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Stolen Touches: Chapter 3

Salvatore

I close my laptop and regard the man kneeling in the opposite corner of my office. Nino is holding him by the hair, yelling into his face.
“I asked, who do you work for, Octavio?” he shouts and punches the man in the face. “You ratted on us? To the DEA?”
“It wasn’t me, Nino. I swear it wasn’t me!”
“Who else is working with you, selling info?” Another blow. Two teeth fly across the office in a mess of spittle and blood, leaving red stains on the wall.
“I want a name, Octavio!” Nino keeps yelling.
I take the phone from my desk and open the surveillance app, bringing up the feed from Milene’s apartment. During the past week, I periodically began checking the live video stream over the course of the day. I still watched the entire day’s recording in the evenings, but that had ceased to provide me with a strong enough fix. I’ve developed an inexplicable need to know where she is and what she’s doing.
The screen lights up with the view of Milene’s place. She kept the white roses and daisies, and they’re on her kitchen table. I expected to find Milene watching TV or reading, which is what she usually does in the evenings when she’s not at work. Instead, I see her rushing around the room, wearing only a matching set of black lace lingerie. With my elbows on the desk, I lean forward and squeeze the phone in my hand.
Milene removes a silver dress from a hanger in the small closet and a pair of black high heels from the bottom. She puts the dress on first. It’s short, tight, and glitters like an old-style disco ball. I grip the phone in my hand even harder. The T-shirts she wears in bed hang lower than that dress. It barely covers her ass. Milene slips on the heels and shoos away the ragged feline sleeping on her coat. Picking up the jacket, she leaves the apartment.
“Nino, who’s on the Scardoni girl?” I ask.
Nino looks up, his attention shifting away from his methodical task of breaking Octavio’s fingers. “It should be Pietro’s turn.”
I find Pietro’s number and call him. “Where is she?”
“Getting into a cab,” he says.
“Follow. Let me know where she goes.” I cut the call, take out my gun, and walk over to Octavio, who’s still kneeling but is only half-conscious.
“The name of the other snitch, Octavio,” I demand.
“I don’t know, Boss. I swear . . .”
I raise the gun, shoot him once at point blank range in the head, and turn to Nino. “Call maintenance. I need my office cleaned by morning. I have a meeting at eight. Did he have a family?”
“A wife.”
“Send someone with money. A hundred grand should do it. Make sure she knows what will happen if she doesn’t keep her mouth shut.”
“Okay. Anything else?”
“Have someone paint over that.” I nod toward the wall behind Octavio’s body. “His brains are all over it.”
“Are you going out?”
“Yes.”
“Should I send backup?”
“No,” I say and pin him with my gaze. “Don’t you send anyone to follow me. I’ve already told you to lose that habit of yours.”
“I’m your chief of security. How do you expect me to do my job if you don’t let me?”
“Up to now, I’ve been pretending not to notice the guys you put on my tail. Not tonight, Nino.”
“Okay, Boss.”
As I’m heading toward the garage, Pietro calls and gives me the address of a bar downtown. When I get in my car, I check the location on my phone. Almost an hour away. Fuck. I hit the steering wheel with my palm and rev the engine.

Milene

I lean back against the bar and lift my glass to take a sip of my drink when I notice a man in navy pants and white shirt entering. Shit.
“For God’s sake, Pip.” I groan. “Did you seriously invite Randy on our girls’ night out?”
“Of course not.” Pippa follows my gaze. “I might have mentioned it at some point. We were on the night shift together on Wednesday, but I definitely didn’t ask him to come along.”
“Fucking great.” I take a big gulp of my drink and watch Randy approach, a broad grin plastered on his dull-as-dishwater face.
“Girls! What can I get you?”
“We’re good, thanks,” I mumble.
I’ve told Randy so many times that I don’t want to go out with him, but he won’t leave me alone. If this goes on much longer, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t tell him off for asking me out and sending me flowers. That would be rude. Also, he’s a doctor who’s been working at St. Mary’s for five years, and I’m just a nurse completing the residency program. If it comes down to a public confrontation, everybody will take his side. Anaesthesiologists are hard to find.
“Would you like to go see a movie next week?” he asks.
“Randy, please. I’ve already told you that I’m not going out with you.”
“I have to pee,” Pippa jumps off her chair.
“Now?” I glare at her. I don’t want to be alone with Randy.
“I really need to go. I’ll be back in five.”
The moment Pippa’s gone, Randy places his hand over mine. “Come on, Milene. Just one date.”
“No.” I pull my hand away “Can you please leave?”
“Why are you being so difficult? It’s—”
Randy stops midsentence and looks over my shoulder. At the same time, an arm wraps around my waist.
“Sorry I’m late,” a deep baritone resonates next to my ear.
My body stiffens. I recognize that voice. He only spoke one word in the parking lot, but it’s hard to forget a voice like his. I turn my head and look up. The jacket guy. I blink at him, slightly stunned. It was early evening when we met before, and I wasn’t exactly in the best mental state, so I’d failed to fully take in his appearance. This time, my attention is more focused, and I’m seeing him clearly. Black suit, with a black shirt underneath. Both surely expensive. His face is all sharp lines and edges, as if carved in hard granite. He has an aristocratic air about him. The jacket guy is seriously hot.
“Milene?” Randy asks. “Who’s your friend?”
I smile at Randy. “This is Kurt. My boyfriend.”
“Boyfriend?” Randy asks while still staring at the jacket guy behind me. “Pippa said you broke up with him.”
“We had a fight, and I was angry, but we’re back together now.” I grin.
The arm around my waist tightens, and I find myself plastered against the muscular chest at my back.
“And we’re getting married in December,” the jacket guy says as he looks down at me. “Aren’t we, Goldie?”
Kurt and Goldie? I press my lips together, trying not to laugh. “Yup. December first.” How can he keep a straight face? “So you really need to stop asking me out, Randy. Kurt doesn’t like that one bit.”
Randy looks at the jacket guy, mumbles a sort of goodbye, and reluctantly heads toward the exit. The arm around my middle vanishes and I feel a pang of disappointment.
“Thanks for the save,” I say, reaching for my glass on the bar. “So, it’s a small world after all.”
The jacket guy regards me for a second, then moves even closer, leaning against the bar next to my stool. He has more gray than I thought, mostly at his temples, but also some up top. It’s unusual, but somehow the effect complements his face and those light brown eyes.
“Why Kurt?”
“I rewatched Tango and Cash yesterday. It was the first name that came to mind.” I shrug. “What’s your real name?”
“Kurt works for me just fine, Goldie.”
“Oh, a man of mystery?” I bring the glass to my lips, but it’s him I’m drinking in with my eyes. I don’t remember ever meeting a man with such a powerful presence before. He commands attention just by being in the room, and his looks seem to have little to do with it. “So, what do you do in life, Kurt?”
“You could say that I’m in management.” He tilts his head, and a strange look lights his eyes, as if he’s trying to figure me out. “And you? Delivered any more babies recently?”
“God, no. I’m still trying to process the first one.” I take a sip of my drink. “I was scared to death.”
“Yes, I could tell.”
“You could? Shit. I thought I’d hidden it quite well.”
The bartender leans in between us, asking if we need anything. I nod toward my glass for a refill while Kurt waves him off with his left hand, showing a black leather glove. Is he one of those germ-obsessed paranoids? His right hand is resting on the bar. No glove. Strange.
“Did you always want to be a nurse?” he asks.
“Yup. Since I was in third grade.”
“Why?”
“That’s a good question.” I nod. “I don’t know why. It’s something I always wanted. How about you?”
“I’m carrying on the family business. It’s what was expected.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” I drain my glass.
It was expected of me, as well. In my case, though, it meant being wedded to a husband chosen by the don. Well, not happening. My sister was lucky. Bianca ended up married to a man she adores, but there is no way I’m going back home to risk becoming a bargaining chip in the Cosa Nostra deals.
“Is that guy your ex, or something?” my mystery stranger asks, and I shudder.
“Randy? Christ, no.” I make a disgusted face. “Just a creep from work I can’t shake off. He’s been sending me flowers and pathetic notes for months.”
“What kind of notes?”
“The last one said my hair reminds him of sunrays.” I snort.
His gloved hand enters my field of vision, and my breath catches as he takes a lock of my hair, wrapping it around his finger. It’s a rather intimate act, touching someone’s hair, and it should bother me. It doesn’t. Not even a little.
“Not a romantic soul, are you, Goldie?”
“No, not really, Kurt.” I say, trying to keep my voice steady while my heart races.
He’s so close I can smell his cologne. It’s the same scent as when we met in front of the hospital, very discrete and slightly spicy, and I can’t help but lean forward just a little. His facial expression remains completely neutral as he asks, “And you also don’t like flowers?”
“I have nothing against flowers. I just don’t feel comfortable getting them from creeps,” I mumble into my glass. “And it looks like I’ve somehow obtained a second one.”
“A second creep?” he asks, still playing with my hair.
“Yup. Earlier this week, someone decided to buy out the whole flower shop and left more than a hundred bouquets in front of my door.”
“It wasn’t Randy?”
“I’m pretty sure it wasn’t him. There was no cheesy line and no signature on the note. Randy always makes sure he signs his cards,” I say looking into his eyes. “My friend, Pippa, says I always attract strange guys.”
His head bends slightly. “You think she’s right?”
“Maybe.” I hold my breath, wondering if he’s going to kiss me. The friend in question picks just that moment to come back from the restroom and sit on the chair on my other side. Pippa always has the best timing.
“I guess it’s time for me to leave,” the jacket guy says and moves away from the bar.
I don’t want him to leave, but instead of protesting, I simply nod. “See you around.”
He cocks his head to the side, keeping me a prisoner to his gaze, and brushes the back of his gloved hand down my cheek.
“Maybe.” He lets go of my hair and turns away.
I watch as he walks away, his tall frame navigating through the crowd, which seems to part naturally, letting him through. He has a slight limp, I realize. It’s very subtle. A mere variance in his footsteps that might not catch another’s eye. I didn’t notice it before.
I wonder whether he’ll turn around, but he leaves without looking back.
“Whoa.” Pippa sighs next to me. “Who was that?”
“I have no idea,” I whisper.

Salvatore

I step inside the sparsely lit living room and look around me. The house is a disaster—clothes strewn across the living room floor and empty takeout boxes piled on the counter. The stale atmosphere clings to my airways, thick and vaguely noxious. It’s as though no one has bothered to open a window in months. The place is disgusting. I walk over to the dining room table and pull out a chair. Turning it to face the front door, I sit down to wait.
Twenty minutes later, the front door opens, and Randy Philips, Milene’s creep, walks inside. He doesn’t notice me right away because I’ve turned the lights off. However, when he flicks the switch and sees me sitting in his dining room, he stops dead in his tracks.
“Hello Randy,” I say.
His eyes widen, and he takes a step back. “What are you doing here? How did you get in? I’m calling the police.”
“I wouldn’t recommend that.” I lean back in the chair. “I came to chat. That’s all.”
“What do you want?” He sizes me up, then moves closer.
“I want you to forget about Milene,” I say. “You don’t talk to her. You don’t even look at her. When she comes into a room, you turn around and leave.”
“What if I decline?” He takes another step in my direction.
Randy’s a big guy, a little shorter than me, but with at least fifty additional pounds. His bulk, however, comes mainly from the extra weight he’s packing around his middle. He looks smug, like he’s sure he can take me on. Drawing conclusions that aren’t well-founded can get you killed. Most people fail to take that into account.
I see the precise moment he decides to lunge at me. Before he has a chance to do so, I get up, grab the chair, and smash it against his head. Randy crumbles and falls to his knees, palms pressed heavily against the floor. As he restores his balance and presence of mind, I reach into my jacket, take out my gun, and begin screwing the silencer onto the barrel. It won’t extinguish the sound of the gunshots completely, but it’ll definitely quieten them. I don’t want any of the neighbors interrupting our discussion.
“I really hoped it wouldn’t come to this, Randy, but you’re leaving me no choice.”
He looks up, and when he sees the gun, crawls backward on all fours. I aim to his left and pull the trigger, sending a bullet into the wooden flooring an inch from his hand.
“Stop,” I say, and he freezes. “The only reason you’re still breathing, Randy, is because I heard you’re a doctor, and I have a lot of respect for medical professionals. So, I’m giving you one last chance to comply.”
He nods quickly and whimpers, his eyes wide and filled with panic.
“Good. Tomorrow morning, you’ll resign from your position at St. Mary’s. If I ever hear that anyone catches sight of you within ten miles of the building, or Milene, your life is over. Do you understand?”
“I understand.”
“Perfect.” I aim at his leg and shoot him in the thigh.
He screams and falls to his side, pressing his hands onto the bleeding wound. His knuckles turn white from the strain.
“Just a small reminder that I’m serious. You can call 911 when I’m gone, tell them you ran into a burglar.” I unscrew the silencer and conceal my gun, then head toward the front door. “Ten-mile radius, Randy.”
As soon as I’m in the car, I take out my phone and open the surveillance app. Milene is sitting on her sofa, eating chips and focused on a sitcom on the TV. The cat is sitting on her lap, trying to pull one of Milene’s snacks from the bowl with its paw. With her busy daily schedule, the girl needs better nutrition. Since I’ve been watching her, she’s only cooked for herself a handful of times, and only when she has a day off. Based on what I’ve seen, she’s awful at it. Other than those few instances, she’s been eating fast food. Sometimes, when she has longer shifts, she crashes when she gets home without eating a thing. If that goes on, she’ll get sick.
I send a message to Ada, my housekeeper, with instructions on what I need her to do, and place the phone in its holder next to the steering wheel, so I can watch and drive at the same time.

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