Velleci was a town trying to be a city. Ambitious building projects popped up on every street corner. Tall buildings and factories and apartments filled up the skyline, paving the way for ambitious campaigns to attract new people and entrepreneurs. The city council just neglected to make sure that their town could sustain the development.
As the town grew bigger and more industrialised, the old citizens who’d always been there were put off; at the same time, the town wasn’t big enough for younger people compared to the capital and the university cities. The old moved away, the young ignored the town, and the many new buildings were abandoned. That’s where the criminal element came in.
Thanks to the unfortunate town planning, Velleci was lousy with criminals. Upstart gangs who were kicked out of more populated towns and wanted a piece of this. What it lacked in resources, it made up for in how easy it was to import weapons and drugs in peace.
And based on what Franco told Carlo on the way here, that’s how the Giocondo family came to live in an abandoned warehouse in a prime location in Velleci. At least, they had heard that they lived here. Or used to. Word was they changed locations a fair deal, and that they hadn’t been here much since Vittoria had faked her death and left for Monte Vista.
It was unlikely that they would find her here, but it was their best clue, and that was why Carlo insisted on joining them when they entered the place. He readied the gun he had been carrying since the museum incident and nodded to Franco. His accomplice didn’t open the door yet.
“You have to stay back, Carl,” he said.
“You said it was good for morale that I came along.”
“But it’s very bad for morale if you get killed. Stay in the back and let us go first.”
He waved the two others over and Carlo took a step back, but not without irritation. Franco kicked open the door and the four of them went in, guns raised.
They came into the main warehouse floor; a big, empty room that held nothing but dust, debris, and graffiti on the walls. None of them lowered their weapons, even though it didn’t look like anyone was here, and when they called out, nobody stirred. Even then, Franco sent Giacomo ahead to check around the corner, and only when he had given the go-ahead, did Carlo and the others follow him.
Around the corner they found what must pass for living quarters for the Giocondos.
There were stacked mattresses and furniture improvised out of empty oil drums and beer crates. Dust was piled up around the floor, and there were beer bottles littered all over the floor.
“Someone’s been here,” Franco said, kicking a bottle over to reveal a leftover of liquid in the bottom. “Somewhat recently, too.”
He was cut off by a wail. It sounded like someone dying somewhere up above, and it made all of the men jump. Carlo spun and listened as it sounded again. It was definitely upstairs. Before the others could protest, he sprinted towards the stairs and took them two steps at a time.
“Carl!” Franco shouted angrily.
Carlo ran until he found the source of the sound. It was not what he expected.
Truthfully, he didn’t know what he had expected, but it definitely wasn’t this. Up the stairs and down a walkway, they found the other living quarters, except this place was a far cry from downstairs. First of all, it was lighter, illuminated by big windows. Second, it was clean, or at least close enough to it. There were rugs on the floor, an actual bed, and a plant growing in a planter by the window.
The source of the sounds was the strangest of all, though.
A woman in a flowery dress and cat shoes slept peacefully on her side, and every once in a while, she let out a cry in her sleep that wasn’t unlike the screams of the damned. Seeing her, his heart nearly stopped, but only for a fraction of a second.
He had mistaken them for each other before after all, and once he looked close enough, it was clear it wasn’t her.
This woman didn’t stir until Carlo called her name.
“Lucia,” he said.
She lifted her head, blinking in the lights, and sprang out of bed with lithe, soft movements. Franco, who had followed him up here, started but kept his gun trained on her. Seeing her closer like this, it was clear enough that it wasn’t Vittoria. Her face was near-identical, it wasn’t that; no, it was the ease she moved with. She didn’t reach for a weapon and she looked at them with curiosity instead of fear. His wife never would have stayed this calm with two guns on her.
“Who are you?” Lucia asked. “Can I help you?”
He took a careful step forward, not lowering his weapon.
“My name is Carlo Mancini. Do you remember me?”
Her eyes lit up in recognition, but she still seemed like she wasn’t here. “We used to play.”
Carlo nodded. “Something like that. I’m looking for your daughter, Vi- Lisa.”
Cue the next unexpected event. Rather than answer like a regular person, she let out a cry like a banshee and broke in to heart-rending sobs.
“My baby!” she wailed. “My baby died! Th-they told me… she’s… oh god, oh god, oh god…”
Franco took a step back. “Carl, what the fuck?”
“It’s okay,” he said. “Don’t lower that gun.”
While Franco kept the gun aimed at Lucia’s head, Carlo put away his own and walked towards the woman. She rocked back and forth while tears streamed down her cheeks, and it was strange to see on a face so much like Vittoria’s. In all the time he’d known her, she never once cried. He took a careful step towards Lucia, and when she made no sudden movements, he put a careful hand on her shoulder.
“Your daughter is still alive,” he said carefully. “I need you to help me find her.”
She looked up at him. “My baby is alive?”
“Yes, she is. If you’ll follow my friends here, we’ll head to Monte Vista and start looking.”
Lucia wiped her eyes with a hand and nodded. She walked carefully towards the others, and they took her outside to the car.
“Check her for weapons, Franco,” Carlo said when she was out of earshot. “And let’s not take her to our headquarters.”
“We assume she’s dangerous, yes?” he asked.
Carlo wasn’t sure. For all he knew, everything his wife had ever told him was a lie. Her mother might be a little vacant, but a perfectly fine person. Lucia’s distress at her daughter’s death seemed genuine, if a little overwrought, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that she was off. He had nothing to base it on. Nothing but the look on Vittoria’s face when she realised that Marta had been with Lucia. It was an emotion so strong that even she couldn’t hold it down.
“We keep Lucia away from our headquarters and away from my family,” he said. “If this is Vittoria sending her mother to keep an eye on me, we won’t give her anything.”
Franco nodded and followed the others to the car, while Carlo stayed behind. It wasn’t because he liked this place. He took pride in their own headquarters being more tidy than this, but then he was a very different type of criminal from the scum that had inhabited this place.
Scum that included his wife, he suspected.
It would certainly explain her obsessive cleanliness. Her need to control her environment because she finally could. He didn’t think anyone who lived here would take too kindly to her removing the bottles and the cigarette butts.
Yes, he felt certain that she had lived here once. He felt it in a way that was entirely irrational. He also felt certain that if he dug through this place, he would find who she was. She might have lied and cloaked herself, but now he had found this place and he had found her mother. If there were any traces of her, he would find them.
Marta had been excited for her trips to Monte Vista until today. When Vittoria started telling her what to do with the note and how to react if she was caught, the girl went silent. She listened, that much was obvious, but she did it with a downturned face and with her mouth drawn to a thin line.
“You’re going to do just fine, kid,” Vittoria said when they had sorted the details. “Remember, we’ve thought of everything. If you get caught by anyone here, you’ll say you ran off. If you get caught by Carlo, you’ll say I kidnapped you.”
“And what if I just get shot?”
Vittoria’s heart dropped. “Let’s hope that Carlo’s gang don’t just shoot kids for trespassing. And Gallo… well, I told him not to hurt you, so I’m sure he won’t.”
Marta nodded, but didn’t look like it was a comfort. For obvious reasons. Vittoria put a hand on her shoulder, the way she imagined her husband would have done. But he was always better at making people feel at ease, and this little gesture didn’t feel natural coming from her. She took her hand back and tried words instead:
“I’m sorry for making you do this. It’s a big help, and uh… you’ll do fine. You’re smart and fast.”
That didn’t work either. Marta sent her an aside glance.
“It’s nice that you’re trying to cheer me up, but you’re super bad at it. Besides, I know you don’t like me.”
“Hey, that’s not true.”
Marta rolled her eyes. “Yeah, sure, because you didn’t want to send me back to Lucia or anything. I heard that, just so you know.”
“Sorry,” Vittoria said, biting her lip. “I was… not myself.”
But that rang false. She was herself that day. Paranoid, bitter, selfish. She would have thrown Marta to the wolves if it meant her mother never found her, if it wasn’t for him. At least she felt bad, though.
“Okay, I was myself,” she corrected. “I’m not a nice person, Marta. I was a shitty wife and an even shittier mother. I really was going to send you back to save my own ass. Carlo had to remind me that it’s the kind of thing Alessandro would do. The kind of thing all the people here would do.”
“Carlo taught you to be nice?”
Vittoria nodded. “I suppose he did.”
“He’s pretty nice and you are nicer now, so I think it worked, mostly.” Marta looked out the window. “Is it time for me to go soon?”
“It is. Ready to climb?”
Her face lit up. “Time to climb like a sloth!”
Vittoria couldn’t help but laugh. “We really need to work on your comparisons, but yes, it’s time to climb like a sloth.”
Feeling lost? If you’ve forgotten previous chapters and need a recap you can find my recap page here. Be aware that it contains spoilers for the story.
Author’s note: Hi guysssss! Welcome back to Monte Vista or, more like… not Monte Vista. I think this is the first chapter of the story that doesn’t take place there at all. The house Vittoria and Marta is in IS a Monte Vista house, but as you can tell, in-story that’s not where they are. And I plonked the amazing warehouse build down in a whole other town, Bridgeport, which today gets to star as Vittoria’s hometown of Velleci.
Small miracles happened this week: I’m actually freaking ahead on this story for the first time in ages. I’ve also managed to survive something like two weeks without my own computer, which is probably the reason for my uptick in productivity – I have to use the boyfriend’s machine (he’s still a saint and I love him to bits for letting me) when he’s at work, so I make the most of the time I have for taking photos. It still kind of sucks – do you realise how much time I usually spend just faffing around in my game, dressing my sims? Seriously. I spend an ungodly amount of hours in CAS/Stylist when I’m bored (So, if you’ve ever wondered why my Sims regularly get new outfits, that would be why). This is the first time Carlo got a completely different outfit in a while though and I know it’s not quite fair, but I call him emo-Carlo in my head. Because, ya know, he’s angsting and wearing a black suit. (Sorry, Carlo – I promise I won’t give you black eyeliner).
ANYWAY, I thought this author’s note was going to be short. Guess not. At least I have nothing more to say for now, so thanks for reading if you made it this far and see you in the next one!