“Perfect,” Melanie said, and Lisa could hear the smile in her voice. “Thank you, darling. You can transfer me the amount tonight. Until next time!”
And with that, Melanie was gone, leaving Lisa to simmer in her own thoughts. She walked to her computer and sent the funds to Melanie, thankful that the woman had had any information at all. And then, she searched through her spreadsheet of previous sources, noting that it had been years since she’d contacted some of them. God, she’d been scampering after celebrities for far too long.
Prince Francesco’s driver, Sergio, had grown up just outside of Rome before coming to New York City as a 21-year-old “with dreams the size of Florida oranges.” When they’d first met each other, for the basketballer assignment, Sergio had been reserved. But after an hour or more of speaking, he’d eased into a grandfatherly demeanor, telling her he’d do “whatever he could” to help her, and not to hesitate to call him again.
Lisa dialed the number, not expecting Sergio to answer at such a late hour. But after two rings, the familiar, grumbling voice burst through the speaker.
“Lisa Garcia? Is that you?”
Lisa smiled, laughing to herself. “It is. How have you been, Sergio?”
“Oh, fine. Fine. The basketball player lost me. But I suppose you already knew that.”
“You got me,” Lisa said. “Nothing gets past you, huh?”
“Nothing,” Sergio affirmed. “So, you want to see the Prince, now, do you?”
“And preferably the Princess, too,” Lisa said, tapping the tip of her pen against her pad of paper. “Guessing they’re not in the States right now, since you’re available for this call?”
“Au contraire,” Sergio said. “In fact, I listened to them bicker just this afternoon driving them to his New York apartment. You’ve called at a wonderful time, Miss Lisa. Maybe you have the ear and the eye for this business, after all.”
Lisa brimmed with sudden excitement. “They’re in town tonight?”
“I believe they’re around for a few days,” Sergio continued. “But I can feed you something. A little bit of extra information, if you want to meet me tonight.”
Lisa’s heart jolted. “I’m guessing you want me to bring something along, for your trouble.”
“Sure do, Lisa. I don’t work for free. You know that.”
Lisa bowed her head, disappointment filling her. She’d just paid Melanie a hundred dollars, and Sergio would require at least double that. Outside, someone smashed their beer bottle against the sidewalk. She heard the pieces of glass scatter across the asphalt.
“Let’s meet at the corner of Broadway and Bleecker, then,” Lisa murmured. “I’ll bring cash.”
“Three hundred, my little paparazzo,” Sergio affirmed. “And not a dime less.”
Lisa felt the words like a knife. But she agreed, before hanging up and clinging the phone close to her chest, simmering with panic. The world had begun to spin for her. She had pay to continue the ride.
She dressed quickly, painting on red lipstick and swiping mascara over her eyelashes, before donning jeans and a black V-neck. She rushed down the steps, her long coat flapping behind her, and swept to the ATM. She closed her eyes as the machine spit out a thick wad of twenty-dollar bills. She clung to the money, her hand pushed deep in her coat pocket, as she rushed to the subway, her heels clacking on the pavement.
By the time she reached the corner of Bleecker and Broadway, she was breathless, harried. Sergio stood, his rotund body leaning against the brown bricks, sliding a triangle of pizza between his lips. His beard, curled and greying, was speckled with grease. He grinned at her as she approached.
“My lady Lisa,” he said, using a heightened Italian accent. “You’re looking more ravishing than ever.”
Lisa smiled, holding the bills out for him to see. She was grateful that the surrounding Greenwich Village partiers were too caught up in themselves to notice them. “Good to see you, too,” she said.
Sergio folded the rest of his pizza into his mouth and licked his lips, waggling his thick eyebrows. “I see you want to get right to business. Absolutely.”
Lisa nodded. “If you don’t mind.”
Sergio paused for a moment, the air growing tense around them. A police siren blared down the street, causing Lisa’s ears to ache. The city was never quiet.
“The Prince and Princess will be dining at the Manhattan restaurant ‘Matador’ tomorrow evening,” he said, extending his fingers, his palm gleaming in the lamplight.
Lisa slipped a third of the bills upon it, a question appearing in her mind. “Will they be alone?” she asked.
“They bought out the entire establishment for the night,” Sergio revealed. “Apparently they’re so pretentious they can’t deal with common people dining with them.”
Lisa stifled a giggle as she placed more of the cash in the driver’s hand. “And what time is this grand dinner taking place?”
“Eight, on the dot. The Princess doesn’t like to be late, ever. And—Lisa?”
Lisa tilted her head in response.
“Good luck getting in there. That’s an exclusive restaurant, for fancy people. I can’t imagine they’ll let you in with your camera on show.”
Lisa frowned with sudden apprehension as she dropped the last of the money into Sergio’s palm. Her limbs felt limp, but her voice still hummed with professionalism. “I think I’ll be all right, you know,” she said primly. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. I know what I’m doing.”
“If you say so,” Sergio said, tucking the money into his wallet. He turned from her, slipping a cigarette between his lips. He took a step toward the curb, where the limousine was parked. “Good luck,” he said, without looking back.