I race after her, my course of action decided.
This girl is maybe five foot four to my six three. She’s so small... what is she going to do when she catches up to a man mean enough to steal from an old woman?
No matter how rotten I am on the inside, I can’t let that slide. So I sprint after her, after the thief.
I’m fast, but she’s faster. She’s gaining on the mugger, who casts a panicked look over his shoulder. Even from this distance I can see that his eyes are wide, crazed.
He’s high on something... he would have to be, to try a stunt like this in an international airport.
And this pazzo woman, this crazy girl, is two strides away from being in a lot of trouble.
“Stop!” I shout, but it’s too late. She jumps, lands on the unkempt man, wraps her arms around the purse as they struggle to stay upright. Horror joins the adrenaline pulsing through me as I see a flash of silver, the whites of the man’s eyes.
The girl screams, a sound full of anger more than pain, as she twists, the knife sinking into her upper arm rather than her chest. The scene plays out in slow motion before my eyes as she falls to the floor, a viscous stream of crimson staining the front of her white T-shirt.
My instinct is to drop to my knees beside her, to put pressure on her wound. But her eyes—beautiful blue eyes, brilliant as the Mediterranean—meet my own.
“I’m fine!” She wheezes at me, despite the very obvious fact that she is not. Her arms wrap ever tighter around the purse, and with one foot she kicks the knife out of range. “Go!”
I don’t usually take orders, especially from women, but I understand the fire in her stare. The mugger has already scrambled to his feet, is poised to run.
The girl managed to get the purse, but justice must be served. I appreciate this desire of hers. So without breaking my stride, I leap, wrapping my arms around the man. My muscles are burning from the sprint, but I hold tight as we crash to the floor.
“Off! Off!” The thief’s voice is high-pitched, hysterical. He thrashes beneath me, and I grunt as his knee connects with my gut. “I need that money! I need the fucking money!”
“There’s probably nothing more than pocket change and stale mints in that purse, you idiot.” My muscles strain as I grab hold of his wrists, secure them behind his back—I’m by far the bigger of us two, but he has mania on his side.
He doesn’t respond, his gaze fixed on something over my shoulder as he struggles. His skin is pale and clammy, eyes bloodshot and glassy. His muscles are tight with tension and pressed against him like I am, I can feel the hammering of his pulse, unnaturally fast.
I lift my head, try to crane my neck back to get a glimpse of the girl, but she’s out of my line of sight. Instead I see a man and a woman, both dressed in the blue uniforms of aeroporti security, running toward us.
“We need you to let go of him now,” the male says, but I don’t let go until they have a good grip on the thief, who now has saliva dribbling down his chin. It disgusts me, as so many things do, and I swivel, trying to get a good look at the girl.
The female security guard catches a full glimpse of my face, and her mouth falls open. I sigh as she emits a small squeak, leaving her partner to do their job by himself.
“Signore Benenati,” she whispers, a bright flush staining her cheeks. I shake my head in warning as I scramble to my feet.
“Not now.” My voice is harsh, and I begin to push my way through the crowd of people who have gathered. “Call an ambulanza. Now!”
She says something behind me; I don’t care. Other whispers from the crowd tell me that I’ve been recognized, not an unusual occurrence here in Palermo. And while normally I enjoy the benefits that come with being one of the country’s most eligible bachelors, right now I’m focused on the girl.
And there she is, propped up on her elbows, a hand held to her own wound, her fingers painted in blood. Several well-meaning citizens flutter around her, but no one has truly touched her—afraid of getting their hands dirty.
Just like you were. If you hadn’t hesitated, she wouldn’t have been stabbed.
It should have been you.
“Signorina.” I am never at a loss for words, nor do I ever feel guilty. But it seems that today is a day for firsts as I fall to my knees at the side of this strange, brave girl.
I shrug out of my light cotton sweater and press it to the wound. It soaks through, wetting my hands as well.
Her blood is sticky and warm. Full of life.
“The ambulance will be here shortly.” I’m pressing down gently on the gap in her flesh, the place where the knife sliced through her, but she winces anyway.
“No! No ambulance!” She struggles to sit up, but since she is clearly going into shock—her skin is paper white and her eyes glassy—she winds up falling back with her head in my lap.
Is she insane?
Wait—I already know the answer to that.
“You need medical attention.” Frowning, I brush an errant lock of her hair away from her forehead, scowling at both the impulsive gesture and the smudges of blood that I leave behind on her white skin.
She shakes her head—maybe she doesn’t understand.
“Ssh,” I try to soothe, but I have never soothed anyone in my life. “They’ll stitch you up, give you some pain medication. You’ll feel better.”
“No!” With surprising strength, born of adrenaline, I would guess, she wrenches herself from my grasp, rolls to her side, starts trying to get to her feet. “No ambulance. I can’t afford it.”
“I will pay.” Maybe this will assuage some of the guilt that was building inside of me, the sensation strange and unpleasant.
I hesitated. If I hadn’t, I would have been the one to tackle the thief. To be stabbed. And this strange girl would have gone on her way.
“Like hell you will.” Managing to pull herself to a sitting position, she glares at me. I can feel my mouth fall open a bit, with shock.
I can’t recall meeting a woman—ever—who refused my money. It is just a fact that has come along with the privilege of my family name.
“You’re not paying. So, no ambulance.” With that damned purse still in hand—where is the owner, anyway?—the girl rises to her knees and wobbles.
I ignore her, catching the eye of the female security guard that I shouted at. She nods to signal that she has in fact called the ambulance, then blushes again.
I will pay the costs. It is the least that I can do, since this situation is my fault. Besides, I have money—a lot of money. The ambulance ride, the medical expenses—they will cost less than the sweater that the girl has discarded. It lies in a bloody, deep blue heap on the floor.