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.
Luca drank and then sputtered "And the rest of your family. Aren't they angry, that the fortune is lost now?"
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."
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."
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."
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.
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?"
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.
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.
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?
Luca shook his head. He received an concerned look from the doc. He lifted
Luca's chin. "Go to the police tomorrow. Promise?"
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?"
There was a tiny pause of silence. "Has something happened to Alessandro?"
A gasp came from the other side of the phone. "I'm coming." A click announced that
she had hung up.
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.
Luca thought instantly of the mysterious murders of couples in the close surrounding of Florence, that made had headlines for over a decade
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
Luca's face was a question mark. The so-called 'Monster of Florence' had killed straight couples over decades .
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."
Anastasia's watery eyes looked expectantly and somewhat relentless.
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?"
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?"
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.
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."
Luca shook his head. No way he was going back.
Luca hesitated. "Well... Anastasia, thanks for being here. Sandro appreciates it too."
Anastasia's fork sunk. "Nardo?" There was a minute of silence. "Sandro told you the story?"
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."
Luca nodded slowly.
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.
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.