“Don Messana!” he blurted out, his eyes bulging with surprise.
“Salvatore,” I acknowledged quietly.
His astonishment was almost comical. “You know who I am?”
“I never forget a face or a name. You were pointed out to me at Garibaldi’s funeral five years ago. You used to do some work for him, didn’t you?”
His whole face lit up. “Yes, yes, that is completely correct. But this is totally amazing. I never knew you were even aware of my existence. It makes me very happy. Very happy indeed to know that Don Messana knows me. If there is anyway at all I can be of service to you, please, please, let me know and I will be more than happy to do it.”
I allowed one corner of my lips to drift upwards. “Hmm… perhaps there is something you can do for me.”
He beamed happily. “That is wonderful. Just wonderful. I would love to help you in any way I can.”
Garibaldi was right, he was pretty pathetic. “Will you join me for a drink?”
“Of course. Of course,” he cried eagerly. “That would be absolutely marvelous.”
“Good. Let’s have it in Soleiman’s study. I believe he keeps his best whiskey there.”
“Oh yes.” He turned to the woman. “Wait here for me, Skye. I’ll be back when I’m finished with the Don.”
I didn’t look at her, but from my peripheral vision I knew her reply had been a wooden nod.
“Let her come,” I said softly.
“Oh no, she will be bored with men’s talk,” he said quickly.
I turned to her and let her have the full force of my gaze. “Will you?”
“I… I… yes, I mean… no,” she said in confusion.
I let my eyes gaze away from her mouth and returned it to the joker in front of me. “There you go. She won’t be bored.”
He forced a smile. “Of course, Skye can come with us.”
“This way.” I turned and led the way towards Soleiman’s study. I knew he wouldn’t mind if I used it, or even finished his rare whiskey. I opened the door and switched on the lights. One wall of the very large room was lined with shelves that were filled with leather-bound books. The books went all the way up to the ceiling. There was a big antique desk in front of the window and a nest of black leather sofas in one corner.
I waved my hand towards the sofas as I walked towards the mini-bar. “Take a seat.”
I poured out three generous measures of Soleiman’s best whiskey into some crystal tumblers and carried them towards the sofas. Salvatore immediately jumped up, as if sitting while I was standing was a direct affront to me.
“Sit,” I said. His eagerness to please was beginning to grate.
And he dropped back down to the sofa. I handed a glass to Skye. Deliberately I let our fingers touch. She jerked back as if I had burned her, her eyes flying upwards to meet mine. Hers were wide and surprised and her cheeks were pink with color. So, we were on the same page.
“Thank you,” she whispered, dropping her gaze hurriedly.
I put Salvatore’s glass on the coffee table and lowered myself onto the sofa opposite him. I raised my glass. “To good times.”
“To good times,” both Skye and he echoed.
I leaned back and took a sip.
“Whoa! This is great whiskey,” Salvatore opinioned.
It was at that point I decided I couldn’t bear another second of his company. “I want your woman,” I said bluntly.
Skye gasped with shock, and Salvatore choked on his whiskey.
“Sorry,” he spluttered.
“You heard me.” My voice was cold.
For a second he seemed totally bewildered. He looked at me, then at Skye, then back at me. He opened his mouth, closed it, and opened it again like a tiny-brained fish. Then he swallowed so hard, his Adam’s apple bobbed. Sweat began to bead his forehead.
The silence in the room became so deep I could hear the woman breathing. Fast and shallow. Like a little creature that had been running for a very long time from a predator and finally, at the cliff edge, when running was no longer an option, turned around to confront its enemy. It knew it was doomed, but it was not going to give up. It was going to fight to the death.
I never looked at her. I kept my eyes on Salvatore. He didn’t look at the woman either. Instead he looked down at his clasped hands. I stared at him curiously as he fought a lost battle. He didn’t want to give the woman up, but the lure of working for me was too much.
“Of course. It will be an honor,” he mumbled finally.
“You have made a wise decision. Someone will contact you in the morning with an… opportunity.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much. I will look forward to his visit and proposal.”