by sarAdora ~~~~~~~~~~
"Gianni! Gianni, where are you going?" his mother asked as her son put his wineglass on the table.
"Out, mia madre," he smiled at her frown. "Out for a walk. Don't stay up too late, mia bella," he told her. "The doctor says you need to rest more."
"Bah!" the tiny woman snorted. "Time enough to rest when I die." She watched him pass through the patio doors, her only son the apple of her eye and in her eyes could do no wrong. If he'd just find a nice girl and settle down, have bambinos, she sighed. "I will just have to find a good girl for him," she murmured.
An evening walk helped Giancarlo in more ways than one. It alleviated the stress of the day, cleared his mind so he could ponder pending decisions and gave him a few moments of privacy. As vast as his organization was, he knew better than to take the same path every night, altering it randomly even though he walked his own fenced-in property. Enemies were everywhere and every successful leader knew that one's worst enemies were often those that seemed the closest to you. Giancarlo was a cautious man and he planned to live a long time.
Walking along the edge of the wooded land, he blended in with the darkness, his soft soled shoes making little noise, the slightly rustling leaves the only discernible sounds. He knew he wasn't alone; his personal bodyguards weren't that far away but for the moment, he felt alone and relished it until...
A strident voice reached his ears... softly uttered words, threatening words... and then the hushed voice of protest. A woman... he mused, wondering who and what was going on. Quietly, he moved in the direction of the voices, the male voice rising slightly as his words struck terror in the other, the softer voice questioning fate, quietly arguing, moaning just loud enough that he knew she was in pain.
Francesca was slightly woozy from the effects of the chloroform, her mouth pasty with an acrid taste, a feeling of cotton sticking to her palate. Her hands were tied behind her back and her naked torso felt every inch of the hard ground beneath her. The angry man was kneeling between her legs and grinning as he told her what he was going to do to her before she died and how the punk, Giancarlo Ruggiero Batali would go to jail for her rape and death.
Some slight noise made the man pause. Cocking his head, he listened, trying to pinpoint what the sound was and couldn't identify it. Maybe it was his sense of self-preservation. Whatever it was, he stood, readjusted his trousers and darted into the woods. The girl was tied; she wasn't going anywhere and she wasn't able to protest too loudly. Hiding for a few moments would only delay his pleasure. He could wait.
As quiet as he had been, Giancarlo heard the soft rustling of leaves beneath his shoes and he cursed inwardly. The sounds seemed magnified in an otherwise still night, the evening birdsong silent as he moved through the wooded copse. And then he saw her...
The girl from the church. What the hell...?
She was alone and he was enraged that someone had left her like this... nude, tied, legs spread. "Who did this to you, ragazza girl?" he asked softly as he kneeled by her side, bending over to untie her.
"Behind you," she gasped. "A knife! He has a knife!"
He had more than a knife. The man determined to kill Giancarlo also had a garrote. When he saw the Mafia Don, he became incensed and forgot that he wanted to implicate him in the girl's death. Killing him outright would be equally satisfying. He had slithered up to Giancarlo intent on stabbing him until the man was incapacitated and when he was, he'd strangle him with the garrote.
Francesca's soft but frantic warning probably saved Giancarlo's life. The big man turned in time to shield his body with his arm, the knife bouncing off the muscled flesh of his biceps, just grazing the skin rather than plunging into his neck. The thrust threw the would-be assassin off balance and with a direct push from Giancarlo, was thrown to the ground. The Mafia Don knocked him cold, his fist catching the smaller man on the temple.
"You are very brave," he told Francesca, untying her and covered her with his shirt. "Very brave," he murmured, lifting her into his arms and then pressed a key on his cell phone that set off an alarm on every cell phone in his compound. In moments, guards would come running, their weapons drawn, the dogs would be set free to find any intruder and his mother would automatically be rushed into the secure underground apartments built just for incidents like this.
"Sporgenza! Sporgenza! Boss! Boss!" one of the guards yelled, his gun pointed at them as he rushed to the scene. "You okay? What happened?"
"Calma voi stessi. Calm down," Giancarlo spoke quietly, gesturing toward the gun. "Tutto è bene. All is well," he added, hoping the girl wouldn't be further distressed by the man's impulsive actions. "Take care of this," he gestured toward the would-be assassin. "I want to question him; make sure he is awake when I get there."
"Si, si, Sporgenza, Yes, yes, Boss," the guard replied.
"You are very brave," Giancarlo murmured again as he carried Francesca toward the house. "Very brave. Did he hurt you?" he asked, holding her as gently as he could, unsure of any injury. Her semi-nude state was hard to ignore, the softness of her young body against his chest both sweet and sensuous. He would leave her in his mother's care and see to the serpente snake that was responsible for the night's unfortunate events.
The Batali matriarch cooed and fussed over Francesca as if she were her own flesh and blood. She made her comfortable in a luxurious guestroom, tucked her into bed and sat by her side until the wine she had insisted Francesca drink took effect. Watching the young girl sleep, she thought about the match this child might make with Giancarlo. The girl is a beauty and brave. She would be good for my Gianni.
It wasn't long before Giancarlo discovered that Francesca was the ward of Angelina Mancuso, the paramour of two of his most loyal lieutenants. When he discovered that the girl was on her way to college, he sent word that he would pay all of the girl's expenses, tuition, room and board, books, clothes, and spending money. His only condition was that Francesca not know where the money came from. Angelina was delighted; she readily agreed.
When his mother suggested that Francesca might be the wife he needed, Giancarlo scoffed at the suggestion. "She's too young," he grumbled.
"She's ten years younger than you. Your father was twelve years older than me," she reminded her only son.
"She's too pretty," he argued, unable to come up with another excuse to avoid marriage.
His mother snorted and cuffed her tall son on the shoulder.
"She's going to college," he muttered. "Educated women are too independent, too headstrong, too... not so feminine," he argued.
His mother rolled her expressive eyes. "You'll tame her," she said simply, convinced that the girl would never question her husband's authority.
He wasn't convinced but he assigned rotating guards to watch Francesca and to take note of her daily activities and report to him weekly. At first, the weekly reports of Francesca's college days were just one more item Giancarlo reviewed. As the four years passed and she matured, the weekly pictures of her and her activities intrigued him more and more. "She's a beauty," he murmured over and over as he reviewed the many photos. "A classic beauty."
Her college graduation was a good reason to invite her to dinner, he mused as he sent word to Angelina that he wanted to see Francesca. If Angelina had been home when the messenger had arrived, she would have helped Francesca dress for her evening with the Mafia leader. She was not home and would have been mortified at the girl's attire.
Francesca thought it was rude of the Mafia Don to expect her to dine with him on such short notice, but the twenty-year old knew Angelina would have insisted that she accept the invitation. She favored jeans and t-shirts but also knew better than to wear them to dinner. She chose linen slacks, a silk turtleneck blouse and a lightweight leather jacket and boots.
Giancarlo shook his head at her ensemble and after warmly greeting her, told her to change into a dress.
"I'm comfortable with what I'm wearing," she replied, not intimidated by the Mafia Don.
Suppressing his normal reply to defiance, the big man decided to humor her for the moment. "Women should wear dresses," he said firmly.
"I'm not your woman," she said as she looked up at him. "If my attire is offensive, I'll say goodnight right now. Your choice," she added.
"Ladies," he corrected himself. "Ladies are too beautiful to hide in men's clothes. I ask a favor," he smiled. "Will you please change into a dress?"
"Don't have one," Francesca lied.
Unaware that Giancarlo had paid all of her bills for the last four years, including her clothing, she wondered at the narrowing of his eyes when she said she didn't own a dress.
"You wear men's pants," he gestured with contempt, "when you go to Mass?"
"I don't go to Mass," she said softly.
He arched a brow. "Come," he said, taking her arm. "I will buy you a dress and you will wear it."