June 27, 2017
“Ms. Swan, how does it feel to be coming to the end of your world book tour of the extremely popular bestseller, In the Blink of an Eye?” Jessica said as she read the question from the teleprompter. She plastered on a fake smile because she couldn’t believe her producers were making her do this interview.
Jessica hated I. M. Swan or Bella as she knew her. They had attended the same high school in Chicago, but they were never friends. Bella was popular and always in the limelight, stealing any chance that Jessica could be noticed. While Bella got a full ride scholarship to NYU, she had to stay in Chicago, go to community college, then finally to Lake Forest College. She received a degree in journalism, but even with a degree, no station would hire her. Working two jobs, she spent every available moment volunteering at the local PBS station, until finally they had an opening and hired her as a part-time early morning anchor. She couldn’t survive on the small salary she received from the station, so she worked nights at a strip bar on the lower south side run by Aro Volturi, the ‘infamous’ mobster of Chicago.
When Jessica arrived at work this morning after working all night at the club, she was informed that the Alex was out sick and she would have to fill in for his shift at noon. She had done that before, and even though she was sleep deprived, it just showed management that she was a team player. As she began to read over what was on the agenda for today’s show, she growled and hit the desk. Fuck, she was going to have to interview I.M. Swan.
Jessica questioned why someone as famous as I.M. Swan was interviewing for a local PBS station.
“She requested it. It seems that she loves giving back to the community and doing this interview will increase our viewership,” Matthew said. “Now we have worked hard on these questions, so don’t go off prompter.”
“Couldn’t someone else do the interview?” Jessica asked.
“No, but I would have thought you would be excited over seeing your fellow high school classmate.”
“I am,” Jessica lied. “I won’t let you down.”
“Good, because we don’t want another mark to go against you,” Matthew warned. He had caught her flirting with a married guest and put her on warning that if she did anything else, she would be fired with no reference for the next job.
So here she was beside someone she hated, acting like they were best friends.
“I am glad to be home but thankful for all my fans who made this tour possible,” Bella answered. She was glad to be home, not because she was missing anyone, but because she wanted to continue her research for the next book.
While Bella was on the book tour in Italy, on one of her few days off, she decided to go out rent a car and see the countryside. After a few hours, Bella found herself in Pienza, which is known to be a romantic city because of its streets with “lovely” names such as Via dell’Amore (love street), and Via del Bacio (kiss street).
Walking the streets, nibbling on their local cheese, Bella happened upon a small old-world style library, which looked like it belonged back in the 1400s. Opening the door, a small bell rang alerting the staff of a visitor.
“Pronto,” the grey-haired woman said with a smile. (Hello)
“Saluti. Va bene guardarsi intorno?” Bella asked as she looked around the room. On the coffered ceiling, garlands, stars, and swoops of stucco harmonize in intricate patterns. White pilasters rising at intervals set up a pleasing counterpoint to the walnut tracery of the bookshelves holding leather-bound books. The gilded and sepia spines adorned the dark wood majestic bookcases. (Greetings. May I look around?)
“Certamente, mia cara. Per favore fatemi sapere se avete bisogno di assistenza.” (Certainly, my dear. Please let me know if you need assistance.)
Bella was enthralled by the sight and smell of the books. Touching the raised lettering on the spines as she read the titles of the books, thankful that she had taken all those years of Italian. Row after row, shelf after shelf, she was excited over the experience. In the far right corner of the library was an alcove with a table, and selection of books on local ancestry.
Scanning the titles, she decided to pull a thick book from the shelf, but as she began to open it, she glanced up at the empty spot and noticed that a book was tucked in behind the book had removed. Curiosity got the better of Bella, so laying down the thick volume, she took out the other book. The burgundy leather was embossed in gold with a hand over a majestic lion which sat above three shamrocks. She laid it on the table and carefully opened the yellow parchment, which crackled as it revealed the information within the pages.
It wasn’t a printed book, but the diary of one Caius Cullen. His handwritten entries contained the history of the Cullen family, listing the births, deaths, and accomplishments of each family member. Too many readers, this type of information would be boring, but not to Bella. She loved learning about the heritage of the family. Taking the book, she settled herself in the chair next to the stain glass window, and beautiful Tiffany lamp on the table, casting a warm glow on the area.
Reading on through the stories, something stood out about the family and what they did for a living. Over the years, Bella had researched many of the notorious crime families in the states for background data for her characters, and the Cullens definitely sounded like a mafia family. However, she had never heard or saw their names in any of the documentation that she had read in the states. Towards the end of the book, there was an entry that Caius Cullen and his wife were leaving Italy and going to meet up with relatives in Chicago to expand the family business in the United States. If the Cullens went to Chicago then why hadn’t she ever heard of them? Then a name stood out from the writing, a name she had heard and known very well, Volturi. Caius wrote that his fierce enemy was the Volturi family.
Bella wanted a copy of this book so she could investigate the Cullen family more. Taking the book to the counter, she hoped that they had a copier that she could make copies of the specific pages.
“Scusami. Speravo di fare alcune copie delle pagine di questo libro. Hai una fotocopiatrice?” Bella asked the lady showing her the book. (Excuse me. I was hoping to make a few copies of the pages of this book. Do you have a copy machine?)
The lady took the book and turned to the back page. “Questo non è uno dei nostri libri. dove lo hai trovato?” (This is not one of our books. Where did you find this?)
Bella pointed to where she had found the book.
“Perché non l’hai semplicemente tenuto caro,” the lady said handed Bella back the book. (Why don’t you just kept it, my dear.)
“Veramente? Grazie mille,” Bella exclaimed. (Really? Thank you so very much.) Bella wrapped the book protectively in her arms and left the shop. She didn’t know why but she thought it contained life-changing information. Getting back to her hotel she began to map out her new book outline and build her new characters. She had a book signing the next day and really should be resting for it, however, she was so excited over the evolving plot that she couldn’t stop planning.
One night after a long day of interviews, she was in her hotel room relaxing, reading through the book once again, when she happened to find a name that she hadn’t noticed before. It was the name of a villa, the Villa del Cullenello in Lake Como. Pulling up Google Maps on her phone, she didn’t find the villa. Bella knew she had to go and take a look around and see if she could find the villa and more information about the Cullens because all the searches came up with nothing. It was if they never existed, but this book in her hand proved otherwise. She had another two interviews in Italy, then she would finish her book tour in her hometown of Chicago. Looking at her calendar, she could move back her flight and be able to investigate.
Four days later, she was back in a rental car on her way to Lake Como. Once she arrived at Lenno, she took the water taxi. Arriving at the wharf, she rented a motorized bike and took off to look around. The homes on the southernmost part of the lake were well kept, expensive villas and museums, but this didn’t deter Bella from her search. Driving along the narrow streets, she kept her eyes out for anything that would give her a clue where to look for Cullenello.
Stopping at the end of a long street that curved up along the side of the steep incline, she noticed a stone pillar with a metal plate. It was covered with vines and ivy making it impossible to read. Bella got off the bike and pulled back the vines.
“Oh, my stars. I can’t believe I found you,” Bella said out loud. On the plate was the name Villa del Cullenello, but it also had the same symbols as the diary. Peering around the stone pillar, she noticed a walkway that led through the overgrown bushes and trees. Pulling back the bushes and stepping over branches that had fallen over the walkway, Bella carefully made her trek up the path, hoping that she was on the right path to finding the villa. As the path turned to the right, she was blessed with the sight of the grand villa.
It was large, no massive, but looked like no one had lived in it for an extremely long time. Climbing the set of steps that lead to the front doors of the home, she could almost envision what it looked like. Of all the gorgeous homes she had seen today, this one would have put them all to shame. However, why had Cauis’ family not come back to care for the house? Just another mystery she hoped to solve. After navigating her way through the overgrown foliage, she arrived at a set of large weathered, worn green wood doors. The doors were surrounded by stone, an ornate stone plate engraved with the book’s symbol, that must be the family crest, set in the middle. She wondered if she should try to see if it was open, figuring that no one had been around in what appeared a long time, it wouldn’t hurt for her to try. Grasping hold of the large metal doorknob, she turned it, but at first it didn’t move, trying once again, this time with more strength, it turned and she heard the latch give way. Pushing hard on the door, it opened with the loud squeak from the hinges.
Stepping inside she was in awe of the architecture of the room. The main entrance hall was a mosaic tiled floor with an impressive curved staircase that had detailed ironwork. However, the walls were cracked and parts of the ceiling had collapsed on the floor. Dust covered sheets protected the furniture and frames on the walls. Walking through the first floor, room by room, Bella wondered what it must have been like when the home was filled with Cullens. From Caius’ diary, she could tell that yes, he was a formidable leader, but the words of love for his wife were very touching. She hoped that someday she could find someone that would love her like that.
Bella walked down the narrow hall, then pushed open the door and gasped at the sight before her. It was a library that contained books from the floor to the ceiling of every wall, except for one wall that housed a massive stone fireplace with an elegant wood mantel. Stepping over to the mantle she was surprised to find a tiny frame with a picture of a couple on their wedding day. She mused that perhaps it was Cauis and Maria Cullen, but was uncertain. Debating whether or not to take the photo, she came to the conclusion that clearly no one had seemed to care about the villa or its possessions, so she placed it in her bag. She hoped that once she got back home, she could find a relative to return the diary and picture. The sun had begun to set lower in the sky and Bella knew she had to get back to the wharf, even though she would have loved to spend more time in the villa.
A few days after her adventure, she was a plane back to Chicago with the beginning outline of her new book. She was going to write a mafia romance story based on the Cullen Family. After a day at her apartment, unpacking her clothes, she was on the set of the local PBS station, giving her last interview for the book tour. Bella was shocked to see Jessica was the one who was doing the interview because she hadn’t known that Jessica was a journalist.
“Are you currently writing your next book?” Jessica asked.
“I have the outline and am very excited about the storyline,” Bella gushed.
“Would you like to give us a clue what it is about?”
“It is a mafia romance story based off of a mafia family from Italy that came to the states and settled here in Chicago,” Bella explained, excited to share but not wanting to give away too much.
“Sounds interesting,” Jessica said, then went off script. “What is the name of this so-called mafia family?”
“Cullen,” Bella answered.
“Never heard of that name from around here, you must have a very vivid imagination,” Jessica sneered.
Suddenly Matthew came from the wings and stood behind Jessica, placing his hand on her shoulder. “Ms. Swan, I just wanted to come out and let you know that everyone here at PBS is extremely honored by you coming here today and look forward to reading your next book.”
“Thank you,” Bella said.
The cameras turned off and the interview was over. Matthew once again thanked Bella and helped her to her waiting car. After Bella had left the building, Matthew made short work of firing Jessica and making sure she knew that she would not be receiving any recommendations from the station.
Leaving the building with her small box of personal items, Jessica left with tears in her eyes. With each step, she vowed that she would get back at Bella for ruining her career.
Over the next few weeks, Bella continued to research for her new book. She combed many of the books at the library, attempting to locate anything related to the name Cullen, to no avail. Late one afternoon, she decided to investigate for any information that could be located at the local courthouse. Surely if Caius Cullen immigrated to Chicago, there had to be some type of record. Scouring through census records, tax logs, as well as vehicle registrations, she found no notation of the Cullen family, which Bella thought was very strange. It was as if they never existed, even though she knew for a fact that they did. As she was leaving for the evening, she was asked by the records clerk if she found what she was looking for.
“Actually, no. Is there somewhere else that might have records of births or deaths?” Bella asked the clerk with the name tag Tonya.
“No, all those records are housed here. Perhaps I can help you, what name are looking for?” Tonya asked.
“Cullen,” Bella said.
Tonya was shocked by hearing someone say that name. When she was hired as Clerk of the Records Department, she received a large envelope full of money with strict orders that if anyone came around asking about the name Cullen, to inform them immediately, with the number that was enclosed.
“I am so sorry, but I have never heard of that name before, however, if you leave your name and number, I will do some checking and see what I can find for you,” Tonya said with a smile.
“That would be wonderful,” Bella exclaim, handing Tonya one of her business cards.
“I.M. Swan. Oh my, you’re that writer. I have read many of your books,” Tonya said. “Why are you asking about this Cullen family?”
“Oh I found an old diary in Italy and it stated they were coming to live in Chicago. I just wanted to find out more about them if I could.”
“A diary you say, wow that is exciting.”
“It is. Thank you and please let me know if you find anything.”
After Bella left, Tonya dialed the number and after a few rings, a rough voice answered.
“Yes,” the man growled.
“I am the clerk at the courthouse and I was instructed to call if anyone came around asking about the Cullen family,” Tonya said.
“Well, a woman came by today and she said she had a diary of someone in the Cullen family.”
“What is the woman’s name?”
“I.M. Swan,” Tonya answered.
“Fine,” the man said hanging up the call. Walking down the hallway he knocked on the door and walked in. “Aro, we have a problem.”