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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 - 4. Chapter 4

For the next few days, Daniele carried an anxious sort of excitement about with him. During quiet moments, he replayed the memory of Saturday afternoon and the time he had spent with Giacomo.

I helped him, didn’t I? He really meant it when he thanked me.

Daniele didn’t know, just yet, whether he had made a new friend, but he was sure of one thing: he was a person to Giacomo now, not just a strange-looking kid on the other side of the classroom.

From time to time, Daniele had to stop himself getting carried away by what he wanted Giacomo to be. He was still troubled by everything he had seen. Why was Giacomo involved with that horrible man Ettore? Had he gone into it willingly, or was he being forced into it somehow?

Daniele also thought of Antonio, and worried about what might happen the next time he caught up with the other boy. The thought left him feeling upset and dazed. Giacomo had asked him to stay silent, but he needed to talk to someone… someone he could trust.

For the first couple of days at school the following week, Giacomo seemed to be strangely elusive. Daniele tried to talk to him a couple of times, and even managed to catch his eye – itself a new experience – but then the other boy would always manage to melt away somehow. Daniele tried not to take it too much to heart.

He said he needed a few days to think it over…

Daniele had noticed something else, too. In class, Giacomo sat with Emilia and Marco as he always had done but, at breaktimes, something seemed to have changed between the three of them. Giacomo seemed distracted when he was with them, drifting in and out of their chatter. On Tuesday lunchtime, Daniele observed Emilia and Marco as they waited expectantly at their usual picnic table for another game of Pokémon cards. Perched in his usual spot on the outside wall, casting sideways glances at them as often as he dared, Daniele watched the looks on their faces shift from eager anticipation to bafflement and disappointment as Giacomo failed to appear. After twenty minutes, they gave up and packed their cards away. Marco looked absolutely crushed.

Daniele felt sorry for him. It was hard not to, when he saw how poorly the smaller boy was coping.

He doesn’t understand.

Daniele finally caught up with Giacomo on Wednesday morning. It was breaktime, and Daniele happened to be passing a side corridor that led to the toilets just as Giacomo stepped out, leaving him slightly trapped.

“Ciao, Giacomo” Daniele said, pausing in the hallway with a pile of books tucked under one arm.

“Ciao, Daniele,” Giacomo replied reluctantly, apparently realising he was caught.

“Have you thought about… you know what?” Daniele asked.

Giacomo nodded. “Yeah, a little.”

“And…?” Daniele said hopefully.

“Can you meet me after school on Friday?” Giacomo asked quietly.

Daniele’s heart flipped a little. He nodded, trying to keep his cool. “Sure.”

“Okay then. I’ll meet you in the square.”

Giacomo exhaled slowly. It looked like it had cost him something to make his offer, but Daniele, watching him closely, thought he glimpsed a trace of relief behind those dark eyes as well.

The double doors behind Daniele swung open, and he glanced over his shoulder as he realised that whoever had come through them had stopped abruptly.

Che cosa?” Marco exclaimed quietly, his eyes narrowing in suspicion as he glanced from Daniele to Giacomo and back again. Beside him, Emilia was frowning thoughtfully. Giacomo cursed under his breath, so quietly that only Daniele could hear him.

“I’ll be out in a minute, guys,” Giacomo said.

“Come on, Marco,” Emilia said, placing a hand on the smaller boy’s shoulder and nudging him on down the corridor. Daniele watched them until they had disappeared round the next corner; Marco spared him one last suspicious glance before they vanished from view.

Daniele glanced at the other boy searchingly. “They don’t know, do they…?” he asked tentatively. “Emilia and Marco, I mean.”

Giacomo shook his head. “No… and after Saturday, it’s just getting a bit… real.” He moved to slip past Daniele, who stepped aside to let him go. “See you on Friday, Daniele.”

“Ciao,” Daniele replied, watching the other boy thoughtfully as he set off in pursuit of his friends.

* * *

Daniele had no further contact with Giacomo, Emilia or Marco at school that day. After the last bell rang, he set off on his own in search of someone to talk to. He trailed behind the three friends as they left the site together and set off up Via Roma, heading towards the cathedral square.

Daniele set off in the other direction. He had checked in at the shop that morning, where Salvatore had told him that he might be able to catch Toto after school if he waited at the square with fountain; apparently, Toto had arranged to work on his drawing that evening with Gianni, who lived and worked nearby.

Breaking out from among the buildings, Daniele followed a sun-drenched footpath at the foot of a small cliff. The path was lined with more of the town’s signature oleander trees, whose sprays of cheerful pink flowers framed a view across the Valle del Dragone. The windowless rear wall of cathedral at Scala seemed to glare at him from halfway up the far mountainside, as if disapproving of his dangerous new secrets.

Before long, Daniele had reached the quiet, stone-paved square. At its centre stood an ancient stone fountain; twin trickles of water poured into the central basin from beneath two imperious stone beasts. Across the little square stood grand arched façade of the hotel where Gianni worked alongside Daniele’s mother. A row of potted plants enclosed a few outside tables that served as an extension to the hotel bar, but they were empty and silent for the moment.

Daniele sat down on a stone bench built into the low wall on the valley side of the square, turning his back on the view of Scala and the intense afternoon sun. There was no sign of Toto yet, but Daniele wasn’t worried: the older boy went to school in Amalfi, and he would have to travel all the way back up the valley before he could get here. If he had taken his Vespa scooter that morning, he wouldn’t be long.

A flash of grey in the corner of Daniele’s eye caught his attention, and he turned to see a plump tabby cat approaching along the bench, tail raised. Unlike most of the cats about town, it was clearly no stray. The animal paused a foot or so away, staring at Daniele expectantly with its inscrutable green eyes.

“Ciao, Ennio,” Daniele said, recognising Angelo and Gianni’s pet at once. They had been introduced to one another a few months ago, when Daniele had accompanied Toto to their apartment one Sunday afternoon. Daniele had been allowed to feed the cat some treats, and he had clearly not been forgotten.

“I don’t have anything for you this time,” Daniele went on apologetically, raising a hand for the cat to inspect. Ennio sniffed his hand carefully, bumping it slightly with his damp nose, then rubbed it vigorously with the scent glands on both side of his forehead. Daniele offered the animal a scratch under one ear, which Ennio accepted, a deep purr starting in his chest as he leaned into it.

Daniele had been hanging out with Ennio for a quarter of an hour or so when the peace was disturbed by the clatter of small engines and two Vespa scooters appeared, approaching rapidly up the road from the valley. Daniele watched as the two riders parked together by the side of the road and took off their helmets, revealing not just Toto but Michele as well. Daniele was glad to see them both. They approached Daniele together, both wearing expressions of surprised interest at their unexpected visitor.

“Ciao Dani,” Toto grinned, reaching out a hand to Ennio, who switched his attention to the new arrival immediately at the prospect of a fresh pair of hands to make a fuss of him. “What are you doing here?”

“Can I talk to you for a bit?” Daniele asked them hesitantly. “There’s… I mean, I’ve seen some pretty weird stuff recently.” He paused. “It’s about a boy.”

Toto and Michele exchanged a curious glance.

“Sure thing, Dani,” Michele replied, sitting down next to Daniele and pushing Toto down to sit on his other side; finding himself suddenly abandoned, Ennio the cat stalked away, looking disgruntled. Michele offered Daniele a puzzled smile. “You’ve certainly got our attention with a start like that.”

“It’s also kinda… private,” Daniele mumbled.

“Hey, we can totally be discrete, can’t we, Michele?” Toto said.

Michele nodded. “Of course we can.”

And, so, Daniele told them what he could. Falteringly at first, he began by telling them about Giacomo, about his bruises, and how he had followed him after Toto’s party and seen him checking out all the houses on the way back to the square. The two older boys listened in silence.

“What’s so special about this kid, Dani?” Michele said gently when Daniele had finished. “Why are you so curious about him? From what you’ve said… he sounds a bit dodgy to me.”

Daniele felt a dull heat rising in his cheeks again and shook his head awkwardly, avoiding the other boys’ eyes. “I don’t know,” he said. “But I don’t think he is… dodgy, I mean… not really. I don’t think he’s happy with what he’s doing.”

“But you really think he’s connected somehow to what happened at Da Rossi?” Michele asked.

“I know he is,” Daniele replied reluctantly.

Toto gave a low whistle. “Christ, Dani,” he said, “you sure picked your target for your first…” he tailed off.

“First what?” Daniele asked, raising his eyes to look at the older boy.

Toto shrugged. “Never mind,” he replied. “But this sounds complicated.”

“There’s more,” Daniele admitted.

“Go on,” Michele said.

Daniele recounted the second part of his story, telling the others about his trip to Sambuco and what he’d witnessed after he followed Giacomo to Ettore’s house.

“The chief of police?” Michele repeated in a slightly-too-loud whisper; anxiously, Daniele raised a hand to stop him.

“Please… don’t,” he said. “I’m worried about Giacomo.”

There was silence for a moment as the two older boys digested what they had heard.

“But, this means…” Michele said quietly, “this means that Pietro and Anna aren’t going to get any help from the Carabinieri at all.”

Daniele shook his head in silence.

“Why are you worried about Giacomo, Dani?” Toto asked.

Daniele told them all about the fight in the street. When he got to the part about Giacomo hitting his head, Toto inhaled sharply through his front teeth and Michele gaped.

“You had to watch all this?” Michele said, sounding horrified.

Daniele nodded. “I didn’t save him,” he said, tears suddenly pricking the corners of his eyes. He reached up to wipe them away; Toto put an arm around his shoulders at once.

“Hey, give yourself a break, Dani,” he said. “He was a grown man, and it sounds like it came out of nowhere. Who could blame you for freezing?”

“He’s right, Dani,” Michele assured him. “What happened next?”

Sniffling slightly, Daniele explained how the young man had fled the scene, and the steps he had taken afterwards to treat Giacomo and get him home.

Michele shook his head again. “Well, if you ask me, that sounds pretty damned heroic for a twelve-year-old.”

Daniele glanced up at his eyes and saw that he meant it.

“Thanks, Michele,” he replied, feeling slightly better.

“Who was he, Dani?” Toto asked. “The man who attacked Giacomo.”

Daniele shrugged. “I didn’t know him. He had long hair that looked kinda greasy. Giacomo called him Antonio.”

There was a moment’s thunderstruck silence, then Toto drew back as if slapped.

That stronzo!” he exploded.

“What?” Daniele asked, totally bewildered.

“Antonio’s the reason Michele nearly fell from that cliff three years ago,” Toto hissed, his intense brown eyes suddenly furious. “I can’t believe he’s still out there hurting kids. We have to tell someone.”

Michele looked pale, but he shook his head. “Tell who? The Carabinieri are up to their necks in all this.”

Daniele didn’t have time to reflect on the part of Michele’s story that he had just heard for the first time. With a sinking feeling, he screwed up his eyes, remembering how he had been sworn to secrecy. “If we tell someone now, they’ll blame it on Giacomo,” he said miserably. “They’ve already hurt him twice. I… I need to get him out somehow.”

Silence again.

“Those are some brave words, Dani,” Toto said after a moment, his voice full of reluctant admiration, “but how are you going to do that?”

Daniele shrugged. “I don’t even know the full story yet. But he said he’s going to tell me about it.”

Michele took a deep breath. “Are you courting danger again, Dani?” he asked seriously. “This sounds like it could end really badly.”

Daniele shook his head. “I just want to help him.”

Michele stared straight into his eyes. “Just promise us you’re not going to take on this mob single-handed.”

Holding his gaze, Daniele shook his head. “How would I do that?” he replied honestly. “I’m only twelve.”

“Well said,” Toto replied. “Listen, Dani, keep us posted about this. Don’t take any stupid risks. We’ve got your back if you need us.”

“Absolutely,” Michele added.

A wave of relief was coursing through Daniele now that he had finally spoken his mind. He slumped forward on the bench.

“Thanks, guys,” he said humbly. Toto and Michele put their arms around him and they embraced, briefly, to the quiet sound of the water trickling from the fountain.

Now that Daniele had got his worries off his chest, the conversation was able to turn to lighter subjects. Toto and Michele talked about their challenges at school and the latest exciting gossip from the schoolyard. Daniele let it all wash over him, having rather less interest in who was dating who.

Before long, Gianni appeared, on his break between the lunch and evening shifts at the hotel. Still wearing the smart shirt and waistcoat he wore as a waiter, he sat with Toto and Daniele and the two artists took their sketch pads out and set to work on a drawing of the fountain. Michele made his excuses, explaining that he had some homework to do. A moment later, Daniele’s mother appeared at the hotel doors to wait on a couple who had just arrived at one of the outside tables. Catching sight of Daniele sitting across the square, Patrizia smiled in surprise and blew him a kiss. Daniele, who was now feeling much more cheerful, responded in kind, only slightly embarrassed by her public display of affection.

Daniele peered at Toto’s sketch pad. The basic shape of the fountain seemed to be coming together well, and Toto had made a hesitant start on one of the stone beasts. Gianni was a much more experienced artist, and his drawing was already much further along. Daniele looked up to compare the drawings to the real thing, and found two pairs of eyes looking back at him.

Emilia and Marco had appeared and were making their way across the square, apparently headed for home. Both of them had noticed Daniele and were looking in his direction. Emilia’s expression was neutral, but there was no mistaking the hostility in Marco’s eyes. Both Toto and Gianni glanced up too, aware of the sudden change in energy.

“I think they hate me,” Daniele said quietly as the two of them retreated across the square.

“Who are they, Dani?” Toto asked.

“Giacomo’s friends,” Daniele replied.

Gianni was frowning thoughtfully. “Wasn’t that Marco Fardello?” he asked.

Daniele glanced at him in surprise. “Do you know him?”

Gianni shook his head. “Not well,” he replied, “but the family lives just up the street from us.” He glanced at Daniele. “It’s a tough situation… they have almost nothing. The house has been in the family for generations, but Marco’s parents are always struggling for money. His mother washes dishes in the hotel kitchens. His father… I’m not sure, but I think he works at a parking garage down on the coast. Long hours and a poor wage.”

No wonder he clings to Giacomo…

“What about Emilia?” Daniele asked.

Gianni shook his head. “Marco’s friend?” he said. “Sorry, I don’t know her.”

“It’s okay,” Daniele replied, lapsing into quiet thought.

I guess everyone has a story… even Marco.

* * *

As Toto and Gianni became more absorbed in their drawing, the conversation tailed off. Daniele made his excuses and left. He had decided to head home, but this time he had a couple of Euros in his pocket and thought he might pick up a cold drink on the way.

Daniele retraced his steps, climbing back up the sunlit path to reach the welcome shade of Via Roma. He wandered past the damaged frontage of Da Rossi, where he exchanged a wave with a tired-looking Angelo, who was working late fitting the new windows; then he threaded his way along the narrowest and busiest part of the street, dodging the evening shoppers as he went.

Before long, Salvatore’s shop came into view. Daniele was about to step inside, but then he paused on the threshold, suddenly uncertain. Toto’s father seemed to be arguing with a customer.

The young man talking animatedly with Salvatore was dressed in a smart business suit, but Daniele knew for a fact that he was only nineteen years old. On closer inspection, he looked it, too: the suit hung loosely off his lanky figure, and his badly knotted tie, which failed to completely conceal his prominent Adam’s apple, looked strangely oversized beneath his weak chin. His mid-length hair was neatly groomed, but beads of perspiration were starting to form on his forehead as he argued with Toto’s father.

“Filippo,” Daniele murmured to himself. Not so long ago, Filippo had been Daniele’s principal bully and tormentor, but that had all changed last summer thanks to Toto and Michele. Daniele had seen little of Filippo since then, and the young man’s new look caught him by surprise.

“You stubborn old man,” Filippo was ranting. “Why won’t you see reason?”

Salvatore, who could hardly be described as ‘old’, raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps you should take that jacket off, son,” he said sardonically. “You look like you’re overheating.”

Filippo wiped the sweat furiously from his brow.

“You saw what happened to your friends at Da Rossi,” he shot back. “Ravello isn’t a safe place to do business anymore. The protection I’m offering…”

“Protection, is that what you call it?” Salvatore interrupted coolly. “The way I see it, the only threat we face comes from you and your bunch of amateur gangsters. The Carabinieri will put a stop to it soon enough.”

At this last, Filippo’s lip curled in a mean little smirk. “Really? Do you think so?”

Salvatore leant on the counter, resting on crossed arms. “You can tell your ‘friends’ that they will not be getting a single Eurocent from me.”

Filippo’s smile curdled. “It’s bad news for any business that doesn’t pay up, signore,” he said. “But especially for businesses run by queer-lovers like you and Marta Rossi.”

Salvatore’s expression darkened. “Get out of my shop,” he snapped.

Filippo turned to leave, the nasty smirk back on his face. He faltered slightly as he spotted Daniele watching from the sunlit street.

“What do you want, kid?” he muttered. Daniele glared silently back. Seemingly disconcerted by Daniele’s lack of fear, the young man set off hurriedly down the street.

Daniele stepped tentatively into the store, watching Salvatore. Now that his opponent had left, Salvatore had let his confident mask slip. He looked tired and anxious, his eyes downcast.

“Are you all right, signore?” Daniele asked.

Salvatore looked up. “Buonasera, Daniele,” he replied, leaving the question unanswered.

Daniele felt he should say something about what he had just seen, but he really didn’t know where to start. “I really don’t like that guy,” he offered.

Salvatore sighed. “Filippo Neri…” he mused. “The irony of him being named after a saint, when the whole family’s hearts are as black as their name.”

Daniele blinked. “What do you mean?”

“Have you ever met Filippo’s father, Daniele?” Salvatore asked.

Pausing to think for a moment, Daniele shook his head. “No, I don’t think so.”

Salvatore nodded, obviously unsurprised. “That’s because he’s in business in Naples. Legitimate business, if you know what I mean.”

Daniele wasn’t sure he did. “I…”

“That boy and his cold fish of a mother, Assunta, live alone in a great big villa just below town,” Salvatore said bitterly, “but Assunta never works. It makes you wonder where all the money comes from, doesn’t it…?”

Daniele stared at him. “I don’t know what to say, signore,” he replied.

Salvatore seemed to shake himself. “Why am I burdening you with all this?” he said. “Forgive me. What can I get for you, Daniele?”

Daniele pulled a can from the refrigerator cabinet and a coin from his pocket. “Just a Fanta, please,” he replied.

* * *

Daniele left the shop a few moments later with his change in one hand and the open drink can in the other. He was thirsty after spending so much time in the hot sun with Toto, Michele and Gianni, and he drank quickly, pondering everything he had just witnessed.

It looked like Filippo was involved in Ettore’s scheme... and, somehow, the idea didn’t surprise Daniele at all. Apparently, Filippo was the one who contacted the businesses, and if they didn’t pay up then Antonio and whoever else was involved came along and did the required smashing.

Daniele sighed and rubbed his eyes tiredly with his free hand. As Toto and Michele had already reminded him, this problem was not his to solve… Daniele could only concern himself with Giacomo. But it hurt, still, to think of kind people like Pietro and Anna suffering and getting no help from the police who were supposed to protect them. Would Salvatore’s shop be next on Ettore’s list?

A hero would find a way to save the boy AND put the world to rights.

Daniele stepped out into the cathedral square and paused to finish his drink, surveying the scene. Although it was only a Wednesday night, the square was starting to look more and more like it usually did in the summer. All the bars were open, and they were populated by a lively mix of cheerful-looking tourists and locals. You wouldn’t have been able to tell that anything was amiss in the town. In the middle of the square, a small group of younger children were playing football, sending pigeons scattering as they charged about the place. Among the eight umbrella pines that framed the view of the sunlit valley, a couple of cicadas scraped tentatively in the high canopies.

Daniele frowned as his eyes settled on Filippo, who was sitting alone on one of the benches under the umbrella pines. Incredibly, the young man who had just been threatening Salvatore was licking miserably on an ice cream, looking, for the moment, like the world’s most overgrown child playing dress-up in his father’s suit. As Daniele watched, Filippo dropped a glob of ice cream which dribbled down his lapel, leaving a pale mark. Filippo mouthed a curse and tried to wipe it off, which only made the mess worse. Daniele might have found the image funny if the memory of the scene at Salvatore’s shop hadn’t been so fresh in his mind.

Filippo finished his ice cream and rose from his seat. Without really stopping to think about what he was about to do, Daniele decided he would follow him… just for a little while, to see what he was up to. Keeping half an eye on Filippo, he deposited his empty drink can in the nearest litter bin and then waited to see which way the young man would go.

Filippo stretched and then shambled across the square, hands in the pockets of his suit trousers. Daniele converged on the young man from a distance as he turned down the little shopping street next to the Villa Rufolo gardens. Tracking him as nonchalantly as he could, Daniele followed, and was just in time to see Filippo turn off onto the stairway that led down the hill towards Daniele’s home.

Daniele quickened his pace a little, relying on the twists and turns at the top of the stone-walled lane to conceal him from view. He stole quietly down the stairs, staying close to the walls; over his head, fronds of fresh green growth crept across the blue sky from the hidden gardens to either side. Before long, the lane straightened out a little and Filippo’s retreating figure was plainly visible, the clip-clopping of his smart leather shoes echoing back up the hill as he went. They were about halfway down the stairway when Filippo abruptly turned off through a garden gate. Daniele slowed his pace a little, contemplating his options; it looked like Filippo was heading home.

I’ve come this far…

Curiosity overcame him. He tried the gate and, finding it unlocked, pushed it open and crept cautiously through.

A pergola draped with delicate wisteria flowers welcomed him to a secluded garden area, casting a dappled golden light on the patterned paving in the evening sun. He climbed a flight of steps between neat and tidy stone walls until Filippo’s family home came into view.

It looked like a grand old property that had been heavily extended and modernised; the older walls were rough and whitewashed, but the terracotta roof was newly laid and spotless. A sunny terrace surrounded the building, tidy to the point of soullessness. Daniele approached an open window, where a few pencil cypresses had been planted in enormous old pots to soften the outlook. Concealing himself among the pots, just below the windowsill, he poked his head up as far as he dared to peek inside.

He wondered, briefly, what his mother and father would say if they could see him trespassing on someone else’s property like this.

The window opened on a spacious reception room with a tiled floor and a vaulted ceiling. A crystal chandelier hung in the centre of the room, sparkling with bright stars of light. The chamber was furnished with extravagant-looking sofas and lavish rugs; at one side of the room, next to a grand and entirely unnecessary marble fireplace flanked by tall houseplants, stood an enormous, dark-wood table that could only be an antique, surrounded by sturdy old upholstered chairs.

The whole scene struck Daniele as a display of wealth at the expense of good taste.

Filippo was standing in the middle of the room. He had taken his tie off and was carrying his suit jacket over one shoulder. Considering Salvatore’s description, the woman reclining on one of the sofas could only have been his mother. To Daniele, Assunta Neri looked like a giant stick-insect, her bony frame and narrow waist sheathed in an austere black dress and draped with a shawl of wispy black lace.

“Salvatore Friuli wouldn’t budge,” Filippo was complaining in a voice loaded with self-pity. “Are they all stupid? When will people in this town get the message that we mean business?”

Assunta gave him an unsympathetic look with her hard grey eyes. “You are not your father, Filippo,” she replied, “and people in this town are used to doing business the way they choose. They’re not going to be so easily intimidated by a skinny boy who looks like he should still be at school.”

Filippo bridled. “Zio Ettore says…”

“You place far too much faith in your uncle,” Assunta interrupted. “There’s a reason your father cut him out of the family business. The man is an incompetent fool, and his methods are as coarse as his manners.”

“Not so incompetent,” Filippo replied, drawing himself up to his full height. “The chief of police…”

Assunta waved this away impatiently. “Thanks to a disgruntled colleague with an axe to grind. Anyone can be bought, for the right price.”

“Ettore’s promised me a cut of everything he makes,” Filippo threw back, “At least he cares about me, which is more than I can say for you.”

Assunta’s cheeks flared with the first flash of real feeling Daniele had seen in her. “You think so, do you?” she replied. “Just how far would you go for him? Would you take a fall for him?”

“If I had to,” Filippo replied stubbornly.

“Be sure that Ettore would show you no such loyalty, Filippo,” she replied sharply. “He is just using you, as he uses everybody else, to revenge the slight he perceives on his rightful standing in the family.”

Filippo glared at her. “Why do I bother talking to you? Nothing I do will ever be good enough.”

His mother looked back at him, unfazed by his words. “Not as long as you ally yourself with your ill-tempered bear of an uncle,” she said. “This isn’t Naples. It’s a small town, and your uncle’s inept scheme is leaving dinosaur tracks right back to his door. Ettore’s hold over the Carabinieri is all that is protecting you, and it won’t last forever. This will all come crashing down sooner or later.” She paused, adjusting her shawl carefully. “If you ignore what I’ve said, then don’t expect me to speak up for you when it does.”

“That’s not fair,” Filippo protested, an adolescent whine creeping into his voice. “When Enzo put his abusive bastard of a father in hospital last year, you couldn’t wait to post bail!”

“That boy has the potential to make something of his life,” Assunta replied. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

For a few seconds, Filippo stared back at her furiously, then he turned on his heel and stormed from the room. On the terrace, Daniele ducked down hurriedly to avoid being seen, and kept low until he heard the inside door slam.

The previous summer, Toto and Michele had helped Daniele to realise that he didn’t need to be afraid of Filippo Neri. Side by side, they had stood up to him together; even Enzo, Filippo’s former friend, had not come to his rescue; and, after that, the bullying had stopped. The sight of Filippo threatening Salvatore had shaken Daniele’s conviction for a moment, but now he seemed an even more pitiful figure than ever.

No, Daniele thought, Filippo wasn’t the real threat. Everything that had been twisted out of shape in Ravello, including everything that had happened to Giacomo, could still be placed squarely at the door of the nasty man in Sambuco.

Daniele decided it was time to beat a retreat. His curiosity satisfied for the moment, he crept away and stole down the steps, thanking God that he had been born to a pair of nice, normal parents.

* * *

That night, when he saw them briefly before he went to bed, Daniele made sure to give both his parents an extra hug. He didn’t really have the words to explain how he felt, but the image of Filippo and his cold and unfeeling mother had haunted him ever since he had slipped back out through their garden gate. He could never have imagined a home life so different from his own.

Patrizia was caught off-guard by his sudden embrace, but her arms closed automatically around his narrow shoulders all the same. He closed his eyes for a moment, burying his hair in her neck.

“Are you all right, caro?” she asked with concern, kissing the top of his head.

“Yes,” he replied, his voice muffled by a mouthful of her blouse.

“Me too?” Paolo queried, watching him curiously as he approached. Daniele nodded, then fell into his surprised father’s arms.

“The world… it’s not always a nice place, is it?” Daniele said quietly once he had let them both go, eyes staring down at his own bare feet.

“This business with Da Rossi has really rattled you, hasn’t it?” Paolo said gently. Daniele nodded; after all, it was at least partly true.

“You’ve always tried to see the best in people, tesoro,” Patrizia added. “It’s always been one of the sweetest things about you. I can see how this would hurt you.”

“This won’t go on for ever, son,” Paolo said. “In a town this size, the perpetrators won’t be hard to find. They’ll put a stop to it soon.”

But who are ‘they’?

Daniele said nothing.

* * *

Friday rolled slowly around, and with it came the moment Daniele had been awaiting impatiently ever since his talk with Giacomo in the corridor. At school, Giacomo continued distance himself from Emilia and Marco, only hanging around with them intermittently. At breaktimes, Daniele made sure the other two could see him sitting alone, hoping to prove that Giacomo wasn’t secretly spending time with him, but Marco continued to glare at him with ill-concealed dislike all the same. Emilia seemed to have decided that the best thing to do was ignore Daniele completely.

After school, Daniele slipped out of the gates and headed straight up Via Roma, wondering with sudden anxiety whether Giacomo would even keep their appointment. He passed Salvatore’s shop, which seemed to have survived unscathed so far, and exchanged a quick wave with Toto’s father. He crossed the cathedral square and sat on a bench in the shade of the umbrella pines to wait for the other boy. Up in the dark green canopy, the cicadas churred away rhythmically, casting their late spring spell as Daniele watched the world go by.

It wasn’t long before Giacomo appeared, following in Daniele’s own footsteps. Daniele looked on in a state of slightly stunned disbelief. Here was his unattainable would-be-friend, walking across the square specially to talk to him, with an expression that was – if not yet totally relaxed – at least open and somewhat friendly. Aware of how dangerous it could be to drop his own defences, Daniele felt something inside himself responding all the same, opening up despite the risk.

“Ciao, Daniele,” Giacomo said as he arrived, taking a seat next to Daniele on the bench.

Daniele turned towards him. “Ciao, Giacomo,” he replied with a cautious smile.

“Listen…” Giacomo said awkwardly. “I can’t stay for long. I told Emilia and Marco I’d hang out with them tonight.”

Daniele’s defences closed up again at once, his hopes crumbling rapidly. “Oh,” he said, hiding his disappointment as best he could. “But I thought…” he stopped, and started to get up. “Never mind, I’ll just go.”

Giacomo placed a hand on his arm, stopping him in his tracks. “Wait, please…”

Daniele sat down again, looking at the other boy in confusion. “What? I don’t understand.”

“Meet me here tomorrow morning,” Giacomo replied. “It’ll be better. We’ll spend the day, I promise.”

The day? The whole DAY?

Daniele stared at the other boy in pure astonishment. “Sure, okay,” he said blankly.

Giacomo actually giggled at his reaction, making Daniele’s heart lurch slightly. “You should see your face,” he said. “Is it really so weird that someone wants to hang out with you?”

“I…” Daniele replied, floundering.

“You actually freaking rescued me, Daniele,” Giacomo reminded him. “I don’t think most kids would have done that.”

Daniele felt himself starting to blush, and covered it up by cleaning a thumbnail with his teeth. “My friends call me Dani,” he mumbled.

“Dani. That’s cool,” Giacomo acknowledged.

Does that mean…?

Yes, it did. He had a friend. Suddenly, the square with its lively mix of people, bars and flowers seemed even more colourful than it had before.

“Where do you want to go?” Daniele asked, no longer so afraid to look at the other boy.

Giacomo’s dark eyes stared thoughtfully into space for a moment. “The Villa Cimbrone seems like a good place to talk,” he said. “I’ll bring a ball or something, too.”

Daniele nodded. He never really played football, but right now he thought he would probably have agreed to anything. “Yeah, okay, great.”

“Uh-oh,” Giacomo said, his eyes diverting across the square. “Here they come.”

Emilia and Marco were approaching together from the direction of the cathedral. Marco’s eyes were hardening already.

“You’re with him again…?” the smaller boy asked Giacomo incredulously.

“Hey, Dani’s okay,” Giacomo replied.

Marco turned to Emilia, and Daniele distinctly saw him mouth Giacomo’s words at her, his eyes disbelieving. Emilia looked from Giacomo to Daniele and quickly back to Giacomo again, her expression puzzled.

He called me Dani.

“Are you ready to go, Giacomo?” Emilia asked, now ignoring Daniele again.

“Yeah, I’m good,” Giacomo replied, getting up from his seat. “See you tomorrow, Dani. Ten o’clock?”

“Yeah, sure, ten o’clock,” Daniele replied. “Ciao, Giacomo.”

“Call me Giaco,” he said casually. Marco’s eyes blazed with renewed jealousy at this, but the dark-eyed boy took no notice. “Ciao.”

Daniele remained rooted to the spot, watching the three figures as they retreated towards Via Roma, heading perhaps for Emilia’s house in San Martino.

A whole day. With Giacomo. How was he going to cope?

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

1 hour ago, Ivor Slipper said:

Surprised though that Dani hasn't tried to contact Toto to tell him of the conversation he overheard in his father's shop.

If I were Dani, I would have assumed that Salvatore would tell Toto himself. That wouldn't necessarily be correct, of course.

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53 minutes ago, James Carnarvon said:

If I were Dani, I would have assumed that Salvatore would tell Toto himself. That wouldn't necessarily be correct, of course.

Fair point, James.

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25 minutes ago, drpaladin said:

I find Giaco's friends hostility toward Dani curious and insular. Rather than looking at him like an interloper, why not welcome him into their group? Maybe it's just been too long since I was twelve.

Any number of things could be going on beneath the surface.

Even in early adolescence there are crushes, comparisons, factions/cliques, alliances, enmities and the dreaded social pecking order. Schoolyard politics can be pretty complex even at 12/13.

Edited by James Carnarvon
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Posted (edited)

I am glad that Dani has told Toto and Michele about Giacomo and his involvement with Antonio.  Also, about the connection with the crimes and the police chief.  I do wish he would try to find Toto and Michele again and tell them about what he has learned about the Neri family and threats to Salvatore.  I doubt that Salvatore would tell Toto, since Salvatore is very protective of Toto and probably doesn't want to worry him.  Salvatore is probably worried that the knowledge would also distract Toto from his studies.

Marco seems to be jealous of Giacomo's attentions to Dani.  It is probably the result of Marco crushing on Giacomo.  They are all young, but that is common at their age.  Dani is excited to have a friend now that is his own age.  I worry that Dani may take unreasonable actions to protect Giacomo and face even greater danger.  

Edited by raven1
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Interesting that Dani chooses to confide in Toto and Michelle, the friends closest to his own age; but they still are boys.  Dani may feel better after talking to them, but they provide no practical advice for him to follow.

Poor Dani!  He's right when he says that the world is not always a good place, but he is realizing it for the first time. Yes, there is an inevitable loss of innocence with such a realization, but there is also the evolution of character:  Rather than retreat from the situation, Dani follows Filippo, and he gains additional knowledge of the protection racketeers and of Filippo's home circumstances. (He continues to do what he feels is right.)

I love the scene where Filippo, the hotshot erstwhile gangster, eats an ice cream and shows himself as little more than a kid himself.  (Sadly, he hates his mother enough to ignore her advice regarding Ettore:  She may have no obvious affection for her son, but at least, she tells him the truth, whereas Ettore manipulates him with false affection. [Which is worse?])

"The whole scene struck Daniele as a display of wealth at the expense of good taste."  If even a child can see how kitschy the home looks.... :facepalm:

With due respect to @raven1, Marco doesn't need to have a crush on Giacomo to be jealous of Daniele:  He may simply be afraid that Daniele intends to steal away his only male friend. (Sad to say, he doesn't have much else going for him.)  Unfortunately, his jealousy may make him easy to manipulate--turn him into a "weapon" against Daniele and even Giacomo--if the bad guys ever gain access to him (but @James Carnarvon would never let that happen...right? :unsure:).

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I'm loving your comments, @travlbug, getting to the heart of things on many fronts.

I'm glad you liked the ice cream scene! You took it just the way I intended it. Also, that's a good perspective on the scene with Assunta and Filippo.

3 hours ago, travlbug said:

With due respect to @raven1, Marco doesn't need to have a crush on Giacomo to be jealous of Daniele:  He may simply be afraid that Daniele intends to steal away his only male friend. (Sad to say, he doesn't have much else going for him.)  Unfortunately, his jealousy may make him easy to manipulate--turn him into a "weapon" against Daniele and even Giacomo--if the bad guys ever gain access to him (but @James Carnarvon would never let that happen...right? :unsure:).

Would I...? 😉

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