Bella closed her laptop with a wide smile on her face before taking a sip of her glass as she looked over the vineyard that her uncle kept as a business. While his winery made an excellent wine, subtle and complex, she didn’t drink during the day, and if she could go around it, she didn’t drink at all. She wanted to keep her mind sharp, not dull it with alcohol.
The South of France was beautiful, she loved the lavender fields of their neighbors, the color and scent of it was extremely calming to her and she loved painting it. The Provence had its own quirky charm, and even after 500 years of belonging to France, the dialect was different and the people were different too. It was a great area to disappear to.
It was also a great area to make someone disappear when needed, and that was a thought her siblings liked to have. Bella, not so much. Her siblings were like wrecking balls, get what they wanted by all means necessary and Bella was a lot more elegant with that, and she had her uncle to thank for that.
Her uncle didn’t appreciate his brother’s way of handling things. Messy. Hard handed. Skilled, sure, but they didn’t mind collateral damage. Uncle Garrett taught Bella to appreciate her own skills, the finer things in life, and how to get them with grace and charm. And not to get caught.
If there was one person in the world she trusted, it was Uncle Garrett. His vineyard had been her escape for years during the summers, and she had made it her home a year ago after something had happened at home. Bella had never felt appreciated and loved by her family as much as her siblings. She was the youngest, and it felt like she was a burden to them.
Bella was free now and loving it. But the vineyard and the immediate surroundings didn’t do it for her anymore. So instead she had been focussing on honing her skills on the computer. Learning new techniques to infiltrate websites and systems, and practicing them on dodgy hedge funds, funneling money to charities she liked without leaving a digital trace. Or use it on their local supermarket’s store to lower the prices and get groceries for cheap. Stuff like that.
She wanted to see art. She wanted to experience something other than Marseilles or Cannes or Nice. Paris. She wanted to go to Paris.
“What’s today’s lucky charity?” Uncle Garrett greeted her as he walked onto the deck and took a seat next to her. He was wearing his usual overalls and having worn them too much it had faded them, stained them with grapes and there were patches on the areas where it had torn. He looked like a typical gardener with that strawhat on his head, and the image always made Bella smile. Uncle Garrett was a great businessman, and this bumbling gardener persona was a good distraction.
“The French Federation of Guide Dog Association received a generous donation from a douchebag in India,” she replied as she took a sip of her drink. “Je m’ennuie.”
Garrett laughed and shook his head. “If you’re bored, why not do a hygiene inspection?”
“Because they’re boring!”
“Or check the software?”
“Already did that yesterday,” Bella pouted. “I’d love to go to Paris, climb the steps of the Sacre Coeur basilica, take photos of the panoramic view of the city and paint it. Or go to Versailles. Disney Land. The Moulin Rouge. Musée d’Orsay. The Louvre. Oh! The Centre Pompidou!”
Garrett looked at his cousin and sighed. He knew she’d gotten bored with the area. While it was beautiful, he didn’t allow her to stray further than Marseilles and they found her there on a weekly basis. Her mind needed to be engaged, and she’d been talking about Paris for years. She was old enough now, and skilled enough, to look after herself and he hated to admit it he wished she wasn’t. “For how long?”
“I don’t know. Until I get bored? Or until I have had enough? It’s Paris, Uncle Garrett.”
“Very well. Allow me to make a few calls to arrange an apartment for you.”
Bella’s eyes grew wide in surprise. “Really?”
“You’re not a prisoner, Bella, you can go wherever you please. I can’t say, however, that I won’t miss your company.”
“I promise I’ll stay in touch.”
“You’d better,” he said as he took out his phone. “Don’t get into any trouble, either. I’d hate to have to bail you out.”
Bella laughed and hugged her uncle. “I won’t get in trouble. I’m too good to get caught,” she replied as she let go of him. “I will pack a bag and can I drive up to Paris?”
“You can.” Garrett nodded. “Take the Aston Martin if you want.”
She scrunched up her nose then. “That car won’t survive Paris. I’m taking my truck.” Oh, she’d noticed his wince. Uncle Garrett wasn’t a fan of her truck. He called it a driving disaster, ready to fall apart. She liked it. It was simple and inconspicuous. Just because she could drive a fast and flashy car didn’t mean that she should. Just like how easily she could drive to Marseille and take the plane to Paris. No, she wanted to drive.
Blast the cobwebs out of her mind and focus. And enjoying herself and the finer things in life away from the vineyard.
Grinning, she got up from her chair, kissed her uncle on the cheek and skipped off to her room to pack.
She liked to drive. And the fun part about driving to Paris was that it took her through all the small and scenic villages on the way. She could have taken the faster way, but there was something romantic about driving through the countryside. Churches were usually the center of the village, surrounded by a bar and some shops, narrow but clean streets and colorful houses. Great places to lie low, too. Which was the whole reason Uncle Garrett had a vineyard in Provence.
The only downside of France was that it was so close to Italy where her family had a home, filled with some people who did clean up jobs for the family when they fucked up or wanted someone out of the way. The vineyard was protected though, and in a city like Paris, Bella was sure she could look out for herself.
She stayed the night in Précy-sous-Thil, a small village in the Bourgogne and stayed at a bed-and-breakfast. There was a castle on a hill nearby and she wanted to check it out and check the view but the owners of the bed-and-breakfast treated her to some very decent wine and Bella rested up so she could drive to Paris without – hopefully, a wine hangover the next morning.
Her uncle sent her the address to the apartment he had arranged for her and when she looked it up on Google Maps, she had fallen in love. And likely overkill for just one person but the area looked great and convenient, and while it was near the Eiffel tower, from what she could see was that nobody could look into the windows. The location made her excited.
The wine allowed her to sleep well, and after breakfast and paying for her stay, she was on the road again.
The first thing she noticed about Paris when she officially drove into the city was that the Parisians absolutely loved their tunnels. It wasn’t until she was almost at the apartment Uncle Garret had arranged for her she saw some green, and after her navigation directed her to her apartment complex, she was even happier. Trees surrounded the building and that meant there wouldn’t be any nosy neighbors!
One of her uncle’s closest friends and the occasional partner in crime, Liam, greeted her at the door. Liam was Irish and damn proud of it, never allowing you to forget that, either. He could best be described as the muscle. He was built like a tank and freakishly tall, but he had a soft spot for Bella and his jokes were horrendously hilarious. “Liam!”
“Bella, long time no see,” Liam greeted her with a warm hug. “I was thinking your uncle was joking when he said you wanted to be in Paris for a while.”
“I felt I needed to engage my brain, what’s wrong with wanting to be in Paris?”
“Nothing, Paris is an amazing city, especially for your interests,” he replied as he led them inside and used the keys to get through the first set of doors. “Art wise, of course. And I wouldn’t care about your other skills. I know a good lawyer.”
Bella barked out a laugh and shook her head. “Thanks.” The interior of the building was rich, everything was made of hardwood floors and wooden walls, giving it a classy look, and a red carpet was on the floor to prevent scarring. Using a key to one doors, there were yet another set of stairs leading to her apartment, the door secured with keys and a keypad. “What is this? Fort Knox?”
“You’re in the 16th arrondissement, Bella. People who live here own a lot of money. It’s the third richest area of Paris, and the other two are next to this one. People are fond of their security and this is one reason Garrett choose for you to use this apartment, so he knew you were safe.”
Liam opened the door and it led to a large entry hall with a set of stairs leading to the second layer of the apartment. There were still wooden floors, well polished, with a rug here and there, and art on the walls. “Holy shit,” Bella remarked as she realized the scale of her new digs.
“Holy shit indeed,” Liam agreed. “Six bedrooms, Three bathrooms, a dining room, a reception area and you’re going to love the kitchen.”
Bella’s jaw almost fell onto the floor as he led her further into the area. “This is not a flat.”
“It is in this area,” Liam laughed. “Come on, Garrett wanted you to be well taken care of, live in the luxury you’re used to. There’s a parking space for you in front of the building, and you even have a cellar with your name on it.”
As they explored the apartment together, Bella started to realize more and more that everything she liked, was inside this building. There was an easel strategically placed in one of the rooms with a window where you could peek to the trees and see the Eiffel Tower. A large kitchen where she could cook, a brand new laptop and computer in the library. “He doesn’t want me to leave this apartment, does he? Well, tough. This is Paris. I will enjoy Paris and this apartment.”
“I told him you’d say that,” Liam replied as he grabbed the binder off the kitchen counter and handed it to her. “Everything you need to know about this place. Your access code, there’s even a lift if you don’t want to take the stairs to your apartment. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call, but I have to go, I have places to be.”
“Thanks, Liam,” Bella smiled at him and hugged him. “I promise, I won’t get into trouble.”
“You can get into trouble, just don’t get caught.” he winked at her before leaving the apartment.
Bella waited an hour, to make sure Liam had truly left and took stock of what was in the kitchen. Much to her surprise, it was fully stocked with the usual she usually bought from the supermarket. “Fuck him,” she muttered as she gathered her keys and her purse and explored the surrounding neighborhood.
One of her rules was not to steal where she lived; it would be noticeable and it could complicate things in the long run. However, she wanted to get to know her neighborhood and get a feel of the city, the people, and find places to hide out, or to disappear.
She took her time getting to know Paris, sometimes on foot, sometimes by public transport. Researching on her laptop, hacking into charities to see if there were dirty people around, she was itching to do something in person. Robbing a museum was still too risky.
She hadn’t grifted for a while now, she’d only done things on her computer and she was rusty. No, she needed to get back in the game before she would do something stupid as trying to get herself an original Picasso a week back in the game. Not to mention, she wanted to swap it out with a forgery, and that would take some time to get right.
Bella went on a shopping spree for clothes, she had taken no fancy clothes with her, and she was tired of wearing jeans. Dresses. Body hugging dresses. Shoes. Makeup.
There were a lot of galleries in the area where the museum was. She had secured herself a job at one that had a perfect view of the street and the museum and it even had a little studio attached where artists could practise their art if they didn’t have space to do so at home. Bella graciously took advantage out of that, practicing brush strokes and lines. Nothing too specific, never something too specific but it gave her something to do when it was quiet in the gallery.
She was posing as a restoration artist between jobs, specializing in expressionism. All she needed to do was wait for an in at the museum. She knew that there were several restaurateurs at work at the moment on a lovely piece of Picasso from his expressionism period, and all they needed was to win a prize, or get into an accident. Preferably several of the team.
She had time, though. There was no need to rush things. It wasn’t her top priority. Aside from her cover job at the gallery, she enjoyed all the luxuries Paris offered. Money. Good food. Oblivious tourists. Bella made sure she made the obligatory tourist shots for Uncle Garrett, but other than that, she was thoroughly enjoying herself.
After a few weeks, she still didn’t find herself bored, but figured it was time to explore the Picasso museum on the internet and see if she could get into their servers. Bella wasn’t an art thief, a thief, sure, but her uncle always wanted a Picasso, and she would give it to him. Her forgery was coming along nicely after finding the right materials to paint with.
And now it was time to familiarize herself with the organization. Their mail server was so easy to get into. It didn’t have the right certificates and security, and they all kept their mail on the server itself.
Reading the mail was as if she was reading a very dramatic book. One of the guys running the show had impregnated an employee and demanded she’d get rid of it. Another had gambling debts and yet another had spent time in jail for domestic violence and he hadn’t stopped his behavior. It had only gotten worse and he was the bully of the Picasso museum, and filthy rich which now allowed him to get away with everything.
Getting the painting was now a secondary objective. She would make sure the guy would get what he deserved and maybe take out one of the other members.
Marcel Girard was now on her personal shitlist, and she would find everything she could on him. Find out who he was, where he lived, maybe even look inside his house. Perhaps even…
“I’m a fucking genius,” she grinned to herself.
Marcel Girard was a 53-year-old male with anger issues. Fortunately, he was single. Bella found out that his history of domestic violence was longer than she’d originally read in the emails. Before becoming part of the group of museum owners of the Picasso museum, he worked as a bouncer for nightclubs and as a police officer. The Police discharged him after too many arrests involved him beating the crap out of suspects and the police getting sued or the criminals got away from Girard using excessive force.
He was only an owner because he put a lot of money into the museum, and from the news clippings she read online it was almost as if he appeared to be sitting on his personal nest egg while none of the paintings in the building were owned by him but by the foundation and donors.
Every morning on his way to work, Girard stopped by Starbucks for an Americano and at the same pâtisserie for breakfast. Sometimes he bought macaroons, sometimes a pain au chocolat. Or even a simple croissant.
On the outside, he was clean, on the inside… Bella didn’t want to touch him with a ten foot pole. Girard was filth, and it would be so damn pleasing to take him down, and let him know that a woman was the one taking him down, too.
During the weekend, Girard received a text message about some party in one of the best nightclubs in Paris, and Bella decided to go too, she needed to let off some steam. She hadn’t had fun like that in ages, and if she played it well, she wouldn’t even need to relieve some of the restoration crew.
Then again, her Uncle Garrett would kill her, and there were no guarantees. It was best to focus on the task at hand and gift a few of the crew some long vacations.