Italian army soldier Daniele doesn't know what to do with himself when head trauma puts an abrupt end to his military career. He's unexpectedly called back, though, to collaborate with Steven, a U.S. Navy Captain, who needs Daniele's help with an undercover operation.
Criminals, personal demons, and clashing personalities is a recipe for disaster—but it might also just be a recipe for happily ever after. Assuming, of course, they survive.
The sound of the cars on the nearby street is a metropolitan call; I can imagine them flowing toward the Colosseum to then separate around it, some to reach the ample blue sky that towers over the remains of the Circus, some climbing the green hill that leads to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli where the imperfect Moses of Michelangelo gazes into the shadows. The city calls, but despite being in her very heart, I’m stuck here, in this damned military hospital that mocks me with the view of the ancient Celio’s hill, unable to move from this chair, as the doctor in front of me keeps talking and talking. If he does this with every patient, I don’t know how he hasn’t been defenestrated yet.
“A head trauma can occur if a hit of some sort causes cerebral damage. Parts of the brain that can be damaged include the cerebral hemisphere, the cerebellum, the spinal cord…”
This is one of those moments I wish I had a gun. I don’t really know if I would use it to shoot the doctor in front of me or myself, to put me out of my misery. This guy has been lecturing for the last half-hour, and this headache is absolutely killing me. I rub my fingers against my temple to lessen the throbbing pain, but I only manage a sharper sting when I touch a particularly sensitive spot.
I electrocute the man in front of me with my stare, but he goes on, unaffected. “The symptoms can be various: loss of conscience, personality changes, frequent headaches…”
“Humor me…” I grumble, holding my head with both hands to avoid its explosion.
The doctor clears his throat. “Yes, well… as I was saying, the patient may experience repeated vomiting and epileptic seizures.”
I bite the inside of a cheek, crossing my arms in the hope that he finally gets how mortally tired of this shit I really am. All I want is to finally go home. It shouldn’t be so hard to understand.
He slowly takes out a folder, then he scrolls through the documents with a care not even ancient papyrus is treated with. With the same speed, he puts on his glasses and reads aloud. How I’d love to throw him and his damned folder out of the window. Yes, I’m nervous.
I grab my biceps to avoid hitting him. If I act out, it would probably be accredited to some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. Even if I don’t already have PTSD, it would be a good excuse instead of the real “I just wanted to go home.”
I bet that if I really were to throw him out of the window, he would jump out of his grave to enlighten me on the effects of traumas on human behavior. I’ve been putting up with him for the last week, and I’ve never seen anybody who loves his own voice this much; if he could, I don’t doubt he would probably bed it.
“So,” he finally says, “apparently, after the accident, you experienced some epileptic attacks of moderate strength. We should do some other exams and keep you under observation for at least…”
I stand up, slamming both my hands on the desk between us. He jolts, the glasses jumping on his nose.
“You listen to me, and listen carefully.” By now my head pounding more than a drum in a tribal dance. “I was flung against a bloody brick wall by a grenade, and I wasn’t even awake before you people started analyzing me more than a lab rat. I’ve spent hours with my head stuck in that tube, listening to this fucking monotonous tune about how I can’t go back to active duty ever again. So now I’m going home because, as you have so graciously told me, the attacks increase in cases of stress—and trust me, you’re stressing me out. A lot.”
I straighten my back, and after throwing him another pissed look, I grab my jacket. In two steps, I’m at the door, and I turn one last time, giving a dramatic, “Goodbye.”
I forcefully close the door with the mental image of the doctor’s shocked face. It would be kind of funny if my head wasn’t on the verge of trying to split itself in half.
The military hospital is almost silent, which is a relief. As soon as I get outside, I lift my face skywards. Admittedly, not the smartest idea ever with a head injury, but it seems like forever since I’ve seen the sky without a window in the way. I was moved to this hospital almost three weeks ago, when I was considered ready for transport, and I certainly like the place more than the previous one, but… well, hospitals and I never really got along.
I put on my jacket before starting my walk through the courtyard. This is when I hear a voice: “Captain, please wait!”
For a minute, I don’t remember who they’re talking to, so I don’t stop.
Right. I’m a Captain now. Lucky me. I turn, finding a young man in uniform running after me. He stops, a little out of breath. He doesn’t look familiar.
“Captain, we didn’t know you’d be going home so soon.”
“Mhm. It was a last-minute thing.”
“I almost lost you, Sir.”
I knit my brow, incapable of guessing what he might want from me.
“Major Micheli ordered me to summon you. You’ve been selected for an assignment.”
Now I’m even more puzzled. For the last few hours, they’d been telling me the reasons for my discharge were that my current health conditions were incompatible with army duty. They’d given me a new, almost ironic promotion to Captain to sound nice beside my name, a new, shiny little medal, then respectfully told me to piss off.
“I’m not authorized to tell you the details. My only duty is to escort you to the Major for a meeting with a foreign official. The only information I can give you is that you’ll be working in collaboration with the US Navy.”
Eyes wide open, I move my head towards him to hear better. “With what?”
I might have still been suffering some aftereffects of the concussion, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the only reason I’m so confused. All of a sudden, he gets even more rigid and gives a formal salute to somebody behind my back. “Please, let me introduce you to Captain Steven Whyte.”