“We do not allow transactions with the masters out of Dubai,” Miz Ghita says in a low voice. “For business and personal reasons I am not at liberty to discuss with you, we do not deal with them under any circumstances, nor for any amount of money.” Her harsh brown eyes move left and right to examine our surroundings, making sure no one is in earshot. “If you have any dealings with them, Mr. Augustin, then we cannot do business.”
Raising my glass to my lips, I take a small sip.
“My purchase is to add to my own private collection,” I say, setting the glass down casually. I tilt my head slightly toward Nora on my left. “As you can see, I have a blond”—then to Izabel on my right—“and a redhead. I’m interested in…a horse of a different color.”
Izabel looks over at me sadly; I rest my hand on her thigh.
Miz Ghita takes a drink from her glass, her eyes watching me over the rim, skirting Izabel.
“I see,” she says, setting the glass in front of her. “Why, if you’re in such a hurry that you need one by the end of the week, would you go to the time-consuming trouble of opening another…account with an establishment you’ve not dealt with before? Why not just purchase one from wherever you purchased”—she waves her hand at Nora, and then Izabel—“these two? They are both very beautiful. And they seem very…tame”—she looks at Izabel, raising her thin brows—“except for this one; she is different.”
“We’re not here to discuss my girls,” I say calmly, but with an air of authority. “But to answer your other inquiry—why would I not want to go to the trouble? Was I wrong to believe that your merchandise is among the most elite in the world?”
She pauses and then says, “Absolutely not. But just the same, four days is a very short time. Even if everything checks out—your identity, your business claims, etcetera (she already checked these things out or she wouldn’t be meeting with me now)—and even if by some miracle Madam Francesca agrees to meet with you, she has so many other engagements ahead of you that it could be weeks, months, before your turn.” She takes another sip from her glass and then changes the mood. “I think this is all just a waste of your time, Mr. Augustin,” she says, brushing it all off as if I should just go ahead and leave like I’d intended before—she’s trying to play me at my own game. “Perhaps we can do business on another day, when you have more time to spare. After all, I’ve never heard of you, and quite frankly, Madam Moretti isn’t one to waste time with a man who has never been heard of before”—she pretends to be getting ready to leave, pushing the envelope I gave her back across the table to me, and then taking her purse from the table. “Some other time,” she says and rises into a stand.
“Sit down, Miz Ghita Moretti,” I say, and her whole face freezes in a stunned display, which she tries quickly to hide and regain her composure.
Propping my elbows on the table, I raise my arms, folding my hands in front of me, right covering the left.
I nod toward her chair.
“Investing, Miz Moretti, isn’t so much a gamble when you have something the wealthiest men—and women—in the world will pay top dollar to possess.”
Izabel’s gaze passes over me vaguely from the side; Nora never looks up from her lap.
Slowly Miz Ghita takes her seat again, and I go on, playing my unbeatable hand and taking all the spoils.
“My investments involve a little more than stock markets and real estate.”
“Who are you?” Miz Ghita eyes me suspiciously, coldly. “You know who I am—bestow me the same courtesy.”
I couldn’t be absolutely sure before, that she’s Francesca Moretti’s mother, but I had an itching gut instinct and went with it. I did my homework on the Moretti family all night after Izabel left me in the bar, and I found out that it’s tradition the daughter take over the reins of the operation when the mother is no longer considered ‘desirable’. But the mother remains involved in the most important aspects of the business—clients and money and security—until she dies.
I smile darkly, confidently, at Miz Ghita.
“The particulars of my identity,” I say, “are for the eyes and ears of the Madam only. But I will give you a message to relay to her, in which I’m confident will be the deciding factor in the decision to grant me a meeting”—I pause and take a sip of water, taking my time—“and approval for a purchase, of course.” I set the glass down.
Miz Ghita swallows nervously, irritably, but retains her firm, unshakable demeanor. She straightens her back and shoulders underneath her dark blouse, to stay on the same level as me.
“And what might that message be?” She raises her chin importantly.
Placing my fingers on the envelope again, I slide it back across the table to her. “Tell the Madam that before I leave this city, either she and I will be”—I gesture my hand gently with the twirl of my wrist—“new business associates, or I will help put her out of business by giving my money to Madam Carlotta over in Milan instead. I hear Madam Carlotta has tripled her revenue in the past year.” I smirk. But just a little bit.
Miz Ghita, with her sourpuss mouth, contemplates my offer, and my threats for a moment. Then she stands—I stand with her as any gentleman would for a woman—and she takes the envelope from the table and tucks it down into her big black purse.
“I will be in touch, Mr. Augustin.”
I nod. “I look forward to hearing from you.”
On the drive back to the hotel, Izabel and Nora want so badly to be able to speak freely. And after I tip the driver, when we head back to our room, all the way there Izabel is practically bursting at the seams. But she does well to stay in character, at least until we enter the room, shut the door behind us and do another sweep.
“How’d you know?” Izabel asks, setting her little black purse down on a table and stepping out of her heels. “And who was she exactly?”
“She’s Francesca’s mother,” I answer, loosening my tie.
I explain to Izabel and Nora how I came to the conclusion.
“I’m impressed,” Nora speaks up. “Honestly I had my doubts that you could play such a role.”
“Why’s that?” I toss my tie on the end of the king-size bed and start to break apart the buttons of my dress shirt.
“I just took you as more the stubborn¸ complicated type, I guess.”
I look away from her and strip off my shirt.
“Well, we haven’t gotten in yet,” I point out.
“Do you think she bought it?” Izabel asks.
“Yes, she bought it,” I say simply.
“Although,” Nora speaks up, “the route you took might backfire. Threats don’t always yield results.”
“No, they don’t,” I agree, “but this one will.” I step out of my dress pants and walk toward the spacious bathroom in my boxers—Izabel makes it a point to look at anything but me, which I find amusing. “A woman like Francesca isn’t stupid; she isn’t delusional in thinking nothing can take her down—she’ll take any threat to her business seriously, especially a rival.”
“Well it worked,” Izabel says. “I thought she was going to walk out and that be the end of it.”
“Once we’re in, the gears will shift,” I say. “After I figure out which of the decoys is Francesca Moretti, I’ll meet with her, feed her some bullshit about my business if I have to, but then shift to the real reason I came here: to purchase a new girl. I’ll show her that I’m not trying to be a threat to her operation—unless she wants me to be, and that’s not likely, so it’s more likely she’ll just drop it.”
“You’re making this sound too easy, Niklas,” Nora speaks up from the sofa in the center of the spacious room.
I glance between them and say, “If I was doing this by myself, it would be a lot easier—it’s not me that I’m worried about.” My eyes fall on Izabel last, but before she has a chance to argue, I shut myself off inside the bathroom and hop in the shower.
My cell phone rings—Izabel’s and Nora’s heads turn simultaneously to look at me when they hear it, because it could only be someone from the Moretti mansion calling this particular number.
I answer on the third ring.
“Yes, this is Niklas Augustin,” I say into the phone to Ghita Moretti. “It’s good to hear from you so soon. Yes”—I nod here and there, listening to Miz Ghita’s pitch, telling me the rules and being her typical authoritarian self so she feels like the one in control. “Yes—No the time is perfect. I will be there. Yes, my girls will be joining me”—(does this bitch ever shut up?)—“I will see you then—of course I’ll be bringing cash. Good day, Miz Ghita.” I run my thumb over the phone screen to end the call.
Nora and Izabel look surprised—I admit, even I’m a little surprised.
“I didn’t expect to hear from her this soon,” I say, setting the phone on the coffee table in front of me. “They want to meet with us tonight at ten—money talks.”