The Italian Job - Part 9

Christmas was soon forgotten as Luca and I spent most of January in Genoa. There were lots of things going on at the shipyard. I began to get a bit worried about him. It was as if the whole world was on his shoulders and despite my gentle probing he wouldn’t share his troubles with me.

At the end of the first week in February, I’d just returned to the Apartment with some food when the phone rang.

“Si?”
A voice spoke heavily accented Russian to me.
“Да, это Fran” {yes. I am Fran}

The smile on my face soon disappeared as I listened to what was being said to me.

When they voice stopped the line went dead.

With a shaking hand, I put the phone down on its cradle. I saw my reflection in the hall mirror. I was as white as a sheet.

I left the bags of shopping in the hallway and went into the lounge and sat down. I was still shaking.

I must have sat there starring into space for at least an hour before I found the strength to get up once again.

I picked up the phone and called Luca.

“Hello Darling,” I said when he answered.

“Yes. Yes, there is something wrong. I need to speak to you urgently.”

“No. It’s not the children or Claudia. It is all about us.”

“Ok. In an hour. Ciao.”

I put the phone down.

I hadn’t even put the food away when Luca arrived home.

After we’d kissed, I sat down and held my face in my hands.

“Whatever is wrong?”

“I can’t do this anymore. I had better leave before I do any more damage.”

“What damage? What are you speaking about?”

Asked Luca looking a bit troubled.

“It’s those bloody Russians. They know everything.”

“Everything? What do you mean?”

“Me. You. Us. Everything. That slime-ball, Viktor Federov is threatening to let it be known that… Well you can guess the rest.”

“Did he tell you what he wanted in return for not telling the world?”

I nodded.

“He wants the shipyard. Everything.”

A half smile appeared on Luca’s face.

“I begin to understand.”

“Understand what?”

He came forward and wrapped his arms around me.
“Don’t worry my darling I will sort this out.”

“Sort it out? How? All it needs is for one of his cronies to make a phone call or post something on Facebook or wherever and I’m sunk. We are sunk.”

Still holding me tight he replied.

“Since the turn of the year many of our suppliers have been demanding payment on delivery rather than the normal terms. Then some of our customers have mysteriously missed their payments for work already done.”

“Is that why you have been spending every hour you could at the office?”

“Yes.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to worry you with my problems.”

I kicked his leg.
“It is our problem now.”

He smiled back at me.
“I love it when you are angry.”

Then he kissed me.
I broke it off.

“Hold on a minute. We are facing total humiliation and all you want to do is kiss me!”

“Si. Good isn’t it.”

I kicked him again. Twice.

“Ok. Ok. I get the message.”

“Well?”

“Come on my dear, there are a few things you should know.”

“Eh?”

We sat down with Luca holding my hands and looking into my eyes. This was the look he’d given me when he appeared at the lift in Rio.

“You never asked about my parents. Sorry mine and Claudia’s.”

“I didn’t think it was my place to ask,” I replied.

“They live here in Genoa. I haven’t spoken to them for more than three years. Don’t you want to know why?”

“I expect you are going to tell me whatever I say.”

He ignored me.

“I’d just taken over from my Father, running the Shipyard. I’d never really had any other career open to me. He retired and I became the owner and CEO of the company. All was going well until two things happened in quick succession to really mess things up.”

He swallowed hard.

“Gina announced that she was leaving me and was getting a divorce. She made the announcement at my mother’s birthday party. You can guess how that went down.”

“Not very well. And the other thing?”

“Claudia decided that would be a good time to come out of the closet. Our parents and especially our dear mother are very devout Catholics. It was like the old one-two sucker punch.

My mother blew her top like a good redheaded Irish Lady would. Papa just sat there looking into space.

After a while he said,

“Get out the both of you and don’t darken this house until you have paid for your sins.”

I grabbed Claudia’s hand and we fled.

“How are your parents now?”

“Papa took it very hard. He didn’t say anything to me for nearly six months.”

“What happened then?”

“Claudia and I got on with our lives. She left Italy and went to live in London. She was in a relationship with an Australian woman. That lasted until a just over a year ago.”

“And you?”

“I got on with running the Shipyard. I put everything into my work and the children. The rest you probably know.”

I thought for a moment.

“Why are you telling me this know? Your parents are certainly not going to like you being involved with a ‘travestito’. If Mr Federov goes ahead with his threat might to expose us could be the straw that broke their proverbial backs and could even send one of them to an early grave?”

As soon as I said it, I knew that I’d said it very badly.

Luca didn’t bat any eyelid.

“That is why my darling I am minded to say yes to his offer.”

I was totally shocked by this admission. He was going to let this upstart Russian who smelt like he lived in a whorehouse roll him over with no fight.

I broke free of his grip.

“Oh, I know we would not be able to live in the manner we are used to. No more first class flights. I’d probably have to sell the house in Tuscany, this place and even the house in Bath. But my darling, we could find somewhere to live together.”

I could not believe what he’d just said.

“Are you willing to give all this up without a fight just to be with me?”

Luca took hold of my hands once more.

“Yes Fran. I’m willing to do that. I’ve never been more certain of everything in my life.”

I smiled and cuddled up to him.

“What is the yard worth?”

“Don’t you mean what will the Russians be willing to pay?”

I smiled once more.

“Both.”

Luca thought for a moment.

“One Twenty and five.”

“One Twenty what?”

“Sorry. One Hundred Twenty Million Euros. The yard is worth easily that much. I expect that they will not want to pay more than five.”

“Why only five?”

“Mr Federov is a skinflint. Despite being a billionaire he really does not really want to pay for anything. I suppose that is why he is a billionaire and not just a multi-millionaire.”

“How much will he really pay if pushed?”

Luca looked at me rather oddly.

“You seem rather keen to want to know how much. Have I underestimated you?”

I smiled back.

“Well, you haven’t actually paid me anything since I started working for you. So why wouldn’t I be interested.”

“Oh shit. Haven’t I?”

I grinned back at him.

“I’m so sorry Fran. I… I guess I messed up didn’t I?”

I nodded back at him.

“Getting back on topic?”

“Yes. Please do.”
“Ok. Between Ten and Twenty if pushed hard.”

“Ten Million? That is far too low.”

“I know. But it is almost what the Americans call a fire sale.”

“Don’t you mind?”

There was no immediate answer.

“Actually no.”

“I thought that the yard was your life?”

“No. You and the children are my life.

I sensed my way in.

“How much would it take to get him off your back?”

Luca looked at me strangely.
“Why? It is not as if you can suddenly find twenty million Euros.”

I grinned back.
“Give me a week and I could easily find thirty million.”

You could have knocked him down with a feather.
“Now you are joking. No one has that sort of cash these days.”

I took his hands in mine.

“Darling, there is something you should know about me.”

“Ha ha. I know all about you. That report…”

I shook my head.

“That report only went so far. Remember, that I read it after my first visit to Tuscany. I knew that it had been done in a bit of a hurry so yes, whilst it contains some information about me. If you can remember that when Claudia gave it to me, I said that I wanted to know what they didn’t find out about me. However, that is one thing it missed. A very important thing.”

“Eh?’

“In 2009 bought a job lot of clothes and bits of junk at auction. In it was a veritable gold mine. I found and later sold a Modigliani for around Fifty-Five Million Euros. I paid sixty pounds and a few pence for the lot including fees and taxes.”

“You? How much?”

“Just less than Forty million pounds at the then exchange rate.”

“Wow!”

I smiled back and gently squeezed his hand.
“Now do you understand how I was able to make that promise to the children that I’d not marry you for your money or even take one cent from you?”

Luca thought for a moment.
“Yes. Yes, I think I do now. It never occurred to me before that, well, that you were rich. Why did you want to be a Governess?”

“Simple. I get bored sitting around doing nothing. That was why I opened the shop with Saffy. I needed something to do. Saffy had always dreamed of running a shop, so I gave her the money on the condition that there was a job for me.”

He thought for nearly half a minute.

“But how does that help me now?”

“I invested the money. I put some aside for a rainy day. Some I put into property. Some went into the stock market and some went into gold.”

Luca shook his head.
“I can’t ask you for any money. It is not right.”

“Don’t be silly darling. I bought Gold at $380 per ounce and sold it when it his $1100. I also bought Apple at $340. Now they trade at more than $130 even after a seven for one stock split. Getting €30Million is no problem. It will just take me a few days.”

He shook his head again.

“No darling. I can’t ask you to use all your money to save the yard.”

“Why? I want to help in any way I can?”

He leaned over and kissed me sweetly. I felt that tingle through my whole body. I loved it when he did that.

When we broke off the kiss, I asked,
“Shall I sort out the money?”

Luca looked sad.
“I don’t think so.”

“Why? Why ever not? I want to help?”

He looked at his hands again.
“I’m not sure if I want to.”

I held his hands tightly. I could sense his angst.
“If I gave up the yard and everything I could spend more time with you and my children.”

The use of ‘my’ hit home hard. Then I understood.

“You can’t just let that obnoxious Russian just waltz in and ruin everything. What would your Father say?”

“Leave him out of this,” said Luca in a harsh tone.

Talk about being sensitive. I dropped the subject of his father for the time being.

In the end, we got nowhere. I really tried to get Luca to at least consider letting me invest in the yard but he would have none of it.

~o~O~o~

The following day, an extremely grumpy Luca left for the office well before I was out of bed. As he crashed around in the kitchen a plan began to formulate in my head.

The plan, such as it was, went wrong almost from the start. It was easy to find out where Luca’s father took his mid morning Espresso. The security guard at the Yard was only too eager to help a ‘damsel in distress’. He gave me directions to the place where Luca’s father had coffee each morning.

The Café was not far away so I walked through the narrow streets of Genoa until I found the place.

Without so much as a second thought, I walked in. That was my mistake. It was obviously a ‘Men Only’ place. A fug of cigarette and cigar smoke met me as I opened the door. All conversation ended when the occupants of the Café saw that a woman had the temerity to enter their little bit of heaven.

I realised that I was onto a loser so I left without saying a word, my plan in tatters.

I retreated to another coffee shop where I sank into a seat and felt like shit. An espresso and a pastry did little to help my mood of helplessness.

In the end, I gave up and left the shop and walked back to the Apartment. I’d just put the key in the door when a voice behind me said in passable English.

“Were you were looking for me? At the Café?”

When my heart had restarted itself, I turned to look at the owner of the voice.

The owner was an older version of Luca. Still handsome even though he was well into his 50’s.

“Si… Yes, I was.”

“Well, I’m here. How can I help?”

I was lost for words.

“Please… Please come inside.”

He just smiled at me and followed me into the Apartment.

“Can I get you anything?” I asked as we reached the top of the stairs.

“Some water if possible.”

“Please sit down. I’ll get some for both of us.”

A minute or so later, I carried two glasses on water into the sitting room.

I handed one to him and sat down.

“So, you are Fran.”
He said as he smiled at me.

“You know about me?”

Another smile.

“Yes. I might not be speaking to my son but I do keep up with what he is doing.”

I gulped. I had no idea about this.

“Yes. I’m Fran. I’m English and I’m in love with your son.”

“I gathered as much. You are certainly different from the witch he was married to.”

He knew I was different but I hoped that he didn’t know how much.

“I’m Marco. I’m pleased to meet you.”

He offered his hand to me. I took it in what I hoped was a suitably ladylike manner.

“Pleased to meet you Marco. I wish this meeting could have been in more pleasurable circumstances.”

That wiped the smile from his face.

“What has my son done now? Has he gotten you pregnant?”

“No. It is nothing like that. It is the Shipyard.”

“What of it? I know most of what is going on there?”

“A Russian by the name of Viktor Federov. That is the problem. He is probably part of the Russian Mafia. He wants to take over the yard and does not want to pay much if anything for it. He is trying to blackmail us.”

We talked for more than an hour. It turned out that Marco knew that something was wrong at the yard. Several of the men in the Coffee Shop worked there. Then I told him,

“I did offer to help out financially but Luca is a very proud man.”

Marco laughed.
“Stubborn. My son is very stubborn. He is like me I suppose, a family thing but how can you help him out? That would take an awful lot of money, millions probably.”

I tried not to show any emotion.
“I offered just that, millions.”

Marco sank back in his chair visibly shocked.

Then as he looked at me a smile appeared on his face.

“I really should have expected something like that. Even in the short time I have known you, it is obvious to me that you are a very remarkable young woman.”

I returned a little smile.

“I won’t ask how you came by such a sum, it is not polite. It is satisfying to know that you care so much about Luca and my grandchildren.”

Marco looked at me, right in the eyes.

“How can I help?”

“As I said, Luca seems to want to give in without a fight. If he wants to spend more time with me and his family that is fine but it really saddens me that he might be using that as an excuse to walk away and not get any money in return.”

“I understand that. What do you want me to do?”

“Start talking to your son again and then convince him that if he really does want to walk away from the yard that it is left in capable hands and not run by some Russian Mobster. If I know anything about those Russians, they will rape and pillage the business and simply walk away from the mess. All they care about is getting more money into their bank accounts. Long term is just not in their vocabulary.”

I knew from the short time I’d know him that Marco was a man of surprises. He still surprised me by standing up, pulling me to me feet and wrapping his arms around me.

“I will do everything I can to help my son. By doing that I will be helping you.”

I pulled away from his grip.

“Shall I tell him that I have spoken with you?”

Marco laughed.

“No. Well not here. He probably knows about your visit to the Coffee Shop. That is where I keep up with things. It is probably a two-way street. Perhaps we should keep our meeting here today just between us.”

“I will. What are you going to do?”

“It is better that you don’t know. Then you can tell no lies.”

I couldn’t fault his logic.

“I hope that when this is over you will have a better relationship with your children.”

“I’d like that very much but my wife…”

I smiled.
“Would not take kindly to being friends with Claudia again?”

“I can see that we will get along fine Fran. Luca is a lucky man to have found someone like you. Very lucky indeed.”

That made me blush. I briefly held his hand in mine.
He smiled at me and gave out a big sigh as he gently removed my hand from his.
Marco took that as his cue to leave.

~o~O~o~

Luca was strangely quiet that evening upon his return from work. In the end, he said,

“Are you going to tell me about your day?”

“Why? I expect you already know that I spoke to your Father?”

“Why? Why on earth did you go behind my back like that?”

I leaned over the kitchen table and took his hands in mine.

“Because my darling I couldn’t sit by and watch you give up the yard without a fight.”

“Still you should have told me first.”

I smiled at him.
“And you would have said No.”

“It does not matter. I’ve made up my mind to sell it to that Russian.”

“Please don’t rush into selling. I don’t care if I’m exposed or not.”

“But I do. There is the rest of the family to consider.”

“Eh? I don’t think you thought much of your family since they all but disowned you over your divorce?”

“Yes. But that does not matter. If the TV stations controlled by our dear former Prime Minister Berlusconi get hold of it then we are sunk. They are far worse than even the worst British Tabloids. It will embarrass my family. That is something I don’t want to even if we aren’t talking at the moment.”

There was something about that frustrating man sitting on the other side of the table from me that made me mad as hell. No one else had ever had this effect on me.

~o~O~o~

We didn’t have to wait for long to find out what Marco was going to do. While we were having breakfast two days later the phone rang.

I answered it
“Si”

I listened intently to the voice on the other end.

“Si Chow,” I said when the voice had finished talking.

I was shaking when I put the phone down.

Luca was looking at me with a very worried look in his face.

I looked at him for a few seconds before saying,

“If you want to sell the yard there is a buyer a little closer to home who will gladly take over from you.”

“Was this my Father speaking on the phone just now?”

“Yes, it was. However, he is not the one wanting to take over the yard.”

“What do you mean?”

I sighed.
“Viktor Federov is part of the Russian Mafia correct?”

“Yes why?”

“Who would be a perfect counter for the Russian Mob?”

He looked at me blankly.

I sighed again. Sometimes, men can be so dense.
As soon as I said it, I had to chuckle to myself.

“Perhaps an organisation from a little south of here?”

He looked blankly at me.

“Come on Luca. Think.”

He still didn’t get it.

“How about some people from Sicily?

“The Cosa Nostra? You can’t be serious!”

“Well, my ever so slightly thick darling, yes they are. Perfectly serious.”

“Is this all my Father’s doing?”

I nodded my head.
“So I’m going to have to give up the yard to a different bunch of thugs?”

“Not quite. There will be a sum on money involved naturally but they are diversifying into legitimate businesses. As long as the yard makes money, then they would be a silent partner.”

“What about the Money Laundering laws? Our esteemed Prime minister has put all sorts of laws in place to stop this sort of thing?”

“From what your Father said, that won’t be a problem. Something about a bank account in the Cayman Islands.”

“But why is he doing this?”

I smiled back at him.

“I think he took a bit of a shine to me.”

Luca leaned over the table and kissed me long and hard.

“Merde! Fran, you’d talk the hind legs off a Donkey.”

“I know. What would you have done without me eh?”

“Oh you!”

We kissed for a long time. A very long time indeed.

~o~O~o~

Before we left Genoa to return to Bath, Luca’s parents invited us to their home for a meeting of reconciliation.

I was very nervous at the though of meeting his Mother.

As soon as I saw her I understood.

“Fran, meet my wife, Niamh”.

Niamh was a tall fiery red head. As soon as she opened her mouth I knew that we were not going to get along.

“So you are the English bitch my son has shacked up with then? Has he got you pregnant yet?”

Her Irish accent had not been dimmed by the years of living in Italy. Despite those years, her sense of fashion was more Belfast housing estates than Milan high fashion.

That said, I could see that Marco was in love with her.

The more time I spent in her presence the more I felt the knives being sharpened and plunged into my back.

For some reason, Niamh hated the English. She seemed to delight in putting me down at every opportunity.

By the time we ‘escaped’ from their home, any thoughts of reconciliation were long gone. Luca had tried his hardest to defend me. Marco was well in the middle and had kept well out of it. I had really warmed to him. As Luca and I walked back through the now quiet city streets, I felt sorry for him. He really deserved better than her.

When we got home, Luca really tried hard to cheer me up. He really didn’t succeed very well.

The poor man did his best but as I laid in bed listening to his heavy breathing I felt as if I had the whole world on my shoulders. It took a long time but eventually I fell asleep.

Then next think I knew was Luca was shaking me awake.

“Fran! Wake up.”
“Wake up!”

“What… what’s up?” I mumbled.
“You were having a nightmare.”

I looked at him blankly.
“Eh?”

“You were ranting on about being kidnapped by Federov and being forced to dance half naked in a cage with your boobs hanging out.”

I almost started to laugh but I saw he was serious. A shiver went through my whole body.

He wrapped his arms around me. Then I burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

My hand wrapped itself around his very erect penis.

“This is!”

We collapsed onto the bed laughing and cuddling each other.

After a while and with my nightmare pushed to the back on my mind, I whispered some sweet nothings into his ear.

“Did what I said in my dream turn you on?”

He stiffened up immediately.

“No…. no it didn’t.”

I said nothing. I knew him well enough to know that it did. The thing that troubled me was that I could not remember one thing about it. It didn’t trouble me it actually pissed me off.

~o~O~o~

Over breakfast, I asked Luca about his mother.
“Why does your Mother hate me? Do you think she knows about me?”

“Don’t worry about Mama. Her bark is worse than her bite,” replied Luca as if I’d stamped on his toe.

I doubted that but I left it there.

“What are you plans for the day?” Asked Franki.

“Don’t you remember? I told I was going to the charity clothes auction.”

“Oh yes. I remember. What time is your train?”

“Just after nine.”
I looked at him and fluttered my eyelashes. I was wearing some shortish false ones for my trip to Milan. I was also wearing a Chanel two piece that dated from the early 1970’s. The hormones I’d been taking for the past nine months had filled me out in ‘all the right places’ and given me a figure that could carry the outfit without any of the padding I’d used before.
“I take it you would like a lift to the Station?”
“Please?”

He sighed.
“Ok. Go and finish getting ready while I clear up here. Then we can be off. I have a Board meeting at 10:00.”

~o~O~o~

I was feeling pretty good with myself when I got off the train in Milan. The weather had warmed up a bit and I’d seen the snow-capped Alps looking stunning in the warm winter sun from the train. I even managed to get a Taxi without having to wait.

The auction was a low-key affair. It wasn’t formal at all. It was more of a reception with food and wine and the occasional burst of bidding.

I’d discussed which items to bid for with Saffy over Skype the previous week. She was working with Claudia at expanding the business. I’d volunteered to help them in anyway I could.

I was talking to an absolute bore when the first item we were after came up.
“Scusilo. Devo fare una punta per questo articolo.” {Excuse me I must go and make a bid on this item}

To my surprise, I was outbid by a mystery bidder on the phone. Nevertheless, I smiled nicely and concentrated on the next item.

By the time I’d been outbid for the fourth time, I was getting somewhat frustrated. No other lots were being contested so I decided to change tack.

The next item was an awful dress that could have been right out of those worn on 1980’s TV shows such as Dallas. This was the last dress that we’d ever have considered having in the shop simply for the fact that it was a particularly horrid day-glo pink.

I bid for it and sure enough the mystery bidder put in a bit that was always higher than mine. I decided to have some fun and called out my next bid.

“Due Mila Euro.”

There were a few gasps from some of the other bidders.

All eyes turned towards the ‘phone bidder’.

“Due Mila Euro cinquecento,” said the woman who was talking with the bidder.

There were more gasps.

Everyone looked at me. I smiled sweetly, paused and then said,

“Cinque Mila Euro.”

The audible intake of breath from the room was deafening. I could hear the words ‘loco’ from several people in the room.

Then it quietened down as everyone looked at the woman on the phone.

You could hear a literal pin drop in the room.

The woman listened intently to the voice at the other end.

Everyone could hear her ask the voice to repeat themselves.

“Euro di Diecimila,” she said calmly yet shaking her head.

There were more gasps, and everyone looked at me once more.

I smiled back at them. With almost a grin, I raised my hand up.

“Sia lasciato chiunque sul telefono lo hanno. Spero che osservino molto buoni in un vestito che vale ogni centesimo quel voi pagato per esso è per la carità.” {Let them have it. I hope they look very good in a dress that is worth every cent that you paid for it. After all, it is for Charity.}

A few people started clapping me for my words. I grinned back and enjoyed my few seconds of fame.

I was still worried why only the items I was bidding were contested when I slipped out of the Hotel where the auction was taking place and headed for my train back to Genoa.

I was waiting for a Taxi outside the hotel when a big black Mercedes pulled up near me. I didn’t think any more of it until I saw out of the corner of my eye, Mrs Federov dashing out of the hotel and climbing into the car. Suddenly the rear window opened and the ‘pink dress’ was tossed out of the car into the road. The dress that someone had just paid ten thousand euros for!

It disappeared with a screech of tyres leaving me standing their totally gobsmacked at what had just happened.

The only thing I could think of was that she was the mystery bidder. The bidder that had out bid me at every opportunity.

I was still in a daze as I climbed into the Taxi. To make matters worse, as it left the hotel, it ran right over that pink monstrosity. Perhaps there is a god?

[to be continued]



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