Mr. and Mrs. Randolph hated him, naturally. He was the end of their dreams for Elizabeth and he was certainly no farmer! He never understood what it was about him that they disliked so intensely and they never told him, although there were many private lectures with Elizabeth, none of which made any difference to her whatsoever. The cat was out of the bag and had no intention of returning.
They were married the week after graduation by the Justice of the Peace in McPherson, Kansas and then she was whisked away to sunny California! God, it was a dream come true! Well, almost. Martin did have some rough edges that needed to be smoothed out. His parents were simply awful. They didn’t seem to like her at all. No… that wasn’t quite it. Indifference. They were indifferent. They just didn’t seem to care about her one way or the other. In fact, they didn’t seem to care much one way or the other about their son either. And Martin did drink a bit. But he was the life of the party when he drank; gay and spirited and such a card and a cut up. A drink or two and he seemed to come out of his shell. He was more alive and certainly more open to romance. Even still, for a while she thought she might have to get pregnant before he would finally commit to her but all he needed in the end was a few firm words, some direction, a carefully worded ultimatum and before it was all over, he had asked her to marry him and actually thought it was his idea.
It wasn’t long until the “bad years” caught up with them both. As Martin looked back on it, he wasn’t so sure that the “bad years” hadn’t always been a part of their relationship, just sufficiently disguised and under the surface so that they didn’t notice at first. Now with the “bad years” looming in the present with such immediacy, in the form of divorce court, and Martin’s life spiraling completely out of control, he wasn’t sure that he was not losing his mind. God, how he hated the uncertainty of it all. Uncertainty was a feeling that he had done his best to obliterate from his daily life. Every day was planned meticulously, and every possible contingency considered. Oh, there were still those days when nothing seemed to go right. Yes, he had his days just like the rest of humanity, but with a minimum amount of care and planning, those were limited. His was a life study in management and control. Management to the minute with none of the day’s precious seconds wasted. But now… how could he function? Everything was in such disarray! He could make sense of nothing anymore. Elizabeth and her Attorney were surely going to be the death of him.
A cursory look around the Spartan confines of his office convinced him that it was time to go home. So, it was only three thirty. What else was there for him to do? Elizabeth and Mr. Richard Landiss the third, Divorce Attorney for the soon to be Ex- Mrs. Martin Shaw, had seen to it that he could no longer do much of anything in his office until Thursday, December first. Thursday, December first! God, the world could come to an end before then, after all, it was almost twelve weeks until then!
Martin grabbed his briefcase, shoved some loose documents into it and headed for the door.
“Hey,” Jerry yelled after him from across the hall.
Martin paused. “Yeah?” He asked.
“You look a little ragged. Everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine.” Martin snorted in disgust.
Jerry Midfield stepped into the hall from his office.
“You know what FINE means, right? Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional!” Jerry smirked. “Look Mart, I know what you’re going through, okay? I mean it’s only been a couple of years for me. But it’s not the end, you know? In a few months you’ll look back on all this and get a good laugh out of it… that is if doesn’t kill you first.” He grinned.
“Or send me back to the bottle.” Martin sighed.
Jerry took his colleague’s arm. “Hey…” his voice took a serious but caring tone, “you can get through this without a drink, you know. A fogged head won’t help anything. You’ve got three years of clear eyes my friend. Don’t louse that up over a woman and a few trinkets!”
Martin looked at him with astonishment.
“Trinkets? Don’t you think this business should be considered as a little more than a trinket? Jerry, for Christ’s sake! I worked my ass off to get this place and build it into something! And now, with the stroke of a gavel, everything I have slaved for could be taken away. Wouldn’t that bother you? Because I can tell you, it bothers the hell out of me!”
Jerry smiled warmly. His employer was under the gun and not seeing straight and he needed reassurance, not a lecture. He bit his tongue both figuratively and literally. He had been listening to Martin whine for weeks now and he was getting tired of it, but he also knew how fragile his sobriety and sanity was.
“Come on Marty, you know this business is important to me, but you also know us alchies are prone to exaggeration. You’re not going to lose everything. Have a little faith. Bill will make sure that everything comes out in the wash.”
Martin turned toward the door, paused and then called over his shoulder as he walked out…
Bruno Trevisani rose early, before daybreak. He skulked silently down the hall of his flat toward his small kitchen, opened the door and snapped on the light. He sighed heavily as the single sixty-watt bulb in the frosted glass orb mounted on the ornate ceiling cast a benign sallow halo into the vague darkness. Across the walls and ceiling, reflections of the full moon against the seawater in the canals of Venice shimmered and flashed. He reached to throw open the shutters and then decided against it. The view of the canals under a fledgling sun was something he had seen countless thousands of times. The splendor of the ancient beauty of Venice had long since lost the luster that so enthralled the tourists. Although arguably the world’s most unique and picturesque city, for him it was little more than a shabby collection of ragged islands strung haphazardly together by a wayward system of canals and bridges in the middle of a salt-water swamp; cold, wet and miserable in the winter and villainously hot and humid in the throes of summer.
The small refrigerator was opened, more from habit than want and then summarily closed. He moved to the cupboard over the tiled counter, pulled out a small glass container of coffee, grabbed the single serve espresso pot and began to spoon the grounds into the aluminum strainer. The base was filled with water, the basket of lees inserted and then he screwed on the top, lit the stove and shoved the pot over the blue flickering tongues of flame.
Across the distance, church bells began to chime filling the silence with the harmonies of heaven. Bruno thought of the Priests, the brothers and sisters of faith in their cloisters. They would be attending to their prayers and meditations now. They would murmur the invocations that beckoned God to forgive them even as they condemned themselves; “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.” Perhaps today God would have mercy on them. Perhaps today he would not see their guilt. Perhaps today God might even love and appreciate them.
He had considered, briefly, becoming one of them. Their lives seemed to be unaffected by the world around them, protected as they were in their churches, rectories and convents. They lived at the behest of the church and God and it looked simple enough to him and the rest of the world but he knew better. They answered not God but to men who thought of themselves as Gods. Theirs was a life of opulence and austerity, of deprivation and splendor, of antiquity and narrow minds all of which had very little to do with what God ultimately wanted, as if the deities of the Holy Roman See, knew. They had to be disciplined in their faith no matter how ridiculous and it seemed to become more redundant with every passing year.
Bruno laughed silently to himself. He was really not so different from them. His life was a study in the same extremes and absurdities, his blind loyalty to Signor Cofau, a practice of self-denial. He knew that Mirko cared nothing for him; he was a simple instrument of power that Mirko employed to dispirit those with fainter hearts.
The espresso pot began to gurgle as the coffee bubbled up through the strainer into the upper dispensing cup. Bruno turned the gas down to low and left the pot on.
He had to be in his employer’s office on time. Mirko Cofau did not tolerate tardiness from anyone, not even him. There was important business to deal with, one of the Marocchini had to be taught a valuable lesson and it was Bruno’s responsibility to complete the instruction. It was not going to be anything permanently serious but the man would limp for a few days afterward. The result of such a temporary infirmity would have a miraculous effect on the others. Instructions must be followed to the letter and there must be no deviations whatsoever. It wasn’t that Bruno particularly liked hurting people, he actually detested it but also had a rather obvious and acute talent for it and Signor Cofau employed it often and liberally.
Bruno Trevisani was tall; almost two meters and well muscled. When he was young, and as with nearly all the boys in Italy, he had dreamed of being a soccer player, a goalie to be precise. His height served him well in the mouth of the goal and he was ravenous when chasing down the smaller strikers who tried to score goals around him. But a knee injury early on in his career had seen the end of his aspirations to be a pro-soccer player. Military service was also out so what was he to do? Never much for school or study, he had drifted in and out of menial jobs until Venice’s richest and most powerful businessman, Signor Mirko Cofau, spotted him one day. Signor Cofau offered him employment as his personal escort and bodyguard and paid him handsomely for it. Bruno jumped at the chance to work for Signor Cofau not only for the money but also the prestige. He became important because he was close to an important man. One day a brooding youth had the audacity to speak rudely to Mirko and was soundly and repeatedly beaten until he begged to apologize, and then he was beaten more. It was then that Bruno earned the reputation for physical brutality that Cofau had since put to such diligent use whenever he thought it necessary. He had employed his talents for Cofau for some three years now, but lately he had been called on to bruise his knuckles on the faces and the backs of men with alarming frequency, and no longer the insolent youths or redolent employees and competing entrepreneurs, but always the Marocchini.
“Ah, well,” he thought to himself as he poured his coffee, “it is the life I have chosen.”
Why had it all gone wrong? Martin kept turning it over in his mind as he drove home. When the stop and go traffic allowed, his silver Mercedes slipped effortlessly along the pavement.
“Divorce…” he muttered bitterly. “Doublespeak for murder by negotiation!”
Martin’s attorney had told him that it was going to be a fairly straightforward deal. They would all meet, crunch a few numbers, divide up the property, sign a settlement, present it to the judge and one stroke of the gavel would end the mutual misery known as the Shaw marriage.
“Don’t worry…” Matthews joked, “it’s numbers, not your bones!”
“Ha!” Martin sneered as he gripped the steering wheel and tried to stare holes into the bumper of the stalled car in front of him.
“C’mon, damn it!” He yelled as he stabbed his fist down onto the horn.
The vehicle lurched forward, stalled and left them both sitting through the light as it turned red. A squall of horns behind them blared their disapproval through the October afternoon.
It was all supposed to be so simple… simple? They met at the courthouse, all of them; Martin, Bill, the soon to be ‘Ex’ Mrs. Shaw and her ever smiling and ruthlessly pleasant attorney, Richard Landiss III. Greetings were exchanged, hands were shook all around, coffee was poured, and then they raped Martin. Simple as that, they raped him. By the time Elizabeth and her accomplice were finished, Martin was all but belly up on the beach waiting for the crabs and the seagulls to pick what was left of him clean. At least that’s how it felt to him. Bill, on the other hand was happy with the settlement. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that he was thrilled!
“Okay, alright,” he conceded, “so, you have to give up the cabin in Tahoe, the house in Saratoga, your car, a few thousand dollars and the rentals…”
“And half of University house!” His client exclaimed. “Just where the hell am I supposed to live?”
“When the Lion Smiles” © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson
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