Sciarra, lifting his chin, walked to where Monteleone was waiting in his chair. The boss wasn’t as handsome as before, now lacking the entire front row of his teeth. Of course that would be soon solved as he had a personal dentist to fix that little problem. But he was furious and if he could kill Kurtis, he would’ve done so without hesitating. But he’d more important matters to attend to and Kurtis wasn’t for him.
“Did you call me, signore?”
“Bring me Maddalena.”
Sciarra didn’t expect otherwise. With a sly smile painted on his face, he went toward the prostitutes’ area, grabbed the redhead woman by her arm and led her there. Maddalena released herself from the bully’s grip and said: “No need to take me in tow.”
A group of men and prostitutes gathered around them, interested in the scene. Monteleone said then: “Sciarra, what should we do with the youth we caught from the excavation?”
“Kill them all.” He smiled.
“No!” A voice raised from the crowd. “Did you see those monsters who attacked us? Release them! Let those things eat them!”
Monteleone shook his head. “Let them go. Leave them to their fate. But now my interest is you, Maddalena.”
She looked down. Tufts of reddish hair were partly hiding her face.
“Maddalena, you betrayed me.” Said the gangster. “I saved you from Siracusa’s port, where you had a dirty and unworthy life. I granted you a home and a future, I honoured you as I never did with anyone before, I made you my favourite. And in my hardship, you join my enemy and help him to escape from his pursuers.”
“Ah!” Sciarra said. “Ask her, signore, why she did it. Maddalena was interested in that American from the first time she saw him. He’s strong and hot, right? I heard this bitch talking to her Chinese friend about serving him without even charging him.”
Maddalena paled. A few yards away, Bay Li shuddered.
“Is that true?” Monteleone said. “Then, Bay Li, you also betrayed me. You know you can do what pleases you, as long as you charge your clients. Don’t I support you? But you, Maddalena, you should be loyal to me!
“I did nothing!” Groaned Bay Li. “I was just talking and laughing with her! Maddalena hasn’t broken her oath, I know!”
Sciarra approached her, looked at her for a moment, smiling, and then slapped her. “Puttane!” He spat. “You’re all cunning and deceitful. You spread your legs for every man you find. You’ve neither honour nor dignity, you’re unclean and filth pours out of you through every pore of your skin.”
Bay Li put her hand to her flushed cheek, and looked down, sobbing. All around, the other prostitutes remained silent, terrified.
Why does he allow him to slap her? Maddalena thought, looking furious at Monteleone, who was observing the scene quietly. We’re whores, not animals!
“So you betrayed me because you’re infatuated with the blue-eyed man.” The boss said, calmly. “Then I’ll tell you one thing, cara mia. That man’s doomed. He has powerful enemies, so it seems. The beautiful woman who visited us the other day did me a huge favour. Well, now it’s her business if that man lives or dies and I’m afraid he’ll die. So you can forget him from now on.” He got up, maintaining his graceful and serene attitude. “As for me, I’m still here, cara mia, and I’m very offended by your behaviour. I’ve had much patience with you. You’ll receive punishment, and you should pray to the three Sicilian patron saints that when I’m done I’ll be too exhausted to order your execution.” He took off his belt with a hitch and grabbed it by the end, so that the buckle was left hanging.
Sciarra, rejoicing, went towards Maddalena and with a jerk, tore her dress. She was naked underneath.
“On your knees!” Then ordered Monteleone.
She knelt down and leaned her forehead on the floor, revealing her back. Her beautiful hair scattered on the ground. The capo raised the belt to give the first blow, but then he stopped.
The white back, the tender sides of the woman were covered with scratches and bruises. The mafioso took her by the neck and made her get up and stay on her knees, while looking stunned at the bites on her neck, the scratches and cuts on her breasts and soft belly, and also her bruised thighs.
“What’s this?” Monteleone sputtered. “Who touched you without my permission?
Sciarra was no longer so exultant. The smile faded from his face. He went two steps back.
Maddalena opened her eyes. Tufts of red hair still covered her face, but through them Monteleone saw how her golden eyes dug into Sciarra.
“It was him.” She said, pointing at him. “He raped us, both me and Bay Li.”
“Bitch!” Shouted Sciarra. “You porca puttana! Have you heard the lies she lets loose from her filthy mouth?”
Monteleone turned and looked at Bay Li. “Is that true?”
The Chinese woman hesitated, frightened. Then she said: “Yes.”
“Liar!” Yelled Sciarra.
“He said that if we didn’t let him do,” continued Maddalena, “he would tell you I was talking about Kurtis Trent. He raped me and then also raped her.”
“Bullshit!” Sciarra was getting hoarse. “Since when can a hooker be raped? Whores must take whatever they get! Wasn’t it my right to fuck that Chinese slut, if I wanted?”
“Yes.” Said Monteleone calmly. “That’s what we’ve our girls for. For making you all happy. And to prevent anyone from laying a finger on Maddalena, who’s mine and only mine, as everyone knows since the minute they begin working for me.” The voice of the capo had become awfully quiet.
“Let my cock dry if I touched that nasty redhead!”
“Tell me then who has made those marks on her.”
“Who knows!” Mocked the other. “Perhaps after all that American laid a finger on her.”
Monteleone sighed. “I know you too well, my friend. I know the marks you leave on women. I know how you treat them. You could’ve had any girl you wanted, whoever you liked, except for her.” Turning to his men, he said. “Take him.”
Sciarra started screaming when they threw him over. He was grabbed by five men, and although he struggled with all his strength, they tied his hands and feet and dragged him away. His cries were heard from afar.
Maddalena was still naked on the floor, kneeling. The boss turned to her. “Your punishment is still standing, cara mia. Here all must be punished, each one for their own sins. Bend.”
She bent down and then he lashed her. And another blow, and another. Maddalena had felt only a couple of times the bite of the belt buckle, but she tried to resist. Unfortunately, the blows fell on already bruised flesh and soon she began to moan and then, when her skin split and the flesh was exposed, she started to scream with each stroke.
No one moved around. All were silent, men and women. No one enjoyed the show. It wasn’t the first time they saw such a punishment, but it was the first time to see the ordeal of someone as important, as supposedly beloved by the boss. That made them feel insecure.
When at last his arm hurt, Monteleone had given her around fifty strokes. Maddalena’s back looked terrible, laced with cuts and blood trails. The boss turned to tighten his belt without even cleaning it and said: “Looks like Agata, Lucia, and Rosalia had mercy on you. I won’t strike you more. But I’m still mad at you, so I don’t want to see you for a while.”
Turning round, he went into his tent. Maddalena didn’t move. It seemed she’d fainted. Gradually, the group was dissolved. They were afraid to help her. Only Bay Li was the one who, after looking all around, came and leaned over her friend. But Maddalena was conscious - her eyes were open.
Gently, the Chinese woman gathered her in her arms. “I’ll heal you.” She murmured. “I’ve an ointment from my land that will make you fine, you’ll see.”
The redhead groaned and buried her face in her friend’s shoulder, shivering in pain.
“Weep, Maddalena.” Bay Li said then. “You’ll feel better.”
“I don’t want to weep.” She whispered. “I want to laugh. Laugh at that bastard Sciarra, whom I have just crushed.”
Bay Li smiled. “We’re just whores, but we’ve power. We’ve the means. We’ve crushed him.”
They stood in silence, embracing in the middle of the camp.
“You think the boss will kill him?” Then muttered the Chinese woman. “He’s his favourite. No one shoots like him. I think he’s very appreciated.”
“If he doesn’t kill him, I’ll do it myself.” Maddalena swore under her breath.
Marie managed to extract the bullet the next day, again using the sharp, hot needle. Lara bled some more, but it was easy to stop the bleeding this time.
“Congratulations.” Said the old woman, smiling. “You made it, but you’re not totally out of danger. You still need to recover for a while.”
“What will happen to my friends?” She said, and turned towards Kurtis. “Selma, Zip, and the others!”
“And not just them.” He added. “This shelter won’t be safe for long.”
The Navajo woman made a gesture of annoyance. “Impossible! You already heard me. She needs to rest to recover completely. I won’t run away again. At least, not while she can’t get up.”
“No need to worry about.” Kurtis said, and grimaced bitterly. “It’s easy. They’re looking for me, right? So I’ll be the one to run away.”
Lara looked up and stared at him. “What are you thinking? To attract them? To draw them away from here?”
“I don’t like the idea!” Then broke Lara.
“Neither do I!” Marie broke out in turn.
“You said it yourself.” Kurtis didn’t lose his coldness. “This Bathsheba is looking for me. Well, she’s gonna find me. But when she meets me it won’t be here. Lara needs to recover and also needs you to do so. I’m the one who’s putting both of you in danger, so it would be stupid now that Lara’s better for me to stay here a moment longer.”
There was silence. Marie sighed: “Well. Seems I was born to suffer for my loved ones. Do what you feel is right, but don’t risk yourself too much. I don’t want to lose you too, dammit!” She turned and left the room abruptly.
Lara was still staring at him with a glance of reproach.
“I’ll search for Selma, Zip, and the others.” Kurtis said. “And then I’ll try to find out what this Bathsheba wants. She’d better watch out!”
“I know. But when has something not been dangerous in my lifestyle?”
Lara grabbed him by the neck and kissed him, then she said: “Don’t think I’ll be waiting for you. As soon as I feel better, I’ll join you. And don’t try to stop me because...”
“I know, I know.” Kurtis kissed her again. “Don’t be stubborn and do what my mother tells you. I know she seems like a good woman, but really she’s like you: if you try to argue with her, she can be really annoying.”
“Thanks!” She growled.
He turned and left the room. Passing through the kitchen, Kurtis heard a soft sound coming from the kitchen.
With her head bowed, Marie was sobbing.