Bastien Villeneuve, stone mason and husband of Georgette Desjardins-Villeneuve, lived in a house past one of Monte Vista’s old bridges. It wasn’t in the town proper, but outside it in a small village where Gina and Carlotta used to go to parties.
Gina couldn’t count how many times the two of them had stumbled over this bridge in high heels, arms draped over each other’s shoulders and laughing. They were both sober today, both armed, ready to do the kind of business she was used to. It was a relief to be back to breaking in and waving a gun around after all the rubbing elbows with rich people… even if this robbery wasn’t a typical job.
The house they were headed to was only inhabited by the mason and his wife. The two of them were unlikely to be dangerous and even less likely to be armed. Despite the scam they had been running, their connection to the underworld was non-existent, apart from the tenuous connection to Leoni.
Maybe Gina was jaded, but after all the trouble they had gone through, it was hard to imagine it could be so easy: Cross to the village, go in, grab the painting from a middle-aged married couple, and it was over. Hopefully.
“This painting better not be fake,” she muttered, only loud enough for Lotta to hear.
“I think we’ve got it this time,” Lotta said. “It’s about damn time, too.”
Gina didn’t say so out loud, but she had a feeling Lotta was right. She could feel the excitement course through her veins, the way it always did when she came closer to a target.
Franco and a few of the others were already by the house. They stood a good ways away and hid just out of sight in the darkness. When Gina and Carlotta came into view, Franco waved.
“As far as we know it’s just Villeneuve and his wife at home. Even so, I’m going to stay outside in case someone comes around.”
Gina looked at Franco, surprised. “Are you worried?”
He sighed. “It’s a symptom of getting older; I always worry. I’m staying out here.”
“Very well. The rest of us are moving in now.”
She took out her gun and moved with the others to the front door. After three, precise kicks, the door gave away and she and her people flooded in. At first, the mason and his wife sat still, with faces like deer in headlights—then she stood up and he followed after a moment.
It wasn’t a surprise to Gina that Enzo’s mother still had an air of haughtiness, the same kind of attitude that hung around Ms. Antonini, Enzo’s sister, and any other woman of the wealthy set.
What was a surprise, however, was that she felt certain she had seen Georgette Desjardins-Villeneuve before. It wasn’t because she looked like Enzo or Rosalia. In contrast to her striking, beautiful children with their gorgeous eyes and black hair, her brown hair was cut into a simple bob that framed a set of grey eyes. If Gina hadn’t known for a fact that this was Enzo’s mother, she would have never guessed there was any relation to the Cavalcantes.
“So, this is about the painting, I take it,” Georgette said. There was no need to say which painting exactly.
“It is,” Gina said. “Save us some time and tell me where it is.”
The woman groaned. “I take it you’ll tear the house apart or shoot us if we don’t tell you, so fine—it’s upstairs.”
Gina waved for a couple of her men to head up the stairs, while she stayed facing Georgette and her husband.
Where the hell have I seen you before?
It wasn’t back in her teens, that much she knew—she never met any of Enzo’s family then. It probably wasn’t around Collesena either, since she couldn’t imagine Georgette would be welcome there. While these thoughts were going through her head, Georgette was eyeing her up as well.
“It’s up here, boss,” someone called down.
Gina spun away from the strange woman and darted up the stairs to where the painting hung. She moved towards it, feeling a pleasant warmth spreading in her body; the second she laid eyes on it, she knew it was the real one.
She had seen so many fakes by now that it made the real piece stand out even stronger. The van der Ast was already a beautiful piece, but to have looked for it so long, to have been through so much—it might just be her new favourite painting.
“It’s the real deal,” she said and laughed when two of her men high-fived behind her. “Take it back to the villa.”
She watched them take the painting down carefully, and was about to say they could leave, when Franco’s voice reached her from downstairs.
“Regina, I was right.”
Anger, quick and fierce, flared in her chest, and she sprang down the stairs.
But she quickly noticed what it was he meant.
Franco held his gun and pushed a man into the room. As opposed to Georgette, there wasn’t any doubt of his heritage. Tall, black-haired, blue-eyed. Apart from slight variations, he could have been a clone of his older brother. Franco gestured to the man.
“He was lurking outside, trying to help his parents, I’d wager.”
“Amadeo Cavalcante,” she said.
The only one of her children that Georgette had deemed worthy enough to bring.
“I don’t know who you are, but the police are on their way,” Amadeo said.
Gina snorted. “No, they’re not. Wouldn’t want to tell them about that stolen painting, would you now? Especially not considering you and your mother are the ones who stole it.”
He pressed his lips together, and she laughed. She finally realised where she had seen Georgette before.
If Gina hadn’t been angry and frustrated at the time, she would have realised right away; the resemblance was that strong. While she was trying to make her way through the house without Enzo’s help, she bumped into the two of them—pretending to be waitstaff of all things.
“That’s where I’d seen you before. The party at the Napoletanis’ house.”
Gina turned to Georgette. The woman was shaking her head with a sigh and then she looked at her son.
“I did tell you I had a bad feeling about her when we saw her at the party,” Georgette said. “She didn’t fit in.”
“I don’t, no,” Gina said. “Frankly, I’m glad I don’t. I wouldn’t walk out on my fucking kids, so I don’t have the right kind of mindset.”
She knew it wasn’t the professional thing to say, but something about the woman’s tone—her assertion that she didn’t fit in, as though it made her lesser—made her blood boil. The reaction from Amadeo and his mother was instantaneous. Both stepped forward in anger, and his nostrils flared as he said:
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I know enough.”
“So, I take it my ex-husband hired you,” Georgette said, her voice thick with disdain.
“No, but my client is none of your business.” She thought of Enzo, of the obvious distress and misery these people had put him through, and she couldn’t hold her tongue: “And since you’re a cold, heartless bitch, you don’t even have a right to talk about your former family. You’re lucky I’m not going to shoot you right where you stand. We’re done here.”
She spun and waved for everyone to follow.
“Are we sending it to Enzo right away?” Carlotta asked on the way out.
Before Gina could answer, she heard Georgette draw in a breath.
“Are you talking about my son? Did he hire you? What—?”
“I’m done talking to you.”
It surprised Gina when Georgette sprang forward and grabbed her arm hard. The French woman didn’t blink for a second, despite the many guns that were currently aimed at her, curtesy of Carlotta, Franco, and the others. Gina tried to shake her off, but her hands were like vices—even Georgette’s husband begging her to be careful couldn’t get her to back off.
“Is he all right? Please tell me, I’ll do anything.”
And she would. It was clear from the expression on her face.
Not so heartless after all, I see.
“Why that painting?” Gina asked. “Why is it everyone wanted the van der Ast?”
Georgette took a few seconds to understand the sudden change of topic, but then she nodded and released her grip. Information for information.
“Mum, don’t…” Amadeo said, but Georgette quietened him.
“It’s about an inheritance. The old man who owned it originally hates everyone—his children, his friends and acquaintances, even his wife. A while back, he promised that whoever has the painting when he dies will get his fortune. As we speak, he’s on his deathbed and I imagine he enjoys seeing everyone squabble over it.”
Gina snorted. “So, it’s about money.”
“Of course.” Georgette frowned and said: “My son. Tell me how he’s doing.”
Not one to go back on a deal, Gina said back in return: “He’s fine. Traumatised because his fucking mother didn’t want him, but nothing that can be fixed with a few decades of therapy.”
“That was unnecessary,” Amadeo said. “If we’d had a choice…”
“You had a goddamned choice, asshole. If you want to know how he’s doing, talk to him. That is, if he wants anything to do with you. We’re leaving.” In the doorway, she stopped one last time and added: “Oh, and you’ve been running your little scheme on the Good Guys’ territory. You will regret it if you pull that shit again. Good evening.”
The painting was safely hung on a wall in the living room, and now all that was left to do was to call Enzo and arrange transport. However, before that could be done, Gina felt like she needed a break. Her and Carlotta kicked off their shoes and settled on the rug in front of the fire with a glass of wine. For a blessed amount of time, they didn’t talk about anything in particular. They enjoyed the warmth of the fire and each other’s company and the wine. Even so, soon the conversation drifted to topics that again made her feel uncomfortable. Cold.
“Did you settle on a sofa yet?” Lotta asked.
She referred to the fact that Gina had been looking at furniture catalogues constantly since finding out the house would soon be hers alone. All alone.
“The grey ones,” she said.
“Yeah, they were nice. It’s going to be great.” Lotta looked around. “Though I’m going to miss the old a little.”
Gina didn’t reply. She took a deep drink of her wine, hoping that alcohol would defrost the ice making its way through her veins. It didn’t seem to work as it normally did.
“Your dad did talk about staying for a bit,” Lotta said after a while of silence. “That would be nice, right?”
“I told him not to. I don’t need it.”
“Of course you did. You know it’s okay to need your dad, right?”
“Sure, but I don’t.”
“For heaven’s sake, Regina,” Lotta said, rolling her eyes. “You’re so convinced that you’re a mystery wrapped in an enigma or something, like, you’ve got this façade and nobody can see what’s underneath… but you’re the most transparent person I’ve ever met.”
Gina craned her neck to look at her friend.
“Yes, you are. Everyone can look at your face and see exactly what you’re feeling, because you can’t hide it. Same for your dad, really, but at least he’s aware of it.”
“Give me one example of me being transparent,” Gina sneered.
“Like right now, you’re angry. That’s a given of course, since you spend a good seventy percent of the time being pissed, so…” She glanced with a smirk. “There’s also your obvious fondness for our client; and I’m talking about the tall, dark, and handsome client—not Ms. Antonini.”
“I still hate him.”
Lotta rolled her eyes. “Yes, indeed, that’s why you went off on his mother like that. I bet it’s also why you’ve been carrying on those late-night conversations with him for the past three days.”
Gina’s jaw fell.
“How did you… if you’re tapping my phone—”
“Please, Gina, I’m more sophisticated than that.” Lotta rolled her shoulders and took a sip of her wine before explaining: “After I heard your dad was going to retire, I called to make sure you were okay, but your phone was busy and it was busy for hours. For days. I wasn’t sure whom you’d be talking to so late, for so long, but then I realised: You only have long phone conversations with me or your boyfriends. Considering the way you look at him lately, it could only be Enzo.”
“Except he’s not my boyfriend.”
“I hate you.”
Lotta smiled and said: “You hate me about as much as you hate him, which is to say not at all.”
“I’m talking to him for his sake. He found out his mum was involved in the painting stuff, so he needs someone to talk to.”
“Didn’t know you were a therapist.”
“I’m not. I… I’m…”
The simplicity of the statement took Gina aback for a moment. Her instinct was to deny it vehemently, but then she couldn’t bring herself to do it. After all, she cared for his wellbeing, much the same as she did for Carlotta or one of her other friends. It hurt her to see him in pain and she felt a distinct dislike for his mother and brother, for the simple reason that they had hurt him. She turned Lotta’s words over in her head for a long time. The room was silent, apart from the popping sounds of the fresh wood her friend placed in the fireplace, and her own breathing in her ears. She felt warm and soft for once, the cold finally leaving her limbs—Gina hated to admit it, but she had a point.
“Maybe,” she said at last, with hesitation.
Lotta smiled. “And who knows, now that you’re friends with him, maybe—”
“No,” Gina said. “That’s all it is. I’m glad he’s my friend and that he’s not as bad as I thought, but I’m not going to fall for him again.”
To her surprise, Lotta threw back her head and laughed.
“Relax, Gina, I was going to suggest that now that you’re friends with him, maybe you can make up with some of your other exes. They’re not all bad either.”
Lotta stood up and Gina followed her to her feet.
“I’m not going to make friends with all the guys who dumped me,” she said.
“Didn’t say you had to, just that it might make you think.” Lotta pushed a lock of hair out of her face and said: “I’d better leave so you can call our client. And consider what to do about Ms. Antonini.”
“What do you mean?”
“Word will spread fast that you have the painting and Ms. Antonini will want it. I don’t take it that Enzo’s plan to steal it from his future brother-in-law will work.”
Gina shook her head, feeling a stab of sympathy for Enzo yet again. The poor guy may be good at rich people stuff, but he was extremely bad at this.
“It would backfire on him. We’re ditching Ms. Antonini.”
Lotta went silent.
“And then we won’t have a job for a serious collector ever again.”
“You heard Georgette,” Gina said. “It’s all about money, getting some dumb old guy’s inheritance even though Ms. Antonini’s already got money coming out of her ass. Enzo’s being blackmailed. He needs it more. As for us making money, we can do any old thing to get by.”
Carlotta’s eyes grew warm and then she hugged Gina.
“Your dad has good reason to be proud.”
Hearing her say that, with such sincerity and a complete absence of mocking, made Gina nearly tear up. It wasn’t that Lotta didn’t like or respect her—she knew she did—but she was also the first person to point out her mistakes and her flaws. The times when she gave any kind of genuine praise were more precious for it. She only nodded in response and then her friend left.
As soon as Lotta was out the door and Gina had shaken her hair down, she called Enzo. She made no introduction, instead saying:
“I have the painting.”
He was silent for a long time and when he spoke, he sounded dangerously close to tears:
“Thank you, Gina.”
“I’m going to send it tomorrow and it should be with you soon.”
He hesitated. “I thought I might come get it myself as soon as I can get away. If you don’t mind, that is.”
She felt like she had just downed a mouthful of wine and felt it’s warmth radiate through all her veins.
“Of course I don’t mind.”
“That’s wonderful, thank you,” Enzo said. After a small pause he continued: “You wouldn’t have time to talk now, or…?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
Gina closed her eyes and smiled. If Lotta called her tonight, she would get the busy signal again.
Author’s note: No but seriously, I promise they have the painting now – that storyline is pretty much over (almost). And we met Enzo’s mum and brother. If you go back, you’ll indeed see that I sneakily inserted them into chapter 14 (or maybe not so sneakily). It was hard to decide how to go about it. I ended up using DOF to hide their identities. I figured Georgette wouldn’t matter, since she doesn’t look like her kids, but I had a feeling that if Amadeo’s face showed up, it would be totally obvious who he was. It’s not the first time in this gen I’ve hidden something in a chapter with DOF, either, but you guys didn’t notice 😛 The DOF is a little TOO good for hiding details in the background, ha, ha 😀
I’ve got to say that changing the schedule is the best decision I’ve made in a while. Since doing that, I’ve managed to completely write 6 (!!) chapters and if you don’t already know, I’m doing a rewrite of gen one. You can read a bit about it here and see the chapter listing here. Basically, changing the schedule has freed up a lot of energy. I know I’m going to need it this coming week as well. I’m doing a big school project, the biggest one we’ve done so far. Wish me luck, because the start hasn’t been super great so far – group work is hard, guys.
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading if you made it this far and I’ll see you in the next post.