“Bianca,” the fake Francesca says to the left-handed servant girl, “be a good girl and offer our guests a drink.”
Bianca bows her head and then steps away from the other servant, moving toward the bar on the far side of the room to do as she was told.
Miz Ghita finally sits down on the loveseat to join the rest of us.
“So, Mr. Augustin,” the fake Francesca begins, “why don’t we start with the particulars of the kind of girl you’re looking to purchase? I must say, we were all a bit surprised that you saw nothing you liked in the showing.” She glances briefly at Izabel and Nora. “We’re just having a difficult time understanding your preferences.” Someone like Francesca Moretti would never say ‘we’ when referring to her business or her guests; she would never have to scold her brother in front of guests because her brother would never give her reason to; the real Francesca Moretti would not only insist she deal with me privately, but she’d demand it, because she wouldn’t fear me. And Emilio would never look at the real Francesca the way he has looked at the fake one twice tonight, as if he were imagining his hands around her throat—it’s kind of disappointing that this feared family is so utterly fucking stupid when it comes to trying to hide the identity of their leader. I couldn’t be one hundred percent sure before, but now I know exactly who the real Francesca is.
“Actually,” Emilio cuts in, pointing upward, “before we go any further, I think Mr. Augustin should prove he is who he says he is.” He looks right at me, challenging me.
“I thought that had already been established,” I say, giving all of my attention to the fake Francesca just to spite Emilio more. “You’ve done your background check on my name, my business; you’ve made your phone calls; looked into my earnings and tax information I know for the past ten years at least—what more is there to prove?”
“Anyone with the means,” Emilio says, “can make up an identity as secure as yours appears to be—but that doesn’t mean shit.”
Funny how the most irritating one of the Moretti bunch also seems to be the smartest. Except for the real Francesca, who I believe will be the one of them all who’ll inevitably make my role a lot harder to play.
“You could be a police officer,” Emilio accuses. He pauses and adds, “Or an undercover agent from any number of organizations searching for a missing person who your client believes we’re in possession of—that is why you’re looking for a particular girl, is it not?”
You’re really onto something, Emilio, and I give you credit for being too close to the truth for your own good, but I’m sorry it’s not gonna work out for you tonight.
I smile and reach for a glass of whiskey from the tray offered by the servant girl. She offers Izabel the same.
“No thank you,” Izabel declines.
The servant moves across the short space toward Miz Ghita and the nameless decoy on the loveseat, offering them a drink; only the nameless decoy takes a glass; she brings it to her painted lips and watches me over the rim as she takes a small sip.
“That’s an interesting observation, Mr. Moretti,” I say casually, take a sip and then add, “but if you really did your research on me—and I’m sure that you did—then you’d know about my brush with American law ten years ago when I was among five other buyers busted in a sex-slave raid in Los Angeles.” I set the glass on the table beside me.
“Busted,” Emilio points out, “but later released from prison—undercover agents always get busted with the real criminals and then are later released.” He thinks he has me.
The servant girl goes over to Emilio next; he looks up at her, nods, and takes a glass from the tray, and then she moves toward the fake Francesca sitting behind the desk.
“Yes,” I say with another confident smile, “but I was busted with my cock inside one of the girls on sale that night—come on now, Emilio, you and I both know that if I was undercover, and I wasn’t one of the criminals, I never would’ve gone as far in the role as to actually fuck the merchandise. Cops, agents, they’ll go as far as harming themselves undercover; snorting shit up their noses, pumping their veins full of drugs, even takin’ a beating, but they won’t hurt or violate anyone innocent.”
Emilio bites down on the inside of his mouth.
I smile a little more—I like fucking with this guy; have to admit he’s put a little sunshine in my bad mood as of late.
“Well let’s just see you prove it,” Emilio states, drinks back all the whiskey from his glass and then slams it down on the table beside him.
Raising his back from the sofa, he leans forward and props his elbows on the top of his legs, interlocking his fingers between them. He looks at Nora first, but then his dark eyes fall on Izabel, and I don’t like what he’s thinking—don’t need to be able to read minds to get a general idea of what’s going on inside his head.
He turns his attention to the second servant girl who has been standing in the room quietly, waiting to be given any number of orders.
“Come here, girl,” Emilio tells her with the gesture of his fingers, curling them toward him.
The girl walks over to Emilio without hesitation.
“Emilio, I do not think that is—” Miz Ghita says but is cut off; Emilio’s hand shoots up, quieting her.
“Not now, Mother,” he snaps, but never takes his hooded eyes off me. “If the rest of you were doing your job, I wouldn’t have to do it for you.” He looks up at the girl. “Take off your dress.”
The girl takes off her dress and stands naked before him; creamy light brown skin; soft, supple, with a slender waist and curvy hips; dark hair tumbles down the center of her back.
“Your turn,” he says to me and his eyes fall on Izabel.
I don’t like where this is going.
“Naomi is off limits,” I tell Emilio. “I don’t care what you’re trying to prove, but it won’t be with her.” Without looking at Nora I tell her, “Aya, stand and take off your dress.”
Nora stands without hesitation and removes her dress.
Miz Ghita and the fake Francesca make a strange breathy noise that sounds like a suppressed gasp when Nora’s heavily scarred back is revealed—the nameless decoy remains undisturbed. Streaks of raw skin, pink and gray and ropy, crisscross her back in a pattern of chaos and brutality, from the top of her shoulders to the top of her ass. Some scars—put there by Fredrik Gustavsson—are still fresh, not yet smooth but are rigid and scabbed with areas red, inflamed. And just like Nora’s missing pinky finger, this too will work to my advantage, otherwise I never would’ve agreed to bring Nora on this mission. She’s too physically damaged to be considered suitable property; especially the kind of property a master would take with him to social gatherings.
Seems even Emilio is taken aback by Nora’s appearance; he gawks at her, even looks a bit aghast. And Bianca, the left-handed servant girl, can’t help but look right at Nora, though thankfully for her I’m the only one in the room who seems to notice her disobedience.
The Moretti family may have both feet planted firmly in the sex slave trade, but they, like many high-class sellers—even the masters—would never beat a girl as severely as Nora clearly has been beaten. Her scars are vibrant evidence of torture, and torture is not the same thing as punishment. A master can’t sell a girl who looks like Nora—except to a sick bastard like Niklas Augustin. And this is where I will undoubtedly gain the interest of the real Francesca and finally get her alone. Because the notorious Madam Francesca Moretti, I believe, is just like Niklas Augustin. At least I fucking hope so, because what I’m about to do next will either secure my private meeting, or get me tossed out of this place on my ass.
After a long moment with no one saying anything, I look to Emilio and say casually, “You were saying, Mr. Moretti?” I cock my head gently to one side.
He pauses, looks at Nora’s back, then looks at me again.
“Some of those wounds are new,” he points out the obvious.
Emilio’s eyes dart from one person to the next.
“Oh, don’t tell me,” I say, “you’ve never had to beat one of your girls almost to the brink of death, Mr. Moretti.” My gaze is calm and collected, sadistic.
Emilio rests his back against the sofa again, straightens his suit jacket, props his right ankle atop the left knee.
“I haven’t personally, no,” he answers. “I like my girls…unblemished, Mr. Augustin.”
Maybe you do, Emilio, but your big bad murderous sister, I think takes pleasure in beating girls to the edges of their lives.
Miz Ghita stands from the leather loveseat.
“Mr. Augustin,” she says, rounding her chin, “I’ve already had a discussion with you about how—”
“Yes, I remember,” I cut in without looking at her, “you told me Madam Francesca won’t do business with someone who disfigures a piece she has spent far too much money, time and resources molding to perfection—your warning remains perfectly clear in my memory.” Finally I look right at Miz Ghita, and add with uncompromising eyes, “But I’m not looking to buy a piece, as I’ve told you; I’m in the market to buy a cyprian.”