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Sample from novel, Port of No Return

The Italians did not meet each other’s eyes. They hung their heads, afraid if they glanced up they would look upon fear or express it, and it was a fear, they knew, if shared, would quickly intensify. Ettore stared at his scruffy boots without seeing them. He knew he was in company where men were preparing to do one of two things – they were either preparing to die or preparing to kill – and they were all tense with it. Tension quickly uncoiled into action and all too soon they were being shoved towards the forest’s interior, ordered and pushed to follow a damp dirt trail.

Ettore heard coughing at the back of the group – Roberto was somewhere behind him. He could not see Edrico, but he could see the youthful Gabino ahead of him. After no more than ten minutes, they came into another clearing. There, the trees thinned out and the ground became rocky and slippery. They approached what appeared to be a narrow opening – a hole in the ground’s limestone surface. Ettore knew such sinkholes existed in the Karst regions and the hinterlands of Trieste. They were like cavernous pits that had been eroded within the limestone with depths that could plunge up to hundreds of metres. He had seen them in his childhood. The hole was only about two metres wide on the surface. It was surrounded by thin grasses, moss-covered rocks and overhanging branches and looked peaceful and innocent enough. They were told to halt.

The Italians, for the first time since their blindfolds had been removed, exchanged looks between each other. What was this madness that awaited them? Were they to be shot and their bodies disposed of down this natural chasm in the ground? Down there their bodies would lie broken and mangled – perhaps never to be found or exhumed.

The guards – eight of them – trained their rifles on them, expecting them to run. They wouldn’t get far if they tried…


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