“Unless,” continued Sofia, “tarty little Nicole was having her cake and eating it too, so to speak... Like she was with you too! Only old man Flaherty didn’t know he wasn’t the only guest at the table for tea!”
Paolo looked up just as the waiter was heading their way again. He just had time to say “You’re probably right again.” before he had to give his order.
The serious matter of ordering over, Paolo possibly thought he would now be allowed to dine in peace. He was wrong!
Sofia now needed to know why Mary Flaherty might suspect Paolo!
Sofia couldn’t resist taking over the conversation as she knew the waiter would be back soon for their food orders.
“Choose what you’re having, Paolo; the waiter will be back again pretty soon. Let me see if I’ve got this right. So I guess that Conor’s dad must have moved in on his own son’s girl. What an utter bastard! Who would do that? Well, a Flaherty, that’s who!”
Paolo’s nod as he kept studying the menu confirmed that Sofia had got it right, in both respects.
She continued. “But that still doesn’t explain how Conor knew about the sparkler!”
“She’s told you, has she? Why would she do that? And who might’ve told her do you think? Do you think she suspects you?”
“Whoa! Too many questions! I think her son Conor knows and told his mum. It’s a bit of a long story, but you’re determined to know bloody everything, aren’t you, so I’ll tell you. I knew Conor Flaherty and some of his mates from way back. I was with Nicole and he, Conor, moved in on her. I wasn’t too bothered - nice girl, but I’ve become attracted to more sophisticated women...”
“Sofiasticated?” suggested Sofia.
While Paolo was studying the menu, Sofia continued her questioning.
“How does Mary know, Paolo? The fact that her husband’s girlfriend... what was her name?...”
“Nicole.” supplied absently without looking up.
“Well the diamond he gave Nicole wasn’t exactly on show, was it, except, one imagines just to him? And you too I guess, you dirty sod!”
Paolo kept his head in the menu but automatically grunted his response.
“Who told her then, eh? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t you, was it?”
At that, Paolo looked up and said emphatically “Absolutely bloody not!... but she bloody knows... she’s told me!”
Sofia already knew what she wanted to eat; she’d looked at the menu online. She would start with Spinach Soufflé, would skip the main course except for a side order of French fries and mayo and finish with a Mayfair Mess for dessert.
“I know what I’m having!” she announced decisively, “but take your time, Paolo, there’s absolutely no rush.”
“What are you having..?” he started, but she replied,
“Never mind that. Have what you like. Maybe you could murder a nice steak...?” That was rather naughty, but then Sofia was known for her naughtiness.
Paolo scowled but said nothing.
At that point, when Sofia had almost got as full a story as possible, the waiter arrived for their food orders. Up until then he had been wonderfully unobtrusive, delivering menus, quickly taking Sofia’s decisive “two glasses of champagne please” order, and delivering the drinks. But now he needed some decisions.
Sofia wasn’t going to be rushed. She was so close to having squeezed all the truth out of Paolo, so she asked the waiter to for five minutes extra.
“Come on Paolo, we must choose what to eat.”
She would extract nothing but the truth while Paolo was preoccupied!
Sofia had most of the story, but she wasn’t quite finished grilling Paolo.
“So let me check... Paolo decided he would remove the dead woman’s diamond from her ‘down below’ ignoring a torrent of blood and leaving two dead bodies? That seems rather cold-blooded, doesn’t it?”
“They had no more use for it... and when I spotted it, I knew someone I wanted to have it.”
“Gee thanks, Paolo... how thoughtful of you! Did you think to wash it first?”
“So where does Mary Flaherty fit in? How does she know about that diamond ‘down below’?”
“Down below what?” demanded Sofia, looking at Paolo quizzically. “A downstairs room? Under the bed?” Paolo didn’t reply... indicating to Sofia that she wasn’t thinking broadly enough. Then she realised.
“It was a piercing... ‘down below’, wasn’t it?” As Sofia said ‘down below’, she put both hands up to make imaginary exclamation marks with her fingers... until she realised she was flashing the diamond again to all and sundry in Langan’s. “Eeeew!” she added, showing distaste. She glanced at the diamond on her finger as she lowered it, but of course it never entered her head to give it back!
“If you’d seen how crazy he was and how she was stabbing him in the neck you’d have kept out of it too. There was blood everywhere. They were both ‘goners’ by the time I emerged!”
“But it didn’t stop you pinching the diamond ring from her finger...”
“It wasn’t on....” Paolo was about to say that the ring wasn’t on her finger, when he stopped himself.
“It wasn’t on what?” demanded Sofia, her sixth sense working overtime.
“It wasn’t on... display.” He’d hesitated. A mistake.
“So where the hell was it, Paolo? Where did you find it?
“What do you mean ‘didn’t need to’? Explain, Paolo!” Sofia quickly slipped her right hand under the table. She was beginning to regret flaunting the diamond ring earlier as she realised this was more serious than she’d ever imagined.
“They were dead...” Paolo started.
“When you happened to pop round for a quickie!” Sofia continued for him, “... or were you already there and he found you on the job with his tart and started on you?”
“Kind of, but I heard him coming up the stairs and I hid.”
“And didn’t try to stop him strangling her? You bastard!”
“Hey, wait a minute,” said Sofia, haven’t I heard about this Ronan Flaherty? Wasn’t he the bloke who got stabbed in the neck by a young tart who he was strangling? Didn’t she die too? Sounds like they both got what they deserved, didn’t they. Were you shagging her too Paolo? Seems like you got lucky... it might’ve been you!...”
Paolo said nothing.
“...and he’d given her a bloody great diamond... which suddenly you gave to me! No wonder you’re crapping yourself, Paolo, you must’ve been involved! Did you kill them both?”
“Absolutely not!” said Paolo, “...I didn’t need to!”
“And now the truth, Paolo! How did you get this diamond? And why are you so worried about it? You didn’t get it honestly, did you? It wasn’t yours to give, was it? Who knows about it... who’s likely to miss it? We can talk about Mrs Flaherty later... but I’m sure she’s connected in some way!”
“Okay, okay, okay!” said Paolo, “but please keep it out of sight, for now. The diamond was given by Ronan Flaherty, Mary’s husband, to a girl he was shagging on the side.”
“...and you were shagging her too maybe?”
“Maybe...” Paolo agreed, sheepishly.
“How on Earth do you work that out? What possible connection can Mary Flaherty have with your ring? You’re way off the mark! I haven’t stolen it from anyone!” Paolo was attempting to grasp the initiative.
“Well that’s a relief then, isn’t it Paolo? If it’s not hot property then there’s no problem about me wearing it out, is there?” Sofia raised her right hand and moved it about, peering at the diamond from every angle in a very public way. Paolo, instantly ashen-faced, was horrified.
“Stop Sofia, keep it out of sight! Please don’t flash it around! Please!”
“I think...” started Sofia, “...that you know much more about Mary bloody Flaherty than you’re letting on! She scares the hell out of you and I need to know exactly why. Y’know Paolo, I can’t help feeling there might be a connection between this gorgeous diamond you gave me...” she raised her hand to show the ring... Paolo looked worried, “...and her! Is it hers, Paolo? Did you steal it from her? Does she know about it? Does she know I’ve got it? Where did it come from? I will know if you lie to me... you know I will!”
“Since I’m unlikely to get the whole truth and nothing but it from you, let me tell what I think and why you’re shit-scared of this Flaherty woman!” Paolo was about to protest, but Sofia raised her right hand to stop him. He stopped, flicking an unobtrusive glance at that ring.
Silenced, Paolo waited for Sofia to speak. He realised there was little point trying to stop her, so he would hear her out. Part of him reckoned she might make wild guesses to tease things out of him. The other part feared she might, somehow, know too much.
Paolo took a deep breath. Sofia hoped he was going to tell things he preferred to keep secret from her. Then he started with an extended “errr...’
“You can stop right there Paolo!” Sofia said abruptly, stopping him in his tracks with a mixture of shock and guilt showing on his face, or so Sofia felt. “I know you’re about to tell me a version of the truth that’s quite frankly not completely true...!”
“I haven’t told you anything yet, so how can you possibly say it won’t be true?” protested Paolo.
“I’m a woman. And you gave yourself away!”
They say women are fantastic observers and that time and time again men give themselves away. Sofia was particularly adept at reading men. She’d correctly pinpointed Paolo’s fear of Mary Flaherty and would make it her business to find out the nature of the woman and the nature of her threat. She also noticed how a couple of times while opening up about his concerns, Paolo’s eyes almost imperceptibly flicked to the large diamond sparkling on her finger. But she didn’t plan to follow that up... yet.
There would be time for that later, when she fully understood Mrs Flaherty.
“This Flaherty woman has really got to you Paolo, hasn’t she? She’s scaring you pretty bad... even more than Livia. Yes?” Sofia was staring into Paolo’s eyes; it made him very uncomfortable... and it showed! It caused her to rethink her earlier belief that he was telling her all.
“There’s something you’re keeping from me about this Mary Flaherty and I have this strange feeling it’s something I should be worried about it. I don’t know why, but I feel it in my waters! You must tell me all about her... and why she scares the shit out of you!”
“Well I’m the poor sod who’s supposedly organising the funeral, but not!”
“Not?” queried Sofia, “how so?”
“Mary Flaherty has a brother who’s in the funeral business and she’s leaned on him to provide a quote, an unbeatable quote, for getting shot of Terry... ‘mates rates’. Apparently I have to liaise with him about everything. That would be easy, except that I smell a rat, and that rat is called Flaherty. I’ve been racking my brains to think what she’s got up her sleeve... and what’s in it for her...”
“Kind support to a friend, maybe?”
“You must be kidding!”
“So tell me about this Flaherty woman... where does she fit in?” asked Sofia.
“I wish I knew. Livia’s been back almost no time and suddenly this woman is her new best friend. I don’t think she’s got anything on Livia, but her old man, nasty bastard, got himself killed too... seems they’re grieving widows together... but that's rich, they both hated their husbands! I think both of them are trying to get something from each other... and I don’t mean sympathy either! And I’m going to be the expendable idiot who’s gonna help them both!”
“Oh dear... but how?”