The darkness slowly receded, leaving Amy stranded in in a strange place. She was disoriented, had no idea where she was not what she was doing there, however she had enough presence of mind to remain still while keeping her eyes closed, her breath steady. It had taken her a while but by now when she woke up in this state of confusion, she know something was wrong. It always paid to stay still for a while and gather her wits first only acting when she had at least a basic sense of what situation she was in.
She was… surprisingly comfortable. She lay on what she suspected to be a sofa. Comfortable but a bit to hard for a bed, she also was sure that she could feel the segments of cushions. Her head was resting on a thick pillow that was a bit to high to be perfectly pleasant, the fabric was also of the kind she’d associate more with a living room than a bed room. The light was soft. The room it self was silent. When she was about to open one of her eyes to see where exactly she was, she heard the turning of a page. Someone was with her, reading a book or a magazine.
She hesitated for a moment.
Risking opening an eye or two did not seem like the greatest of risks. So she slowly opened one eye. The one closest to the alleged couch she was lying on. That one had the best cover. She was right, it showed her mostly a dark blue fabric expanding before her and indirect yellow halogen light. That wasn’t helping much. So she slowly opened her other eye.
Not a living room. A library. Again. For a moment she thought that she had been brought back to the house of Hellen Ashford Stone. But this room was larger. The Ashford stone library had been classier, dominated by dark wood and leather, this one was cosier and more normal. Almost no leather bound books. Mostly paperbacks in pragmatic shelves of lighter wood. The furniture was also not all leather. The couch she was lying on had cloth upholstery. There were two other chairs, neither matching the other. One was something that seemed to have been liberated from someones grandmother, while the other one was a modernist monument to ergonomics. In side the latter sat a large man reading a book. He was facing Amy but was throughly absorbed in his book.
For Amy the next part was critical. As far as she could tell she was feeling fine. Well apart from some residue drowsiness and the ghost of a headache haunting her. Her next move required a certain degree of elegance to be effective. First impressions were important after all.
She breathed in deeply, being careful to do it as quiet as possible and then as she exhaled moved her self into an upright sitting position with one fluid motion. The man in front of her had noticed the motion in front of him, but by the time he looked up Amy was already reclining in the sofa casting looking him in the eye as if she had been sitting there like that for the past few minutes waiting for a response.
“Next time you want to talk to me, you can just make an appointment.” Amy said before the man could say something himself. “You can find me in the phone book. I even call back.”
“I did send for you Mrs. Anderson.” the man in front of her said. His surprise well hidden behind a face used not to tell the world more than the words that left its mouth intended. “If I can believe Frank’s account and I do trust Frank completely, then it was you who decided to turn this into a bit of a mess.” He smiled an apologetic smile that extended from his mouth to the corner of his eyes, but never quite reached the calculating centres of them.
“You could have just followed him.”
“I don’t react kindly to threats.” Amy said her face frosting over with a cold smile that was more a baring of teeth than anything else. “When someone creeps up from behind me and threatens me I do not react kindly. You also have the advantage to know who I am while I have not the slightest idea who you might be.” she added.
“My name,” the man said hesitating only for the blink of an eye, “is Dante della Croce. You may have heard of me.”
“No.” Amy lied. OF course she had heard from della Croce, patriarch of one of the most powerful crime syndicates in the City. She knew that this man had done a lot to keep his name out of the general public and she was not about to tell him that she was among those who knew who she was. As spoke she looked closely at him looking for any kind of reaction. There was hardly anything.
“I am an entrepreneur here in the City.” he said as if that would clear up all open questions. Again Amy could not notice any tell tell signs in neither in his face nor his body language that told her more than he was saying. This man had spent years of keeping his inner thoughts to himself.
Amy took this sad excuse of a revelation to take a look around the library. Some novels, lots of biographies and books about management and success in general as well as a shelve dedicated to what appeared to be classic literature. That last shelve looked the most tidy containing about 90% of the leather bound books in the room. A shelve that was there because it was expected to be present.
“And it looks that you are doing very well for yourself.” Amy said, glancing over to della Croce.
“I am doing fine.” he said, his face maintaining its polite rigidity, “I put in the work and at the end of the day I harvest the fruit of my labour.” he shrugged.
“What kind of fruit do you think you are cultivating in having Frank, your assistant, taking me here by force?” she asked.
He looked at her keeping up his almost sincere smile. “As I told you, you were invited here, it was you who forced his hand.”
Amy noted that he had not denied that this Frank character was his assistant. “The city is not safe for a young woman.” Amy said. “It tends to make me a bit twitchy.”
“You should focus your worries on situations that warrant them.” he said in an indulgent tone. Amy had to massage the corners of her mouth with what she hopped would appear like a thoughtful gesture, to hide the shadow of a smile. Delle Croce was treating her like a naive girl. This made her work more easy.
“Like for example?” she asked opening her eyes a bit to appear as if she was actually looking for his advice.
His smile reached the centre of his eyes, his posture shifting slightly into a more relaxed pose.
“The usual things. Don’t go into the more disreputable parts of the City without the company of a man. Do not take shortcuts through dark side streets. Keep your eyes open. Don’t provoke strangers. The usual things.”
The guy was even worse than Am had thought. “Still I was abducted by your right hand man in bright daylight.” The perfect mask in front of her strained a tiny bit. There was a hint of rolling eyes. “And in front of a police station no less.” she added. “If you can do that, I can’t see how a girl can stay safe in the City at all.” Damn. For a moment Amy thought she had stepped over the line and della Croce would hear the sarcasm in her voice.
“I told you,” he said with great patience only reserved to the very young and the very mentally challenged, “that you were not abducted. You were invited. You refused rather rudely. And Frank had to carry you here. You are here only for a quick chat.” there was an undertone in his voice that told Amy that this conversation was already taking longer than the man had any patience for. “There are also only very few people who have the means to make such a convincing invitation in a public space.” he added with a hint of pride in his voice.
Amy relaxed, della Croce was now comfortably underestimating her, being now mostly by being mildly annoyed by her. He had also not corrected her when she had called Frank his right hand man. Not reacting to her calling him his assistant may have been just a coincidence, but by now Amy was confident that Frank was at the very least more than just a lowly grunt.
This may be intended as a little chat but what ever della Croce wanted to know was important for him.
“Well now that I am here,” Amy said, “we may as well talk.”
“Splendid.” della Croce said. “What exactly were you doing at the police station?”
“I was following an earlier invitation, almost as charming as yours.” Amy said. “The police think that Christopher Franklin killed his ex. When they came to his apartment, I was there to talk with him about a case when the police arrived. I was there wanting to talk with him about a case when the cops arrived. I have no idea way but they decided to take me right along with him. It took me a while but in the end they finally let me go. Quite frankly I have no idea what’s going on.” Amy was rather pleased with herself for rearranging the truth into a rather decent misdirection.
“So Mr. Franklin killed his ex?” della Croce asked.
“He says he didn’t do it.” Amy said leaning back.
“And you? What were you doing there with Mr. Franklin?”
“Ask the cops.” she said.
For a moment anger flared up in the cold eyes of the della Croce but it vanished as quickly as it had appeared. “I am asking you Mrs. Anderson.”
“I was talking to him about a case.” she repeated.
“I can’t tell you. Client confidentiality. I am sure you understand.”
Della Croce remained silent for a moment. His eyes remaining on Amy trying to squeeze an answer from her through sheer force of will. He almost succeeded.
“I don’t need any details.” he said finally. “What is between you and your clients is of course a matter of discretion.” again this undertone of benevolent indulgence. Amy wanted to punch him. “I just want you to tell me in general what your job is. Are you his bodyguard?” he asked still with the tone of an adult talking to a child.
“No.” Amy said. ‘Of course, you aren’t’ replied his eyes.
“What then?” he asked.
“I was hired as a detective. That’s my job.” she did not say anything else waiting for a reaction. Only when she saw the faintest cracks spreading over his mask she continued. “He is afraid that someone was trying to kill him. But right now he seems to have much bigger problems.”
The mask was back in place. Perfectly still. “And?”
“Nothing and.” Amy said. “I just accepted this job this morning. So far there is nothing I could happily withhold from you because of my work ethics as there isn’t anything I know yet that I could tell you.”, ‘Apart from the fact that you are obviously involved in this somehow…’ Amy added to herself. “Why do you want to know?” she asked.
“Because when the fiancé of Hellen Ashford Stone gets dragged into a police station for questioning people in my position are curious as to why.” he said.