This book ran very long in its raw state, so on the advice of my fabulous editor, Chris Kridler, I elected to take out this scene because it didn’t move the story forward. But it’s based on fact so I thought you might like to catch another glimpse into Pietro’s world before he became a POW. (Of course Pietro wouldn’t let me write a scene without his je ne sais quoi thrown in!)
I hope you enjoy.
"The fighting man will be at his optimum in combat if he is satisfied". Pietro had oft heard the leaders under Mussolini tout this liberal promise, but he'd had his doubts.
And here he was, just a month after his training, lazing in a crevice of a great war ship's bow with a stunning brunette beside him.
The carrier laden, with young Italian men, newly trained to fight or fly, were sailing from Italy from to Abyssinia with fourteen other gorgeous women on board, proving Italy's politicians for once, did not throw out loose-lipped pledges.
The lithe beauty lay against his chest also gazing out to sea, likely lost in her own meanderings, as a loose tendril of her long hair escaped the conservative bun in the nape of her long neck and tickled his cheek. These girls were the crème de la crème of their profession. Courtesan’s more than common prostitutes, Pietro knew the difference.
Of course, with one hundred to one odds, only the highest ranked, most enigmatic or most handsome of those on board got lucky, leaving a lot of men overwrought with tension.
Pietro guessed that macho tautness was itself a driving force, one which Il Duce and company had considered; otherwise there would be five hundred women on board! Fights were always breaking out as the ship sailed along the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea, to their eventual destination.
Pietro became the chief bookie, taking money from sailors, soldiers and airmen, as they bet on the frustrated fighters boxing it out in the "ring" on the main deck. They turned the massive war ship into a debauched passenger liner.
Pietro organized talent competitions nightly, much to the delight of the hoards, and he provided the closing act, choosing an operatic medley, or good old fashioned Italian songs, depending on the feel of the masses cramming into the large mess, on any given night. He was delighted to keep his voice trained. Of course, his audience's unadulterated appreciation, kept his head in the game.
He was no fool. He knew the ripe and delicate fruits he was offered by all fifteen of the courtesans, was in large part, due to his celebrity. But who was he to complain?
He bent his head and the dark beauty in his arms was quick to lift her head for a tender kiss. Earlier, he’d led Violetta by the hand, like he would a queen, to a quiet spot on the upper deck. Pietro arranged a makeshift seat for the two of them, on top of a wooden box filled with maritime equipment, so they could look out onto the bluest of blue seas.
Most men were in awe of these specially selected women. These ladies of the day and night intimidated even the most sophisticated men, not only because they were quite beautiful, well educated and cultured, but they were mistresses of their ancient craft. Hell, even Pietro had learned a useful trick or two on this "cruise" down the Red Sea.
He found himself administering counseling to the shyest of the men, since many were concerned they couldn't live up to the courtesans' vast experience.
"You don't have to impress them. They will teach you. That's their profession. Just follow their lead, but keep your, ahem, head, so you can memorize their skills for future reference. Then go back to the real world and knock the panties off your women. But remember, when satisfied ladies fall at your feet, begging for more, salute and say: 'Thank you, Il Duce!'"
Encouraged, most were prepared to give it their best shot, but frustratingly, didn't get lucky enough to do so. And so Pietro made money as ship's bookie - a win-win to be sure.
Violetta was Pietro's favorite of the fabulous fifteen, and she knew it, so Pietro wasn't surprised when she tried to delve a little deeper.
"You know all the tricks and it's clear you have explored many women and know just how to tease and please. I doubt you've ever had to pay to learn that, at which you evidently excel," she smiled wickedly, "but it's your supreme devil-may-care attitude around all of ..." she made a whimsical gesture with her hands "...us, that's intriguing. To you, we could be plain girls with pimples. You treat us kindly. Why? How?"
With her high cheek bones, patrician nose, full mouth and quiet, throaty voice, Violetta’s look was regal. Once a promising ballerina in Russia, she was wise enough to know that she'd never get the attention she deserved in the corps. So she defected, changed her name, and used her flexibility in a new, much more lucrative profession.
Ballerinas. He's always had a thing for them. They were classy and regal-looking with long necks, long legs and enigmatic smiles. Their problem was, they were the most insecure of all the women he knew. Under all that grace was a hell of a lot of neuroses which he really had no time for, so they came and they went, and he loved them all.
Pietro knew discretion was Violetta's greatest asset and that was saying something, because there wasn't a talent she was short on.
But the only person Pietro trusted was his dear friend Stef. Nobody else knew of their respective mothers' shady occupations, the boys' years of poverty, loneliness and disconcerting freedoms.
As soon as they were old enough, they fled from Naples, one with a rich tenor people fortunately had a penchant for, and the other with a violin, courtesy of a kind john, that he could play like the devil himself. Both had tunnel vision as to what they wanted to become, and it was as far as the moon from where they started.
In Venice, where they both felt safe and clean and baggage free, Stef was known only for his masterful violin and his kindness and Pietro for his voice and his dynamics. That was all they would ever show and no-one else would ever know. Neither would return to Naples, unless it was for top billing in the great opera house (one on the stage and the other in the orchestra pit ) and for never longer than a week. They refused to eat the famous Spaghetti Ragu that had, by stripper lore, been Caruso's last stand and the cause of Pietro's very existence. Either way, they weren't taking any chances.
"You flatter me, my beauty. Let's just say that I am a lucky man who has loved much, but unluckily, never been in love. So in truth, I have much to learn."
"Hmmm. You took a while to answer my question."
"I was thinking of my mother."
"You miss her. Where is she now?"
"Dead. Because of the poppy flower. “ He heard the flatness of his voice, so he changed his cadence and continued “But let's talk about you. It's your depth and intuition that attracts me..." his lips touched hers and stayed there, as he whispered into her slightly open mouth "...and definitely not your nubile breasts."
Wantonly, she threw her head back and laughed as she pulled his willing head down to her chest. He felt her hard tips straining against the pretty sun dress, demanding his attention, but deliberately left them alone.
Instead, he kissed her deeply and at the same time, lifted her in his arms. He carried her all the way to his officer's cabin below, and their bottomless kiss continued throughout their second consummation that morning.