Home > Kiss Me While I Sleep (CIA Spies #3)(6)

Kiss Me While I Sleep (CIA Spies #3)(6)
Author: Linda Howard

Paris was full of women who were better looking and had a better sense of style than Denise Morel, but Salvatore had wanted this one, to the point that he’d been too impatient to completely investigate her background before approaching her. To his astonishment, she’d refused his first two invitations, and Salvatore’s impatience had turned into obsession. Had his preoccupation with her caused him to relax his guard? Was this woman indirectly responsible for his death?

So great was Rodrigo’s pain and rage that he might have strangled her just because of the possibility, but beneath those feelings was the cool voice that said she might be able to tell him something that would lead him to the poisoner.

He would have to find out who had done this, and eliminate him-or her. The Nervi organization could not let this go without retaliation, or his reputation would suffer. Since he was just now stepping into Salvatore’s shoes, he couldn’t afford the least doubt about his ability, or his resolve. He had to find his enemy. Unfortunately, the possibilities were endless. When one dealt in death and money, all the world was involved. Because Denise had also been poisoned, he even had to consider whether the perpetrator could be a jealous ex-lover of his father’s-or one of Denise’s old lovers.

Dr. Vincenzo Giordano tapped politely on the frame of the open door, then stepped inside. Rodrigo glanced at him; the man looked haggard, his usually neat salt-and-pepper curls disordered, as if he’d been pulling at them. The good doctor had been his father’s friend since boyhood, and he’d wept unashamedly when Salvatore had died not two hours ago.

“Why isn’t she dead, too?” Rodrigo asked, indicating the woman on the bed.

Vincenzo took Denise’s pulse, and listened to her heart. “She might still die,” he said, rubbing a hand over his weary face. “Her heartbeat is too fast, too weak. But perhaps she didn’t ingest as much of the poison as your father did.”

“Do you still think it’s mushrooms?”

“I said it looked like mushroom poisoning-for the most part. But there are differences. The speed with which it acted, for one thing. Salvatore was a big, robust man; he wasn’t feeling ill when he returned home last night at almost one o’clock, he died just six hours later. Mushrooms are slower acting; even the deadliest will take almost two days to kill. The symptoms were very similar; the speed was not”

“It wasn’t cyanide or strychnine?”

“Not strychnine. The symptoms weren’t the same. And cyanide kills within minutes, and causes convulsions. Salvatore wasn’t convulsive. The symptoms of arsenic poisoning are somewhat similar, but different enough to rule that out also.”

“Is there any way to tell for certain what was used?”

Vincenzo sighed. “I’m not certain it is a poison at all. It could be a virulence, in which case we have all been exposed.”

“Then why hasn’t my father’s driver become ill? If this is a virus that works within hours, then he, too, should be ill by now.”

“I said it could be, not that it is. I can do tests, with your permission examine Salvatore’s liver and kidneys. I can compare his blood analysis with that of… What is her name?”

“Denise Morel.”

“Ah, yes, I remember. He talked about her.” Vincenzo’s dark eyes were sad. “I think he was in love.”

“Bah. He would have lost interest in her eventually. He always did.” Rodrigo shook his head, as if clearing his mind. “Enough of that. Can you save her?”

“No. She will either survive, or she will not. There is nothing I can do.”

Rodrigo left Vincenzo to his tests and went to the basement room where his men were holding M. Durand. The Frenchman was already the worse for wear, with thin rivulets of blood trickling from his nose, but for the most part Rodrigo’s men had concentrated on punches to the body, which hurt more and weren’t as readily visible.

“Monsieur Nervi!” the restaurant manager croaked when he saw Rodrigo, and began weeping with relief. “Please, whatever has happened, I know nothing about it. I swear to you!”

Rodrigo pulled up a chair and sat down in front of M. Durand, leaning back and crossing his long legs. “My father ate something in your restaurant last night that disagreed with him,” he said with massive understatement.

An expression of total bewilderment and astonishment crossed the Frenchman’s face. Rodrigo could read his thoughts: He was being beaten to a pulp because Salvatore Nervi had indigestion? “Rut-but,” M. Durand sputtered. “I will refund his money, of course, he had only to ask.” Then he dared to say, “This wasn’t necessary.”

“Did he eat mushrooms?” Rodrigo asked.

Another look of bewilderment “He knows he did not. He ordered chicken in wine sauce, with asparagus, and Mademoiselle Morel had the halibut. No, there were no mushrooms.”

One of the men in the room was Salvatore’s regular driver, Fronte; he bent down and whispered in Rodrigo’s ear. Rodrigo nodded.

“Fronte says that Mademoiselle Morel became ill just after leaving your restaurant.” So she’d been stricken first, Rodrigo thought. Had she been the first to take whatever poison they’d ingested? Or had it worked faster on her, because of her lower body weight?

“It was not my food, monsieur.” Durand was highly insulted. “None of the other patrons became ill, or had any complaint The halibut had not gone bad, and even if it had, Monsieur Nervi didn’t have it.”

“What food did they share?”

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