When the Lion Smiles

Chapt. 2- Part 15 “Vacation”

After dinner the two of them lingered around the table and sipped a coffee while Franco enjoyed his once a day vice, a leisurely cigarette.  Once, Graziella had indulged in cigarettes as well but there had come a time when they thought she was pregnant and she had summarily given them up for the health of the baby.  No children…

          “How was work today?”  She asked.

Franco drew in a breath.

          “I am trying to inculcate a young Officer, I think you have met him once before, named Antonio in I&I, but he is struggling.”

          “And have you begun his instruction in chess yet?”  She queried.

          “Yes, but he is still having difficulty threading the entire concept together.  He does not understand that it is more than just individual tools.  He cannot grasp yet that it is not enough to understand how the individual pieces work; that he must understand how the whole operates before he can begin to exercise what I am trying to teach him.”

          “And have you,” she said as she got up to clear the table, “used the example of the auto?”

Franco had forgotten about that illustration.  He had used it before.  Graziella knew him better than he knew himself!

          “No.  I haven’t.  Perhaps tomorrow if he is still having problems.”

It was an example that Franco had used in the past with other students, because another who had taught him, employed it when he was suffering similar difficulties.

          “…it is not enough,” the remembered voice began, “to understand how each part of an automobile functions if the entire car is in pieces at your feet.  It is not enough to understand how each part of an automobile functions if you have yet learned to drive!  You must know how to operate the vehicle as a whole in order to put it together and most certainly if you are going to drive it anywhere!”

Franco shook his head.  Antonio was a tactile young man.  Although he was a bright steady Policeman, his Academy marks had been consistently low until they had gotten to the fieldwork and then he had excelled, leaving his classmates in the proverbial dust.  No, Antonio would not do well with the example of the car.  The concept would still elude him.  He needed hands on experience but where?  Venice had its share of crime but it reached its yearly peak at both the film festival, which was already past and at Carnivale, which was another four months away.  The rest of the time Venice was a relatively quiet and safe place to live, yet another benefit to being the only I&I official.  If they lived in Mestre or Marghera it would be different.  The crime rates there paralleled those of nearly every large industrial city of Europe.  They had murders, kidnappings, prostitution and drugs.  Venice had its supply of cat-burglars and they were always active although their peak season was past as well because they tended to operate with the greatest frequency during the summer months, which also happened to be when most Venetians went away to their summer homes or on trips abroad.  They were harder than hell to catch, crafty devils that they were and the very nature of the crime made them difficult to solve because of the time line between the violation and the discovery.  Typically they would wait until a house was empty and then simply, very quietly break in and remove everything of value that they could carry.  It was not unusual for them to spend hours in a house searching at a leisurely pace for gold jewelry, silver and other valuables that would fit nicely into pockets or sometimes a bag.  He had even known some of the thieves to be so daring as to fix themselves a meal and wash the dishes before leaving!  From there it could be days, even weeks before the owners returned and by then the thieves and the things they stole were long gone.  An even greater complication was the fact that a skilled burglar did not ransack a house or tear it to pieces, but picked so carefully through it that by the time an owner noticed anything amiss, a year or more could have transpired.  All the living done between the time of the crime to the time of discovery so hopelessly tainted the evidence that there might as well have been none at all.  Catching a cat burglar was tantamount to winning the lotto!  No, in order to snare one you had to know when and where he was going to strike, catch him in the act or find him in possession of the stolen property.  One would have more luck picking the numbers of a tri-fecta!

Franco was occasionally called to Mestre and Marghera when the I&I there was unavailable and he supposed he could call in a favor or two and get Antonio into one of the observation rooms but that would put him in the disadvantageous position of owing a courtesy to the department upon which he might prevail.  He was not a lazy man but being only a year, two at most from retirement had placed him in the position of wanting to do as little as possible and the reason he had consented to train Antonio was so that he could turn over the reins of his responsibility and simply supervise.  Owing a favor to another department could involve him in a case that could go on for years!

          “Franco!  Are you deaf?”  Graziella chided.

          “I am sorry amore, what did you say?”

          “I said, why not pull out one of your older cases and let him do an I&I on you?”

Franco smiled.  He reached over and grabbed his lovely wife around the waist and pulled her to his lap.

          “And now you are a policeman?”  He asked her.

          “No,” she answered bussing his cheek, “but I am married to one!”

He laid there in the darkness listening to the rain pound mercilessly on the roof.  He could feel the warmth of his wife’s body next to him.  She rolled restlessly, took a deep breath and then settled on her side.  He could feel her sigh on his ear.  He moved closer to her so that he could feel the softness of her skin on his.  She stirred momentarily and then pushed her face into the nape of his neck.  He put his left arm around her shoulders, pulled her close and listened to the steady rhythm of her exhalations.  No children… In the unsteady gloom, in the wee naked hours of a storm that promised more than just rain; in the ninth room of a ten room house that cried out for babies, that settled and creaked in the storm like an arthritic old man; Franco put his right hand to his face and wiped away a single tear that ran down his cheek, listened to the wind squall a little while more and then fell into a ragged sleep.


Lying in the darkness, Martin realized that he was awake.  It wasn’t so much that he was aware that he had awakened, but rather that he was simply no longer asleep.  He rolled to his right and fumbled in the darkness on the nightstand, grabbed his watched and pushed the illumination button.  Before going to bed he had set his watch for Italian time, and it now read 3:30 a.m.

          He groaned.  “Jet lag.”

He tried to go back to sleep, but it was useless.  He was wide-awake.  He counted backward the nine hours in his head.  It was 6:30 p.m. in California, just about the time that he would be having dinner.  He groaned again.  His sleep patterns were all backwards.  Well, he was on the other side of the world after all.  He got up and snapped on the light which is something he rarely did, but it was necessary because before he had gone to bed he had closed the shutters on the window and it was now darker than the inside of a tomb in his room.  The bright light gouged at his eyes and gave him an instant headache.  He stepped into the small bathroom, ran some cold water into his hands and rubbed it across his face.

          “Well,” he thought to himself.  “There’s a first time for everything.”

He toweled off his face, stepped out of the bathroom and surveyed his room.  It was simple but clean, a bed, a desk, and a television in the corner.  Maybe there was something vaguely interesting to watch on the TV?  He grabbed the remote from the nightstand, sat on the edge of the bed in his boxers and T-shirt and flicked it on.  The volume of the television screeched through his room and scared him half to death.  Whoever had used it last had left it at an impossibly high level.  He fumbled with the remote quickly to turn it down, and once he reached an acceptable level, realized that it was some sort of an info-mercial.  He flipped to the next channel, yet another info-mercial.  He flipped to the next channel and several channels beyond that.  They were all info-mercials.

          “My God,” he thought.  “This is worse than American television!”

He flipped a couple more channels and there on the screen was a game show of some kind, but it was obvious that was not like any game show he had seen on American television.  The women were almost completely naked!  Whatever this was, Martin found it more humorous than sensual.  The MC was a chubby, jolly man wearing some sort of captain’s coat and rattling along in Italian at about 100 miles an hour.  He was dealing some sort of card game, and Martin understood that they were making some sorts of bets, although he didn’t know what.  If they lost they removed yet another piece of clothing and did some silly dance on the stage.  He watched it for about five minutes before it became boring.  He flipped several channels further and found more info-mercials and some black-and-white movie, but he understood absolutely nothing, so he turned the television off.

He remembered the book he had bought at the duty-free shop at San Jose Airport.  He had only read the first chapter or so on the airplane and decided maybe he would try and read some.  He went to his suitcase and went back to his bed, propped the pillows against the wall, sat down and began to read some more.

As mystery novels go, it was exceedingly boring.  The plot was thin, the characters shallow, the stories completely undeveloped.  He only read five or six pages before he could suffer it no more and set it down.  He looked at his watch again.  It was a little after 4:00 A.M.  What was he going to do until 7:00 or 8:00 o’clock when the rest of the world would be awake?  He sat and thought for a minute.  Right after he had quit drinking and gone to AA, he had suffered a several month bout of insomnia.  His sponsor, Art, a large burly man had taught him a self-hypnosis technique for falling asleep.  Let’s see if he could remember.  Turn out the lights.  Get comfortable and imagine yourself in a warm, safe place in a comfortable feather bed with a large, warm quilt pulled around you.  Yes, he could remember how it was done.  He reached over and snapped off the light, lay down and began to concentrate.  When he was finally comfortable, he began to count backward from ten, visualizing each number as he did so.  By the time he got to three, he was asleep.

The sound of a vacuum cleaner woke him up.  He had left the shutters open when he fell asleep and realized that it was daylight.  He looked at his watch.  It read eight o’clock.  He had managed to sleep almost another four hours.  He looked out the window into the street to the square below.  The clouds had not dissipated and looked even heavier than the day before.  He knew it would rain.

          “Damn.  I should have brought my raincoat,” he muttered to himself.

He looked to the sky again.  The clouds were black, pregnantly black.  Not only was it going to rain, but also it looked like it was going to rain very hard.  His first order of business would be to have some breakfast and then find a shop where he could buy a raincoat.  It ran contrary to his sense of thrift to purchase an article of clothing he already had, but his raincoat was in his closet in California.  He was in Venice, Italy, and what the hell?  Bill had told him to spend money, enjoy himself, relax.  Funny thing, he had never equated spending money with relaxing.  Elizabeth had.  Elizabeth’s idea of a good time was to spend hundreds of dollars at a time!  He never saw the sense in it.  Well, he was about to.

It took him approximately 30 minutes to shower and dress.  He closed his suitcase, turned the combination lock, grabbed his passport and his room key and stepped into the hallway.  Two middle-aged women were in the hall vacuuming, dusting, straightening up.  They looked up to him and one of them spoke in Italian,

          “Do you wish to have your room straightened, Signor?” 

Martin had no idea what it was she just asked him.  From the tone of her voice, it was obvious to him it was a question.  Since she was a maid, he assumed she had asked something about his room.  He looked at her, smiled, and nodded his head yes.  He hoped that whatever it was she said he had not just insulted her.  He walked to the stairs and descended into the lobby.  Martin stepped out of the hotel into the small square.  Not only was it very overcast, but it was cold.  His suit jacket was not enough to keep him warm, and a simple raincoat would not keep him warm, either.  He would need to buy an overcoat.


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.

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.

PublishAmerica has allowed this work to remain exactly as the author intended. Verbatim, without editorial input.

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