Righetti turned off the speaker phone, swiveled his desk chair, and raised a questioning eyebrow at his consigliere. "What do you think?"
Franco Bianchi, bald and rawboned with an angular face and thick eyebrows, leaned back in his chair on the other side of the black walnut desk, elbows on the chair arms, and steepled his fingers in front of him. "We know Vittorio didn't instigate this. It's all Daniela."
"È vero," said Righetti, nodding. "That's true. Plausible deniability."
"And our response?"
"The Family won't do anything. She's after Kat and Mouse. I see nothing here that would constitute a breach of the agreement." Righetti drummed his fingers on the desk top for a moment, then said: "But in the interest of courtesy, send a couple of the boys to the airport to watch. When the shooters get in, have them call back here. We'll call Kat and Mouse then."
Bianchi shook his head. "Two against four."
Righetti chuckled. "Don't sell them short, my friend. They're not that easy to get rid of. Daniela has no idea what she's gotten herself into."
* * *
"You doing okay?" I said to Mouse.
"Yeah," she said, holding one of her wakizashis--Japanese short swords--up to her eye and peering down its length. "Why shouldn't I be?"
We were in our shared flat above the Red Dog Bar. I sat at the edge of the battered rust-orange couch, the low coffee table pulled close. Atop the table, on an oil-stained white towel lay the field-stripped parts of the Twins, Bonnie and Clyde, my pair of Colt-Springfield M2001 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols, a bottle of cleaning solvent and a stack of cleaning patches. Mouse sat cross-legged with her back against the side of her bed, her assortment of carry blades spread out on a large towel in front of her. Next to her was a bottle of oil and a hand-held sharpening tool.
I put the bore brush and Bonnie's barrel on the table. "White Lotus," I said.
Mouse set the wakizashi lengthwise in her lap, picked up the sharpening tool, ran it along the blade's edge.
"I'm trying not to think about it."
"Don't you start."
She stopped and quirked an eyebrow at me.
"You busted my ass about this last time," I said. "Now it's my turn."
She stared at me for what seemed like a long time. "Murphy," she said.
I nodded. "I made my peace about Murphy."
"My turn?" she said.
"Yeah. Now, I wasn't there when it went down with those Lotus Boys. But Murphy and I made sure it ended right. It doesn't have to be that way. Not anymore. Not now."
Mouse looked down at the wakizashi in her lap, then at the other blades on the towel.
"And look on the bright side," I said. "You did fine when we were dealing with David and Staci."
"But that wasn't directly at Lotus," she said. "This time, it is. And Murphy is--was--involved."
"I know." I felt my gut tighten. "I don't like it anymore than you do. But it's there. And we gotta deal with it if and when the time comes."
Mouse chewed on her bottom lip. "Think Righetti can help?"
I frowned. "Tall order. And I don't like the idea of owing him."
"And if we get in over our heads in this?"
"When don't we?"
I held up both hands, palms out. "Okay okay. If that happens, we'll make the choice then."
Mouse looked back down at her wakizashi and was silent for a moment. Then she nodded. "Okay." She took a deep breath, let it out, then turned to me. "We ready for this?"
I looked at her, and every possible thing--every possible bad thing--that might happen with White Lotus flashed through my mind in a flicker of images.
I let out a long exhale.
"We'd better be," I said.
* * *
8 September 2042
Vittorio was sitting at the table in the breakfast nook just off the kitchen, a plate of pancakes and hash browns in front of him, when Manfredi walked in.
"Donnie just called me from the airport," Manfredi said. "They're here."
Manfredi nodded, then said: "And Daniela?"
Vittorio frowned. No more stalling. It was time now. Should have done it years ago. He looked directly at Manfredi. "Freeze her accounts," he said. "Then move the money."
"Right away, Don Vittorio."
"I no longer have a daughter."
NEXT TIME: "Payback"
NEXT TIME: "Payback"