The Hunter – Chapter 4

July 25, 2012 at 10:41 pm (The Hunter)

“Tell me what the fuck went wrong!” Borelli demanded.

Nunzio stood hunched over, water trickling down his back. He’d already explained the cock-up at Falchi’s apartment. He knew for sure that Falchi had gotten away, because they’d not even seen the man. Nunzio had gone storming up the stairs, the first to enter the apartment after the door had been kicked in. He’d not noticed the man huddling in the alcove on the second floor. None of them had. And it hadn’t been Falchi who had killed all of his men. He’d heard it when he’d been in the bedroom, but he’d not seen the mess left behind.

Once he’d resurfaced in the canal, he’d swum to the nearest pier and climbed out of the water. His phone hadn’t survived the dunking, so he’d been forced to walk to the train station where he could use a public telephone. He’d called Borelli immediately, though he’d wished he hadn’t had such terrible news to report. He was glad, however, that there was some distance between them. If he’d been directly in front of Borelli’s desk, the bastard might have pulled a gun and shot him. Hopefully by the time Nunzio returned to Palermo, Borelli would have calmed down some.

“So where is he?” Borelli demanded.

“I don’t know. Someone must have tipped him off. He had help though. A woman killed my guys.”

“You got bested by a fucking woman?”

Nunzio took two deep breaths to calm himself down. Borelli hadn’t been there. He hadn’t heard the tight cluster of shots that had taken out the guys in the kitchen, or the quick way she’d fired the shot that had killed Lorenzo. Her bullets were hollow-points, so they’d not exited the body. He could thank his Maker for that, or he’d likely be wearing Lorenzo’s bullet in his face.

“She was a professional.”

Borelli grunted, but didn’t say another word for several minutes. Nunzio knew what he was thinking. Where had Falchi come across an assassin and why was she helping him? Was she Network? Had Becker and Luboff set Borelli up, is that what this was about? Someone had to tip Falchi off. He assumed it was Verro, but those fucking Americans had already proven to be double dealing.

“Get back here. We need to figure out where the fuck Falchi is and then we need to eliminate him once and for all.”

Nunzio hung up the phone and walked over to the Tronchetto parkade. He had a change of clothes and he had his ID, as well as that of the five men who hadn’t made it out of Venice. He hoped Borelli could figure out who the woman was. Nunzio wanted to deal with her himself. She’d forced him to run. And worse, he’d had to jump out a damn window. They’d cleaned up the canal, but he still stank of grime, petrol, and garbage. Yes, he wanted to wrap his meaty fingers around that lovely neck and snap it like a twig. If Borelli couldn’t find her then he’d have to see about paying Becker and Luboff a little visit.

 

Becker set the phone back on his desk and shoved his hands into his hair. Their simple plan was getting all shot to hell. Borelli had learned that Falchi was still alive, and he’d been angry. Becker hadn’t expected that; he’d never figured that Borelli would discover their double-dealing. Falchi was supposed to live long enough to pay them for faking his death and then they’d really kill him. Now Falchi was on the run and no one had any eyes on him. Plus, the woman Borelli had described as having taken out five of his best men sounded an awful lot like Milo. What the fuck was Milo up to and who was she taking her orders from?

He couldn’t worry about Milo right now, though. She was in Italy and he couldn’t touch her. Yet. He needed to focus on finding Falchi and getting rid of him before someone recognized him. If Falchi was found out, Borelli would no longer be head of the family. Especially if they could prove that Borelli had ordered the hit on Roncalli.

Becker picked up his phone and punched in the extension for geek central.

“I want every asset we have in Italy activated. We need to find Bernardo Falchi, fast.”

He hung up, knowing his orders would be followed. He would be contacted the minute they had anything substantial. In the meantime, he needed to figure out a solution for the Milo problem. The pictures she had taken of the area Falchi had been staying in proved that she’d seen the man alive. It wouldn’t take her long to recognize him. She might even have talked to him, if she’d been helping him escape the hit squad that Borelli had sent.

That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Falchi wouldn’t have told her about his deal with Becker and Milo wouldn’t have thought to ask. Even the mystery man giving Milo her orders wouldn’t know about the hit on Falchi, because it wasn’t in any Network database. He’d be suspicious, sure, because the papers stated that Falchi had died in a drug deal gone bad. But nothing could connect Falchi to Becker or Luboff, except the man himself. If Milo spent any great amount of time with Falchi, she might get that information from him.

He was going to have to order her death. He’d known this was coming. The minute he’d seen the picture of Luboff, he’d known her time was limited. He had no idea who was running her and he didn’t think he’d have the time to figure it out.

“Unless I got a little inside help,” he murmured. Picking up his phone, he called down to Controls. Murdoch was the best they had, but he was staunchly loyal to Milo. The guy hated every other operative out there, but somehow Milo had gotten past his abrasiveness. But Murdoch wasn’t the only tech they had and several of them could be convinced to snoop internally, for a hefty price.

As he hung up the phone, he winced at the fee his latest order was going to cost him. The money couldn’t come from The Network, either. It couldn’t be traceable to him or the snoop. But soon, he should have the name of the man running Milo. Then he’d know just how far in the shitter he was.

That just left him the problem of Milo. He couldn’t use Network assets to take her out, because it all left a trail. And, God help him if Milo got the drop on the guy and figured out The Network was trying to kill her. They’d all be fucked then. No one wanted an enraged hunter on their ass. No, he’d have to organize a hit that was staged as a robbery. If they caught her as she was entering the country, she wouldn’t have any weapons on her. She’d still be lethal, but fists couldn’t stop bullets. She was impressive, but she was no Wonder Woman.

Picking up the phone to place another call, he was finally starting to feel like he was in control of the situation again.

 

Grossman flipped through the various pictures that had been downloaded from Milo’s cell phone. The pictures had all been sent to Becker, when they should have gone directly to him and no one else. Grossman didn’t know if it was incompetence on the part of the tech, or if that tech was in Becker’s pocket. He’d hidden the orders under a code number that Becker wouldn’t have access to. He wasn’t worried about tipping his hand to Becker. He just wanted to keep the guy in the dark for a while. He had to know that someone was taking a closer look at several suspect Ops, but he wouldn’t know who.

He picked up his phone and dialled Milo. She’d already called in about the mess at Falchi’s apartment. He’d scanned the various police agencies and no one had a word about who had done the job. No one remembered Milo. Everyone was saying it was a mob hit and Grossman was happy to let it remain that way.

She had a tracer on Falchi, so they knew where he was going, but Grossman didn’t think they needed to confront him just yet. The fact that the man faked his death told him he was up to his eyeballs in this mess. Just because someone had decided to take him out for real didn’t make him innocent. Grossman wanted to take some time to determine what the whole story was before he ordered Milo to approach Falchi.

She’d disagreed with him. She said that if one hit squad could find him then another could as well. Perhaps the second one would get lucky and finish him off. Then they wouldn’t have any of the information he was carrying around with him. She’d raised good points, but he’d still vetoed the idea, for now. He didn’t have approval from the board for the witch hunt he was on, and he didn’t want to give anyone any advance notice that he was looking at them. The longer he could keep them in the dark, the better. He felt the man in the picture, the one who’d killed Hano, was more important.

“Milo.”

“It’s Grossman. I’ve got the information on your mystery man’s flight.” Murdoch had easily followed the flight plan to DC and sent an asset out to the airport to confirm that the plane had actually filed a proper flight plan. The plane was on the ground, but the asset had been too late to see where the occupant had gone.

“I’m on my way.”

Cinque Terre

July 19

Falchi parked the red Fiat in the driveway next to a blue Mercedes hatchback. The drive from Venice had taken several hours longer than it should have because Falchi had gotten lost. He couldn’t walk into a petrol station and ask for directions. It would be his luck that he’d pick the remotest shop he could find and the shop clerk would be watching a TV screen with his image displayed on it. His death was still on the news as everyone speculated how the family would be run. News of Roncalli’s disappearance was also making the rounds.

The house was a two-level concrete and brick structure that had been built in the late 18th century. The property belonged to one of Verro’s cousins, who had allowed them its use two summers ago. They’d called it a summit meeting, but mostly it had been an excuse to get away from family business and enjoy the sunshine for a while. Falchi hadn’t brought his mistress, though he’d not been alone. Verro, who was ten years older than he, hadn’t been interested in female companionship. He’d been devastated when he’d lost his wife to cancer five years earlier. Falchi didn’t think the man would ever take a lover.

Verro had left a light on outside, as well as a lamp in the hallway. He was likely sound asleep, as Falchi hadn’t called him while he was on the road to tell him when he’d arrive. Dawn was still several hours away. Falchi locked the door behind him and headed for the same room he’d used the last time he’d stayed there. He’d driven the last four hours without a break and needed some rest. He was asleep the minute he lay down.

The smell of strong coffee woke him. Sunshine streamed in through the sheer curtains. He hadn’t pulled the heavier velvet drapery closed before he’d dropped onto the bed. He felt a little groggy, but he wanted to see his friend and start to make plans for their future. Padding down the hall, he entered the kitchen and accepted the cup of steaming coffee that Verro handed him. He took a bracing sip before plopping down in a chair overlooking the back patio.

The house sat on the edge of the cliff, overlooking the caldera and the sea below. Many houses were built into the sides of the caldera, but only the wealthy few could afford the expensive properties at the very top edge. Verro sat down opposite him.

“We’ve got ourselves a bit of a mess,” he said.

Falchi nodded. Their plan had seemed such a good one at the time. He hadn’t wanted to die, but he’d thought he’d had everything under control. Now it was all crumbling down around his ears. The welfare of the Calderone family was in question, what with Roncalli missing and with Borelli attempting to take the reins.

Verro tossed a few photos on the table between them.

Falchi raised an eyebrow. Picking up the top photo, he stared in disbelief at the obviously dead body of his former underboss, Carlo Roncalli. While he flipped through the remaining photos, Verro filled him in on what he knew. Falchi had read the story in the papers about the professional job on the water taxi to Murano. He’d never suspected that it would be Roncalli.

“I overheard Borelli on the phone the other day. He said ‘Roncalli is done’. I don’t know who he was talking to, but he was angry with them about you being alive. So it’s someone who knows about your faked death. Someone who must also be working with Borelli on a side project.”

“Becker,” Falchi muttered.

Verro nodded. “I wonder now, if you weren’t meant to go under the anaesthesia and never wake up.”

Falchi nodded. Becker had called him and told him about the delay. If their plastic surgeon hadn’t had an emergency back home, Falchi would already be dead. He felt sure of it. “Becker is working with Borelli to help him achieve head of the family. Why?”

“Money, probably. I’m sure Borelli would have offered them a small piece of the pie in exchange for their resources. Even a small piece of the entire European drug market is a very big deal.”

“So this American organization, this Network, they need the money?”

“I don’t think it’s a matter of need with the Americans. I believe it’s par for the course. They expect to be paid, and handsomely, for anything they do.”

Falchi leaned into his chair, sipping his coffee. It was actually a pretty smart plan, though it galled him to admit it. Borelli could never have pulled it off himself. Merely taking Roncalli out would have gotten him sanctioned by the rest of the family. A challenge for head of the family had to be fair, or the family risked falling back into the old ways.

Some ways were no longer efficient. Whacking anyone who wasn’t watching his back 24/7 got tiring. Too many boss changes and the rest of the family got jittery. Jittery capos and soldiers also got trigger happy and then innocent people started dying. Once that happened, the police got involved. And the judges, and the politicians. The Calderone family could only have so many people in their pocket before the government swooped in and made an example of them.

Letting an outside organization do the hit meant that Borelli’s hands were clean. He remained in Palermo while Roncalli died way up in the north. And he was perfectly placed to take over, though technically it could just as easily have been one of the Damiani twins who took over.

Roncalli hadn’t been boss long enough to promote one of his men to underboss. That left three capos who each had the rank to move up, with no one to make the call. Of the three, Alessio was the most diplomatic and least likely to rule with his emotions. His twin, Angelo, on the other hand would love a return to the old ways. He killed because he enjoyed it, just a little too much. In another life, he probably would have been in jail for it.

“Do you trust the twins?” Falchi asked.

Verro nodded. “They approached me as I was leaving the house after overhearing Borelli. They don’t like him and they don’t like that he has taken over. I told them to keep an eye on him and report their findings to me. I haven’t heard anything yet, but I expect to, soon. Once it becomes public knowledge that Roncalli is dead, I’m sure Borelli will make his self-promotion to boss official.”

“We’ll need their eyes and ears if we’re going to fix this mess.”

“How do you propose we fix it?”

Falchi shrugged. He’d gotten used to the idea that he had to die, but now maybe it didn’t matter. If The Network knew they had a mole in their ranks, and he couldn’t think of Becker in any other light since he was playing both sides of the fence, then perhaps they would remove the sanction on his head and he could return to the family. He’d have to play it carefully. He didn’t want to get whacked trying to prove Becker was involving The Network in mob business. And he had to be sure that Becker wasn’t acting with the full approval of the bosses at The Network.

His gut told him Becker was running his own deal with Borelli. Those Americans wouldn’t believe his gut though. He had to have something concrete to back it up with. He needed to catch them in the act, or catch Becker and Borelli together. It would be damn difficult for him to do that, what with his face still looking like a dead guy’s. He should go to his own plastic surgeon and get some alterations done. The Network’s doctor knew what the software looked at, and how to adjust a man’s face to fool it. In the end though, it was just plastic surgery. Any competent surgeon could do that.

But surgery would take time and he felt as though time was not a commodity he had in abundance. He would have to leave some of the legwork to Verro, since his face wasn’t a problem. He also had a good idea where he needed to start. Verro’s early warning had assisted him in getting out of the apartment alive, but one other had made his flight significantly simpler. And if she was shooting at his enemies, then she wasn’t taking her orders from Borelli.

“I think we need to find the woman.”

Washington, DC

July 20

Milo hadn’t left for DC the minute she’d gotten off the phone with Grossman. She decided she wanted to view the area Falchi was hiding out in. If she could scout the surrounding houses and ensure no one was on to him, then she’d feel a little easier about leaving the country without first interrogating the man.

The neighbours weren’t too close to the two-storey house on the cliff. There were no fences, but the foliage had been allowed to grow a little wild. It wouldn’t be difficult for someone to hide out in the brush and train a camera or a scope on the back of the house, which was open to the view. She’d done it for over an hour and the occupants of the house hadn’t sensed her presence.

She’d studied Falchi and his companion, a man she’d recognized from several photos in old stories about the mob, as well as from when he’d joined Falchi at the apartment in Venice. Tommaso Verro was Falchi’s right-hand man and had been for the past thirty years.

They were based out of Palermo, so Cinque Terre was nearly the opposite end of Italy from their regular stomping grounds. There was nothing on the surface that would give the two men away. She’d not uncovered who owned the property. It wasn’t either of the men, or any of the holding companies that were in their names. That was smart.

Her orders were to follow the mystery man from Murano. As much as she wished she’d been able to talk her boss into letting her finish this, she was going to have to leave Falchi for another day. The tracer was working fine and as long as Falchi didn’t abandon his watch, she’d easily be able to find him again. She only hoped that, when her orders allowed her to return to Falchi, it wouldn’t be too late.

Now, in DC, she felt an urgency of a different sort. Hano had died for a reason, and she didn’t know what it was. She needed to figure out who the mystery man was and who he was working for. What had Hano been involved in and why had it gotten him killed? The hit on the guy in the water taxi had been pretty decent. Hano’s surveillance of Falchi hadn’t been the best, but it hadn’t been bad enough to get him killed.

Perhaps it was simply because Hano had spotted Falchi? Obviously he’d not recognized the guy. Milo hadn’t either. If the mystery man hadn’t said his name, she’d still be in the dark about him. Was the mystery man worried that Hano would tell someone that Falchi had faked his death? That seemed pretty weak.

The plane was stored in a hangar about a mile off Dulles’ main terminal. The day was overcast with a threat of rain. It suited Milo fine. She couldn’t wait until it was dark to do her work. The grass was neatly clipped and there were no bushes of any sort around the hangar to provide cover for her. She drove the length of the street looking at all of the hangars until she found one that appeared to be closed for business. No cars were parked outside and no lights could be seen from the office. Milo pulled her car around to the back and left it.

Jogging through the back areas of each hangar, she silently approached her target. The back door had a window that afforded her a terrific view of the back of the plane. The cavernous room was dark, but there was plenty of light coming from the office. Walking around the side of the building, Milo approached the windows to the office. There were three men inside, two sitting at desks and one lying on the couch. His deep, even breathing told her he was sound asleep. The other two were engrossed in an epic battle being carried out on their screens. Milo recognized the HUD for Call of Duty: Black Ops. She could hear the sound coming through the closed window.

Back at the rear entrance, Milo picked the lock and opened the door. Closing it behind her, she immediately moved ten feet away, dropping down near several oil drums. If the security panel beeped when she opened the back door, she would know it soon. She could still hear the sound effects from the game. After a full minute, she stepped out from her hiding place and approached the plane. The interior was dark, so the gentlemen in the office must be the flight crew. They were dressed in civvies, but that could have been for comfort.

Milo dropped the stairs down and boarded the plane. Pulling the stairs up behind her, she pulled a small flashlight from her pocket and cupped the bulb with her palm. The interior was plush, with thickly padded leather seats on both sides of a central walkway. A fully stocked bar sat off to one side near the rear of the main cabin. And a bedroom took up the far rear. Milo opened drawers and looked through cabinets, but found no papers of any kind.

Back in the main cabin, she checked all of the pockets in all of the seats, but didn’t spot so much as a coffee receipt. The guy was careful, whoever he was. At the bar, Milo saw that several glasses had been used, but not washed up. Taking plastic bags from one of the bar’s cabinets, she placed each glass inside its own bag and placed them all in another bag. If her mystery man had used one of the glasses, and if his prints were on file somewhere, the Techs at The Hive would find him.

Returning to the bedroom, Milo opened the top drawer in the bedside table. Reaching around, she stuck a tracer to the underside of the drawer, out of sight of anyone using the table. Motion-activated, the tracer would bounce a signal to a satellite and ping her the minute the plane started to taxi. Exiting the plane, she headed back through the rear door and jogged to her car.

She’d have to get the glasses to a lab so someone could lift the prints from them. She couldn’t trust that work to anyone at The Hive, because Grossman didn’t know who was involved in the conspiracy. He gave her the address of an independent lab in Seattle that could do the work for them. Milo would fly from Dulles to SeaTac and drop off the glasses herself, rather than trusting them to a courier.

And then she was going home. She wanted a change of clothes and she wanted several days without any Network business, if she could manage it. Grossman approved her leave, saying that he’d contact her the minute he had anything else for her to follow up on. Milo half hoped she didn’t hear from him. She was tired and knew she needed to take a break soon. Once she helped Grossman solve the problems within The Network, she was taking a month off to go lie on a beach.

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