“Martin, like your America, our system has its flaws; it is not perfect but unlike America, we do not have the crime in the same abundance. Did you know that a young woman may walk unmolested at any hour of the night in Venice? Children can play without fear of kidnap. The elderly do not have their purses ripped from their arms and you will not be mugged by anyone. Here, you are safe. The Polizia can close this city within five minutes! There are only so many entrances and exits. If they know who they look for, then that person will be found. Yes, my friend gave three years of her life for innocence and it is a great misfortune but are there no blameless in your jails? In America, killers walk free, tell me, which is the greater tragedy?”
“Well, at least a foreigner like myself could call the Consulate, right?”
“As I have already told you, only at their discretion and there is no American Consulate or Embassy here. The nearest is in Milano. Milano is a great distance and even greater still if you are to languish in jail! You cannot hide in Venice from the Polizia. This is little more than a big village and anyone who has lived here knows who belongs and who does not. You could escape for a while, perhaps a day but eventually you would be caught. Did you ever go to Alcatraz prison in San Francisco? I did, a horrible place! Though more beautiful, Venice is the same. There are only a few ways in and out. One is the train but a few men of the police in the station, and you cannot go by train. One is to walk out at the Piazzale Roma but the path is very small and one man with your photograph would make that impossible. You could drive a boat but I do not think you have one?”
Martin smiled weakly. “No.” He answered.
“No. Besides, the Polizia have boats as well to check any vessel of private or public craft.” Andrea continued. “Then of course, you could sprout wings and fly, or, if it was summer, is possible to swim but not now, is too cold. A man would freeze and drown in a matter of moments. They took your passaporto, your passport in the hotel, no?”
“Yes, but they gave it back when I went out.”
“Ah, yes but you did not see that they were to make a copy of it and every night a list of guests is sent to the local station of police, so they know who is here and who is not. If they wish to find you, you would not be hard to discover, for there would be no place for you to hide.”
Martin sat back in his chair. “Jesus.” He breathed.
“Oa, my friend, I do not wish to alarm you. These things happen only rarely and the Polizia are generally very patient with tourists. I only wish to warn you that these things can happen and they are not pleasant. Simply do as your mother always warned, make sure you are to be a good boy,” he smiled, “and you will be in no troubles.”
Andrea looked at his watch. It was time to go. Martin’s overcoat would be ready or nearly by the time they returned to Roberto’s boutique.
“Cameriere!” Andrea called to the waiter. The young man walked briskly to their table and stood ready with the bill. Martin, deeply lost in thought simply stuck out his hand and the boy handed it to him.
His hands were sweaty and his posture was entirely defensive. He was slouched low into the back of the chair with his legs straight out in front of him in an effort to distance himself from Officer Mengasi. Though they had started the I&I with a mere two feet of distance between them, subject Perer had managed to successively scoot his chair backward another foot and a half and at an angle so as to put the desk between them and to provide himself with a sideways alignment to the door, to the only escape route out of the office. As they talked, he kept glancing toward the door and whenever he would adjust his posture he would self-consciously lean toward the closed entryway. His teacher had been right about the mechanics but now Antonio finally understood everything else as well. It wasn’t whether the subject told the truth or that he necessarily lied about something; it was that the entire mood of the interview, the room, the very air itself seemed to change whenever the subject held something back. It was so obvious! How could he not have seen it before? At first he thought that perhaps Franco was making it easy for him and then he realized that Franco was actually trying to outwit him! The significance of the information that he pulled from his subject could be determined to some extent as it applied to the questions asked but it was also cached against the entirety of the encounter and would be reviewed and used, if necessary, at a later date in successive I&I’s. At the moment, the subject’s body was screaming loud and clear that he knew more than he was willing to tell. Antonio had reached the end of the man’s acquiescence to the line of questioning that he currently employed. He could feel the gears shift and rather than break and lose the palpable tension that he had built up, he would take the scenic route, so to speak, and keep the subject talking while he steered the conversation in another direction, a direction that would take them right back to where he wanted to go. It was time to change the subject and tactics. Time to ease off…
“Tell me Franco,” Antonio asked offhandedly, “do you like football?”
Franco’s eyes shifted quickly right and then left. Football? Good, maybe he could throw this cop off the track now. “Do I like football?” He repeated.
The subject repeated the question; a tactic of evasion. But why evade? It was a simple question. Antonio made a mental note.
“Si, I like football.” He finally answered.
Antonio observed of the eye movement. A truthful answer? Maybe…
“I myself am a rabid fan! Who in Italy is not? Who is your favorite team?” Antonio asked as he watched his subject relax. It was as if the pressure valve on a steam cooker had been released. There was an almost audible hiss as his subject softened.
Again the eyes slipped fluidly from side to side as Franco accessed the proper information. “Juventus.” He answered truthfully, sat up and leaned in.
Good, he had him running in the opposite direction now.
“Ah… and mine as well. Then you saw the game last night?” The level of pressure in the room suddenly jumped up several harsh degrees.
Franco paused. His eyes held steady and then dropped as he slumped back in the chair and struggled to find an answer. What should he say? Should he tell the truth? Would it conflict with his written statement? He tried to remember what he had said before, to remember the time line of his activities for the night in question.
“No. I didn’t see the game.” He answered hesitantly.
A genuine response but one, Antonio saw, that held misinformation inside it. So it was possible to tell the truth and yet perpetuate an untruth!
“No? But aren’t you a fan?”
Franco slid the palms of his hands down his thighs. Why should he be nervous now? They were talking about soccer weren’t they? Or were they? He rubbed his finger across his nose.
“Well, not all of it. I might have watched the first half.”
Antonio made note that he did not answer the question that was asked. ‘Might have’? How does one ‘might have’ watched a football match?
“Oh, then you saw the first goal? It was magnificent! It was scored with a bicycle kick! You know, my memory is not what it used to be? What was the player’s name who scored the goal, do you remember?”
Franco sighed with exasperation and threw an open palm to the general direction of the door.
“No,” his voice trembled ever so slightly, “I don’t remember.” Why did this third rate cop care about a football match and who scored the first goal? Gesu Christo; Santa Benedetta!
Antonio leaned forward slightly. He pursed his lips thoughtfully and staged the act of regarding something important. The subject saw and immediately searched the entire room with his eyes.
“Your favorite team played; you ‘might have’ watched and yet, you do not remember such an extraordinary first goal or who scored it?” The subject’s stress point was breached and overflowed.
“Do you expect me to remember everything?” Came the desperate reply.
Officer Antonio Christofero Luciano Mengasi finally bloomed to full mastery in his art and the triumph of his arrival in conquest was trumpeted by the austere and painful silence that followed his last statement:
“Everything? No, I am here to help you remember only the truth. I am here to help you remember only that which will help you to stay out of jail for the rest of your natural life!”
The circuitous route they had taken through the football game around the crime, seemingly in the opposite direction had led them right back to where Antonio wanted to be. He leaned forward abruptly and locked his unwavering unblinking eyes onto his subject’s, and then like a deer caught in the headlights of an onrushing truck, froze and held his psychological ascendancy. The room became so silent and the atmosphere so oppressive that he thought he might have a heart attack! His heart raced and his breath wanted to leap through his ribs but he forced himself to stay still and appear calm and unmoved. Franco’s eyes darted back and forth. Antonio continued, without apparent emotion, to steel his gaze on him. Franco glanced toward the door. Antonio did not flinch though every muscle and nerve screamed for movement. Franco shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Antonio stayed still. Franco’s mouth opened and closed several times as if he were a fish stranded on the end of a thin nylon line. Antonio forced his mouth to stay evenly set. Franco finally brought his pleading eyes to Officer Mengasi’s and peered into them the same way a child searches the uncertain darkness for monsters. Antonio offered no certainty or comfort with his. The interlude that followed was so thinly set with the mortar of sanity that if it were a building it would have collapsed to the ground! When the silence finally broke, it was like a cascade of glass that shattered the strained silence. Franco broke into a gale of laughter…
“VERY GOOD!” He exclaimed, breaking character. “Brilliant! Bravo! BRAVISSIMO!! Madonna, but you are a heartless bastardo! You have me, I am trapped! I confess! I did it, I am guilty! Your tactic was glorious, your silence was excruciating; your gaze more penetrating than that of a statue!”
In Franco’s exuberance, he knocked over one of his precariously stacked piles of documents and books. They slammed to the floor in a great snarled heap. Antonio glanced uncertainly toward them but Franco would have none of it.
“Leave them! Tell me collega, Maestro, how does it feel to be victorious?” He yelled as he slapped Antonio on the back.
Antonio looked at him and grinned wide. “It feels good!” He exclaimed.
Franco threw his hands into the air in victory. At last, the lesson, the whole lesson, the chess moves, everything fell into place.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced. Stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.
This is a work of fiction. Names Characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, event, or locales is entirely coincidental.
PublishAmerica has allowed this work to remain exactly as the author intended, verbatim, without editorial input.
Available in Paperback, Kindle & Nook editions, and in Hardcover from, PublishAmerica, Amazon & Barnes and Noble.
PUBLISHED BY PUBLISHAMERIC, LLLP