Monte Cassino, Autumn 1942
At Formia I turned inland and started the long walk over the hills. Eventually, I could see white buildings on the top of a mountain… I had found Monte Cassino. It took me another two days before I stood at the foot of the mountain itself.
The mountain was just over 1700 feet high… which isn’t big as mountains go, but it’s much more than a hill. I could see a long slow road, winding backwards and forwards across and around the mountain… to make it easy enough for mules and horses I supposed.
I was neither… so I looked for a smooth line straight up the slope and used my well-exercised goatherd legs to stride straight up the hill. From bottom to top took me only half an hour.
When I reached the top there was a young priest… he didn’t seem much older than me… He was waiting with an amused expression.
“We built a road to make it easy and you just ignored it!” He laughed.
“You made it easy for a mule!” I retorted. “I herd goats in Calabria and goats go straight up and down, they don’t know about roads… until they go for slaughter anyway!”
“That explains why they avoid roads then!” He laughed.
“Come,” He said “you need something cool to drink!”
He took me to the buttery where a fat and friendly monk served me a large mug of something that tasted like a cross between wine and lemonade. We went back outside to sit in the late afternoon sun.
“So, what brings you to the Abbey, this late in the day? I assume you are hoping to stay in the guest house.” He asked.
“I have a parcel from my village priest, to deliver to a Cardinal’s secretary in Rome.” I answered.
I made it sound as if it was church business.
“May I ask which cardinal and the name of your priest?”
I told him the cardinal and then explained about the death of Dom Fontinella, and my resulting mission.
“You have walked all the way from Cosenza?” He asked with some astonishment in his voice.
“Yes, but it really has just been a walk… I haven’t hurried. I’ve never been out of my village before… so I haven’t been in a hurry to finish the journey. I’ve no idea what I shall do afterwards. I don’t plan to return to Calabria, so I shall need to find employment in Rome… ”
“Does the Vatican employ goatherds?” I asked with a smile.
“The last ones watched their flocks by night, while the Magi followed the star to Bethlehem.” He replied. “So I don’t think that’s what you need.”
“What you need is to find a skill you already have, that’s in demand in Rome… There are a lot of priests, so a skill that is useful within the church would be a good place to start.”
He was right. I had three skills… ruling goats out.
I was a skilled altar-boy… I knew photography, but that needed a studio… and I now had a third skill that had been earning me my living for the last few weeks, and I thought I was pretty good at it by this stage. As he said… Rome was full of priests.
There would be no need to starve in Rome. I smiled to myself.
The priest grinned back and said “If your parcel is from Don Fontinella and is intended for that particular office in the Vatican then you should talk to that secretary. There is probably useful advice to be had there… But, I suspect it’s the same as I would give you… Follow the tourists and priests… the tourists have money and the the priests have… well it’s a celibate priesthood so you will always find those who will see that you are fed. Just be kind to them… it’s a difficult life, and they intend well.”
“All of them? Even the priest at… south of Salerno?” I asked darkly.
“Ah him. Yes, he is no loss to us… He was one that the devil slipped in amongst us. We’re better off without him. You met him?”
“He beat me… for sleeping in his church porch. I was pleased to hear of his accident!” This time I had the sense to know when to fall silent.
“We were pleased too!” He said quietly… I decided that I liked him.
“Come,” He said… “if you are carrying a parcel from a priest to a cardinal then certainly you can stay in the guest house.”
“Many thanks!” I said. “Please… show me where to go and who to speak to… that way you will know where I shall be tonight.” I smiled shyly at him. He was only about twenty years old… If a priest was going to disturb my sleep, then I would like it to be him.
“Yes indeed… there’re probably a few more things I can help you with. But, soon I must attend Vespers. You should join us… the Abbey’s Basilica is a magnificent building… you are religious?”
I smiled. “My priest said that I was the best altar-boy he had ever had.”
“And… had he had many?” He answered with a laugh.
“Quite a few… I suspect.” I looked up under my eyelashes. I didn’t want him to think badly of me… or the Don, but he would be more useful if he understood. “I served Mass for him, and helped with his photography… when he was dying old-Maria and I looked after him.”
“He chose well then!” was all he said. Then…
“Perhaps we shall be able to continue our discussion later… Perhaps you will need confession, later?”
“Certainly, in the morning.” I answered and flashed a smile.
He understood, and smiled to himself as he led me off towards the monk who looked after the guest-house.
Vespers in the Basilica was wonderful. I had never experienced anything so grand. It was an enormous and beautiful abbey-church. It had taken nearly 1500 years to get it perfect. Failing earthquakes it should last another thousand.
I envied the choir… my own voice had begun to break not so long ago… To hear your voice soaring into the vault of the church… to hold a note so that your single voice filled that huge space…
Wow! That was how I felt as the evening service drew to a close… Wow!
I felt so proud to have been present in such a place… fifteen hundred years old… the abbey-church of the Benedictine Order… a guest. I promised myself that in Rome I would visit all the famous churches… I would visit St Peter’s, see the Pope… Easter… “Urbi et Orbi”.
Oh this was going to be an adventure!
Standing there… in that wonderful Basilica I felt that life had certainties… I was certain that I would return one day, to meet the young priest again and show him how well things had turned out… one day.
He came to me in the night. He was gentle and kind. I apologised for having come to tempt him. He kissed me and said that it was better me than someone less used to life and its surprises. When he entered me he kissed the side of my neck, and when his time came he used his hand on me to ensure that I shared his pleasure. It was so perfect that I wondered if he too had met the Dom.
The next morning, as promised he heard my confession.
A little later I was packed and ready to leave when he came rushing in. He was carrying a white surplice and a blue velvet covered box…
“Quickly… come with me… You can help. The choir are down the mountain playing football… I need an altar-boy… You will do! Quick now!”
There was a young man waiting for us at the main gate. He set off down the mountain at a run. The priest and I followed. I could see why he needed help… he had to hold up his cassock while he ran… He couldn’t have done that and carried his box at the same time.
He explained as we ran that the farmer’s wife where we were headed had been crushed by a cow in its byre. She was barely conscious… the doctor had told the son to fetch a priest and the abbey was nearer than the town. The son was young and running uphill was no worse than running down.
At the farmhouse door we paused. I slipped the surplice on over my clothes.
“You have assisted at Extreme Unction?” He asked.
“Don’t cry, don’t look sad… We’re here to help her enter paradise. We must look certain of that. This moment is for her… not us!” I liked him!
When it was over we left the family to their grief and walked slowly and sadly to the road.
“I hope we meet again… maybe when I can tell you how well things have turned out in Rome.” I said with a quiet smile.
“Yes, come back one day… and look for me here… I shall be waiting for you.”
He made the sign of the Cross over me as I knelt in the dust to receive his blessing. Then he kissed me chastely and I went on my way, as he stood and watched. He waved to me as I disappeared around the bend in the road.
Cassino to Anzio, Autumn 1942
From Cassino I had to head south. The snow-capped peaks of Monte del Cairo lay between Cassino and Rome, so south it was to be and then up the main highway north-west. I was getting closer with every day’s walking. I was heading towards Anzio, but there was a lot of mountainous country between me and my target.
My legs were strong now, and more importantly, I had stamina. On a good day I could cover twenty miles. Strength also brought the ability to take short-cuts… down and across valleys… up the other side and then up and over ridges, even hills and small mountains. If a farmer told me that there was a short-cut then I took it.
Ceprano, Pofi, Ceccano… a major up and over at Supino and then another at Lazio. A few nights were spent high in the hills, and I wondered once or twice if I had over-reached myself. But the next day always dawned bright and the route went down into a warmer valley, a warm church and perhaps an even warmer bed. I had never thought of myself as an athlete, but now I could sense the strength in my body… it felt good!
I passed the grim steep sides of Rocca Massima to the north, coming down between Valletri and Artena. Here the main road ran south-west to north-east… neither of which took me in the direction that I wanted. I had intended to head for Anzio and then walk up the coast road, but my actual route from Monte Cassino had taken me a long way inland. I knew I was not far from Rome now, but mountains and a road that went in all the wrong directions were thwarting me.
Fortunately I met a farmer… in just the right place! I pointed at the steep slopes ahead of me, parallel to the road. Slopes that completely blocked the way I wanted to go.
“Rome?” He said. “Through Anzio… no, no… no! There’s a shortcut… one day maybe it’ll be a road, but for now it’s just a track. You look fit, you can take a few days off your journey if you walk over Monte Artemisio.”
“I’ll need to show you where the path starts… it’s a bit out of my way!” Farmers always seem to grumble.
“I would be very grateful… perhaps there is something I can do for you?” I tried being ingratiating… it worked.
“Perhaps we could sit in the shade where the path starts… and share my lunch… my wife always gives me too much. You are a growing boy… how old are you?”
Eventually… After we had sat in the shade… He walked with me a mile south-east down the road and then pointed north.
“You see the gap in the trees on the ridge? Head towards that gap. You will find a footpath.”
Following the farmer’s directions I found the path just as he had predicted. It was steep, very steep, but I had the legs and endurance of a Calabrian goatherd, and a goatherd who had been walking steadily uphill and down for the last three weeks. So I took the path over Monte Artemisio. It was narrow but a definite path. You could get a donkey up it easily and, with a bit of effort a horse and cart.
I stopped and looked back… ‘You could bring an army up here, and no-one would guess they were coming.’ I thought, looking at the trees and bushes that hid the path.
From where the path over Monte Artemisio came out at the main highway it was only another day’s walk to Rome. As I descended I could look out across Lake Albano to Castel Gandolfo. I had seen a photo of it on the Dom’s sacristy wall… It’s the Pope’s summer home… I was now very close to the Vatican, Cardinals and their secretaries! I hoped that the secretary would be pleased to receive the von Gloeden albums. I would be glad to be rid of their weight. I swear that they had got heavier the further they were from the Dom’s sacristy… Maybe they hadn’t wanted to leave.
At the north side of the lake I asked a farmer if I was on the correct road to Rome. He laughed and said that all roads lead to Rome. When he stopped laughing, he asked if it was my first visit to the city. I said that it was, and he said that in that case, if I was travelling on foot then I should enter by the original route… the Via Appia Antica. He showed me how to find it… where it ran parallel to the main highway. I asked him if the route was easy to follow. That produced more laughter… “It’s absolutely straight! It’s impossible to get lost!”
Then he said the obvious… “Are you tired? Hungry? Would you like to join me for lunch… somewhere quiet?”
I was no longer surprised, but it did sometimes seem strange… Was I that obvious? Did all men now look at me and say “He will do… I wonder how much he will charge!”
Was it the way I looked at them, or the way I stood… or walked. Whatever it was about me… men recognised it… recognised the opportunity.
I shrugged to myself, smiled at him and followed him into the shade of the olive trees. I would share his meal… and what followed would pay for the meal and for the one after that… He was only a peasant farmer, so he got my peasant-farmers and fishermen price. It wasn’t much but it paid for the next meal and it was what they could afford… I would eat, they would be happy… Life was good if all that was important was to eat and make people happy.
He was right, the old Appian Way was the correct way to enter Rome. It ran absolutely straight for mile after mile. It must have been a traditional Roman place for burial because there were ancient graves and memorials lining the way. The road itself was paved with stone… I wasn’t sure exactly how long ago it was since Imperial Rome, but the grooves cut in the stones by cart-wheels told me that it had been a very long time.
The route was shaded by trees, almost like the entrance to a great villa… but no gates… no-one telling me to go away. People were friendly… they all smiled at the boy with a knapsack walking slowly towards Rome.
Clearly the war was having less effect here than I might have expected. There were tourists everywhere, a few in uniform. The only sign of war was the way that grounds were sometimes untended, and a lot of buildings with a place for a guardian to supervise visitors… were unsupervised. I slept in a few. Once or twice a guardian arrived to lock up for the night. Each time, they found me somewhere sheltered as an alternative.
If you know Rome well you may wonder why it took me a week to walk such a relatively short distance… well, it was interesting… I had never seen so many ruins and statues and… it went on and on, and I spent time looking at each one.
It didn’t matter that I was unable to read the Latin of the inscriptions. There always seemed to be a man who wished to be helpful. I was polite and friendly, and more often than not I was able to make him happy that he had stopped to help me. That’s why it took so long to walk the Appian Way. I fell by the wayside… I lay in the grass almost as much as I walked.
Towards the beginning of the Way I had a particularly nice conversation with a tourist. He was about my age and said that his parents were at an inn just down the road. Travelling among the ruins with his parents was boring… they wanted to teach him things. He smiled and said that he was much more interested in the things that other boys could teach him… and winked.
I told him that I had walked all the way from Calabria, and that I had fed with the money that kind men had given me, and winked.
We were walking among the ruins of what he told me was the Villa Dei Quintili, a large ruined building surrounded by long grass that had once been lawns.
“Would you like me to teach you some of the things I have learned on the way from Calabria?” I asked… His eyes got larger… He swallowed, and nodded!
“Have you ever been sucked?” I asked. “Have you ever paid for it?” I smiled.
“Never… neither!” He shook his head “That would be…” He was lost for words.
“An adventure… and a sin… Imagine sitting in the confessional… telling the priest how you paid a boy to suck you off!”
His eyes were on stalks. I thought that if I didn’t get on with matters he would erupt in his pants.
I said I would do it for a quarter of my man’s price. Well actually, I simply told him how much I wanted. If he thought that was the full price I didn’t mind… this was his adventure, not mine. He put his hand in his pocket and brought out a handful of coins and counted out what I had asked for.
I pocketed the money, and drew him into the shade. Wartime neglect of the site meant that the grass was long, so the top of his body was in sight while I, kneeling between his feet was not. He could see the other tourists… they could see him… but they couldn’t see what he was enjoying. The excitement had him trembling… I could feel him shaking with excitement as I drew down his pants. I found that he was fully aroused and waiting for me. He made small noises as I worked on him. It was not going to be possible to make it last a long time… he was too excited. So I made it violently exciting instead.
He cried out when he exploded.
I heard a stranger, a woman call out… “Are you alright? Have you hurt yourself?” He shouted back… “No… it’s alright, I stepped on a sharp stone!”
I sat there at his feet… laughing myself silly!
“Well, was that an adventure?” I asked. He nodded!
“A school-friend would have just tossed you off… You have to pay to get what you just got… you have to pay a professional!... That’s the adventure!”
“That was so wrong!” He said softly.
“Indeed it was… Now you’ll need to go to confession as well. Think of the excitement… The priest will want to hear what you’ve done today. I bet you’ll be erect… Listen carefully… See if he is excited.” I was working on his imagination…
This was a huge adventure for this very respectable boy… A boy whose parents had wanted him to learn things among the ruins. He had learned more than they could possibly imagine. I wondered how long it would be before he tried to introduce his school-friends to this new variation on an ancient game
“A few Hail Marys and it will all be forgiven… so long as you tell the priest how much you enjoyed it. Remember… if he gets you tell it all in great detail… he’s tossing himself off!”
I wanted this to be an adventure he would remember forever!
One day he would need to pay for it… When that day came it would be easier for him… He had done it once, as a boy. The next time… the first time as a man… it would be easier.
I was averaging three men a day… sometimes five… once there were just two. I wasn’t in a hurry.
I was near Rome itself now, and was beginning to wonder how I would start my search for the Cardinal’s secretary… that, and I needed confession. I had not had an opportunity to make my confession for nearly a week.
If nothing turned up, I still had the last few letters that the Don had written… including the emergency letter to a priest in case I couldn’t reach the secretary.
As it happened I had absolutely no problem on either count. Towards the northern end of the Via Appia I came upon the Basilica of San Sebastiano ad Catacumbas. The catacombs were fun… dark and very creepy. The Basilica was very fine… but not nearly as fine as Monte Cassino. I was in time for confession. It was one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome, a traditional list that pilgrims followed. Its business was the hearing of confessions.
The priest seemed unshockable, and the long list of sins that I had accumulated in the previous week simply attracted six Hail Mary’s and a donation to the poor-box. As I counted myself as poor I made a suitably poor donation. But that came later… the important thing was that he could help with my search for the Cardinal’s secretary. He knew a priest who would be able to introduce me to the Cardinal’s office… and that was how I met Father Barnabas… the priest’s friend, who lived and worked in central Rome.
It took me the rest of the day to walk to the centre of Rome.
I was now looking for three things: the first was somewhere to sleep. Then I needed the church where I would find Father Barnabas… and most importantly… I needed somewhere safe and discreet to ply my chosen trade. I knew that I could make a living and that I could defend it from those who would want to take it from me. I needed to find a good place… The best pitch would be where the wealthy and desperate could visit regularly, where they could find me, find relief… and then be able to find me again on another day.
I was in town… and I was ready to start work!
I wandered about that afternoon in the middle of Rome.
No-one offered me a meal… nor accomodation. Despite visiting quite a number of churches, as I worked my way towards Fr. Barnabas and his church, I didn’t find him that day… So it was… the first time in my journey that I had to visit a restaurant and buy myself a proper meal. I had quite a lot of money. I was in fact much wealthier than when I left home… so I felt that I deserved a treat.
My treat over… if not yet digested, I went in search of somewhere to sleep. I found it on the Capitoline Hill.
Monte Caprino park would turn out not just to be a place to sleep, it was also an ideal place to work! I found it by accident… and stayed and worked there on and off for the next three years. Again, by accident or by coincidence, Fr. Barnabas church turned out to be only a few hundred yards away from the foot of the steps that led to the park.
It was early the following morning that I found him. I explained that the priest at the Basilica of San Sebastiano had recommended him to me as the best way to reach the Cardinal’s secretary. His face lit up when he heard who had suggested him. He clearly knew him well. Later I concluded the priest at San Sebastiano knew Fr. Barnabas well, well enough to know how willing he would be to help me!
Fr. Barnabas said that his morning was free, and that he had not yet breakfasted. I said that I could come back later, when he had. That produced a broad smile…
“I find that most things that involve boys your age progress much better on a full stomach!” He said, his smile broadening… if that were possible.
I smiled and said that I was always grateful to be offered breakfast… “There is something I have learned about priests on my journey to Rome… If they don’t offer breakfast then they will at least offer dinner… the best offer both!”
His face lit up again… clearly we were thinking along the same lines.
“So, let’s have breakfast and you can tell me why you need a Cardinal!”
As we walked I explained that my village priest had a number of valuable albums of photographs by the German Wilhelm von Gloeden., that my priest had died and his last request to me was to see that the albums were safely delivered to this man. He in turn would arrange safe-keeping and would credit my village’s poor-box with their value… or at least… as much as he could afford.
He asked me about the albums… were they the artistic ones, set in rural scenes, or… the somewhat notorious ones with naked boys. I said “Both!”
We had breakfast… He asked if he could look at the albums before they passed from my custody. I said that if we were going to look through them then we needed to have breakfasted well… The Don and I had found they sapped a great deal of our energy!
He laughed and ordered a plate of crepes… for the energy they would give us!
Fr. Barnabas was of the view that his sacristy had far too many elderly ladies in black with far too little to do. They kept him dusted and made him coffee but left him with no peace and no time for contemplation. I said that the albums needed to be contemplated rather than just be looked at.
He said “You have the face of an angel, and the soul of an artist!”
“And the body of ?” I asked.
“And the body of Donatello’s David!” He replied, and patted my hand in a more than brotherly way.
“I fear I am leading you into temptation Father.” I said.
“Don’t worry, I’m happy to follow you into temptation… It’s better that you tempt me than that I should need to tempt you.” Was his considered reply.
He took me to his lodgings, where he carefully locked the door, and closed the curtains.
“Won’t the closed curtains make the old ladies suspicious?” I asked, thinking of old-Maria… closed curtains wouldn’t have stopped her!
“They know that I sleep late if I have had to make a night visit… What they don’t suspect won’t be a problem… trust me!” He said reassuringly.
“Have other boys trusted you Father?”
“Yes, all the ones who have tempted me did.”
“Were they wise to?” I asked thinking of the black-priest.
“I’ve always made sure that they’ve had no cause to feel that their trust was misplaced.” He replied. “One is at university, another at a seminary and two are at school with my support…They’ve had no reason to regret placing their trust in me.”
“What shall you do for me then Father? Make me an artist?… or should I stick with something that pays better than art?” I said with a laugh, not taking his assurances too seriously.
“If we become friends and you earn and accept my support, then being an artist isn’t impossible… You just need to want it badly enough, and… you must trust me completely. I promise that my interest in you won’t harm you in any way… You are old enough to understand what my trust involves?” He asked.
I nodded “Yes, Father, it has been a long walk from Calabria… I understand what you need from me… I’m happy to provide it. You offer more than I could have expected… Breakfast, dinner or a warm bed are all I’m used to, and I’ve been really grateful to receive those. What I gave in exchange always seemed small at the time.”
He asked if my breakfast had been sufficient and whether it was digested yet. I smiled at his attempts at subtlety. I said that I was ready to pay for breakfast… and removed my shirt. He sat entranced… and then reached out to touch the skin of my chest. I moved nearer to save him from stretching. I had come to believe that it was important for a priest’s self-respect that he be tempted into sin. He would feel more guilt if he felt that he had tempted me. I said that I was sorry for tempting him… as his hand closed around me. He could feel that I was as excited as he… I was in control… He was only doing what I wanted and allowed… the sin was not yet his.
You don’t need me to tell you in explicit detail what we did that morning. There are only so many things it could have included. You can safely assume that by the time he’d decided that I was now his new protégé… we had done most of them.
“I can help you to acquire an education… and I can organise employment and a career when the time comes. But… I am not a wealthy man, and I’m a priest that has watchful parishioners. So, I can’t pay your rent or give you lodgings… I can only buy you books and the occasional meal… People are not to start talking!”
I said that I understood… To simply have someone I could rely on for advice… a friend I could turn to… that was all that I asked.
He said he hoped that he could be much more than that to me… but I would need to work and support myself… a few luxuries… books and an education… those he could provide. Food and a bed I would need to find for myself.
I said that I had found my bed… that I could sleep in Monte Caprino park.
He laughed and said that in that case I had found my food as well. I had found the ideal place to meet both tourists and priests. It was a respectable place for both to be seen… and a discreet place for them to see boys. He reminded me that some… many, perhaps most in fact… would be innocent… simply out for exercise. He said that I should be careful not to create scandal.
“Remember,” He said. “creating a career for you when we’ve finished with your education… will depend on you having a clean sheet at the police station!”
I promised to stay out of trouble. I explained the narrow range of things that our Dom had taught me were acceptable… I wanted to avoid sin as much as I possibly could. The sordid nature of the night with the sailors in Naples still haunted me.
He seemed relieved, patted me gently and said that he thought that we had chosen well between us. If I could make sad men happy on Monte Caprino and support myself, while he educated me enough to acquire a career… then the sins would be small… and not mine.
He promised to make time to hear my confession as frequently as I needed.
When I reminded Fr. Barnabas about the need to contact the Cardinal’s secretary he agreed to help, but getting an appointment was not easy. It took nearly a month to arrange.
Fr. Barnabas had to get me a new shirt and trousers so that I looked presentable. The office was in the Vatican and I was very nervous… in case it was all a terrible mistake.
As it was, the secretary… actually an elderly priest, by the way… was very kind. He said that he and our Dom had been at the seminary together. They had shared a joy in beauty. The beauty was of course quite specific.
He said that he had admired the Don’s albums of von Gloeden prints when they were young, and our Dom had promised that they would come to him on his death. I said that I was there to keep that promise.
He asked many questions about the Dom’s later life, and of his passing. Then he had me repeat my story for the Cardinal himself. I noticed that he had put the albums in a cupboard before fetching the Cardinal, so I left all mention of them out of the story that I repeated for His Eminence. The nicest part was that they felt so deeply for our old priest. They were pleased that he had been looked after in his frailty. That was when the Cardinal spoke quietly to his secretary who left, to return with a travelling Mass set. The Cardinal then proceeded to give me Mass, a private Mass in the office of a cardinal in the Vatican, just for me… Carlo Tonelli.
I was very proud… for myself and for my Don, that he was held in such affection by so important a man.
I noticed that one of the Dom’s photographs was hanging by the Cardinal’s armchair. It was one of the early ones of myself… but I didn’t point to it… in case he had seen me in the later ones.
The Cardinal brought things to a close by asking Fr. Barnabas what he had planned for me… Was I returning to Cosenza?… Had I considered a seminary? The father replied that my education had been neglected and as yet was insufficient for most careers, but that he planned to correct that. He said that he was teaching me, that I was intelligent and that he had ideas on how to redirect me towards a career, perhaps in the church… but perhaps in art. He said that I had expressed an interest in photography, inspired by Dom Fontinella’s work.
I was pleased… the Cardinal was interested. He asked to be kept informed of my progress.
Then I knelt to receive his blessing and to kiss his ring.
After that of course… life returned to the routine of earning my living in Monte Caprino… and learning to read and write… it kept me busy! The new shirt and trousers improved my clientele… and that raised my prices slightly… it all helped.
As one of the youngest… and least hardened of the boys working Monte Caprino… I had the choice of clients. If they were ugly or angry or simply rude, then I just told them that they had misunderstood… I was meeting my mama when she came back from confession. That got rid of them… and there was bound to be a nicer one along shortly.
Yes… I enjoyed the park. Two or three times a day I entertained… relieved… a priest, a tourist, a civil servant. The most interesting were the professors from the university… my conversations with the Don had left me with an ability to chat with elderly educated men.
Rome, Italy. Autumn 1942
Each of us had a regular pitch, a place we had chosen because it was discreet, had cover to do business and… was a popular place that attracted tourists. I had chosen to do business close to the top of the Tarpeian Rock, the place where Romans had executed their traitors.
There was a constant flow of tourists who thought it interesting to stand where the condemned had… just before they were killed.
It was not only interesting… it was good exercise too. Rome is built on seven hills, they aren’t big, but they can be steep and the tourists were in need of rest by the time they reached me. I could then offer to make their rest more… enjoyable… They needed to rest and catch their breath anyway, so why not open their trousers and drop their pants.
If they were strong and fit then they might well accept when I offered them my bottom. Showing it to them was enough to tempt even those fathers of young sons, who had looked startled by my obvious youth. I was by far the youngest working on the Hill. My cheeks were smooth and my bottom round with youth… but my member was well developed. It was sufficient to reassure my customers that I was old enough to ply my trade.
They would climb the never ending steps; broad shallow ones from the Victor Emmanuel Memorial, up to the Capitoline Hill and then narrow steeper steps into Monte Caprino’s overgrown park. They would find the Rock and would contemplate all the lives that had ended there. Then while they were distracted I would attract their attention. It was a stratagem that worked well.
A few of the older professionals recognised that I had cornered a lucrative pitch where, not only did the customers need to rest and then turn back the way they had come, but that they were also feeling “life is short, enjoy it while you can”… there is nothing quite so vulnerable as a philosophical cock!
One or two of them (well three to be precise) thought that they could drive the youngster away and take his pitch. One nearly fell off the rock (I rescued him… though I did think about it for long enough to terrify him). One I kicked in his family-jewels (and hurt my foot!). The other, the one I try to forget… him I cut badly. I would never have used my knife, except that he came at me with his, and I had my back to the lethal drop… so I could take no chances. I swept the blade back-handed across his face, hoping to frighten him. I didn’t intend it… the blade entered below his lip, crossed his cheek and sliced under his eye.
So much blood!
I gave him my shirt, padded and told him to hold it tight to his face. I ran with him down to the Ospidale San Giovanni Calibita FatebeneFosetti on the Isola Tiberine… all of which just means… the nearest hospital by the shortest route. I went with him to make sure that he was alright. I had been quite shocked when he pulled his knife on me… I had thought we were friends.
I left him to go in alone. I watched him run across the cobbled bridge towards the old hospital building and its emergency room.
Later we became friends. The doctors had made a good job of his face. Despite being a charity case they had done their best. He looked fiercer now… but if you liked that kind of thing he looked rugged. I preferred cute faces, so he no longer appealed to me. But as we were there for business it wasn’t important, and was probably just as well. Fortunately he accepted that it was his fault for trying to take my pitch… and I made it clear that I was sorry he had got hurt… so honour was satisfied, and… he knew that if he called, the knife that had harmed his face was ready to defend him. On the other hand, I knew that in a fight I could only rely on his big fists… his knife skills were pretty basic!
It was late Spring, early Summer when I saw the German boy in the park.
He was unbelievably blond. In my fifteen years on God’s Earth I had seen nothing so strange, so wonderful… so un-naturally beautiful. He appeared to be young. I guessed fourteen, perhaps late thirteen.
He stood at the top of the Tarpeian Rock… crying.