He had asked the man at the desk if he knew where there was a shop close by, but the man did not understand English. Martin looked first to his right and then to his left. He knew that if he walked straight ahead between the buildings he would arrive at the boat stop, but it didn’t seem to him that being on the boat would help him find any kind of a shop. He would need to walk the streets. He had no map, but how difficult could it be? He was on an island after all. How lost could he get?
He looked left and then right again and decided one direction was as good as the other. He turned right and started to walk. Within a half an hour, his question was answered. He could get very lost! He had tried to keep track of the turns of right and left, but within a very short time had gotten himself completely turned around. The streets were narrow, some of them so narrow that if you met another person coming the other direction you would have to turn sideways to get by. Without warning some of them dead-ended into small canals, and you would have to retrace your steps back from where you came. He was hopelessly lost. Well, not lost exactly. He was still in Venice, but lost to the extent that he didn’t know where in Venice he was. It had started to sprinkle some, but the rain that he knew would come in earnest hadn’t yet begun. If he was going to find a shop, it would have to be within the next ten minutes; or not only was he going to be lost, but he was going to be lost and wet! He turned two more corners, first right and then left and then saw a storefront, a small boutique. There was clothing displayed in the window, both men’s and women’s. Hopefully they would have an overcoat.
He stepped through the door; a small bell at the top jingled and announced his arrival. As he stood there waiting he surveyed the shop. There didn’t seem to be any items of clothing on display, and he wondered if he hadn’t made a mistake. From behind the curtain, a small stern man appeared and scrutinized him. Martin felt uncomfortable. Either this man was very angry or simply always looked very angry. The man spoke in Italian. Martin shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m sorry. I don’t speak Italian.”
The man mumbled something that Martin knew by the tone, if he understood Italian, would probably have been an insult. Finally the man spoke in heavily accented English,
“What do you wish, American?”
“Do you have an overcoat for sale?”
Outside in the street the sky opened up and it began to rain as if the world were coming to an end.
That morning found Franco on the phone in his office and in a surlier mood than usual.
“Don’t tell me that it is not available to me, you imbecile! I am the I&I and I do not need your permission or anyone else’s to pull a closed or inactive case from central records! Have it to my office in ten minutes or I will have you walking crowd control in Malamocco for the next year!”
Franco smiled thinly as he slammed the telephone back into its cradle. It was a hollow threat. He could no more have an officer reassigned than he could sprout wings and fly but the young woman in question did not know that and the island of Malamocco was such a dreary, out of the way and boring place, she would have given over her virginity to him, if she still had it, to avoid being assigned there for any reason! The door to his office was opened a crack and Antonio stuck his head in.
“Permesso?” He asked.
Franco looked up and waved impatiently.
“Si, si Antonio. Come in and do not ask my permission anymore. This is soon to be your office, and so, you may come and go as you wish, only, until I have given it over to you completely, please be careful not to disturb anything.”
Antonio craned his neck to take the cluttered room into full view. “Disturb anything!” He thought dubiously. “And how would he know if anything was disturbed?”
Franco steeled a look of stern disapproval on him as if he had heard Antonio’s thoughts. For his part, Antonio was not so sure that he hadn’t. This chubby unassuming man seemed to be a wizard, a mago that could read people’s minds and bodies. Would he, Antonio Christofero Luciano Mengasi ever be able to that? He didn’t think so. He was trying but it seemed, at every turn he was falling farther and farther behind. It was like the Academy all over again. Had it not been for the fieldwork he would have failed at his quest to be a Policeman altogether!
“Well?” Franco demanded, “Are you going to come in or stand there in the corridor all day?”
“Mi scuzi, Maestro.” Antonio mumbled as he slid through the doorway.
“And do not call me Maestro any longer. One of the precepts of a good I&I, is that he establish an intimate relationship with the subject. My name is Franco, use it. Come in and sit down.”
Antonio sat in the chair opposite his mentor and began to set up the chessboard. He despised chess but he also knew that Franco considered it important and so, he would try to learn the unwieldy game.
“No Antonio. There will be no chess today. Make us a coffee and we shall proceed in a different way.”
Ciccio felt the first drops of rain strike his head and he looked up. In a few moments a downpour would begin. It would thoroughly drench him and his merchandise if he did not gather it up and step under over the overhang of Andrea’s shop. He silently cursed to himself. This kind of weather was horrible for business, but his business today or over the next couple of days would not depend upon the tourists or the Venetians. He had yet another special bag, and he knew that Bruno, The Lion of Venice, the Marocchini called him, would find him and pay him for it. The thought made him feel positively giddy, even for the horrible weather. His stay in Venice was nearly at an end. Another three or four weeks, six at the outside, and he would return to his wife and children in Senegal with money beyond even their wildest dreams. He knew that whatever the bags represented had to be illegal, but what it was he could not imagine. There was nothing in the bags. They were always empty. He never knew precisely what day the Lion of Venice, this Bruno Trevisani, would appear for them but that he did, usually within two days of the bag’s arrival, was assured. Ciccio busied himself gathering up his merchandise and moving it under the awning of Andrea’s front window. Most shopkeepers complained about the presence of the Marocchini in the streets outside their shops, but this Andrea was different. Although it was obvious he did not appreciate Ciccio’s presence, he did not complain to the police, and he was actually kind to him, occasionally offering him a coffee to warm him or an extra pack of cigarettes here or there.
He seemed a kind man. Ciccio imagined him to be one of he more beneficent shopkeepers, but still he did not trust him completely. He tried not to be a prejudicial man, but Italians were all the same. Well, he didn’t know if Italians were all the same. His only experience was with Venetians, and they were certainly all the same. Andrea was an exception, but he would not trust him completely.
“Now then, young Antonio, have you studied the specifics of the case file?” Franco was a bit more his old self now that he had drank two coffees.
“Si, Maestro, Signor… I mean uhm, Franco.” He fumbled apologetically. Oh, but that felt improper to him, calling his superior by his given name.
Franco paused. The time of tear, face and nose wiping was past for this young man. It was time to kick him in the ass! Franco leaned forward; put both of his large round fists, knuckles down on the desktop and bellowed like a bull elephant in full must;
“And should I begin to bring diapers to my office for you every morning? Are you a man or a child?”
Antonio was momentarily startled and then just as quickly offended. He stiffened, straightened his uniform blouse indignantly and then answered resolutely,
“I am a man!”
“Truly? Then act like one and not some muddled compunctious buffone!”
Antonio was immediately enraged. He stood, grabbed his mentor by the lapels of his cheap suit and yanked Franco’s great face to his.
“You will be more careful of me than that, Vecchio!” He snarled.
There followed and uneasy moment when both men took the full measure of the other. Antonio was prepared to lose his job over the affront and he was just as prepared to teach this fat old man a lesson of youth and age and the physical disparity between the two.
“So,” Franco thought with satisfaction, “he is a man with a spine after all.”
Franco smiled benignly.
“Ah, well then… it appears as though you have found in yourself the means to take office?”
The difference in Antonio was evident though he did not notice it himself. Not all but some of what Franco had been trying to instill in him suddenly fell into place.
“Si.” He spat out.
The two men stood for a moment or two longer before Franco spoke again.
“You may disengage me now, Antonio.”
Antonio issued a final warning and display of anger as he released his associate’s jacket with a small shove. He re-straightened his uniform blouse authoritatively and sat at attention with his hands resting palm down on his knees.
It was time to pull back from the emotional brink. It may have been child’s play, but it could also be dangerous. Although Antonio looked somewhat frail and weak, the truth of the matter was that he could have done some serious damage to Franco. “…One needed to 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…”
Franco sat down behind his desk. He leaned forward slightly and clasped his hands together with his index fingers forming a thoughtful steeple.
“Officer Mengasi,” he spoke in quiet fatherly tones, “Antonio, that you have demonstrated a respect for me is proper and flattering, one for which I am grateful but it is time now, that you assume your rightful position as the I&I. We are colleagues now, equals and I will teach you, I will give you everything that I have, everything I know but you must make your own way and develop your own style from this point on. I merely wanted to remind you that you are a man and a Police officer who also deserves respect, even that of his superiors. Have I done so?”
Antonio looked directly into Franco’s eyes and an understanding of a sort lighted his face as he answered simply and without malice,
“Si, Officer Perer.”
“Good, then we will change places and you shall sit here as the I&I. I will be the suspect whom you are questioning. Now you will experience what it is to be in charge, to use all the weapons that I have given you to seize information from me as easily as you would steal the virginity from an ignorant farmer’s daughter! Let us begin…”
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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