It was highly inconvenient to Ms. Antonini that Regina asked for a meeting at this very time. After all, she was busy with her charity work. Oh, and with her granddaughter who had just been born. And there was a function at an old friend’s house soon which she must prepare for…
It took two whole days and much more grovelling than Gina liked before the woman finally agreed to meet with her. On top of everything with Enzo, it left her in a foul mood. The only good part about having to be in Collesena was that she had Carlotta with her.
Her friend had jumped at the chance to get away as she put it. For Gina this felt less like getting away and more like hopping into a fire with both legs first. Lotta lived for this kind of thing, however. She had only taken a break from mingling with the rich folks because Gina had an hour to kill before her meeting.
So they met up in the square and Regina asked her about her progress.
“Anything interesting?” she asked.
“Not really. People are remarkably tight-lipped about it. You can get little snippets of information, but they really don’t want to talk. This guy I played a round of golf—”
Gina looked at her friend with a raised eyebrow.
“You play golf?”
“Yes. I play occasionally.” She shook her head. “We’ve been friends for, what, seven years? Keep up, Gina.”
“Sorry, sorry,” she said, holding her hands up defensively. “I’m sure you’re great at golf. Go on.”
“I am, I’ll have you know. But like I was saying, I played with this guy, a bit younger, so he’s not as careful as everyone else. He assures me that this kind of thing happens all the time, but that’s about all he’d say. I think we have to talk to Antonini to get anything specific, since she’s involved in it. Good luck getting her to talk, though.”
“Oh, I’ll get her to talk.”
Not that she had much luck in getting rich people to spill their secrets so far, she thought, her mind drifting to Enzo. Lotta, unfortunately, noticed that she was quieter than usual, and said:
“Are you going to tell me why you’re so quiet lately?”
“I’m working a lot—working for my ex among other things, that’s why.”
Lotta rolled her eyes.
“Nah, that’s not it. You don’t get quiet when you’re stressed out or annoyed with exes. You snap and tear people’s heads off.” Gina glared at that, but Lotta laughed and said: “So, what is it?”
Gina groaned. “It’s nothing…”
“Cavalcante… said he was… sorry.” She glanced up to see Lotta’s mouth fall open and quickly added: “He didn’t mean it. It’s just because he’s tired of me insulting him.”
“Or it’s because he’s sorry.”
“Don’t make me laugh. He wasn’t sorry back then and he’s not sorry now. The arrogant ass just can’t take it when people are mean to him. Paying me didn’t work, so he moved on to other tactics.”
“Why does it get to you that he said it then?”
Gina couldn’t find her voice for a long while, and for each second she remained quiet, she could sense Lotta getting smugger. Finally, she said:
“It doesn’t get to me. He can fucking die in a hole for all I care.”
“I think he got to you.”
“I know it’s hard.” Lotta tossed her hair and smiled in the most annoying way. “It practically shatters your entire worldview. Maybe he’s not as bad as you imagined, and if he’s not as bad, there’s a chance that not all rich people are irredeemable monsters. Hell, some of your exes might even be redeemable.”
“Why are we friends again?”
“Because we have similar interests and my bright, optimistic nature provides a good contrast to your grumbling.”
“I don’t grumble,” Gina grumbled.
She was about to say something more when a shadow fell over them and she looked up to see the very person they had been talking about. He must be on his way to or from work, because he was dressed in a suit and tie and carried a briefcase.
A biting comment formed in her mouth, something about his suit and the tie and how he looked like a wealthy asshole. But the comment died on her lips. It annoyed her to no end. What, so he apologised and now it’s all fixed and he doesn’t deserve my insults?
“Ladies,” he said.
The two of them stood up.
“I’m glad I bumped into you,” he said.
“Okay,” she said, while more sarcastic comments died before they could leave. “Any news?”
He set down the briefcase he was carrying and looked around, as though he was worried he would be heard.
“Another family acquired the painting.”
Lotta and Gina shared a look, then glanced back at him.
“You’re fucking kidding me.”
“Nope. It’s the Napoletanis this time. They’ve invited everyone to a small charity function in two days. According to an acquaintance of mine, it’s to show off the painting.”
Gina slapped her forehead. “Wait, so these morons bought a painting that everybody wants and they’re going to flaunt it to all the people who might steal it from them?”
“What’s the fun in having it if nobody knows?” He shrugged.
Fucking rich people, she thought.
Lotta tapped her on the shoulder and gave her a meaningful look.
“That party… it’s a perfect opportunity.” When Enzo questioned, Lotta turned to him and explained. “Well, there’s a chance they still have the real painting. If not, I think I can charm them into telling us who their merchant was. If we find the merchant…”
“We find the real painting.” He nodded. “But do you really think you can…?”
“If anyone can, it’s Lotta. Can you get us into that party?” Gina asked.
“Both of you?”
“I’ll have to see if the painting is real and Lotta will mingle. Lotta can’t tell a real painting from a forgery.”
“And Gina can’t mingle.”
Gina shot her best friend a sour look, then turned her attention away. “Well?”
He was quiet for a long time, his face doubtful. She half expected him to say that it couldn’t be done. ‘No, I’m sorry, you would simply clash with the curtains.’ But then he nodded.
“I believe I can work you in as daughters of Primo Voltorini. His girls are always looking for husbands and no one can keep track of them.”
Lotta blinked. “He has a lot of daughters?”
“Yes, and not a single legitimate one.”
Gina crossed her arms. “Lucky us. We get to spend more time around rich people.”
Enzo shrugged. “At least there’ll be wine.”
“Right, we’ll be there.”
“In that case…” Enzo bent down, picking up the briefcase, and nodded. “I’d better get on with it. I’ll send invitations over with fake names for you. To your aunt’s house?”
Gina nodded, and she couldn’t resist saying:
“Yeah, you know… the one with the red car parked outside.”
He smiled an annoying and, admittedly, very handsome smile before leaving.
Ms. Antonini’s glossy façade faltered slightly at Gina’s question. She recovered quickly, however, and if you didn’t look closely, the moment of hesitation wasn’t visible to the naked eye.
“I beg your pardon?”
Gina explained once again, calmly, that she had left out the whole feud with other collectors.
“You need to spill the details, and now.”
“I have no idea what details you’re speaking of,” the older woman said. “Tea?”
She started pouring tea for the both of them and stubbornly refused to look at Regina.
“So, you don’t want to me to get the painting anymore?”
Antonini looked up. “Of course I do.”
“Okay. In that case, I highly suggest you tell me everything you know about the feud, or we don’t have a deal anymore.”
Ms. Antonini looked at her, every bit the polite aristocrat, but when she spoke it was with a steely edge:
“I’m sorry to hear you don’t want to work for me anymore, Ms. Mancini. Is there nothing I can say to make you reconsider?”
Gina frowned “Tell me about the feud—”
“There’s no feud, Ms. Mancini. You’ve simply heard a nasty rumour from… did you say an art thief? What makes you think he’s telling the truth?” Before Gina even had a chance to continue, the woman went on: “There’s no truth to any of it, or, if there is, I’m not involved. The painting was stolen and I would like to have it back.”
Gina counted to ten and thought of how her dad would handle this. He’d never be anything less than polite and gracious. Unfortunately, she wasn’t him.
“Look, I can’t work with you if you’re not telling me—”
“Oh, I am sorry to hear it,” Antonini said. “I don’t want to go looking for someone else to help me, but if you insist…”
“That’s not what I meant, but I need to know—”
“I have told you what I know, which is nothing, Ms. Mancini. Now if you’d still like to work for me, perhaps we should change the subject.”
“Fine,” Gina said between gritted teeth.
It was all she could do not to storm out and let the damned woman find someone else to go on this wild goose chase. The stupid painting was becoming an even bigger headache the further she dug into it.
But the gang and her reputation relied on jobs from women like Antonini. If she stormed out now, both of them would suffer. She took a deep breath and changed her line of questioning:
“I understand that the painting is very desirable in collector’s circles,” she said. “There’s a family on my radar, the Cavalcantes. Do you think they could be our thieves?”
Ms. Antonini laughed.
“Dear me, no. They wouldn’t be involved in something like that. Vincente—the elder Vincente, that is—wouldn’t be caught dead involved in something like this. However did you think of them?”
Gina thought carefully. She didn’t think it was wise to tell her about Enzo’s hiring her, so she instead tried:
“I heard a son from that family has been asking for the painting.”
“That must be the older son. He used to get intro trouble constantly when he was younger, though as far as I know he’s improved a great deal since his mother and brother left…”
Regina frowned. This wasn’t exactly relevant to her job, but she couldn’t help but dig deeper:
“Their mother left?”
Antonini nodded. “Indeed. Ran off with a plumber or… maybe a carpenter or something. She only took her youngest son with her. Plain refused to take the other two as far as I heard. Well, not that I can say I blame her. Like I said, he used to get himself into all kinds of trouble and the daughter…” Gina only had a second to wonder at that description of Enzo before she continued: “Well, the daughter has very loose morals, quite glad of attention from any man she can get. I can’t imagine what that nice Aiello boy wants with her…”
“What do you think he—Vincente the younger—would be doing with the painting?”
“I can’t imagine he would want anything with it. Neither him nor his father are collectors; no, I think you must be mistaken. Are we done? I really must get on.”
Gina left for her mother’s house after promising Antonini to keep her up to date. She had a long, unpleasant walk home.
She regretted asking Ms. Antonini about the Cavalcantes. First, because it was unprofessional to sit around listening to small-town gossip. Second, because it made her like her client even less. She could imagine Ms. Antonini talking to Enzo and his sister at one of those hoity-toity charity functions, all smiles and praise. Then she turned around and talked about them like that.
Maybe rich people weren’t all, as Lotta said, irredeemable monsters, but they certainly weren’t nice either.
Author’s notes: Hi guuuuys 🙂 Another Saturday, another chapter. This one was hard to write, and I literally wasn’t happy with it until yesterday when boyfriend read it and gave me his comments. If I haven’t mentioned how awesome he is for being my beta-reader, well there it is. He’s awesome. I honestly don’t have much else to say this time – this is hardly a high-stake action chapter. Thank you guys for reading and commenting and I’ll see you for the next post.