Terry Rankin is in Miami, looking for information on Gianni Lupo’s grandaughter, Nikki. He finds a lot more than he bargained for. But not much solid information:
I paid the bill and left a nice tip, then headed for my hotel a few blocks away. There wasn’t anything left to do until Petty called with some answers. South Miami is a nice place; everything is close by, the weather is nice, the people are nice. The staff in the hotels are nice. It’s all so damn nice.
On the surface, anyway. Just like most parts of the civilized world, folks are polite. It helps to keep people from killing each other over the little things. Most times, anyway. There are exceptions.
Hal Petty called while I was in the shower. So did Cathy. I called Petty, first.
“Got some interesting stuff for you. Don’t like it a lot, and I’m sure you won’t, either. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, but then there’s a whole lot in life that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
I laughed. “You’re not making much sense either, right now.”
“Okay, this is what I got. Tammy O’Shea, aged eighteen. Died in a car accident on 23 December, 2000. Sound familiar?”
Oh, crap, yes, it did. “Who else was in the car, Hal?”
“Rosa and Angelo Gianuzzi.”
“Where was their daughter, Nicola?”
“No mention of her in the newspaper report. Got a call in to the police department in Trenton who responded to the accident. No call back from them, yet.”
“Tammy O’Shea, of Trenton, New Jersey, has a Florida driver’s license. No violations, no wants or warrants out on her, no ‘Also Known As’ listed. She’s had the license for nine years. Clean as a whistle. Registration and insurance on the Corvette is in her name, with the address I gave you earlier.”
“Hal, you have to get me some information on Nicola Gianuzzi.”
“I’m working on it,” he said with a bit of asperity in his tone. “I’ll get what I can from the Trenton PD and the local obituary columns and work from there. Your girl would have been way too young to strike out on her own. She had to live with someone until she was old enough to join the army. If she’s using the O’Shea ID to cover herself she had to have professional help setting it up. I’ll see what I can learn.”
Gianni Lupo didn’t know that a third person had died in the accident that took the lives of his daughter and her husband. I wondered how he learned of the accident. I wondered if it was an accident. I wondered where Nicola Gianuzzi was, and why she was masquerading as Tammy O’Shea.
Then I called Cathy. I did not tell her what Hal Petty had learned, or about my thoughts. I wasn’t about to drop that on her over the phone. That was going to be a face-to-face conversation. After we said our hellos, I asked, “Did your dad stop by today?”
“Yes, in fact he’s going to stay over tonight. We’ve been all over the boat, looking at what Rolf and his crew did. Dad loves the instrumentation in the wheelhouse. Now that he’s had a good look at Nina R, he’s thinking of getting some new gear for his Riviera.”
“He’s got a real pretty boat, Honey.” Calling a forty-five foot Riviera pretty is a major understatement. Try beautiful.
“What’s new on your end?”
I told her some of what I’d learned, but not all. “I’ll tell you the rest when I get back tomorrow evening. Everything I thought I knew has been changed in just a few hours today. No idea where this thing will go tomorrow.” Oh, boy, was I right about that.
“Well, you take good care of yourself. Spike’s trying to grab the phone to say hello,” she giggled.
“Hello, Spike,” I laughed. “Cathy, tell your dad I said hi, will you? I’ll see you tomorrow night.”
Ten minutes later, things changed again, when someone knocked on my door.
I cursed myself then, for flying to Miami. If I had driven as I first thought to do I would have a weapon with me. I wasn’t expecting anyone, and a knock on the door in the middle of the night is always cause for concern. I moved to stand with my back against the wall of the bathroom and faced the closet on the opposite wall. That placed the entry door on my right side.
“Who is it?”
“FBI, Mr. Rankin,” a familiar though not quite welcome feminine voice replied. I breathed a sigh of relief, flipped the deadbolt and opened the door for her.
“I never caught your name,” I said as she and her young male companion entered. I first met her in the parking lot of the apartment hotel late one night last month. She came with a message from my government asking for my cooperation in ending the life of a very unpleasant and dangerous man.
Then after it was all over she and her gofer came to bring me a gift from my government. A gift that I quickly dropped into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, unopened, where I hoped no one would ever find it.
She was a pleasant woman, easy to look at and obviously a very capable agent, but not entirely welcome right then.
“And how can I help you and my government this evening?” I asked as the young man with her closed and locked the door.
She brushed her shoulder length blond hair off her face and said, “Did you wonder why Mr. Lupo settled on your company to provide his protection?”
“No, it never entered my mind,” I replied as I pulled a soda out of the mini bar. It should have, though. But I’ve never been one to check the dentition of gift horses.
“I visited him while he was still in prison and recommended you.”
That caught my attention. “Why?”
Another knock on the door interrupted us. As I began to move toward the door she put out a hand to stop me. “Paul, give me your backup piece,” she said as she pushed me into the room and around the corner, out of the line of sight from the entrance. She handed me Paul’s Springfield Arms .40 semi-auto. I slipped the safety off and racked the slide to load a round into the chamber as she said to me, “Stay there.”
She took up a position with her back to the wall, her weapon in a two handed grip, with the barrel toward the ceiling. She signaled to her companion, saying, “Get your weapon ready. Stand beside the door. Ask who it is.”
The young man held his pistol parallel to the floor and pointing at the entry as he called, “Who is it?”
The burst of rounds that answered his question blew right through him, pulling a red mist in its wake and catching the woman through the sheetrock wall she thought would shield her. It didn’t. It never does.
Time slowed to a crawl.
As she dropped to the floor, cursing the pain, I moved to stand against the opposite wall where the pistol in my right hand could point more naturally down the short hall. The door eased open on its hinges; the rounds from the automatic weapon had destroyed the locks holding it shut.
Two men entered. I took one step into the hall and pulled the trigger four times, dropping them both. The second man tried to stand and bring his pistol to bear, but a fifth round put him down for good.
I stood there, staring at the mess that was once Paul. I’d never learned his last name, but he’d died doing his job in my hotel room.
Screaming from the other patrons on the floor assured me that at least one person had already called the front desk and probably the cops, as well. I pulled the pillows off the bed, stripped the cases off and moved to kneel beside the woman, where I did what I could to stop the bleeding. Two rounds struck her in the back; one through her right shoulder blade and the second lower down, blowing out through her stomach.
She was alive, in extreme agony and cursing a blue streak. Anger, frustration, and sadness mixed in her words. “That kid wanted to be an agent his whole life. He’s been with me since he got out of the Academy. I was his field training officer. My bosses thought I’d keep him out of trouble. And I just used the poor bastard as a speed bump.” There was more like that. She never lost consciousness; the agony of a round in your gut is indescribably painful.
The paramedics had her on a gurney in a matter of a few minutes. I spent the rest of the night answering questions.
It would be another week before I learned her name, or why she’d come to visit. Once the cops had me at the station I called Cathy to let her know I was okay and then my attorney, Allison Saunders, just in case.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough answers for them, though I told the story as I knew it from beginning to end half a dozen times and answered all of their questions as thoroughly as I could. The officers who interviewed me asked questions and demanded answers, but they wouldn’t tell me a damn thing.
I was a witness, a victim if you prefer, but I was treated as I had treated perpetrators through all my years in law enforcement.
It is never pleasant to be on the receiving end of an interrogation.
They released me around mid-day on Sunday. I returned to the hotel to find they had moved me to another room. I showered and shaved, packed my bags, paid the bill and drove to the airport. After turning in my rental car I checked in at the airline desk. Then I found a restaurant, had a decent meal and drank coffee until my flight was called.
I didn’t read the newspaper. I didn’t even look at it.
I’d be back in Miami, right after Gianni Lupo and I had a long and probably very unpleasant conversation.
Cathy was waiting for me when I stepped aboard Nina R Sunday night. I wasn’t hungry, but my stomach was roiling from all the coffee I’d drunk, so we put a few potatoes in the oven to bake, assembled a garden salad and steamed a few salmon steaks. The night had turned chilly so we ate at the galley table. I told her the whole story about what I’d learned on Saturday. She took copious notes, and like the investigator she is, she asked lots of questions.
“Somebody is gaming you, Rankin.”
“That’s my take, too. I’m planning to have a long talk with Lupo tomorrow.”
“You think he’s behind this? That man spent the last twenty-five years in prison.”
“And he pointed me toward Miami, don’t forget.”
“What about the Corvette nobody can find? Who made it disappear? Gianni Lupo? Even if he was the Don of Dons he couldn’t pull that off.”
“Somebody set his granddaughter up with a cover identity, Cathy, and that same somebody is protecting her, or at least working hard to make sure nobody gets past the cover to see what’s behind it.”
Cathy grimaced. “You believe that kid behind the pharmacy about the drugs he claims he sold her?”
“Two questions about that; first, if he was on the level and things went as he says they did, maybe Nikki Gianuzzi was buying drugs from him as part of a sting operation. Second, if things went as he claims, maybe she was buying them to use herself. Some people do consume illegal drugs, though it’s unlikely any DEA agent would be that stupid. Third-”
“You said two things. I get to say something now.”
I shrugged and let her continue.
“Let’s say he was on the level and told you what he thought to be true. Never mind if what he said was a hundred percent valid; he thought it was. He sold her illicit drugs and assumed she was using them.”
“No law enforcement agency in the world would put a jerk like that on the street, and nobody is that good an actor. I’m taking him as real, right along with the hairdresser and the guy in the karate school.”
“So you believe what they had to say?”
“They all reported basically the same thing, with sufficient differences to allow me to build a fairly accurate appraisal of Tammy O’Shea/Nikki Gianuzzi.”
“But the hairdresser thinks she’s a high-priced call girl, the kid at the pharmacy thinks she’s a drug user, and the karate guy thinks she’s a nice rich lady with a healthy body,” Cathy retorted.
“They saw what Nikki wanted them to see. None of them saw her.”
Cathy shrugged. “So what’s third?”
I had to think about that for a second. “Ah, the third point I wanted to make. She bought the drugs as a part of her cover. The ‘flash’ car, the party girl and the drugs, and the proven martial arts expertise all paint a picture of a single woman with big bucks and a big lifestyle. That’s what she wants the world to see.”
“No idea. But it has to do with where she parked the car she didn’t drive on the Tamiami Trail the day she disappeared. The car she drove when she actually went into that apartment in that upscale complex. It has a lot to do with whoever she works for, or with, and what they’re doing.”
Cathy leaned back and stretched. “And what great insights do you have on who sent those two men to kill you last night?”
I shrugged again. “Great insights? I don’t have so much as an itty-bitty inkling.”