The language in the car was blue and the hooting and fist shaking was regular. Tony didn't seem to understand the concept of not standing out. Paolo's efforts at calming him didn't work.
After the end of the M11, they headed on to Ely and then beyond.
"Where the fuck are they sending us!" shouted Tony, to nobody in particular.
Tony's mind was racing as they seemed to be going out into the middle of nowhere. It was flat as a pancake and wasn't anywhere he was familiar with.
"Who the fuck would want to come here?"
"Us, Tony, us!"
Tony had a German car “I want reliability, not Italian flashiness” he’d said, when he bought the luxury SUV. He drove it like one possessed, jumping more than one set of traffic lights. Not sensible, but he was on a mission to save his brother and his money. However, they weren't stopped on the way.
Tony reckoned that at that time of night he could improve on the online journey estimate but, inevitably, he lost time on the M11 where there was an extended 50mph limit and closures to a single lane for road improvements.... and an obedient driver ahead.
Paolo helped Tony schedule a payment of £400,000 in Bitcoin currency to the kidnappers' account via an app he'd downloaded to the mobile phone. The payment would be approved at exactly 10pm to be transferred at Midnight, with the intervening 2 hours a 'cooling off' period in which it could be cancelled.
At 10pm exactly, sitting in Tony's car ready for the off, they received a text with the coordinates of the location, which Paolo quickly entered into Tony's satnav. Then they raced off. Tony was driving his own car for more control and gave Paolo charge of his mobile.
Tony talked through his plans with Paolo. It was 7.45pm. Midnight was the deadline. The kidnappers would send the coordinates at 10.00pm and the journey would be 1 hour 50 minutes, leaving 10 minutes to get Terry and cancel the transfer. But where would take that time? He asked Paolo.
"It could be anywhere, but why does it matter Tony?"
"Of course it fucking matters because if we get a head start we can catch them unawares, get Terry and cancel the transfer!"
"Your call Boss, but get it wrong and we're fucked... as it is we'll have 10 minutes.
The return text following Tony's concerns of money transfer and Terry transfer was a turning point. He knew he had to pay up and was now convinced that the kidnappers held all the cards. The articulate, almost polite nature of their texts and notes convinced him that these people were real professionals. Everything precise and well-timed. He had little option but to pay up if he wanted to see Terry again. £400,000 would hurt, but the business was cash-rich, and consequently, so was he... but rather mean.
He would pay up and find and kill the bastards later.
“I need a body,” Livia had said on the phone the night Sofia visited Paolo. He was confused and slightly flustered by the simultaneous ‘presence’ of two women. His immediate thought was ‘Why on earth? You’ve a wonderful body’ and immediately thought of the other wonderful body he had just enjoyed. From his manner, Livia had detected that there might be another body present with Paolo.
“I’ll need Terry’s body to get the life insurance payout.”
“Well I’m not sure what state it’ll be in” Paolo said softly.
“Dental records and even DNA is all they’ll need.”
Paolo had a plan. It relied upon careful timing.
Tony received a text:
‘Mr Monelli. We understand your caution and propose the following. Your brother’s location is 1hour 50minutes from the East End. It should be possible to schedule your payment two hours in advance with the option to cancel any time up until the scheduled transfer time, latest Midnight tonight. One of your associates should be able to help. We will be able to verify the payment details and will send you immediately the coordinates for your satnav in order to reunite you with your brother. Your move now.’
Paolo was a smart guy, blessed with a natural cunning that had served him well so far, but this was going to be difficult. In his earlier planning, and without Livia there to direct him, he hadn't thought things through properly. He was going to need a lot of resourcefulness and quite a bit of luck to deal with Tony's latest demand.
"I'll text them to see what they have in mind," Paolo said, "they must have thought of that." What a lie that was, but texting gave him time to come up with his plan. It might just work...
Having been lulled into thinking he could exert powerful influence on Tony, that last utterance shook Paolo.
“What’ve I missed or misunderstood Tony?” he asked.
“You missed the most important fucking thing Paolo. What are the arrangements for getting Terry back, that’s what!” Tony rasped. “The handover Paolo, how can we be sure the bastards will hand him over? They can’t exactly do it by Bitcoin transfer, although the fuckers are sending him in bits right now!”
“We have to trust them I guess.” was all Paolo could suggest.
“No fucking way! Find a way that works Paolo! Fucking now!”
“Should I cough up tonight Paolo? What do you say?” asked Tony.
This was Paolo’s chance, but to make his answer seem considered, he avoided giving Tony a straight ‘yes’.
“Well, they’re obviously pretty ruthless, and I’ve no doubt that if you don’t pay tonight there will be another finger on its way tomorrow. Taking his eyes out and cutting his bollocks off seem extreme and they may just be trying to scare you, but if it was me, it would work! So I would probably pay up as soon as I could.”
“Then you’d be a fucking idiot Paolo!”
The response, supposedly from Terry, was enough on its own to convince Tony. It didn’t make him happy though that the kidnappers had raised the ransom by £50,000.
The whole message was sheer chutzpah on the part of Paolo, who had realised he would need a kind of diversionary tactic to get him off the hook for not being able to showcase the living Terry. Upping the ante was inspired, particularly as it raised the stakes quickly, which would be important if he planned to persuade Tony to pay up tonight.
But Tony wasn’t quite ready to concede, not yet.
The text read:
‘Mr Monelli, your brother won’t be able to speak to you now. He’s currently sedated as his hand is in considerable pain. Before our paramedic saw him we were however able to ask him about his first dog. The question seemed to irritate him. I quote, “What a fucking stupid question to ask given I’ve never had a dog. I’m allergic to them and I won’t have one in the fucking house.”
I’m afraid this has caused us extra work, which we must pass on to you. Your account now stands at £400,000, payment deadline, Midnight tonight.’
Paolo risked Livia’s further annoyance by telling her he had to hang up and would call later and explain.
He risked Tony’s wrath too by taking time out to write the text he would schedule to arrive later on when he was back with the Boss. However, it might have been Paolo’s only opportunity.
The text arrived at 5.30pm. Paolo had been taking a chance over the problem of Tony wanting to see Terry. Tony’s impatience might just have dealt Paolo a get out of jail card. This was it, this would be the acid test.
Would it be enough?
Livia had been woken by the mobile phone. Her first reaction was to go back to what she saw as a strained call with Paolo the night before.
“You were hiding something Paolo... or someone. If we’re going to work together and be together, then you won’t be able to have secrets from me!”
“I wasn’t hiding anything...”
“Don’t lie to me Paolo,” Livia interrupted, “give me credit for some intelligence. And what are you doing calling me now?”
“I need to know the name of Terry’s first dog.”
“What a stupid question. He’s allergic to dogs. Always hated them.”
This was a challenge for Paolo. He didn’t know the answer. The success of the entire project could be in tatters. Paolo would be OK, and Terry was dead, but the money, so tantalisingly close, might be forfeit without the answer. Tony was cute. He wasn’t telling even Paolo, his closest confidant.
Paolo sent the second text. He had some time he could play with, but without the secret answer he needed, all the time in the world wouldn’t help.
Then in desperation, he popped out for a coffee and called Livia. Maybe she would know.
Livia wasn’t very happy...
The minute Paolo had sent the text, Tony was like a bear on the prowl. He was impatient for a reply as he was aware that a gruesome clock was ticking. At this point, it was more that the demand would go up at Midnight than the prospect of another finger pie would be on its way soon. He needed time to assess the situation.
Paolo needed to get away from Tony to programme an appropriate reply, however, Tony's impatience prompted him to decide he would ask his secret question now to save time.
"What was Terry's first dog called?"
"Well, Tony, you could ask to see him or ask them a question only Terry would know the answer to... from childhood maybe." This was a risky strategy for Paolo as it depended upon him knowing the answer too. However, the need for Tony to want more proof than just a wedding ring to cough up his cash was always going to be a problem. On the plus side, Paolo was building his trust with Tony. That might give him an 'inside track'.
"Text 'em I gotta see Terry's alive."
Tony would have to wait several hours for their reply.
"What makes you so sure Terry ain't been killed Paolo," Tony asked directly.
"What kind of crazy kidnapper would kill the goose.... sorry Tony, would do anything so final as to kill Terry now and kiss goodbye to a potentially much bigger ransom?"
"OK, but how can I be sure they're Terry's fingers?"
"Fingerprints, maybe, DNA, but those might mean involving the police."
"Fuck the police, Paolo, I ain't involving those fuckers!"
"Well I would've thought his wedding ring was pretty convincing evidence, Tony!"
"OK, so what do I do Paolo, what do I do now?" Tony needed advice, quickly.
Paolo may have felt the time was right to press Tony into making the payment demanded by Terry's supposed kidnappers, but three things would hinder this.
Firstly, despite Tony's anguish about what had already happened and what worse fate might soon confront his brother, he needed more proof than three fingers in pies. He needed to be certain that the fingers were really Terry's and, importantly, that he was still alive.
Secondly, and critically, Paolo wasn't working alone; Livia still called the tune and was now a touch suspicious of Paolo.
Thirdly, Sofia and her sexuality was close at heel.
Paolo denied the possibility that Terry was already dead so strongly because not to do so would spell the ruination of his whole scheme, or rather Livia’s... and therein lay another problem that would resurface quite soon.
Tony might have been suspicious at the intensity of Paolo’s denial, but it was what he desperately wanted to hear and believe. Paolo’s response had been instinctive and not thought through, but it might prompt Tony to pay the ransom. Now Paolo needed to persuade Tony that the time was right.
It was the eyes and genitals references that had been the catalyst.