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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Dani the Hero - 10. Chapter 10

June arrived, and with it came the end of school for the summer. At the close of the final day, Daniele, Giacomo and Emilia rolled out into the street together, finally free to do their own thing and elated with it. They celebrated with ice creams in the square, busily planning a summer full of exploration, bike rides and visits to the beaches and gardens. Giacomo even suggested a campfire night at their place in the valley, where they would attempt to cook their own dinner over their improvised fire pit. For Daniele’s part, although he was looking forward to spending time together as a group, he also hoped he would get to spend a bit more time with Giacomo on his own. Although he had no reason to believe Giacomo saw him as anything more than a friend, the temptation was too great to resist.

In the couple of weeks that followed Daniele’s birthday, Giacomo was summoned to support two more of Ettore’s missions. However, as Giacomo told Daniele afterwards, every time they tried to launch an attack, their move was anticipated, and Ettore’s thugs were seen off by two or more hooded figures. It didn’t sound like the police were responsible and, as far as Daniele could find out from talking to those concerned, no further action had been taken by the Carabinieri in relation to Da Rossi, Salvatore’s shop or any of the other businesses that had been targeted.

Although his curiosity was piqued at first, eventually Daniele decided that he didn’t really need to know who the hooded figures were. They main thing was that, even as the police spun their wheels and failed to act, someone was fighting back. Most importantly, from Daniele’s point of view, Giacomo had so far managed to avoid getting caught.

The Sunday morning after the end of school found Daniele and Giacomo lolling on the grass together on the colourful belvedere opposite Giacomo’s house. Daniele was wearing the rainbow t-shirt Angelo and Gianni had given him, and his colours were almost as vibrant as the flower borders. The days had been getting progressively longer and hotter all the time, but at this hour there was still a balmy freshness to the air if you sat in the shade, and they had the terrace to themselves.

“So, you’re going all the way to Salerno today?” Giacomo asked.

Daniele nodded. “My parents do this every year. Once school’s out, they take me shopping and get me a load of new clothes for the summer.”

“That’s cool. Make sure you get something to wear when we go to the beach,” Giacomo replied.

“I will,” Daniele replied. Flushing slightly at the thought, he inspected his fingernails for a moment.

“Mamma doesn’t even have a car,” Giacomo said, glancing contemplatively across the street to his mother’s shabby shopfront, where the smart new door stood open.

Daniele shrugged. “All we have is Papà’s taxi.”

“I hope he doesn’t charge you for the ride,” Giacomo responded with a grin.

“What will you do for the rest of the day?” Daniele asked.

“I dunno,” Giacomo replied. “Maybe I’ll see if Emilia’s around.” His face darkened for a moment. “I have to go and see Ettore tonight, though.”

Daniele frowned at once. “Why?” he asked anxiously. “I thought they had someone else doing your old job now.”

Giacomo shrugged. “Maybe they didn’t work out. Filippo just said he wants to see me, that’s all.”

Daniele sighed and lay back on the grass, hands behind his head. “I really do not like Filippo,” he said.

Giacomo moved over to him, popping up in his view of the sky. “You’re right,” he replied. “He’s a total loser.”

“His family has all that money,” Daniele went on, “and all he can do with it is bully and hurt people.”

“I guess that’s all his family does,” Giacomo replied. “You become what you’re taught to be.”

“What were you taught to be, Giaco?” Daniele asked.

A shadow passed across the other boy’s face for a moment. “I was taught to be kind and to protect the people I love,” he replied.

“Then why…?” Daniele began.

“Don’t start that again, Dani,” Giacomo replied, then he smiled. “Can’t we just, you know… hang out?”

Daniele smiled back. “What if I say no?”

Giacomo’s eyes glinted devilishly. “Then you get this,” he replied. He pounced on Daniele and began to tickle him in the armpits.

The sensation was too much for Daniele to process. “Stop!” he laughed, clamping his arms to his sides and rolling away across the grass.

Giacomo snickered. “Still such an easy target,” he said.

Daniele was itching to retaliate, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to be so forward. Instead, he sat up to show that the game was over.

“When do you have to see Ettore?” he asked.

“Late, for some reason,” Giacomo replied. “Like, really late. Ten o’clock.”

Daniele stared. “Why?”

Giacomo shrugged. “I’ve given up asking.”

“What will you tell your mother?”

Giacomo ran a thoughtful hand through his spiky hair. “She’s visiting her sister in Agerola tonight. I told her I couldn’t become because I have to run an errand. She didn’t want to leave me on my own, but I persuaded her I’d be fine.”

“Do you want me to come with you?” Daniele ventured.

Giacomo shook his head. “You’re cool for offering, Dani,” he replied with a smile, “but you’ve done enough already. I’ll handle it.”

Part of Daniele was relieved, but the rest of him didn’t want to see the other boy go alone. He sighed, and lay back down on the grass again.

“What would you really like to see happen to Ettore?” he asked.

“I’d like to see him caught,” Giacomo’s voice replied, “and made to spend the rest of his life sweeping the streets.”

“Yes,” Daniele replied, smiling at the sky. “With a toothbrush.”

Giacomo giggled. “Totally.”

“And Filippo?”

“Made to polish the floors of all the places they’ve attacked. With his ass.” Daniele could hear that he was smiling.

“And Antonio…”

All of the humour dropped out of Giacomo’s voice for a moment. “I just want to see him gone,” he replied dully.

“You’re not alone,” Daniele replied, glancing over at the other boy. “Toto, Michele, even Enzo… they all feel the same way. If you all want him gone, then so do I.”

Giacomo reached across and squeezed his hand. “Thanks, Dani.”

Daniele could tell there was no deeper meaning to the gesture, but he appreciated it all the same, and he squeezed back.

“I’m hungry,” Giacomo sighed.

This prompted Daniele to check his wristwatch, and he sat up abruptly, releasing the other boy’s hand.

“Crap, I have to get home,” he said. “Mamma and Papà are expecting me.”

“Sure thing,” Giacomo replied. “Have fun in Salerno. See you tomorrow?”

Daniele nodded as he got to his feet. “Definitely. Ciao, Giaco.”

“Ciao,” Giacomo replied.

Daniele brushed himself down and set off down the street, treading the dusty paving stones and passing under the traditional lanterns that hung from the walls of the old palazzi. He passed the Municipio gardens, where the colourful flower borders were now in full summer bloom, and trotted down through the dappled shade of the Bishop’s Way, heading for the back route home. All was quiet save for the scraping of the cicadas and the distant babble of conversation floating up from the cathedral square.

As he approached the bottom of the stairway, he became aware of the sound of male voices coming from round the next corner. The voices were familiar enough to stop him in his tracks: he halted at the bottom of the stairway and peeped round the end of the high stone wall.

In the shady and secluded lane that led down to the tunnel under the Villa Rufolo, two familiar figures were engaged in a hushed conversation. Antonio was leaning casually against the wall, as scruffy as ever in his old leather jacket, his long hair matted and greasy. Filippo was standing next to him in his business suit, his hands in his pockets. Neither of them was looking in Daniele’s direction, but he ducked out of sight all the same, flattening himself against the stone wall and listening intently to their conversation.

Zio Ettore isn’t happy,” Filippo was saying. “He hasn’t been paid for weeks.”

“Every time, it’s the same,” Antonio complained grumpily. “Before we can start doing any damage, these guys appear, raising hell and sending us packing.”

“It’s like the other guy said,” Filippo muttered. “The kid must be betraying us. How else would they always know where we’re going to strike?”

“Have you told Ettore?” Antonio asked.

“Yeah, he knows,” Filippo snorted. “He has a job for you.”

“I’m listening,” Antonio replied, with an audible leer of awakening interest.

“The kid’s coming down to Sambuco at ten o’clock tonight,” Filippo said. “He thinks he’s going to see Ettore, but he’s going to find you instead.”

“Why so late?” Antonio asked.

“No witnesses,” Filippo replied.

Antonio uttered an unpleasant bovine chuckle. “Cool. What do you want me to do?”

“Make sure he understands what we do to snitches. But, Toni…”

“What?”

“Just don’t do anything too creepy, okay?” Filippo replied, a trace of disgust creeping into his voice.

“Whatever,” Antonio replied sullenly.

There were footsteps as the two young men parted, and then Antonio slouched past in the direction of the cathedral square, missing Daniele by mere inches. Daniele remained pressed against the stone wall, heart pounding and eyes wide.

Giacomo’s walking straight into a trap.

Daniele glanced desperately up and down the hill, torn in two. Giacomo would probably have moved on by now. If he went back up the hill to warn him, he might not even be home, and Daniele would be so late meeting his parents that he would have to start answering awkward questions. On the other hand, if he waited…

Daniele shook himself and told himself not to panic. The trip to Salerno wasn’t going to take all day; he would have plenty of time to warn the other boy when he got back and intercept him before he set out on his dangerous mission. He would make his excuses when they got home and would go up to the Toro straight away. He would even tell Giacomo’s mother about it, if she was still there and he had no choice: better to betray the other boy’s trust, if it came to it, than to see him hurt or even worse.

What exactly had Filippo meant by ‘make sure he understands what we do to snitches’? Whatever it was, it definitely didn’t sound good. It was going to be a long day while he waited for the opportunity to warn his friend.

* * *

Daniele hurried down the steps, trying to make up for lost time as his parents were expecting him for lunch. Preoccupied, he barely noticed the scraping of the cicadas, the screeches of the swifts or the other sounds of summer he encountered as he went.

By the time he had let himself into the house, washed his hands and presented himself in the kitchen, the meal was almost on the table.

“There you are, caro,” Patrizia said with relief, expertly tossing a pan of freshly cooked pasta with homemade tomato sauce and aubergines. “We thought you were going to miss lunch.”

“Sorry, Mamma,” Daniele replied. “I lost track of time.”

Paolo was grating Parmigiano cheese at the table. “You’re here now, that’s the main thing. We’ve got a long journey and lots to do this afternoon – you can’t be doing all that on an empty stomach.”

Patrizia divided the pasta up into three warm bowls and they ate it scattered with a grating of cheese and a handful of fresh basil leaves.

“Mmm…” Patrizia said approvingly as she tasted the meal. “It’s so much nicer now everything’s coming back into season.”

Paolo nodded. “It’s perfect, thank you.”

Patrizia and Paolo chatted as they ate. Distracted by his own problems, Daniele drifted off, speaking only when he was spoken to.

“The businesses seem to be pulling together,” Paolo said after a while, briefly recapturing Daniele’s interest. “Salvatore Friuli lodged a complaint with the provincial headquarters of the Carabinieri. He says nothing has come of it yet, but all the other business owners he’s spoken to have agreed not to pay any more money to the racketeers.”

“So, this might all be over soon?” Patrizia asked. “I mean, the big hotels… we haven’t seen any trouble that I know of, but I’ve still been worried.”

Paolo nodded. “Hopefully… that is, if the bureaucracy works for once.”

“I heard there’ve been counter-attacks,” Patrizia said.

“By whom?” Paolo asked with interest.

“I’m not sure,” Patrizia admitted, “but I wonder how they know where to go?”

Paolo shrugged. “It sounds like communication between the smaller businesses has been pretty hot for the last couple of weeks. Maybe they’re sharing enough information to piece it all together.”

“Maybe they are,” Patrizia agreed. “I hope so. Things haven’t felt right in this town for months… this whole thing has created a real atmosphere. I know I’ll feel happier once it’s all over – won’t you, caro?” she added, turning unexpectedly to Daniele.

“Ah – yes, sure,” he replied.

“Are you all right, champ?” Paolo asked. “You seem quiet today.”

“I’m all right,” Daniele mumbled, digging into his pasta again. “I’m just tired.”

The lies seemed to be getting easier. Daniele couldn’t even remember, now, why he had started hiding things from them. Had he just done it for Giacomo? Had he been afraid his parents would disapprove of his new friend and keep them apart? Or had he been trying to protect his parents from knowledge that would worry them?

For a moment, he considered telling them everything. But hadn’t it all gone too far already? How could he admit to it all now, after the total trust they had shown him on his birthday?

After lunch, they worked together to clear up. Once the dishwasher was loaded and running, they set out together and clambered into Paolo’s taxi, which was waiting outside the house.

Sitting alone in the back, Daniele stared out of the window as they climbed their zig-zagging street and made it to the edge of town. Paolo guided them through the main road tunnel, and soon they were descending the valley road, swinging round the hairpin bends, as they headed down to the coast road that would take them to Salerno. The wooded slopes rose around them as they descended to the rocky pinch-point between Ravello and Pontone, where Daniele glanced unhappily up at the rockface that he and Giacomo had climbed together. He thought of the other boy, going about his day in blissful ignorance of the trouble he was about to walk into, and wished desperately that he could be with him now to warn him.

They passed through olive groves as the valley opened out to the sea, and then they were descending, zig-zag style once again, through the final approach to the coast road at the hamlet of Castiglione. The sea opened out enticingly below them, an endless blue blanket, and puffs of pink oleanders and red bougainvillea sprouted at the sides of the road, but Daniele couldn’t shake the anxiety that now held him in a vice-like grip.

The coast road was busy with holiday traffic. Taxis, buses and coaches mingled with foreign cars and locals on Vespa scooters in the confined space. Sandwiched between stone walls on both sides of the road, a lesser driver would have been daunted, but Paolo handled the corners and bottleneck as only a professional could.

Marmorata, Minori, Maiori; familiar place names scrolled by as Daniele remained trapped in his metal box, staring out at the sun twinkling off the tiny wavelets of the calm sea, slipping through the dappled shade of the occasional pine trees that grew at the side of the road. The seaside towns were busy and buzzing with holidaymakers; cheerful beachgoers of all shapes and sizes patrolled the promenades, enjoying cold drinks or ice creams. Daniele placed a hand against the window, craving freedom.

One they had got past Maiori, the coast became rugged and wilder, an endless series of winding bends past identical-looking rocks and scrubby trees, always against the same backdrop of the endless blue horizon. In his new, frustrated state of mind, Daniele began to understand why Claudia didn’t make the journey home from Salerno more often, so much time would she have to spend going back and forth on hot, crowded buses.

After the best part of an hour, they rolled into the old fishing village of Cetara, and Daniele knew they were finally nearly there. They crossed the main street on a narrow old viaduct built of stone, and Daniele had a brief view of the town’s eclectic balconies, shutters and rooftops before they were swept back out onto the coast again.

It was with a sense of tremendous relief that Daniele hopped out of the car a while later. The city of Salerno stood at the head of a broad bay, with a grand, leafy promenade backed by tall mansion blocks. Paolo had squeezed the taxi into a small space on a seafront car park, and they struck out into the city, crossing the busy main road before ending up among the narrow pedestrian streets of the old city centre.

Daniele consulted his wristwatch. It was already nearly three o’clock, and they hadn’t even started their shopping yet. However, there were still seven hours until Giacomo’s supposed appointment with Ettore. He had plenty of time.

“Right,” Paolo said. “Let’s spend a couple of hours getting the shopping done, then I thought we could take a break at the Villa Communale park…”

“Or maybe the botanic gardens,” Patrizia mused. “They should be looking lovely at the moment.”

Paolo nodded. “Good idea. Then maybe some time on the beach.”

Daniele realised, with mounting horror, that his parents were planning to make full day of it.

“I, ah… I’d rather not be back too late,” he said in a small voice.

Paolo put an arm around his shoulders. “That tired, eh? Don’t worry, champ, we’ll head back as soon as we’ve had some dinner.”

Daniele could think of nothing to say. He knew they were trying to give him a nice family day out, and there was no way they could know that it was the last thing he wanted. Reluctantly, he allowed himself to be dragged off to begin the shopping.

* * *

Buying new clothes and summer things was a ritual that Daniele usually looked forward to and enjoyed. Today, however, it was torture.

Patrizia and Paolo took Daniele from store to store, trying to enthuse him with the choices available. They looked at shirts, shorts, shoes, swimwear and even found a few ready-made tie-dye t-shirts. Daniele engaged only reluctantly, answering in as few words as he could and choosing just enough items to keep them both happy.

He felt more at ease when his parents were shopping for themselves, as he could recede into the background and concentrate on his own problems.

Once his parents had exhausted their budget, they dropped their shopping bags off in the car and then Daniele was forced to trail off with them to the botanic gardens, a quiet, terraced hill landscaped with plants from around the world. They spent some time in the shade that it offered, taking a break from the sun. Daniele leant on an outside wall and stared vaguely out at the view of the sea, waiting to move on, while his parents explored.

It still wasn’t dinner time, so they adjourned to the beach for a while. It was only a little beach, occupying a tiny proportion of the seafront, but it was sandy. They sat on the tiered promenade with their bare feet in the warm sand. Daniele stared moodily out at the sparkling water while his parents chatted.

“Are sure you’re all right, Daniele?” Paolo asked him after a while. “You’ve barely said a word all afternoon. It’s not like you.”

Wrenched from his thoughts, Daniele looked up at his father.

“I’m okay,” he replied.

His parents didn’t look satisfied. Fearing more questions, Daniele rose to his feet.

“Can I go for a walk? Maybe a paddle?” he asked.

Patrizia and Paolo exchanged a glance.

“All right, caro,” Patrizia replied, “just for a few minutes. We won’t be staying here for too much longer.”

Daniele stepped away from his parents and climbed the tiered promenade, pausing under a row of tall palm trees to listen to his parents’ conversation. Just how suspicious were they?

“I hope he’s all right,” he heard Patrizia say softly.

“Something’s on his mind, that’s for sure,” Paolo replied, placing an arm around her shoulders, “something he’s not telling us.” He scratched his head. “It’s not like Daniele to be so secretive.”

“Maybe it’s something to do with his new friends. Maybe they’re not getting along?”

“It could just be a passing thing between a couple of them. You know how it is when you’re young. Everything seems so important. They’ll probably be fine again by tomorrow.”

Patrizia sighed. “I hope so.”

Safe in the knowledge that they were still some way from the truth, Daniele left them to it. He paced along the tiered promenade, the varnished wooden planks warm against his bare feet, then ventured across the beach to the water’s edge. The soft sand squished up between his toes as he walked, and he wished desperately that Giacomo could have come with them. If he had, the day would have been a treat instead of a sentence to be endured.

He spent a few minutes paddling in the shallows, enjoying the soothing feel of the waves washing over his feet and ankles, then headed back to his parents to give his feet time to dry off before they left. He sat down beside them once again, feeling slightly better, and watched as the wet sand on his feet turned from dark brown to grey-gold as it dried in the evening sun, which was still warm and strong.

“Ready to get something to eat?” Paolo asked him after a while.

“Sure,” Daniele replied, attempting a smile. He brushed the dry sand off his feet then shoved them back into his trainers and socks. Next to him, Patrizia and Paolo did the same.

Relieved that they were, at least, moving into the final stage of the day out, Daniele followed his parents across the promenade and into a broad, tree-lined street lined with restaurants. After weighing up different options from around the world, they picked a pizzeria, agreeing that nobody was feeling very experimental today.

Daniele felt better still once he’d taken a few sips from a glass of ice-cold Sprite. Glad that they would soon be on the road and that he could get on with his mission to warn Giacomo, he even discovered a bit of an appetite, and made fairly short work of a seafood pizza.

Daniele declined the offer of a dessert, and that finally seemed to settle the matter. They paid for their meal and set off back for the car. Daniele consulted his wristwatch: it was already eight o’clock, and the sun was sinking lower in the sky, but there was still time.

The journey home went smoothly at first. The roads heading out of Salerno were quieter than they had been in the afternoon, and they cruised back out onto the coast road with no trouble. It wasn’t long, however, before Daniele’s luck ran out once again.

They were just turning onto the narrow stone viaduct over the main street at Cetara when Paolo brought the taxi to a sudden halt, cursing quietly.

Daniele stared out through the windscreen, unable to believe his eyes. There had been a collision of some kind, and the road was blocked by two damaged cars. The drivers were out in the street, arguing and gesticulating wildly at each other, while a young female police officer, outnumbered, attempted to mediate.

“Is there another way round?” Daniele asked weakly.

“Sorry, champ, not this time,” Paolo replied. “I think we’ll just have to sit this one out.”

It seemed to take forever for the police officer to calm the situation and bring things under some kind of control. The last of the daylight was going a deep gold as the sun sunk even lower in the sky. Daniele watched precious minutes ticking away on his wristwatch as the drivers’ details were exchanged and statements were taken. A queue of cars had built up at each end of the bridge, some of them honking their horns impatiently. Eventually, the driver of the less damaged car was persuaded to reverse his vehicle back across the bridge so the road could be reopened. Daniele watched him do it, now beyond desperate to get going.

At last, they were able to move forward again.

Patrizia sighed with relief. “At least we were at the front of the queue,” she said.

Daniele had to agree.

* * *

Daniele spent the rest of the journey impatiently checking his wristwatch, silently willing his father to drive faster. By the time they finally pulled up in the street outside their home, it was nearly half past nine and it was almost dark.

He was out of time. He could no longer hope to warn Giacomo before he left; now, his only option was to travel to Sambuco himself and hope to catch his friend before he got there.

“I’m wiped out,” he told his parents as they stepped in through the door. “I’m going to go straight to bed, if that’s okay.”

Her eyebrows creased in concern, Patrizia checked his forehead to see if he was running a fever. Apparently satisfied that he wasn’t sick, she nodded.

“All right, caro,” she replied. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

Daniele knew he had to keep up appearances if his plan was going to work, so he headed for the bathroom first to go through his usual bedtime routine. The two minutes he spent brushing his teeth were two of the longest in his life, but the minute hand on his wristwatch still seemed to be advancing up the dial with alarming speed.

He made a noisy show of shutting himself in his bedroom, then he hurried to his wardrobe. Giacomo would not want him to be recognised, and the rainbow t-shirt he was wearing could hardly be more distinctive.

Searching for something less obtrusive to wear, his eyes settled on the shapeless grey hoodie Giacomo had given him a few weeks ago. Hurriedly, he grabbed it and shoved it on. It hung down below his waist, hiding the colourful t-shirt completely. Then he raised his hood: once he had tightened the drawstring, it hid his blond hair almost entirely. It was perfect.

Gingerly, so as to avoid making any noise that might arouse suspicion, he opened the window that led out onto the sun terrace. He extinguished his bedside lamp, then clambered out onto the terracotta tiles. He grabbed his mountain bike, which was leaning against the house in its usual spot, and he was finally on his way.

Riding without lights, Daniele pedalled up the zig-zagging street, navigating by the pink-gold glow of the traditional lamp posts that had been installed between the railings. Part of him wanted to pedal too hard, to go all out, but he knew that might only leave him exhausted at a crucial moment, so he forced himself to go more gently.

Refuelled by his dinner back in Salerno, he crested the hill easily. It was a balmy summer night, and he was far too hot in the grey hoodie, but his fitness had not deserted him. He turned along the Naples road, anxiously pressing on past the shuttered pharmacy, the main road tunnel and then the Palmeri garage, which was also closed and darkened for the night.

Where was Giacomo now, he wondered? Probably already passing the cemetery, or maybe even walking down the Sambuco road, in blissful ignorance of the fact that Antonio was lying in wait for him, to ambush him and do… something.

Daniele pushed himself a little harder. He sped up the gentle incline, looking out desperately for the Sambuco turning. At last, he saw the dull flickering candle flames of the cemetery rising above the road, and then he saw the turning itself, a yawning opening leading down into the gloom.

He turned off and freewheeled down the darkened road, guided by the pools of cold white light cast by the modern street lamps that had been installed here and there. The ferns, scrub and trees whispered with the night breeze and the chirruping of crickets. Daniele was alone on the road, and there was still no sign of Giacomo.

As he approached the layby with the log pile, he became aware of two things simultaneously, and saw them both with perfect clarity: firstly, that Giacomo was already there, and secondly that Antonio had already caught up with him.

Daniele disembarked from his bike, leaning it against the log pile, and crept slowly forward through the darkness. The other two only had eyes for each other and, so far, neither had seen him.

The dark-eyed boy and the greasy-haired young man were facing off over a distance of a couple of metres. Giacomo, who had his back to Daniele, looked tense, poised either for a fight or flight; Antonio, however, seemed hungry, possessed by a dull sort of eagerness.

“You’ve been telling tales,” Antonio said. “The boss is not happy.”

“I haven’t, I swear,” Giacomo replied; his voice was higher than usual, frightened. “I don’t know how they keep stopping you!”

“You must think we’re stupid if you think we’re going to swallow that,” Antonio smirked. “You can say what you like, it won’t make a difference. I’m under orders to teach you a lesson.”

Giacomo could clearly sense he was in danger. “I don’t want any trouble,” he said, backing away. “I’ll just go. You won’t see me again, I promise.”

Antonio sprang forward, grabbing the younger boy by his jacket; Giacomo was brought up short with an audible gasp. “It’s too late for that, kid,” Antonio leered. “You’re not walking away this time.”

Antonio kicked Giacomo’s legs out from under him, and before Daniele knew it, he had spun the younger boy round and stretched him out on the tarmac. Daniele continued to approach from behind as Antonio leant over the Giacomo and ran a meaty finger almost lovingly down his cheek.

“Such a good-looking kid,” he whispered. “Let’s see, where should I start?”

His hands strayed down and found the base of Giacomo’s t-shirt. Somehow, this galvanised the younger boy into action.

“Get off me!” he yelled. Bringing his knees up, he drove his feet into the young man’s midriff. Antonio spun away, driven to the tarmac for a moment. Giacomo tried to shuffle away, but Antonio was on his feet at once, standing over him.

“You’ll regret that, kid,” Antonio cursed, any semblance of his earlier twisted affection now gone. His free hand shot to his pocket and came back out with a penknife; Giacomo stared up at it, his wide eyes pale orbs in the darkness.

Leave him alone!

Daniele hadn’t even realised he was running until he flung himself onto Antonio’s back, closing his arms around the young man’s neck. Antonio rose up, gasping for air, and Daniele was lifted bodily off the ground. Antonio’s fumbling hands dropped the penknife, and Giacomo, looking dazed, kicked it away. It skittered through beneath the crash barrier and tumbled down into the plantations below.

Now Daniele was the one in trouble. He was clinging on for dear life as Antonio thrashed around like a mad beast. He couldn’t maintain his grip, and before long he was thrown off, landing painfully on his bottom in the middle of the road. Antonio spun round to face him, breathing heavily, his face murderous.

“Who the hell are you?” he roared. “I…”

But he was cut off as Giacomo appeared behind him and drove a foot hard into the back of his left knee. Antonio dropped to the other knee with a howl of pain, then spun round and punched Giacomo in the ribs with full force. Giacomo fell to the ground, winded, clutching his chest.

Antonio seemed to have had enough. He scrabbled to his feet, muttering something that sounded like “this isn’t fair”, and set off up the road at a shambling, limping run.

Quiet fell upon the darkened road once again, apart from Giacomo’s wheezing breaths.

“Giaco!” Daniele gasped, getting up onto all fours and scrambling over to the other boy. “Are you all right?”

His breathing easing slightly, Giacomo nodded. Overcome by pure relief, Daniele flung his arms around him. The other boy winced, but then hugged him back.

“Thanks, Dani…” Giacomo panted. “You were amazing.”

“I’m just glad you’re okay,” Daniele cried into his shoulder. “This morning… I heard Filippo and Antonio talking… this was the soonest I could get here.”

After a few moments, Daniele released the other boy. He got to his feet, lowered his hood and helped the other boy up. The other boy winced again, clutching with his free hand at the spot where Antonio had struck him. Daniele looked on with concern, but, incredibly, the other boy smiled at him.

“You got here just in time,” he said. He glanced up and down the empty road. “Let’s get out of here… I want to go home.”

“Come with me instead,” Daniele entreated him.

“What d’you mean?” Giacomo asked.

Daniele clutched the other boy’s shoulders. “You can’t go home, it isn’t safe. They might come looking for you there.”

Giacomo frowned. “You mean… come to your place? But your parents…”

“We’ll be careful,” Daniele insisted. “They don’t even know I’m out here. They think I’ve gone to bed.”

Giacomo seemed persuaded. “All right,” he said, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Thanks, Dani. I suppose…” He paused, and a more vulnerable expression stole across his face. “I guess I don’t really want to be alone tonight anyway.”

Daniele placed an arm around the other boy’s shoulders and led him to his bike. It was time to give his friend another lift.

Copyright © 2021 James Carnarvon; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments

14 minutes ago, James Carnarvon said:

Ah yes, wouldn't that be nice and tidy and sensible? ;)

I forgot to mention how much I enjoy the descriptions of the food being consumed by the "cast". Italian is my favourite cuisine for many reasons, not least of which it offers so many options for vegetarians. The simple meal of pasta, tomatoes and aubergines had my mouth watering. Delizioso. 

Edited by Summerabbacat
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Wow! The speculations in the comments are very intriguing and would be excellent plot twists.  Now I have to worry about Giaco's mom and her shop.  Toto and Enzo working together was a surprising idea, as well as Assunta being behind the disruption.  This is why I always read and enjoy the comments.  

The build up in tension was expertly done, and I give thanks that Dani arrived in time (also that there was no cliffhanger to interrupt my reading).  

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Aaarrrgh! The suspense was killing me! (I'm a reader of cozies. 😅)  An excellent job at giving me a heart attack. 

So, Ettore connects the dots and decides that Giaco is a stool pigeon. Of course, logic isn't proof, and it says a lot about Ettore that he would order violence against Giaco on mere suspicion.

"Make sure he understands what we do to snitches" but nothing "too creepy":  Rather open-ended instructions! I'm guessing that broken bones and face carving are acceptable, but rape would offend Filippo's sensibilities. (After all, even goons have standards. 😏)

Dani, your "disguise" shows forethought and quick thinking! (Don't get a swelled head! 😄) However, if Giaco comes home with you, and the gang retaliates against Giaco's Mom or her store, then no one will be present to protect her.  Further, taking Giaco home is just a delaying tactic, as he'll have to go home sometime.  Essentially, the best solution is telling your parents (or Giaco can do it), but the time for secrets is over. :yes:

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