Via FaenzabyHeathen Hemmingway©
To the Reader – this isn't going to go where you expect, but it is very real for me right now. Don't expect anything from this; instead just read and follow where it takes you. Sometimes a frightening trip through the dark can lead you to beautiful places.
"Via Faenza" He said to himself as he walked down the dark and narrow street. "Fa-enza... what an exotic name." He mused.
As he walked on the street angled slightly to the right. The sound of his worn old boots echoing off of the concrete crept into the darkness ahead of him. At times the concrete street would give way to packed earth or cobblestones, and his echoing footfalls would turn into faint clicks as he walked briskly along. The cobblestones reflected dully in the full moonlight, and the moon was beaming proudly this particular night. Everything was bathed in a clean, silvery light that only moonlight on a cloudless night can make. The cobblestones were worn smooth with age, and the man wondered just how old they might be.
"A lot if history in this place." He whispered under his breath. "I can only wonder what famous people walked down this street back in the Renaissance days."
Something sitting up high on one of the old brownstones caught his attention, a vague shape that appeared to jut out from the dark buildings that surrounded the narrow street. When he was a few steps closer he stopped to look at it, and at first glance the thought it was a Gargoyle of some sort, but definitely unlike any he had seen before. He stood there in the gloom examining it for some time when it came to him; it was not a Gargoyle at all, but a stone carving of a lion sitting on its haunches. The head was pointing up and away, toward the East. The lion's paws cradled a shield or crest of some sort, and fixed upon it were six balls. Criss-crossed behind the shield were two large skeleton keys.
"I'll be damned." He muttered. "Medici Balls."
The man reached inside his jacket under the crook of his left arm and felt there, a habit he had developed a long time ago and carried with him since. Many times, when he was struck to make a difficult decision his hand would slide up his side until his thumb landed on the butt of his gun, resting there while he was deep in thought. It had become a sort of touchstone for him, a divining rod. Often times he had made life or death decisions, just from the feeling it gave him when he touched it. Secretly it made him sad, to take comfort in something so hard and lifeless, but that was life for the man who stood there on the narrow street, dressed in black from head to toe.
His hand didn't find its way to the gun this time, though. 'Leave your cannons at home for this one Nails.' Echoed a gravelly voice in his the back of his mind. 'The last thing you want to do is t get caught with those two forties on you, not where you're going. I doubt you'd even be able to get them into the country, so you'd best go at this one bare-handed.'
The man in black absent mindedly pulled his hand away, lifted his right booted foot and flexed the ankle a bit side to side. He could feel a faint hardness press against his ankle, and it comforted him. He kept something stashed away there, tucked away in a flap of leather just inside the stitching.
"You've never been so far from home, Kid." He whispered to himself. "So let's get this done and go home."
Later, in the dark
The door of the green store front flew open, loud throbbing music pouring out as she rushed out onto the sidewalk, almost tripping over her own feet in her haste to get out of the club. Above her, white block letters a foot or so tall spelled out 'The Fish Pub' in sharp contrast to the gloss-green paintwork of the building's front.
"That was a mistake." She muttered angrily under her breath, reaching down with a practiced gesture, lifting one foot and then the other and quickly removing her heels. Her feet practically sighed to be out of the heels, and the sidewalk was cool and invigorating under her tired feet.
She felt her stomach roll and rumble in protest, a wave of dizziness almost taking her off of her feet. She leaned against the green painted walls to steady herself, then stood up straight and started the walk back to her hostel.
"Too many Kamikazes." A male voice said from behind.
"Shit!' She hissed under her breath, turning to see two large men standing there, eyeing her hungrily.
"Look like you need someone to walk you home, no?" The man on the right said, more telling than asking. The slightly younger looking man on the left just smiled at her with a menacing grin and nodded his head.
The two men standing there staring her down were one of many reasons she decided to leave the club in the first place. They were Dominicans, both tall with broad shoulders and rough-cut features. She noticed that all of the other women in the club were giving them a wide berth, so she tried to avoid them the same. She was aware of them watching her several times, each time turning their heads away when she caught them staring at her. She observed them warily, trying to be inconspicuous, waiting until one of them was preoccupied with some piss-drunk college girl and the other lumbered into the bathroom. She tried to make a quick exit, asking for her tab and tossing a handful of Euro bills on the counter. Moments later she was outside trying to settle her muddled senses.
"No I'm good." She finally managed, hoping it would deter them. It did not. The one on the right scowled at her slightly, and the other man seemed to be mildly amused by this. "I can make it back alright."
"You sure about that?" The older one barked, taking a step toward her.
She wasn't sure if it was the liquor or her temper that got the better of her, but before she knew what she was saying, she responded angrily. "I said no. I don't need anything from you two. So fuck off."
With that, she turned and stumbled away. Her feet did not want to cooperate and her stomach felt as if it were filled with a toxic liquid. She walked for several seconds, expecting the two men to say or do something in response, and when nothing happened she felt a sense of relief. After several moments she risked a quick look back, fully expecting them to be following her. Instead they were still standing there looking at her.
"Well that was too easy." She heaved. "I didn't think..."
The two men looked at each other and then the bigger one nodded to the other, and they both looked at her and smiled. They left the street, leaving in opposite directions. One disappeared into an alley next to the club and the other disappearing behind a large row of blue industrial garbage bins lining the right side of the street.
"Ah fuck, Elle." She grunted, walking a little faster. Her hostel was almost eight blocks away. There were very few taxis on the street so late at night, and to make matters worse she had lost the street map she carried in her purse sometime earlier in the night. Truth be told, the whole day had been one foolish mistake after another. But this, she thought, was easily the worst mistake she had made all day. She should have gone back into the club and asked the barkeep to call her a cab. Instead she was staggering down a slippery old cobblestone street in the dark, likely being followed by two louts who had every intention of making her into an amateur porn star, whether she wanted to or not. She only knew of one way back to her hostel on Via Faenza, and in her current state she'd be lucky to find it. Not to mention what would happen if the Carabinieri found her walking the streets drunk.
Some minutes later she found herself at an intersection, and overhead was a street sign. Like all the street signs in Firenze, it was a white marble plaque placed up high with black lettering. "Via'dell Ariento." She sighed. "I'm close."
She checked for traffic, as those blasted scooters were prone to appear out of nowhere, and then made her way across the street. She was almost convinced that she would make to her hostel unscathed when suddenly a large shadow fell across her from behind, and then quickly disappeared.
"Goddamnit." She hissed, as she knew what was coming.
"You need to learn some manners little Girl." A man's voice said, seeming to come from nowhere.
She knew without a doubt that it was the older of the two Dominicans. One look at the two of them and she knew that they were brothers, maybe cousins, and undoubtedly the older one was the chief shit-starter. She knew the type well, pairs of goons like that seemed to be a universal constant, the older guy who decides on some macho dimwittery and the younger one who follows blindly, like those two dogs in that silly old cartoon. 'Are we gonna chase the cat Spike? Are we gonna chase the cat?!?'
She quickly glanced around her, looking for some direction she could dash in. Her senses weren't entirely numbed and she had the unfortunate tenure to be in similar situations before. She had a fair chance of outrunning them, as big as the two of them were she doubted they were natural born sprinters. No silly screaming and flailing like some damsel in distress; just flat-out hauling ass away from those two and leaving them behind. She was an inch over six feet tall, with long well-developed legs that demanded attention. Sometimes, the wrong kind, of course.
To her left and right were tall buildings, and turning around and running toward the big brute wouldn't work either. Just ahead of her past the intersection was a park, littered with flyers and political banners. In the back of her mind she had a curious thought; she always wondered why they couldn't put up just a few of the damned things of instead wallpapering every inch of bare wall in sight. Do fifty signs with the same message really work better than a few?
She decided that the park was to be her escape and steadied herself to run. She could find a dark place out of sight and wait until daylight when the streets would be full of people. It certainly wasn't how she had planned on spending the night, but it would get her out of this mess she found herself in. One of her mother's many quotes came to mind. 'An ounce of prevention Elle, an ounce of prevention.' Secretly she despised her mother's quips, moreover her mother knew it, often times inspiring her to create more of the damned things, finding adages and sayings for nearly every event in their lives.
Just as she started to take her first running step forward, she saw the younger of the two Dominicans step out from behind a car parked next to the perimeter of the park. Her heart shriveled in her chest as she resigned herself to do the one thing she hated more than anything else; she had to accept defeat, and in this situation, accepting defeat meant screaming as loud as she could manage in hopes of attracting attention. Hopefully she could drive the two away, maybe a light in a window up high would come on, or a passing car would stop to see what all the noise was all about. And, oh, how she hated having to do that. Of the countless lessons her mom so subtly drilled into her over the years, there was one she took to heart. 'Never be a weak woman Elle, never. People can sense that, and once they do you will never be respected the way a woman should. Don't give in easily, don't be some helpless chick and don't be someone's toy. Being a woman in this hard, screwed up world isn't a weakness, it's your strength.'
"I don't feel strong Mom." She said to herself, a tear rolling down her cheek. "I screwed up and I know it."
Elle inhaled deeply to scream, hating herself for the indignity of it all. She heard the man's voice again, closer this time. Very close, in fact.
"I said you need to learn some manners Gi..."
His words were cut short by an odd muffled sound, like a heavy canvas sail flapping in the wind, and she turned to see a confusing sight. The Dominican was there a few paces behind her, just as she knew he would be; a wide shadow on the narrow sidewalk. But behind him was something she couldn't quite make out, something that at first didn't make any sense. A tall silhouette was looming just over his left shoulder, a huge blot of black in the myriad of shadows. The big Dominican went down on one knee. She saw a gloved hand clap down hard on his left shoulder and he fell back. Another gloved hand materialized out of the darkness on his right and punched him hard three times, just under the rib cage.
"Manners, huh?" Came a gruff voice from behind the Dominican. "There's some irony to that."
The hapless Dominican was pulled back and as he went down the shadowy man looming over him reached down casually and clapped him hard against the temple with a bunched fist. The blow echoed quietly down the street. His body fell to the sidewalk with a flat sound, one that reminded her of the sound made when her father would throw large bales of hay from a tractor flat onto a waiting delivery truck. The large squares of compressed hay looked feather light as they glided carelessly through the air, but when they landed on the flat metal bed of the awaiting truck, the mammoth old International would shake and squeak loudly in protest. That was how she remembered her father; he had a secret strength about him that no one expected. People often assumed that since he was a quiet, polite man that he was weak. Despite his good manners and calm temperament, he had arms like knotted steel cables and a grip that could paralyze. Yet he was a kind, gentle soul. But this wasn't her father, it was a total stranger, a mystery to her, dressed in black from head to toe.
The man in black turned away from him the Dominican to face her without a backward glance. He apparently was unconcerned about the man getting back up, and she wondered if he was dead. She stood there speechless, still holding her breath ready to scream. Honestly she didn't know if she should still scream or not. The man pegged her with a stare, looking her up and down. His expression changed from one of determination to exasperation.
"I'm the same way." He said, walking past her. "It pisses me off when I have to cry. And you have more company, by the way." He quipped, pointing toward the park.
The younger Dominican was charging toward them, his shoulders low as he ran. He looked like a young bull charging a matador. The man in black walked briskly to meet him, like a man enjoying a nice walk. As the Dominican closed in on him, he sidestepped and stuck a booted foot out. As if on cue the Dominican stumbled over his foot and fell face-down onto the sidewalk. It was almost comical to her, if not for the fact that she suspected they meant to rape her or worse. The Dominican rolled over onto his back and sat up, cursing and spitting. His face was covered in scratches and was bleeding freely as he slowly stood up. The man in black walked around him like someone inspecting a used automobile, and then he carefully planted his foot behind the Dominican's right knee with a swift kick. As he slumped backward the man in black clamped a hand on his neck, throttling him as he shoved him to the ground. The Dominican's head met the sidewalk and he was done.
Elle stood there dumbstruck, unable to speak or move. The man in black slipped his gloves off, tucking them neatly away into the side pockets of his jacket and walked back to her. She didn't know what to do. Her mind was racing and she was scared senseless, but she knew one thing for certain; she didn't know if she could outrun this guy. He was not exactly an ugly fellow, but he definitely wasn't very handsome or the pretty-boy type. He wasn't chiseled or heavily muscled, but he didn't look to be too badly out of shape. 'Just like Dad Elle, he wasn't a big guy but he was strong as a team of Clydesdales.' A voice in her head whispered. As a matter of fact, he was likely the most average person she had ever laid eyes on. Nothing about him was out of the ordinary, if not for the fact that he had just ruined two men with his bare hands.
As he approached her, she instinctively took a nervous step back. He stopped short a few feet of her and looked her up and down, as if studying her. After several tense moments he spoke.
"Ellody." He said, with a tone of finality in his voice. "My name is Nails. You need to come with me."
Later, after the sun came up
"Those big guys are all the same." He said, taking another deep swig of coffee. "You take away their balance and they've got nothing. "
She sat there silent, eyeing him warily. They were in a small trattoria nestled away in the corner of a large plaza. A huge fountain sat on the opposite side of the square with an enormous sculpture of Neptune standing tall and menacing at its center. The figure was surrounded by many other smaller sculptures, and it was carved with such an overwhelming amount of detail that it was it was almost intimidating to her, a vulgar display of talent and power. Neptune dominated the landscape, despite the dozen or more other equally amazing carvings that populated the plaza. A replica of David stood not too far away at the right, but somehow the statue of Neptune commanded everyone's attention, a somber behemoth cut from shiny alabaster stone that caught the sun and held everyone's eye.
"So what have I done now?" She scolded, after a long silence.
"I'm not sure why you think I'm here, but I'm pretty certain you've got the wrong impression." He replied.
He had a patience about him that she found unsettling, it reminded her of her father. She could never keep a secret from her him. He had a way of waiting her out, until her conscience or guilt got the better of her and she spilled her guts. The man sitting across from her was giving her the same feeling, and it seemed to be effortless on his behalf, which made her very uneasy. She remained silent, trying to hold her ground.
"I'm not a cop. And you're not in trouble with the law here, not that I know of, at least." He responded. "I'm not here to make another Foxy Knoxy out of you."
She sighed in relief, relaxing a bit. Sitting up in her chair, she took a long look at the man across from her.
"Well I didn't thank you for saving my hide back there, so thank you. Now who are you and how the hell do you know my name?"
"Emmanuelle sent me for you." He replied, after studying her for a moment longer. It was obvious he knew that the mention of that name would bring some resent.
"Oh God.' Elle barked back instantly. "Look I don't need my mother controlling my life while I'm over here trying to make some ..."
He held one hand up, the palm open in a 'stop' gesture. Her words fell short and she slumped in her chair, crossing her arms and looking away from him.
"Look Ellody I know you're tired and you're clearly hung over. You probably feel like shit, and truth be told you should feel like shit. You're lucky you're not dead or worse right now. What you did last night was very foolish, but it's not my place to lecture you on that. But all of that aside I'm not here because your mother feels a need to control you. I'm here because of something much more important. "
He reached in a jacket pocket and pulled out a photograph, holding it across the table for her to see. She didn't look at it at first, thinking she knew what she would see.
"I don't need to see another picture of another dead American college girl to know that what I did was stupid, so stop lecturing me." She hissed under her breath.
She reached forward to snatch the picture from his hand and toss it aside when she caught a glimpse of the photograph. It wasn't of a dead American college girl. Instead, it was of a woman with fiery red hair lying in a hospital bed, surrounded by a menacing array of machines and equipment.