She watched as a trio of rough-looking men approached the bridge ahead of her from Via de’ Tornabuoni. They were not deterred by the rain, their speech loud and raucous, their steps unsteady. The sight of drunks in the city center was not unusual, but Raven’s pace slowed. She knew too well the unpredictability of a drunk.
She clutched her old, worn knapsack more tightly as she continued toward the bridge. It was at that moment she saw Angelo.
Angelo was a homeless man who spent his days and nights begging for coins. Raven passed him on her way to and from the Uffizi. She always stopped to greet him and give him money or some food. She felt a kinship with him since they both walked with a cane. Angelo was developmentally disabled, which only increased her compassion.
As she walked, her gaze traveled from Angelo to the drunks and back again. A terrible feeling of dread passed over her.
“Good evening, friends!” Angelo’s Italian pierced the rainy darkness. “A few coins, please.”
The cheerful hope in his voice caused Raven’s stomach to churn. She knew the cruel fate of hope when it was misdirected.
She began limping faster, her eyes fixed on her friend, willing herself not to trip and fall. She was almost to the bridge when she saw Angelo lifting his hands and crying out.
The largest man was urinating on him. Angelo tried to move away, but the man followed. The other men cheered.
Raven was not shocked.
Angelo was homeless, dirty, crippled, and slow. Each of these features would kindle any latent cruelty in the Florentine men.
She felt shouts of protest bubble up in her throat. But she didn’t open her mouth.
She should intervene. She knew it. Evil flourished when good people walked by and said nothing.
Raven kept walking.
She was tired after a long day of work and an evening at Gina’s. She was eager to return to her small, quiet flat on the Piazza Santo Spirito. All the same, she was conscious of Angelo’s cries and the laughter and cursing of the men.
The largest man finished urinating with a flourish, returning himself to the confines of his jeans. Without warning, he lifted a booted foot and kicked Angelo in the ribs. He cried out in pain, slumping to the ground.
The other men joined in, kicking and cursing Angelo without regard to his screams. Blood poured from his mouth as he writhed on the sidewalk.
“Stop!” The loud cry, in Italian, filled her ears. In an instant, she felt joy at the fact that someone, anyone, had come to Angelo’s rescue.
But her joy turned to horror when the men stopped and stared in her direction.
“Stop,” she repeated, in a much quieter tone.
The men exchanged glances and the largest one said something derisive to his companions. He stalked in her direction.
As he approached, Raven could see he was broad shouldered and tall, his head shaven, his eyes dark. She resisted the urge to retreat.
“Go.” The man waved at her dismissively.
Raven’s green eyes darted behind him, to where Angelo was lying, curled into a ball.
“Let me help him. He’s bleeding.”
The bald man looked over his shoulder to his companions. As if in defiance, one of them kicked Angelo in the stomach. Her friend’s cries filled her ears until finally and horribly, he fell silent.
With a predatory smile, the bald man turned back to her. He pointed in the direction from which she’d approached.
Raven contemplated an attempt to reach Angelo’s side, but decided against it. There was no possibility of crossing the bridge to get home, either. The bald man blocked her path.
She began to back away, her gait unsteady.
The man followed. He flailed his arms and dragged his right leg in an exaggerated impersonation of her walk. One of his companions shouted something about Quasimodo.
Resisting the urge to tell the men that they were the true monsters, she turned around, struggling to move quickly. The sounds of hurried footsteps echoed in her ears. The man’s companions had left Angelo and were pursuing her.
She heard one of them remark on how ugly she was—too ugly to fuck.
The others laughed.
One of them observed that she could be fucked from behind. Then they wouldn’t have to see her face.
Raven hobbled more quickly, searching in vain for a single pedestrian. The banks of the Arno appeared deserted.
“Not so fast!” One man’s sarcasm was treated with laughter as they walked behind her.
“Come, play with us,” another shouted.
“She acts like she wants it.”
Raven increased her pace, but they soon caught up with her, circling like wolves around an injured deer.
“Now what?” the shortest of the three men asked, eyeing the others.
“Now we play.” The bald man, who was evidently the ringleader, smiled at Raven. He pulled the cane out of her hand, throwing it into the street.
Someone else grabbed her knapsack, ripping it from her shoulder.
“Give it back!” she shouted, lunging toward him.
With glee, the man threw her knapsack to one of his companions, over her head.
She made a move to retrieve it, but it was quickly thrown over her once again. The men played keep-away for several minutes, taunting and teasing while she begged them to return her bag. They could not have known this, but her passport and other important documents were in the knapsack.
She couldn’t run. Her disability prevented her. She knew if she went for her cane, they would only pick it up and possibly throw it into the Arno. She turned and began limping away from them, back toward the Ponte Vecchio.
One of the men tossed her knapsack aside. “Grab her,” he said.
Raven tried to move faster, but she was already limping as quickly as she could. The man followed, closing in on her in three steps.
Frightened, she glanced over her shoulder. At that moment, her toe caught on a crack in the road and she stumbled. Pain lanced through her hands and arms as she tried to break her fall.
The bald man approached and grabbed her by the hair. She cried out as he ripped the elastic from her ponytail. Her long black hair fell around her shoulders.
He pulled her to her feet, grabbing her hair and wrapping it around his hand.
She scanned the area, trying to find a way of escape or someone to help her, but within seconds he was dragging her across the street and into an alley. The alley was so narrow she could almost span it with arms outstretched.
She went limp, pitching forward intentionally.