Giano arrived with Celestino in tow the next morning. Having heard of the events in Florence Luca's brother had decided to come home for the weekend.
Alessandro spent the whole morning on the phone chatting; Luca didn't know with whom.
Tino clenched his fists when he heard about what happened to Luca's friend and the call-boy. Broodingly he sat over his coffee cup and nibbled on some toast. Giano shared his silence. Rosso looked from one to the other. For the second time he was aware what it meant to be different. What it meant not to fit into the conception of life held by straight people who claimed to be entitled to tell everyone what's right and what's wrong. He hated intolerance. He hated those narrow-minded folk. Here - sitting in a group of homosexual men he felt, for the first time, real friendship and a mutual aim. And he was determined to help them in whatever way he could.
Luca shook his head.
All eyes were on him as he left.
Giano hurried through the drizzling rain. The sky over Florence was of a light grey colour, touching the cross of the red brick stone cupola of the cathedral. The pavement was wet and tTourists gathered under umbrellas. Waiters covered tables and chairs with plastic cloths.
Standing in front of his home he pulled out his key and opened the wooden door. An smell of rosemary and thyme instantly greeted him. The scent of home. He hurried into the kitchen to find his father busy with cleaning shoes. His pipe, hanging in one corner of his mouth blew blue smoke into the room.
"Well, I guess he told you where he's gone to. Palazzo Gondi."
Niccolò stood with hanging arms. "You've heard the sad story?"
Giano nodded. "The brothers?" he asked.
Niccolò pointed with his thumb upstairs. "Sleeping. I guess."
Giano pulled out a chair and sat down. "The police have no evidence of them being involved in the attack, right? What do you think?"
Niccolò took the shoe again and rubbed shoe-cream over the leather. "I don't know what to think. I don't know what I have done wrong. It must be my fault."
Giano looked at the black-haired, stubborn head. The amount of grey had increased. "You never stopped their nasty comments about people being different from others", he said with very quiet voice. His heart pounded. He had never dared to criticize his father before. In former times Niccolò wouldn't have tolerated it anyway. But here and today he looked up, in his black eyes was pain.
Giano reciprocated the grin.
The kitchen door opened and Dante stepped in. He halted on the threshold when he saw Giano. Then he pulled himself together. "Ciao, Giano. What's up?" He avoided looking at his father. "Where's Mamma?" he asked.
Wordlessly Dante put the kettle upon the hot plate. "Have you heard about the piccolino and his betrayal?" he asked, turning, his back still to his father and brother.
Like a flash Dante turned. "No? I would certainly call it that way. He did well not to return home yesterday."
Giano saw his fist clenching. He watched the knuckles becoming white and he was suddenly afraid. Would this never end? He took a deep breath and said coolly "And what do you call a man raping a woman and getting away with it? Do you really think it makes a difference when you rape a man?"
Giano released Dante's arm and crossed his own over his chest. "I give up. It's no use to try to talk sense to you."
Giano closed his eyes and pushed away his father who was about to hit Dante. "No, Pappa. Blows are no solution." He looked down at his shoes. "I don't know why people like you reduce homosexuality to sex. We too have a heart. We can fall in love like you. It's a human I love. It doesn't matter if that human is female or male. Have you ever loved?"
Dante shook his head resigned. He took his cup and sat at the table. "I'll never understand it, no matter what you say. It IS dirty and abnormal and not what's written in the Bible." He looked over to his father. "Right, Pappa? You were the one quoting Bible verses. Have you forgotten about that? For all times faggots were chased and imprisoned and disdained. There must be something right about that."
Giano didn't know what he felt. Contempt. Sadness. Anger. Despair. Niccolò looked at him and made a movement with his head in the direction of the kitchen door. He rose and stepped into the hall, Giano following him.
Giano looked warily. Then he nodded. Niccolò touched his arm and Giano suddenly felt a surge of affection. He embraced his father and whispered "It hurts so much."
Niccolò, surprised, patted his son's back. "We'll work it out,
Luca was tired. His back hurt from sitting on the chair the whole night, sleeping. Alessandro though, despite his blood shot eyes, seemed to be full of activity. "Do you know exactly where the casino is?" he asked. They had both retired to Alessandro's room. Rosso had gone home to watch over his brothers, but promised to stay in contact over the weekend.
Luca grinned, snatched the pad and started to sketch the surroundings of the stadio Artemio Franchi with the car park and the playing field. In the middle of it was the casino. "The entrance is behind the parking lot." He looked up. "What do you want to know for? You don't want to visit Raniero?" He stretched out upon the bed that Rosso had made. "I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll go to the police station and report it Vito. And then we'll visit Tris in hospital."
Luca leaned against Alessandro's chest. "I wish you would stay here. I feel lonely."
Alessandro embraced him and slipped his fingers under Luca's shirt. He played with the Gondi-cross. "I know. There's so much shit happening lately. Leoni is getting on my nerves. I don't know what she wants. She's got what she wanted. She's married, she's pregnant and after giving birth she'll be rich too. But all she can say is how bad she is, how bored, how controlled, how cut off from life. What should I do?"
Alessandro leaned in and his tongue opened Luca's lips. "You never told me if you forgive me", he whispered then. "About Leoni and all. I know I never gave much before for the opinion of others." He lifted Luca's chin. "As it is, I care now. I don't live on an deserted island. You and the others, your brother, Rosso, Franco, they mean a lot to me."
Luca saw how hard it was for him to admit his feelings.
Luca's heart melted. "I know", he whispered back.
Signora d'Astangli was there again on Saturday afternoon, when Luca and Alessandro opened the door to Tristano's room. Luca had bought a single yellow rose and a bag with blue grapes. Alessandro carried a wrapped parcel of books.
Signora d'Astangli smiled when the boys slipped in and rose from her chair. "Nice of you to come. He's getting better I think." She blew her nose into her handkerchief, then she eyed Alessandro. "Alessandro Gondi?" she asked. Her voice sounded a little embarrassed. Obviously she didn't know what to think considering Alessandro had been the subject of most of the gossip in town lately when he had married.
Luca had stepped next to Tristano's bed. His cheeks had colour and his hair was combed. The drip had vanished and he saw the remains of a thin soup. "I see you had an opulent dinner", he said cheerily and handed him the rose and the bag. "Say if you want anything else and I'll bring it."
Tristano peered into the bag "Grapes, great." Then his face fell. "Mother's bringing in so much, but I'm not allowed to eat it. I'm on liquid diet until I healed." He though looked longingly at the grapes. "My father's here too. And Coppo came too, imagine."
Luca beamed at him. It seemed Tristano was well on the way of healing.
Signora d'Astangli bent over her stepson and kissed his forehead. "Be good, bambino. I'm coming in tomorrow again." A man peered into the room, opened the door widely and waved good-bye. "Until tomorrow, gioia", he said and took his wife with him.
Alessandro gave Tristano the parcel. "To ease your boredom. How do you feel?"
Surprised Tristano eyed Alessandro. "I didn't know you were here. Please sit down."
Alessandro sat on the chair and Luca upon the edge of the bed. "How are you?"
Luca took his hand. "You will forget."
Tristano looked doubtful. "Everything comes back in my dreams. And I don't know... I don't know", he fell silent. Luca and Alessandro looked at each other. "You think you can't make love to a guy anymore?" Alessandro said quietly.
Luca saw that his boyfriend had hit the nail on the head. Surely Tris couldn't talk about this with his stepmother. Tristano nodded. "Not only if I'm able to, it's also abouth whether I want it still."
Luca pressed Tristano's hand. That's what he had feared. "You need time. I do understand you though."
Alessandro nodded. "Don't pressure yourself. With the right man you will feel the same as before."
Tristano closed his eyes, not very convinced. Luca still stroked his hand and he felt somewhat soothed. But if he hadn't been gay he wouldn't have had to endure all this. But could he change his spots? Could he change the way he felt? No.
Luca nodded. "My brothers were members as well. Odd you never met up."
Tristano nodded. Luca raised his brows and seemed to smile.
Alessandro stood with far away eyes. "I need to do something. Go and wait at the Palazzo, OK? I'll hurry." Before Luca could object he had turned and walked off in the direction of Ponte Santa Trinitâ.
Luca stood, pushed around by walkers. It was already getting dark due to the gloomy weather. Florence had lost its cheerfulness and the palazzi stood menacingly brown and grey along the streets. Even the white washed houses seemed to be sad and water was dripping from the red, overhanging roofs. His stomach rumbled.
So he hurried home through the narrow streets. He saw Palazzo Gondi peering out from behind Piazza Signoria. The bell tower of the town hall was clouded and the water from the Neptune-fountain sprayed its water over the basin, adding to the unfriendly wetness that hung in the air. Tourists had vanished into the restaurants and bars, just a group of never tiring Japanese chattered cheerfully and took their photos.
Luca passed them and took the small path behind Palazzo Signoria leading to Alessandro's home. When he saw the oak wood door he felt a grip on his shoulder and his body was turned around. "You're coming with us, piccolino."
Dante. Luca struggled. His heart suddenly fluttered.
Marcello appeared at his other side. "Why don't you never listen to us, piccolino?" he asked. "We only want the best for you. We've always watched out for you, have you forgotten the good old times?"
Dante to his left and Marcello to his right they passed Palazzo Gondi. Luca threw longing glances at the door where inside Giano and Tino were waiting for him, but his brothers were strong. They hauled him onto a bus and travelled West until they got off at the stadio Artemio Franchi. It dawned on Luca that they were taking him to the casino.
Luca stopped abruptly and his brothers stumbled. "What have you got planned?" he asked sharply.
Dante laughed nasty. "Give him a Cola with a spike. It's about time learned to behave like a man."
The girl laughed high pitched, provided a bottle from the fridge and poured a considerable amount of whisky into the Cola.
Ivory balls of a pool table clinked against each other when they where hit by the cue. Soundlessly they rolled over the green baize and vanished into the numbered holes. Marcello examined his shot and rose. He smeared the tip of the cue with chalk. Then he came over and offered Luca a glass of amber fluid. "Drink."
Luca turned his head. "I said, drink." Marcello's voice was still calm. He crouched down. "Listen to me. This is not a joke. I know you're a decent boy. Remember what happens to guys like your little friend. And to those filthy whores spreading their legs for guys."
Oddly, Luca felt nothing. He had died inside, but his brain was still working. "It was people like you who murdered a lot of guys like me. Intolerant people without feelings. You think you have the right to decide what's right or wrong? You think your lifestyle is the sole valid one? Can you give me one good reason why I'm not allowed to live as I want? You think, I cannot love?"
Marcello laughed. "You can't call that love! You can't love another man."
"You have no clue what it means! Let me go, damnit." Luca went to jump up but Marcello's hand sunk heavy upon his shoulder. "You stay here. Let the faggots come and get you. Those cry-babies can't even defend themselves."
Dario lifted his hands. "OK, man, OK." He gave Marcello the cue. "Let's have another round."
The toilet was empty and Luca dialled Alessandro's number. Only the voicemail answered. Luca cursed. The Gondi-palazzo hadn't a phone connection that worked. His parents? No. Rosso. He dialled but Rosso seemed to be permenantly talking. The door opened and Luca vanished into one of the stalls where he sent Alessandro a SMS.
He still felt dizzy when he returned into the casino-rooms that had filled up. Guys with leather clothes, girls with tattoos, high heels and long hair.
Marcello winked at him, still busy playing. "Have another Coke", he said. "It's on me. You should celebrate your first day of freedom."
Freedom? The bar girl pushed him another drink. "If you want more, tell me. It's good stuff." She winked.
Good stuff? Luca took the glass and drank. Then he wiped his mouth,
turned upon the stool and watched the people. The music wasn't so
loud in his ears anymore. And when Dante appeared again, he was
happy to see him. "Surprise for you, piccolino", he said. "Follow me."
She opened his belt and pulled down his zipper. Luca stepped away. But his head started to spin. The walls were turning and he shook his head. He recovered his composure and the walls stopped turning. He glared into her painted eyes.
From the corner of his eyes he saw the door open and a familiar face appeared in the doorway. Yellowish-brown eyes and matching hair, stout and filthy. Raniero grinned nastily. "Having fun, Luca boy? She's great at sucking."
Luca shouted out all of a sudden and showered Raniero with all the curses he knew.
Carmelia had stood up and pulled Luca to his knees, pressing his head into her abdomen. Luca felt the bushy, rustling pubic hair at his lips and a very foreign, not very pleasant smell. "Lick me, boy", she demanded and rolled her eyes like a lusty mare.
Raniero hooted with laughter. "Dante!" he shouted into darkness. "You must see this. Your brother's fucking a cunt!" Then he listened. "Shit", he exclaimed and vanished.
Luca, repelled, spat upon the carpet and pushed Carmelia hard upon the bed. Then he pulled up his pants and jeans and stumbled out of the door where he was caught by Dario. Luca kicked his shin and Dario yelled in pain. Marcello and Dante were nowhere to be seen. Luca rushed through the playing, smoking and talking guys towards the exit and stopped, petrified. Raniero stood in the middle of the wet remains of the lawn. It was raining heavily but he didn't seem to notice.
On the other side stood Alessandro, Giano, Tino, Rosso and some other guys he didn't recognize. All in all nine.
Raniero swung a club. "Come on if you dare to catch me, faggots." Dante and Marcello had appeared at his sides.
Luca's heart skipped a beat. "No!", he yelled. "Are you crazy?"
Alessandro grinned, contorted. "Raniero Riefoli, I guess?" he asked with honeyed voice, stepping forward. "You are one of the rapists, right? Did you enjoy it?"
Raniero blinked. Behind the group of three two other guys came out. Dario and another. "You need help?"
Luca prayed Alessandro would stop antagonising his brothers, but then he beckoned Raniero instead. "Throw away your club and fight like a man."
Oh Madonna! Was this the conception of being a man? Luca turned, pulled out his mobile and dialled for the police. His body was shaking. He didn't dare to turn and look when he heard the first noises of a fight. Slapping punches, ripping clothes and thuds when a body fell onto the muddy lawn. He couldn't suffer it any longer and turned. Alessandro was amidst a cluster of contorted limbs. Alessandro's buddies were obviously enjoying themselves. He had never dreamt that they would do something like this for his boyfriend.
More guys streamed through the open door, building a circle and cheering on Dante and Marcello. Raniero lay beaten, but shook his head and came back up to his feet. Then he took Rosso by the collar of his jacket and started punching his face. Luca yelped and started to run. He wanted to end this madness. He crashed into the other leather guy who had blood running from his nose. Luca dug his fingers into his upper body and fell with him into the mud. The audience howled with pure pleasure.
Luca couldn't see anymore. His eyes were glued shut with mud and he slipped whenever he tried to get to his feet. Suddenly he felt himself pulled up by his collar and Raniero blew his alcohol reeking breath into his face. "Look what I've found. A faggot", he said. He yanked Luca's jeans down, pushed him hard upon all fours and ripped open his own trousers. "Everyone up to watching how I fuck a faggot?" he shouted.
A siren howled in the distance. Blue light was flashing. But no one took any notice. Alessandro had heard Raniero's call and struggled from under Marcello's body. His clothes were soiled with mud and torn, and he was bleeding from a cut on his cheek when he jumped upon Raniero who lay with a bare ass upon Luca, trying to spread his legs and force his cock into Luca.
Rosso, wanting to help Alessandro, was knocked aside. Raniero's hands strangled Alessandro cutting off his windpipe. Gagging and panting for air he kicked out uncontrollably for Raniero's shins, but then he stumbled over a stone and fell onto his side, Raniero was above him instantly, straddling him, strangling Alessandro, a mad grin on his face. With a last, desperate effort Alessandro pushed Raniero off his body and jumped to his feet, the stone, big and heavy, in his hand.
Raniero got back to his feet again and alternatively eyed the stone and Alessandro's face.
With an outcry Raniero fell with his whole weight upon Alessandro and crashed with him to the ground.
Again Raniero's big, fleshy hands embraced Alessandro's neck. His consciousness flickered, then he felt the heavy stone in his hand. Before anyone could stop it, he crashed the stone against Raniero's temple. "NO!" Luca yelled. A nasty crack, Raniero's body went limp and rolled aside in a slow motion.
the newspaper headlines screamed the next morning.