Tony, shaken out of his state by Paolo's question, thought for a moment.
"Had to get heavy with some guy called Fawaz who had a shitty restaurant and wasn't prepared to pay his dues, but that was years ago."
" Yeah. Called 'Tasta Beirut'"
"I'll pay him a visit Tony, right now!" said Paolo making for the door.
"Before you go, the fucking Bitshit account number got texted... Deadline's apparently Midnight tonight"
"I thought you weren't gonna pay, Tony."
"So I ain't, not by Midnight anyway. They're bluffing..."
"You reckon, Tony? Well we'll find out pretty damn soon."
Paolo was glad to be out of Tony’s increasingly claustrophobic office. He returned shortly after 7pm. Tony was still there, still in a state of shock. Paolo had news. He’d had the afternoon to make it up.
“I found a place in Willesden where they make pies just like the one you were sent. I didn’t even have to get heavy because the tart on reception must’ve liked me because she told me about some Lebanese bloke from Edgware Road who provided his own meat for pies, Halal something that ain’t pork. Have you had any trouble with any Lebanese?”
Paolo discovered twenty-three possible leads of pie makers across London. He told Tony, who was still completely lost, oscillating from anger to despair. Terry’s fate was in his hands.
“Do you have any gut feel Tony for any one of these pie makers?” asked Paolo.
“No I fucking don’t!” barked Tony. “I want you to go round every one and scare 'em shitless! And I want you to do it now!”
“OK Boss, but don’t I need to be here at 5pm when they send through payment details?”
“No, ‘cos I won’t be paying nothing!”
”Not yet!” thought Paolo”
Paolo was getting more and more in control of the situation. Tony was beside himself with a combination of rage and fear and guilt. He was wracking his brain over who could be trying to screw him over and who had Terry.
Paolo's words were hardly comforting.
"Have you thought that it might be young kids, Tony?" he asked "These days it's the teenagers who seem to have control of so much technology, and some wouldn't give a fuck about cutting someone's fingers off!"
This wasn't what Tony wanted to hear.
"Find out who's making the fucking pies!" he ordered.
"Course I got the money, but they ain't getting it!" exploded Tony, continuing with a string of vile expletives.
"I'm not saying give it to them Tony. What I am saying is be prepared just in case we can't find them. It's a last resort, but first, have you thought about calling in the cops?"
"No fucking way! They'd fuck it up, probably deliberately, and I'm not having them crawling over my business. We don't need to be fighting two fucking enemies!"
A potentially dangerous strategy for Paolo maybe, but asking that question would put him way out of suspicion.
"What!" exploded Tony. "I don't have truck with any Yanks. Who and why are Yanks targeting me and Terry?"
"It doesn't mean they're Yanks, Tony," Paolo said calmly, "They could be anywhere. It's probably one of those internet phone things where you can choose a number from any location in the world." It was; Paolo knew. "My guess is they're right here in London. Trouble is though, if they're using an internet number it will be nigh impossible to trace them from that."
"So whadda we do?"
"Well first you need to line up the money, if you have it?"
Tony was white as a sheet. This was the first time that Paolo had seen his boss so rattled. Terry's finger tore him to the heart and prompted feelings of guilt that were impossible to shake. The demand for money hit him equally hard, as any attack of his wealth was a body blow. Now he was panicking as the clock was ticking. He was now entirely responsible for his brother's life.
"Find the number they're ringing from so we can go get the bastards!" he ordered Paolo. Paolo took the phone, checked the call log.
"It's an American number..."
‘We require £250,000 (quarter of a million GBP) to be transferred in Bitcoins. Please make arrangements to set up your payment in this currency. We will text today at around 5.00pm BST with our Bitcoin account details and our timing requirements, which will be on a sliding scale. Any delay in the payment will be subject to penalties. We are a digital organisation. Day by day, digit by digit. Late payment penalties of £50K per day will apply too. These are our terms of business.’
Tony and Paolo stared aghast at the text.
But Paolo had delay-timed it automatically.
“You know technical stuff, so find where they’re ringing from." ordered Tony
Paolo checked the phone's log. "No number recorded Boss! They've gone anonymous."
"Well fucking unanonymous them then!!"
‘“I’ll do what I can Boss, but these guys are smart and will anticipate what you’ll do. But I'll try and hope I can outsmart them. But in all honesty boss, I can’t make any promises.”
Paolo fiddled with Tony’s phone, while Tony got more and more anxious and tetchy. If he wasn’t so sensitive about fingers, he would have been crossing them.
Then it came,. The message was by text:
This was a surprisingly cold, articulate letter which shook Tony to his bones. Paolo was there when it arrived. Tony’s every instinct should have told him that in kidnap cases it's rare that the victims survive long term, or even still be alive during the negotiation phase.
Tony asked Paolo why he thought they hadn’t just sent the ring first as proof they had Terry.
Paolo replied simply “Well what would you have done then?”
“Nothing, it might be a bluff!” Tony had answered his own question.
“Well they saved some time, and kidnappings are usually time-critical.” Paolo added.
‘You have fingers in many pies Mr Monelli. We like pies… and fingers. Please accept one of each as a gift. The ring seems to go with the finger and we suggest that you allow us to sample some of your pie, say £250,000, in return for not sending you any more unsolicited samples. You’re a busy man, so we’re not wasting your time. We want your brother to retain his remaining fingers to share your pies. But of course, that’s completely in your hands now. We’ll give you a ring with our instructions.’
Tony immediately clutched his own fingers.
The very next day a package arrived at Tony’s office - a box in which was a pie, resembling a small pork pie. But this pie wasn't pork, but a finger pie, together with a large gold wedding ring sitting on top, attached through the crust to a human finger.
Tony quickly grabbed the ring from the top of the pie, removing it together with its human attachment. The wedding ring was Terry’s wedding ring. There was no mistaking that as it was inscribed with a complex intertwining of Terry and Livia’s names on its inner circumference.
There was a note:
On Day 5, Livia called Tony and announced that she planned to leave the cruise and fly home at the next stop. Tony understood her worries, after all he had the same ones himself, but he'd had enough of her hysteria.
"Stay on the fucking cruise Livia. There's no point in racing home. What could you do?" he asked. After a tour de force performance of grief, Livia agreed. Paolo was impressed.
So, for Livia it would be a great time of relaxation, luxury and intimacy with one or two handsome young men. Life was good... and getting even better!
After five days hearing nothing from or about Terry, Tony came to terms with the fact that his twin would get over whatever was troubling him and would return in due course. Tony remained aware though that he felt a bit exposed without Terry around. He tried to tell himself that was irrational, but without great success.
To ease his frustration, Tony tried again and again in vain to contact Terry.
“He’s being fucking obstinate again.” he told Paolo, who didn't comment.
Eventually, Paolo suggested contacting the police. That prompted a stream of invective from Tony, as Paolo had expected.
Despite only confiding in Paolo, Marcia soon found out about Terry’s disappearance, not through Tony himself, but via Sofia.
Sofia had slid into Tony’s bedroom late Sunday night, unsure of where he’d been the night before. He wasn’t interested in sex, and rebuffed her when she started her petting routine. He apologised and then, by way of explanation, he told her that Terry had gone off and he was worried about him.
Sofia could tell that he was rattled and feeling guilty. She and Marcia laughed about it later. Tony was starting to suffer.
Maybe Livia was starting to deliver!
Apart from Paolo, Tony confided in nobody about his concerns. The other 'associates' couldn't help noticing how moody and depressed he seemed to be, but none of them said anything for fear of his reaction.
Tony heard nothing from Terry. The only person who rang him every day was Livia. She either didn't know or didn't care what time of the day or night she rang. She put on a very convincing front of being extremely worried about Terry. Tony groaned inwardly as he answered her calls. He insisted she should continue on the cruise. He didn't want her around.
After his chat with Paolo, Tony seemed to go into himself, brooding and dwelling on the whats and whys of his relationship with Terry. Paolo judged he was suffering, just what Livia would be wanting.
For five days this continued, with Tony restless, but insisting on Paolo being around, and, it seemed, nobody else. Paolo gave Tony time to self-analyse and question himself, while he, Paolo, gave thoughtful, considered feedback. He was good for Tony during those days... perhaps!
Paolo started to realise that he was now Tony's most trusted ally... and in a very strong position of influence.
Paolo realised that Tony actually relied upon his twin Terry for his own strength and that with Terry not around to 'play to', he was less certain in his top role. 'Uneasy lies the head...' thought Paolo.
"What I don't get Paolo, is why if Terry's got problems he doesn't want to talk them through with me. I'm his real 'other half' after all."
Paolo hesitated, but then replied "You maybe part of the problem, Tony, or all of it for that matter!" This was perhaps a dangerous viewpoint, given Tony's volatility.
But "Perhaps you're right" was Tony's morose response.
"So you're saying Terry's had some kinda mental breakdown then?" asked Tony.
"It looks like it Boss," replied Paolo, adding "but what do I know about such stuff?"
Paolo was surprised that Tony seemed to be confiding in him and asking his advice minutes after dressing him down for arriving late. He thought to himself that maybe it was Tony who was uncharacteristically 'close to the edge'. This could work two ways for Paolo, Tony could become dangerously unpredictable on the one hand or reliant upon Paolo's advice on the other, which would be perfect..
Paolo needed to take care.
Expecting a bollocking for being late, Paolo explained away his delay in getting to the office despite living far closer than Tony.
"I was, er, entertaining," he said rather bashfully.
"So you were more interested in shagging than getting off your arse and coming here to see me?" Tony accused.
"I had to drop her off home on the way..."
"Whatever... you're here now." Tony couldn't care less what Paolo's excuses were; he needed to talk to him now. He showed him Terry’s text.
"What's going on Paolo? What the fuck's going on?"
"Looks like he's flipped." was Paolo's reply.