He had spent the night in a cell at the police station. His mud soaked clothes had become heavier and colder with every minute. And he was sure he would never forget the cracking of Raniero's skull.
Alessandro had been taken away separately and was being interrogated by Vito who could add two and two together.
Luca shared his prison-cell with Giano, Tino and Rosso. All three looked as miserable as Luca himself and his brother and friends had suffered several cuts to their faces and hands. Rosso's knuckles were torn and he had smeared blood across his cheek as he tried to wipe away the blood dripping from his nose. Giano's blond hair was a muddy-brown as Luca assumed his own to be. Tino held his elbow and grimaced in pain when he moved it. All four were pale like an icy sunrise in winter and shivered from adrenaline withdrawal. "He's dead, isn't he", Rosso asked soundless. "I heard the cracking."
After an endless time the door to the room was pushed open. "Please come out", a voice said and Luca was relieved to see Vittorio and his colleague Carlo Lanfranco. "After I've taken your statement to protocol you all can go home. Your father's here to pick you up", he added, looking at Luca and Giano.
A stone fell into the pit of Luca's stomach. He felt Giano touching his arm. "Can I see him?"
Giano increased the pressure of his hand. "Someone has to look at my friend", he said, pointing at Tino. "His arm hurts badly."
Vito nodded and left Tino to one of his colleagues. "Please call me when you're ready to leave, yes?" Giano said and stroked his hand over Tino's hair. Then he followed Vito across the narrow hallway and entered the visitor's room. Niccolò stood near the door, his face unreadable to the brothers. Only his eyes expressed an all- consuming lack of understanding and something more: a father's hurt pride. Wordlessly he received his sons, Rosso trotted behind them.
Luca didn't dare to ask whether they were waiting for the brothers, but followed Niccolò's broad back which stomped off in front of him. The group reached the deserted Piazza Signoria. It was too early for the gathering of tourist groups. Niccolò stopped at the Neptune-fountain and calmly pulled his handkerchief from his pocket. He wet it and cleaned first Luca's face, then Giano's. As calm as before he took a tissue from Rosso's hand and cleaned away the traces of blood from his face. "No reason to scare Mamma", he said. Then he hesitated. "How about breakfast? You must all be hungry."
Since no one dared to object, they trotted behind Niccolò into the tavola selva. Niccolò loaded his tray with marmalade and honey, cornetti and tramezzini. The boys followed with a jug filled with steaming hot coffee and milk. They sat near the panoramic window. Nobody talked. Rosso hesitated in grabbing something to eat although he was so hungry he could have eaten an elephant.
Just at the moment he said that, he knew how ridiculous it must sound to his father. Niccolò's facial expression had clouded over to the utmost. "Kidnapped? On the open street? Your brothers? Why would they do something stupid like that?"
"Therefore I was to be taught a lesson", Luca mumbled, tugging at his cornetto, plucking the soft content and stuffing it into his mouth. Everybody was looking at him. Lucas' cheeks reddened. "Carmelia was there - or whatever her name was. She..." Luca started to stutter. "She... wanted." Lucas head flung up and he glared coolly at his father. "She was naked and she wanted to fuck me. That I should lose my virginity."
Niccolò gasped. Then he shook his head. Rosso burnt his tongue on the hot coffee. Giano's cheeks were as flushed as Lucas. "Madonna."
Niccolò cursed suppressed. "And then you sent Alessandro this, er, S-thing and he came to your rescue, right? And you were all with him."
"It was self-defence!" Giano almost shouted. "We can all give evidence. Riefoli wanted to rape Luca. He was the one who raped Tristano and the callboy."
Niccolò said nothing, just looked from one to the other. "Nonetheless the boy is dead. A mother has lost her son. Alessandro will be punished."
There was silence at the table. Everyone looked down at his plate. What did this mean to the plans Sandro had? Luca thought. For his study. For Leoni and the baby. For the inheritance. And finally, for his relationship with Luca.
Tears shot into Lucas eyes and he blinked.
Giano's mobile beeped. It was Tino telling him that he was out of prison with a chipped bone in his forearm. Fifteen minutes later he joined them at the table, wolfing away the tramezzini and emptying the coffee jug. "Thank goodness no one who knows us has seen us here considering the state we're in", he said, finally leaning back and wiping his mouth with the serviette.
Luca shivered. Of course. The newspapers. "What will you do with
Dante and Marcello, Pappa?" he asked when they left the self-service restaurant.
Niccolò didn't answer.
Arrigo entrusted the family lawyer Stefano Fergola with the task of defending his nephew. Arrigo had been furious to no end when he heard about Alessandro's escapade as he called it. At least Fergola had managed to get Alessandro free on bail with the condition that he had to check in at the police station once a week and he wasn't allowed to leave the town. So he could forget about his studies in Pisa. He could forget it anyway since he was only waiting for the start of his trail which could last until the start of the next year.
Luca waited for him at the entrance of the remand prison on the outskirts of Florence. He watched Alessandro halting his steps, and breathing in deeply the clammy air. It was the end of October and frost hung in the air. Perhaps this winter would be one of the rare ones when Florence would be covered with snow and big ice floes would float down the river. Then he saw Luca and his face started to radiate. He hurried to him, let his bag fall and embraced Luca. "I've missed you terribly", he muttered into Luca's ear, then he picked up his bag and dragged Luca to the waiting taxi.
Although only five days had passsed since the unfortunate night, Alessandro looked as if he had spent three months in jail. He was unshaven - well, one could hardly call it down - but there were rings under his eyes too. He smelled like curd soap, damp bed sheets and sadness. Desperately he held Luca's hand until the taxi stopped in front of his Palazzo. Luca turned the heavy iron key and opened the oak wood door. "You locked it?" Alessandro asked, surprised.
Alessandro looked at him all the time. "Amorous things?" he repeated.
Alessandro stood mute and looked at his boyfriend. He had never heard such obscene words from his mouth. Then he nodded in agreement. "It's not only about getting a hard on, Luca. It's about power." He paused. "Are you sleeping there then? Actually I had imagined my home-coming differently."
Luca didn't answer.
Luca's voice was conciliatory "At least you did it for me. I'll do everything I can." Suddenly weak he stepped forward and fell into Alessandro's arms. He kissed him as if it was the first time and then shoved him into the bathroom where they shared a luxurious bath together. Alessandro had a plaster covering a flesh wound on his side where Raniero's nails hat hurt him, but it didn't seem to bother him too much.
Luca leaned back into Alessandro's arms and absentminded made little heaps from the foam. He sensed more than he saw that his boyfriend shivered inwardly. It was as if the paltriness of the prison's cell was deeply carved into his soul. And Alessandro couldn't let it out.
"Marcello and Dante don't speak to me", Luca started haltingly. "They treat me like empty air. The morning after we had been released I heard Pappa shouting in the kitchen. I've never seen him so angry. I don't know if it's a good sign."
Alessandro stroked Luca's upper body, over his hips and his thighs as much as he could reach. "I did it for you", he whispered, ignoring Luca's words. "Something ticked out when I saw you under Riefoli's body. I saw his naked butt as he tried to enter you. I ... don't regret it."
Luca took one of Alessandro's hands and kissed it. Luca didn't argue that he would have been able to get himself out of the situation without Alessandro and the others coming to his aid. On the other hand - he wasn't sure what Riefoli had in store for him. And he had called for help with his SMS, so wasn't he responsible for all this? He sighed almost inaudible.
Luca's heart had never hurt as much before. "I will", he said
simply and meant what he said. Despite his constricted throat he
turned cautiously without too much water slopping over the rim
and kissed Alessandro deeply. "Let's get out of here before we
mutate into frogs", Alessandro said after he had caught his breath
Luca felt every muscle in his tired body when he woke up to a dull morning. A smell of rotten leaves and exhaust fumes was seeping into the room. Thankfully he remembered that he didn't need to go to work for Coppo been very understanding and had given him time off. Sleepily he snuggled to Alessandro's body who embraced him without waking up.
They were woken up by the ringing of Alessandro's mobile. Blindly he grabbed for his jacket and answered it. It was Stefano Fergola who wanted to make an appointment. He informed him that the trial would start on the 3rd of November, which was in two weeks time. Astonished Luca raised his eyebrows. That early? That had to be a record for Italian law courts. Probably Arrigo and the mayor had their hands in it and forced the early start of the trial. It was embarrassing enough that the mayor's nephew had a charge of manslaughter hanging over him. Fergola had negotiated that the original impeachment - murder - had been dropped. Fergola convinced the public prosecutor that Alessandro and his gang hadn't gone to the Casino with the intention of killing anybody.
Luca lured him back to bed and warmed Alessandro's cold feet. "Two weeks, carino", Alessandro muttered. He had buried his head in the nape of Luca's neck, bathing in his scent. "What do you think I'll get for manslaughter? Five years?"
Luca was startled. Five years? Impossible. "You will certainly get less", he said firmly, but his voice betrayed his emotions.
Luca rolled upon Alessandro's body. "That's not seriously meant, is it?"
Luca closed his eyes. At this very moment he was mad with Alessandro.
But deep down he knew that Alessandro was only being fair with him.
Carolina was feeding the fish and watched them for a while. "It was nice of Luca to look after you", she said then. She turned to Tristano sitting upon his sofa with a soft cushion under his bottom. "But Alessandro's been released for the moment and he wants to be with him, he said. He promised to come every day though."
Tristano inwardly rolled his eyes. Had he been happy? He couldn't exactly remember.
Tristano said nothing. He stared at his aquarium.
Tristano's head flung around. "It wasn't obnoxious being around them. They were sexy."
Caro raised her eyebrows. "Sexy?" she snarled as if she was talking about rats.
Tristano brought his face close to hers. "You would find them sexy. You just talk about the grapes that you can't reach."
Carolina cackled with laughter. Somehow it sounded false in Tristano's ears. The doorbell rang and Carolina jumped up to answer the door. When Tristano heard the all too familiar voice his heart started to pound. Vittorio appeared in the doorway, laden with two bags. Irritated he looked from Carolina to Tristano.
Tristano beamed. "Vito! How nice. I see you are going to cook?" Cautiously he rose from his sofa. Vito, instinctively realizing the situation, said, "Stay put. I'll take this in to the kitchen."
Carolina stared at Tristano. "Isn't that the carabiniero, The one who interrogated you?"
Tristano nodded, still beaming.
Tristano sighed loudly and Vito exited the kitchen. "Trouble?"
Tristano nodded. "Can you cook or shall I?"
Vittorio laughed. "I'm old enough to be able to cook. And here," he presented a bottle of wine. "Best South-African wine. What do you say?"
Tristano swallowed and looked at him. Vito's black eyes radiated and the presence of his body so close to his own was overwhelming. And yet, he backed away. He didn't want to be touched. "Great", he croaked. Vito came even closer. "You aren't afraid of me, are you?" he said with his best gentle voice.
Tristano slipped away and examined the vegetable. "This is excellent. How will you prepare the artichokes?"
A delicious scent wafted through Tristano's flat as he laid the table next to the window where he had sat with Luca so often. Before all this shit had happened.
Vito dipped his leaf of artichoke into a sauce and sucked the bitter-fruity flesh. "She wants you back?" he asked then, putting the remains of the leaf at the rim of his plate. "Why?"
Vito arched his dark brows. "You decided?" he asked in a mocking tone. "I knew right from the start whom to follow."
Vito reached out and stroked his palm over Tristano's cheek. "Don't be angry. I can imagine what you have gone through. I've seen many things."
"Oh yes, I can. Do you think sexual experiences are always pure joy and fun? I know about sex that hurts."
Tristano looked wide-eyed at him. His broad shoulders under the tight, black shirt. The narrow waist. The deep tanned arms. And his confident, rousing hands.
Vito lay down his knife and fork and wiped his mouth with the serviette. A sensual mouth with too red lips. Too red for Tristano not to be tempted. He looked into Vito's black eyes and realized how thick his lashes were.
Slowly he reached out and put his hand over Vito's. "Were you ever that badly hurt?" he asked. When Vito shook his head, he continued, "You think it will be the same as before?"
Tristano almost didn't dare to look into his eyes. But as he did, he felt a knot untying itself within him.