“To forgive oneself does not negate the need to undo mistakes. True forgiveness desires to make things right. Making things right is not equivalent to guilt. The need to undo mistakes cannot be replaced by guilt. In fact, being immobilised by guilt is an avoidance of fixing things up. It makes one powerless and gives one an excuse to remain passive and negligent. To continuously feel guilty over wrong doing is both ego-confirmatory and ineffective in correcting bad karma. Guilt is the initial spur to action. Then we act in order to correct both our thoughts and the karma, and we leave the guilt behind.”
Two weeks earlier…
July 07, 2016
Fulton County Jail, Atlanta, GA
It was the day of their release after having spent seven difficult years in Fulton County Jail. The rest of the gang members dispersed, each to their places - except George and Arnold who were hell bent on exacting revenge from Lucca. At the start, they’d tried threatening him into making monetary transfers, which he’d abruptly stopped, before disappearing from the radar. Their man on the outside had tipped them off, letting them know he had fled the country. “There is an African American, owning a shop in the black market,” he’d said. “He referred to Lucca as Lucca El Padrino and was the only person close to him. The shop-owner hasn’t been seen for a while.
It’s said he relocated to some European country at around the same time Lucca left. The best place to start looking for answers would be the market.”
However, their enquiries at the market gave them nothing.
“I have always warned that nerd,” Arnold growled to George as they both paced from the black market where Lucca used to trade, “I asked him not to mess with me. Does he think I’m a petty thief? I have no qualms spilling blood if it comes to it.”
“You don’t need to raise your voice here pal. I want to kill the man, who put me in prison for seven years too. I didn’t lose just time; I lost my wife, my child, and my family.”
“Then let’s haul our asses and catch that motherfucker.”
“Do you have a plan?”
“No, you’re the one that comes up with the plans. Remember? I’m the one that executes them.”
“Then keep your lips sealed, and follow my instructions,” he grit his teeth. “Our first stop is that girl’s grandmother’s place.” George recalled Lucca had a girlfriend, to whose place he would head off from the Full Moon restaurant. “She wasn’t a casual fling,” he nodded slowly, “she accompanied him to the court hearing.”
July 07, 2016
East Paces Ferry Rd NE, Atlanta
That evening, they were at the house of Isabella’s grandmother, knocking at her door. Three knocks later, they heard the tap of the cane, as she dragged her feet. Once she opened the door, they introduced themselves as friends of Lucca. As soon as she let them in, they kicked the door behind them to a close and fished out their guns. “Keep it quiet, lady. We’re just here for a quick question. You would answer our questions, right?”
“Yes, I will.” Isabella’s grandmother fell on the couch, her body visibly shaking.”
Arnold stood in front of the old woman with a faint grin. “Good… go on, then…”
She trembled. “I…. I…”
“My buddy might be cool - but I promise you, I’m nothing like him.” Arnold forced his pistol against her wrinkly forehead. “I want the truth. Nothing but the truth. Or, I’ll snap your fingers back, one by one.”
“No…” Tears poured down her eyes. “I’ll say everything you want. I promise”
“We need you to think back… to events seven years ago.” Arnold revealed a few details from the time when Lucca and Isabella had first gotten together giving her a glimpse of who they were and their dealings with Lucca. He rolled the gun in his hand and pointed it back at her head. “So, we need two things from you – one, their current address. And two, to keep your mouth shut about our little visit today.”
“I swear I don’t know where they are now,” she lied.
Arnold laughed hard as he grabbed her by the neck and lined her face directly against his. “And you think we’ll believe you?”
George inched closer and freed the terrified woman from his clasp. “She’ll answer us. Don’t worry,” he said softly, kneeling on the floor, in front of her. “Lucca owes us a little debt and we want to collect it from him. Nothing more. Just tell us where they are, so we can collect what’s ours.”
She wiped her face. “The last time my granddaughter called, she told me she was working in Paris. That’s all I know. She hasn’t gotten back to me since. I really don’t know where they are now. You can look up my mobile if you want.” She sniffled, confident that they wouldn’t find anything in it since she’d changed her cellphone two weeks back and couldn’t updated any of her contacts.
Arnold fetched the phone, but George wasn’t interested in the instrument. “She isn’t lying.”
Arnold wasn’t so sure and asked her to unlock the phone to cross-check it. There was nothing on it – just like she’d claimed. “What if she calls them after we leave?” He whispered to George, “I’m taking this with me… if nothing else, it should fetch us a couple of hundred dollars.”
George helped her up, and then wished her well in a gentle spine-chilling tone, before walking out of the house. “Are you really going to be deceived by her tears?” Arnold rushed after his mate.
George didn’t answer him. Instead, he made his stealthy way to the mailbox, where he found a letter with Isabella’s full name. “You see… sometimes, violence is not the answer. Using your brains works better – it’s quiet, it’s not messy, it leaves no trails and it’s cheap.”
After looking her up on the internet, they found a few websites where her name was associated with the Parisian company Milan for Life.
George rang the numbers on the websites – most of them redundant – until he finally managed to get through to a former employee of Milan for Life. Introducing himself as Isabella’s cousin, he explained that he had to pass on some urgent news about her grandmother to her. However, the woman on the other end told him that the company had been bought out by another organization. After further prodding, she went on to inform him about the scandal where Isabella’s husband, Lucca, was the whistle-blower who’d sent Dupont – the owner of Milan for Life - to prison. “Lucca and Isabella aren’t in Paris, though,” she paused, “I don’t know where they’ve moved.”
Disappointed that the lead hadn’t given them much to go on, they tried searching the web for information about the Dupont case. From there, they managed to track down the details of his lawyer.
George got in touch with the lawyer and let him know that he wanted to meet in person about something concerning Dupont’s case – Lucca, in particular.
The lawyer got in touch with the prison authorities to arrange for the impending meeting, while George and Arnold made preparations to head for Paris.
July 28, 2016
At Paris, they met up with the lawyer and discussed their plans. On the date of visitation, the duo accompanied him to prison to meet with Dupont.
Dupont walked through the aisles of the visitation area, past other inmates and their visitors, when he noticed his lawyer occupying a bench at the far end. What was surprising though - the man was not alone. There were two others seated beside him. “Are these your interns?” he sniggered, taking his spot on the bench opposite them.
The lawyer was going to explain, when Arnold cut him. “We haven’t flown in all the way from America to have you insult us. Speak that way again, and you’ll be talking to my fist next.”
A composed George requested that the lawyer excuse them for a while. He leaned forward once they were alone.
The emerging goose bumps on Dupont’s arm, dragged his lips into a smile. “Arnold, we don’t speak that way to a Mayor. Or, should I say ex-Mayor?”
“Who are you and what do you want from me?” Dupont glowered, trying to regain his composure. “I might be in here, but I have many men on the outside.”
“Alright,” George crossed his hands, not wanting to waste their visitation time. “I didn’t know I would be walking into a prison after having left one only a few days ago. The irony! Anyway, what can you tell me about Lucca’s current circumstances?”
“Lucca? Whatever I know, I’m not obligated to give you any answer, right?”
Arnold began devolving into an angry bully, and George had to signal him to stop. “Just leave him to me. The man might be incarcerated, but he still has his rights.” He reverted his attention to Dupont.
“I heard he was the reason you are here now. Funnily, he was the reason we spent the last 7 years of our lives rotting in prison too.”
All of a sudden, Dupont’s brows flew up, his attitude taking on a marked change. “Where?”
“Atlanta…” Shortly, George explained who they were and their dark history with Lucca – right until the time he’d fled to Paris.
Dupont laughed – a seething sardonic laugh. “So, the man who put me behind bars, the man who acts like an honest businessman, is actually a hacker, a wanted criminal on the run!”
“That son of a bitch… playing God! He was quick to crucify me like he was a saint… yet, he’s a sinner himself, full of secrets.” Dupont smacked the table with his hand. “Not only did he implicate me, he ruined my career, my repute, and my life. I’ll stop at nothing to destroy him completely.”
“Destroy?” Arnold clicked his tongue, “By destroy, are you referring to ‘kill’ him? If so, I like you already.”
“Mr Long beard, lower your voice. The prison guards can hear you.”
“Arnold. My name is Arnold,” Arnold brushed his goatee, not too pleased with the nickname Dupont had given him.
“So Mr Ex-Mayor, what are you trying to say?” George continued in a low tone.
Dupont angled forth on his seat, moving closer to his visitors. “Yes, kill him.”
“Come again,” Arnold cleaned his ear, a blatant attempt to mock Dupont.
“Kill Lucca and I’ll give you a quarter of a million euros when I see his obituary.”
“Yes. Two hundred and fifty thousand euros when you kill Lucca.” The duo was delighted. He was paying them to do something they were itching to do, anyway. Following a few further discussions, Dupont gave them the contact details of a man who’d give them access to a car and two pistols.
“Sounds good,” George nodded. “One question, though. If you have all these contacts, why haven’t you arranged for the hit already?”
“The heat on me is crazy. I can’t afford to have any more crime trails leading back to me. Especially not when everyone knows Lucca was the man who had me incarcerated.” As the visitation hour came to an end, Dupont’s eyes gleamed. “I’ll be waiting.”
July 28, 2016
Arnold and George began their drive to Milan that night, and reached the city by morning. They weren’t able to track down his house - but they were able to locate his company. It was about 6:00am when reached the grounds of the factory. Parking the car in the parking lot behind it, they lay low, waiting for the arrival of their former-business partner.
At about thirty minutes past seven, Lucca and Isabella’s car drove into the factory parking lot.
“There…” Arnold tapped on George’s hand, gesturing towards a car that just came cruising in. “That’s him, isn’t it?”
“Can you see him?” George peered through the windshield for a closer look of the driver. However, a sudden influx of vehicles interfered with his view, and he lost sight of the car.
“Where did he go? Which one of the cars is his?” George asked in quick succession.
“Which one do you want me to answer first?”
“He owns that black car,” Arnold gestured towards a luxurious black sedan. “And he’s gone inside already… there was a beautiful lady with him.”
“That must be Isabella. Are you sure the man you saw was Lucca?”
“I can recognize his ugly specs from a mile… so yeah, it is him.” They decided to lie in wait, until he stepped out again, alone, which would make it easier for them to take him down.
July 29, 2016
Via Luigi Canonica, Milan, Italy
It was another four hours before Lucca emerged from the building with Isabella.
The couple had left early to drop Lucca’s parents at the airport, whose flight was at 3:00 pm. In fact, they would’ve skipped their visit to the factory altogether, had something urgent not come up. They got into their vehicle and drove out of the car park.
George did likewise.
“Faster,” Arnold urged when Lucca accelerated, not wanting to risk the possibility of losing him. George pumped the gas pedal and tailed the car to the first traffic light, sliding into the lane on the left.
Isabella stared through the mirror, wondering if she was imagining things or if the car on left had been around since they drove out of the factory car park. She didn’t mention anything though, since it all seemed far-fetched.
As the lights turned green, Lucca drove ahead, recalling the beautiful time he’d had with his parents over the past weeks. At the second junction, he stopped the car, waiting for the lights to turn red.
“Do you have a clear shot of him?” George rolled the windows down as they caught up, stopping in the left lane. “The lights will change soon, and you’ll have one chance.”
“Shut up and let me do what I do best.” Arnold stuck his head outside the car and shouted - “Lucca.”
Lucca scanned the roads behind them and then the lane to his left. “Did someone just call me?”
All of a sudden, he was met with a flash of light, followed by a loud gunshot.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Three rounds were fired, in quick succession.
“It was meant to be a clean shot, to take HIM down. That was the deal.” George shouted, ramming the accelerator as soon as the lights were green.
They zipped off, Arnold pitching one final look of the car through the rearview mirror.
An ugly grin broke out on his face, as they left behind the black car still rooted in its spot. “We got them.” He turned forward, exhaling in relief. “Actually, it was one for me, one for you and one for the 250,000 €,” he cackled.
The ambulance came around; the police cars having already cordoned off the scene. Blood splatters had marked every interior wall of the car from where the ambulance team were trying to retrieve two bodies on a stretcher.
Lucca had suffered gunshot wounds on his forearm and his shoulder. The third bullet had found its target on Isabella’s chest.
The police went around asking those in the vicinity if they’d spotted the shooters or if they’d witnessed anything awry.
July 31, 2016
ASST Metropolitan Hospital Niguarda
Piazza dell’Ospedale, Milan, Italy
When Lucca opened his eyes, he’d been unconscious in the hospital for two days. He was relieved to see his family around him, managing a pained smile when his mom ran to his side, “Lucca… Lucca, you are awake!”
His heavy eyelids lifted up for a glimpse of his mother’s face. “Wh… what happened?” He swallowed, noting the shadows of grief lurking over their features. “Where’s Isabella?”
Janet said nothing.
As the haze cleared, and he slowly recalled what’d happened, an agonizing feeling began weighing on his chest like stone. “Wh… where is she? She’s safe, right? Tell me she is safe… TELL ME!”
His mother approached him and squeezed his palm, unable to hold back the tears dropping from her eyes. “She’s not with us anymore, Lucca. She was hit on her chest… she didn’t even make it to the hospital…”
Lucca became numb, blind to the sighs around him, deaf to the sounds around him. He stayed that way for however long, before he ultimately lost consciousness again.
When his eyelids reopened, Lucca was not himself. The psychological trauma following the news of Isabella’s death had affected him so immensely, it’d left him with partial memory loss and in a catatonic state. Despite several efforts, he remained unable to respond to his parents or even to his son. Images of Isabella’s dead eyes staring at him from the passenger seat, while her body bled out, continued swirling in his mind on a permanent loop.
Lucca was admitted to the psychiatric ward of - Dominique Villars hospital in Grenoble, where he remained under observation.
Elsewhere, Dupont was relieved. His nemesis had been destroyed, and the 10-year sentence was commuted in the appellate stage, reduced to seven years after it was proven that he was ill with cancer.
would like to thank my friends and family, without whose continuous encouragement and contributions, this book – my dream - would not have taken shape.
I would like to thank EVERYONE who ever said anything positive to me or taught me something. I heard it all, and it meant something.
A special note of gratitude to my colleague, Abdelkrim Benahmed, whose boundless creativity has inspired me in both, crafting the end of the plot and arriving at a befitting title.
Last but not the least, I reserve my heartfelt gratitude for my brother, Younes Mounjid, who has designed the book cover and shared his valuable opinions on the story throughout.