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Summary: Raised as an orphan in Genoa, Isabella grew up a beggar and an urchin. A realist, she never truly believed in the supernatural occurrences that were attacking her town. Being so close to a city of vampires and one vampire that would call her his mate, will change her opinion.
Another one was dead. Thrown carelessly onto the pavement, his head was snapped and stained with sinew and the sidewalk was coated in blood. A small crowd had gathered around the dead man, though no policemen nor had paramedics arrived. I wondered idly if they ever would arrive, or if they had been scared away. This was the second murder this month, the tenth in the last six. Almost everyone in Genoa had become victims of paranoia.
I sighed and sat down across the street from the murder scene, pulling out my tin can and setting it beside my person. On it were two words, per favore, and nothing else. I sat huddled on a thin sheet of cardboard, my back to a brick wall and my head ducked into the front of the scarf that surrounded my head. It always got too damn cold in the winters here.
People passed me with no regard for my custom or sufferings. They would not even look me in the eyes. I wished that they would, it would be nice to feel connected to someone, if only for a moment. They were too embarrassed in themselves, so it was and always had been. The police had shown up at the murder scene by now, and were ushering people away and putting up yellow tape. A paramedic listened to the man's pulse and nodded at nothing, a moment later a blanket was being tossed over his corpse. A gurney was brought out and the man was placed on top of it. Another moment went by before he was wheeled away into an ambulance. The siren started and the car rushed down the street. The police remained and one woman knelt down to examine a patch of blood.
"Ciao, beautiful. What can you do for me today?" It was a group of men, not too much older than I with rough, unkempt faces and greasy black hair. They were arranged in a triad, with the one who spoke at the front. I shook my head at him and pressed my back further into the wall, hiding my eyes from his view.
"Come one, pretty girl. Lighten up. Don't you want to eat tonight? All it'll take is your tiny mouth," He stopped speaking and looked to his right. His upper lip twisted into a snarl and he snapped something at the man on his right before returning his attention to me. He knelt down and grabbed ahold of my chin. I whimpered and tried to pull away from his grasp but he only tightened his fingers until I had nowhere to look but his hairy, greasy face.
"You one of Fizzaro's girls?" I nodded mutely and he cursed, releasing my chin and wiping his hand on his jeans. "What's a whore like you doing begging, eh? Shouldn't you be in the bedrooms?" I paled and shuddered, my eyes wandering over to the police who were still fully occupied in their investigation.
"Leave me alone." I whimpered and grabbed my cup from off the ground. "If this is your territory, I'll leave. Just leave me alone." My eyes flickered to the police again, but this time the man's eyes followed. He snorted when he was where my gaze lay and he kicked the cup from my hand. A few coins rolled out and I darted out for them. The man's hand stepped on top of my wrist and I cried out.
"Giovanni, Reynaldo, get the money and go back home. I think I'll stay awhile." The two other men nodded and gathered the fallen money, a two day's workload for me, and hurried off. I cried out when I saw them scurry off. The man stepping on my wrist reached down and hauled me to his feet.
"I'm gonna show you what happens to little girls who misbehave, and maybe if you're lucky you'll get your money back." He sneered in my face before wrapping an arm tightly around my waist, his hand drifting into further territory. I whimpered and tried to pull away, but that only angered him more and I felt the tip of a blade push into my hip.
"Hey!" The man let go of my waist and retracted the blade, stepping back and glancing at the police cars. They hadn't noticed our debacle, and were still concentrated on the pool of blood and the murders. They hadn't noticed us and that seemed to appease the man, for he grabbed for me again, this time linking my arm with his.
"You, princess, aren't going anywhere." He started walking, his pace past and every few seconds he'd look behind him as though he suspected someone was watching. I hoped that someone was out there trailing behind us. At least they'd know where to find my corpse.
"Hey! Stop!" I was shoved out of the man's arms and onto the pavement. I could feel my arm scrape against the sidewalk and I hissed, crawling backwards into an alleyway. The man scowled and started towards me when a fist hit his jaw and he tumbled backwards onto the road. A car honked loudly as it veered away from his head and he cursed, jumping back up and rubbing his jaw.
"What the fuck was that for, man?" His eyes flashed to mine and I heard a chuckle, though not from the man who wished to hold me prisoner.
"I told you to stay away from what's mine, Jacob." I felt a calming sensation fall over me when I realized who my savior was. I scrambled up off the disgusting ground and scurried over to my savior's side. He smiled at me and reached out to clasp my hand in his. I took it and stepped behind him. He kissed my cheek before turning back to face Jacob.
"I know you're not stupid, mutt. Why did you come after one of my girls?" He spat in Jacob's face and squeezed my hand. Jacob cursed and wiped the spit from his face, his eyes blazing with rage and jaw a bright red.
"Don't pull that shit with me, Nicolo. I know she's not one of yours. She was begging, not in the brothel." Nic's jaw clenched and he let go of my hand to step closer to Jacob without putting me in the line of fire. He lifted his finger and it gave me visible pleasure to see him flinch from the gesture.
"You will not threaten my sister. If I hear you have been near her one more time, I will do more than this," with that he pulled out his switchblade and slashed at Jacob's arm. He cried out and tried to grab at his arm but Nic got there first and held him with the blade to his throat.
"Take what he took from you, Bells." I reached out and placed my fingers in his left pocket, pulling out a twenty euro.
"Just move your hand a little to the right, baby." I paled again and Nic pressed the blade further into his throat.
"Last warning." He gritted out. Jacob nodded best that he could in Nic's death grip and started coughing once he was let go. With stony eyes Nic told him to leave before turning back towards me. I could see that his ire had not completely settled.
"What the hell were you doing out here, Bells? You could've been killed." He grabbed my hand and started dragging me back towards the whorehouse. There was no use fighting him and I followed blindly. His step never faltered until we reached the scene of the murder. He cursed twice and squeezed my hand before pulling me faster to our destination. Five minutes later we were at La Nostra Casa, the resident brothel of Genoa's poor town. The house was an abandoned factory in the middle of an old parking lot. The building was made of brick and its windows were once coloured, though now most had broken or were covered with cardboard. Nic pushed open the wooden door and ushered me inside. I removed the scarf from my head and walked towards the large fire pit in the centre of the room. He had to dig up some of the ugly purple carpet in order for the fire not to burn the factory down, and the flames were surrounded by sofas of different colours. Beside the sitting area was a large staircase with candles placed along the wall. A front desk was beside the door, where an oil lamp and an old client journal sat. Nic couldn't afford electricity, so he used fire to light the rooms of the brothel. 'It adds to the romantic atmosphere', he'd say when I pressed him about it.
I sat down on the sofa that looked the most hygienic and a moment later Nic joined me on the one adjacent. He pressed a cup of coffee into my hand and I removed a little bottle of vodka from my coat packet. I dumped the entire thing into my cup and Nic sighed and shook his head. He didn't understand my desire to drink, didn't understand how badly I needed to cope. My hands shook as I lifted the cup to my mouth, my throat burning at the combination of caffeine and alcohol.
"Why do you hurt your body like that, Bells?' He whispered into his cup. I snorted and placed the half-empty cup onto the ground.
"You'd have me become a whore and hurt my body and my spirit." He sighed and rubbed his brow. Nic was the opposite of any Italian, with blonde hair and pale skin. He was a tiny man, but held great strength and skill in combat. He was also my best friend, the only one who had stuck with me once we were out of the horrible orphanage we grew up in.
"It's not as bad as you think, babe. The money's great and I'd let you keep all of your profits. I'll even supply your pills." I laughed and leaned back against the couch. Truth be told, I was a virgin and planned to stay that way for some while. I had lived in the brothel for some on five years now, and I was terribly surprised Nic hadn't kicked me out by now. He had turned away more than a few women looking for boarding.
"Are you kicking me out, Nicolo? Has my time finally come to an end?" My voice was cold and uncaring as I stared into the dancing flames. They twirled and flickered, some reaching as high as my head. I knew the height of the flames wouldn't last, it was evening now and the flames would have just been tended to for the night shift. By midnight the foyer would be pitch black and freezing.
"It's not me," he muttered and covered his face with his palm. "The girls, they think you've overstayed your welcome." And so he said the words that had plagued him for months. I squeezed the armrest with broken fingernails and dirty hands. I felt the tingling of tears in my eyes and my bottom lip quiver. I shouldn't be as surprised as I was, the girls never liked me and it had always been their utmost desire to see me leave. I was more shocked that Nic was listening to them.
"I think that the girls don't know what the hell they're talking about." I was quiet, but in the cold and faintly lit room my voice seemed to echo off of each of the walls. Nic looked at me with pain-filled eyes.
"I just…I've had another girl come to me today, beautiful young thing, but I've got no room for her." He took a deep breath and set his gaze on me. "Look Bells, I'd hate to kick you out. It would crush me, devastate all my morals. But, you give me almost no income compared to the rest of the girls. You have the nicest room in this joint, yet you barely give me five dollars a week. Look, just take a client once month, that's all I'm asking. One per month, and then you can keep your room. You wouldn't have to go out on the street anymore; you wouldn't have to deal with assholes like Jacob." His gaze turned soft. "Please Bells, it really isn't that bad. I'll make sure you don't end up with some brute. I'll make sure it's gentle."
"How did you know Jacob?" I was changing the topic, but my mind couldn't deal with what Nic was telling me right now. I wasn't sure if it ever could. Nic snorted at my completely different train of thought and went to refill his cup of coffee, taking mine and the vodka bottle with him.
"He's one of the Englishman's lackeys. Pretty high up, if I'm not mistaken. A weak one though, he only got where he was because his grandfather was a menace. From what I hear Sam's got some real troubles with him. I'm surprised he hasn't been killed, to be honest. He may be once he hears about today." When he grinned it was wolfish and it showed his perfectly white teeth. Nic had a mean streak as big as the Mediterranean and it could hit anyone at any time. It hadn't been aimed directly at me, yet, and I was thankful, but wondered when it would. It only seemed a matter of time.
"But don't change the subject, Bells. Do we have a deal?" He turned to face me, both our cups in his hand. One of his brows were raised, his face set in a stony mask. The nervousness and fear I felt almost made me want to throw-up. The thought of giving away my maidenhood to a seedy drug-dealer or leper had my stomach reeling.
"Let me think on it." Nic sighed and placed my cup down on the floor before turning his back on me. His shoulders hunched forward and he suddenly seemed quite small.
"You have a month. If you don't accept my offer, I'm going to have to ask you to leave." My cup forgotten, I stood and knocked it into the fire. A portion of it sizzled and popper as it came in contact with the fire, the paper cup catching quickly.
"What? Have you forgotten what I did for you?" My teeth were gritted together and I grabbed for Nic's shoulders. He spun around and grabbed my arms, clasping them to my sides.
"We've been outta that orphanage for five years now, Isabella. The accident happened seven years ago. I've done more than repay your services. Now, I think, you need to repay mine." I snatched myself out of his arms and took a step back, my eyes searching his face to try and find the man he once was. A few stray tears leaked out my eyes when his resolve never wavered.
"Very well then, I'll be out within the month." Nic nodded his head once and went to clean up the coffee that landed on the carpet. I retrieved my scarf and made the assent up the stairs.
"Oh, Isabella, what is the fair maiden doing today?" I closed my eyes and reached for the handrail as I passed by the rooms on the second floor. This floor was where all the lowly clients went, the ones who could barely afford food but would save up for a month to enjoy five minutes of fun.
"Just going to bed, Jessica." I muttered, starting my walk up to the fourth floor. I heard the trilling laugh of the harlot and her footsteps as she followed behind me. I increased my pace until I felt her hands on the back of my coat, tugging. I turned to face her, my arms crossed over her chest.
"What do you want, whore?" She laughed at the venom in my voice, her white makeup cracking and her dry hair swaying. She grinned and her teeth were black.
"Tough talk for one about to be kicked out." Now that made me pause and I furrowed my brow. Surely Nic wouldn't have the audacity to tell the whores before speaking to me. In truth, I wasn't sure if I believed that, but I had hope for the man I had saved seven years ago. My pause did seem to give this whore confidence and she strutted closer to me.
"You'll be out on the streets and you'll end up like those bodies they keep finding on the road. Victims of the vampire." She smirked and stepped back, smacking her burgundy lips. I shook my head and started walking back up the stairs.
"Vampires don't exist, Jessica; you really should know this." I heard her laugh again, but at least she wasn't following me.
"Yes they do, Isabella. I had one as a client just last week. You'd have known about it, had you been earning your keep like the rest of us." I closed my eyes for a moment and pictured a million bad things happening to Jessica before I jogged my way up to my bedroom.
Despite supposedly having the largest room in the house, it was still just as cold and barren as the rest. I had a bed, an old flimsy mattress thrown on a wire bedframe, and my windows were still mostly intact. I grabbed a package of matches from beside my bed and lit the candle on the wall next to the door, and the one next to the window. The breeze from the outside would put that one out in an hour, but until then I had light. I tucked the matches into my jacket pocket before ripping the old beaten thing off of me and onto the floor. Next were the gloves that had holes where the fingers should be, and then I toed off my soggy boots and put them beneath the window to dry out.
I sat down onto my bed, my teeth chattering and my hands shaking. I reached for the woolen blanket and pulled it up to my chin. I had the thing since I arrived at the orphanage as a babe. It was one of two things I had taken with me when I left with Nic. The other was a worn copy of Wuthering Heights, a book I had saved up for and bought when I was eleven. I kept that underneath my mattress, lest any snooping whore would find it.
Drained from my day, I did not feel like crying. I simply curled up into a ball and stared out the window, letting the winds and the stars lull me to sleep.