Reba's been snatched." Joey ducked his head as if to avoid a blow. His small dark eyes watched Lou warily.
"Wadda ya mean, 'snatched'?" Lou glared at him, his full lips thinning with displeasure. He was a tall, movie-star handsome man with black wiry hair, startling blue eyes and long, graceful fingers.
"Someone kidnapped her."
"Lou, I wouldn't make this up." Joey was hurt. "You'd kill me."
"Yeah. Well, no one takes my wife and gets away with it."
"What're you going to do?"
"You'll find out. How'd it happen, anyway?"
* * *
Reba stepped out of Bloomingdale's onto Fifth. In her small hands she clutched three Bloomie paper bags with handles, a hat box, and her purse. She loved hat boxes even if they were awkward. The new chauffeur didn't see her. He was polishing a headlight, oblivious when two guys started hustling her toward a van. Each took an arm, and with her packages, she didn't have room to maneuver. She swatted at them with the bags but had to concentrate to avoid stumbling in her three-inch spectator pumps.
"Let me go!" she shouted.
A few heads in the crowd turned, but the taller man just smiled and said, "Taking her to detox." Eyes swiveled away, and the two men manhandled her into the back of the van.
"Are you crazy? Let me go!"
They dumped her into a seat, and she swung again with her packages. One bag hit the short guy in the knee, and he yelled as the smell of Charles of the Ritz wafted through the air.
"She broke a bottle of perfume on my knee," he cried.
"Quit your whining. It could have been your head."
Quickly they wrestled the packages away from her and handcuffed her wrists, tied her feet with silk ties, and gagged her. The little one went up front to drive while the tall one sat down and smirked at her.
"Hi. I'm Gino. That's Tony up front. And you're Reba Sorelli."
Reba glared at him over the gag.
At the George Washington Bridge toll gate, Gino blindfolded her. She couldn't believe it. They were taking her to Jersey! After about half an hour, the van stopped, and Reba could hear the key being removed from the ignition and doors opening. They pulled her out and led her down some stairs.
Hands pushed her into a soft chair and removed her blindfold. Tony walked over to close the outside cellar stairs doors. She looked around and saw that they were in a dank basement. Lines for wet clothes hung limply along the ceiling, and an ancient washer sat in one corner, an ironing board nearby. An old oil furnace squatted malignantly, pipes twisting and turning at strange angles. Worn, gray-painted wooden stairs went straight up toward the rest of the house. She had been shoved into a sagging lounger while Tony and Gino sat on folding chairs at a chipped enamel table. The only modern article in the whole area was the telephone. It sat squarely in the middle of the table, gleaming under a bare light bulb.
"Okay," Gino said. "We're going to call your old man. If he asks to talk to you, Tony will take off the gag. No funny stuff, or you'll get hurt."
It only took Tony two wrong numbers to get through to Lou. Then Gino took over. "We've got your wife. One million to get her back. No cops. Be by the phone in six hours with the money ready. We don't want this to take any longer than necessary." He listened a minute, then nodded to Tony to remove the gag.
"Gino. Tony. Jersey . . ." Gino snatched the phone away and backhanded her, almost casually.
"That's the last time you get to talk to her until we get the ransom." He slammed the receiver down and glared at her. "Are you a dumb broad, or what?"
"No, I'm not." Her brown eyes flashed at him as she tossed her head, black silky hair flying. She was petite but well packed, and she noticed Gino's eyes moving up and down with a lustful gaze. "You're the dumb one, tied up worse than I am with that lout over there."
"Hey," Tony said, "we got this far, didn't we?"
"Barely. I know your names and what you look like. You're not capable of killing."
"You know first names only, and plastic surgeons are lined up. Won't need to kill you. We're keeping you tied and letting you go like we promised your old man. This is all going to be over soon. If you're nice, we'll leave the gag off. No one can hear you yell down here, so don't waste your breath. One of us will be with you at all times."
"Thrill me!" She glowered at them both.
"What's the matter with you?" Tony asked. "You're supposed to be all scared and pleading with us."
"Pleeease. I'm not afraid of anything. I married Lou, didn't I?"
"So, that was the scariest thing I ever did. But it's worked out fine." It had been scary. She knew Lou was part of the mob, but she wasn't sure what his specialty was.
"Go figure." Gino shrugged and lit a cigarette.
"Do you have to do that? I'm allergic," Reba told him.
"Oh." He snuffed it out. All three looked at the butt awhile, thinking their own thoughts.
"Why'd you pick me?" Reba asked suddenly.
Gino said, "We saw you coming out of Bloomingdale's a lot, so Tony snatched your purse last month. Address on your driver's license. Staked out the house awhile, saw your old man coming and going in the limo or the other expensive cars. Could tell there was lots of money around. You're tiny, easy for the two of us to handle." He shrugged. "Seemed like a good idea. Well, gotta stretch my legs. I'll get us something to eat. Watch her careful, now, Tony." Gino went up the stairs.
Reba ignored Tony while he swaggered around the basement. A little Napoleon, he kept combing his hair and picking imaginary lint off his cheap shiny suit. His eyes were too close together, his nose too long and his lips too thin. She closed her eyes to block out the sight of him.
Gino came back with meatball sandwiches, chips and colas. "Okay. Let's move her over here." They picked her up and put her into one of the folding chairs, then took a sheet and tied it around her waist to the chair. Her ankles remained bound, but they took off the handcuffs. "So you can eat. Then we'll play cards," Gino told her. While she munched, she studied him. He was a little better looking than Tony, but not much. He had dark brown shaggy hair, soulful brown eyes, a bumpy nose and big ears. She decided that if she looked like either of them, she might kidnap someone and get plastic surgery, too.
Tony cleaned up the wrappers from lunch and took out a well-worn pack of playing cards. Gino said he hated three-handed poker, so they played spades. Reba beat them soundly each time.
Six hours passed, and Tony gagged Reba and dialed Lou's number again, then handed the phone to Gino.
"Lou, drive the Corvette. Bring the money to the Brown Warehouse on Sixth in Bayonne and drop it on the front stoop. Then get back in your car and go to the end of the block. Come alone. You'll get your wife back after we check out the mil, so don't drive off. We see anything funny, we don't come for the money, and little Reba is dead. You got that? You get one chance. That's it. Be there in forty-five minutes."
Gently, he hung up the receiver and smiled at Tony. "No argument. This is gonna fly."
"Yesss," Tony said.
They handcuffed and blindfolded Reba again and took her up the cement stairs and into the van. She tried to keep count of the twists and turns in the road, but Tony turned so often she soon lost track. Then she determined that they were going around the block several times, probably checking for police. Finally, they stopped the van and waited silently.
"There's the 'vette," Tony whispered.
"Yeah. And he's doing everything right." After a minute, Gino said, "Pull up slowly, now." Reba could feel cold air as the van door opened, and she heard Gino's feet thud to the ground. In a flash, he was back inside, and there was the snap of a briefcase's clasp, a gasp, the rustle of paper.
"It's all here." The van shot forward, almost throwing Reba to the floor. The door opened again, and Tony pulled her toward it, then pushed her out. Tires squealed as the van sped away. Reba sat, stunned, hands still handcuffed behind her back, gag and blindfold in place, feet tied. Helplessly, she listened as a vehicle approached. Another door opened, and Lou's hands grabbed her, pulled her to him. She sobbed with relief as he removed the blindfold and gag, then helped her into the passenger's seat.
The knife was in Lou's hand so quickly she didn't see it appear. He slashed through the tie binding her feet. "The cuffs will take some doing," he told her. She nodded. "Are you all right?" She nodded again. He hugged her, and she snuggled into his arms. "Well, I didn't worry about you too much. Figured you could take care of yourself."
"But, Lou, a million dollars! How did you get it so fast? What are you going to do without it?"
"I never really told you what business I'm in, did I?"
"No. But I've always known it wasn't quite legit."
Lou chuckled. "Not quite. Counterfeiting. Best in the business. Those bozos got counterfeit bills. They'll go to jail soon for passing 'em, and won't be able to tell where they got 'em from 'cause a kidnapping charge is worse than a counterfeiting charge. They didn't do their homework. I knew they were stupid the minute Joey told me you'd been snatched."
Reba laughed. "They want to get plastic surgery. They'll try to get false faces with fake bills. I guess you won't call the cops.
Lou grinned. "No need." He put the 'vette in gear and sped off, both of them laughing.