“Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take.”
Angela N. Blount
In Italy, Lucca ensured the smooth running of the operations, while Giorgio did the same from France. They were able to work well as a team, and business was faring well.
Eventually, Isabella joined him too. Life seemed to be getting sunny once again.
However, Lucca didn’t allow the short spell of success to distract him from his goal, and continued following the case against Dupont on a regular basis. He was to learn that taking down a top official was tougher than he’d fathomed. Following a marathon of procedures and investigations, a case was filed at long last, which progressed for months with no end in sight. While the prosecutors seemed to be doing their best, the tardiness of the process was beginning to get to Lucca. And Giorgio had to remind him often that they weren’t dealing with an ordinary citizen of France, but the Mayor of the French capital.
June 22, 2015
Via Don Giovanni, Milan, Italy
One night, Lucca was in the kitchen preparing dinner when Isabella called out to him. Isabella was entering her third trimester when she’d joined him at Milan, and Lucca decided to take up the lion’s share of the household chores so she could rest up – and that share included the kitchen chores. “It’s our first baby, and I want my babe to relax… to enjoy herself…” he’d tell her anytime she decided to get busy with work.
“Quick, Lucca… come here….”
“What is it? Can’t come… the soup needs stirring.”
“There’s something that just came up on the news… you’ve got to see this.”
Lucca came out of the kitchen – and what he saw left him grinning with excitement.
There were news crews crowding a large mansion, filming a squad of policemen ushering the mayor into a van.
The headlines flashing at the bottom read –
”MAYOR DUPONT ARRESTED AFTER A SERIES OF ONGOING INVESTIGATIONS.”
The clipping that followed was a brief interview from the prosecutor – the one they’d hired to lead the case against him.
“There are plenty of allegations against the mayor, and we have been investigating him for months now. We’ll make sure justice prevails. This is a lesson - not just for Dupont - but for any other person out there, who thinks he is above the law,” the prosecutor announced before walking out, waving off a barrage of questions from the media.
Lucca punched a fist in the air, in sheer joy. “Yes! The mighty have fallen.”
The caller-tune on his phone rang. “Giorgio?” He answered the call in a hurry. “I guess you watched the news too… I can sense the relief in your voice.”
“Yes, I saw it. Dupont is down. He’s finally down.”
“He might be down. But this is far from over. Actually, the reason his arrest was expedited was because there were fears he would flee abroad. Now, that would make it impossible to catch him. I guess you’ve heard of the term jungle-justice? We can say they’re trying to tame the beast - Dupont - now.”
“Are you referring to him getting out on bail?”
“Depends on the scenario. If they’re able to prove that there have been incidents of corruption or favoritism during the investigation, he gets to walk.”
A second later, Lucca shook his head. “Nah, I’m sure that’s not going to happen. In any case, this is the first step towards victory. We won the battle – we’ll try and win the war too.” He fell silent with a sigh. “Anyway…about the furniture that you’d requested, I’ll need two additional days for the delivery. With Isabella around, my list of tasks have gotten longer, and work a little slower.” Lucca laughed, casting a sly glance at his wife.
Giorgio chuckled. “I understand. Say hi to her for me.”
As Lucca walked towards the table to drop the phone, he noticed her stern eyes studying him. “What’s with the death-stare?”
“I heard my name - are you going to tell me what that was about?”
“Hmm, nothing really…” he stopped, his grin disappearing when he sniffed what smelled like the aroma of burned soup. “Geez, our dinner!” He rushed into the kitchen, leaving behind an amused wife.
Ksenia continued growing and expanding, with the two partners working hand in hand. Ksenia dominated nearly seventy five percent of the French design market, while Milan for life was on the verge of collapse, with the scandal clouding their owner bringing their repute to an instant demise. Different companies had flocked with offers to buy out Milan for Life, but Dupont was dead set against selling. Perhaps, he hoped that his clout would help get him out of the ugly situation he was in.
The trial to persecute Dupont was delayed, since this was a high-profile case and the procedures were complicated.
Further investigation brought to light the name of one of his major accomplices, his brother Christophe. Christophe was a senior officer, who worked with the Ministry of Construction and building. The unearthed proof made it obvious that Christophe was his right hand man, who conducted the criminal dealings and helped him doctor records and documents. The duo had also usurped land that did not belong to them, by forging the records of property ownership. The case against Dupont had grown larger than what was originally exposed, and it seemed even his team of elite defense attorneys could not save the brothers now. Dupont was trapped in a quagmire of his own making, and the man who’d shone the first spotlight on his misdeeds was – Lucca.
July 23, 2015
It was a routine Thursday evening at work, when Lucca received a frantic call. “Pl… please come home soon…” she cried in panic, “the baby… it’s coming…”
He immediately handed over whatever he’d been doing to his assistant and rushed home – the ride that generally took him ten minutes, only taking him six minutes that day. When he dashed indoors, she was on her knees, struggling to grab the keys from a table. “Lucca…” her face had reddened from the agony.
“I…” “I know… I know…” Gently propping her up onto her feet, he grabbed the hospital bag, and helped her to the car, muttering reassurances to her throughout. “You’ll be ok…” he brushed her arms while buckling her seatbelt, “relax… breathe easy.”
ASST Metropolitan Hospital Niguarda
Piazza dell’Ospedale, Milan, Italy
They drove to the nearest hospital, his worried glances veering towards the passenger seat, as Isabella writhed in pain. They didn’t have long. As soon as they drove into the emergency room of the hospital, the midwives took over. Lucca stayed right next to her throughout, as her source of support and strength. Hours since the start of her ordeal, and several shot nerves later, the wails of their infant filled the room. The midwife wrapped him in a fleece and handed the baby to its proud parents, before leaving the delivery room to give the new family a few moments of privacy.
“Baby Alessandro,” Isabella cooed, playing with his little nose using a fingertip.
“That wasn’t the name we agreed on,” Lucca furrowed his brows. “It was supposed to be Andrea.” He caressed his son’s cottony cheek.
“That said… Alessandro doesn’t sound bad either,” his eyes gleamed, as he winked at Isabella. “Now, let’s call the new grandmother… and great-grandmother, and let them know about little Alessandro, shall we?”
The birth of his son posed Lucca a new challenge, bringing back memories of the crimes he’d committed during his stay in the US. Night after night, he’d be riddled with nightmares of the faces of those he’d fleeced money from, thus inflicting them with debt and poverty. Moneywise, he was well off and could boast of being able to give his son everything – but he knew the people he stole from would not be able to care the same way for their children.
After a few soul-searching discussions with Isabella, he decided to start contributing to the less privileged in Atlanta. He allocated part of his annual earnings to orphanages and charities that helped sufferers of heart disease and cancer. What he was doing would not erase the misdeeds that’d already been committed – but, it was better than doing nothing at all.
Prison de la Santé
42 Rue de la Santé, Paris, France
October 02, 2015
Dupont and Christophe’s court hearings had begun. It was while their team were cross-checking facts in preparation for their case that they learned about the man who’d secretly led the crusade against them - Lucca. “After everything that I did for that bastard… I sponsored his wedding, took him to great heights... helped him make great connections and now…” Dupont hissed to Christophe. “If he thinks he can destroy my entire life and business, he’s delusional.” His tone was quivering with such anger that he had even his brother concerned. “I made a grave mistake by not taking him off the grid when I could have… and now he’s become the noose around my neck. I’ll get back at him.”
Isabella flew to Atlanta with the baby for a month to spend some time with her grandmother. Her grandmother was on the slow road to recovery following a hip surgery, and was able to move around, manage using a walker - something she’d been unable to do until a few months ago. Lucca refused to join his wife, since he’d sworn off America, the land of his darkest moments.
Finally, several months after the first hearing had begun, the judge ruled the case in the prosecution’s favor. Despite the connections and the money, the overwhelming testimonials and evidence against Dupont and Christophe landed them a 10-year jail term and a fine of 225,000 Euros.
For Lucca and Isabella, their horizon resembled a sunny meadow then, with neither storms nor shadows lurking about. Business was smooth. Lucca’s nightmares had stopped. Dupont had lost his case.
A new mayor had been appointed for Paris, and the great Dupont Empire was bought out by a rich Russian who had plans of his own for the conglomerate.
May 14, 2016
Via Don Giovanni, Milan, Italy
One languid weekend morning, Isabella had just finished rocking Alessandro to sleep on her easy chair, when she heard the muted sounds of her caller tune. “Oh no… I left my phone in the kitchen again.” Isabella slapped her forehead. “Lucca! Lucca!! Lucca!!!” She called out before recalling he’d headed for the gym. Tucking the baby into his crib, she adjusted her clothes, switched on the baby monitor and rushed downstairs to the kitchen to check her phone. “Janet?” She smiled at the caller id, and rang her mother-in-law back straightaway.
“At first, you lovebirds stopped checking in on us… and now with little Alessandro around, you’re ignoring my calls too!” Janet jested, as soon as she picked up the call. “Poor us.”
Isabella winced sheepishly. “Sorry, mom. I hope you both are doing well.”
“Well, yeah. We are exactly how we were, when you last saw us…”
“Ohhh Mom. How’s Dad?”
“He’s right here. Just wait a moment.” Janet walked over to Alberto, who was seated on the couch. Isabella could hear the shuffle of footsteps and Alberto’s voice asking who the caller was.
“Is that our son?”
“No, it’s our daughter.” Janet said as she passed the phone to him.
Alberto cleared his throat. “How’s Milan dear? And how’s Alessandro doing?”
No sooner had he mentioned Alessandro than Janet tried yanking the phone from him, and they got into a small tussle. “I almost forgot to ask about my little darling. How is he? Can you put him on the speaker?”
“Alessandro is sleeping. Now you two stop fighting for the phone…” Isabella chuckled as she overheard their argument through the speaker.
“Don’t mind your Mom.” Alberto’s voice resurfaced, drowning Janet’s grumbling. “She’s being silly. So, tell me more…”
“Milan is good. We’re all fine.”
“Speaking of which, where’s Lucca?”
“He’s at the gym and...” Isabella paused when she heard the car pull into their driveway. “One second… he’s here…” she opened the door and gestured at him, passing the phone over. “It’s your dad,” she whispered.
“Bonjour Papa, Comment cava? – Hello dad, how are you?”
“Cava bien merci… - I’m doing well, thanks …”
Isabella left the father-son duo to their chat, and returned to the kitchen to prepare some coffee for Lucca – something he relished after an hour’s vigorous workout on the machines. Shortly, the aroma of Italian roast brew was wafting through the kitchen. Just as she poured the steaming beverage into his favorite blue mug, she sensed someone approach her from behind. “Lucca…” she moaned sweetly at the tempting smell of his cologne as he hugged her from behind. “You showered? That was quick. Is that Hugo Boss?”
“You like that, huh?” He nuzzled her neck with kisses.
“I’m pouring a hot drink here, careful… let me finish first…” she giggled as he escalated the heat in his foreplay, “and then perhaps… we might have an hour to ourselves… the baby’s asleep.” Isabella spun around and their lips met. The next moment, they were embroiled in a torrid kiss that ended only when she brought up a palm between them.
“Ok. Now go have your coffee. Or, it’ll get cold.” Dropping two sugar cubes into the mug, she handed it over to him.
Lucca groaned at the abrupt end to their kiss, as he took the mug from her. “By the way…” he removed his specs and placed it on the counter. “Dad said they’d be flying in to visit us. They want to stay with us for a while. You ok with that, right?”
“Oh, of course. They’ll have a wonderful time with Alessandro… I’ll have the guest bedroom reorganized…” her words stalled, “I envision one small problem, though.”
Isabella bit her grinning lip. “You won’t be able to ambush me in the kitchen, and get so hot and cozy with me.”
“We’ll see about that.” Lucca wiggled his brows like it was a challenge.
“Ok…” she blinked coyly, “now finish your coffee and go wait in the room for me. I’ll finish my work here and be with you soon.”
Lucca took the mug, a sly gleam dancing in his eyes. “How soon?”
“5,” he corrected her, “and you better be there in 5, or I’m coming here and carrying you back.”
Isabella cupped her chuckles, her cheeks crimson red. “Ok… I get the message. Now off you go.”
When she sashayed into their room, he was sitting on an armchair, the empty mug sitting on a side table. “Just in time,” he smirked. “It was delicious, by the way. So,” he crooked a finger, beckoning her close, “where did we stop?”
Isabella moved closer and climbed into his armchair, huddling on his lap. She slipped a few fingers into his shirt, feeling his taut chest. “Hmmm sexy,” she whispered, pressing her mouth against his. He swiftly pulled her close, claiming her lips, while his palms roamed beneath her dress, caressing her soft thighs. Soon, he pulled the dress off her with feverish desire, and the couple made tender passionate love till there were breathless bodies lying against each other, beautifully spent, basking in the afterglow.
June 21, 2016
Malpensa Airport, Milan
Lucca had been waiting at the arrivals area of Malpensa airport for an hour before his parents walked outside wheeling their luggage trolley. It was an emotional reunion, with the trio having plenty to catch up on their drive home.
“Here, at last.” Janet got off the car as soon as it pulled into the driveway and scurried towards the main door in a hurry.
“Slow down, Janet.” Alberto shook his head.
“I can’t… I’ve got to carry my little darling first.” The last time they’d held their grandson was when they’d flown in, just after he was born. True, they’d had video calls that gave them glimpses of his smiles and coos, but they were going to physically hold him after months.
“One sec, mom.” Lucca hauled their luggage from his car onto the doorstep and opened the door for her – joining his dad in teasing poor mom for her impatience.
“Isabella?” Janet strolled into the reception room.
On hearing the door open, Isabella quickly dropped her chores and rushed downstairs to greet them. “Hello, mom… how was the flight?”
“Here she comes.” Janet beamed and hastened forth to hug her.
“Hold on a sec…” Lucca groaned, wheeling the suitcases in, “I can’t remember the last time you hugged me like that.”
Janet turned around, and shook her head. “Well, she’s my daughter - you’re not.”
“That’s not fair.”
“That’s how it is!” She winked at her daughter-in-law. An amused second later, she went over and gave him a tight hug too. “Come here now.”
“Yeah… whatever.” Lucca scoffed - following which, the family shared a few more hugs and many more laughs.
“Where is Alessandro?” Janet’s eyes scuttled around the room.
“He’s sleeping… fell asleep ten minutes back.”
“Ok… can I go up to his room? I have challenged Alberto that I’ll be the first one to hold him, and I don’t want to lose to Alberto.”
“Ohh, Mom. You’ll be the first one to pick him when he wakes up, ok?”
“Thanks,” she paused, blinking her lashes gently. “But I’m eager to steal a peek of him. I’ll be quiet.”
With warm smiles, Isabella and Lucca led the eager grandparents up to the baby’s room.
Isabella was lounging in the balcony, enjoying a relaxing evening with her mother-in-law when Janet slowly sat up on her chair, realization dawning on her features. “It’s in three days’ time right”
“What’s coming up in three days, Mom?”
“Like you don’t know what I’m talking about! Your birthday, of course.”
“Geez. I mention this to you once and you still remember? I still have to remind Lucca sometimes,” Isabella muttered wide-eyed. “But actually, it’s in four days’ time.”
“I was close though,” Janet spoke with a hint of pride. “So, what plans do you guys have? Going out? A party at home?”
“I don’t know yet. I haven’t discussed anything with Lucca yet. Maybe we’ll just stay put at home, since we’re all together here…. enjoy a quiet dinner here.”
“That sounds lovely,” Alberto joined them, with a bundled-up Alessandro in his hands. “Baby’s asleep. Probably dreaming about angels…” Grandpa hummed to Grandma with pride, and they both continued to sing the song to him.
Isabella watched on, her expressions awash with warmth, feeling blessed at having found such wonderful parents in Alberto and Janet after having lost her own a decade ago.
“She’s here. Ready?” Lucca gently knocked on the door for the third time.
“Coming.” Janet murmured from the other side. “Can you not keep her distracted for a few minutes more?”
“No, you do realize she already guesses something is up, right?” He kneaded his brows, “you’ve been in the kitchen all morning. Mom… I’m sure the cake you baked is gonna be great.”
“I’ll join you in a jiffy.”
Shortly, the door opened; and Janet stepped out, her face tired, but her smile very pleased. Isabella who’d been lazing on the couch, watching a movie with Alberto, watched them walk in and sprang onto her feet. They were carrying a beautiful rainbow cake with buttercream icing and flickering candles on the top, singing a tuneless rendition of the Happy Birthday song. Of course, she’d known her husband and her in-laws were planning a little surprise for her. But, their gesture turned out to be even sweeter than what she’d been expecting.
“Oh my God, thank you so much.” She rushed towards them and gathered them in a big hug. After cutting the delicious cake and gorging on some Chinese takeaway, they posed for a few family selfies along with baby Alessandro.
“See… your mom remembers my birthday and she’s spent half a day preparing this cake for me.” She elbowed Lucca quietly. “And you, my lovely husband, have gotten me nothing.”
“It slipped my mind Isabella…” he scratched his hairline, “and then, when I remembered this morning, it was a little late… so I got you what I could.” He pulled out a drawer of the study desk and brought her an envelope.
With a stern look, she opened the envelope, expecting a card with a lovey-dovey message scribbled in a rush. What she saw instead, left her mouth parting in amazement. “What? A reservation? For a hotel at Venice?” She glanced up at his face to ensure she wasn’t dreaming, “Oh my gosh! Really?” She threw her arms around him and kissed him hard, stopping only because Janet and Alberto were turning beet-red with embarrassment. “This is such a lovely surprise.”
“I know Venice is your dream-destination spot!” He tucked her hair back.
“Hmph,” Janet crossed her arms, with a pretend scowl. “Venice is my dream-destination spot too, you know?”
“Yeah… which is why I took you there many years ago,” Alberto reminded her.
“Exactly.” Lucca clicked his fingers with a comeback. “Besides I’ve gotten tired of being left out of this whole mother-daughter shtick you both have going on, so I’m taking my wife there - alone.” The foursome erupted into a voracious bout of laughter.
July 22, 2016
Highway A4 – Milan to Venice
The drive to Venice was long, yet thoroughly enjoyable. The couple cruised through the roads with their sun-roof open, dipping into packets of crisps, singing along to the songs on the radio. It took them back to their first dates in Atlanta – the only difference being they had a little one now strapped to his baby seat on the passenger seat, watching them curiously.
“So, where’s our first stop, mister?” Isabella sat up, gazing at the vista of the floating city, as they drove past a signboard that read Welcome to Venice.
Lucca removed a note from the dashboard with a wry smile. “Here! A few tour itineraries I jotted.”
Isabella skimmed through the list. “Torcello, Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Ca’ d’Oro, Canal Grande, Piazza San Marco… You chose all of these places? You didn’t plan this along with me? That’s not fair!”
“It’s all part of the surprise package, my dear.” He lowered his shades, and winked. “There’s more on the other side too.”
“But, we only have two days to spend here. How on earth are we going to visit all of these places? Or perhaps you’ve gotten a teleportation machine that we can use.” She stalled, “Wait, do you really have a teleportation device, stashed somewhere?”
“Isabella, you really talk too much. I counted, and you spoke about seventeen sentences in under one minute.”
“Fine…” she slapped his arm, “now say what you’ve gotta say, I’m all ears!”
Lucca parked the car aside, in a parking bay. “Venice is far too amazing to pick a few spots. So, I’ll let you take your pick.” Lucca halted his sentence when the phone rang. “Giorgio? I’ve got to get this, Isabella… you make a decision by then.” He sat back, and swiped the green icon, “Hey Giorgio, what’s up?”
The partners caught up on business for a while before Lucca let him know that he was at Venice, celebrating his wife’s birthday.
“That’s nice,” he smiled, “wish her on my behalf.”
When he ended the call, Isabella was still poring through the list, using her phone to double-check facts and details.
“You’ve spent thirty minutes – please tell me you have an idea where you want to go?”
“Stop exaggerating, Lucca. Anyway,” she beamed, “I have decided.”
“Fine…” Lucca started the car, studying her pretty face, “where’s our first stop gonna be?”
“Piazza San Marco.” she answered.
After parking their car at a parking lot, they boarded a train to the Santa Lucia railway station, arriving at the western end of the Grand Canal. Boarding the famous water bus, they made their way towards Piazza San Marco, the hub of Venice.
An hour later, Lucca was standing on the jetty, observing the place, confounded by how crowded the place was.
“This place is teeming with tourists.”
“That’s why it’s called a tourist destination,” She smirked, strapping Alessandro into his stroller.
Pushing the stroller along, the couple made their way towards the much loved la-Piazza. They ambled around the public square, admiring the uniformity of its architecture on three sides. The square seemed to be brimming with half the city’s population – tour-groups, hawkers, artists, families and all sorts.
As Lucca and Isabella carried on, towards the other end, a couple in their forties approached them.
“Would you take a photo of us?”
“Certainly!” Lucca offered, and took the camera from them.
The man held his lady by the waist, gushing as his wife leaned her head against his chest. Isabella watched them and felt a wave of déjà vu. Her mind raced across time to find the answer, but eventually shook the feeling off. Perhaps, the scene reminded her of late parents during their happier times.
“Now let’s get one for you too.” The man suggested.
“Okay.” Lucca agreed and returned to Isabella’s side, standing straight-faced, as if he were posing for a passport photograph.
While he loved his wife’s photogenic face, Lucca was never fond of having his own photographs taken.
“Aw come on,” the man urged, lowering his camera. “Show us a little more love for the snap.”
Isabella nudged her husband’s ribs, tickling him, while she continued facing the lens with a smile. Lucca laughed and slid his arm around her shoulders. Just as the photo was about to be clicked, she turned her head to his and kissed him on the lips – a moment that was captured as a memory by the camera.
Lucca and Isabella left Piazza San Marco and headed to Torcello, lodging in a grand hotel after departing Canal Grande. The couple enjoyed the popular delicious Zuppa di Verze e patate soup (Potato & Savoy cabbage soup), and star-gazed from the balcony of their hotel room, reliving several moments that’d sparked their love.
That night, they lay in bed, naked, forgetting the world outside as they continued to caress each other longingly till the sun came up, making new memories together, memories they’d treasure forever.