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The Limit: Chapter 24

...One swing of a cosh and Maudie slumped across the body of Gerard. They didn't waste time. They picked him up be¬tween them and carried him back the way they had come. It took only seconds....

And Toni Rossetti finds herself alone in the fight to keep the Dysons from taking over her family’s business.

To read earlier chapters of Peter Lacey’s thrilling crime novel please click on The Limit in the menu on this page.

Toni watched it happen from the bedroom. It gave her a grandstand view until it was time to open the french win¬dow.

Maudie's progress had been so slow she had wanted to shout at him to get a move on, to go directly to Gerard and bring him into the safety of the house.

She concentrated on staying calm, but found it difficult.

He knows what he's doing. There's a reason for being so cautious, she told herself. Someone might still be out there.

She knew all the reasons but they didn't help. She was racked by guilt at Gerard being hurt and trussed like a tur¬key. She wanted him inside the house, untied and with a whisky in his hand. She wanted him to reassure her he was fine and that she was not to blame.

And where was Paolo?

Another pang of guilt.

They had probably drugged the dog with a piece of meat. She had seen it all on television. The animal would wake up with a sore head in the morning.

Then Maudie walked across the lawn and knelt stiffly by Gerard's side. He paused for a moment and she saw the two shadows run silently from the far side of the garden shed.

Her mouth opened in horror but no sound came out. It was too late.

One swing of a cosh and Maudie slumped across the body of Gerard. They didn't waste time. They picked him up be¬tween them and carried him back the way they had come. It took only seconds.

The garden was empty again, except for Gerard, who was still tied and motionless in the middle of the well-lit lawn.

She was numb. The whole scenario was as unreal as that same television thriller where the dog was drugged. She looked around for reassurance but found none.

This had once been Mario's room, before he married. The room was real. The furniture was where it had always been and even the smells were the same. An old dampness com¬bined with Mrs. Bradshaw's particular brand of polish. The garden was real, too. So was Gerard.

God. What had they done to Gerard? What would they do to Maudie?

The guilt was overwhelming until she realised her own vulnerability.

She was alone in the house. Her fingers curled possessively around the butt of the gun and she lifted it closer to her face to inspect it in the half light. It was on safety. She pushed the catch off and on again, to reassure herself how easy it was to arm the weapon.

Be rational, she told herself.

The house is securely locked and the alarm system is switched on. I have a gun and a dog. I am not helpless and I am not at risk.

She looked out of the window again, at Gerard.

Nowhere near as at risk as her unconscious fat friend or her old-age professional.

What should she do? The garden was full of shadows that had already dealt with a guard dog and Maudie. Should she call the police? Jimmy Doc?

Jimmy Doc. She would get him round here with his rela¬tives and any other muscle he could muster.

By the time she got to the top of the stairs, the hall tele¬phone was ringing.


She recognised the voice that laughed slowly at the other end of the line. It belonged to the thug who had threatened her outside the casino with a Stanley knife.

"What do you want?"

"Now there's a leading question."

"Get to the point."

"The point is, you are all alone now that grandad's out of the way."

"Don't hurt him."

"Hurt grandad? Course not. He's just having a little trip. Be away a couple of days. You won't recognise him when you get him back." He laughed and his voice became suddenly menacing. "Unless you start behaving like a lady."

"What does that mean?"

"Oh, I'm not trusted with business. Someone else will talk to you tomorrow about that. I'm just involved in security. Your security."

"Make sure he's safe or there'll be no point talking tomor¬row."

"He'll be safe." The voice became a leer. "You should worry about yourself."

Her skin crawled. Even the anger didn't help. It was a blatant sexual threat.

"I'll be fine."

"I hope so, but ..."

She hated herself but she had to ask.

"But what?"

"Well. We're supposed to make sure no one bothers you. A good-looking woman, all alone in a big house."

"I have a gun."

"Oh dear. I'm terrified. The thing is, the help you get these days is so unreliable. Take Melvyn. You know Melvyn. You met him at the casino. Not face to face, but I'm sure he made an impression. He certainly remembers you. He's told us all about you. How you felt under your skirt. How soft you were . . ."

"You bastard. You juvenile pervert. Are you getting off on this? Got your willie in your hand? You're pathetic. If I see you again I'll give you a memory. A bullet in the balls. Tell Melvyn that goes for him, too."

She slammed down the receiver, tears damping her eyes. It couldn't even be straight violence with them. It had to be sexual violence. Dominance of the species. Did they think she would faint away at the thought of rape? Poor little frightened woman?

The phone rang again and made her jump. She counted the rings to calm herself. On ten, she picked it up.

"My, my. What a temper."

"This has gone far enough. I think it's time I called the police."

"I don't think that's a good idea. If you did, grandad might not survive his trip. And anyway, you won't be able to. Your telephone line will be cut as soon as we finish talking."

She had lived with the threat of extreme violence for the last two weeks. The possibility of someone being killed in the crossfire had been a consideration she had put firmly out of her mind before it could settle. But now it had been said. Maudie could be the one to die. It stunned her.

"I've told you. He must not be hurt."

"And I've told you. That will depend."

She listened to his breathing, unable to think of anything worthwhile to say. There was nothing to say that would make any difference now. She would have to wait until day¬light and the inevitable approach from the Dysons to sell out.

"Are you still there?" The leer had returned. "Melvyn wanted to send his regards. He'd very much like to see you again, face to face." He laughed. "Or not necessarily face to face. He quite liked the last time. And he's got some of the other lads worked up. So I hope the doors . . ."

She broke the connection. This time she couldn't stop the tears. They were tears of anger, she told herself, and tried to make the anger dominant. But they were also caused by frus¬tration, guilt, failure and fear. A large part fear.

Her helplessness outside the casino had been total. She had been unable to move because of the knife at her face while the hands moved nauseatingly beneath her skirt. It would not happen again.

The telephone. Had they carried out their threat to cut it? Did she have time to call Jimmy Doc?

It was dead. She was isolated.

"Come on, Jane."

The dog trotted by her side into the study and sat and waited while she peeled off her gloves and poured herself a large vodka and tonic.

Toni toasted her and gulped down half the drink.

How predictable. Run to the bottle at times of stress. She taunted herself, finished the drink and poured another. All the best heroes drank. But they were heroes. In a woman, it was judged to be a weakness.

The vodka either steadied her nerves or numbed them. She didn't know or care which. It also fuelled her anger and built her confidence. She went from room to room on the ground floor, and switched on every light.

The gun remained in her ungloved right hand. If she shot one of these bastards she now wanted the credit, not ano¬nymity.

Jane stayed by her side when she went back upstairs to Maudie's darkened bedroom to stand in the shadows by the window and look into the garden.

Gerard hadn't moved. He lay as if in a deep sleep. She hoped it would last until morning. Leaving the house to at¬tempt to free him would be madness. He would remain tied and she would be raped.

He could not be badly hurt, she told herself. She so much wanted to believe it that she did.

They had threatened Maudie. That implied no one had yet been seriously hurt. Gerard would be stiff and sore in the morning, nothing worse. But staring at him would not help. It would just cloud her judgment and she needed objectivity for survival.

She could not go out until the morning. If she valued Maudie's life she could not attract the police by firing the gun out of the window or by setting off the alarm. Because the telephone was cut she could summon no other help. She had to remain alert and she had to keep the house secure.

One advantage she had was that they, too, would not wish to set off the burglar alarm and attract the police. But they were criminals. Perhaps they could beat the system? Cut out the alarm?

"Come on, Jane."

The silence appeared to be holding its breath as she walked back to the study and poured another vodka. She had to be careful to keep the intake under control. Enough to maintain courage, not enough to become drunk.

The bastards would not make her crack tonight. They would not beat her because of the darkness and loneliness and because she was a woman.

She pushed the safety catch of the Mauser to off.


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