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Stolen Touches: Chapter 2

Salvatore

I lie back in my bed, power up the laptop, and click through to the surveillance feed from the Scardoni girl’s apartment, as I have done every evening for the past week. The first evening I did it, I told myself it’s just a benign interest, convinced it was just some passing fixation. I would have a quick look, turn off the feed and go to sleep. I ended up watching the whole recording. And I’ve done the same every damn evening since. The need to see her is too strong to ignore.
Backtracking the recording to this morning, when she would have returned from her night shift, I hit enter and play the video.
The place is a goddamned shoebox, and two cameras are enough to cover every inch. I watch Milene as she comes in, almost stumbles over the sleeping cat in the middle of the entranceway, and disappears into the bathroom. Ten minutes later, she comes out, wearing an oversized T-shirt, drags herself to bed, and slides beneath the blanket. She pulls the corner close in a comforting embrace. Not a minute later, her idiot cat jumps onto the bed. It’s a muddy gray, skinny, and part of its tail seems to be missing. Did she pick it out of a dumpster? The cat prowls toward the foot of the bed, then taps and scratches Milene’s feet, which are poking out from under the covers.
There is no audio, so when Milene springs up off the bed, I can only see her lips move. From the expression on her face, she’s yelling. The cat dashes under the bed. Milene lies back down, but the instant she pulls the blanket up again, the cat returns. It stalks toward Milene’s head, extends its front paw and bats her nose. She doesn’t react, even though the cat touches her a few more times. The damn thing is persistent. Milene reaches out her hand to grab the cat around its middle, hugging it close to her side and buries her face into the pillow.
I zoom in on the video and watch her sleeping form, illuminated by the midday sunlight streaming in through the window. The cat turned around at some point and has its head pressed against Milene’s neck.
Why the hell is she living in that dump? I had Nino check her accounts. Her brother is depositing a huge sum of money every month, but she doesn’t withdraw anything. She only uses her second account, the one where she receives her meager monthly paycheck. I wonder if Scardoni knows she’s in New York. Probably not. I should have called Rossi the moment I found out who she was.  Instead, I kept spying on her, night after night, and it became an urge. It’s ridiculous. But I can’t stop.
Trying to ignore the phantom pain in my left foot, I skip the recording ahead to around seven in the evening when Milene startles and sits up in her bed. She stares at the front door for a second, wraps the blanket around herself as she gets out of bed, and heads in the direction of the entrance. She’s halfway there when that stupid cat dashes toward her, grabs the corner of the blanket that’s dragging along the floor, and darts between her legs. Milene stumbles. The cat jumps onto the dresser and pushes a decorative basket onto the floor, along with a stack of papers and other items. Milene regards the mess at her feet, shakes her head, and proceeds toward the door.
A delivery guy holding a huge bouquet of red roses in his arms comes into view. They exchange a few words, then he leaves with the flowers, and Milene heads into the kitchen with some kind of note in her hand. She stops next to the trash can, reads it, and frowns. Rolling her eyes, she throws the note in the garbage.
I take my phone from the nightstand, send a message to Nino instructing him to find out who sent the damn flowers, and resume watching.
I follow Milene as she scrambles some eggs on the stove, drumming my fingers onto the laptop the whole time. Did she send the flowers away because she didn’t like roses? The thought of some other man sending her flowers burns in the pit of my stomach. Maybe it was the color. I grab my phone again and call my secretary. When she takes the call, I let her know what I need. There are a few moments of utter silence before she quickly mumbles she’ll have the florist call me right away. My phone rings five minutes later.
“Mr. Ajello. It’s Diana from the flower boutique. Please let me know what you need, and I’ll arrange everything for you,” she chirps.
“I need flowers to be sent tomorrow morning.
“Of course. Would you like something specific? We have amazing red roses from the Netherlands and—”
“I’ll take everything you have, except red roses.”
“Oh? All of our roses except the red ones? Absolutely. Where—”
“I said everything, Diana,” I say. “Write down the address. I need them delivered at six in the morning.”
When I finish the call with the florist, I place the phone on the keyboard in front of me and stare at it. I’ve never bought flowers for anyone. So where the fuck has this insane need to do so now come from?

Milene

“Shit,” I mumble, fumbling with the deadbolt lock.
I forgot to turn on my alarm and almost slept in. The knob turns finally, and I open my front door, intending to dash down the hallway but stop at the threshold. There won’t be any running down the corridor, that’s for sure. I’ll be lucky if I manage to reach the stairway because it looks like some delivery company fucked up. Big time.
Both sides of the entire length of the hallway passage—which is around eighty feet long—are filled with huge bowls and vases, all overflowing with flowers. Each arrangement consists of a different type of flower—white roses, yellow roses, peach roses, daisies, lilies, tulips, and a bunch of others I don’t recognize. Every bouquet has a big satin bow tied around the vase in a color that matches the flowers.
“Jesus,” I mumble, staring at the sea of flowers, wondering how I’m going to reach the stairway without knocking any of them over.
“Milene!” a raspy female voice yells.
I turn my head and find my landlady standing at the top of the stairwell with her hands on her hips.
“I need you to get these out of the hallway. People need to go to work,” she continues.
“They’re not mine,” I say, looking over the explosion of colors.
“The note says they are.”
My head snaps back to the right. “The note?”
She lifts a hand holding a pink envelope. “The delivery guys said to give this to you.”
“It must be a mistake.”
“It has your name on it.”
I step into the corridor, trying my best not to knock anything over, and head toward her. I have to walk in a zigzag pattern around what must be at least a hundred vases.
“Let me see,” I say and lean over a large arrangement of white roses to grab the envelope. She’s right. It has my name on it. I glance over my shoulder, gaping at all the flowers, then slide the note from the envelope.
Pick what you like.
Give away those you don’t.
I blink. Read it again. Turn it over. There is no signature. Who the fuck buys thousands of dollars’ worth of flowers and tells the recipient to give away what they don’t like? Was it Randy? I don’t think so. Besides, the note doesn’t have a cheesy one-liner, and he always writes one. I look down the hallway again and do a quick calculation. Each of those vases must have cost a hundred bucks. Probably more. So, the total would be . . .. My head snaps back to the landlady, my eyes wide. Holy. Fuck.
“I need those out of the hallway,” she grumbles and turns to leave. “You have thirty minutes.”
What the hell am I going to do with all this? And who’s the maniac who bought what looks like an entire flower shop? This is a special level of crazy.
I take my phone out and call Pippa, my friend from work.
“Can you get me the phone number from one of the guys working in the hospital laundry service?” I ask.
“Laundry service?”
“Yup. I need a favor. And a truck,” I say, looking at the flowers. “A big one.”

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