Ray Mountfort transfered the mobile phone to his left ear as he walked out onto the balcony in brilliant sunshine. A slight breeze lifted his mob of dark curly hair as he squinted in the sunlight, smiling to himself.
It was promising to be a glorious day. Life was just great.
Answer the phone Christie….ah. ‘Hey Sis, how`s it ?’
Miles over the ocean, in Miami Florida, Christie Mountfort sat at her desk with a pleased grin on her very attractive face. Ray was her one and only darling younger brother. He had just completed his studies and was taking a well earned break, backpacking through Europe. ‘Fine, you lucky devil – how`s the backpacking? Where are you now?’
‘We`re in Villefranche-sur-Mer, not far from Nice. I`m standing on the balcony, with a fantastic view of the town and harbour. You’d love it,’ He turned from the charming scene in front of him and leaned against the balcony railing with his back, one eye on the television from which pictures flashed during a newscast.
‘We? Who`s we? Boy or a girl?’ Christie sat up straight. Could he have met someone?
He grinned, very pleased with himself and life for that matter. ‘Nina and I – never had so much fun in my life. You were absolutely right, there is more to life than computers.’
‘Yeah, right, I can imagine – hot, steamy sex.’ At last, Christie grinned, the man must have gotten laid.
Ray clamped a hand to his forehead and feigned exasperation at his sisters` candidness. ‘Lord Christie, you`re the only woman I know with such a dirty mind.’
‘Hah, shows how few women you know buddy. Don`t forget protection. What`s she like?’
‘Red hair, bluer than blue eyes, pixie face…………’ Ray frowned, a puzzled look on his face and stepped closer to get a better look at the image on the television screen, phone forgotten in his hand.
‘Ray?’ Chirstie looked at the phone in her hand. She still wanted to fish about this Nina woman. ’Ray, are you there?’
‘Ah…..I`ll be blowed…..listen Sis ……something`s come up, got to go.’ He grabbed the remote and turned the volume up, eyes glued to the screen.
‘Honestly Ray! Who`s got a dirty mind now?!’
‘Jeez Christie.’ He shook his head. Thank God for only one sister.
‘Well, you did say something`s come up.’ She bit into her pencil to prevent her from giggling like a schoolgirl.
‘ Christie. You need help. Bye.’ He disconnected the call and dumped the phone on the bed. ‘Nina baby, when is the next news bulletin?’
Nina came in from the bathroom, a towel hugging her tiny but curvacious figure. ’Try BBC , they have regular news flashes. What`s up?’ She sat next to Ray on the bed facing the television.
He scrolled through the channels and found the news bulletin he was looking for. They watched for a minute and then the picture of a man was presented. ‘Look, does this guy seem familiar to you?’
Nina leaned in a little, to get a better look. ‘Well, if it isn`t Antonio who gave us a lift, it sure as hell must be his twin.’ They met Antonio by chance at the train station in Nice. He overheard them discussing options regarding transport to Villefranche. Since the railway employees were locked in a wage dispute and striking, no trains were running that day and he offered to give them a lift. Villefranche was his destination too. They listened in silence to the rest of the news flash.
Antonio Moretti was wanted for questioning regarding the brutal murder of a police detective, his wife and child. They were found shot, execution style, in their home by one of his colleagues. Antonio was deemed to be part of a crime syndicate. A recent jewel heist at a well known store in West End, London had them come away with millions of pounds worth of jewelry. Now a reward of 1 million pounds was offered for information leading to the apprehension of Antonio Moretti. A telephone number appeared at the bottom of the television screen.
Ray looked at Nina, raising his eyebrows questioningly, ’ We know where to find him.’
Nina looked doubtful, ‘ I don`t know. What if we open a can of worms here, you heard what they said. He could be linked to a crime syndicate, which means he`s not operating on his own. It`s scary.’
Ray smiled reassuringly, rubbing her arms gently, ‘You read to many thrillers. All we have to do is go to the bar where he dropped us off, confirm that he is there and let the police know. Once he`s in custody and they have made their case, we collect the reward and Bob`s your uncle. C`mon, you`ve got five minutes to get this delectable derriere dressed.’ He pulled her up from the bed and playfully whacked her behind.
‘Ow! You should treat this tusch with more respect mister!’ she laughed and ran into the bathroom.
‘I`ll shower that tusch with more respect you can handle when we get back. Hurry up babe.’ He grinned to himself and started checking for his purse and passport in his rucksack.
Twenty minutes later Ray and Nina sauntered into the bar where Antonio had dropped them off, two days ago. ‘Remember we must not raise suspicion. Let`s sit in this corner, it`ll give us a good angle to see everything that`s going on here.’ They crossed the floor in the dimly lit bar to a corner table and sat down. When their eyes got used to the dim light they saw that only two tables were occupied, one with a couple, obviously tourists and the other with two elderly gentlemen, probably from the village. At the bar counter, a burly man sat with his back to them, in deep conversation with the balding middle aged barman.
Nina leaned forward and whispered.‘ I don`t see him.’
Ray sighed ‘No, he`s not here .’
Nina pushed her chair back. ‘Good, lets go. I don`t like it here anyway.’
Ray clamped her arm with his hand. ’No wait, let`s have something to drink, stay for half an hour or so and then we leave. I don`t want to draw attention to us by asking for him but it can`t do any harm to wait for a while. It might be our lucky day.’ He tried to win her over with a smile and a quick kiss.
Nina pouted for a second and smiled. .’OK’
Ray walked over to the bar, made sure he stood next to the burly man and placed his order for two beers with the barman. He turned to the overly muscled man next to him, smiled and extended his hand in greeting, ’Ray Mountfort .’ Ignoring Rays outstretched hand, the muscle man shot him a look, his face devoid of any emotion and turned his attention back to the drink in front of him. Okay, Ray thought uncomfortably, got the message, I`m definitely not going to tangle with you. Thankfully the barman placed his order in front of him, Ray payed and walked back to their table where Nina waited with raised eyebrows.
‘What was that about?’ Nina asked as he put a beer in front of her.
‘I think he has a huge grudge against tourists or, all that muscle impedes on his brainpower which leaves him with no manners at all.’ He sighed and took a swig from his beer glass. A casual glance at the door made him do a double take, their luck has changed. ‘Don`t look now but Antonio has decided to grace us with his presence.’ Antonio was standing just inside the entrance of the bar, with the light at his back, his face was shadowed in the dim light.
He was contemplating the interior of the bar as if deciding whether to enter or not. The barman caught Antonio`s eye and nodded his head once in acknowledgement that it was safe. He walked over to the bar and took a seat next to the muscle giant. They started talking with their voices hushed, heads close together.
‘They obviously know each other.’ Nina whispered in a conniving manner, as she took a sip of beer.
‘Okay, are you finished, we`ve seen what we came to see, let`s go’ Ray pushed his chair back and looked up, into the piercing black eyes of Antonio.
‘And what is it you came to see, Ray my friend?’ Antonio demanded in a dangerously composed voice, a thin smile gracing his lips.
‘Well now, good to see you again Antonio. Isn`t this a nice surprise Nina?’ Ray smiled brightly and purposefully ignored Antonio`s question. He gave Nina a sharp nudge with his foot in the hope that she will close her mouth and regain her composure, which she thankfully did.
‘Hello Antonio, can we leave now Ray? My head feels as if it is splitting.” Nina feigned and put a hand to her temple, trying to validate her plea.
Ray grasped the opportunity. “Of course, sorry babe. Antonio, nice to see you again.’ He took Nina`s hand in a vicelike grip and led her out of the bar into the blinding sunlight, leaving a pensive Antonio standing at the table.
‘Phew, I thought my heart was going to jump out of my mouth. One second he was at the bar and the next he was standing in front of us. He is so creepy.’ Nina babbled nervously as she trotted alongside Ray, trying to keep up with his long strides.
‘I suppose it`s because we know he is a wanted man but I also find him creepy.
We have to get the information about his whereabouts to the authorities now, I
don`t trust the look on his face when he appeared out of nowhere at our table. He probably suspects everyone he sees because he must know that the authorities are looking for him.’ Ray looked over his shoulder to make sure no one left the bar after them.
Half an hour later they were back in their room and on the phone, dialling the number given during the television news broadcast.
‘Metropolitan police, good afternoon.’
Ray shifted in the chair he was sitting and whispered to Nina’ Okay, here we go.’
‘Good afternoon, I have information regarding a wanted person.’ He nervously fiddled with a pen between his fingers in anticipation.
‘The name of the wanted person?’
Ray stopped fiddling with the pen and took a calming breath. ‘Antonio Moretti.’
‘You are going through to Detective Chief Inspector Charles Mace.’
‘Okay.’ Ray stood up from the chair and started pacing the room, frowning his impatience at Nina when the ringing of the phone was not immediately interrupted by someone answering it.
‘Inspector, this is Ray Mountfort. I believe you are looking for Antonio Moretti?’ Ray stopped wearing the carpet down with his feet and sat down on the bed next to Nina.
‘Yes, what have you got?’ Mace sat forward in his chair as Ray relayed events from how they met Antonio up to confirming his presence at the bar.
‘Okay, I can be in Villefranche early tomorrow morning. I want to meet with you as soon as I arrive, keep your mobile on and with you. Do not under any circumstances go near the bar where you have met him, in fact, it would be better if you stayed in your hotel room until you hear from me.’
‘Is that really necessary? He doesn`t know we`re onto him.’ Ray looked slightly disturbed.
Immediately Mace`s voice changed to a no nonsense growl. ‘This is a very dangerous man, we already have proof of that. A colleague, his wife and child have been murdered in cold blood. Do as I say, we cannot take any risks, however trivial it may seem to you. I`ll contact you tomorrow.’ He disconnected the call.
‘Well,’ Ray stared at the phone in his hand,’ things are on a roll, by tomorrow this time it will all be over and we can sit back and relax. We have to stay in the room though, at least until Mace arrives tomorrow.’ he said trying to hide that he felt slightly dejected..
‘Why, does he think we might be in danger?’ Nina blanched slightly.
‘No,’ Ray lied through his teeth, ’he just wants to make sure we`re not going to pull a disappearing stunt and of course he doesn`t want us talking to anybody.’ He grabbed a menu from the bedside table and playfully waved it in front of Nina`s nose. ’Let`s order room service and then I`ll honour my promise and pay the greatest respect to this lovely little tusch of yours.’
‘I have a better idea.’ Nina fluttered her eyes at him and smiled wickedly, ’You pay the required respect to my tusch,’ she shoved him lightly with her finger in his chest towards the bed, ’and then we order room service.’ Ray pulled her roughly towards him and they tumbled onto the bed. ‘I like the way you think.’
’Anything for you, babe.’ She whispered against his lips. For this moment, in their small world, created just for them, Charles Mace and Antonio Moretti disappeared far into the background until they did not even exist.
The next day, Ray and Nina lay on the bed channel hopping, bored out of their sculls.
‘Hell, when is this guy going to make contact? Look at the time, it`s already ten thirty.’ Ray said, his voice edged with frustration.
A knock on the door had them simultaneously shooting into an upright position, staring wide eyed at each other. A second knock at the door shot life into Ray and he hurried to the door. ’Who is it?’ he asked with his hand on the doorknob.
‘It`s Mace.’ came the curt reply.
Ray opened the door slightly and peered through the opening. Charles Mace, looking like any ordinary English tourist, immediately retrieved his identification and flicked it open for Ray to see. ‘I thought you were going to phone first. ’Ray said questioningly as he stepped back allowing Mace to enter the room. ‘How did you know where to find us?’
‘For obvious reasons I do not always rigidly stick to plans and finding you, well, that is part of the job.’ Mace said and extended his hand. ‘Charles Mace. I take it you are Ray Mountfort?’ Ray visibly relaxed a little and shook his hand. ’I am.’
Charles Mace was a tall man, mid thirties with a deceivingly slender frame, until you shook his hand and was made aware of the strength within. His hair was ash brown, a little dishevelled and greying at the sides, quite ordinary looking until he practically nailed you to the wall with sharp piercing pale blue eyes. The message portrayed was clear; I don`t miss a thing and don`t even try to mess with me.
‘Let me introduce you to my girlfriend. Nina, this is inspector Mace.’ Ray was beginning to feel distinctly more at ease. Mace nodded his head toward Nina in greeting, immediately sensing her apprehension, he bestowed her with a fleeting smile and turned back to Ray.
Ray indicated a chair for Mace to sit and took his place next to Nina on the bed.
‘Okay, first of all, I need you to confirm that this is the man you met.’ he took a picture from the inside pocket of his jacket and handed it over to Ray. They both studied the picture and nodded simultaneously. ‘It`s him.’ Ray said and handed the picture back to Mace.
‘Good, now I need directions to the bar, what is the name of the bar?’ Mace looked at them expectantly. Nina and Ray looked at each other in confusion. ‘I don`t think it has a name,’ Nina said thoughtfully, ‘it is rather tucked away from tourist traffic.’
‘Yes, but I can draw you a map, it will be easy to find.’ Ray added and started looking around for a pen and paper. He drew the map and explained to Mace at the same time.
Mace took the piece of paper and put it in his pocket.
‘Tell me about the interior of the bar. What is the layout of the bar? Looking from the entrance, where is the bar counter, how many tables, where is the entrance to the restrooms , are there other doors leading out of the bar?’ Nina took a deep breath and started relaying what she remembered, now and again looking at Ray for confirmation. ’When Moretti entered the bar did he chat to anyone, did it look as if he knew anybody?’ Mace looked expectantly from Nina to Ray.
‘Yes,’ Ray offered, ‘he definitely knew the barman and a big brawny man sitting at the bar. I don`t know what they were talking about, they were speaking French but it did seem hush-hush.’
‘Is there anything you would like to add, something that could aid us in apprehending
this man?’ Mace asked finally.
‘No.’ Ray shook his head ‘that is it, hey Nina?’ she nodded in agreement.
Mace stood up and took a deep breath. ‘Before I leave, I must urge you and this is for your own safety, keep this quiet. These people do not play games. Stay off the streets for the rest of the day or until we have conducted our business, it will surely be on the news. I`ll be in contact.’ he stated earnestly and gave them a piercing look as if he wanted to make sure they grasped the seriousness of the situation. He left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
Ray and Nina sat quietly for a moment. ’Lord, but the man is painfully serious.’ Nina uttered as an afterthought. They started giggling and fell back on the bed, gales of laughter washing over them, releasing the built up tension of the past twenty four hours.
Around midday the next day Ray and Nina decided they could venture going to the beach. They lazily crossed the quiet street from the ice-cream vendor to the beach, licking at their dripping ice creams, each busy with their own thoughts. It was a beautiful sunny day, with few people on the streets at the time. Most people seemed to be taking it easy during midday as the streets started bustling again around two o`clock.
‘My ice-cream!’ Nina wailed, looking down in horror at the blob of ice-cream already melting in rivulets between her feet on the hot tar road.
‘Here, hold mine, I`ll get you another.’ Ray laughed and sprinted off to the ice-cream vendor. From around the corner came a black sedan roaring with power and speed. Ray sensed rather than heard the horrendous thud of metal connecting a human body. He turned back and as if in slow motion saw something like a rag doll, flying…… flying through the air and falling onto the sidewalk with a sickening thump. Shock immobilized him. His mind registered in flashes.
Red hair. Blood. Lifeless. Nina.
Two blocks further a black sedan turned into a narrow alley and crawled into its secure hiding place.