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.
Tony howled. Paolo had never experienced the like before. Tony never lost control. Given his recent emotional upheaval, Paolo was suddenly unnerved by the situation in front of him. He wondered if, with the recent developments and the new person in the wings, he might be in far too deep. He could stop now and the risks might diminish, except for the Livia and now possibly Sofia factors!
Thoughts of getting out instantly stopped when Tony suddenly
“They’ve already killed him, haven’t they? He’s dead, I know it.”
Paolo was jolted out of his doubts.
“No Tony. Definitely not!”
There was a card in the package. It read: ‘Mr Monelli. We are sorry you have ignored our recent requests for help in returning your brother Terry. Without full funding from you, we are unable to guarantee Terry’s complete return. However, as a special gesture, we are able to return him in stages. You have our Bitcoin account details. Your balance stands at £350,000 if paid by Midnight tonight. Delays are charged in stages at an additional £50,000 per day or part thereof. After 10 days, this increases to £100,000 per day, as eyes and genitalia require very special delivery.’
At 9.30am it arrived. Right on time. Paolo took it from the courier and put it carefully on Tony’s desk. Tony just stared at it for what seemed like ages.
“Want me to open it Boss?” Paolo asked.
“No, I gotta do it myself”, replied Tony, more civil than his mood might suggest. Then he unwrapped the parcel, slowly. pausing before lifting the lid. He opened the box not with a flourish but with a sound of anguish Paolo had never, ever heard before. The small pie within had two fingers without, or rather sticking out in a familiar gesture.
Back at his flat at around 2am, Paolo suddenly shook off his confusion for the time being when he realised that he needed to be at Tony’s office first thing, to be there when the latest grisly delivery arrived. He set his clocks and devices to wake him early before he flopped into his bed for the deep sleep he needed. But what he got was a restless few hours, waking fully before the alarms could wake him.
He arrived at the office at 8.45am. Tony was already there, grumpy, pacing and playing nervously with his fingers. Tony just grunted.
“Sofia!” Paolo called after her, “don’t go like that!” But she was gone.
Paolo was dumbstruck. How could Sofia know all that? How much more did she know... and how? Did some of what she’d said ring true? Or all of it even? He was so confused. His confusion was also overlaid with the night’s action, which he’d never anticipated, but clearly needed and craved more. He was sexually satiated right now, but emotionally all over the place.
Making her way across London in a minicab, Sofia reflected on her evening. She rubbed her sore neck, shivered, but then smiled.
“She’s got you dangling on a promise hasn’t she? How long have you been waiting? A month, two, or is it more? Well that might explain tonight’s episode; fuck-hungry and fuck-angry wouldn’t you say?” Sofia’s rhetorical questions kept coming. She didn’t give Paolo a chance to answer. “What a fool I was to think you were gay... you’re in love... that’s far worse! And you’re in love with Livia and that might be fatal!... I’m guessing it already has been for Terry, the stupid bastard!”
With that, Sofia turned and left, with a chilly memento in her handbag.
“I think I understand...” said Sofia “...at least I know Livia and how she operates. Her pretty face, model legs and perfect figure are a definite man trap. That’s why despite her treating Terry like shit, he still adores her, or maybe I should say adored her. A fit young man like you would have been ripe to manipulate. You love her, don’t you, you really think you love her!”
“Livia’s OK”, was Paolo’s answer, adding feebly “you’re pretty OK yourself.”
“I’m OK because you’ve just had me. I doubt you’ve ever done that to Livia.”
Paolo’s face told all.
“Then I think it’s Livia isn’t it? Livia’s calling you from abroad. Has she got you under her spell? She has, hasn’t she? You must be missing her. I wonder why she called? Is she wanting news about Terry’s whereabouts? ...or is he actually ‘nowhereabouts’?”
“What’s with all these questions?” Paolo was trying to get off his back foot, which, under any other circumstances would have been funny, given he was standing stark naked.
“OK, one question lover boy... was that Livia who called?”
“Another question... is Terry dead?"
No response again.
“I’ll take that as two yeses!”
Paolo grabbed his phone and answered tentatively, “Hello.” Sofia looked round the bedroom door and silently mouthed that she was leaving. Paolo shook his hand as if to say no, but continued talking in hushed tones. Sofia heard him say, “No, nobody’s here except me. Nobody’s ever here except me!” Sofia read the signs and noiselessly closed the bedroom door so Paolo could speak in private. He came out later, sheepishly, asking her why she was leaving.
“Well someone clearly wouldn’t like me being here!” she answered, adding, “was it Tony?”
Paolo should have nodded, but shook his head instead.
At that point, Sofia decided she should leave. It was 1:30am and Paolo was still fast asleep. She should make her exit before he woke so she could devise her get rich quick strategy. It would be easier if she weren’t here when he woke.
She had slipped on her skirt, borrowed a shirt of Paolo’s and written a note saying she would return his shirt and he could keep her torn knickers as a memento. She’d just picked up her coat when Paolo’s mobile rang, waking him with a jolt.
Who on earth would be ringing him so late?
Sofia's mind was racing. This was dynamite. How serendipitous!
She crept into Paolo's living room and took her phone from her handbag, Back in the kitchenette, she took snapshots of both the defrosted and frozen fingers and enough photos of the flat to be recognisable to Tony... or police with a warrant. Paolo was so fast asleep that she even dared to place the fingers on the bed next to him and chance a few shots. This was going to be her pension... or would take some unsavoury people down instead.
This was not for sharing... particularly not with Marcia.
Sofia was shocked, but smart, and quickly worked out that Paolo had a dark secret which must involve Terry and probably Livia. She quickly realised that severed fingers smacked of kidnapping and extortion. She even allowed herself a smile. Paolo was probably engaged in extorting money from Tony. She smiled at the irony. But where was Terry being held?
She decided to check out Paolo's small freezer too. There wasn't much in there either, except a strong freezer bag with what turned out to be four more fingers individually wrapped and deep frozen.
That surely meant Terry was already dead.