Here we are, part 5 of the author Q+A. Now that all the questions have been answered, as promised, here is the first chapter of Canna Medici in Luminous Colours of Dusk. Time to see how Canna has progressed with her recovery from drug-addicted Countess to semi-normal woman. In true Canna style, things won’t be smooth for long.
Canna laughed out loud as she ran along the footpath. The streets of London were at a standstill with traffic, but she could pull on her running shoes and dart between the mindless, frustrated nine-to-fivers whenever she felt the urge. Mid-spring made its presence felt in the warm morning sunshine. Canna paused on the edge of the footpath, and waited her turn to cross the street. As she crossed the road and headed into the park, a man called out to her.
“Hey, sexy, why don’t you run over here and blow me?”
“Why don’t you go fuck yourself?” she called back with a friendly wave.
“Bitch!” the guy cried as Canna kept running.
“You bet I am, bigger and bitchier than ever before,” she muttered to herself with a smile. Canna flicked her golden brown ponytail over her shoulder and carried on with her morning workout.
By the time she reached the townhouse of Veena Valadez, the ex-wife of Canna’s husband, Canna had already completed ten kilometres around her adopted city. Canna rang the doorbell and did a few leg stretches while she waited on the doorstep of the luxurious two-storey townhouse. She glanced down at the four nautical stars on her left arm; a large star on her wrist for the love of her life, and three others for his friends, who once helped change her life. Her right arm also bore four black stars, representing her older brothers, just like the four Medici brothers, to whom Galileo dedicated the Medician stars, the four moons of Jupiter, in 1610. The twelve tattooed stars on her back told a different story entirely, as did the tattoos on her foot and ribs. Now, Canna felt proud of the story her skin told.
Veena opened the door with a cynical smile. “Sent you this time, did he?”
“Claudio slept in again. You remember how tired he can be after a performance,” Canna replied as she stepped into the narrow entrance-way.
“He can’t be too keen to visit his son today if he can’t even get out of bed.”
“Veena, it’s 8am. Give the guy a break. Claudio is the main star in Rigoletto, and the demands on his baritone voice are extraordinary.”
Veena paused and checked her reflection in the full length mirror in the hallway as the pair headed to the living room. Veena Valadez Sabela, music producer. With an outfit that probably cost more than Canna’s first car, her black hair coloured blonde and a face full of makeup, 43 year-old Veena looked every bit the strong businesswoman. Canna caught sight of herself in the mirror and smiled. In her running gear, her curly hair a mess, her facial scars as prominent as her flushed cheeks, she couldn’t feel happier about her appearance.
“Mamá tiene que ir a trabajar, mi bebé,” Veena said as she went into the living room.
On the rug sat who Canna knew to be the most beautiful child ever to grace the Earth. Casamiro, at 18 months old, looked the image of his father, Claudio Ramos Ibáñez, the man of her dreams. Pity Casamiro’s mother was such a bitch.
“Buenos dias, mi pequeño,” Canna said as she knelt down to the boy, who grinned when he saw her. Thanks to Claudio, Canna was now fluent in Spanish.
“Catherine, please, we discussed this; you must speak English to Casamiro,” Veena snapped.
“Good morning, my little one,” Canna corrected herself and picked up the contented child. In his features, she could imagine Claudio’s smile, his sparkling dark brown eyes, his strong jawline. Fortunately, the boy hadn’t taken after Vicious Veena at all.
“Thank you,” Veena said, her accented English as strong as ever. “Claudio and I must speak Spanish to the boy, and we leave you and the nanny to speak English to him. Casamiro has to learn both languages.”
“I know,” Canna said as she smoothed the boy’s collar. She didn’t take her eyes off the baby, who reached out to touch Canna’s diamond stud earring. “I can also teach him Italian. If you let us take him to our home in Corsica, he could pick up French.”
“Casamiro lives with me in London,” Veena retorted and folded her arms.
“Claudio and I have lived in Corsica for over a year now. The only time we come to London is to visit Casamiro.”
“And sing in Rigoletto, by all accounts.”
“Claudio has to work. He is a consummate baritone; he can’t sit around as my house husband all the time.”
“You know what I’m going to say, don’t you?”
Canna hesitated and looked over at Veena. Claudio had moved to London with his then-girlfriend and manager Veena four years ago, to join an operatic quartet named Virtuosi. They had released an album and toured Europe and then the United States; they sold millions of copies of their self-titled album, and their Royal Albert Hall DVD. But their manipulative ‘assistant’ Canna had an affair with Dane at the same time as an affair with Claudio, which destroyed the group. Virtuosi broke up a year and a half ago when Canna threatened to kill tenor Dane Porter and Claudio quit in search of an easier life. Now Claudio spent his days relaxing in Bonifacio, southern Corsica, while Canna ran a boatyard. But the occasional appearance in opera houses around Europe wasn’t enough for a talented baritone like Claudio Ramos Ibáñez and both Canna and Veena knew it.
“Say it, Veena.”
“Claudio should be working more often.”
“He is here in London to perform and visit his only child. Claudio’s life is devoted to spending time with his son.”
“Claudio wouldn’t have dumped me while pregnant if Casamiro was his main priority.”
Canna sighed. New day, same argument. “What do you want me to say, Veena? Claudio left you after having an affair with me. I’m a whore, I know.”
“Don’t speak like that while you’re holding my son.”
Canna looked at the delightful little boy dressed in the cutest little white polo shirt and baby jeans. His curly black hair was out of control, but no one had the heart to give him a haircut. “I apologise, Casamiro,” Canna said as the boy put his fist in her mouth.
“Do you love my son, Catherine?”
Canna took Casamiro’s fingers from her lips and kissed his hand. “Of course I do, Veena. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to see him, I could have stayed home in Bonifacio. I wanted to be here, to see Claudio perform and watch him spend time with his boy. I’ve been here for every visit every single month.”
Veena unfolded her arms and smoothed her white blouse. “If… If I gave Claudio more time with Casamiro, you wouldn’t have a problem with that?”
“No way. Claudio would love more time with Casamiro.” Canna glanced over at Veena, who looked teary. “Veena, has something happened?”
“No, no.” Veena dismissed Canna with a wave of her hand. “Casamiro is all I ever wanted. I need to know he is well cared for when he’s out of my sight.”
“I can promise you that, Veena. Claudio loves your son. He adores being a father, no matter how reluctant he was when you got pregnant.”
“I don’t doubt Claudio’s commitment, I’m questioning yours.”
“I am 540 days clean and sober if that’s what you’re asking. My bipolar disorder is under control; I haven’t missed a single day of my mood stabilisers that whole time. God-honest truth.”
“You were once an alcoholic and a drug addict. You used to mutilate yourself for fun and hang out with mafia types.”
“The useful words in that sentence are ‘used to be’. I am not Countess di Caraceni anymore. I am Mrs. Catherine Ramos, the scarred and tattooed eight-toed director of Medici Marine, wife of a baritone and stepmother to a darling little boy. I am innocent these days.”
“Still, you can appreciate a mother’s right to worry.”
“Of course I do, Veena. I don’t want to hurt myself or anyone else these days. Now, I work out each morning, go to work, go home, cook a healthy meal for my husband and relax. If you and Casamiro ever came to Bonifacio, you could see our lives first-hand. I invited you to our belated wedding. You didn’t send your RSVP back.”
“It’s difficult being the first wife at your ex-husband’s wedding.”
“I bet! I’m grateful my first husband is dead.”
“You got married eighteen months ago, why have a wedding?”
“It wasn’t an ideal time for marriage,” Canna said with a shrug. “I was up on murder charges, you had just given birth to Casamiro… Now, we are ready for a wedding. Plus the work on our new château is just finished.”
“Everything is coming up Catherine.”
Canna frowned. “Are you sure there’s nothing wrong with you?”
Veena shook her head and glanced at her watch. “I need to go, I have an appointment before work.”
Canna gave Casamiro back to his mother for a kiss goodbye and went and got the pram from the entrance-way cupboard. She took it outside and unfolded it. Veena came out a minute later with Casamiro and his bag. “What are you going to do today?” Veena asked.
“Casi and I will hit the farmers market for dinner ingredients, and then head home.” Canna waited until Veena had finished strapping Casamiro in his seat; the boy seemed eager to get outside for a stroll, favourite white blanket in hand. “Then I’ll see what Claudio would like to do with his son. We don’t have many days left in London now. I need to get back to Corsica and to work. Another yacht is ready to leave the boatyard and start sea trials.”
Veena took a deep breath and brought a hand to her chest. “I won’t come around to your place and collect Casi tonight.”
“He can stay over tonight? Excellent.”
“I’m not sure I can look after my son tonight, not with nanny Lysandra away this week.”
“Veena, please don’t make me ask again. What’s wrong?”
Veena tried her best to smile. “I’m sure everything will be fine. Besides, it’s none of your business.”
“Whatever.” Canna tucked the baby bag in the bottom basket of the pram and flicked the brake. “We should let your Mamá get to work. She is busy and celebrated at Taylor Studios.”
Canna headed down the quiet narrow street and saw Veena drive past in her massive black Audi. The two women never got along and never would. Canna first met Claudio four years ago by being his nameless one-night stand in the Spanish seaside city of Cartagena. He was visiting Veena’s family there, and they had a fight. Claudio went in search of trouble at a beach bar, to find Canna, a married Countess who had been fighting with both her Italian husband and French lover. A one-night Spanish interlude seemed like a worthwhile idea at the time. Claudio went on to marry Veena, and Canna found herself pregnant by a stranger. Luckily, Canna’s husband hit her with her own car and killed the baby and almost her, too. Problem solved; right until Canna walked into Virtuosi at Taylor Studios and accidentally blew the whole charade wide open. Life would have been so much easier if Canna and Claudio hadn’t fallen in love; he could have stayed with his wife, Canna wouldn’t have broken tenor Dane Porter’s heart. The friends would have remained together in Virtuosi… But the course of true love had never run any less smoothly than within the story of Canna and her baritone.
Lamenting on the past wasn’t something Canna did often. The past was a dusty old book that never deserved to be pulled off the shelf, and nostalgia held very few pleasant memories. “Here we are,” Canna said to Casamiro as they headed amongst the basic stalls of the Notting Hill farmers market. “How about we buy something for dinner? Meatballs? Wise choice. I have some lamb at home, the superior quality New Zealand stuff.”
The baby turned and looked up at Canna for a moment, before turning back to the noise and smells surrounding him.
“You won’t ever see my home country,” she muttered. “I don’t think I will ever see it either. I haven’t been there in twelve years. It’s not like my family will ever want me, so we will have to settle for eating my home nation’s meat. Meatballs! Yes, we need fresh tomatoes to make our own sauce. I have all the herbs already. I also would like a marvellous Limoncello, but you don’t need that in your bottle, and I’m an alcoholic.”
“Did I just hear you suggest alcohol for a baby?”
Canna turned at the sound of the perky English accent, and she squealed with delight. There stood Lea Jacobs, Virtuosi’s former music manager, and her one-year-old son in a pram. “Holy shit, Lea!” Canna cried as she embraced the tall blonde.
“We haven’t seen you since Christmas!” Lea said when she let Canna go again. “Casamiro has gotten so big!”
“So has Laurent.” Canna bent over and stroked the little boy’s cheek. “Gosh, Lea, he is the spitting image of Henri.” Laurent was the opposite of Casamiro with his dark eyes and olive skin. French-English Laurent had his parents’ blonde hair and his father’s bright green eyes.
“If he looks like me, I hope that means we are very handsome.”
Canna stood up to see Henri Moreau, the French tenor of any woman’s dreams. “You know I’m hot for you, Henri,” she said as he hugged her so tight she couldn’t breathe.
“No one can resist me,” he said and kissed her cheek. “How are you, Canna?”
Henri held her shoulders with his hands and looked her right in the eye. “Are you?” he asked in his heavy French accent. Canna never figured out how he always managed to look as if he had stepped off the cover of a fashion magazine.
Canna nodded with a smile. “I’m fine. Not fucking anything up at the moment.”
“Playing step-mum today?”
Canna chuckled and looked at Casamiro in the pram. “Just picking him up from Veena and delivering him to Claudio. Papá slept in this morning.”
“How is Claudio? Haven’t seen him for a while.”
“I see he is playing the lead in Rigoletto this week,” Lea added.
“He sure is, and loving it. This is our fourth trip to London this year to be with Casamiro, and the first time Claudio has managed to secure a part. You should come to closing night tomorrow.”
“Well, as I’m sure Claudio told you, operatic performances secure their stars far in advance. Up to five years in the future,” Henri replied.
“I did know that, so a last minute position in Rigoletto at the Royal Opera House was such a coup, the kind Claudio couldn’t afford to turn away.”
“Lucky for him,” Henri muttered and looked down at his polished grey shoes.
“Are you working, Henri? Or still a full-time father?”
“Henri has been song-writing for another group at Taylor Studios, a pop group,” Lea answered for her husband. “It’s a group I have been working with for the label, and they needed help.”
“That’s great, Henri,” Canna said, and the Frenchman half-smiled. “Wait, isn’t it positive?”
“Henri is a top level tenor, not a songwriter,” Lea said.
“Henri is also an exemplary songwriter and guitar player. Sorry, Henri, I’m talking about you as if you’re not even here.”
“That’s okay,” he shrugged. “My wife is a music manager, she does it all the time! You two used to do it all the time when you ran Virtuosi.”
“Like Henri was saying,” Lea continued, “an opera singer gets booked up far in advance. Henri cancelled his performances to develop the Virtuosi brand, and now can only get places in performances that are still years away. Nothing is available these days.”
“What about Erik?” Canna asked. She knew one of Virtuosi’s other tenors, Austrian Erik Vogler, had work.
“Erik was lucky to get a stint at the Salzburg opera festival last summer. Another tenor got hurt in an accident,” Henri said. “Erik was perfect for the role.”
“Erik and Holly are coming to our wedding,” Canna commented.
“Did Holly tell you that since Virtuosi folded, she hasn’t been able to find work as a music engineer?” Lea asked.
“She did.” Canna sighed. “Rebecca, however, has got work as a makeup artist on a ten-part period drama. So not all of Virtuosi’s staff have gone broke.”
“We’re not broke,” Henri chuckled. “Our CD still sells. Little royalty cheques come in, just like they do for Claudio, and Lea works at Taylor Studios with other acts.”
“But it’s not as fun as running my own group, though,” Lea added as she brushed her son’s straight blonde hair.
“Have you… You know…” Canna’s voice trailed off as she looked at Henri for an answer.
“Heard from Dane? No. Last we heard, he was an understudy for the lead role in a production of Tosca in Belgium.”
“Guess I don’t need to worry about bumping into him on the streets of London, then.” Canna felt scared, each time she returned to the London neighbourhood, she would run into Dane Porter, Virtuosi’s biggest tenor, her ex-lover, every time she stepped out on the street.
The three stood awkwardly for a moment. “Um, maybe it’s a helpful thing we bumped into each other,” Lea said.
“Not now,” Henri said.
“No, if you need to say something, please, say it. Don’t you want to come to our wedding in Corsica?” Canna asked.
“No! I mean, yes, we would love to, if you will have us.”
“Of course, we would love to have you come to Corsica. It’s going to be a Herculean affair.”
“I approve of anything with the word ‘affair’ added,” Henri joked. “But in all seriousness, I need to talk to Claudio, and soon.”
“Claudio is in town a few more days, and then we are going home to Bonifacio.”
“We want to put Virtuosi back together,” Lea blurted out. “We believe there’s still life in the project. There are still fans of the group, and they talk about when they can see Virtuosi perform again.”
“Claudio made his position very clear,” Canna replied. “He doesn’t want to be part of the quartet anymore.”
“Then we will go on without him. Henri and Erik can revive the project, and if Dane agrees to come back, just Claudio will need to be replaced.”
“You have the backing from Taylor Studios to make another album?” Canna asked.
Lea paused for a moment. “Not yet, but if Veena agrees to come back to the project as producer, then she can help us lobby Scott Taylor for the green light.”
“Veena left as producer of the group because she and Claudio split,” Henri added. “Without Claudio it would work.”
“I’m surprised you would do this,” Canna sighed. “Henri, you begged Claudio to stay with Virtuosi once, and now you want Dane back instead?”
“Claudio can’t hold us back,” Lea said. “I’m sorry, you know I love Claudio. But he swore he wouldn’t be back, or sing with Dane. We have barely heard from Claudio since Virtuosi split eighteen months ago.”
“We have been busy, having a real life,” Canna said. “Christ, I almost died, we needed room to breathe.”
“And we can’t begrudge either of you for that,” Henri said. “Sorry, Canna, I don’t want to sound hostile. Of course, if Claudio wanted to come back to the group, then we would take him in a second. That’s why I want to talk to him, to make sure he is comfortable with us going ahead without him.”
“But be assured, we are going forward, with or without Claudio,” Lea added. “We want our lives back.”
“Claudio has his final night of Rigoletto tomorrow, why not speak to him before that?” Canna offered.
“I have to head to work soon,” Lea said. “I still work for the Taylor label. Someone needs a job.”
Henri smiled and rolled his eyes behind his high-strung wife, and Canna tried not to smile. “I won’t hold you up anymore, then,” Canna said and nudged the pram brake with her running shoe. “I have to be at the dentist this evening, leaving Claudio alone with Casamiro.”
Lea fussed with her own pram, ignoring the words, but Henri got the message loud and clear. He gave her a kiss goodbye, and the Moreau family disappeared among the hordes of morning shoppers.
Every Lithium tablet, a mood stabiliser, came in handy whenever Canna came to London. She tried to avoid all the triggers of her depression and bipolar disorder. She wanted to stay off the booze and morphine pills which increased her desire to self-harm. Every day was an exercise in patience and self-control. After 540 days without drugs, alcohol or violence, coming to London, home to distressing memories, raised her anxiety to record levels. Triggers, like any link to her past, lurked everywhere, even the farmers market.
A quick jog back to Pembridge Crescent and Canna fumbled in the bottom of the pram for her house keys. The townhouse seemed like such a brilliant idea pre-baby; now a pram needed to mount the stairs to the front door. She grabbed the keys and stood up, just as something caught her eye. A figure. Canna spun around and looked to the end of the silent street, but no one was there. Just for a moment, she swore she could see someone standing a handful of townhouses away. Everywhere Canna went, she swore someone was following her. The feeling wouldn’t ever dissipate; for years her bodyguard, Giancarlo Antelli, made sure no one came near her. But he had been dead for eighteen months. He had taken the fall when Canna murdered Russian mafia figure Yuri Dementyev, in Moscow two years ago. Canna always wondered if she would pay for defending herself against the would-be rapist. Anyone could consider her guilty, even if the police had closed the case. Canna knew all too well how the underworld dealt with crimes against their own.
But this time, none of the figures of her past as an Italian Countess worried her; here in London, Dane Porter could walk down the street. His home was just five blocks away. In the corner of her eye, it was Dane that she saw. He was her only ex-lover left alive, and while he was never a threat to her life, he threatened her lifestyle with Claudio, which seemed far more dangerous.