Regina ran to her destination. A summer evening in Monte Vista rarely got cold, and since returning home, she welcomed any distraction. So long as she took these long runs and tired herself out, she didn’t shout at people who didn’t deserve it. It was just her luck that she had run into Rico the day after getting home. She needed this. She ran until her head was full, not of regret and misery, but of the sound of her straining breath and the wind in her ears. All her muscles stung and the pain drowned out the anger, until it was only a whisper at the back of her mind.
By the time she made it to the apartment complex past the bridge, her breath came in short bursts and her heart pounded, but she felt better. Fine enough that she could bear to pull this theft. It hadn’t taken long to find the van der Ast for Ms. Antonini, and today was the best day to get it.
Carlotta was already waiting, flashlight in hand. Her long, blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail, and she was dressed in dark colours. As soon as she heard Gina’s footsteps, she put her face into appropriate Supportive Friend mode. Her eyes grew more worried once she noticed her shortness of breath.
“Don’t start,” Gina said bending over to catch her breath.
Lotta hadn’t had a chance to talk, but now she sighed and said:
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You were thinking about how to express sympathy and ask me to talk about my feelings about the break-up and shit. We’re not doing it today. All I want is to go get the van der Ast and go home.”
Gina immediately felt a stab of regret as she saw Lotta’s face drop. She hadn’t managed to tire herself out enough to not be a terrible friend, then.
Great, Gina. Chase away your best friend as well, why don’t you.
“I was just going to say that if you need to talk…”
Gina made a feeble attempt at counting to ten and keeping the anger down. But everyone around her were like this. Their voices were gentle and careful, as though she would snap in half if they talked to her normally. Even her dad, once he came home and out of ‘business-mode’ acted like it. It wasn’t like she didn’t go through break-ups all the time.
She couldn’t keep the harshness in her tone away as she replied.
“I don’t. Let’s just get the painting.”
“Fine then,” Lotta said coldly. “The painting is in that building, on the second floor, as far as Franco could figure out.”
She pointed up towards a window on the second floor where she could barely see a set of dark curtains, but not much else. It was one of the more expensive properties in town, even more expensive than some of the larger, prettier farms on the outskirts. Her dad claimed they were mostly used by wealthy men when they wanted a trip in Monte Vista—without wives or families.
Because they were owned by wealthy people, they were a common target for robberies and art thefts.
“I had a look at the alarm system before you arrived and I think you can disable it, but I’ll leave that to you.”
“Good. Do you know about the other houses?”
“All are empty. There’s an important society function that everyone who’s anything are attending. I made sure.”
Gina did her best to smile. Lotta didn’t react, however, instead telling her where she could find the alarm system. After another feeble attempt at an apologetic smile, she went about disabling the alarm.
She focused completely on the work. It was just another good distraction from both the pain of the break-up and, now, the regret at snapping at Lotta. She managed it without any fuss and went to work on the lock. If it hadn’t been a bad night, it would have pleased her that she beat her lockpicking best.
Her friend was like a sculpture of ice all through it, until Gina started feeling so bad that she had to apologise. At the muttered apology, Lotta looked at her from under her dark lashes and said:
“What was that, Regina? I don’t think I could hear you.”
“I said I’m sorry, damnit. I shouldn’t have snapped at you.”
“No, you shouldn’t. Apology accepted, though.” She relaxed and smiled a gentle smile. “Are you holding up?”
“Of course.” She still didn’t want to talk about it, and Lotta backed off this time.
The lock clicked open and she put away her tools. They had a thorough look around before entering. There was some rattling in a bush, which she guessed must be a cat or something. Nowhere nearby did she see any people, so Lotta must have it right that all the residents were away. When Gina was sure the coast was clear, they slipped inside.
The room they entered into was a bedroom. The furnishings were, best as she could describe them, horrendous. The walls were white marble and the wall decorations in here were all big, elaborate paintings with gilded frames that really stood out against the background. There was an enormous four-poster bed with deep blue blankets. In theory it was a nice bed—in practice, it looked big and gaudy. Rooms like these were the result when you had a lot of money and no taste.
“Oh, a Renoir,” Carlotta said turning to one of the paintings. “Is it the real deal?”
Gina shook her head. “It’s a reproduction.”
“That’s too bad. I’d have liked to have a real Renoir.”
“I’ll get you one for your birthday.” Gina shone her light on another painting and nodded. “The Monet over there is a reproduction as well. I think most of them are. The one we’re after is the real deal.”
“How do you know it is?”
Gina paused to shine her light over the dark shapes around her.
“Our client says she had it appraised. Got a certificate of authentication that she showed me and dad. So we’re working under the assumption that it’s real, at least.”
Of course, certificates didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but she was going to find the real one for Ms. Antonini no matter what.
Gina swung the light around the apartment, letting the circle of light dance over several other reproductions and an ugly table sculpture, before the light fell on the familiar mass of flowers, shells, and writhing insects.
“There it is,” she said.
She felt a flurry of excitement in her chest as soon as the light landed on the still life.
“It’s pretty,” Carlotta said. “Dutch baroque if I’m not mistaken?”
Gina smiled. “My, my, you’ve been reading up on your fine art.”
“The Internet is a magical thing,” Carlotta said, tossing her hair. Then she wrinkled her nose when she came close to the picture. “The webpage wasn’t joking when it said he liked painting insects into his art.”
Gina laughed. “Nope. Van der Ast just really liked bugs. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
“I could do without the bugs, and it’s pretty big.”
The size wasn’t a thing that subtracted from the piece’s beauty, of course, but it did make it harder to get it out of here. Gina had already realised that it would be this big when she saw it at the client’s place.
“How do we get it back to headquarters?” Lotta asked.
“We’ll see how heavy it is. If it’s bad, we’ll have to see if we can’t haul it outside together. Franco is going to be parked a few blocks away to take us home. I hope he took the van.”
She walked closer and inspected the painting, wanting to see the brush strokes. It always gave her chills to think of the artist sitting with that very painting hundreds of years ago. However, when she came close to it, the shiny metallic paint on the frame caught her eye and her stomach dropped.
“This frame is new.”
She reached out to touch it and found it clean and free of dust. More disturbingly, the paint gilding wasn’t cracked at all. There were no hints of wear. Carlotta’s eyes reflected her own worry back at her.
“So, they had it reframed?”
Gina shook her head. Their client had described the frame as old, in decent condition, but slightly worn. It was still in the original frame. Unless the frame broke completely, you wouldn’t reframe it, as it risked damaging the painting. Not to mention it decreased the value.
“Help me lift it down,” Gina said, putting her flashlight away into her jacket pocket.
Carlotta took her light between her teeth, and together they managed to lift it down. It was surprisingly light. When Gina saw the back of the painting, she swore under her breath. If this painting was from the sixteen-hundreds, so was she. The back was the purest white, without a single sign of age.
“It’s a forgery,” Gina said.
Disappointment settled heavily in her stomach and they helped each other to hang the painting back up.
When the painting was back in its spot, Carlotta asked:
“What do we do?”
She looked around, as though this was a decoy and the right painting waiting around the corner.
“I haven’t been in this situation before, but I guess we leave it and go find the real one. I doubt our client wants some fake from China.”
Though what if it was fake to begin with?
But there was no way their client wouldn’t have noticed a fake that was so obviously new.
Before she even had a chance to consider the implications further, the door to the apartment swung open and the lights came on. Gina blinked in the sudden light, and adrenalin started coursing through her body.
Nobody was supposed to be here, she thought, turning slowly.
Next to her, Carlotta carried an equally terrified expression. They came face to face with two men roughly their own ages. One was smaller and dressed in green, while the other… Gina’s breath caught in her throat.
“What the hell are you doing in here?” the taller man asked.
Carlotta’s eyes were fixed on the other man, because he had a gun out and he waved it around like a toy.
Gina, however, was drawn straight into whatever you called the bastard child of a nightmare and déjà-vu. The gun didn’t faze her. Her eyes were on the other man. He had black hair and striking blue eyes, set in a face that was still stupidly gorgeous. But it couldn’t be. She couldn’t stand the thought that it was him. Not right now.
Please be someone else, she said in her head. Please be anyone else…
But then Enzo raised an eyebrow and said:
Author’s notes: Hi guys! Time for another chapter 🙂 Surprised to see the reunion happening this quick? Well, there’s no time to lose, I felt. This was actually originally chapter 6. No joke! But I wanted a little intro to Gina’s current work and Enzo’s family situation, so this got moved down a bit. I figured I wanted to get the plot rolling as soon as possible, rather than having too much filler before getting to the good stuff 🙂
A few things to note: The pictures in the first half of this chapter are… kind of bad. I thought they were okay, but then I looked at them again and was like: Woah, they’re bad. Sorry about that. I had already re-shot the last two pictures (and half of the next chapter), so I’m not going to do the same for the first ones here. Just know that I know they’re kind of poorly shot with weird angles and lighting that makes even less sense than usual 😛
I did some cursory research on the painting here, so the information that Gina and Carlotta are rattling off about it should be fairly accurate. It is, indeed, by Balthasar van der Ast, and coincidentally, it’s a picture that belongs to a private collector in real life. I thought that was funny, because I didn’t know that before picking that particular piece. I just thought it was pretty.
In blog news, my problems with commenting on the blog directly are STILL not solved. I replied to a mail from my webhost and they ignored me for a week. I’ve written them a bit of a passive-aggressive e-mail now. If they keep ignoring me, I guess I’ll have to open another support ticket. And consider another host when this one runs out… sigh. It seems everyone’s able to comment just fine through the Reader, though, so at least we have that.
Finally… pleeeease, tell me if I’m bungling something with this post, links, and so on. I’ve been sleep-deprived most of this week and that’s not an ideal time to be juggling several hyperlinks and updating menus. Not to mention my sister’s going to be staying with us for a few days, so I’ll likely rush things. Sorry for any inconvenience my sleep-deprived, stressed-out brain may cause.
Other than that, I thank you guys for reading if you bothered to make it this far despite the bad pictures, and I’ll see you for the next post.