It was the next to last week before Luca started his apprenticeship at the Opificio delle pietre dure. He sat in the open loggia of Alessandro's room and let his body cool. During the past few days it had become warm, but up here there was a pleasant breeze blowing. He leafed through Sandro's books which he had gathered on a table and upon his knees. He would have read on in Masolino's diary, but somehow, without Sandro's permission, he didn't dare to pull out the book although he knew where it was hidden. Over the past days it had become their habit to spend them together, strolling through the town, buying each other flowers from the grand flower market, listening to the music of the open air festival that began each year in May, filled the rest of the time with sex, which Luca couldn't get enough of, and tried as best as they could to repress thoughts of the day when Alessandro had to declare himself.

What would the family say, when Sandro turned down the bequest ? His own family still held reservations about his new friend; but so far his brother Dante hadn't told them that Sandro was probably more than a friend.


Luca jumped from his chair when he saw Alessandro entering the room, in one hand a bowl, in the other a bottle.

"I made it." He said simply, beaming.

"And your family? Your uncle? Didn't he want to kill you right away?"

"Yes, of course. He was silent, but I felt the hate. And feelings of revenge. I bet he's wondering how he could still stop me."

"And the church? Will the Prior be informed?" Luca asked excitedly.

"I guess so. Tomorrow's another appointment with the notary. and with the proxy of the Dominican order." Alessandro grinned and swung the bottle. "Champagne to celebrate." He sat down the bowl. "And Tiramisu, enough to make you sick.”

"Yummy." Luca opened the bowl and tried it with his forefinger, licking the soft, alcoholised cake. Alessandro conjured two spoons, two glasses and let the plastic cork pop.

Luca drank and then sputtered "And the rest of your family. Aren't they angry, that the fortune is lost now?"

"They have enough money of their own, so why do they need to bother with the rest of it?" He emptied his glass, licked the spoon and embraced Luca. "Celebrate with me, will you? I'll take you out."

"Take me out?" Luca was already busy undressing Alessandro. "You'll have your private celebration with me first."

Villa Kazar's entrance overlooked the illuminated river Arno. Dozens of coloured electric light bulbs burnt along the road that led down to the open shore, and to a wooden raft where a disc jockey played soft music while hot rhythms echoed from the rooms inside. It was the evening with the theme "The Fifties", and so everyone had dressed in white jeans, hooped shirts and tiny neckerchiefs; some with sailor's hats and white trainers; the girls with ¾ petticoats.

Villa Kazar was open to everyone, straight and gay, girls and boys and nobody cared if two boys danced tightly embraced upon the wooden planks, to Adriano Celentano's scratchy voice, a mandolin and a trumpet in the background.

Luca and Alessandro, still aroused from too much amore, stick to each other like leeches and unable to be separated. Not even when Luciano showed up, wanting a dance with Alessandro. Not even when Alessandro detected two of his buddies, stumbling out of the entrance with flushed faces due to too much alcohol.

They waved. "Hey, Sandro!", then they stood petrified. "What the fuck are you doing there? Are you stoned that you can't tell a girl from a boy?"

Luca froze in Alessandro's arms. "Don't they know?" he asked. Alessandro giggled. "Of course not. Do you think they would have accepted me then as their leader, eh?" He waved back.

Luca felt not exactly comfortable, noticing the stares Alessandro's buddies were giving him. "You'll get problems."

"Nonsense." Alessandro pressed his body tightly to Luca's. "What do I care about those blockheads?"

"There was a time you DID care, have you forgotten?"

Alessandro stepped back a little to look into Luca's face. "I never cared, amore. I never needed them. It was just more fun to be in company."

"What was more fun? To whistle after the girls? To lay them? To drive through the town after midnight?"

"All of that."

Alessandro's buddies had gone, and Luca was relieved. Perhaps they were too plastered to remember anything in the morning. "Let us go", he said. Considering Alessandro's state of excitement he didn't want to miss the night.

Together they sauntered along the river; fading music sounded from over the other side of it. It wasn't so late that Florence was deserted. Tourists still strolled through the silent streets. From bars that had their tables and chairs placed outside on the streets sounded chatter and laughing. "It's good that Spring is back, don't you think?" Alessandro mused. "The town is dead in winter."

"Yes." Luca said sadly. "But you'll not be here with me."

Alessandro kissed his cheek. "I'll visit you as soon as possible. And you can come whenever you want. Stay over the weekend, it isn't far away."

Giano had told him the same, Luca thought. He would have problems arranging all that.

By and by the streets became more narrow, darker and emptier. They passed the tiny piazza of the even more tiny church of Santi Apostoli, the oldest church in town. It crouched dirty brown in the shadows beside a wall of houses. Luca heard footsteps behind them. He turned and saw a figure coming closer. He shrugged and was about to lose himself in thoughts again when another figure appeared in front of them. He couldn't help it but something deep within him warned him. He got goose bumps and stopped walking. Alessandro at his side didn't seem to bother, although he likewise stopped and turned to Luca. "What's wrong?" Then he followed Luca's stare.

There were two dark figures meanwhile coming up on them. And, looking back, one behind them. "What is it with you? Are you afraid of night-time walkers?" Before Luca could answer he felt grabbed from behind. An arm was wrapped around his neck, strangling his windpipe. He gagged and was dragged to the ground, then he was released. When he looked up, Alessandro was surrounded. Black figures, in black balaclavas. "Had fun, faggot?" one started, the voice indistinct due to the mask. Alessandro flexed his body, ready to face whatever might come next. "What do you want...straight boy?" he said with his typical, fearless sneer.

"Sandro, don't!", Luca shouted, but he received a kick between his ribs and fell back , coughing for air. Alessandro turned furiously.

"I wouldn't move, faggot, if I were you."

Alessandro was puzzled and tried to remember the voice. "Come, if you dare", he shouted now, "and receive the best fuck of your life from a faggot, and when I'm done with you, you'll beg me for more."

His head was flung aside when it received the first hit, but Alessandro had learnt how to protect himself. He clenched his fists and started to prance. But he was without any chance. Luca had enough breath to stand up and get into a clinch with the third attacker, but after a silent fight, Alessandro lay flat on his back on the ground, bleeding from several cuts, his breathing laboured.

Luca saw three shadows flee through the narrow streets. "Sandro?" He scrambled closer and tried to figure out Alessandro's face in the darkness. "Sandro? Are you alright?"

"Sure I am", Alessandro mumbled, not exactly able to move his body upright. He didn't know what hurt more, his abdomen, his stomach, his hand, or the cuts on his face.

"Jesus Christ! That's never happened before," Luca shouted. "Please, get up. I'll phone a taxi to the hospital."

"No hospital." Alessandro moaned while he tried to sit upright. He was more than pissed at himself; that this time he hadn't been able to protect himself, or even Luca. "What's with you?"

"I'm ok." Luca couldn’t feel the pain from his ribs.

"Good. Then help me up, please."

Luca crouched behind Alessandro and hauled him up. "Can you walk?"

Alessandro could. Together they dragged themselves through the streets, passing people who thought that too much alcohol didn't go well with the youth of the day. From afar they heard the sirens of a police car.

Up in the room Luca lay Alessandro upon his bed and started to undress him with trembling hands. He examined his chest and found blue-red bruises. Alessandro complained about pain in his abdomen, so Luca pulled down his underpants and gasped. One of his testicles was swollen and had turned a nasty red colour. "I'll call a doc, Sandro. This looks serious."

"Yeah, one of those bastards got me there with his boots." He moaned from sheer helplessness. "Call the family doc, the number is at my wallet."

The doctor diagnosed a broken rib, a broken little finger and a contusion of the testicles. He said that Luca should add ice to it as long as Alessandro would endure this and then it would soon go away. He put a bandage around his hand and said the rib would heal without any treatment, assuming, that Sandro didn't move too much.

"You didn't recognize the guys?" he asked Luca, after an examination of Luca himself. Luca shook his head. "I'd go to the police tomorrow first, boy. That's not a joke. Any idea why they attacked you?"

Luca looked down. Should he tell the doc that they called them names? Faggot? That it was homophobic related? A hot wire burned suddenly in his stomach. The guys at Villa Kazar... Sandro's buddies.... but they had been too drunk to do anything like that. Right?

"Give him these tablets and take yourself one. You need to rest too with your bruised ribs. I'll come back tomorrow. Where's Signora Lucertola?"


"Anybody else in the house?"

Luca shook his head. He received an concerned look from the doc. He lifted Luca's chin. "Go to the police tomorrow. Promise?"

Luca couldn't sleep. He lay beside the slumbering Alessandro who moaned occasionally in his sleep and he pondered. What if it had been Sandro's buddies indeed? They had seen them together and there was no mistaking that they were a couple. Could they be so annoyed that they wanted to teach them a lesson? Would that make sense? Not really. Who else? Bums who wanted money? They didn't search for money. And why would they call them faggots then when they couldn't know. He always came back to the same result. They must know Luca and Alessandro.

Then he realised that he would have to stay overnight again, and his own family wouldn't know where he was. Luckily Giano owned a mobile, so he decided to call him. It sounded, as if his brother wasn't at home either. From far away he heard music playing, he was probably sitting in a pub. Luca told him where he was and since it was late, Alessandro had asked him to stay overnight. He tried to sound as casual as he could and he thought that Giano had swallowed his excuses. Then he went down to the kitchen to look for ice that he could place upon Alessandro's abdomen. He took the cubes out, crunched them, put them into a plastic bag, wrapped it into towels and returned.

In the morning he searched in Sandro's wallet and found the telephone number of the house at Fiesole. Despite the early morning hour he rang and was answered by a fragile, tired voice. "House of Gondi-Lucertola. Anastasia is speaking."

Luca cleared his throat. "Buon Giorno, this is Luca Montori speaking. May I speak to Signora Lucertola?"

"Scusa, but the Signora is still sleeping. It is very early."

"It's urgent."

There was a tiny pause of silence. "Has something happened to Alessandro?"

"Yes. Please, I just want to inform the Signora that he was hurt last night. He is doing better though."

A gasp came from the other side of the phone. "I'm coming." A click announced that she had hung up.

Luca didn't know if he had done the right thing when he returned to Alessandro and wiped his sweaty forehead. He seemed to had fallen into a deep sleep and this was actually the best thing he could do. Luca pulled back the bed covers and took away the bundle of crushed ice from Alessandro's abdomen. It was cold, but the swelling seemed to have diminished. But it was still bluish-red and Luca feared the worst. Hate boiled up in his stomach. Yes, he would go to the police as soon as Anastasia was here.

He went downstairs into the kitchen and turned on the radio for the news. The weather forecast promised more warmth in the near future.

He started to search for something to eat for himself, found bread and cold turkey, and made himself a tramezzino. He was drinking cold milk from the fridge when he heard a key turning in the lock of the entrance door. He rushed to the door, holding his ribs, that suddenly started to hurt again and faced old Anastasia, a head shorter than he himself, dressed in black lace, a tiny hat upon her head. "That's Luca?" she asked uncertainly.

"Yes. Alessandro is upstairs, he is still sleeping." Anastasia took off her hat and went slowly into the kitchen. "The bus was late this morning", she excused herself. "Now please tell me what happened last night."

* * * * *

"Thank you for being there for Alessandro", she said, after Luca had finished his story. She looked miserable, pulled out a handkerchief and blew her nose. "What a sad story. A fight on an open street does not often happen, but then, horrible things have happened before", she said mysteriously.

Luca thought instantly of the mysterious murders of couples in the close surrounding of Florence, that made had headlines for over a decade

"Do you have an idea who it was?"

Luca was silent. He had a suspicion, but how could he prove that it had been Sandro's buddies? He couldn't slander them without proof. Perhaps Sandro had more enemies. His uncle Arrigo for instance. Or the mayor.

Anastasia watched him with watery eyes. "You are pretty", she stated. Her voice sounded calm and approving, as if she was his granny. "No wonder Alessandro has fallen for you."

Luca blushed furiously. "What do you mean?" he stuttered.

"Well, boy. I might be old, but I'm not blind. I don't share the family's opinion. Alessandro is a good boy, even if he is a bit wild and rough. He has a good heart, believe me. He does not deserve to be beaten down on the streets." She rose slowly from her chair and groaned a bit. Luca took her bony hands to help her. It was a natural impulse because he felt great sympathy for the housekeeper of the Lucertola-family.

He followed her into the hall where she started to climb the staircase that winded up into the roof. Despite her age she was astonishingly quick. "We have a lift, but it's out of order", she explained, looking over her shoulder. "Matteo had it built; some stupid rattling thing of iron and wood." She seemed to grin and gathered up her long skirt. "But I prefer the staircase. It's keeping me fit."

Luca smiled sheepishly and rushed to follow her. Alessandro was still sleeping, though he seemed to have had bad dreams for he had pushed away the blanket. Anastasia took in the sight before she approached the bed and sat down. With a cloth that lay beside she dabbed the sweat from Alessandro's forehead and examined the cuts in his face. One eye was blackened and the cut at the corner of his lips could be clearly seen.

"That finger is broken", Luca explained quietly, "and some ribs bruised." Instantly he felt his own pain.

"And this?" Anastasia pointed to the cloth at his abdomen.

"Well, a contusion..."

Anastasia snorted disapprovingly. "Bastards", she mumbled. "Kicked him with a boot, yes? Poor boy." She looked at Luca, apparently knowing what was going on in his head. "It will heal soon, don't worry." She sighed though and took the cloth. "Bring me some cool water, will you?"

Luca rushed out.

"I have heard about Alessandro's decision", she said. They sat on the sofa in the farthest corner and talked quietly. "What a pity. Probably the old, old family of Gondi will die out now. Sandro is the last. But since he does not seem to love the girls...."

Luca didn't know how to answer. Probably it was his fault... What if he were to leave Sandro's life so that he would turn to the girls and have a normal life? The next second he suppressed a laugh. Surely Sandro had been gay before he met Luca.

"What are you grinning about?" Anastasia asked interested. She had provided some tramezzini and two pots of coffee.

"Well, I just thought the same. I mean, that it is pity... that he isn't interested in girls..."

Anastasia looked unconvinced . "You're kidding me. No one can change their spots. Sandro was looking at boys as long as I have known him." She poured another cup of coffee. "You know, it didn't matter if we spent our holidays at Fiesole or at the sea. He was always the prince of his friends. That's where he got his name. He was the Prince. And as he grew up, I knew his eyes didn't follow the girls in their small bikinis. No." A tiny smile appeared in her eyes. "His head followed the boys when they strutted along the shore in their small trunks, their adolescent bodies slim and legs graceful like a stork's; their movements awkward and clumsy. But his eyes followed them.. That there were girls in between was due to his growing up. Too much of the hormones." She winked at Luca and leaned back comfortably. "You don't seriously think that if you left him that he would marry afterwards?"

"Er... no"

"Good. You know, I'll tell you something. Do you remember the 'Monster of Florence'? You must have been little then. Anyhow", Her voice was suddenly small and old. "My son was the last victim."

Luca's face was a question mark. The so-called 'Monster of Florence' had killed straight couples over decades .

"The murderer had mistaken the couple as being a man and a woman. But my son had long, blond hair and he looked like a girl from behind."

Luca forgot to eat and slowly it dawned him. "He was gay?"

Anastasia nodded. "Walking with his boyfriend on the road up to Fiesole." She took his hand. "Believe me, I know how you feel. My son was a sunshine. He couldn't kill a fly. But at least he wasn't murdered for what he was." Her eyes found Alessandro's body now lying peacefully under the bedcover. "But this here was done for what Sandro is." Her head flung back. "When will you go to the police? I'm coming with you."

"Police?" Luca stuttered. He was sure that he couldn't manage that.

Anastasia's watery eyes looked expectantly and somewhat relentless.

"We can't leave him alone." Wouldn't his mother come to look for her son? "What about Signora Lucertola?" he asked shyly.

Anastasia shook her head. "Tell you what, I'll call the police. They will come and interview us. One thing that the old family's name should be good for."

Luca went to Sandro's bed and took his hand when he saw that his eyes were open. "You're awake?"

Alessandro nodded. "Yeah, what have you been whispering, there in the corner? Talking about me, eh?"

Luca, glad that Sandro was back to his old nature, smiled. "Sure. Talking about you. How are you? Have you pain?"

"Only when I laugh. Gosh, my balls feel like pulp. Have you looked to see if they are still there?"

"The doc said they will heal soon. Can you bear more of that ice?"

"For a while it's ok. I must look terrible!"

Luca shook his head and stroked Alessandro's hair. "You look fine as ever."

Alessandro grimaced. "I hadn't expected you to call my family", he growled. "But I'm all right with Anastasia." He took Luca's hand. "Did she tell mother?"

"I'm not sure but I doubt it."

"She wouldn't bother anyway."

Luca didn't want to argue with him, but he couldn't imagine that a mother wouldn't be bothered about the welfare of her son, but he kept his words to himself. "Well, Anastasia is going to call the police." He soothed the started Alessandro. "Calm down. It must be done. Do you want them to get away with this?"

Alessandro fell back into the pillows and held his ribs. "And I was looking forward to a hot night with you."

Luca's cheeks reddened. "Me too", he whispered. "Hurry up then and get well." He heard Anastasia return and planted a hasty kiss on Alessandro's lips, but Alessandro held his head and kissed him deeply.

With beet red face Luca passed Anastasia and went down to crush more ice.

It hadn't been easy to deal with the police's interrogation, but with the help of the resolute housekeeper it went politely and smoothly. No, he hadn't recognized any of them, yes, it had been three, no weapons except fists and boots and no, he wouldn't recognize them again.

Alessandro had fallen back to sleep and Luca had rung his parents and told them that he would eat out. He patiently endured his mother's arguments, but he remained strong. He didn't want to leave Sandro.

In the kitchen Anastasia had fixed them both pasta. Luca wondered why she didn't call Sandro's mother to tell her the news but he didn't dare to ask. He ate silently and felt Anastasia's eyes on him. "What do you think about Sandro's decision?" she asked suddenly. "He turns down twenty millions to be free."

Luca put down his fork. "That is the point. It's too much money to be turned down. But it's all settled." Anastasia rolled the last spaghetti around her fork. "Valentina will have the palazzo and the villa. And the money goes to Sandro. Matteo's brothers end up with nothing", she said almost triumphantly. "Valentina is severely alcohol-addicted. The absinthe makes her lose her mind. If she has to go into a hospital it might be that the houses will go to Sandro, too."

"But you'll have your money, yes?"

"Right, sunshine", Anastasia said cheerful, patting his hand. "Yes, but it's not about me, it's about Sandro. He's free, he still has the monthly salary and I'm sure Arrigo will provide money for support."

"You know them well."

"I do, sunshine. I do." She rose and put the empty plates together. "Go and look after Sandro, I'll take care of this here. Oh," she said, turning, "don't you have to go home? Your mother will worry."

Luca shook his head. No way he was going back.

"Signora?" he asked.

"Call me Anastasia please", she interrupted him.

Luca hesitated. "Well... Anastasia, thanks for being here. Sandro appreciates it too."

Anastasia smiled.

Luca had removed the ice-bag and was pleased to see that the swelling had subsided even more. There was still a nasty blue colour though. Anastasia had fixed Alessandro a meal when he was awake, though the pain killers made him so tired that he couldn't stay awake for very long. Luca was considering finally going home and prepared himself for a row with his parents.

"Fancy a dolce?" Anastasia asked him and he couldn't resist. Again both of them had retreated to the sofa in Alessandro's room. "Have you informed his mother?" Luca dared to finally ask but Anastasia shook her head. "She will know he's in good hands", she simply said.

"I've met her."

"Have you?" Anastasia said surprised. "When?"

"Couple of days ago." Luca breathed in deeply. "I've seen the grave."

Anastasia's fork sunk. "Nardo?" There was a minute of silence. "Sandro told you the story?"

"Well, he told me why he had died. And about... his parents."

"Sandro was little when it happened. I thought he wouldn't understand. But he did. What did he tell you?"

Luca's tongue squashed the soft Tiramisu on his palate and pondered what to tell her. "He told me very little", he said finally. "Actually not more than he was left dying alone." He lifted his head. "But that you were there. You and he. And that his parents didn't care."

A variety of emotions washed across Anastasia's face. "That's a short summary of all the pain." Her spoon scratched the empty plate. "Emilio was to be newly elected as mayor. He wouldn't endure a scandal." Anastasia snorted. "What ever that means. But a dying nephew he didn't need. Nardo disappeared from one day to the next. People were told he was studying in America."

Luca understood the craziness and illogical events. "Why was the mayor considered responsible for his dying nephew? I mean, did the people care?"

Anastasia looked at him. "Luca, they think AIDS is still the disease of the homosexuals. Nardo was not gay."


"There you are, you put Nardo into the same drawer. He has AIDS so he must be homosexual."

Luca nodded slowly.

"Nardo was the same as Alessandro. The first prince. The crown prince. He wouldn't miss a party. He wouldn't miss on out a girl. Heaven only knew what he would do to satisfy his drive. And he was punished bitterly." She paused. "Pater Ridolfi thought it was a punishment from God for his excessive lifestyle. He called it the French disease, the French vice, like plague and yellow fever. Matteo threw him out of the house." She put aside the spoon. "Why do you think his uncles are so angry at Alessandro? He's a mirror of his older, dead brother. Only he is worse." She leaned closer . "Sandro is a homosexual", she whispered, "and that's the worst. It leads inevitably to death."

"But." Luca shook vehemently his head. "The people can't be that stupid anymore. They are well-informed, aren't they? They tolerate and accept."

Anastasia looked somewhat pitifully at him. "You would think that, sunshine. But if you look behind the facade. Florence is an enlightened town. Always had been. And yet."

Instantly Luca thought of his brothers. Dante. Marcello. Giano. His father. Dante had openly offended him. Marcello confined himself to teasing him nastily. Giano had... well, Giano had said nothing. He searched the face of the older woman. He couldn't imagine talking openly like this with his mother.

"And yet the people are shortsighted. What they don't understand frightens them", Luca concluded.

Anastasia nodded briefly. "That what it is all about. Nardo had a personal nurse when the disease became noticeable , so they could hide him in the palazzo. Later he was brought to the hospital of the Loggia del Bigallo. The brotherhood of the white monks cared for him. To Valentina and Matteo he was dead. It was just me and little Sandro who saw him fading away, each day a little bit more." Her voice had become brittle and she seemed to be fighting tears. "Do you know what was the worst? Eyes that lose their sparkle, becoming dull and empty. The morphine made him say funny things and I'm sure he was without pain. But his eyes..."

Vigorously she wiped her face and asked in a completely different voice. "How old are you? Underage? You do know that Sandro will study at Pisa? I suggested one of the splendid Institutes at Florence, but Sandro wanted to go away to start a real degree course that would guarantee employment in a museum or at an institute for research." She shushed him with her bony hand. "I ask too much, I know. But if you had Sandro's mother as sole companion for a day you'd either start to talk to yourself or bombard the first one you meet with questions. Excuse me." She smiled uncertainly. "You aren't of age, are you."

Luca was hurt that he looked so young and not manly enough. "You'll grow old before you know", she said, winking at him. "No worry about your appearance. I said you're pretty boy."

Luca didn't ask what she thought about his and Sandro's friendship. Nor what would become of it when Sandro went away. Anastasia rose to remove the ice from Alessandro's lap. She was careful but he woke up. "I need to go now, Sandro", Luca said. "Parents will be angry."

Alessandro nodded, disappointed. "I'll stay with you." Anastasia patted his arm.

"That's not exactly who I'd like to have to cuddle with, Sia" Alessandro teased her, using her old name from the time when he was a baby. Anastasia threaten him with her forefinger.

"Perhaps I'll come back later", Luca called to him over Anastasia's shoulder and saw his eyes light up.

Part 10