After more sleepless nights than a man can handle, Tony Valentino finds himself unexpectedly face-to-face with the woman he can't forget - the woman he never thought he'd see again.....
As he approached the meeting room, the door opened as one of Linares’ team agents came out and shut it quietly behind him. Tony raised his hand in greeting. He couldn’t remember the guy’s name. “Can I go in?” he asked, tipping his head toward the door.
“Sure.” The man wore a weird expression somewhere between a grin and a leer. “I’m just off to find me an application form for the London Metropolitans.”
“Excuse me?” Tony stared at the guy, who smirked all the more under his scrutiny.
“Lady cop that Linares brought over. Oh, she’s a honey.”
“Betcha. She can slap her cuffs on me any day.” Sniggering in a lecherous way, the creep nudged Tony’s side with his bony elbow like he was sharing some private, witty joke. Tony stared after him as he swaggered off down the corridor. Sleazebag.
Turning the handle slowly, he pushed open the door and went in, careful not to make any noise. Ramon Linares turned around and threw him a mock salute and Tony returned it with a nod as he perched unobtrusively on the edge of the table nearest the door. Scanning the room, he saw ten, maybe twelve, agents from Linares’ division spread around tables set out in a U-shape, but he couldn’t make out their faces in the near darkness. With the blinds closed and the ceiling lamps switched off, the only sources of light came from the photographic images on a projector screen and, nearer to him, a small lamp with a green metal shade angled to shine directly on the keyboards of two laptop computers. The desk they sat on formed the bottom stroke of the U. Behind it sat Ramon and to his left a young-looking slim guy. Their faces were uplit by the lamp, an eerie effect that made Tony think of the old trick-or-treat torch gags of his childhood. A woman stood to Linares’ right, her features obscured by a curtain of hair that swung across her face as she leaned forward to type into her laptop. The ends of her hair caught the light and twinkled with a coppery glow. It looked pretty, but that was about the only clue Tony could see with regard to her potential ‘honey’ rating. He turned his attention to the projector screen, but the face he saw there, head on and profiled in typical arrest photographs, meant nothing to him. The screen went blank for a second, and then another image appeared. This one showed two men emerging from either side of a car, probably on some London street, judging from the licence plates and the buildings in the background. Tony stared at it blankly. This one was lost on him too, and he folded his arms—a waste of his time. He breathed a silent sigh through his nose and sneaked a glance at his watch, wondering if this was just the warm-up or if he’d already missed the most riveting part of the proceedings. He found himself thinking of his sparse room at the efficiency building and the fridge with a much-needed beer in it.
The male detective to Linares’ left was reciting a list of names and misdemeanours as the images on the screen flicked by one after the other. Tony swept his gaze around the half-lit faces of his fellow agents. They were all doing the right thing, paying attention and diligently taking notes that would be impossible to read once the lights came on. Biting his lips together to stifle another sigh that threatened to turn into a yawn, he gazed back at the projector screen. This was a favour to Linares, he reminded himself; the beer later would be his reward for perseverance. He watched the images tick slowly by until one appeared that shoved his boredom roughly aside. Tony craned forward, narrowing his eyes in concentration.
“Wait a second. Can I get a closer look at that?”
“No problem.” The English detective passed his laptop over, the screen showing the same photo as the projection. Tony studied it closely.
“I think I’ve seen this guy. You got any more on him?”
“Um…yeah, some more here.”
The picture changed to another shot of the same guy, this time crossing a road. It had been taken from above, as if the photographer had hidden in a room a couple of floors up from the street, but the face could be seen quite clearly. Tony stared at it, trying to make the connection. “This is London, right?” He glanced up at the detective.
“Yeah, it is,” the man confirmed. “But this guy we think had a U.S. connection.”
“I think I might have seen him here, in New York City.”
Ramon Linares spoke. “What do you know, Tony?”
Tony frowned, trying to drag details from the recesses of his mind. “I never spoke to him. But if he’s the guy I think he is, I saw him a couple of times with a wiseguy name of Snowy Vincente.” He looked up at the detective. “Mean anything to you?”
The detective shook his head. “No. But we know he flew out here a couple of times during our investigations, though we could never check it out properly.” He flicked his head in Linares’ direction. “Now it looks like he might be a British contact for something Ramon’s investigating. Do you have a name for him?”
“No,” Tony admitted. “Like I said, I never spoke with him, only saw him with Vincente. Some of the wiseguys knew what he was into, but they didn’t give much away and I couldn’t ask.” He gave a short, humourless laugh. “They said, just the old double Ds.”
“Yes. Drugs and diamonds.” The lady cop spoke for the first time. Something in her voice made Tony lift his head, but he couldn’t place the feeling. He looked over at her, but she was partially hidden by Ramon and he still couldn’t see her clearly. He was pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to see him either; the light shining directly on her desk would make it hard for her to see much more than shadowy shapes around the room.
“His name is Matthew Branton. Matt,” she said. “Means nothing to you?”
It wasn’t what she said that pulled something deep out of Tony’s memory. It was the way she spoke; not just the accent, but something in the sound of her voice that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand to attention—the kind of low voice you had to lean forward to hear, and it would feel like you were being coated with warm chocolate. It brought Tony a recollection of a sweet breath against his ear, something he’d tried to forget in his waking hours but that had regularly slipped into his dreams and played with his senses until he’d woken with his mouth dry and his sheets soaked with sweat. He tried to concentrate and focus on the photograph, giving a single shake of his head to dislodge the crazy thought that poked at his memory like a stone in a shoe.
“Nope, I never heard a name,” he said. “All I knew was they called him
She laughed at that and Tony’s insides lurched as an overwhelming feeling of familiarity grabbed his guts. His fist went involuntarily to his mouth and he pressed it hard against his lips.
“Gazza?” repeated her colleague, furrowing his forehead. “What, like the soccer player?”
“No, Danny. It’s Italian for magpie, isn’t it?” The woman leaned forward, directing the question at Tony, and he saw her clearly for the first time. He lowered his hand and looked directly into her indigo blue eyes.
“You got it.”
“That fits. Branton likes shiny things.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch how you recognized him.”
Tony wished it didn’t have to be this way. But maybe it was better, here in this room while it was dark. If she was shocked or embarrassed like he expected, she might at least have a chance to collect herself before the lights were switched on. “I was deep undercover with an organized crime syndicate for four years.” Tony hesitated a fraction of a second before he took a deep breath. “I used the name Joey Pescolloni.”
The air between them seemed to crystallize into strands of fragile spun glass that might snap any second. His breath caught in his throat, Tony watched as the woman reached out a slender hand and held it above the desk lamp to mask the glare. As her eyes moved slowly across his features, he remembered her gentle fingers tracing feather light, fluttering touches over his face.
“Joey Pescolloni,” she said at last, her eyes fixed on his. “That’s a great name. One to remember.”
A Different Kind of Honesty is available in all e-formats - visit its page here at Muse It Up Publishing to find out more and buy. And thanks for reading!