Note: Quality in the Reader is absolutely atrocious. I recommend reading on the site proper
Enzo called her in the late afternoon the following day with a time and place for the meeting. She hoped that the location was a good omen for how this would turn out. The old ruins on the edge of town was one of her favourite places.
She and her siblings used to go there. She would climb the fence to explore the forbidden upper sections while they refused, and together they planted sunflower seeds. The yellow blooms still crowded around the broken walls each summer, like bursts of sunlight. The place was loveliest at night, when it was quiet and the light from the lamps made the broken walls glow. Even seeing Enzo’s hated face couldn’t ruin her mood.
“He should be here soon,” Enzo told her when they had waited for a while. “You should probably let me do the talking.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of a chance to hear your own voice,” she said. “Go right ahead.”
He ran a hand down over his sweat-dripping face. “Do you have to be here?”
“Yes,” she said.
It was him who had hired her, him who had given an offer she couldn’t refuse, and him who insisted on being there the day before. If he didn’t want to be around her, he shouldn’t have hired her. She half hoped that he would withdraw the offer and give her an out. She held his eyes for a long time, before he looked away with a sigh.
“I’ve talked to him before, without you present.”
“Yes, and all that got you was a fake-ass painting. By all means, do the talking, but don’t pretend that you know what you’re doing.”
He pressed his mouth into a thin line and sneered: “This was a mistake.”
“Let me remind you that you hired me, rich boy. But by all means, take back your offer and we can both—”
“Regina, I don’t mean to interrupt anything,” Franco said, discreetly reaching for his weapon, “but we have company.”
Leoni came walking across the lawn, out of the shadows. He was a tall man with shaggy brown hair that brushed over one eye. He walked with a relaxed arrogance, until he saw Regina and Franco—not to mention the guns they held. She noticed his hand going straight for the gun he had on him.
“What’s this all about?” he asked of Enzo.
“I want to talk to you about the painting you sold me.”
Gina could see the tension in Leoni’s shoulders.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The van der Ast.”
“I think you have me confused with someone else.”
Gina rolled her eyes. “We already know you’re the one who stole it, Leoni. Cut the crap,” she said.
He started and looked at her.
“Who’s the chick?”
She saw Enzo open his mouth, and before she had a chance to stop him, he blurted out her name. The reaction from Leoni was instant. He drew his gun and pointed it straight at Enzo. Gina and Franco was quicker. Gina gave her client a hard push in the ribs so he collapsed on the ground, out of the way of the gun, and she aimed her own straight at Leoni.
“I stay out of the Good Guys’ business and you stay out of mine,” Leoni said with his weapon aimed straight at Gina’s chest.
“I’m afraid this is my business. Rich boy here is my client,” she told Leoni, pointing at the still-groaning man on the ground. “You sold him a real painting, now it’s fake. Spill the details.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a scam, Mr. Leoni,” Franco said politely. “Our client’s painting was replaced with a fake some time after you sold it to him. I don’t think I have to tell you what I suspect has happened.”
Leoni frowned, and the gun never left her.
“I’m not a scammer.”
“I’m sure you’re not,” Gina said. “So you won’t mind coming with us for a chat.”
The man shook his head, slowly backing away.
“Sorry, darling, no can do. I have to—”
“That wasn’t a question.”
He froze when the barrel of Carlotta’s gun pressed into his back. She had slinked out of the shadows and snuck up on him while he wasn’t looking.
Leoni cursed and held his hands over his head in surrender.
“It doesn’t seem like I have a choice.”
“Correct,” Gina said. “This way, if you please.”
The strange little procession made their way back to the villa. Her dad, bleary-eyed in his old robe, came down to see what the ruckus was about.
“Just working, daddy,” Gina said sweetly, holding a gun to Leoni’s back. Carlo chuckled.
“Sure, sure, sweetie.”
Then he went back to sleep and Gina guided the strange procession into the dining room.
She took a seat directly in front of Leoni and made her face and tone as pleasant as she could.
“Let’s try again, shall we?” she asked, leaning on the table with a smile. “The van der Ast you sold my client… was it real?”
He nodded. “Definitely. I can tell you how to tell if it’s fake or not, if—”
“If you’d kept up to date on me, you’d realise I already know that shit,” she said, her temper flaring at his tone. “I’m more interested in who took it and replaced it with a forgery.”
“Oh, I couldn’t say.”
“Fuck you, Leoni. You know, and you’re going to tell me.”
She saw the thief look carefully over his shoulder at Franco, then his eyes drifted to Carlotta who hadn’t taken her eyes off him once.
“You realise it’s bad for business to blabber to everyone and their grandma, right?”
“Do you realise it’s bad for business to be fucking dead?”
He swore, but still didn’t budge. “I know your reputation. You guys don’t kill all willy-nilly.”
Gina smiled and leaned forward.
“Correct, we don’t. But there’s no accounting for accidents, is there? Lotta here is clumsy.”
Next to her, Lotta pretended to fumble with the gun for a moment, then she shrugged and said:
He shook his head.
“Okay, okay, point taken. I have no clue who’s got the real one now, but I know that it’s a very popular painting. Before blue eyes here hired me,” he tossed his head at Enzo, “I had a few other offers.”
“I’m working for two clients who want the same painting, so you don’t have to tell me.”
“I think I could sustain myself for the next five years with all the people who want that fucking painting. According to someone I talked to, there’s this… I don’t know, clusterfuck of people who are all fighting over it. Maybe blue eyes’ family is even involved.”
“Okay, first, don’t call me that. Second, my family isn’t part of this fighting. I want the painting for other reasons.”
“Did you know about this feud?” Gina asked, turning to him.
“No, I didn’t,” he said emphatically.
Leoni butted in: “Oh, it’s only a select few who know about it. They keep it quiet. Steal it and then parade it in front of each other to show off, but they never report it in case the police take it.”
She wondered if Ms. Antonini knew about it. Like Enzo, she was desperate to have the painting. If she was involved in this feud, her client had left out crucial details. Both her clients had. Her eyes landed on Enzo again.
“If you don’t want it because you’re involved in a fight, why do you want it?”
“That’s my business only.”
Like hell it is… Still, she took a deep breath and turned to Leoni. She’d chew into her client later. She rested her head in her hands.
“If it’s such a secret, how do you know?”
“Ah, just rumours. Us art merchants like to gossip.”
Gina nodded, though she added a mental note to have someone following Leoni discreetly. He knew more than he was letting on.
After a few more questions that Leoni dodged or answered vaguely, she dismissed him and then decided to tackle the problem with Enzo. She asked for a word in private, and since Carlotta and Franco were inside, she brought him out.
Once out of hearing range of the others, she leaned on the brick wall around the patio. Enzo didn’t look her in the eye, but stood with his back straight, electric blue eyes staring into the distance. She cleared her throat and said:
“If your family isn’t involved in that feud, why do you need the painting?”
“I told you, that’s my busi—”
“No, when you hired me, it became my business. Considering what Leoni told us, it’s likely to be relevant. Why do you want the painting?”
He wetted his lips, still stubbornly looking away. After some consideration, he said:
“It’s a gift for my sister’s fiancé.”
Each word was said slowly, deliberately. It was an obvious lie if she had ever heard one.
“How is that such a big deal?”
Enzo shrugged. “The man likes his art.”
“I expected, at minimum, some sort of world-ending disaster, but it’s just an engagement present?”
“Yeah, that’s all.”
“That’s all,” she repeated, voice mocking. “How do you expect me to work for you if you’re not telling me the whole story?”
“My story isn’t relevant to the painting,” he said. “It’s got to do with all the people who want it. You said you had another client? Go to her.”
“Trust me, I plan on doing that. I just thought I’d handle one wealthy, lying asshole at a time. It’s better for my blood pressure.”
He set his jaw and pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose. She heard him mutter something under his breath, but the words weren’t audible.
“What was that?”
Enzo looked up, eyes tired. “I said: I get it. I’m rich and you don’t like me. Please, just get over it so we can find that painting. Your blatant disrespect is becoming a nuisance.”
Every lesson her dad had instilled in her, every word of wisdom, went out the window with the rush of blood in her ears. She looked him square in the eyes and shoved him as hard as she could so he almost went toppling. It was only because he was close to one of the brick columns and caught it for support that he didn’t.
“Get over it?” she said. “What, because now you’re paying me to work for you, everything is fucking fine, is that it?”
“It’s been eight years!” he said back. “And you’re still angry about it. Yes, I think it’s time to get over it.”
“I am over it,” she said.
“Really? So all those little jabs, all the insults? The comments about my wealth? That’s all part of you being over me? Very dignified.”
“Oh, it’s not dignified enough for you? Well, I’m terribly sorry if your delicate ears can’t handle my uncultured tongue. Listen, you piece of shit: I’m not going to sit down and act all demure and pretend like we’re just fine, you and me. We’re not. You played with me for two weeks because you were bored and then you dumped me. Maybe I could have gotten over that, but then you had to report me to the police as an extra parting gift.”
“I did no such thing.”
“Oh, fuck you, Cavalcante. I came home to find a police car in the drive and they were there because you couldn’t take a few swears and ran to daddy.”
Enzo looked away and with a sigh he said: “I didn’t run to my father. He did it himself and I had no part in it.”
“How convenient that it’s never your fault.”
“I never said it wasn’t my fault.”
Gina drew back, arms crossed over her chest to stop herself from pushing him again. “I can’t really imagine you admitting that it’s your fault.”
“You want me to take responsibility for what I did? Fine…” he took a deep breath and said: “I know that I hurt you eight years ago, and I’m sorry.”
She started, taking a step back. “What?”
He repeated the sentiment. Gina was quiet for a long time and then said:
“What, so… so, just because you apologise, we’re supposed to be completely fine or—”
“Since every conversation we’ve had so far has been a repeat of the same insults over and over again, likely not,” Enzo said. He sounded tired more than arrogant for once. “But perhaps we could at least be civil to each other.”
“I still fucking hate you.”
“Naturally. Still, I am sorry.”
What was she supposed to say to that? He could have said anything else, something totally nonsensical, and she would have believed it more. As it was, his face was surprisingly sympathetic. The most human she had seen it since he reappeared… hell, since he dumped her all those years ago.
All the things she could have said died on her lips, so instead she cleared her throat and changed the topic:
“Do you think your future brother-in-law is involved in that clusterfuck with the painting?”
Enzo shrugged. “Probably.”
“Can you ask him about it?” When he said he couldn’t, she continued: “Right, I’ll look into it then. Might as well head to Collesena when my dad goes and talk to my other client.”
He nodded. “I’m going as well, so if you need me while I’m there…”
“No, I imagine not,” he said, smiling nonetheless. “Well, contact me when you know something, Regina.”
He nodded and left. It still felt like she was in some bizarre alternate dimension when she walked back inside.
Author’s note: Hi guys, welcome back to Monte Vista, and to a relatively long chapter. Comparatively, at least. My usual chapters are somewhere around 8-9000 characters/1500 words, whereas this is 12000 characters/2300 words. Can you guys tell I got carried away because I like writing arguments? Oh, sweet, sweet arguments… One thing to note that the keen-eyed viewer may have noticed. I basically changed default eyes in the middle of this chapter. So you have the earlier pics where everyone look like hollow-eyed beasts and then suddenly Gina has gorgeous doe-eyes. Sorry about that. To be frank, I did consider retaking the scene in the ruins/dining room (especially the latter), but gosh, I can’t be bothered. I’ve been too busy snapping pics for new chapters instead, resulting in me having four more chapters ready besides this. They were so much fun to write, honestly, and I can’t wait to share… buuuuut gotta have a little storage of chapters for when I start school. Only one week left! :O
Another note: One of the poses around the table (Leoni’s) is featured in my new posepack. Actually, it’s one of the poses I’m warning you looks shit for a male… I’m very glad I decided to demonstrate just how bad it looks apparently, hahahhahaha… (dear me I really should have taken new ones…) But I mean otherwise the poses are pretty okay (well, mostly), so maybe check it out or something. It’s also a chance to see that I’ve revamped the page for posepacks, so it’s not such a pain to look through 🙂 I haven’t done it for the old poses yet.
Well, that’s enough rambling from my side of things. Thank you guys for reading this far. A little shout-out as well to those who always drop a like but don’t necessarily comment. I thought recently about how I never mentioned that or anything but how I also really appreciate it. Your presence is a comfort and a joy 🙂
NOW I’m really done rambling. See you in the next post!