When the Lion Smiles

Chapt. 2- Part 1 “Vacation”

He was unremarkable in his appearance.  Even if you took the time to study him closely, you would find nothing about him to separate him from the millions of other sixty-ish, balding men of the world.  He was overweight by some twenty kilos and had a sallow complexion from too much fluorescent light and one might take notice of his girth but not of much else.  That he was unremarkable worked to his advantage.  He did not wish to standout.  He wanted to blend in, to be able to simply disappear into anonymity in any room full of people.  That made the impact of his presence so much more powerful when it counted and it counted in the interrogation rooms of the Questura, the Police station.  The people he interviewed always underestimated him by his lack, or seemingly, of presence, and made it just that much easier to extract information from them and he courted their underestimation carefully, cultivated it until the time came to show his teeth and even then they hardly realized what was happening until it was far too late.  He chuckled to himself.  He was like the Uno Squalo Bianco, the great white shark whose attack always came as such a shock to those foolish enough to swim in the great dinner plate known as the sea!  The victims always said the same thing, those who survived; they never knew what hit them until it was all over.  Sergeant Franco Perer was such a shark.  He would circle his victims; sizing them up and then, when they least expected it he would close and strike.  Even after it was all over, even when they had sold their souls to him, they still walked away not knowing what had happened to them; and even then, after spending hours with him, if you asked them what he looked like they could not say.  It was child’s play really, providing you knew the rules and how the game was played.  Franco had spent years studying the game, it’s disciplines, it’s vagaries and though he was far from being a master at it, in his little corner of the world he had no equal.  It wasn’t fair but then who said life was fair?  Criminals and thugs did not play by the rules, and rooting them out, like bad teeth from an abscessed jaw, was messy and unpleasant work.  Why should such labor be fair as well as truculent?  If he had to get dirty, then so did the unfortunate few who enjoyed the unpleasant task of submitting to his interrogations.  Oh, but it was so much more than simple inquisition!  It was a form of verbal dueling, of parry and thrust, of feint and pretence that relied more on what was not said than what was spoken; of reaction and non-reaction alike; of how a person sat or did not sit and so much more!  It was the ultimate game of poker.  He could have made his living at playing cards but there was more to life for Sergeant Franco Perer than Lire.  Gambling was so much more challenging when a life hung in the balance!  Besides, it was never his life that he gambled with…

Franco was a little more than a year from retirement and was trying to train his replacement; an eager young Policeman named Antonio.  He was bright enough and quick to learn the mechanics but a skillful interviewer relies on so much more than simple precept to extract information.  One had to be an astute observer more than anything else.  One needed to be cleverly deceitful without breaking the law himself, a tightrope walker with infinite patience who could be aggressive and alternately passive and all without alienating the subject, while purchasing and controlling their trust.  One needed to know when to push, to aggravate and be abrasive, when to pull back and cajole, to be a seeming friend and fellow empathizer.  You had to know when to stop entirely and when to race ahead and keep the conversation flowing even in a direction opposite to the ends at which you wished to arrive.  You had to get the subject talking and then keep him talking while steering him to the place you wanted him to go and it had to be done in such a way that they never realized they were giving themselves away until the deed was done.  A skillful inquisitor is a friend, an antagonist, a confidant and tormentor all rolled into one neat package and it is necessary to know what you are to be at any one moment.  These and so much more are the arsenal of the Interviewer/Interrogator.  Anyone can learn the techniques.  Anyone can study the books, take the classes and learn the behavioral science and psychological rubrics but simply knowing how to do something hardly gave a man or woman the skill with which to actually do it.  Largely self taught in the techniques of interrogation, Franco had a natural knack for extorting information from people the same as Michelangelo had a natural knack for sculpture, and he was attempting to pass on what he had taught himself to Antonio but it was proving difficult!  Antonio was far too literal and needed to be able to think three dimensionally, in the abstract.  Simply reading a book did not give one the genius and skills necessary to carve a masterpiece, but he had to try and find someone to take his place, and Antonio was the only one who showed any aptitude.

One of the advantages to being the chief criminal Interviewer/Interrogator; the biggest fish in the divisional pond, so to speak, is that it afforded Franco the only other private office in the Questura Centrale on the fondamenta at the Ponte dei Greci.  The station Prefect had the other, a grand expansive third floor walk up in what used to be a palace.  Franco’s office, liberally strewn with great heaps of papers, documents, file folders and every kind of book and publication on his area of particular expertise lay in great littered heaps in every nook, corner and cranny of what probably used to be a rather large closet!  But, he had a private bureau, it was his and his alone and woe be unto anyone who trespassed his cubby without permission or leave!  Even the cleaning staff, thorough though they were, were not allowed in less they disturb his mess and therefore put a crimp in Franco’s colon.  It looked as if the entire room, small as it was, was in complete disarray but he knew the exact location of everything of any importance.  The rest was simply eccentric, if not professorial, atmosphere and as such, important and not to be disturbed!  The only addition to his office on this particular afternoon was the young uniformed policeman sitting uncomfortably in a chair directly across from his overflowing desk.

          “No, no!  Dai Antonio!  What is the matter with you?”  He asked.

          “But Maestro, the text indicates…”

 Franco sighed heavily.

          “Figlio mio, set the technical aspect aside for a moment and look, see what is being said; even a blind man would do better!”

 Antonio shifted uncomfortably in his chair.  The motion caused a loosely piled sheaf of papers to slide unceremoniously to the floor.  He reached to catch them and in doing so caused an even greater avalanche.

          “Stop, stop!”  Franco commanded.  He closed his eyes, squinted and then said, ”Antonio you are trying my rather large reserve of patience, and that,” he smiled wryly, “takes some doing!  Let us take a small pausa, a moment, shall we?  Come, I will fix us both a coffee and we shall re-examine some of the cause and effect of Interview/Interrogation.”

 Franco busied himself as he spoke with a medium espresso pot and a hotplate.

          “You cannot simply ask your questions and listen to the answers.  You will discover many things from this but not the things you wish to learn.  A truthful answer is merely a degree, one point of the greater whole of that which you seek.  Likewise, the untruthful answer is just as informing, provided you are paying attention.  It is not a matter of guilt or innocence, not even one of truth or deceit…”

           “This is what I do not understand!”  Antonio whined.  “Isn’t the object of Interrogation to discover the guilty?”

           “Si, ma certo!”  Franco affirmed, “but the guilty will never come right out and tell you ‘Yes, I am guilty!  I have done this thing!’ Oh, it has happened once in my career on assignment in Mestre, but only once and it was comical actually.  The young man in question could not wait to confess, he was so terrified and distraught.  He confessed to me, to everyone who would listen from the moment he was brought in, and before that, he confessed all the way down the boulevard to the two Policemen who effected his arrest, to the pedestrians in the street, and to the world that he was guilty!  The only interview skill I had to employ that day was to get him to shut up!  He would be here confessing still to you and everyone in the building if he were not, this very day, still in jail for murdering his Mother, and I tell you, I almost feel bad over that, for I knew his Mother!  What a stregone!  I would have killed her myself!  Where was I?  Oh, yes… the guilty; but se,; you have missed the point entirely!  It is not guilt or innocence that you strive to prove with your questions; that will come later when you piece together the puzzle you have reasoned out of your subjects.  No, the object is to establish at each turn, truth or deceit and then to see what you have learned from each instance and then to proceed.  You see; it is not only the guilty who will lie to you.  Even the innocent will tell you lies, because everyone has something to hide.  What if the man you are questioning does not wish to reveal that he was in a position to witness a crime because he saw it from the bedroom window of his mistress?  He is afraid that perhaps in telling you a truth, his wife will become aware of his deceit!  And so, he lies to you.  He says that he saw nothing, that he was not there.  It is up to you to see that he is being deceptive and then to proceed to wring the truth out of him.  One way is to suppose that he had a mistress, many men do and to give him comfort by telling him you do not care why he was where he was and saw what you think he has seen.  You only care that he tell you what, if anything, he saw and then to further comfort him by telling him that everything he says will be held in confidence, whether it is true or not.  You might need him to provide a witness in court and then his wife would surely find out that she was a cornuto!”


 When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson

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 First printing

 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 resemblence to actual persons, living or dead, event, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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