The Hunter – Chapter 3

July 5, 2012 at 9:48 pm (The Hunter)

Palermo, Sicily

July 18

Tomasso Verro sipped his cappuccino while he read the front page of the Giornale Di Sicillia. Police had been called to the scene of a murder in Venice, on a water taxi bound for Murano. No names had been released, but the death, according to one witness, had been a professional job. The taxi had been full and yet no one had seen a thing. Only half the taxi had emptied at Murano and the guy was already dead by then.

The body was discovered when an elderly lady sat next to the deceased and noticed the vacant look in his eyes. Several passengers had taken photos of the dead guy, but the police had expected it and confiscated cell phones. Several passengers were calling it an infringement upon their rights, but the police were adamant about keeping a tight lid on the case.

Verro hadn’t heard from Roncalli in several days and Borelli was taking advantage of his sudden disappearance. The shipment of drugs they had collected from the Mexicans had already been disbursed, but Borelli was still attempting to direct the buys. It wasn’t done. The buyers knew their job. They didn’t need Borelli telling them how to proceed. Borelli didn’t know the streets the way their buyers did. His suggestions were putting the buyers at risk.

Calderone wasn’t the only family that could deliver the goods. Of course the buyers were leery of angering the family, but a rat like Ranieri could take advantage of the turmoil within the Calderone family. Verro was fielding several angry phone calls each day from the guys on the street. If Borelli wasn’t brought to task, they would risk losing some of their biggest markets.

Roncalli’s cell phone went directly to voice mail. Verro didn’t bother listening to the message. The system was full. Roncalli had never disappeared like this before. Even when Falchi was alive and Roncalli was second in line, he made sure he could be reached at all times. The man was so dedicated to the family that he rarely took vacations. Verro thought it made him a bit tightly wound, but reliable.

The front door slammed. Borelli stalked past Verro’s door without stopping, his cell phone jammed against his ear. Verro crept into the hallway and edged over to Borelli’s office. At first Borelli was silent, and then he cut off whoever he was talking to.

“You fucking double-crossed me, you asshole. Falchi is alive. I saw him!”

Verro frowned. Borelli must have had him followed. It was the only way he could have learned of Falchi’s ruse. What would that mean for Roncalli? What would that mean for Falchi?

“Roncalli is done. I can’t have Falchi turning up now.”

Verro moved away from the door and headed back to his own office. He left his computer on and didn’t answer his phone when it rang. He collected his coat and his briefcase and walked out the door. Sweat dripped down the middle of his back. He forced himself to a normal pace. Before he reached the end of the walkway, the Damiani twins exited the house and called out to him. Verro took a deep breath and turned around to face them. Neither one had a weapon on him, but the twins didn’t need them.

“Where is Roncalli?” Angelo demanded.

Alessio put a hand on his brother’s arm. He didn’t need to say anything to get his brother to calm down. “We’re a little concerned about him, Verro. Borelli is taking too much upon himself and it’s disrupting the normal flow of business.”

Verro nodded. “I, too, am wondering what has happened to Roncalli. I don’t like the way Borelli is behaving any more than you do. I’m getting far too many angry phone calls from our people.”

“What do you want us to do?”

Angelo wasn’t out of line asking that question. Verro’s job was to advise and since Roncalli was official boss, Borelli was overstepping his authority. The snippet of conversation he’d heard led him to believe that Roncalli would not be returning to the family. If Borelli was looking for Falchi, then Verro needed to see to his safety.

“Keep an eye on Borelli. Go where he goes. I don’t trust that he has the family’s best interests in mind, but I have no proof.”

The twins nodded and turned back to the house. Verro quickened his pace to his car, not feeling particularly relieved when he was seated behind the wheel. As he drove away from the house, he knew that he would not be going back. If Borelli had had Roncalli eliminated, Verro would be next. They didn’t see the running of the business in the same way.

Borelli said Verro was too old and set in his ways. Verro scoffed, stating that the basics of running a connected family hadn’t changed in over a hundred years. Technology changed, some processes got a little easier, but the cops still watched them, the other families still tried to take over, and business was business. If they could make money at it, they ran it. Simple.

Borelli had big ideas for how to hide their dealings, but he wasn’t as savvy as he thought he was. That would mean trouble for the Calderones. Verro didn’t stop driving until he reached the airport. He would call Falchi and warn him about Borelli. Then he would disappear. Once Falchi was safely away from Venice, they would have to plan. Perhaps Falchi would have to make a miraculous recovery from death after all.

 

“I don’t care what you have to do, Becker. Just get rid of him, for good this time. And I want proof that it’s done. Bring me his fucking head on a platter!” Borelli stabbed the end button on his phone. He wanted to slam it on the desk, but he’d already broken one phone recently.

Three days ago when he’d been following Verro through the twisting streets of Venice, he hadn’t expected to see Falchi hanging out of the window. He didn’t know what he’d thought Verro was up to, but Falchi’s being alive had freaked him out. Roncalli’s hit had already been in place.

Seeing that the Falchi hit hadn’t gone the way he’d expected it to, Borelli had wondered if Becker would double-cross him on the Roncalli job, too. He’d almost gone along, but figured his presence would spook Roncalli. Instead, he’d sent one of his most loyal men, who had collected Roncalli’s ID once the job was done.

Nunzio stepped into the doorway and waited for Borelli to motion him inside. He didn’t sit. He assumed he’d be leaving shortly. He stated that Verro had been spotted near Borelli’s office, that he’d been listening at the door. Verro had just left the house, but was currently outside talking to the Damiani twins.

Borelli went back over his conversation with Becker, trying to determine if he’d said anything incriminating. He’d be the last to admit that he had a short fuse and often flapped his gums when silence would have been the better choice. He couldn’t remember half of what he’d said, but he wasn’t willing to take any chances.

“Get rid of him,” he ordered, watching as Nunzio smiled before turning from the room. Nunzio was his most efficient soldier. Borelli would have to promote him to capo once the family accepted his rule. And they would accept his rule. He was the only one willing to go far enough to ensure their continued dominance in Sicily. He would begin a war with all other families, if he thought it would strengthen their ties to the community. And he did think it would. Everything was going exactly as he’d imagined it would.

Once Falchi was dead for real, and once Verro was eliminated, the Calderones would annihilate the competition and become the only family on Sicily. And Borelli would be head of the largest crime ring the world had ever seen.

Then the real work would begin.

 

“Grossman.”

“It’s Milo. I’m still in Venice. I want to keep on this a little longer.”

“Why?” Elias Grossman was Deputy Head of Operations at The Network. For a desk jockey, he took an active role in the Ops his people were running. Milo’s was a little bit different from most, though. She was working directly for him, trying to determine who was dirty and who wasn’t. Grossman knew they had a worm in the system, but he had no intel on who it was.

“Do you know the identity of the man in the picture? The guy killed Hano and there’s something vaguely familiar about him, but I don’t know what.”

Grossman checked his incoming intelligence folder, but it was empty. Asking Milo to hold, he called down to Controls and asked Murdoch to find the files. Bringing Milo back online, he told her to fill him in on what she’d seen.

Milo gave him a quick rundown of her past few days, including the hit on the guy on the water taxi and the shadow who had taken the dead guy’s identification. She passed along the numbers from the plane Hano’s killer had boarded.

“I’m back in the square where Hano spent several days watching an apartment. I think he’s the guy Hano’s killer called Falchi.”

Grossman did a search through their operation files for the name and came up empty. A quick Google search brought up a number of pages on the man. Most notably, his recent death.

“When did you see this Falchi?” he asked.

“A few days ago. The fifteenth.”

“Interesting. According to the internet, Falchi was killed on the 5th.”

“Give me a minute,” Milo said, calling up her own search engine. In just a few moments she had the internet article talking about Falchi’s demise, with a picture of the man himself.

“Yeah, that’s the guy I saw hanging out of the window a week after his death,” Milo confirmed.

“Stay there and see what you can find out.”

Milo hung up and read through the entire article. Falchi had apparently taken several gunshot wounds during a drug transfer. He’d not survived his injuries. Milo wondered who was running the Calderones now and if they were worried about their longevity.

Milo tossed a few Euro on the table to cover her drink and walked across the square to the building next to Falchi’s. A four-storey walk-up similar to Falchi’s, Milo had noticed that the front door stuck and if a resident didn’t pull the door tight behind them, it remained unlatched. Several of the residents were elderly and they always remembered to pull the door, but the young couple on the second floor front didn’t take as much care.

Milo entered the building, pulling the door tight behind her. A quick jog up the stairs brought her to the fourth floor, where a hallway split the building in half, front to back. Moving toward the back, Milo peered out the hall window toward Falchi’s apartment. Both buildings looked out over the canal and neither had a balcony to enjoy the view or to make Milo’s job a little easier.

The details of the building that added character to the overall design also provided footholds, but Milo was sceptical about the strength of the plasterwork. Still, it was only four stories off the canal and it was a nice day for a swim. The whole window pane opened out like the cover of a book, allowing her most of the sill to stand on. Standing to her full height and stretching her arms up, Milo barely grasped the edge of the roof. Placing her foot on a plaster flower, she heaved her weight up to the tip of the roofline and slipped over the edge.

Walking across the roof, Milo looked over the side of Falchi’s roof, toward the nearest window. Picking her handholds, she worked her way down until she could sneak a peek in through the top corner of the window. She had a great view of the kitchen, which was empty, and a smaller view of the hallway leading towards the living room. Falchi was nowhere in sight, but she assumed he was in residence. She had spent several days watching the area while watching Hano and she’d never seen Falchi leave the building. Though the building backed right onto the canal, his building didn’t offer a private dock.

Testing the window, she was surprised to find that it opened easily. Most people wouldn’t expect someone to come in from the water side, but she hadn’t expected a “dead” mob boss to be so trusting. Dropping down to the floor, she removed her Sig from the waistband of her jeans and slipped the safety off. Closing the window around, she left it unlatched in case she needed to use it for a quick exit.

A quick glance down the hall showed a partial view of the living room. Milo crept across the floor, testing each footstep for creaking floorboards, sticking to the very edge nearest the wall. She heard the toilet flush just as she was passing by the bathroom door. Milo headed for the bedroom, keeping out of sight of the hallway. Spotting Falchi’s watch on the night stand, Milo slipped a tracer patch from her pocket. Removing the plastic backing, she stuck the adhesive side to the underside of the watch. The tracer was thin enough that Falchi wouldn’t notice any difference while he was wearing it.

Once it was in place, Milo unlatched the bedroom window and slipped outside. She could hear Falchi coming down the hallway. Gripping several plaster roses, she pulled herself off to the side of the window and shut it just as Falchi walked through the door. Leaning to the side, she immediately started hauling herself back up to the roof. As she teetered over the edge and dropped down, she heard the bedroom window open.

Several buildings to the east, Milo climbed down a rickety fire escape and returned to her table at the cafe across the street. Calling up the tracer app on her phone, she saw the strong signal coming from the vicinity of Falchi’s apartment. He’d not left the building once while she’d been watching. She doubted that he’d gone anywhere the day she’d headed for Murano. Ordering a cappuccino and a pastry, she settled in for a long wait.

 

Falchi stood a fair distance from the living room window. The sheer curtains were drawn, blocking him from view. The woman had been absent from her spot at the table for close to a half hour, but had recently returned. She was making him paranoid. If one of the families had figured out his ruse, they’d find him and take him out before he could have his surgery done. He needed to find out who had sent her, but he didn’t have the resources he would have had as the head of the Calderones.

He was reaching for his cell phone when it rang. Startled, he recognized Verro’s number.

“Yes?” he said. He never used his name anymore. He would have to get used to a new one soon.

“Borelli knows you’re alive. You have to get out of there. He’s going to send someone after you.”

Falchi looked out the window at the woman sipping her cappuccino. “I think he already has.”

“I don’t think so. I think you still have time, but not much. Collect your belongings and leave. We’ll meet at the villa where we held our last summit meeting.”

Falchi stared at the woman a few moments longer before agreeing to Verro’s suggestion. He would collect his things and leave and either the woman would attempt to stop him or she wouldn’t. If Borelli knew he was alive, he knew where he was staying. If not the woman, then someone would come for him.

It took him little time to collect what few belongings he’d bothered to unpack. His shaving kit from the bathroom, his watch from the bedside table, and several articles of clothing in the closet. Another quick glance out the living room door showed the woman still seated at the same table. She was beautiful, he could see that even from this distance. Some men would be blind to the danger behind those eyes, but Falchi had known too many beautiful women to get taken in by her. He would be forced to leave via the front entrance, but he wouldn’t take his eyes off her. If she moved, he would finish her.

He locked the door behind him and made his way down the stairs. At the second level, he heard the main entrance crash in. Without waiting, Falchi tucked himself into a small alcove near the front hall window. He heard several men pounding up the stairs, not even trying to be stealthy. If he’d still been in the apartment, he would have heard them coming by the time they reached the third floor. He might have gotten to the back window and jumped into the canal, or he might not have had the time. Instead, thanks to Verro’s early warning, Falchi was able to slip downstairs once the last man had rounded the corner towards the fourth floor stairwell.

Halfway down the last set of stairs, Falchi noticed a man standing by the entrance, with his back to the door. Before Falchi could pull the gun from his pocket, he saw the woman approach the guard. She smiled, her chest thrust forward and her breathing a little choppy. The guard’s eyes remained on the generous display of flesh until it was too late. The stiletto slipped down the sleeve of her shirt into her palm and she easily slid the slender blade between his ribs. One quick jerk and the blade sliced through his heart.

She turned her eyes on Falchi as she manoeuvred the dead man inside the building. “Head for the canal. I’ll delay the men upstairs.”

Falchi nodded and walked past her, turning to the east and the nearest path to the Grand Canal. He looked behind him twice before he believed she wasn’t going to sneak up on him and silence him forever. At the edge of the canal, he hailed a water taxi and requested a swift trip to the airport. He wouldn’t take a plane, but he’d be able to rent a car there. His rendezvous with Verro was some distance away, nearer the west coast of Italy.

Being out of the apartment left Falchi feeling overexposed. He should have already gone under the knife having those subtle changes made to his appearance. Instead he was on the run with a highly recognizable face. He’d be lucky to get a car rented without someone pointing at him and calling for the police. Sitting at the back of the taxi, his face averted from much of the view, Falchi started praying for the first time in twenty years.

 

Milo switched her blade for her Sig. It was silenced and didn’t require her to get too close to the thugs that had gone charging up to Falchi’s apartment. Silently racing up the first three flights, she leaned out over the railing to see the fourth floor. One man stood on the threshold and the other four had gone into the apartment. It wouldn’t take them more than a few seconds to clear the place. She was near the top of the stairs when the guy at the door started to turn her way. She shot him before he even got her into view.

Grabbing him before he toppled over, she peered around his body, into the apartment. No one was in sight, so she pulled him away from the door and set him on the floor. Stepping into the doorway, she immediately moved to the side. It was daylight, so she made a terrific target no matter where she stood. Two were in the kitchen, checking out the contents of the fridge. Milo put two shots in each, one in the chest and one in the head. They made enough noise dropping to the floor to alert the other two men in the apartment.

The first one came out of the bedroom with a phone tucked against his ear. Milo shot him in the face. The last man was directly behind him and used him as a shield. He’d already ascertained that Falchi wasn’t in the apartment and he’d spotted Milo at the door. Rather than taking his chances with her, he ran for the bedroom window and leaped the four stories to the canal below.

A quick search turned up no identification on any of the bodies. Milo took a quick snapshot with her phone, but she’d never seen them before. She’d leave it for the techs back at The Hive to determine what they meant. Voices on the main floor floated up the stairs. Police. Milo headed for the window in the kitchen, stepping over the bodies.

Her hands already encased in gloves, she pushed the window pane out and levered herself up onto the sill. She retraced her steps from earlier in the day, closing the window behind her and heading for the neighbouring building. That window was also still unlatched, so she ducked inside and pulled the window closed. Tucking her Sig back into the waistband of her pants, she casually walked down the stairs and out the front door.

A crowd had gathered, so Milo pretended interest for a minute before angling around behind the bystanders and heading for the canal. Her app told her that Falchi was moving quickly. She’d give him some time to reach his next destination before she showed up.

Whoever had come to visit Falchi had obviously intended to erase him. Her search of the man in the bedroom had turned up enough C4 to blast the entire building into dust, to say nothing of the neighbours on either side. She’d palmed that. You never knew when a bit of C4 would come in handy. With a last glance at the little square, Milo blended in with the tourists heading down the winding streets.

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