From the 3rd book, Palermo

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Denny tours Europe in 1988

Batresh sat next to the window, looking at small, one room shacks made of plywood, loose boards, and corrugated tin, the structures so close that some were supported by the walls of their neighbor. The van sat on a gravel road, high on a rocky promontory, overlooking rich farm land. Stopping at an intersection with shacks on either side, the van driver nervously looked at his map and cursed under his breath. Batresh hoped Denny’s incessant conversation had not distracted him. One of the structures had a small back yard, with flowering vines curled around rusting wire. An elderly woman wearing black clothing that could have been from the 19th century, stood in a tiny yard with one hand on her hip, the other hand gently caressing a pink bloom. She looked at the van and waved, smiling a toothless smile, proud of the cultivated flower, the one beautiful object in the settlement.  

The men in the van, about 15 of them, burst into laughter watching the woman. Three, quickly walked over to the windows on Batresh’s side of the isle to wave back at her.

 

“I think she’s your type,” a thin, effeminate man cackled, looking back at a taller man wearing a beret.  

Batresh heard Denny ask the driver, “Where are we?” in Italian.  

The driver spoke into his CB radio, but there was no coverage. He was frustrated. The back of his muscular, bronzed neck turned red. Denny wisely sat back and was silent.  

They had been in Catania for a week, performing a medieval liturgical drama. Striving for accuracy, the director cast all men, even in the female roles. Denny was Belshazzar’s Queen. Batresh had gone to Denny’s room to talk a couple of nights ago. Through the window of his hotel room, in the darkness of night, they saw glowing, red lava flowing down slopes of Mt. Aetna.  

“Mauricio said the volcano is unusually active,” Denny explained to her, quoting the handsome van driver. “He took me to Bellini’s birthplace.”

 Batresh wondered about the van driver, attractive, masculine, but a little rough. He responded gently to Denny’s attentions. He seemed to be grateful that at least one person in the van could speak Italian, even if it was not perfect. For most of the trip, Denny leaned forward on the rail behind the driver, talking.

Now, they were in the hills south of Palermo, where the Mafiosi, according to Mauricio, built their villas.

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Denny watched Mauricio’s calf muscles flex as he jogged in front of him. Behind them, sat an old, crumbling, orange villa, with Asian inspired curved roofs. Cracked and missing green ceramic tiles, covered with dust, shone dull in the midday sun. Mauricio referred to this as the Chinese Castle. Short Mandarin orange trees bearing green fruit were clustered along the dirt pathway. Through his red T-shirt, shiny with perspiration, Denny noticed his back muscles relaxing and bunching with each stride. He motioned to a larger tree to their right and turned towards it. “Time to rest,” he said in Sicilian accented Italian.

He motioned to the hills in the distance, “That is where they live.”

“Who?” Denny asked panting.

“The Mafia,” Mauricio responded matter-of-factly. “That is why I didn’t want to stay there long.”

He reached up and plucked two dark green oranges from low hanging branches. “We can cool off in the shade here,” he said handing one to Denny.

“It’s not ready yet,” Denny asserted, looking at the green fruit.

“It’s ready,” Mauricio responded. He pushed thick fingers into the juicy fruit, pulling it apart, liquid dripping onto the sand.

Denny smiled, seeing the bright, ripe, orange fruit inside.

Mauricio tore off two segments, holding one out to Denny.

He opened his mouth, and Mauricio placed one sweet, tart segment, gently onto his tongue, allowing his fingers to graze the softness of Denny’s lips.

Denny ate the delicious fruit, and imagined Mauricio leaning forward, placing his full lips onto his, feeling the roughness of his beard on his skin. He looked at the brightly orange fruit in Mauricio’s hands, imagining feeling his muscular body against him.

Mauricio plucked two more green oranges from above them and smiled mischievously. “Let’s go back to the hotel. It’s nap time.”

 

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