I don’t like tea.
I’m an espresso, macchiato type of guy so why am I in a Russian Tea room at the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney?! My contact who selected the time and place, must be some well to do sort of guy. As opposed to me, who came from the other side of the tracks but since I was there, I ordered myself some tea, otherwise I’d look like a tool. Even I’m not ‘that’ uncouth!
A few hours earlier, I was at a strip join in Kings Cross, having a drink and a lap dance when my boss called me. He very rarely called me directly, unless there was something very important or time critical that he wanted me to do. Like kill someone, beat someone up or steal something and I almost knocked the stripper onto the floor in my haste to answer the phone.
“Good morning, Carlo. How are you?”
It was about four in the morning, but I normally called it quits around five.
“I’m great, boss and you?”
I asked, while I tried to sober up and putt on my game face.
“I’m well, thank you for asking, Carlo… I have a job for you. It’s an important job and I need a man that can think on the fly, to deal with any possible eventualities.”
Explained Vince. He became the head of my organisation after replacing my old boss, who was his father, Joseph Di Carlo. Joseph looked like us. Sounded like us and we always knew what he wanted and what he was thinking but his son Vince, was a mixed bag.
Vince was raised by his mother in London but when it was time to take his place as the head of the family, he returned home. Since then, the walls of Jericho started shaking and everything he touched turned to shit. Alliances were broken, loyalties tested and some of the crew made planned and unplanned exits.
He wasn’t cut out to be the boss. Ambition doesn’t equal good business and violence alone doesn’t inspire loyalty or cooperation. To tell you the truth, I planned to bug out. I had the money, fake ID and passport ready and just waited for the right time… The right opportunity to disappear but I felt like I was getting close and thirty-five was a good age to retire.
“What do you want me to do, boss?”
“You are to meet someone at that Russian tea House in the QVB at ten O’clock and pick up a briefcase. Which you will exchange with one that I’m going to get you to pick up from my place. Your contact will ask for you, ‘signore Lupo’ so make sure you make the exchange. If there’s any trouble, kill them.”
I hated when he called me signore Lupo, as he would put on a forced Italian accent, in order to mock me. While he had a refined English accent, I sounded like an Italian gansta.
“Your contact’s name is Frankie Volpe. Do not mess this up, Carlo. Come straight to my home and get the briefcase immediately.”
Then he hung up. I was at his home fifteen minutes later and rather than being allowed to enter, his valet handed me the suitcase at the front door.
As I had quite a few hours to kill, I returned to my home at the Gazebo Apartments in Kings Cross for a shower, shave and a change of clothes. I decided that my dark grey Zegna suit would do the trick, along with my white shirt and black tie. Fashionable but serious. The finishing touches were twin, silenced 9mm Glocks in concealed shoulder harnesses and two extra mags in my pockets.
I decided to get to the venue early, so I could scope out the exits and obstacles, as well have the best seat, which was the one that faced the main entrance. I still wore my Police sunglasses in order to seem relaxed while my eyes darted around the room.
Then a few minutes to Ten, I was distracted by gorgeous woman in a black business suit that entered the Tea house. The suit consisted of a short skirt, a matching tailored jacket and a white silk blouse. Her hair was blond and cut in a bob, her jewelry was gold and her stilettos were dangerously tall and sharp.
She looked to be about thirty or thirty-five years old, had a small red Coach handbag on her shoulder and a confident smile on her face. As she entered the premises, she’s met by one of the servers, who then escorted her to my table!
I wasn’t sure what to do, as even though I really… really wanted to talk to this woman, I had a job to do but before I said that there must be some sort of mistake, the goddess asked,
What’s my name?! Am I Mr. Lupo?! I didn’t know how to respond, and I saw the woman’s confident smile turn into an annoyed frown but thankfully, my brain unfroze and allowed me to respond, then I got to feet.
“Yes. Yes, I am, and you are?”
“Frankie Volpe. Were you not expecting me?!”
She asked with an annoyed tone, but I tried to claw back some face and professionalism.
“I was but I didn’t expect…”
“A woman?! Frankie is short for Francesca.”
Frankie took a seat with a huff and it was then that I realized that she also carried a briefcase. As I sat down, she said to herself,
“I can’t believe the boss sent ‘me’, while the opposition sends a rookie!”
That stung but she had a right to be annoyed. I acted like an amateur so as I sat down, I said,
“I apologies for being so unprofessional. I didn’t realize that you would be a woman and a very attractive one at that.”
The look in Frankie’s eyes were very clear. She was not interested in the slightest then a few moments later, I heard a very soft, metallic ‘click’. Like the sound of a hammer pulled back on a pistol. Dam it! She had the drop on me but fortunately a moment later, the server returned and asked my contact if she wanted something to drink. While she held up the menu to study, I drew one of my Glocks, used my jacket to hide it and placed it under the napkin on my lap, pulling back the hammer as I did.
The soft metallic sounded didn’t go unnoticed and my adversary turned to me, smiled and said,
Frankie then said,
“I’m really hungry and haven’t eaten for twelve hours. Could we eat something before we do business… or blow each other’s heads off?”
I hadn’t slept for God knows how long, I still had a hangover and food sounded great.
“That’s a great idea, Frankie. My shout.”
Then we both studied the menu a little more. They had the expected borscht, pelmeni, onion soup and the usual Russian fare, but they also included items that you would find in an English Tea House.
“Mmmm… Piccolo Champagne High Tea sounds delicious. Will you join me?”
I looked at the price and thought that this was going to be the most expensive breakfast of my life, but the idea of a little champagne, sounded appealing.
Then I ordered the High Tea for the both of us. The room was elegant with high ceilings, nineteenth century period touches and charming table settings that included floral china. Even I could appreciate it.
Frankie slowly looked around and wistfully said,
“I’m going to miss this place. I don’t think that there’s any harm in telling you that this is my last job. I’m out after this and leaving the country so if you try to kill me, it’ll piss me off!”
But she said it in such a charming way, with a glint in her eye, then I surprised her ‘and’ myself by asking,
“So, you and Mr. Volpe escaping this glamorous life?”
Frankie seemed very amused and replied,
“Are you asking if I’m single? Do you want to go on a date?! You don’t have family when you do this type of work. Actually… my boss and I ‘had’ a thing, but he cheated on me… and I just want to get out.”
I couldn’t disguise the shock on my face and blurted out,
“How is that possible?! You are one of the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and I can tell that you’re smart as well… and deep. I can sense it.”
It seemed that my stock climbed a little but then again, it could have only gotten up from where I had landed. Frankie smiled at me and said,
“Thank you for the compliment and yes… I am smart but my soon to be ex-boss, didn’t like that.”
Our high tea arrived, and we attacked it like we hadn’t eaten for a week – it was amazing how we began to enjoy each other’s company. Apart from being smart, Frankie was also cheeky and funny.
“So, what are you packing?”
“Two silenced 9mm Glocks. One still in the shoulder harness and… you know where the other one is. You?”
I didn’t mean for it to come out as suggestive as it did, but it also added a little danger and excitement to our game.
“Just the one silenced 9mm Berretta. I may be biased but I love all things Italian. My parents came from the town where they make these bad boys.”
“Well I’m Italian, too. You know ‘Lupo’ means wolf in Italian.”
I responded as charming as I could.
“I know… and ‘Volpe’ means fox.”
Frankie and I just gazed at each other, then she said,
“Well our timing seems to suck, as I’m on a plane to Rome tomorrow.”
And there it was. The right opportunity…
We continued eating and checked our phones. My boss sent me a text asking, ‘Where R U?’ and it brought me back to the matter at hand. Frankie cleared her throat, gently dabber her lips with a napkin, placed her Berretta in her handbag then said,
“Well it was very pleasant meeting you Carlo, but I have to leave.”
She then stood up. I did the same after quickly holstering my Glock, and gently kissed her on each cheek. Her beautiful face, the scent of Coco Channel and the wonderful moments we had, almost made do the unthinkable and kiss her lips. Instead I asked,
“When was the last time that you went to Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome?”
“Uhm… It’s been years. Why?”
“There’s a little rustic café situated at the top, that overlooks the Tiber. Would you like to have coffee and a cornetto with me there… say ten o’clock, Saturday morning?”
Frankie stood there watching me, but I could tell that she was struggling internally.
“Carlo… I would love to say yes but I’m leaving this world behind.”
She sadly explained.
“So am I. I’ve been waiting for the right time and… this is it. Besides, you won’t be meeting Carlo Lupo. You’ll be meeting Stefano De Cecco.”
I responded with a smile on my face, but she didn’t reciprocate. Instead she said,
“I just can’t… but Julia Bartolo will.”
Whew! My heart was about to break in two. Then ‘Julia’ reached down and picked up my suitcase then left the tea house, while I sat back down and finished my tea, as per the usual protocol.
Half an hour later, I was back at Vince’s house with the requested briefcase but this time, he answered the door.
“What the hell took you so long?!”
He demanded but I calmly explained,
Pointing at my restored 1975 XB Falcon coupe.
“Get yourself a proper car!”
Then he slammed the door on my face and I softly said,
“It won’t happen again…”
The next thing I knew, I was sitting at the Caffetteria Ristorante Le Terrazze at Castel Sant’Angelo, and nervously waited for Frankie. I mean Julia. It was a beautiful, warm spring day and the tourists were out and about.
I just took a sip from my espresso when I was approached by a beautiful woman, wearing jeans and a T-shirt. She had black hair under her baseball, wore large sunglasses and surprisingly, plonked down on the seat in front of me.
It was Frankie! Her disguise was very effective while all I did was used a set of clippers on the number one setting.
She then took off her hat and sunglasses and I saw her beautiful face. She was one of those woman that looked equally as gorgeous with or without make up. I was also dressed casually, in jeans and a T-shirt then after an initial moment of awkwardness, we found our groove.
Three hours flew by in an instant and I thought I’d ask Julia / Frankie if she wanted to go sightseeing.
We walked down to the road that ran along the Tiber, toward my Vespa.
“You want me to get on that?!”
She asked, then I responded,
“Yes! Don’t you like to live dangerously?”
We spent the rest of the day together… then the night… then the week. It seemed like we couldn’t get enough of each other and the more we found out about our pasts, interests and thoughts, the closer we became.
Six months later, we moved into a beautiful villa near the town of Castoli in the region of Abruzzo, then opened a little coffee bar called ‘Il lupo e la volpe’ (The wolf and the fox). Our lives had become much calmer and quieter until one day, we were stood up by two masked men. Poor guys…
On our one-year anniversary, I gave Julia a beautifully wrapped gift and her eyes lit up when she saw a rectangular box with the word ‘Berretta’ inscribed on it. Once she opened the box, she found a 9mm Berretta, an extra mag and… an engagement ring.
It was hard for us to think about our past lives, as the one we lived now was joyous and fulfilling but once and a while, we would have a customer ask why we offered ‘high tea’ among the cornetto’s and pizzettes. As well as why we had such an extensive tea collection. Julia and I would shrug out shoulders and say,
“We like Tea.”
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This is great, Mark! All of the details work beautifully and I love the kind of nouveau-noir meets 007 vibe. My only advice is a really quick line edit - just a few minor typos here and there. Really fun story! Well done!
Thanks for the comment! Spelling is a challenge for me (ironically) and I have to convert from Australian English to American English. ;)