After two years of heavy hard hitting make or break cases and a little arm twisting Maria as take her family to Sicily on vacation. Unknown to them or the OICA a deadly ghost from the past would rear its ugly bringing with it death and destruction.
by Snowfall and Jessie Wolf.
Dedicated to the men and women of the US Marshal Service.
Edited by my husband Paul, and AJC Snowfall.
The southern border between Switzerland and Italy, 1100
Maria had spotted the service slash campground area shortly after crossing the border and called a halt for the night. She knew that the team had been pushing themselves for more than twenty-four hours, and needed the down time. Despite the objections of her adult team members, Maria overruled them. Anna had let her know that Kasey and Kristine had fallen asleep the moment they left the old church. That had been over nine hours ago. They still had plenty of time to get into position for the raid on Hines’ Venice estate. The truck wasn’t due for another nine hours.
As Maria woke from the sound of her alarm clock, she was slightly surprised to see Kasey and Kristine working at the back of the ALOC. Sitting up in the front seat of the Gray Ghost, Maria felt a twinge of pain in her left hip, groaning out. “Maybe I am getting to old for this shit. As it is only Anna is older than Paulo or me.”
Slowly climbing out of the truck, Maria took time to stretch her legs and back. She knew that the time for her retirement was fast approaching, and didn’t like it. Maybe not retirement in full, but not being able to handle a contract directly. Maria looked around for Anna and was surprised at not seeing her old friend anywhere.
Walking over to the rear of the Earth Roamer, where the outside kitchen was, she asked Kasey. “Where is Anna at Kasey?”
“She is still sleeping Nonnina. We didn’t want to wake her. When we pulled in earlier, Miss Anna was complaining about her shoulder again.” The worry in her oldest granddaughter’s voice was clear. “Nonnina, I think that Miss Anna shouldn’t partake in anymore operations like last night.”
Maria sighed then hugged her granddaughters. “Listen to me closely girls. I have known Anna for more years than your parents have been alive. She is more than just a friend to me. She is like a more like an older sister to me. I agree with you that she shouldn’t partake in operations like she did last night.”
Kristine looked over from the gas stove where she was making pancakes. “Nonnina, why do I hear a ‘but’ in your voice?”
“I cannot force Anna to fully retire, girls. She will fight me on that. She still believes that she is the Nightingale of old, and able to handle any situation.” Maria told them honestly.
“Nonnina, was Miss Anna really that deadly in her younger years?” Kristine asked with wide eyes and wonder in her voice.
“Oh, my dear child.” Maria chuckled as she placed a hand on a cheek for each girl. “Anna may have slowed down some, but she is still as deadly as she was the day I first meet her. The problem is, she like me, is losing the battle against time.”
“Speak for yourself, my Donna. I’m still able to carry out a contract. What about you, old friend? Ready to sit back a rocking chair, telling stories of your youth?” Anna’s voice had all three turning to find the oldest member of the team standing behind them wearing a smile. “Thank you for letting me sleep like that girls.”
“They are good girls, Anna. We both know that. Besides, you needed the sleep as much as the rest of us. The fact that the girls were up before us is a testament to their youth. And the fact they were asleep before any of us.” Samantha said as she and Annette walked up. “Is that coffee I smell kids?”
“Just got done brewing mama Samantha.” Kasey told her as she handed Sam and Annette cups of the dark rich brew. “Just the way you like it.”
“Oh, bless you children.” Annette said dramatically as she sniffed her coffee.
As the women took drinks from their coffees, Kasey and Kristine giggled at their antics. Not that those antics weren’t without foundation. The teenagers knew that their mothers couldn’t really function without their morning coffee.
AS their mothers were having their first few drinks, Bobby and Hunter came staggering up. Both men seeing the gathering around the camp kitchen, began to ham things up a bit. Holding out their arms; the two men began moan and stagger around like a pair of horror movie zombies. Instead of calling out 'brains' they called out. “Coffee.”
The gathered women just laughed at them as Kasey handed over two large mugs of black coffee. Unlike their mothers, the teens’ fathers drank their coffee straight out of the pot without milk or sweetener. The girls had asked them about why they drink their coffee that way once. Both men answered the same way. “US Army chow hall coffee was always best served hot, strong and black.”
Over the brunch that the girls cooked up for the team, they discussed how they were going to raid Hines’ newest safe house. Once again, the specter of needing sniper-cover reared its ugly head. And this time, the need was greater than the last. Bobby looked over at Kasey and Kristine. “Do we have an aerial view of the grounds?”
“Yes, sir. And it's not good. If you can give me a few minutes I’ll show you what I’m talking about, but I can give you a short version.” Kasey said with confidence. Bobby just waved for her to proceed. “Unlike at Hines’ last place, this one has no outer curtainwall and is surrounded by about three-hundred acres of pasture fields. The only wall is along the main road leading up to the house. The house itself is a one story, historical villa making thermal detection almost impossible.”
“Why’s that Kasey?” Hunter asked. “Shouldn’t having earthen walls transmit heat signatures easier?”
“No sir. In fact, earthen walls are some of the best insulators there is. The main reason is the thickness of the walls. We’re talking two-foot-thick walls.” Kasey knew that this fact would play into how the adults attacked the house.
“Anything else you girls can tell us about the house?” Annette asked of them.
Kristine spoke up this time. “Yes ma’am. Until recently the house had been under renovation. This renovation was completed shortly after the local Polizia di Stato pulled their surveillance of the grounds. The type of renovations is unclear, but they took a great deal of time.”
Maria, Anna, Samantha and Annette chuckled at hearing this part. Bobby, Hunter, Kasey and Kristine looked at them with confusion. Maria showed them kindness as she waved for Anna to explain.
“One of the oldest ways of clearing out listening and other surveillance devices; is to have a renovation of the property. Why you could remove ALL kinds of things and no one would be the wiser that it was done on purpose. I know for a fact that signor Luciano renovated his home in Manhattan four or five times.” Anna smirked at the looks she was given by the younger team members. “You children really should pay more attention to history. There is more to learn there than most realize. The pursuit of historical knowledge is never a waste of time.”
Maria wanted to laugh at Anna’s none too subtle slap down of her daughters and their husbands. “Kasey, Kristine, is there anything more you girls can give us on the house and the surrounding area?”
“Other than the house is not in the city proper, but in the Via Altinia district of Venice, no ma’am.” Kasey answered.
“Wait; did you say the house is in the Via Altinia district?” Maria demanded.
“Si, Nonnina. I did. Does this mean something?” Kasey asked a little scared.
“Relax child. You’re not in any trouble Kasey.” Maria assured her. “Now, where exactly in Via Altinia is the house? I need to know the address.”
Kristine got up from the table and ran inside the ALOC. She came back just as fast as she went in. Placing the printed-out map of the area on the table Kristine stabbed the house with her finger. “Here!”
Maria looked down at where her youngest granddaughter had her finger, and smiled. Reaching over and picking up the printout Maria smiled. “Hello my old friend. It seems that fate has finally given me another chance at cracking your secrets. And this time, I will crack those secrets.”
"By the way." Bobby spoke up. "Any word about the others and Angelic?"
Kasey and Kristine both started to giggle to each other.
Anna shook her head. "Oh no. What happened?"
Kasey was smiling with almost evil glee. "After they tore apart the house for intel, they extracted."
"And what is so amusing about that?" Maria asked.
Kristine answered. "They took dear cousin Angelic with them. Prima Lyssa had her."
The fact the two teens were highly amused, didn't escape Maria. "How?"
"THEY BASE JUMPED!" The two teens exclaimed and began laughing.
Bobby and Hunter immediately began laughing as well. Anna and Maria looked confused as Annette and Samantha both face-palmed.
"Jumped? With parachutes? OFF THE CLIFF?" Maria asked now understanding somewhat.
Bobby chuckled. "That's what they did. Hunter, why didn't we think of that?"
Maria sat down. "First they climb that sheer monstrosity then they jump off of it? And took Angelic with them that way? Oh dear God, the poor girl will be terrified of heights from now on."
"Miss Tiffany got two complete back-flips before opening and Mister Rodrick did a textbook swan dive. Prima Lyssa did a backwards kick-off, but nothing fancy since she had Cousin Angelic in a tandem rig." Kasey smiled.
"Anything else?" Annette asked.
Kristine gave a half-shrug. "Just that whoever buys that house will have to completely re-do the inside. Since Hines won't be returning there, they tore it apart. Maybe we could buy it?"
"That's not a bad idea." Bobby commented.
Maria nodded. "No. It isn't. Flag the location girls. When it comes on the market, buy it under a company. Where is Angelic now?"
Kasey answered. "They picked up her suitcase where they told us to leave it then dropped her off to meet up with Uncle Rinaldo and left."
Home of Robert Hines, Via Altinia, Venice, Italy
Robert Hines walked through the villa with a confidence bordering on arrogance. To him, he had finally reached the pinnacle of wealth and power. He no longer felt threatened by those Neanderthals in the Bratva or the Mafia. Here, in Venice, he had the protection of the police and local mob. Then there was his private mercenary security force. The fact that his top seven men had resigned, as he left his home in Switzerland, was a small point of contention though. He knew they would need to be replaced at some point in time. Just not today.
Walking into his private office, Hines went straight to his desk. There he picked up his phone and dialed the number for Euro-Trans in Romount, Switzerland. Robert had to wait for his call to be answered. This small disquieting action placed Robert Hines in a sour mood. By the time the operator answered his call Hines was royally pissed off. “WHAT THE HELL TOOK YOU SO LONG TO ANSWER?”
“Sorry, for the wait, sir. We have had a major accident involving two of our trucks and several cars on the Autobahn, sir. How may I direct your call, sir?”
The fact that the operator even told him that two of his trucks had been in an accident was disconcerting. “Never mind that, for now Miss. This is Herr Hines. Just how bad was the accident? Was there any fatalities?’
“Oh, Herr Hines, we have been trying to contact you since four-hundred this morning. I have not been given the all the facts. All I was told to do is transfer you to Herr Müller in Dispatching. Please hold, sir.”
Hines wanted to scream when the operator placed him on hold and the elevator music began to play. After five minutes the line was answered. “Herr Müller; Büro bitte halten.” And the elevator music returned. This happened four more times before Hines was finally able to get a hold of Müller.
“Müller! You better have a good Goddamned reason for putting me on hold for the last forty-seven minutes!” Hines growled into the receiver.
Müller replied. “Herr Hines, I am so sorry for that, but I have a real disaster on my hands. The operator did tell you of the accident, Ja?”
“Yes, yes! Now what more can you tell me?” Hines wanted to get to the meat of the problem. He was more worried about how much money this was going to cost him.
“At just after zero-zero-forty-five this morning; one of our special shipments was rear-ended by a drunken driver, sir.” Müller informed him.
When Hines heard this, he stopped the man. “Which shipment and what was its cargo?”
“The four-eighteen from Berlin, sir. It was one of the medical supply cargos.” Müller’s answer put Hines at ease. The shipment wasn’t one of the unregistered cargos. “The driver of our truck lost control and jack-knifed. Sir, this was something that no one could foresee.”
“I understand that Müller. Now, what is this about a second truck?” Hines asked.
“Oh, that one was not involved in the actual first accident sir.” Once gain Hines was caught off guard. If it had not been for Müller’s next words he would have blown his top. “It seems that he was about two kilometers behind the four-eighteen when that driver had his accident. That first accident started backing up traffic on the A4/A5 Autobahn just before Saint-Marcel. When the second truck stopped they were hit by a third truck from Bier Haus Fördermaschinen.”
“What cargo was our second truck carrying, and where did it come from?” Hines needed to know this more than anything else. As he was worried that his special cargo from his estate in Lausanne should have been somewhere along that route during that time. If the Polizie stopped and search that truck he would be in deep trouble.
The dispatcher explained. “Our second truck was running empty, sir. It was a return special trip for the trailer. It’s one of the American-made refrigerated trailers.”
“Okay, Müller, stop right there. Why are we running empty trails through those mountains? Surely a trailer is a trailer.” Hines was confused.
“No sir. Those trailers are specially designed to carry frozen foods, such as fish, shrimp, lobster, crabs and clams. To place regular cargo in one of those trailers risks damaging the insulation and refrigerator unit. So, once those trucks have made their delivery we have them return to whichever port they come from.”
Hines almost sighed in relief. “Thank you, Müller. I take it that none of those trailers are used for our Specialty loads?”
“No sir. Those trailers are far too valuable!” Müller sounded fearful of needing to repair or replace one.
Hines had by now calmed down enough to be reasonable. “I see. Very well then, nothing we can do about that. Now, what about the pick-up at my house? Where is that truck currently at?”
“I am sorry to say, sir, that truck is behind the traffic tie-up. At last report from the driver, he is running six to seven hours behind schedule.”
Hines was once again close to being livid. He could not believe his day had turned to shit so fast. Keeping his voice level. “When is the delivery’s newest ETA?”
“Sometime between twenty-three-thirty and zero-zero-thirty sir. I’m sorry about this sir, but there is just no way for him to reach you sooner. Not with the massive tie-up on the Autobahn.”
Once again Hines was forced to concede to fate. “Fine. I was hoping that cargo would make it in time to keep from spoiling.”
“Oh, if that is the case there is no need to worry. If a cargo does not require special refrigeration, then it will hold for more than twenty-four hours. It should be just fine with a seven to eight-hour delay.”
Hines knew that the man didn’t know what was in those three crates. Only Hines and his security team knew that those crates held his three personal slaves in a drugged state. A state that would rapidly run out in nine hours. The delay would have his slaves waking long before they were released from their crates. A delay that very well could cause major mental damage to the minds of his slaves. Having no other option, but to accept the inevitable, Hines sighed.
“Thank you for your time, Herr Müller.” Just before he disconnected a thought occurred to Hines. “Excuse, but wasn’t Herr Reinhardt in charge of dispatching?”
“He still is Herr Hines. Herr Reinhardt is out sick today of all days. I’m the assistant Head Dispatcher, sir.” Müller explained and sounded proud, as if he was finally being given a chance to show his worth.
“Oh, then give my regards to Herr Reinhardt and wish him well. Good day.” Hines hung the phone up without a real care for the whether the real Head Dispatcher lived or died. As far as Hines was concerned this whole mess was that man's fault.
Offices of Euro-Trans Romount, Switzerland
Little did Robert Hines know that the man he had just spoke to was not one of his employees. In truth the man was an Interpol agent put in place just for handling calls such as these. Rinaldo smiled at the young man as he disconnected the phone call.
Rinaldo started to laugh the moment the young man turned to face him. “Agent Klaus, I bow to your ingenuity. How in the world did you think of pissing that man off so completely beyond reason?”
The young agent just chuckled. “Ever made a phone call to complain about your Internet cable and had to go through a troubleshooting before the Tier One tech would listen to you? Maybe you’ve had to sit waiting while listening to elevator music on hold, until you talked to a human being? How many times have you made a call to track down a shipment and been put on hold for minutes on end, listening to some half-baked music designed to put you at ease, but instead does nothing but piss you off?”
Even the Station Chief had to bust out laughing when he heard this. Everyone has had one of those very situations happen to them at one time or the other. All Agent Klaus had done, was put Hines through all, but one of those situations at the same time. It was a work of pure psychological warfare. One that would drive any human to the point of committing murder.
“What I want to know is how did that accident on the A4/A5 Autobahn really happen? I mean, it couldn’t have been a better happenstance unless it was done on purpose.” Klaus said truthfully.
“That is one answer I would love to know myself Klaus.” Winter looked at Rinaldo with questioning eyes. “Care to explain Chief Inspector DeMarco?”
“I am afraid that I am just at much of a loss as you are sir. All I can say is to chalk it up to pure dumb luck.” Rinaldo Sr. was telling the truth. He really did have no idea of how the accident happened. That answer would plague him and the Field Office for Interpol in Romount, Switzerland for years to come.
Six hours earlier on the A4/A5 Autobahn…
Deidrick Holts kept his eyes on the road and off the demonic face-painted woman in the passenger seat. He knew that his life was in the petite woman’s hands. She had already told him that his only chance at not going to jail was to follow her instructions to the letter. The fact that he was about to wreck his truck on purpose was not something he wanted to think about either.
As soon as the A4 and A5 had merged she would detonate the small charge under the hitch plate. When that happened, the trailer would separate from the tractor. He had been told that he was to tie up traffic on the Autobahn by the Interpol Agents. That if he failed, the demon woman would end his life.
Deidrick had already figured out that he was not dealing with normal Interpol Agents. These were really Americans. Most likely a special team of anti-terrorist law enforcement or CIA personnel. Deidrick, like a lot of the less than savory element of Europe’s population had heard the stories of American 'shoot first, ask later' attitudes when it came to enforcing the laws. Deidrick had no desire to find out if the stories were or not.
“Get ready Herr Holts. We’re just about there. Remember, you only get one chance at this. Screw it up, and I’ll leave you here for dead. Understood?”
“Ja! Ich verstehe. Ich wird nicht vermasseln.” Deidrick was so scared he didn’t notice that the petite woman just smiled understanding him clearly. Little did he know that Samantha, like Annette, spoke German fluently.
Looking out the windscreen, Sam smiled at the four trucks in front of them by about a half mile. More than enough room to be clear of the accident, but close enough for Sam to run to once the staging had occurred. “Here we go, Herr Holts.”
Sam hit the button on the remote control and a small pop was heard inside the cab. Even though Deidrick was expecting it, he had to fight to keep some form losing control over the truck and trailer. Just as Bobby had predicted; the German built eighteen-wheeler jack-knifed swerving to block all three lanes of traffic. Once the big truck was stopped Sam turned to Deidrick.
“A piece of advice Herr Holts. Get out of the smuggling business. Turn your life around and go straight. Because the next time. Someone like me may just take your life and save themselves the trouble of the paperwork.” With that final threat, Sam bailed out of the truck cab and ran to where Annette had stopped. Once in Black Beauty, the small convoy started rolling again.
As they drove the rest of the way into Italy Sam used wipes to remove her camouflage face paint. When Maria called for the stop; Sam wasn’t the only one pushing the ragged edge. Even so, Sam made sure that her weapons were secure before letting Annette climb into the back seat and stretching out across the front seats.
The plan had been simple enough. It was carried out to perfection. The team would not know that their little traffic tie-up would have such far reaching consequences for their raid later that night. The time that accident would buy them would be put to good use, and allow them to finally put an end to the LOG mess.
Milan, Italy 1330…
Maria stepped through the store front door followed closely by Kasey and Kristine. The young man manning the counter looked up at the sound of the bell over the door. After eyeing the teens up and down he called out. “Ciao, Signore e Benvenuti in pellami pregiati di Stephano. Io sono Richard, come posso aiutarla oggi?”
Maria just gave Richard a hard look before asking. “Where is Stephano?”
“Oh, you’re English. I’m so sorry madam. I thought that you were Italian. How can I be of service?” Richard didn’t answer Maria’s question and deliberately tried to redirect the possible sale back towards his own.
“YOU can start by LETTING Stephano know that Maria DeMarco is here with her granddaughters, you worthless slug.” The harshness of Maria’s voice let Richard know he had made a monumental mistake. To say he was motivated to find his boss now, would be an understatement. Anna who had stopped outside the store to double check the area had walked in just as Maria tore into the young man.
Anna just chuckled at her old friend’s actions. “I take it he is new, Maria?”
Maria just sighed. “Yes, unfortunately. I know it has been more than twenty years since we were last here, but that still doesn’t excuse the help ignoring a request for the designer and owner.”
Kasey looked over at her grandmother. “Um… Nonnina why are we here? Shouldn’t we be headed for our final destination?”
“Trust me Kasey. You and your sister will have need of Master Designer Stephano Mutandine’s skills. That is if you plan on joining us tonight.” Anna told the teens.
About that time a tall, rather lean, yet well-muscled, man with olive skin, dark brown hair and deep green eyes in his mid to late fifties walked out from backroom. The moment his eyes fell on Maria he practically ran to her.
Grabbing Maria up in a hung the man swung her around crying out. “My Dove! You’ve return to me at last! Come let us fly away to our castle!”
This caused Maria and Anna to break out laughing as the teens stared on in total confusion. Once Maria stopped laughing she slapped the man on his shoulder. “Put me down you great oaf. I’m a married woman!”
Stephano placed Maria down and sighed dramatically. “Just my luck. The most beautiful of Doves to ever grace the stage, has been captured by another.”
“Oh, stop it Stephano, or I’ll rat you out to that sweet husband of yours.” Maria wise-cracked.
The teenage girls could tell that the two adults had a long-time friendship. Exactly who this man was to Maria and how she knew him was still unknown. It was just one more riddle to the woman they knew and loved as Nonnina.
“So, tell me my beloved Prima of old. Who are these beauties with you? Budding neophytes or your newest protégées ready to take the world by storm as they glide across the stage? Stealing the hearts and souls of young and old alike.” Stephano asked as he took the blushing Kasey’s hand first and kissed the back of it. “Ciao bella, e tu chi saresti?”
Kasey’s blush had by now reached clear down to her breasts at the very blunt flirting from this strange and flamboyant man. Maria just chuckled. “They are my GRANDDAUGHTERS you old letch. And well underage, not to mention the wrong sex, for the likes of you. Now behave yourself. We have come here in need of your special clothing line. And time is of the essences, my old friend.”
Stephano stood up straight then called out to his shop staff. Gone was the flamboyant fop, in his place was a hard taskmaster who booked no argument. “Everyone clock out. We’re closed for the rest of the day.”
Once the last person walked out the front door Stephano locked it and turn the sign to closed. Turning to Maria, Stephano was deadly serious. “What do you need and who is it for, Maria? Is this a custom order or can something off the rack do?”
“I need something for my granddaughters Stephano. It must last them until they have stopped growing, yet still be useful for night work. Full protection from the neck down. Flexible, yet durable. They will also need boots and gloves as well. The ensemble must be wearable in both summer and winter conditions. Can this be done?”
Stephano thought for a few moments then waved for the four women to join him at the back of his store. “I have something that will work for both girls. It is an off the rack ensemble of the finest leather. I guarantee that you will approve.”
As they walked into the back of the shop Kasey and Kristine were amazed at what they saw there. Racks and racks of leather clothing in a range of colors, styles, and sizes. There were dresses, blouses, pants, shirts, jackets, vests. You name it; it was there. Over to one side was a whole wall of leather shoes, and boots in a range that mirrored the clothing. Short, tall, high-heeled, flat-heeled, heels in-between, zip-up, lace-up, it was there. The teenage girls could have spent the whole day in just this part of the store dreaming. Only they didn’t stop there.
Stephano continued on further back into the rear of the building. Behind what appeared to be a false wall was a second storage room. This one was filled with clothing racks like the last one, but the girls could tell there was something different about them. This storeroom was filled with racks upon racks of custom leather clothing that had no real world practical value. This room was filled with the clothing that only an assassin would desire.
Stephano walked over to a rack that held nothing, but jumpsuits. Turning to Maria he asked. “Will these do for your next generation, Mistress DeMarco?”
The question may have been conspectus, but the meaning was more than implied. Stephano want to know if Maria was shopping for the next generation of assassins. Maria just smiled as she asked. “What type of craftsmanship?”
“Triple layered construction. Outer layer the finest Carinthia leather. Hand tooled and rubbed to softness of Egyptian cotton. Second layer is a triple layer Kevlar and carbon blend of the finest quality. Strong enough to stop a forty-five-caliber round, and knife resistant. Flexible, enough to make any Prima jealous. Lined with the best silk straight out of China. I personally guarantee the workmanship of each piece on these racks. Does this meet your requirements, Donna Maria?”
“More than meets my requirements, Stephano. In fact it exceeds them. I do have a question. Will they work in the cold as well as the heat?”
“With a proper base layer, my Donna. These garments will handle anything down to zero degrees Fahrenheit. As for anything below that, your guess is as good as mine. I have not yet had any complaints.” Stephano boasted.
“That is all well and good my dear Stephano. What I really want to know is can those jumpsuits work in the real world?” The implication was clear in Maria’s voice.
“I assure you Donna Maria, these will get the job done. I would not dare show you inferior merchandise for your granddaughters. I value my life far above profit.”
“Good. I am glad to see that you still understand the ways of my family. Do you think you can outfit them both within the hour?”
“Si. This shouldn’t be a problem. So long as they do not need alterations.” Stephano told her truthfully. More out of fear than anything else.
“Then they are all yours, Stephano.” Maria said with a smirk.
Stephano looked over at the teenagers and gave one order. “Strip.”
When neither Kasey or Kristine moved to carry out his order, Maria sighed. “Girls, trust me. Stephano has no desire in your bodies. The man is a hopeless romantic, and confirmed homosexual in an extremely long-term relationship. He merely needs your measurements to ensure your new clothing fits correctly. Now, do as he asks.”
Both girls sighed and stripped down to their panties and bras. When Stephano sighed and waved for them to remove those as well, Kasey and Kristine did so. Once naked as the day they were born, both girls were glad they had their surgeries. They did not stay naked for long as Stephano handed each girl a silk body stocking.
“These are a specially blended weave of silk, spandex, rayon, and nylon, base layer. They keep you cool in the summer’s highest heat, and warm during the winter’s harshest cold. That is the good news, ladies. Now the bad news is, that it must be worn without lingerie.” Once the girls were dressed in the body stockings Stephano pulled out a tape measure. Starting with Kasey, Stephano with the swift sure hands and practice born of a true Master, he quickly took both girls’ measurements.
Once done he stepped over to the rack with the jumpsuits. Pulling out two he handed one to each girl. Maria noticed that these were of a different style than the one he had shown her earlier. “Stephano, why the change in style?”
“Your granddaughters will not grow much more Madam Maria. These will be better suited and last longer than the one I showed you earlier.”
“Wait? How can you tell that? Are you saying that I’m going to be a shorty for the rest of my life?” Kristine was almost lived.
“Little one, please understand. I have worked with some of the finest models and ballerinas in the world. I have designed for both men and women for more years than you or your sister have been alive. I know bodies. I have to know how they work. How they move. How they GROW. You and your sister could be some greatest Primas to ever grace the stage. But you my dear, will not grow much more than you are now. I am sorry if this hurts you, but I will not lie to a customer when it comes to this line of clothes. I have spent the last twenty years perfecting this line of protective, yet stylish clothing.” The pride in his craft filled Stephano’s voice.
Kristine’s head dropped at hearing this. She had hoped that she would continue to grow. Unlike Kasey who stood just over five-nine Kristine barely stood five-four. A full five inches shorter than her sister. Maria walked over to her and pulled Kristine into a hug, while whispering in her ear.
“Being petite, is not a crime, nor is it a weakness Kristine. Just look at your mama Samantha. She, like you, is just as petite, but did not let that hold her back from following her dreams. You too, can be just as strong as her.”
Kristine hugged her grandmother tight then stepped back wiping away her tears. “Thank you, Nonnina. I’m sorry if I embarrassed you.”
“You did not embarrass me child. You were just caught off-guard by an uncomfortable truth. One that you didn’t want to hear from a stranger. Now, let’s get you and your sister dressed for success. Shall we?”
Both girls giggled at this and quickly pulled on the new jumpsuits. As they slide their feet into the pantlegs Maria notice that the pant portion was styled along the lines of stirrup footed breeches. As they pulled up the bodice portion and slide their hands down the sleeves, Maria noticed a second design change. While the zipper was center-lined, it had a crossover flap to either hide or cover it. Thus, making the zipper a stylish accent. Unlike their mothers’ tactical jumpsuits these could be worn in a more casual sitting.
Maria and Anna approved of the design. These jumpsuits were both protective as well as stylish. Stephano could tell by the looks on the two older women’s faces that he had once again exceeded his directions. With smile on his face Stephano stepped over to the racks of boots. There he picked out four pairs. Two pairs with three inch heels, and two pair with no heels. Looking back over at the girls he returned the boots and picked out two deferent pairs of boots. These had two and a half inch heels and where side-zipped. Handing them to the girls he stepped over to a shelf that held what appeared to be gloves of every type. Selecting two pair that would reach the elbows of both girls’ arms.
“Now, young ladies these boots and gloves are just as special as they are stylish. We’ll start with the boots.” Picking up one of Kasey’s boots, he turned it upside down. Grasping the heel he gave it a sharp twist to the right and pulled. “As you can tell these boots have a sectional heel. One that can be either flat or two and a half inches. The soles are a high strength rubber. Once the high-heel is removed your steps become as silent as a ballet slipper. Go ahead and try them on.”
Kasey replaced the heel and tried on her boots. She found that they were a perfect fit. Kristine though couldn’t get her foot past the vamp of her boots. “Um… Signor Stephano, I think I need the next size up.”
“Let me see that boot for a second child.” Kristine didn’t know why Stephano was questioning her, but handed over the boots. Stephano turned the boot over and looked at the sole. A frown crossed his face as he began to swear in Italian. “Che inutile pezzo di merda. Io sarò gut il culo prima cosa al mattino.”
Maria coughed loudly. “Please, watched your language Stephano. My granddaughters can speak Italian fluently. Along with a few other languages.”
Stephano turned red as he looked over at Maria. “Mi perdoni signore. Ho lasciato la mia rabbia ottenere il meglio di me lì per un momento."
“You’re forgiven Stephano. If you’ll explain what has you so angered?” Maria said.
“These boots have been incorrectly marked and misplaced. Instead of the size five and half’s that they should be, they’re a size four. I have been letting my apprentice Ricardo do more of the work lately.” Looking over at Kristine. “Young lady, I greatly apologize for putting you through such an embarrassing situation.”
“No need to apologize sir. I can see where a mistake can be made.” Kristine said as she took the new boots from Stephano’s hands. “I’m sure these will fit.”
Just as Kristine predicted the new pair did fit, just fine. Both girls took a few steps around the room trying out the new boots, with the heels first. They then removed the heels and did the same. The teens loved how the boots felt on their feet and lower legs. Again Maria approved of Stephano’s selection.
“I take it, you young ladies approve?” Stephano asked as he took in their looks of joy. “Now, let me tell you about the gloves. While they appear to be nothing more than your normal fashion accessory they are far from it. Those gloves are made in the same way as your jumpsuits.”
Holding up of the gloves up Stephano turned it to show the zipper at the wrist. “As you can see these gloves have a zipper at the wrist to ensure a snug fit. They are slash and puncture restraint. In each of the fingers and back of the hands there are small pockets that hold small pads. These will cushion your hands if you have to face an opponent in hand-to-hand combat.”
“I swear, Stephano. You have not changed one iota in all the years I have known you. You continually surpass my expectations. You work is as always beyond equal. How much do I owe?” Maria said with a smile.
“Seeing as how most of this is off the rack, I’ll only charge you my normal fee plus five percent for the rush fitting, Maria. However, I’m not done yet, Maria. I have one more item for your granddaughters.” Stephano said as he pulled two bolero style jackets from one more rack. “These are on the house. They each have additional padding in the back and chest area. While the padding does offer more installation for the colder months, it also provides a second layer of body armor for the wearer.”
Reaching into her purse Maria pulled out a stack of Euro banknotes. With quick and nimble fingers pulled six five-hundred notes off then handed them to Stephano. Replacing the banknotes in her purse Maria then reached into her jacket pocket. Pulling out two heavy gold coins Maria handed those to Stephano as well. Stephano just pocketed the money and coins.
Maria turned to the teens. “Gather your old clothes, we do not have time for you to change. You’ll be just fine as you are in those stylish jumpsuits. We have one more stop to make before rejoining your parents. A pleasure as always Stephano.”
“The same Donna Maria. It was a real pleasure doing business.” Stephano said as he let them all out the front door. Once they were gone Stephano walked back to his specialty workshop. Once there he opened a hidden wall-safe. Placing the euros in the safe he pulled out a small wooden box. Opening the box Stephano placed the two coins next to the other forty odd others. Closing the box and returning it the safe Stephano talked to the empty shop area.
“I hope that whoever those two little girls are going after has their will and testament in order. I have not seen such fire in the eyes of ones so young in a long, long time. Not sense Maria first brought Annette to see me.” Closing the safe Stephano sighed. “I guess another generation of DeMarco has come to pass.”
At the home of Perry Handready, Paris, France
When the Police Nationale officers responded to calls of gunfire at the home of Perry Handready they were not expecting to find a bloodbath. They had figured it was the normal situation of the neighbors complaining about Handreay’s private shooting range. It was a well-known fact among the Police Nationale that Handready had the range. More than one officer had responded to noise complaints about the shooting range. They had figured that Handready was just playing with a new toy.
Instead of finding a maid waiting for them at the door as usual, with coffee. They found the front door wide open and the maid laying on the floor in a pool of blood. After retreating to his car and calling for backup, the officer secured what he could. Within twenty minutes, sixty armed Police Nationale officers had surround the house and were in the process of searching for survivors.
After more than an hour, a lone survivor was found. The preteen boy was found in a dark corner of the basement behind an old workbench. The medical team that had arrived after the scene was secured, spent more than a half hour calming the child. During that time, the medic was able to get his name, Gitan Handready.
The Inspector in charge of the crime scene was called for once this was found out. The man was a twenty-year vet of the Police Nationale and had seen some of the worst crimes in the City of Lights history. Bending down to look the boy in the eyes. “Can you tell us what happened here, Gitan?”
The boy sniffed and looked up at the Inspector. “Are you going find the men who killed my family?”
“Oui, I will find them for you Gitan. Do you think you can tell me what happened now? Or do you need a little more time?”
“No sir. I can tell you now. I want to help you catch these men.” Giten may be weak from fear and shock, but he really wanted revenge for what had been done to his family and friends. Over the next hour young Gitan told the Inspector what had happened. He told of how he just gotten home from school and was having a snack in the kitchen with the Cook. His father was in his office, as was usual for this time of the day, and his mother was in the study making arrangements for some social event. There was a knock at the door and Gela went to answer.
Those had been the last moments of normality for the preteen boy. The seven men shot Gela where she stood and rushed in past her already dead form. The Cook, Fayanna, grabbed Gitan and forced him to go into the basement, ordering him to hide. Gitan did as he was told and found his hiding place behind the old workbench.
When the Inspector heard this he wanted to groan. He just knew that the boy won’t be able to provide him with any real details for his investigation. Then he was surprised by what Gitan said next. “I heard them talking about how they will be paid for taking care of my papa. That the money would set them up for the rest of their lives. They were all telling how they would be returning to their home countries and what they would do with their share of the money.”
“Tell me Gitan. Do you think you can remember what each man said they wanted to do? What country they were going home to?” The Inspector asked.
“Oui, Inspector. Four of them are Americans, and three are English pigs.” Gitan spit on the ground. “They were joking about how my mama had begged for them to spare her life for me. I also heard where they will be to receive their payment. Inspector these are not men, but swine not fit to breath the air of honest French citizens. Kill them! Do not arrest them, sir, kill them all!”
“I will son, I will.” It was all the Inspector could say to the young boy who had grabbed a hold of him as he cried out those last few words. The Inspector knew he would carry out the boy’s wishes, even if it cost him everything. Handing the boy back to the paramedics. “Get him to the hospital. I’ll have someone from Social Services come by later to check on him.”
A patrol officer walked up to the Inspector. “Sir, we found a clue as to where the criminals that did this were heading.”
“They are meeting at the Tower Café, sir.”
“Assemble a strike team. They are to be shot on sight! Take no chances, shoot to kill. Understood?” With those words the fate of the seven mercenaries was sealed. Only death would come for those men. The Inspector’s order would be carried out and his promise to Gitan Handready would be fulfilled.
One of the younger officers looked over at his training officer and partner. “Henri, did Inspector Clouseau really just give the order to kill the men that did this, on sight?”
“That he did Lamont, that he did.” Nodding towards the house. “Come on Lamont, we still have work to do here.”
Treviso Airport; Treviso, Italy:
Rodrick brought the Gulfstream in and touched down on the runway then taxied over to the private aircraft area. A customs officer would meet them there. Twenty minutes later, they rented two cars and began the 19-mile drive to their safe houses outside Venice. Lyssa drove one car, with Rodrick sitting in the passenger seat while Tiffany drove the other. They stopped in the section called Marghera. Two small converted warehouses and picked up two load-outs. Hard-Penetration and Full Assault load-outs. After securing those, they went to eat then settle in for naps while they waited for updates.
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