ooks like we've got a new face.” FBI Agent Boyd Logan began snapping pictures of the woman who'd driven up to the tall wrought iron gates barring the entrance to the Garduchi compound. Using a powerful zoom lens, he could see her fairly clearly from his vantage point on the wooded hillside across from the entrance to the estate, as she gave her name to the guard and waited to be admitted. He got the impression the guard, Joey Green, knew her and found her presence there amusing. She didn't look amused.
“What's she look like?” Lewis Hamond, Boyd's partner, asked.
“Late twenties. Brown hair. Short. Can't tell the color of the eyes from here. Pretty. Not a knockout. But pretty. Looks confident.”
“You think Garduchi's bringing her in to take out Leona Serrenito?”
“Could be.” He focused on the license plate. “She's driving a local vehicle. Run the number.” He recited the digits while Lewis jotted them down.
The gates opened and the car pulled through. The FBI had a long running file on Garduchi. They knew he was head of organized crime in St. Louis and involved in all the dark avenues of illegal tradeâprostitution, drugs, numbers, loan-sharking, protectionâbut they'd never been able to come up with the evidence to put him behind bars.
Then two days ago word had hit the streets that a woman by the name of Leona Serrenito had been caught skimming and a contract had been put out on her life. Until that news had surfaced, the FBI had been keeping a file on a man by the name of Norbert Snider, figuring he was Garduchi's chief accountant. But all along Snider had been merely a red herring. Leona had been Garduchi's chief bookkeeper. For the umpteenth time Boyd cursed the lack of knowledge they had about the woman. She'd been considered so unimportant that until she disappeared they didn't even have a folder on her.
Now the race was on to see who found her first...the authorities or Garduchi. Boyd and his fellow agents were hoping she'd contact the FBI and ask for protection in exchange for information, but so far, she remained in hiding.
“The license plate belongs to Katrina Polenari.” Lewis said, cutting into Boyd's thought. “Twenty-eight years old. Brown eyes in case you're interested. Five feet, six inches. Single. Address in one of the older municipalities in north county just outside the St. Louis city limits.” Lewis punched in the name for more information, then gave a low whistle. “Interesting.”
“What?” Boyd asked, his curiosity piqued.
“She's a cop.”
“Five years on the St. Louis police force.”
“Think she's on his payroll?” Boyd scowled. “Call her captain and find out if they've got a lead on Serrenito. Maybe she's here to collect the reward.”
Lewis placed the call. “They've got nothing,” he reported.
Boyd continued to look curiously toward the gate. “I wonder what our lady cop is up to.”
Katrina had seen the car that had been behind her since she'd left her home. As she waited to be admitted through the gate, a flicker of a wave from the driver to the guard confirmed what she already suspected. Garduchi had had a tail on her.
Inside the Garduchi compound, she followed the tree-lined drive past two stylish homes. Those, she knew, housed Vince Garduchi's daughters and their families. Ahead, she saw the main house. It was Italian in design, resembling the estate homes of the wealthy in the old country.
Vince Garduchi, himself, came out to greet her. He was sixty-seven but looked ten years younger. His once playboy handsome face had grown distinguished with age. She noted that he continued to look fit. And he was as charming as ever.
Like a cobra just before it strikes.
“It's been a long time, Katrina.” Garduchi extended his hand.
Not long enough to suit me.
She forced a smile. “A long time,” she confirmed.
“How do you like my home?” He waved toward the palatial structure surrounded by gardens with fountains in their centers.
Her forced smile felt plastic. “It's nice.”
If you like things built with blood money,
she added silently.
“It's a taste of the old country.” He took her arm and led her inside. “A person should never forget his or her roots.”
She was well aware this was an admonishment aimed at her. She wanted to tell him what he could do with her roots, but bit back the sarcastic response. She was here on a mission of mercy and making him angry would serve no purpose.
He noted her silence with a frown and she could tell that he knew what she was thinking. He shrugged as if to say he'd tried to talk sense to her and if she refused to listen then her fate was in her hands.
Releasing her arm, he motioned for a maid standing nearby to approach. “Considering your rebellious nature, I'm sure your father, were he still alive, would forgive me. I must ask that you be subjected to a search for listening or recording devices.”
“Yes, of course,” she replied, her tone letting him know that she'd expected this.
The maid led her to a small room off the hall. The search was respectful but thorough. When it was over the woman escorted Katrina to the living room where Garduchi was waiting.
He motioned for her to be seated. “Can I offer you some refreshment?”
“No, thank you.” She fought to hide her nervousness. On the drive here, she'd reasoned that he wouldn't dare take a policeperson hostage even as bait But now, inside his fortress, she wasn't so certain.
“To what do I owe this honor?” he asked, his charming smile once again in place.
“I've come about my aunt.”
“Ah, yes. Leona.” Garduchi shook his head slowly, his expression one of sadness. “She has disappointed me greatly. I trusted her like a sister.” He studied Katrina suspiciously. “I was under the impression that you had severed all ties with her years ago.”
“She has asked for my help. I didn't feel I could turn my back on her.”
Garduchi nodded his understanding. “Go on.”
“She called me last night and asked me to speak to you for her. She told me that after she lost her husband, she had a religious experience. An angel came to her and told her that she must do good deeds for the sake of his soul. That was when she began skimming money. Everything she took, she gave to charity or people in need.”
“And you believe her?”
“Yes.” She'd practiced this response in the mirror until it came out with innocent honesty. It had taken a lot of practice. Although her aunt had sounded sincere, Katrina was having a hard time picturing Leona as the pious, giving type.
Garduchi smiled. “Of course you do or you wouldn't be so foolish as to involve yourself in this matter. However, Leona should not have brought you into this.” There was an underlying threat in his voice, letting Katrina know that he wanted her to get uninvolved. “I will assume that your aunt will contact you again. If she does, you tell her that I understand how her loss could have affected her judgment and that if she will come see me, I'm sure we can work something out.”
Katrina was watching his eyes. There was an iciness in their depths that chilled her to the bone. “If anything happens to my aunt, I'll spend the rest of my life trying to put you behind bars.”
“I had assumed that was why you joined the police in the first place.” He raised an arm and motioned to someone.
Katrina looked over her shoulder to see Dominic Ruzito coming toward them. He was married to Garduchi's eldest daughter and functioned as Garduchi's right-hand man. It was generally accepted that he was being trained to take over when the old man died.
“Please see that Miss Polenari has safe passage to the gate,” Garduchi instructed.
The implication that after that, she was on her own was not lost on Katrina. As she rose, he rose also.
“You will pass my message on to your aunt?” he said.
“I'll pass it on,” she replied. She'd also warn her aunt to stay away from Vince Garduchi.
Retracing her route to the gate, she breathed a sigh of relief as she left the compound. A part of her had been afraid Garduchi might suddenly change his mind about letting her leave and try to use her to get to her aunt. Mentally she chided herself. He was smarter than that. He'd put a tail on her and wait for her to lead him to Leona. Well, she had no intention of doing that.
Back at her house, she checked her phones for bugs. She was certain Garduchi had been surprised that she had gone to see him on behalf of her aunt...he'd had a tail put on her as a precaution, but he hadn't really expected Leona to contact her. Still, she didn't want to take any chances. She found no bugs. For the next couple of hours, while she waited for her aunt to call, she kept a constant eye on the pole at the corner of her backyard for any activity that would suggest Garduchi had sent someone to tap into her line. She'd told Leona she was on the evening shift and Leona had promised to call before Katrina had to leave for work. When the phone finally rang, her nerves were so taut, it startled her.
“Is it safe to talk?” Leona asked before Katrina could even say hello.
“Yes,” Katrina replied.
“It won't be by the time you get back from work,” Leona cautioned.
“What did Vince say?”
“He said that he wanted you to come talk to him and together, you'd work things out. But if I were you I wouldn't consider doing that. I was watching his eyes. They were unforgiving.”
Leona sighed. “I know exactly what he'd say to me. He'd tell me that if he let his employees start spending his money in any way they saw fit, he'd lose control and once he lost control, his business would fall apart. Then he'd smile real sweet and tell Dominic to have Louey and Victor drive me home, but I'd never get there.”
“That's the way I see it.” Time to make her plea. “I did what I could. Now the only way for you to be safe is to go to the authorities and help put Garduchi behind bars.”
“I would if you could guarantee my safety, but you can't. I'm safer on my own.”
“The word on the street is that he's put a price on your head...a hundred thousand dollars. And he can have your picture Faxed to any city in the world in minutes.”
“I hate modern technology,” Leona grumbled. “All right. I'll give you two days to make arrangements, then I'll contact you again.”
“You won't be able to by phone.”
“I'll find a way. I hope you haven't blocked out all memories of the old days.”
“Some remain very vivid,” Katrina assured her.
“Remember the good times you and I had,” Leona said, her voice holding a command. Then a click sounded on the other end of the line.
Katrina was congratulating herself on getting her aunt to come in when the phone rang again.
It was Leona. “There is one stipulation. You have to be one of my guardian angels and I refuse to have more than two of you. The bigger the crowd, the easier for Vince to spot us.” Again, before Katrina. could respond the line went dead.
Katrina frowned at the receiver in her hand. She knew Garduchi would have men following her every move. The smart thing to do would be for her to stay in town and lead them on a wild-goose chase. But she could tell from her aunt's voice that Leona's mind was set. “So when the time comes, I'll just have to get rid of my tail”
Boyd Logan had tailed Katrina Polenari from Garduchi's place. When it became evident she was heading home, he passed her street, then circled back. She lived in a quiet neighborhood of eclectic older homes. Hers, a single story, white frame, was among the smallest and was dwarfed by the huge two-story sprawling edifices on either side of it. Still she kept her home well maintained. Even the flower garden was weeded. Guessing that any strange car on the block would be noticed, he parked near the corner about three houses from hers and popped the hood. Pretending to be engrossed in the workings of his engine, he kept an eye on the street.
A car passed him with two men inside. He recognized the passenger as Dominic Ruzito. It rounded the corner at the far end of the street and parked near another car that had been following Officer Polenari since she left the Garduchi compound. The driver of the first car had quickly exited his vehicle to speak to Dominic. Boyd was too far away to see his face but his deferential manner suggested he was one of Garduchi's men. He kept nodding as if accepting orders. Then he returned to his car and drove off, leaving Dominic and his driver where they had a clear view of Katrina Polenari's house.
He loosened a wire and tried his engine. Pleased with the disabled sound it made, he retightened the wire, then continued to pretend to try to fix the engine. He was wondering just how long this charade would have to go on when movement at the house caught his attention.