Content warning: This chapter contains some visible blood and descriptions of gun violence.
Carlo tightened his arm around Vittoria and enjoyed the quiet moment. The sound of her clicking heels and a small fountain on the floor below were the only sounds in the building. Every now and again, she would point to one of the museum’s pieces and ask him what it was worth on the black market, and he would try and estimate it as well as he could.
“That one?” she asked now, pointing to a painting divided into three sections.
He cocked his head and thought on it for a few moments. “A couple of thousands, I think.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Disappointing. I thought it would be more. It’s nice.”
“You want it?”
A beautiful, but devious, smile bloomed on her face. “Not if it’s not valuable.”
“Apologies, darling. I’ll make sure to get you a more valuable one. How about that?” he asked, pointing.
“Ugh, no. You can do better.”
“It’s worth over fifty thousand.”
“You can do better,” she repeated, throwing her hair. “Get me at least one hundred.”
He laughed and pressed a kiss to her hair. It was a relief to see her like this, relaxed, free of paranoia. From one day to the next, she had calmed down. She didn’t even growl at Marta anymore and actually, they seemed to get along. It had amazed him when she had suggested that he show her the museum.
“I’ve always wanted to see the place you work, after all,” she’d said with a glint in her eye.
Carlo never could say no to her, and he didn’t mind a chance to see the place in daylight either, without the risk of triggering alarms and all. Even if one the museum guards downstairs looked at him with a healthy amount of suspicion, he liked the place. It only helped that she was smiling.
They rounded one of the free standing walls and came to a strange painting. A cheap replica, obviously a photo, of a painting. Vittoria directed a smile at him.
“And this, I expect, is some sort of modern art. A painting of a painting. Art within art? It has be worth at least a hundred, right?”
Carlo shook his head. “It says right there that it’s a replica. Seems the original was stolen.”
She put a hand on her chest and gasped. “No! And they haven’t found it?”
“I have it on good authority, darling, that it’s in the possession of a collector the next town over. How he got it, I’ll never know, but they might never find it.”
“Oh no,” she said, moving to stand close to him. She moved her lips to his ear and whispered. “Who did you get to do it? Franco?”
Carlo grabbed her around the waist and pulled her close. “Don’t insult me, darling. I took that one. You wouldn’t have liked it, though. Only worth a couple of thousand.”
She shrugged. “No, thought I might, but at that price? Forget it. Get me the big one over there.”
Carlo pulled her against him and kissed her hard. It was the first indication that something was wrong, when he felt her tensing in his arms. He broke the kiss and looked at her, but nothing in her face betrayed anything other than perfect contentment.
“Darling, what is it?”
“Nothing. That was just… unexpected.”
Suddenly, he felt wrong. Someone else was in the museum, he heard footsteps, and that shouldn’t have been so unusual. It was a big museum with a lot of important works, so why did he feel like this was bad?
Vittoria’s arms snaked around his waist and she kissed him again. He tried to get lost in her again, like he always did, but even she felt off. When she came up for breath, she looked sad in that way that only she could pull off. There was no emotion on her face, but everything else about her said it.
“I wish you weren’t nice,” she said.
“What?” Carlo laughed nervously.
His wife took a big step backwards, dodging his hands when he tried to get her back.
“I’m sorry. I never should have let it get this far. I just thought… Sorry.”
“I-I don’t understand.”
“You never could, Carlo, because you’re too damned nice for your own good.”
The footsteps coming up the stairs sounded like thunder. Her voice like a storm. He instinctively took a step back from her, but that felt wrong, too. Stepping away from her always had, because all he wanted was to be close.
“You never realised that taking in a stranger could be dangerous when you’re in your position,” she said. “Or that being alone with a rival gang leader might be a bad idea.”
“You’re not… not anymore.”
The footsteps on the marble floor grew louder, and soon he found himself surrounded. Vittoria backed further away, making way for the three strangers and their guns.
“Is this some kind of joke?” he asked.
Vittoria ignored him, turning to a man with black hair.
“Believe me now?” she said.
The guy laughed, without doubt with the sleaziest laugh he had ever heard, and looked at her with admiration. Something about the asshole made Carlo want to punch him. And it wasn’t just the gun that was aimed at his head.
“Sure do, baby doll.”
“Good,” she said. “Then get it fucking over with and let’s get out of here.”
Carlo should probably run. Or fight back. If he hadn’t been an idiot, he would have carried a gun. Vittoria had practically begged him to do it since Marta showed up. Because of this? Because she knew this was coming, and part of her wanted him to survive it?
There wasn’t a hint of it in her face. In fact, she turned around on her heels, and only spared him a casual glance.
His last glimmer of hope died when she turned to black-hair and said: “Try not to make it too messy.”
And she walked away.
Someone fired. He didn’t have time to see who, because some instinct that he wasn’t aware of made him dive out of the way and behind one of the walls. He tackled one of the gunmen and punched another, tried to remember what he knew about unarmed fighting against guns. But gods, he was rusty. There was no way he could keep going like this.
Even as he fought and dodged, he expected her to come back and stab them for him. Tell him it was all a joke or a nightmare, but her footsteps were gone, drowned out by gunshots and gruff voices shouting.
One of the bullets grazed his arm, and everything after that was a blur. He ran on survival instincts, making more and more insane moves to get out of the way. It was no use anyway. There were three of them and one of him, and he couldn’t wrestle the gun out of black-hair’s hand. The guy pushed him away and hit him over the head, hurling him to the floor. Stars danced in his field of vision, and all attempts at getting up resulted in slipping on the floor, in his blood.
Another shot rang out. Carlo was sure it must be the last one, but to his surprise, he felt no bullet pierce him. Instead, a body fell to the ground somewhere behind him. More bullets, still none hitting him. Black-hair screamed something and footsteps clattered down the staircase.
A moment later, Franco stuck his hand out at him, and Carlo took it wordlessly.
Franco was flanked by Giacomo and two others, and the person they had shot was the other man, not black-hair. Carlo struggled to think properly. The dizziness didn’t help, nor did the gaping, black hole in his chest.
“Dead?” he asked, focusing on anything but her.
“No, thought we’d want him alive. Get to the bottom of this,” Franco said.
Along with Giacomo, he dragged Carlo out of there, back to his home. Or the shell that had been his home before this. After checking that no nasty surprises were waiting, they called their doctor friend in and she looked him over. Said he had a concussion and should avoid reading. Reading. Of all fucking things.
While he stared at nothing, Franco and the others started discussion how to move on. Obviously, they had to find her and punish this. They would keep people posted at the farm, more than usual, to make sure she didn’t come back to finish the job. More than anything, they were worried because Marta had gone missing along with her. At that, he snapped out of his stupor.
“Gina and Giulio. Where are they?”
“In their rooms. She didn’t take them.”
She didn’t take their kids. She didn’t take her own fucking kids.
He resisted the desire to punch a wall. The others must have noticed him twitching, because they went silent, waiting for instructions.
“Find her,” he said, quietly.
They remained quiet. Too quiet. Before it could get awkward, Giacomo said in a small voice: “Alive or…?”
Carlo flew from his seat and punched the man in the face.
“Find my wife and bring her here. Alive.”
Giacomo nodded, but he still looked up defiantly. “She tried to kill you, Carl. She’s planned this for who knows how long.”
“I know that.” He said, raising his hand again and finding an odd satisfaction in seeing Giacomo flinch. “I want her here alive. Nobody fucking kills her.”
Nobody but him. But he couldn’t say that now. He couldn’t even bear to think it, so he just repeated: “Find her.”
Giacomo wiped blood from his face and him and three of the others filed out of there, barking orders at some of the others outside. Franco stayed behind.
“Anything else I should know?”
He shook his head. “No. I just… I’m sorry, Carl.”
“There’s no time for that,” Carlo spat. “There’s work to do.”
While the underworld set in motion another manhunt for her, Vittoria sat on the edge of her old bed and buried her head in her hands. The afternoon played over and over in her head, and for each time she thought of the look on his face, she hated herself a little more. Hated everything that had lead up to this moment. Even going to Monte Vista had been a mistake. She wondered if Carlo had felt half as terrible when he kicked her out of his house.
Author’s notes: Hi guys, and welcome back to Monte Vista and the first chapter of 2018 🙂 This one has been hard to get out, but I’m happy to say that it’s sparked a desire in me to continue this story. I’ve been disillusioned by some of my earlier decisions for a long time, and by now I’m at peace with those and doing as well as I can with what I have.
That said, I’ve decided to edit the story. Now, this is not coming from a place of saying I think this first draft is irredeemable. Au contraire. It’s the great love I’ve recently (re)discovered for the story and characters that’s led me to doing what I did with Champion of Moonlight – basically, a big overhaul that tightens the plot, fleshes out characters, and fixes structural issues that I see much clearer now that we’re nearing the meat and climax of the story. Now to be clear, I don’t expect anyone to read this story again, and you won’t see this edited version for a long time. I’m doing this for me, because first, I think it’s fun, and second I love this story and want to try and turn it into the best version it can be. It comes from a great deal of self-improvement and better self-esteem, as well as me learning more about my own way of working with my writing. Some day I’ll put out the edit to a blog of its own, but that’s not really the purpose of telling you because that is not in the near future. I’m just telling because I’m excited as a kid on Christmas to be doing this 🙂
Anyway, to return to the present, there’s still plenty to enjoy in this version of the story, and exciting things are to come, because yes, this version of the story is continuing. I’m nearly as excited for you to discover that as I am about my second draft! As always, thanks for reading, and here’s to a new year with lots of chapters (and edits).