“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.”
January 14, 2012
Clamart, Suburb of Paris, France
Lucca left for Paris that Saturday, with a farewell wish from his mother that she would be expecting the wedding invitation card from the post very soon.
At Paris, Lucca decided to set up a private interior design company, which he named Govicci. He had no experience in the field, but he did have good taste. Even as a child, he’d always been interested in selecting the colors and designs that would be used in the interiors of his home. Even in high school, he was the popular choice for supervising aesthetic arrangements whenever a major event was to happen.
After all, Lucca’s grandfather was the famed Alessandro Mendini, the man who made Milano the capital of the modern design in Europe. Art and aesthetics ran in his blood.
Most importantly, Lucca wanted to achieve more than what he’d achieved so far - by living a life free of crime, using his brains and focusing on his talents. His time at America had tempted him to enter the murky world of crime; now, he wanted those doors to be closed for good. Lucca employed a small team, in a modest office, in Neuilly Sur Seine. Every step of the way, he had Isabella by his side.
Apart from the fact that her knowledge on modern interior design was a great asset to the business, she was his strength, his partner and his love - his everything.
Lucca’s fame in the Parisian market grew. While he didn’t have enough funds to create big adverts, his IT knowledge helped ensure his company stayed at the top. Across all the search engines, Govicci regularly featured as one of the top three Interior Design companies in France. He used the most impactful online promotional tools and adverts, SEO, and the most effective marketing SMSes and emails.
Within 14 months of its inception, Govicci was already a consumer favorite. Its elegance, uniqueness and marketing strategies set it apart from the rest of the competition. Soon, they were receiving more deals, further hype and greater attention through a growing clientele of American celebrities.
It was during his rise to fame that Milan for Life, a company located in Neuilly Sur Seine, owned by the Mayor of Paris, made a proposal to him. When Lucca picked up his phone that evening, he was pleasantly surprised to learn that the man on the other end of the line was Philippe Dupont, the mayor.
“Are you Lucca, the owner of Govicci?”
“Yes, I am.” Lucca answered as he puts his specs away. His head was already swirling with designs and deals he could recommend to the Mayor, presuming that was why someone of such a high caliber would have personally gotten in touch with him. But, he was thunderstruck with what he heard next.
“I would like you to join me at Milan for Life. I think we could achieve great things if we work together.
You would receive a handsome salary and also get a percentage from the company’s net margin. You wouldn’t want to miss this offer, would you?”
Milan for Life was huge, with not a single person in France unaware of the brand-name. Lucca couldn’t find the right words to respond just then, so he tried to stay poised, and told the mayor he’d call him back later.
“That won’t be necessary. How about we meet in my office next week?”
“That would be good too. How about Monday evening?”
“Perfect,” the mayor smiled, before ending the call.
Lucca sat stock-still in his chair for a while, until the door slid open, breaking his trance.
“My dear.” He walked over to Isabella and huddled her in an ecstatic hug.
She stayed in his arms, snuggling her face in the crook of his neck, wondering what could have happened. When he wouldn’t release her several seconds later, she chuckled. “You should just tell me what’s happened before you end up squeezing out all the food I’ve just finished eating.”
“You went out to eat?” Lucca let go and peered behind her, hoping he would spot a takeaway bag. “Did you get something for me?”
“Just tell me the story behind this bone-crushing hug. I need to contact a customer now, Lucca… remember?” Isabella moved away with a playful blink, and then went over to the desk, to browse through a few files.
“I think that would be our last customer… I just got a call from Milan for Life. They want us to work with them.”
“What?” She paused, as the news hit her. “No wait… what? Did you just say Milan for Life?” Isabella dropped the file she’d just picked up and scuttled back to Lucca. “You shouldn’t be joking about this. Did they really call you?”
“Absolutely. But I turned it down.” Lucca lowered his eyes.
“Gosh. What is wrong with you? Who refuses an offer like that? You better pick up that phone and tell them you weren’t in the right state of mind when you answered. Or better still - give me the phone.” Isabella huffed, grabbing his mobile from the table.
“Not that one. It’s the other one.” Lucca pointed to the landline that he’d received the call from.
Isabella walked around to pick up the phone, when she caught Lucca laughing. “This isn’t funny. Like… it isn’t funny at all.”
“Do you honestly think I would have said no? Don’t you know me?” He winked. “We’ll be meeting them next week, at the company.”
“You jerk. You had me there for a moment.” She patted his arm. “So, how did it all happen?”
“That was all that we discussed, before Philippe Dupont ended the call.”
“Wow!!!” Her eyes widened. “Philippe called you – personally?”
“Yes.” He cocked a brow mischievously, “and Philippe? You know the man or something? Apart from the fact that he’s the Mayor and the CEO of Milan for Life.”
“I’ve actually known him for a long time. I was studying French-Italian design when I checked up about him on the net. I really do admire the man.”
“So,” he sauntered over to her and grabbed her waist, “since when did you start taking a liking to French style?”
She shrugged. “Since I started liking a Frenchman, with Italian roots.” With a twinkle in her eye, she reached for the files she’d been attending to - but he wouldn’t let her go.
“You still haven’t mentioned anything about my food.” Draping his hands firmly around her, he reached the low of her back and pulled her closer still. “You know… I’m really hungry now…” he added, “for a taste of you.”
“Really?” She chuckled, color deepening her cheeks.
On Monday, Dupont offered him a deal that would fetch Lucca a good salary, and twenty percent of the net profit at the end of each fiscal year. Lucca had asked for thirty percent when Dupont offered ten. They both arrived at an understanding, at twenty percent.
When Lucca returned home, he updated Isabella on all that’d unfolded. After taking a few days to debate and discuss the offer amongst themselves, they agreed to the deal.
The sale of Govicci sparked a bidding war, bringing their investments a handsome profit. Once Lucca and Isabella joined Milan for Life, they put in a lot of effort – after all, working there was a dream come true for both. They were responsible for several lucrative transactions, and a plethora of large projects, which were enough for Lucca and Isabella to secure their future. If only they knew that they’d never get to see the twenty percent net-benefits they’d signed up for.
The end of the first fiscal year arrived. In one of the general meetings, Lucca suggested that it was high time Dupont fulfilled the second part of the deal.
“Things don’t work like that,” Dupont flicked a palm. “We have to receive all payments from our customers, before we share profits. It’s then that you get your twenty percent.”
Lucca didn’t like this one bit, and he could sense that Dupont’s tone was evasive. He didn’t want to drag the issue at the meeting, though. So, he brought it up later – during several instances, in fact. Every one of those instances, Dupont brushed him off with vague answers and a fake rhetoric.
Meanwhile, Lucca’s parents were eager to start planning his wedding and asked the pair if they had a date in mind. Before deciding on one, Isabella spoke to her grandmother to find out if they could book tickets for her, so she could attend the ceremony. While the old woman offered the couple her blessings, she declined their offer as her health was poorly. And despite further pleas, she turned her granddaughter down gently, for she did not want to take a risk.
Lucca informed Dupont about the impending marriage, who promised to offer him as much support as he could. As a man of power, he was able to ensure the ceremony was a grand affair, raking in contributions from several eminent connections. Apart from his family, his colleagues and friends graced the most beautiful day of Lucca’s life – a day when he finally got to be united with the love of his life forever.
Two and half years passed. Lucca hadn’t received the proposed twenty percent from Dupont yet.
During that time, the departments they’d headed in Milan for Life had made great strides. None of their competitors stood a chance.
Even Ksenia, their once biggest rival had lost both, its reputation and luster in the market.
Though disgruntled by the fact that he hadn’t received what he was meant to, Lucca continued working for Milan for Life. However, he learned an ugly truth the hard way, when he approached Dupont for a loan.
“What are you saying?” Dupont smirked, “that I should give you 400,000 Euros? What’s wrong with the home you’re currently residing at?”
Lucca was irked. “I’m expecting my first child with Isabella and we want to shift to a bigger house in a more family-friendly neighborhood.”
“Apologies, but I cannot offer you a loan. I am no bank. I suggest you approach one for a loan… or better still, use your savings. I pay you handsomely every month.”
Lucca clenched his teeth, biting back on what he truly thought of Dupont’s stance. Instead, he proceeded to remind him of their deal again. “Twenty percent of annual profits, remember the deal? This is the third year, and I’m yet to see any of it. Thanks to my efforts, you’ve solidified your company further. And I’m being treated like an ordinary employee.”
Obviously, Dupont wasn’t moved in the slightest.
Lucca was seething as he explained all that transpired at work to Isabella.
“What?” “How could he treat you that way? True - Milan for Life was big before we arrived, but you made it the biggest.”
“I just need to get hold of those contract papers. Something big is about to hit the mighty Dupont.”
“Promise me you won’t do anything illegal. We gave that up years ago.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not going back.” Lucca kissed Isabella on her forehead and headed to the room.
Lucca arranged for an appointment with a leading lawyer, and showed him the agreement he had signed with Dupont, hoping for justice. Instead, he received a massive jolt, when the lawyer advised him that he was holding a fake set of documents that wouldn’t hold a case in court. Lucca was shattered and could only blame himself for this. How on earth had he not been suspicious? Dupont had lured him into selling Govicci with false promises and then used him all along! Worse, as mayor, he would face no repercussions, since he was an influential figure in the country, leaving Lucca trapped in all directions. After everything he had done, he was back to zero. Again.
Isabella suggested that should try and start a new company. “Something like Govicci? We’ll work again… together.”
“But, we’ll be starting from scratch!” Lucca was overwhelmed with rage – a rage that grew and grew at the knowledge that Dupont was basking in success, while all of his own hard work had gone to waste. After several sleepless nights, and stressful days, he eventually made up his mind that he couldn’t just let the matter slide. “I can’t… I just can’t let this go. I have to deal with Dupont.”
One sunny afternoon, he met with Julien, his closest friend in the neighborhood, who was a landscape architect, and a single dad living with his daughter. When Lucca brought up his issues with Dupont, Julien mentioned that the founder of Ksenia, Giorgio, was once an employee of Dupont too, and that it was after their fall out that Giorgio established Ksenia. “Apparently, no one knows the reasons behind the fall out.” He added.
Lucca sensed something fishy about the story.
“What if Dupont deceived Giorgio too?” He pondered, coming up with a plan to meet Giorgio to learn more.
Giorgio was very pleased when he heard that Lucca was around to see him and received him well.
October 30, 2014
Rue de Courcelles, Paris, France
After exchanging pleasantries, Lucca arrived straight at the question that’d been troubling him.
“Is there a particular reason why you stopped working with Dupont?”
Giorgio furrowed his brows. “That is private. A few professional differences of opinion – that is all.”
Lucca steepled his fingers. “Perhaps, I should have started off by telling you my story first. That might convince you to share a little more about your past.”
Lucca went on to tell Giorgio everything that’d befallen him - starting from the first call right up to his meeting with the lawyer where he’d discovered that the documents were fake. “I was clearing up my desk on what I’d decided was going to be my last day when Dupont waltzed into my cabin and shut the door behind him. He mentioned seeing my Resignation letter on his desk and came to confirm if it was true.” Lucca sighed. “I rebuffed him, telling him that I’d been reduced to the role of an ordinary employee and that I had nothing of significance to do at Milan for Life. In turn, he rebuffed me back - offering to let me stay till I found another job, so I wouldn’t be idling at home – the gall!”
When Lucca finished narrating the events, Giorgio nodded his head slowly, deep in thought. “That was exactly what happened to me too. I worked with him for six years - but by the end, he broke my trust completely. He made a fool out of me. I set up Ksenia because of what he had done to me. Ksenia was reaching great heights… I was confident I could knock him off the top spot, until Govicci came along. You creators of Govicci must be pretty magical - you pushed Ksenia off the competition within a year.” He shook his head, “seems like Dupont didn’t think twice, before mistreating you the same way.”
“I’m not going down without a fight.” Lucca hit his hand on the table. “Dupont should pay for what he did to me. To both of us.”
“Well, do you have any idea what you want to do? You’re the tech guy… you should probably have something that we could use to expose him.”
“I haven’t come up with anything concrete yet – but when I do, I would need your help to bring him down. Let’s do that together.”
“Trust me, no one would want that as much as I do. I’ll tell you when I have something in mind. I have a staff meeting now – so, I should probably head off. We’ll talk later.” Giorgio walked Lucca out of his office, thumping a business card in his hand.
At home, Lucca tried coming up with a foolproof ploy to trap Dupont. After all, Dupont was a man in power and had several resources at his disposal. If he planned to expose him, he would have to go nuclear. Lucca hacked the company’s system and went through all the records - collecting evidence of proceedings and lawsuits that the man had been embroiled in since the company started. What he came across was shocking – tax evasion, forgery and even blackmail. He could use this against Dupont. What remained to be seen was ‘how’? He got in touch with Giorgio without delay. “I have something I must discuss with you – ASAP!”
They met up at a restaurant close to Ksenia, where Lucca revealed everything he’d unearthed. Giorgio went through the evidence, scrolling back to the time when he was still an employee at Milan for Life. And he noticed a lot of unfamiliar transactions that Dupont had never told him about. They speculated on the sordid affairs that might have led to the doctored figures, and managed to access a few ‘real’ figures. They noticed the involvement of an anonymous person in the files, but he wasn’t whom they were after. Bringing Dupont down was the purpose of this mission. Once they’d sorted out the files and amassed enough evidence that could incriminate him, they approached Giorgio’s lawyer with what they’d found.
November 10, 2014
International Law Firm
Rue de Miromesnil, Paris, France
“This evidence is very incriminating. While the material would be inadmissible in court, this would let the prosecution know where to look at and what to look for. From what I see, this man seems to be a person of high standing, but Falsification and tax evasion would be enough to fetch him a jail term.
So,” he paused, “are you going to tell me what this is about? Or rather, who this is about?”
Lucca and Giorgio had redacted all identifying information in the files so the lawyer wouldn’t be able to figure out the man in question. “We’d prefer not divulging that information at the moment.” They nodded. The plan was to let the public prosecution handle the case. The public prosecutors had filed lawsuits against Dupont in the past and would be best suited to handle this.
“I have a very good prosecutor as my friend and he could take this up for you… well… if you wish.” The lawyer handed the files back to Giorgio. As they both thanked him and stood to leave, he added, “You’re not going to ask me for his contact information?”
“Don’t worry. We have someone already.”
Lucca shared the new developments with Isabella.
“You’re dealing with a dangerous man so you have to be on guard.” She reminded him, “we can’t afford slip-ups… and please don’t trust Giorgio completely. You barely know him… you’ve only just met. Nothing should happen to you, to me… or to…” Isabella rubbed her hands on her swollen stomach with concern, “to our unborn child.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be careful. Hope Andrea isn’t disturbing you too much?” Lucca joined her side and kissed her belly, referring to the name he’d picked for their baby.
Isabella nudged Lucca away with a smile and patted him on his arm. “I told you – it’s a ‘he’. And we aren’t naming him that. I’m going to come up with another name soon enough. Something more beautiful.” Isabella leaned her forehead against his.
Lucca took his hands up to her, cradling her face in his gentle clasp. He began humming a song, while she listened on with her eyelids closed. In the middle of the third verse though, he suddenly paused and whispered. “I love you.”
Isabella opened her eyes, and pitched him a curious look. “Yes… I know that… something you want to tell me?” She waited for him to continue.
He paused, keeping her in suspense for a long while and then, took a mischievous step back. “Just that I’ll be brewing my special coffee for you now.”
He retreated to the kitchen, cracking a broad smile as she hurled a few playful gripes his way - “You’re a jerk Lucca… I was worried… thought you had a secret to tell me!”
Lucca looked out of the window of Giorgio’s Sedan. They were on their way back from the public prosecutor’s office; the meeting had been an eventful one. After giving the files a quick skim, the prosecutor had assured the pair that they would begin proceedings for a formal search warrant.
“Lucca…” Giorgio spoke up, after they’d been riding the quiet roads for a while, “I have been thinking about something lately but I don’t know if it’s something you’ll agree to.”
“What’s that? Tell me what it is and who knows,” Lucca blinked, “I might just about agree to it.”
“I want you to work with me…. rather, I want us to work together.”
“What do you mean?” Lucca frowned. “Explain what you have in mind, Giorgio.”
“I want you to work with me, as a partner. Ksenia is in desperate need of a good set of brains for an overhaul… and you must be on the lookout for a venture to invest your talents in.” His tone remained modest. “This could be a win-win. I’m happy to agree to a 50-50 share in profits.”
“50-50?” Lucca stared on. Gosh, Ksenia was doing worse than he’d presumed then. At first glance, 50-50 sounded very tempting. However, after having been burned in the past, he was wary about giving the nod straightaway. “I would like to discuss this further – and see where this goes.”
Giorgio eventually explained the idea he had in mind, and how he envisioned their future working relationship would be. Lucca was to go to Italy and set up a factory. Ksenia wouldn’t have to import merchandize from other sources, and could import goods from their own Italian factory – which would help with both, quality control and costs. “You’ll be managing the factory in Italy – if that is something that takes your fancy, of course.”
Some digging and much thought later, Lucca finally accepted the offer.
Few weeks later, Lucca and Isabella were at the airport, meeting up with Giorgio – for what was to be the start of a new enterprise. “The details of the hotel reservation at Milan have been emailed to you… all the best, Lucca.”
Lucca hugged Giorgio and thanked him once again, for his support in helping him regain some footing in the world of business.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Besides, you’ve earned it.” Giorgio beamed. “Anyway, I guess it’s time for your flight. Ping me when you get there.”
Once Giorgio left, Lucca took a long glance of his wife’s dewy eyes. Formalities dictated that it would be a while before she got to join him. Caressing her cheeks, he planted a kiss on her lips.
“Bye dear, take care.”
As the overhead announcement blared, their hands came apart, and he began taking a few steps away, in the direction of the elevators. He got in, stealing one last look of his beloved, before the elevator doors shut and the car proceeded down.