“Help! Help! My son has been injured!” an anguished voice rang out.
“I recognize that voice,” said La Volpe with a grimace. “It’s Trimalchio.” He looked keenly at the wounded thief. “And that’s Claudio—his younger son!”
Meanwhile, Borgia guards armed with guns had appeared on the parapets of two roofs, on either side of the far wall of the market, and were taking aim.
“They’re going to shoot him!” Ezio said urgently.
“Quickly then! I’ll take the group to the left; you take the one to the right!”
There were three guards on each side. Moving as unobtrusively as shadows but as swiftly as panthers, Ezio and La Volpe swept around the connecting sides of the square. Ezio saw his three gunmen raise their weapons and take aim at the fallen boy. He sprinted along the spine of the roof—his feet seemingly barely touching the tiles—and with one huge leap sprang toward the three gunmen. His jump had sufficient height that he was able to crumple the middle gunman with the heel of his foot—connecting with the nape of the man’s neck. In one movement, Ezio landed on his feet, crouched to absorb the impact of the landing, and then straightened his knees, arms outstretched on either side of him. The two remaining gunmen fell at that instant—a dagger piercing one man’s right eye from the side, the blade pushing deep into his skull. The other gunman was felled by the needlelike point of Ezio’s hidden-blade—it had punctured his ear, dark viscous liquid trickling down his neck. Ezio looked up to see that La Volpe had also felled his opponents with similar efficiency. After this minute of silent slaughter, all the guards with firearms were dead. But there was a fresh danger, as a platoon of halberdiers charged into the square—weapons lowered and rushing toward the unfortunate Claudio. The people in the wine booths shrank back.
“Claudio! Get out!” La Volpe yelled.
“I can’t! Too much…pain…”
“Hang on!” Ezio, who was fractionally closer to where the boy lay, shouted. “I’m coming!”
He leapt down from the rooftops, breaking his fall on the canvas roof of one of the market stalls, and was soon by the boy’s side. Quickly, he checked the wound. It looked more serious than it was.
“Get up!” he ordered.
“I can’t!” Claudio was clearly in a state of panic. “They’re going to kill me!”
“Look. You can walk, can’t you?” The boy nodded. “Then you can also run. Pay attention. Follow me. Do exactly what I do. We’ve got to hide from the guards.”
Ezio drew the boy to his feet and made his way to the nearest wine booth. Once there, he quickly melted into the crowd of by now very nervous drinkers and was surprised to see with what aptitude Claudio was able to do the same. They eased their way through the booth to the side nearest the wall, while on the other side some of the halberdiers started to push their way in. Just in time, they made it to an alleyway leading off the square and to safety. La Volpe and Trimalchio were waiting for them.
“We guessed you’d come this way,” said La Volpe as the father hugged his son. “Get going!” he said to them. “We’ve no time to lose! Get back to headquarters fast and have Teresina dress that wound. Go!”
“And you—keep out of sight for a while, intensi?” Ezio added to Claudio.
“Molte grazie, Messere,” said the departing Trimalchio, his arm around the boy, guiding him, but also admonishing him: “Corri!”
“You’re in trouble now,” said La Volpe, once they’d reached the safety of a quiet square. “Especially after this. I’ve already seen posters up for you, after that business at the stables.”
“None for Machiavelli?”
La Volpe shook his head. “No. But it’s quite possible they didn’t get a good look at him. Not many people know how handy he is with a sword.”
“But you don’t believe that.”
La Volpe shook his head.
“What to do about the Wanted posters?”
“Don’t worry. My people are already ripping them down.”
“Glad some of them are more disciplined than to start picking fights for no reason with Borgia guards.”
“Listen, Ezio—there’s a tension in this city you haven’t yet experienced.”
“Really?” Ezio hadn’t yet told his friend about the episode with the wolfmen.
“As for the heralds, a few ducats each should be enough to shut them up,” La Volpe continued.
“Or…I could eliminate the witnesses.”
“Needn’t come to that,” said La Volpe, more lightly. “You know how to ‘disappear.’ But be very careful, Ezio. The Borgia have many other enemies than you, but none quite so irritating. They won’t rest until they have you hanging from hooks at Castel Sant’Angelo.”
“Have to catch me first.”
“Keep your guard up.”
They returned by a circuitous route to the Thieves’ Guild, where Claudio and his father had already arrived safely. Teresina was dressing the boy’s wound, but once the bleeding had been stanched, it turned out to be nothing more than a deep cut into an arm muscle, hurting like hell but doing no serious harm, and Claudio himself was already much more cheerful.
“What a night,” said La Volpe tiredly as they sat over a glass of Trebbiano and a plate of coarse salami.
“You’re telling me. I could do with a few less of them.”
“You won’t get many while the fight goes on.”
“Listen, Gilberto,” Ezio said, “I know what we saw, but I am sure you have nothing to fear from Machiavelli. You know his methods.”
La Volpe looked at him evenly. “Yes. Very devious.” He paused. “But I have you to thank for saving Claudio’s life. If you believe Machiavelli remains loyal to the Brotherhood, then I am inclined to trust your judgment.”
“So—how do I stand with your thieves? Will you help me?”
“I told you I had plans to do something about this place,” La Volpe said thoughtfully. “Now that you and I seem to be working together again, I’d like to know what you think, too.”
“Are we working together?”
La Volpe smiled. “Looks like it. But I’m still keeping an eye on your black-suited friend.”
“Well, it’ll do no harm. Just don’t do anything rash.”
La Volpe ignored that. “So tell me—what do you think we should do with this place?”