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An Italian Journey

An Italian Journey

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An Italian Journey

Chapter 29

Gypsy Lover

After leaving the two Sisters, Nick and Laura taxied back to the centro storico for a quick lunch and afternoon stroll through the winding medieval streets of the old Jewish ghetto. The city was crowded with summer tourists, even in this rarely-visited section, popular mainly with Americans of Jewish descent. A small crowd had queued up in front of the Pasticceria “Boccione” Limentani or, “ghetto bakery,” as it is called locally, to savor the almond cookies and biscotti for which the bakery is justifiably famous. They had thought to top off their lunch with a cookie as they made their way back to the hotel, but the long line, snaking haphazardly from the small door of the bakery along the sidewalk and into the street, discouraged them from pursuing that particular pleasure.

The sidewalk was too congested to allow passage, so Nick and Laura moved into the street and edged around the outside of the crowd. As they were making their way, a woman fell into Nick, almost knocking him to the ground and emitting a small cry as she did so. At the same time that Nick was struggling to keep himself and the woman upright, Laura was brushed by a small figure running at full speed, waving a pocket book almost as large as itself. Laura darted after it without hesitation, and as Nick reminded her later, without any consideration for her own safety.

The small figure, which Laura quickly realized was a young boy, ran quickly and obviously was familiar with the ghetto’s narrow, winding alleyways, but he was impeded by his oversized burden and Laura, who was wearing her comfortable, catacomb-touring jeans and sneakers, gained on him with every stride.

Laura would later tell Nick—who was not happy with her action—that at the time she had no idea of what she would do if she caught up to the little thief—except maybe throttle him; she had simply reacted. Having been raised on the streets of Bensonhurst, she was no stranger to petty thievery, and she would further explain to Nick, had witnessed her own mother knocked down and robbed, and consequently was infuriated when she realized what had just happened.

“Basic instincts,” she would explain. “They just kicked in.”

The little thief made one turn too many, and as he wheeled into a tiny alley, the stolen bag became tangled between his legs and he fell to the ground.

“Hah!” Laura cried, as she pounced on the boy like an avenging angel “Hoisted on your own petard!”

Her little prisoner knew only a little English and no Shakespeare, so he had no idea what Laura was saying, but there was no mistaking the look in her eyes as Laura, just as she had learned in many schoolyard scrapes, held him to the ground with her knee on his chest while attempting to pin his arms to his sides.

The little demon squirmed and wriggled but couldn’t escape Laura’s grasp. On the other hand, Laura was unable to completely quiet him. As the two of them wrestled on the ground, Laura had the opportunity to look at her adversary, and was shocked and disturbed to see, despite the fire in his black eyes, he was a young child. Six, seven, eight years old? Laura couldn’t tell, raggedly dressed and not too well nourished. In an instant it all came to her. She had seen far too much of this before. As a public defender she had been called upon to represent many different types of defendants. This was the worst—a child. She knew the drill—first offense petty theft, by the time he was a teenager, it would be larceny and drugs, and as an adult, violent crime and a life in and out of prison until an overdose or bullet ended it.

The boy looked up at the woman who had him pinned to the ground. She was strong, and her knee was digging into his chest. He was in pain and he was angry. This had been his first solo attempt at stealing—and he had failed. He was ashamed—and to be captured by a woman! The others would tease him unmercifully, and his father would no doubt beat him senseless.  

Laura looked at his boyish face, distorted with pain and anger, and immediately melted. Whatever anger she had come into the alley with dissipated in a flood of empathy. She smiled. She couldn’t help it. She involuntarily relaxed her grip. The boy immediately thrust his hand into a pants pocket and drew out a small penknife. Laura grabbed his hand and squeezed—hard. The boy squealed and dropped the knife. 

Laura looked down at him and hated herself. The boy’s black eyes that just a moment ago had been filled with fire, now filled with tears. He no longer resisted. He was just a scared, hurt, little boy.

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