Eight Years Later
It was perhaps ironic that Regina ended up with a job that enabled the rich to get what they wanted. Her opinion of them never improved after Vincente Cavalcante dumped her in the Collesena square, and with that in mind, there were many choices she could have made.
She could have run heists or robbed banks, she could have chosen to stay in the office and direct others. Instead, here she was, walking across fine, polished wooden floors to look at a reproduction of a still life. The house belonged to yet another wealthy collector who scoffed at her tattoos and her lifestyle, yet still used her gang’s services to rob their friends and acquaintances of precious artworks.
Still Life with Flowers, Shells, and Insects by Balthasar van der Ast was the topic of their visit. The painting was Dutch baroque, and even if Gina hadn’t already heard who had painted it, she wouldn’t have been in doubt. Van der Ast was famous for painting insects everywhere, and he had revolutionised the painting of seashells… whatever that meant.
“That one was my pride and joy,” said their client somewhere behind her. “Until it was stolen.”
Gina rolled her eyes. Leandra Antonini had five children, and yet her pride and joy was a painting she had likely stolen from someone she called a friend. It continually amazed her that these people were considered the elite while her gang were criminals. This woman wasn’t less of a criminal than her dad—the difference was, he made no secret of his predilections, and he actually loved his kids more than any old, mouldy canvas.
“It’s a precious piece,” Gina’s dad’s voice replied, and she admired the sympathy he managed to exude. “We understand why you’d want it back. I only wonder why you contacted us instead of someone more local.”
“Because they most likely stole the painting from me to begin with.”
Her dad intoned his agreement and said: “Well, I’m certain you won’t regret your decision. My Regina is the best there is.”
Gina spun when her name was mentioned and walked over, keeping her face at least neutral.
“I have a feeling I’m in good hands,” Antonini said. “I’ve heard good things.”
“You are,” Carlo said with a smile. “My daughter has a knack for the work. What are your thoughts?” he asked, directed at Gina.
“I’ve heard of a few collectors of baroque art,” she told them. “There are more people who would steal a Picasso or van Gogh, but there are a fair few. There are even a number of them in Collesena.”
“Oh, but I already know which collector took it.” Antonini looked out the window towards a large house in the distance. “He’s an old friend of mine.”
Of course he fucking is. What a great friend.
“That’s where we’ll start then” she said.
But their client shook her head. “He no longer has it. It was stolen from him.”
Carlo raised an eyebrow at the woman.
“So we’re looking for a painting that was stolen from the person who originally stole it.”
When they had said their goodbyes to Ms. Antonini, they walked back to the cabin. Her dad was obviously happy. She could tell from the soft smile that hadn’t left his face since they made it to town. You rarely saw him without a smile like that when his wife was nearby, though even for him this was an excessively pleased smile. While they were walking down the sidewalk, he elbowed Gina in the side. His eyes were shining with pride, for some reason.
“You’re looking all dad-proud,” she said. “What’s with that?”
“You did well back there,” he said.
“I’m a big girl. I can see clients without getting mad at them.”
“Be that as it may, you’re doing great, sweetheart. Especially considering… you know.”
She set her jaw. “Considering that I handled my break-up with all the grace of a weapon of mass destruction?”
“You didn’t, sweetheart. I only meant that I know it’s been hard on you, and you handled this admirably. I know you don’t like people like Ms. Antonini, but it didn’t show at all.”
“I’m a professional,” she said. “We have a reputation to maintain.”
“I think at this point it’s safe to say that you have a reputation to maintain.” His eyes shone. “When she said that she had heard good things, she didn’t mean the gang in general. She meant you.”
Gina perked up. “What makes you think so?”
“First of all, because you’re my daughter and you’re extremely good at what you do. Second, she told me. While you were looking at the painting, she told me she has acquaintances who recommended that she ask for you. There are many others who offer our services, but few have your knowledge or your good eye.”
She felt her face colour.
“That’s… very nice,” she said.
Carlo pulled her into a half-hug and kissed her hair. “That’s why I’m ‘dad-proud’, as you put it. What father wouldn’t be?”
“Like, every other dad in the whole world,” she said with a laugh. “But then none are as cool as mine.”
He beamed and they walked in companionable silence, until he asked:
“So, my master criminal, are you ready to go back to Monte Vista tonight?”
She kept her face happy, even though she dreaded her hometown right now. After the break-up, she had come with her dad here to avoid any chance of running into Rico. She didn’t tell her dad, though. So long as she focused on her work, everything would work out.
“You bet. I have a few meetings about a painting coming up.”
Vincente Cavalcante VI faced away from his son. Even when Enzo’s steps rang out on the polished marble floor, he didn’t turn around.
“I’m going to leave for work now,” Enzo told his dad. “And I’ll go straight to Monte Vista after that.”
His dad glanced at him over his shoulder.
“There’s a charity event at Antonini’s estate and there’s the Montenari function after that. Not to mention your sister’s engagement party which still needs planning. I believe we’re behind schedule.”
“I have to bring the painting home,” Enzo said. “I already made my excuses to Ms. Antonini. I figured that skipping that one wouldn’t hurt.”
Silent disapproval radiated off his dad, and Enzo’s brain scrambled to think of whether he had missed something important about Ms. Antonini’s event. Sometimes, an even that might seem irrelevant to their reputation was vital to his sister’s engagement or to his own future prospects. He couldn’t think of anything, but now he would be wondering all day.
“We need the painting before the engagement party,” he said.
“Very well then.”
His dad hadn’t turned to look at him. Despite his words being seemingly approving, there was always an undercurrent of disappointment, making Enzo wish that he had done better or differently.
“I’ll try and be back by Sunday,” he told his dad. “I was going to stay until Tuesday, but…”
“No, by all means, enjoy your vacation.”
“It’s not… that is… I’ll see you on Tuesday.”
His dad nodded. Enzo left the house with his briefcase clutched so hard his knuckles grew white. Gradually, he took deep breaths and got his emotions under control.
It wouldn’t serve him to get angry. This was only his father’s stress talking—as soon as the engagement party and then wedding was over with, it would get better. It had to get better.
Enzo kept his breaths long and steady, and managed to enjoy the walk. The fifteen minutes he spent in the mornings walking to the office were the most freeing minutes of his day. He liked taking detours when he had the time, walking down narrow paths and through less familiar neighbourhoods.
On summer days like these, he looked closely at all the people he passed. He started every time he saw a young woman with dark hair or heard a laugh that reminded him of his youth. He scolded himself for keeping up the ridiculous habit. Even if he were to see her again at this point, he had burnt that bridge.
But his eyes still strayed, still searched… and found nothing. He straightened his back and kept his eyes on the road ahead.
Grow up, Enzo, he chided himself. You won’t see her again and it’s only for the better.
Author’s note: Hi guysss! Welcome to the first chapter after my move and after the time skip. I told you that you would be spammed with adorable daddy-daughter stuff. What I may not have told you was that you’ll probably be spammed with face shots of Gina, because she’s pretty. And apropos of nothing, I think that the first picture of this chapter is probably one of my favourites I’ve ever taken. So there.
Now that that’s out of the way, I am so sorry about all the trouble with my move. You guys have probably received some really old pingbacks, and you still can’t comment on the blog itself, only through the WP Reader. Still talking to support about that one… I’m basically communicating with Jetpack support through my webhost and vice versa. It’s a mess, ha, ha.
Also, sorry that I’m basically going “This is how you should read my chapter!” Really, if you’d rather keep it in the Reader, that’s cool. I use a plug-in to add space between my previous/next buttons and it doesn’t show properly in the Reader, so it’s a little embarrassing. It doesn’t ruin anything – it just isn’t pretty, ha, ha. Never mind! Apparently it’s fine – it was a bug the other day. The buttons look fine in the Reader. Everything is a mess 😀
Anywayyyyy… Before I peace out for now, I’ve updated the age chart with ages after this time jump and I’ll start updating the character bios as I introduce characters as well. So much work, so little time 🙂 I’d better at least get a shower, so I thank you guys for reading and for your patience in the midst of the madness. I’ll see you for the next post.
EDIT: I added Enzo to the character bios.