seeger track, ‘We’ve got tonight’.
“We’ve got all night Paolo, so let’s make it last, eh?”
"Does it still hurt?" she asked, meaning the cheek she had most brutally slapped the day before. Paolo made a face which signified pain, but then smiled and said “Of course not; no worries.”
He bade her enter the flat and as she brushed past him he was once again hit by her perfume. It was as before, instantaneously making his heart race. He was intoxicated with her and she'd only just arrived. That intoxication was a combination of simple lust and not a little fear.
Sofia dropped her bag to the floor. Once again, she would be taking charge.
Sofia arrived at Paolo’s flat at 9pm on the dot. She stood in the doorway for a moment longer than might be expected so that Paolo could feast his eyes on her. She was dressed in a striking electric blue suit, visible under a pale mackintosh, which was unbuttoned. Over her shoulder she carried a large bag. She had a pale beret to match the mackintosh, contrasting with her short dark brown hair. The beret was at a cheeky, rakish angle. She looked ravishing.
Sofia leaned forward to kiss Paolo gently on his right cheek while gently stroking his left.
It didn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that if she was generous to Paolo, they could split the ransom 50:50, making £200,000 each. Sofia’s decision was when to raise the matter. She decided she would give him a good time and show him what he might expect if they teamed up properly before hitting him with her demand. She didn’t actually see any long term future with Paolo much beyond that evening.
Sofia would have Paolo first and then have him by the short and curlies. And after tonight, maybe she needed to get back into Tony’s bed!
While Paolo was confused that afternoon before their ‘date’, Sofia had been busy. She’d called her sister Marcia. She needed information, but not in such a way that might seem suspicious. Her call was ostensibly to tell Marcia when she would next be over to babysit Giovanna. At the end of the call she asked casually.
“How’s Tony? I saw him yesterday and he looked like he’d lost a million and found a halfpenny!”
“Close, but not quite” said Marcia.
“How so?” asked Sofia.
“Don’t tell him you know, Sofe, but he just got taken for four hundred grand!”
While Shaun had been despatched in Romford, Paolo was getting ready for his ‘games night’ with Sofia. On one level he was very excited at the prospect of bedroom activities with this very exciting and, he hoped, imaginative woman. But on the other hand, he was bothered that maybe she knew rather too much about what had gone on regarding Terry’s demise. If Sofia did somehow know something, or even everything, how had she found out... and what was she going to do about it?
Having been sent out to west London earlier by Tony he took his time returning.
The great bonus for Franco, Tony and even Paolo was that the police put the two recent, related killings in Romford down to sectarian issues. It was worrying after so long that there was this flare up of sectarian violence on the mainland, but they regarded it as an isolated incident. All thanks to Franco’s thoughtful planning.
For Paolo, it should mean that Tony had closed the book regarding Terry’s killer. He’d been taken out. However, along with Tony’s impetuous nature went reflection. It would have been tidy for him to close the chapter... but maybe he’d acted too hastily...
Jacqui had been killed with a single shot to the forehead, similar in fact to Shaun’s despatch earlier, albeit by a different agent. Her face was a mess.
For the tabloids, this was an unexpected bonus, with variations on the headline MUTILATED across different newspapers. This time though, the Continuity IRA claimed full responsibility. Their statement added that it was ‘a message to all to keep their noses out and keep their mouths tight shut.’
After Jacqui’s coverage somewhat ridiculing the group, this was a counterpoint of the kind that might further their cause. And of course, tabloid sales soared.
With such national newspaper coverage, Jacqui came to the attention of the Irish paramilitaries. Though initially a gift from heaven as it reminded people of the presence of the unit and the continuation of its armed struggle, the media coverage quickly started to ridicule the group. Without her realising it, Jacqui’s gauche quest for celebrity status and efforts to maximise her fees made her very vulnerable.
A dog walker discovered her body one morning in Epping Forest. Fortunately she was face down, as when the police turned her over, her nose had been cut off and stuffed in her mouth.
Jacqui told tales of how Shaun had mysterious meetings with men late at night with thick Irish accents. And how she had discovered a ballaclava hat in his sock drawer and that she believed him to be an MI6 Supergrass. And still no organisation came forward to correct any misunderstandings or claim responsibility for the killing.
Jacqui ‘imagined’ backstories for each of the main leaders. Some were so preposterous and, on a roll, with another performance-related bonus in the offing, she had suggested that she had even witnessed one of the Irishmen arriving at the flat in full drag.
Shaun’s girlfriend Jacqui was getting a little something on the side too. She was getting fame on the one hand and a generous fee from one of the ‘red tops’ on the other. As the partner of an allegedly notorious Irish liberationist ‘grass’, who had been professionally assassinated by paramilitaries, her story was much in demand. No paramilitary organisation had come forward to claim responsibility for Shaun’s slaughter, so Jacqui was happy to fill the vacuum.
Jacqui had always been prone to elaboration and exaggeration, but her current fame seemed to be a catalyst taking her into a different league.
Inevitably, when Marcia was attracted to someone, however oddly, she must have them. And she did. Marcia manipulated their conversations to more intimate subjects and deliberately touched his arm, and then his face, Franco wasn’t about to turn down her advances. He wasn’t worried that she was the boss’s wife; he’d met lots of bored housewives in his line of work... it was a perk of the job. The customer wants it done ‘on the side’, so why shouldn’t Franco take a little something on the side too?
He had Marcia on the side, underneath and on the top too.
Franco told Marcia his story of how his parents had lived in Italy in a remote part of Campania when he was very young and had been murdered, while he was playing at another kid’s house nearby. They must have been involved in something bad. He was taken under the wing of an aunt, who subsequently moved with him to the UK. She had died some years ago.
He also talked politics and Italian culture and Marcia realised this burly man was quite clever, but hadn’t had the breaks to take advantage of it. She became oddly attracted to him.
Like most of the gang members, Franco had a day job. He’d trained as a carpenter and had secured a job with a chain of kitchen suppliers. He was a fitter. Being instinctively tight-fisted, when Tony had been nagged into giving Marcia a new kitchen, he asked Franco to do it for him on the side, on the cheap.
At first Marcia didn’t really notice Franco - a big, burly kitchen fitter. But when he started suggesting little enhancements to the kitchen which he would do at no extra cost, she warmed to him and often chatted as he worked.
It was Franco and Franco alone who came up with the idea of connecting Shaun, Ireland and the Troubles. He’d worked it out beforehand and got the pizza box and spraypaint ready without Tony’s say-so. Tony only realised Franco had done it afterwards when he saw it on the news. His impression of Franco soared. ‘What smart thinking’ he thought ‘I never knew he had it in him’.
Franco was happy being whatever anyone cared to think. He liked his work, although he got the bum jobs.
Paolo noticed how smart Franco was though. Marcia had noticed that too!
Franco was a big guy and it was assumed he had brawn, not brain. Tony rated Franco for the kind of dirty job he told him to do. He was reliable at that, but hardly Brain of Britain.
Accordingly, most of the others thought Franco was a bit thick. Not only was he not thick, he wasn’t Franco either! Franco was really Frank; Frank Smith, English born and bred, but to be accepted by the Italians, he’d created his alter ego. Frank became Franco and Smith became Russo, the most popular Italian surname. He created a convincing back story too.
Franco treated himself to a pizza. He liked the irony. He called Tony’s mobile to report progress, speaking in code; he enjoyed that.
“Hello Tony. I thought I should give you an update on the latest redundancy programme. The terms were fair. The settlement took into account the future needs of the staff member and it was delivered personally. I don’t believe he will be in any position to appeal.”
“You’re a good man. It’s good to have you running the HR team.” Tony played suit, certain the job had been done well. He didn’t know just how well though.
One of the cheekier tabloids ran the story on the front page the next day. PIZZA ‘TOPPING’ it proclaimed. It went on to mirror the DI’s view of what had occurred. It suggested it was an Irish liberationist act. Shaun was possibly a ‘grass’ who was despatched in a cold, brutal way.
Shaun’s girlfriend initially denied that Shaun had anything to do with any Irish political movement until she was offered an undisclosed sum of money by another tabloid to ‘tell all’... which she did... and more. Her imagination grew to match her fee. Well after all... he was dead!
Franco put the spraycan back in his pocket calmly, unscrewed the silencer from the gun and put both inside his leather jacket. He tossed the pizza box on top of Shaun’s body and quickly left, mounted the scooter, whose number plates were remarkably dirty, so much so that you couldn’t read them. He drove off in the style of an ordinary pizza delivery boy... quickly.
Shaun’s girlfriend found him, screamed and called the police who arrived promptly. The detective inspector investigating took one look at Shaun and one look at the graffiti. He was quick to make his mind up.
“I didn’t order no pi...” Shaun didn’t have time to finish as he noticed a flash and instantaneously never noticed anything again. The pizza delivery guy was standing and delivering. His right hand under the large pizza box had squeezed the trigger of a silenced handgun inside, on its side.
The single bullet pierced the box, powering straight into Shaun’s forehead, close, neat and deadly. The impact knocked Shaun over backwards into the hallway. Franco walked in, closed the door and stepped over Shaun’s body. He took out a black spraycan from his pocket.
The graffiti was pure Continuity IRA.