“I beg your pardon?”
“I need a place to stay,” Vittoria repeated, as if it were because he hadn’t heard her and not because her statement was absurd.
Carlo had learnt to expect a little bit of everything from his lifestyle, but he could safely say that this was a first. It took him a long time to formulate an answer, during which Vittoria’s smile grew wider by the second.
“I don’t run a hotel,” he said finally.
Vittoria shrugged. “I know.”
He waited for her to say something more, but she stayed in her spot, leaning on the wall and smiling. Carlo and Franco shared a look, but if Carlo had hoped that his right hand man knew anything more than he did, he was sorely disappointed. He looked bewildered.
“So, why on earth would you ask me for a place to stay?” Carlo asked.
“Since I’m kind of living out of a backpack right now,” she said, nudging a black backpack at her feet, “I was hoping we could do an exchange. You let me stay and I give you some useful information.”
Franco, who had never lowered his gun since seeing her, asked:
“What kind of information?”
“I want a place to stay and until I’m sure of that, I’m not saying a thing.”
“That’s quite bold of you,” Carlo said. “You’re pretty sure I want this information, aren’t you?”
“I am. So, what’s it going to be?”
Carlo shared another look with Franco, and his friend shook his head. Carlo turned back to Vittoria and met her eyes. Franco was right, of course, that it was a terrible idea. She could be here on behalf of the intruding gang to put a bullet through his brain. But then, he thought, what kind of tactic was it to walk up to his door and ask to be let in?
“I can’t just let anyone walk into my home,” Carlo said. “Someone I cared for was recently murdered in broad daylight.”
“I know,” Vittoria said. “That’s what I’m here for. I know who killed him.”
Next to Carlo, he noticed Franco shift. If she were right, that was, indeed, information he would be interested in.
Carlo frowned. “How do you know?”
“I need a place to stay,” she repeated stubbornly. “I’m in trouble myself and I’m not talking until I know I can stay. So?”
She held out a hand and her eyes drilled into his. They were a dark olive green, a colour that was somehow familiar.
“What kind of trouble?” he asked.
Vittoria rolled her eyes. “Well, being homeless, for one. So, do we have a deal?”
Carlo looked away from her insistently outstretched hand and intense eyes to look at Franco. They had worked together for years and Carlo trusted completely in the man. This was the first time he looked like he was in doubt. It was dangerous. If it were true that she knew who killed Giuliano, however… that wasn’t merely useful information. It was invaluable. Even Franco hadn’t been able to dig up that detail. Franco made a small nod. Not a yes, more like a Let’s see what she’s got.
“I’m not going to make a deal like this on my doorstep,” Carlo finally told Vittoria, once the silent communication was over. “We’ll discuss this inside. Franco, call a few people over, just in case.”
“I’m not going to shank you or something,” Vittoria said, crossing her arms again.
“That’s what any assassin worth her salt would say. Let’s take this inside, Vittoria.”
She shrugged and hoisted her backpack onto her shoulder. Before she could step inside, though, Franco asked to be allowed to check it.
“But what if you break my hidden bomb?” she said sardonically.
Franco wasn’t amused, though Carlo had to suppress a smile.
“Indulge us, will you?” he asked.
Another shrug, and Vittoria handed over the bag. As far as he could tell, it only contained a few spare sets of clothing and the necessities you would bring with you if you were living out of a backpack. Once Franco was satisfied it didn’t contain weapons or the like, he handed it back and they let her inside.
While Franco arranged for a few of the others to come around, Vittoria scanned the room. It had been clear from the beginning that she was a strange woman—the stalking and her odd request could attest to that—but it was clearer than ever from the way she looked around. She didn’t so much look like she was curious to see how he lived; rather, she had the air of someone who had once been caught in a fire and now always looked for a fire escape.
Within less than ten minutes, Giacomo and Alonzo, the closest of Carlo’s men, arrived at the house. They took their stances around the kitchen table like silent sentries, both ready to reach for a gun if she tried anything. Franco had never put his away. Vittoria took a place at the table, ignoring the newcomers like she had Franco. Her eyes were on Carlo.
“Now then,” Carlo said. “Let’s hear it.”
“You’ll let me stay? Otherwise…”
“You can stay for now, though one of my men will keep an eye on you at all times until I’m sure you’re not a danger to myself or anyone else. Giacomo will take the first watch.”
He pointed to the older of the newcomers. Vittoria glanced up at him and he nodded at her. She shrugged.
“Guess that’s fair.”
“Go on, Vittoria. I’m listening.”
“The man you’re looking for is called Gallo Terra,” she said. “He’s the leader of the Giocondos.”
For such a simple statement, it caused a lot of stir around the room. Franco lowered his gun for the first time to stare, and the other two looked at each other in confusion as if she had spewed garbled nonsense.
“The Giocondos are led by Alessandro Giocondo,” Franco protested.
“Not anymore, they aren’t.” Vittoria ran her fingers through her long hair. “He died about a month ago.”
“I would have heard of that.” Franco raised his gun again. “Everyone would have heard.”
The Giocondos may be a big, unruly, messy gang, but since they sat firmly on the town of Velleci, they were important. Velleci was the capital of illegally imported goods and everyone wanted in on that. If Alessandro Giocondo had died, Franco was right that he should know. But Vittoria had an explanation for that:
“Gallo kept his death a secret. Said that he didn’t want everyone and their grandma coming to take the town.”
“A man like that dying would leave a power vacuum that would draw in every scumbag within kilometres, so that makes sense,” Carlo said with a nod and then he turned to Franco: “Do we know who this Gallo is?”
“He was a lackey of Alessandro’s,” Vittoria said before he could answer.
“Most likely a nobody,” Franco added. “I’ve never heard the name.”
So he had all the more reason to keep Alessandro’s death hidden. A strong, influential personality may be able to hold the fort in the ensuing storm, but with a nobody it was a different story. He didn’t have a name that evoked fear, nor did he have enough loyal followers. So far, so good. Carlo leaned his elbows on the table and asked of Vittoria:
“And how do you know about this man?”
“He was kind of my boyfriend. Kind of because he’s not really the having-a-girlfriend type of guy. Learnt that one the hard way.”
She moved uncomfortably in her seat, rubbing a spot on her neck. For a split-second, she looked like she were in pain, but it was so short-lived he must have imagined it. Regardless, the meaning was clear: the relationship had been unpleasant.
“How did you get involved with a man like that?” Carlo asked. “Were you part of the gang?”
“No, Gallo picked me up at a bar in Velleci and since I was homeless then, too, I lived with him for a bit. Doubled as his girl and punching bag.”
Carlo winced at the way she said it. She may as well have been talking about grocery shopping or doing taxes.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Go on then—you think your… ex-boyfriend killed my friend. Why is that?”
“I find it unbelievable that he or anyone else from the Giocondos would tell an outsider anything,” Franco butted in.
“Gallo is an idiot,” she said. “I’ve only met a few of his ‘colleagues’ but they weren’t exactly brain surgeons either. He and his buddies used to brag about that kind of stuff. About a month ago, after their boss died, Gallo and a few of the others decided this was their chance to take on a really big gang, so they said. They wouldn’t say which one, but they mentioned that they were going to send a warning—they wanted to kill some guy and I’m guessing that’s your friend.”
“Did they say that they were going to take down the Good Guys?” Carlo asked.
Vittoria shook her head. “But they said enough that I could figure out who they meant. Gallo bragged about killing a man in Monte Vista, so I checked the news and obituaries until I found a person who matched their description. Then I left and came here.”
“And the stalking? What was that about?”
“I needed to make sure you were the right guy. I’m not just going to go knock on some random gang leader’s door and ask to be allowed to stay.”
Carlo snorted. “You realise the irony of that statement, I hope?”
Her lips curled into a smile, one that made her eyes light up in amusement. “I guess it looks a bit random from your point of view.”
“A bit,” he said, and he couldn’t help but return the smile. Hers was infectious. “With all that said, Vittoria, why leave this Gallo behind and come to me?”
“I wanted out. The whole punching bag thing was getting old, and I’m guessing he would have eventually killed me if I stuck around. If he finds me, I’m pretty sure he’ll kill me for leaving. This seems like the safest place to be right now.”
Safe. Of course Vittoria didn’t know how concerned he was for his men, not to mention his brother, but his home being considered safe felt odd. Then again, he had a feeling that Vittoria’s sense of safety was skewed, to say the least.
“I’ll have to verify all of this,” he told her. “We only have your word for it.”
“Sure,” she said.
The strange woman leaned back in her chair and he thought he saw relief wash over her features. Those oddly familiar features.
“Have we met before?” he asked.
For the first time since he had met her, she looked taken aback. “No. Where would we have met?”
“I’m not sure but I could have sworn…”
“I just have one of those faces, I guess.”
You don’t, he almost said. No, something about her face… but then no matter how hard he thought about it, no matter how close to the tip of his tongue the name came, it didn’t manifest.
“Maybe you do,” he said. “You should get some sleep while we look into this. Giacomo can take you upstairs.”
He motioned to Giacomo who did an exaggerated bow and led her up the stairs. Vittoria said goodnight and walked upstairs with a cheery smile.
Carlo followed her once he had made sure Franco looked into her claims. Upstairs she studied the guestroom and chatted idly with Giacomo. When Carlo walked in, she smiled.
“A quick word?” he asked. Giacomo stepped back without even being asked.
“Shoot,” she said, then she paused and added: “Or… go on. That was a poor word choice, all things considered.”
Again, Carlo found himself suppressing a smile. He finally wrangled his face into one that was sufficiently serious for what he was about to say:
“Just a few house rules. You’re not a prisoner, but if you leave without Giacomo or another escort, you’re on your own. That means if you do stalk me and one of my men see fit to shoot you for it, I don’t take responsibility.”
“As for my brother…”
Vittoria frowned and crossed her arms. “What about him?”
“You know he lives with me?”
“I do now.”
“Very well. He’s not involved in my business, meaning he’s also not involved in whatever is going on with this ex-boyfriend of yours. If anything you do or say puts him in harm’s way, you will regret it. Never mind what my men would do—I’ll kill you myself.”
Vittoria went silent and studied him. He imagined another person would have taken such a threat very differently. Fear or indignation were natural responses. She, however, only nodded and said:
Carlo walked out but turned long enough to add:
“Welcome to Monte Vista, Vittoria.”
She smiled. “Thank you, Carlo.”
Vittoria wasn’t a diarist, but she had always liked writing lists. When too much information had gathered in her head, she would write it down in list form. It was both to sort it all out, to put it on paper so that she could get an overview—but it was also to remember. The thing that always tripped liars up was getting their falsehoods tangled and she was good at lying precisely because she avoided it.
Lie #1, she wrote, I ran away from my boyfriend because he was violent.
Vittoria tapped the pen to her lip, wondering if she should change the wording. Not all of it was a lie… Gallo was violent and it was nice to be away from him for that reason. After some thought, she left it on paper. It wasn’t about being accurate but remembering the details. Now that she had met Carlo Mancini, she felt sure that he would be asking questions; she couldn’t contradict herself or he would notice.
Carlo was a problem that she hadn’t been able to predict before coming to Monte Vista. For one, he was too smart for his own good. Another thing was his certainty that they had met before.
Vittoria paused in the middle of a sentence and put her pen down. Had they met before? For a moment she felt panic rising, because if they had met he might know… but she dismissed the notion. She would remember a man like Carlo. Back home, she was used to men who thought showers were only something you did for funerals. Someone like Carlo—well-groomed, dressed expensively, and handsome as hell—would have stood out like a sore thumb. No, his insistence that he knew her must be some fluke. She continued writing.
Yes, Carlo Mancini was a problem, but so long as she stepped carefully, he was manageable.
Vittoria wrote down her final lie and read them all to herself in a low voice. She read them over and over again—four, five, six times—then she hid the notebook away in a hole in the backpack’s lining.
Finally, she crept under the blankets, curled up, and fell asleep.
Author’s note: Hi guys! Not much to say from me today except, well – I couldn’t help myself! I’ve been having a lot of fun writing both gen 1 and 2 these past few days and since boyfriend’s said this this was good, I thought – why not! There’s no schedule after all. All I have to say is that, as you can tell, I’ve made a recap page for the rewrite. You can get to it on the big, shiny recap button. I’ve also moved things a little in the menu. The old version can now be found under ‘Archive’ and this is just Generation 1. Well then, all that’s really left is to give you some boring change notes. Like last time, they’re in a collapsible thingymajig and if you don’t want spoilers, maybe be careful about reading it.
Click here for boring change notes!
- First, a sneaky little change for last chapter. The last picture in chapter 1 and the first picture in this are the same picture and they now include Vittoria’s backpack. I originally had her not carrying anything at all which won’t do.
- These first two (kind of long) chapters are basically the first chapter of the old version, so needless to say I’ve added a lot of stuff. An important change is that Vittoria doesn’t use her mum’s connection with Carlo to get him to let her stay. In the old version, she asked to be allowed to stay because of Carlo’s connection with Lucia. In this one, she doesn’t mention her mother.
- Carlo doesn’t immediately recognise her anymore. When I thought about how I wrote the old version, it sounded like Lucia was Camillo and Carlo’s babysitter for only a short while and it was when they were pretty young, so why would Carlo immediately recognise her daughter?
- Speaking of Carlo – he doesn’t immediately let Vittoria stay at his place either. This is an important one because it’s the reason this chapter came out so long after the first. Boyfriend read both of these and didn’t like the second much because Carlo immediately let a strange stalker stay in his house. He had a point and I had to edit and take this chapter even further from my old version than I’d planned. Now, Carlo’s much more wary of letting her stay, especially in light of his friend’s death. It never made sense in the old version either – sure, he knew Lucia and his dad liked the woman, but it was a long time ago and he knew nothing about Vittoria, so why let her? Here he’s reluctant.
- That also brings me to how Vittoria does get in: She says she knows who killed Giuliano. I figure this was pretty much the one thing that would make Carlo do nearly anything.
- He’s also having her guarded around the clock. I figured he would only let her be near Camillo if he’s protected at all times.
- I’m making Vittoria a bit more fun to be around and fleshing out her personality. I admit I’m a little too proud of her ‘what if something happens to my bomb’-joke.
- I’ve also added the small scene with her writing down her lies. This is to accentuate something that wasn’t clear in the old version: She’s a control freak. In my game I gave her the perfectionist trait and in the old version it came out as her cleaning a lot (she did that a lot autonomously when I actually still played the game). As I wrote the old version, I realised it made good sense for her to have this neat freak nature to her – she’s used to terrible environments and she’s paranoid. Cleaning is her way of feeling like she is in control. In this version it also manifests in her list – she writes all the lies she’s told Carlo down so that she’s sure she doesn’t contradict herself.
- Carlo is a great guy, but I’m letting him be a little more of a dick – he’s not afraid to threaten Vittoria when it comes to his brother. I added that bit to show how deep his protective instincts go.
- I’m introducing a few characters earlier here as well. First of all there’s Giacomo who was a very, very minor character in the old version. He’s a premade from Monte Vista whom I pretty much just used because I needed some gang members around. Here he’s gotten a makeover (he’s in the white/grey/red shirt and green trousers) and he’ll probably get a bit more to do. Another character who’s appearing early (though only by name) is Gallo Terra, Vittoria’s ex. He appeared very late in the old version (chapter 12) because he was an afterthought. I was making stuff up as I went along and I needed some people from Vittoria’s old gang. His role eventually grew to be one of the main villains and here he’s taken the role of leader of the Giocondos after their leader died.
- A new character introduced is Alonzo, though he’s not playing a big part. He’s the gang member standing next to Franco.
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading along if you made it this far. I’ll see you in the next post or on Tumblr (where I post a lot of random pictures lately).