"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.
Paolo waited a while before leaving Terry's house in case Tony was still hanging around somewhere. Paolo had to admit to himself it had been a stupid near miss. The only good thing was he wouldn't now need to take Terry's cases to the refuse dump.
He was expecting Tony's call so wasn't at all fazed when he heard the boss's order to "Get into the office now! Need to talk to you about Terry."
Driving his own car, Paolo was well behind Tony, who had driven straight from Terry's to the East End.
"Where the fuck have you been?
Tony was baffled. What was Terry's problem? Where had he gone? Why had he gone? Is the fucker trying to blame me for his messed up fucking head?
He was Tony, so of course he did try Terry's mobile, which of course Paolo had switched off again. Tony texted a tirade of invective, but nothing would bother Terry now. Tony ranted and lashed out, smashing an expensive vase. Nobody treated him like this!
Paolo had been very smart to realise how, despite his predicament, he could get Tony to leave. Minutes later Tony had left, in a white-hot rage.
Tony couldn't fathom it. What was Terry doing if he wasn't flying out to see Livia. Had he stumbled upon some rift in his brother's marriage? Terry had adored Livia but the impression Tony got was it was Terry who was aggrieved.
When confronted with so much contradictory stuff, the mind goes into overdrive. Tony was confused. His confusion didn't improve much when he heard that he'd got a text. It was from Terry's phone. He opened it quickly.
'Finding things too much had to get away to sort my head out. Don't call I won't answer I need time'
It was like a French farce, except for the knife Paolo had ready. If he needed to use that, it might be farce, but it would also be fatal for someone.
Paolo had the advantage over Tony who would not be expecting an attacker. The younger man should be able to take Tony out, but if he were discovered, he would most certainly have take Tony out for good... and that would upset the plan.
Tony opened Livia's door, glanced around and just muttered "Messy cow!"
Tony then went into Terry's study and discovered his empty suitcases.
"What the fuck...!"
"Terry, Terry... are you here Terry?" Tony shouted loudly enough to wake the dead, and certainly Paolo asleep upstairs in Livia's bedroom. It was a rude awakening and one that set his heart racing like a thoroughbred. This was serious trouble as he heard Tony below checking all the downstairs rooms. Fortunately, Terry opened the inside door into the garage and went in to see if Terry's car was there and if so, to check it out.
That gave Paolo time to quietly slide out of Livia's bed rearrange the covers a bit and secrete himself in her large wardrobe.