Last week I posted a short story, Sympatico, based on the image below. This is the second story of three I wrote using the same image as a prompt. I’ll post the third next week, if I remember. All three stories (along with other people’s interpretations of the image) can be found in the e-book ‘A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words’ by the Tunbridge Wells Writers. The book is available as a free download from Smashwords. I’ve included a link at the bottom of the page…
Made In Italy
The air is heavy with the smell of butchered meat: the dry rusty iron smell of hanging carcasses and the sharp copper tang of the slippery wet offal removed from them. Loops of sausages hang from stainless steel hooks strung on a rail mounted just below the ceiling, some glistening and soft like intestines, some dry and dull, the meats inside them salt-cured, smoked and dried, the flesh darkened reddish-brown by spice and pepper and flecked with black freckles of coriander and fennel. The freckles remind me of the liver spots on the backs of the hands of the two old men by the bench on the opposite side of the road, and the association makes my stomach roil.
I look at the two paper packages on the counter in front of me, one containing delicate slivers of Parma ham, the other containing thick slices of blood sausage. I pick them up in my left hand and slip them into the pocket of my jacket, simultaneously sliding a ten lira note from the clip in my trouser pocket with my right. I offer the note to the shopkeeper, who makes a noise in his throat and asks if I have anything smaller. When I tell him no he sighs and turns and opens the till, banging it closed moments later before banging my change down on the counter.
I look through the shop window toward the old men again, and at last see Vincenzo turn the corner. He’s wearing a sharp, tailored suit and expensive looking shoes. He looks cocky and proud and on top of the world. He looks towards the shop front, and for a moment I think he is looking directly at me through the glass. Then he raises his hand to blow somebody a kiss and I think of the girl in the bookshop next door where I had been browsing moments earlier. Immediately I regret having gone in her shop at all – If she knows Vincenzo she is more likely to remember the stranger flicking through her displays when the polizia come asking questions. Still, I am a long way from my home district and there are thousands of men in Napoli of my height and size. I would be foolish to let such a thing worry me unduly.
I have no concerns whatsoever regarding the old men. I have been hanging around the little parade of shops now for almost half an hour and if they have noticed me at all they have shown no outward signs. The butcher too is old enough to know about the workings of this city and the wisdom of silence. Given the way Vincenzo has been squeezing local businesses over the past year the butcher may well even view a change of leadership as a good thing, but either way I think he is unlikely to remember my visit to his shop this morning. “Grazie” I tell him, slipping my change in my pocket, and I walk out of the shop, falling quietly into step behind Vincenzo as he crosses to my side of the street.
The knot in my stomach that has been with me all morning has doubled now. I feel sick with tension. My hand is shaking in my overcoat pocket and the switchblade in my palm feels slick with sweat. I finger the tiny button halfway up the handle and feel the blade flick open and lock into place. I adjust the knife’s position in my pocket to get a better grip.
Ahead of me Vincenzo turns into a narrow side street. It is little more than an alleyway, lined on both sides with the solid brick side walls of back-to-back terraced shops. There are, here and there, dustbins and piles of empty packing crates and cardboard boxes, but other than Vincenzo and myself no people. If Vincenzo knew the number of enemies he has made he would not walk this way, but like many who have come up through the ranks too quickly his arrogance is greater than his common sense. I pick up my pace, coming up behind him with a few quick strides while slipping the knife free of my pocket. Hearing me, Vincenzo turns, his hand reaching instinctively for his own pocket. As I stick the knife deep into his throat and twist I hear a loud explosion and feel a white-hot burst of pain in my side. I had anticipated a knife, thinking he would not have time to pull it, but he has fired a gun straight through the material of his suit. I feel blood sticking to my shirt and seeping into the waistband of my chinos, but have no idea how badly I might be hurt. Flooded with adrenalin, I feel nothing after the initial blast.
I pull the knife back, feeling light resistance as the blade catches muscle and sinew on the way out. Vincenzo’s head snaps forward then backward again with the momentum, exposing his throat more fully as I thrust the spike in for a second time. This time I push sideways, widening the cut until the two holes I have made meet. Vincenzo’s blood is everywhere: on me, on him, on the wall behind us. It is pulsing from his neck with every beat of his heart, running down between us and pooling beneath our feet. I step back, holding him at arm’s length, watching with a strange sense of detachment as he fumbles for the gun in his pocket. He manages to get it out, but drops it onto the cobbled street. I look into his eyes, seeing shock and confusion there before they grow dull and unfocused. He shudders and drops to his knees then tips forward to lay face down in a pool of his own blood, his dropped gun lying useless beside him. It is black and tiny, the kind of thing a woman might carry, just the right size for a purse or perhaps the pocket of an expensive suit. For a moment I think about picking it up and then I change my mind; I’m a made man now, I can get a bigger, better gun whenever I want one.
Thinking of the gun reminds me of my own wound, and I move my hand to my side to check the damage. It is then I realise I’m standing in my own pool of blood and feel the cold wind biting into the exit wound in my back. It is much larger than the entry wound, and feels ragged when I explore it with my fingers. Suddenly I become aware of an intense pain, like something with sharp teeth is chewing its way out of my stomach. I hear a cry and look up, see the two old men from earlier peering round the corner. I turn away from them, intending to run, but my legs have stopped working. I pitch forward, the cobbles rushing up to meet me before everything fades to black.