Tony went home that evening searching for clues from the women. He was looking for knowing glances between them, physical contact and any bad vibes between himself and either of them. He felt that looking them straight in the eyes might give them away. Sofia responded to Tony's looks with a warm smile, while Marcia continued her characteristic grumpy look.
There would be no clues tonight.
At 11.00pm, he received a text:
'Mr Monelli. Our bill has increased to £350,000 due to 2 days late payment surcharges. Our next shipment will arrive tomorrow first thing. New payment deadline, Midnight tomorrow.'
Marcia - if she would dare. She hates me after all
Tipo - A bit too cocky for his own good that man
Cattaneo - Doesn't get on too well with Terry
Tipo - needs taking down a peg or two. Thinks he's better than he is.
Franco - smarter than most of us think yet he gets some shitty jobs
Sofia - never used to like Marcia, but suddenly they're best buddies
Marcia - word is she ain't at all nice - sorry Boss.
Sofia AND Marcia - a frightening prospect
Tony and Paolo swapped notes. Tony was suddenly very suspicious of his women.
"One of us, it could be one of us? Like who?" said Tony.
"Well me, for instance, Tony." replied Paolo daringly. "I can write well. Who can you trust? They say the nearest aren't necessarily the dearest... or the loyalist!"
Paolo was cool and smart. He understood how Tony thought.
Tony spontaneously and uncharacteristically hugged Paolo.
"That's bollocks mate, utter bollocks! I trust you like a brother and don't you ever forget it!"
Paolo wouldn't forget it... he was relying on it!
"Let's think hard about them all, separately, and see if we get any matches." Tony had hooked himself.
He texted Paolo telling him to get there fast. Paolo had organised the next day's parcel delivery already and so lost no time getting to Tony's office.
"You didn't stop fucking Fawaz from sending this text did you?" Tony accused immediately that Paolo walked in the door.
"It wasn't Fawaz." said Paolo. "Look at the wording Tony. That fat arab can barely speak English. These people are professional, serious and ruthless!"
Tony knew Paolo was right. The kind of language used in the texts was refined, slightly understated yet unequivocal.
"Could it possibly be an inside job?" was Paolo's bombshell.
Tony wasn't sure if Paolo's news meant the problem was over or not. Sofia was staying over and slipped into his room just after midnight, but he shooed her away. He wasn't up for anything or anyone tonight. He wouldn't sleep either.
He was in his office really early having spoken to neither of the women at home about his predicament. At 09.30, he got a text. His heart sank as he scrabbled to open it. It read:
'It seems you missed our payment deadline Mr Monelli. You seem to be giving us two fingers. Two can play at that.'
Fawaz's scream prompted the waiters to race in to help. Paolo promptly helped himself to several pies as he raced out the back. Neither waiter gave chase as they were attending to Fawaz.
Home then to assemble his next treat for posting in the morning and special delivery the day after.
Paolo called Tony to update him.
"Fawaz was tough. I gave him the third degree, in more ways than one. If he's up to something, he ain't gonna crack even though his skin has. If he has got Terry, he ain't gonna be baking pies for a long time."
Paolo couldn't wait to get out of Tony's office again, to go sort out Fawaz.
Paolo knew Tony well. He knew Tony wouldn't pay up without more evidence and he knew Tony would be eaten up with guilt... but would delay anyway. Paolo was banking on that. Every day's delay would increase the demand. And Tony had indicated that he had the money... Every day Tony delayed meant a bigger final settlement.
Paolo, masked, sneaked into the kitchen of Tasta Beirut. Fawaz picked up a knife instinctively, but dropped it as his hand was plunged into the deep fat fryer.
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!