The guests slowly piled into the Cavalcante mansion for the engagement party and Enzo stood as a pillar in the hallway, greeting everyone. Rosalia and Fabrizio were at his side, standing close enough together that they looked to be happily engaged, but just far enough apart that only their elbows touched.
Next to them, furthest from the door, was his father, putting on his friendliest smile as he welcomed everyone. He was a well-liked man and it was clear why from the way he greeted their guests. A clap on a shoulder here, a compliment there, a well-wish, a carefully told joke meant to elicit a chuckle and nothing more. He was pleasant.
In comparison, Enzo must seem cold. He had never had his father’s easy manners or his ability to switch from one role to another seamlessly. It was yet another reason he failed as a host. The main reason, of course, was that he kept searching the crowd and growing more and more nervous. Fabrizio’s friends, he thought, would be there any moment.
As the rooms filled, the hum of voices grew louder, mixing with the music that started to bleed through the doorways into the entryway. Servants weaved through the gathered groups, carrying trays of entrées and drinks.
Enzo’s hand was sore from all the solid handshakes and his nerves made it sweaty. He had tried discreetly wiping his hands on the suit, but Lia had noticed and a single glare from her made him give up. And so he offered p sweaty, quivering handshakes to their honoured guests.
Just then he saw two familiar faces in the crowd. Fabrizio’s friends from the Foundation, dressed in the same cheap suits as last time. They completely ignored all etiquette and greeted Fabrizio first, despite the fact that he wasn’t the host. As with everything else about them, their loud voices and laughter made them stand out. Enzo could see his father scowl for only a second, though he said nothing. The perfect high society man, even in the face of guests who behaved poorly.
“Who are they?” Lia whispered to Enzo, watching them out of the corner of her eye.
“They’re from the Moretti-foundation. Here because of the painting we’re… donating to them.”
Lia’s mouth dropped open a little, though she quickly regained her composure.
“Are they the ones who want it? But… who are they? It must be a peculiar charity. I mean, even if they’re not from our circles, surely they should know how to dress for…”
Enzo tapped Lia’s arm to shut her up, because Moretti and his friend had just finished talking to Fabrizio and held out a hand to Lia.
“And the future Ms. Fabrizio,” he said. “How lovely. Nero Moretti.”
“Charmed, I’m sure,” Lia replied. “Fabrizio speaks so much of your foundation. It’s a wonderful cause. I trust you’ve met my brother, the host.”
Moretti laughed raucously and patted Enzo on the shoulder, as though they had known each other for years. Enzo froze.
“Oh, yeah, yeah, Vinny and I met a few days ago.”
Enzo clenched his jaw. If this had been any other situation, he would have told the man off for the unwelcome familiarity, but he dare not make Fabrizio mad… any more mad than he would be later, anyway.
“Actually, I wanted to have a word about your donation…” Moretti continued.
Enzo felt a sudden chill seep into his bones. He had known it would come of course. Fabrizio and his friends would want to see the painting… and Enzo would have to tell them that he didn’t have it.
Before he could consider what to say, however, Lia interrupted.
“Oh, I’m afraid we can’t spare my brother now, Mr. Moretti,” Lia said. “He’s the host after all and—oh, Vinny, look who it is.”
Enzo started and he was sure he failed to hide his surprise when he saw Lorenzo walking in—his sister wasn’t doing any better as she looked at her former lover with big, adoring eyes. With everything that had happened, Lorenzo was a welcome sight. Moretti was forced to move along so they could greet him and Enzo ignored all propriety and hugged his friend.
“I didn’t think you’d come, considering…” he said, glancing at his sister, and he lowered his voice. “It’s a little awkward…”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
He patted Enzo on the shoulder, then moved on to greet Lia. The two of them were smart enough not to embrace in front of Fabrizio, but her hand lingered in his and Enzo saw her mouthing a thank you.
Enzo’s spirits were lifted after that. Seeing Lorenzo had put his mind at ease. Even if Enzo couldn’t be there in the future, he felt certain that his friend would be there for Lia, whether they were lovers or not.
The people arriving thinned out until everyone from the guest list had been crossed off. This left Enzo with Fabrizio, Lia, and his father. He could tell Fabrizio was impatient and repeatedly checking his watch.
“We need a word now,” he said to Enzo.
But Lia held him back.
“You can’t disappear!” she said. “We need to go talk to our guests, come along.”
“Rosalia, this is between me and your—”
“I don’t care if it’s between you and the queen of England. We’re going to talk to people before we make the announcement. Come along.”
“I need to introduce you to a few people, Fabrizio,” Enzo’s father said, and so Enzo’s family dragged him into the throng of people.
For once, Enzo was glad of the confines of his class. It allowed him get away from the rest of his family, and blend into the crowd. Normally, he hated this part. He wasn’t good at small-talk or at being as personable as his father or Lia. However, he had a purpose at this party and it made him walk taller.
He headed straight for one of the people he normally tried to avoid. Ms. Napoletani was among the worst gossips and she was on the prowl, looking for information about the topic that had been burning hot since Fabrizio’s little gathering: That scandalous girl who had punched Doriano Montanari.
Enzo strolled casually up to her and another and listened in. They expressed sympathy for the man and talked in horror of the girl. By now, everyone knew who she was. He listened for a while, carefully monitoring his face so not a bit of his anger slipped out, and when the right moment came and Ms. Napoletani’s conversation partner left…
“I heard it was a lover’s quarrel,” Enzo said.
She turned slowly and looked at him.
“Surely not. Mr. Montanari wouldn’t be with a girl like that. I heard she was obsessed with him, stalked him.”
Enzo let out a snort. “Are we forgetting what we already know of him? Please, Ms. Napoletani, don’t tell me you’ve already forgotten. Think of what happened with the Gasparis’ daughter.”
Her head bobbed up and down in agreement. It was the incident that had cemented Doriano’s bad reputation and only his father’s position in society had kept him from becoming a social pariah.
“Doriano has improved since then,” said Ms. Napoletani.
“You mean he’s been more careful,” Enzo said, lifting an eyebrow. “Apart from with this girl, of course… Ah, but I shouldn’t gossip.”
He saw the woman’s nostrils flare. “What do you know?” she whispered.
Enzo made a show of looking over his shoulder, leaning closer, and lowering his voice.
“This stays between you and me, but I hear she is a single mother.”
Ms. Napoletani’s eyes grew wide.
“Apparently she raised the child on her own.”
“Oh, but his father wouldn’t let him marry a girl like that.”
Enzo slowly shook his head. “Absolutely not, but here’s what really surprised me—they didn’t even pay off the poor thing. Mr. Montanari has been relying on his father to keep the girl away, though he failed on that night. Frankly, I don’t condone her behaviour, but all things considered…”
A rush of excitement passed over her face and once again Enzo added the most enticing bait:
“Please, let this stay between the two of us.”.
“Oh, my lips are sealed, Mr. Cavalcante.”
She excused herself and left, agitation colouring her cheeks a pretty pink. Enzo had considered talking to a few more, but within a minute, he noticed Ms. Napoletani looking over her shoulder at him and whispering excitedly to one of her closest friends. Everyone would know within five minutes.
It had taken him a while to find an angle that would cast Regina in a more positive light, but he didn’t have to stray too far from the truth. The only thing he had changed was the woman Doriano got pregnant. He thought long and hard about it, but eventually he concluded that she would care less about being mistaken for a single mother than she would be to have Flora be the subject of gossip. Honestly, he thought she might even think he had done well and he couldn’t help but smile at the thought.
“You’re looking pleased,” Lorenzo’s voice said.
Enzo turned to his friend and smiled. “Well, I’m happy that you’re here.”
“I wasn’t going to come. I’m not particularly happy to see… you know…” He did a motion with his glass towards Lia and Fabrizio. “But with everything the two of you are going through, you need someone in your corner.”
“Thank you. I makes me feel a lot calmer about what’s about to happen.”
Any moment now… Nero Moretti and his friend glowered in a corner and soon they started moving. Lorenzo frowned.
“What do you mean? Is it the painting again? What…?”
“Yes, Fabrizio is going to want his painting tonight and I don’t have it,” Enzo said simply.
“What?” Lorenzo grabbed his arm. “What do you mean you don’t have it? Did she take it back? Enzo, what the…”
“It wasn’t Regina,” he said firmly. “It was me.”
He explained calmly what he had done. Fabrizio joined Moretti and walked over.
“Enzo, what the hell is wrong with you?” Lorenzo sneered. “Fabrizio is going to…”
“Reveal what I did? I know. You will be there for Lia, won’t you?”
“Yes, always, but—”
“I’ve made sure she’s taken care of and I’ve made sure Gina doesn’t lose her livelihood because of me. That’s all that needs to be done. Don’t worry about me.”
Lorenzo glanced over at Fabrizio and his friends and he did look worried. He was about to say something more, but Enzo silenced him as the men had reached them. Fabrizio smiled, but it was even more superficial than usual. He kept glancing at his two friends as though he were nervous.
“Vinny, it’s time for you to show me the painting,” he said.
“Certainly,” Enzo said. “Lorenzo, if you’ll excuse me.”
His friend once again grabbed his arm to stop him. “I don’t like this,” he said.
Enzo pulled his arm free, patted Lorenzo’s shoulder and followed Fabrizio. He felt only a small spike of fear as the three men took a place on either side of him. Before they took him away, he glanced over at Lia and found her happily chatting to a friend. Then he gazed back at Lorenzo again… but his friend was gone.
One of Nero Moretti’s men glowered at them from the corner of the alley at the end of a gun and another of his associates were pressed up against the wall. The one on the ground was more defiant, angrily growling out threats and promises of what his boss would do to her.
“It would be a whole lot easier if you tell me where he is,” Gina said.
The man in the corner spat on the ground. “Whore.”
Lotta pointed a gun at him. “Language,” she said coolly.
“I’m not telling a fucking thing,” he spat back. “Just you wait, Nero is going to find out what you’re doing and come for you.”
“I sure fucking hope so. I’ve been looking for the asshole for days,” Gina said with a snarl. “But it would be so much easier if you tell me where he is.”
The guy said no, though not in so many words. He used a whole lot of other words that conveyed the general concept. Gina sighed.
“I’m going to find him no matter what. May as well make it easier on us all.”
More swears followed. She turned to the other guy, the one who was pressed up against the wall.
“Are you going to be just as dense, or will you tell me where Moretti is?”
This guy acted more calm, but she could tell he wasn’t as cool on the inside, based on the sweat that beaded his face. He sank something.
“I don’t know where the boss is. He… he left.”
The guy on the ground swore and screamed traitor at him, until a gun was pressed to his head. Gina turned back to the chattier guy.
“Where did he go?”
“He didn’t say. But… but maybe I can… help?”
Gina snorted. “Really? How kind of you.”
“Y-yes. You know, Moretti is insane, a slave driver. I heard you’re better than that, so just let me go and I’ll help you look.”
How stupid does this guy think I am?
Even as he said it, he and his friend shared a meaningful look, a silent plan forming between them. Gina just smiled pleasantly. “Aw, how sweet. Okay then, boys, let go of the man and let him help us.”
She took a step back, waiting for what would inevitably happen. As soon as her men let go of the guy, he lunged for her, fist first. To Gina’s left, the other guy lunged as well. Their attempted attack was immediately cut short by two gunshots that rang in the silent evening, followed by two low thuds as their bodies hit the ground. Gina cursed under her breath.
“I’m getting sick of this,” she said with a sigh.
“If it’s any consolation, there can’t be many of Moretti’s men left,” Lotta said. “Our other groups have taken a good handful this evening alone.”
Moretti’s men were loyal to the point of farce, but easy to drive out. Most of his men had done as these did—a quick, stupid attack that ended with a bullet through the head. A few of them had sincerely decided that it was better to bet on the winning horse and join the Good Guys, though Gina carefully kept them tied up and locked away until she was sure Moretti was gone.
“I won’t feel good about this until I get to the man himself,” Gina said.
She waved for everyone to follow and stepped over the bodies on the way. She was about to ask Lotta to look into their next lead when her phone rang. Her dad.
“There’s someone here to see you,” he said without introduction. “A Mr. Sartore.”
Lorenzo. Gina felt something unpleasant tugging on her stomach.
“Put him on.”
She heard a rustling as the phone changed hands and then Lorenzo’s voice came on. He sounded tense.
“This is me.”
“Did you take the painting back?”
Gina stopped in the alley and everyone else with her did as well, looking at her with questions in their eyes.
“Of course I fucking didn’t,” she said. “Why are you even asking?”
“Because Enzo doesn’t have it anymore.”
She went cold. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, he told me that he doesn’t have the painting anymore and that it was him that got rid of it, but he said everything is ‘taken care of’. He asked me if I’ll look out for Lia and then he went with Fabrizio and these two weirdoes from his charity.”
“Why doesn’t he have the painting anymore?”
Gina ignored him and started running, out of the alley and towards where their car was parked. Lorenzo’s voice kept buzzing from the phone, until she barked:
“I’m going to get him.”
She put her phone away and swung herself into the driver’s seat and, ignoring Lotta’s protests that her hand was broken, she put the car into gear and roared down the road. Her hand, which had been doing well the past few days, screamed in pain at the sudden activity but she didn’t care. Let it be fucked up for life, it didn’t matter. As they stormed down the road, several times faster than the speed limit, she explained to Lotta.
“I think Enzo’s come up with another idiot plan,” she shouted over the roaring wind. “Lorenzo says he doesn’t have the painting anymore.”
She didn’t even have to explain to Lotta.
“He fucking sent it to Antonini, didn’t he?”
“I think so. That gorgeous idiot is trying to save my business, but he doesn’t know the part about Moretti and his gang. Tonight is the night of the engagement party—he’s supposed to hand it over.”
“Moretti is at that party, isn’t he?”
Gina nodded tersely.
“I think so. And if Enzo doesn’t give him the painting, I think Conti’s murder is going to be the least of his problems.”
Author’s note: So, now we know about Enzo’s plan. It was like 50% terrible but that was to be expected he’s so bad at this poor rich boy. And I got to add another cliffhanger. Lucky, lucky me. >:) Lorenzo’s involvement here was actually due to a comment on an earlier chapter who mentioned that he might be a potential ally. It worked out super well, because if you think back to the earlier chapters, Lorenzo knows where Gina’s parents live and thus he could go look for Gina there. Feel free to pretend this was always planned as part of my great artistic vision.
There are two chapters left in part four and I’m very, very excited about those chapters. They should clear quite a few things up, which I’m happy about because I’m honestly ready to lay this generation to rest. I know I said two weeks ago that I kind of wanted a break, but of course as soon as I said that, my brain started getting all excited about gen 3. Thank brain, you’re very helpful. I don’t know yet what I’m going to do, but I am getting more into gen 3, doing some research and character development and such… so I’ll be considering my next steps over the next couple of weeks.
Now then, that’s all the rambling I had to give you this time. I hope everyone’s doing well and I’ll see you in the next post. <3