An international novel of futbol, fashion and the test of friendship
David Caraccio lives in Fair Oaks, California, with his wife, a son and a daughter. He graduated from San Diego State University and is a 25-year journalist working at The Sacramento Bee.
THE BACK OF THE NET
David Caraccio's first novel, a historical fiction account of the true life events in the life of lover-bandit Tiburcio Vasquez.
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The Tuscan hills changed shades of olive green as clouds drifted overhead, and the late afternoon sun lit the city's red-tiled crown ablaze. The first hint of a cool evening breeze blew across the rooftop garden, and Giovanni Cordinni breathed in the warm, sweet scents of tomato, basil and oregano growing in terra cotta pots along the wall. This terrace, this view, this sun, these aromas had given pleasure to five generations of Giovanni's family, their small piece of paradiso sulla terra. He closed his eyes and smiled. He was content.
His childhood friend, Aldo Fiero, and another amico, Antonio Bertone, sat with him at a wooden table in the garden, drinking prosecco and talking about soccer. They endlessly broke down every tiro (shot), calcio di rigore (penalty kick), calcio di punzione (free kick) and cartellino rosso (red card) they had seen or heard about since the last time they spoke.
Then, as he soaked up the sun and flavor of Florence all around him, Giovanni couldn't believe what he heard. He opened his eyes.
"I sudamericani possederanno i prossimi venti anni di calcio internazionale," Aldo declared.
"Are you crazy?" Giovanni asked. "Did you say the South Americans will own the next twenty years of international futbol? Has the prosecco gone to your head? Italy is seeing its finest soccer since 1982. I guarantee we return to the World Cup finals in Korea!"
He tossed back a half flute of the white wine.
"Oh, what blind faith," Aldo said. "You must know a player somewhere in this country who will redeem our aging Azzurri."
"Si! He is right under my roof. My youngest son, Lorenzo, will return the pride to Florence and the entire country.".
The big defender would take the kick. He always took the corner kicks. The corner flag looked as far away as his own bed back in the United States, and his legs, which were strong enough to squat four-hundred pound reps in a set, were heavy as if the humid Venezuelan skies above were pushing every gram of gravity down on him.
He started into a sprint and cut it to a jog about a dozen yards from the corner of the field. He might need some time to get ready here. How close were those fans? Close enough that he could hear every Spanish jeer they shouted. Close enough to feel the pounding of their feet on the stadium floor and seats. Close enough to hurl plastic water bottles and fruit and deadlier flying objects like batteries and glass bottles to the edge of the end line. He heard horns and whistles and barks and growls as he approached the corner of the field. The epithets and threats and banging intermixed into one deafening roar. Beautiful game, my ass, he thought - dangerous game is more like it. He saw debris landing all around the corner circle, and three FIFA officials waited for him with strong umbrellas. He smiled and ducked under their safe canopy.
He stepped back three and a half strides to get a running start on the kick. The officials backed up with him. They would follow his approach to the ball as well as they could, then he would launch the leather off his rocket of a foot and quickly follow the kick so he could get out of range of the projectiles. For now, however, he paused to watch what play was developing in front of the goal. He breathed in deep. He heard the bottles and rocks and batteries hitting the canopy as he and his protectors huddled underneath. The Venezuelans were this angry at the United States for forcing them to play in Minneapolis in a snowstorm last winter rather than delay the match, and now their national team was on the verge of elimination here in Caracas. The country had refused to provide the U.S. with a training facility or any other accommodations. And now here he was trying to grind his heel into the South American opponent's neck. This place could erupt, he thought. One to one. 88th minute. Wait. Wait. Wait.
This was his favorite route. He ducked down a narrow alley and emerged onto a quieter street, dropping the ball to his feet again and jogging and kicking it against the stone walls in quick sets of give-and-goes. He dribbled past several trattorias, gelaterias and ristorantes until he found himself on the busy Via dei Neri. He crossed the Arno River, south of Ponte Vecchio at Ponte alle Grazie, and sprinted around Piazalle Michelangelo to the bottom of the spectacular stairs that led to the holy and peaceful church of Santa Miniato, where his family would go every Sunday until soccer consumed their entire weekends. He capped the run with a leg-burning sprint up the stairway. And finally came the payoff: In front of Santa Miniato, he took in the sensational cliffside view of the Duomo and all of Florence below.
They bolted into Milan, tearing out of the mountains and down the autostrada in Gino's black Porsche Cayman GTS. Approaching Milan, the pair flew past one of the city's outlying industrial areas and Gino brought up the convertible rooftop. The city was smoggy, subdued in a dirty yellow hue which was especially perceptible after a week of breathing air fresh off the Alps. But these Italian stars were aiming for the shiny glitz of the fashion world inside.
The bright flash of what she was getting into could not have gone off with a more fitting background. From sitting next to international celebrities at the fashion show to drinks at the gilded landmark Antico Caffe Greco with its waiters in tuxedoes, Sallie now felt that she had stepped over the chasm between ordinary existence and the joie de vivre.
"I forgot you're going to have to leave, and I will be alone."
"No. You will be with trusted people, friends of mine."