With that said, Bill leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms on his chest, and set his eyes to stare at Martin.
Martin wanted to be enraged. He should have been enraged, but he just simply couldn’t. He didn’t have the strength. He’d spent a sleepless night turning over every possibility in his head, and now sitting in his friend and attorney’s office, he was being told yet again that he could not keep what he had or get what he wanted.
“Bill I can’t go on vacation, at least not as far as you want me to go. I don’t have a passport!”
“I can fix that.” Bill stated flatly.
He didn’t want to go on vacation but he was sure that Bill was absolutely dead set on this and he knew enough about his friend and attorney to know that once Bill made up his mind, heaven and earth would move before Bill would reverse himself. Fine. Just where would he go and what would he do on this vacation? What did normal, sane people do on vacation? He had no idea. He hadn’t had a vacation in years and the last one he had taken was little more than an alcoholic blur.
Now he remembered what people did on vacation. They drank. Well, there were such things as family vacations. Pile the wife and kiddies into the station wagon and drive them off to Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm or some such other place. But what was it that adults who didn’t have children do on vacation? They went out, got drunk, found somebody and got laid. At this point getting laid was the last thing on Martin’s mind. It was, after all, a woman who was the author of his present predicament. As for getting drunk, well, it would be nice but he wouldn’t do that anytime soon either. Good God! Vacation. What the hell was he going to do?
Martin threw up his hands in surrender and stood up. He turned and started for the door, and as he reached for it he turned back around to look at his friend.
“Okay. You win again. I’ll take a vacation. I won’t like it, but I’ll do it.”
Bill Matthews, attorney at law, stood up behind his desk and began to chuckle.
“Well, Marty, at least you haven’t lost your sense of humor. Go and enjoy yourself. Trust me. You’ll have fun and when you get back this will all be over and you’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, probably,” Martin said, tiredly. “But just once between the court, Elizabeth and you, I’d like to win one point. One argument!”
Bill put his hand on his friend’s shoulder and opened the door for him.
“Go on. Get out. Get gone. Spend some money; spend a lot of money and relax. Take five thousand, take ten and buy yourself a pleasant holiday. Eat, drink, well… eat anyway,” Bill cleared his throat uncomfortably, “and buy some gifts. Get Janet something; you owe her. Get Elizabeth something, Hell, it can’t hurt and it might even grease the wheels of justice a little bit! Get me something! The point is, just go, relax and have some fun for Christ’s sake! I have another client in a few minutes and I have to pull a file up. Talk to Janet. She knows all about it. She’ll set you up. Oh, and Martin?” He called after his friend. “Remember. Don’t call me. Three weeks minimum.” He closed the door.
Bill waited until his friend and client had shut the door and then he sighed. He could not fix his friend’s passport problem, not really but he was sure as hell going to try.
Janet squirmed nervously in her chair. She wasn’t sure if Martin was angry or not. Bill had told her that he was going to tell Martin to take a vacation. He had also told her that Martin was just as apt to blow up as he was to give up. Either way, he had promised Janet dinner on the town in a restaurant of her choice if she would help him smooth his client and friend over.
“He wants me to take a vacation.” Martin said flatly. “I thought we were going to lunch.” There followed an uneven pause. “He said you would know where I should go. Do you?”
Janet studied Martin for a long moment. She had seen all of this before. She had seen how patients… patients. After all this time, that’s still how she thought of them, not clients but patients. Janet was 37 years old, divorced, no children, and had worked for 10 years in a hospital as an ER nurse. She’d seen her share of bloody bodies come through the doors and this was the same after all, wasn’t it? Whether physical or emotional, blood was blood and Martin was as bloodied as any victim of a car wreck or a beating or a shooting. She eyed him with pity. Her boss had already told her not to suggest to him any vacation spot where the only activity would be drinking because he was a recovering alcoholic. Okay. That let out Mexico, the Caribbean, and most of the places that she’d spent any time. Bill had told her to convince him to go somewhere quiet and calm because he needed, above anything else, rest and solitude to restore his mind. He wasn’t crazy but he was so agitated and so tense and so wrapped up that if he didn’t get away he was going to explode and probably do something stupid. And what normally happens when people do something stupid, given over to fits of anxiety from the pressure cooker of divorce, usually lands them in jail. Bill had enough problems to concern himself with without also having to bail his friend out of jail and represent him in a criminal proceeding, yet another area that was not his expertise!
“Have you thought about where you would like to go, Mr. Shaw?”
Martin smiled weakly. “Um, not really. No.”
“Have you thought about what you might like to do?”
“Not particularly, no.”
“Why don’t you go upstairs to World Over Travel, Suite 301, and talk to Mary. Tell her I sent you. She’ll ask you all the right questions and she’ll know where to send you. Have a good time.”
Martin had a faraway look in his eye, and it was obvious that he didn’t hear her. She sat for a moment wondering if she should say something before Martin said,
“World Over Travel? What suite?”
“301, Ask for Mary.” Janet answered.
Without even thanking her or saying goodbye, Martin simply turned, opened the door, and walked out.
That the Marocchino came of his own free will was a testament to the strangle hold of fear that Cofau held over these men. The one that was called Bepi certainly knew that he would be beaten at the least, maybe even killed and yet he came. His misdeed had been a simple one; he had spoken too freely of things that were not his concern to those who should not have heard. What he had said, what had been told was of no consequence and Bruno knew it, so did Cofau; it was the principle. The flow of Cofau’s money through these men and to them, modest amounts to be sure, depended on the strictest code of silence and fraternity. Discovery by the authorities would mean disaster, it would mean failure, and above all else, Cofau despised failure. Those who did not succeed even in the smallest of tasks were disciplined swiftly and severely.
Cofau finished speaking with Bepi and then turned his back on him and began to pour himself a cup of tea. Bruno stepped forward. The Marocchino turned to face him. His shoulders were hunched defensively, his hands trembled. Bruno studied him. He admired this man. Bepi knew the risks, he knew the possibilities and yet he came. He knew that he would suffer, that he might even disappear. Bruno hated him as well. Though the man had ignored his fear, he had not conquered it and now, if Bruno demanded it, this man would fall and lick his shoes; he would do anything to avoid what was to come.
For Bruno, the world was a simple place with simple rules and everything fell into categories of black and white. Every deed in life precipitated the next in a chain reaction that followed as logically as a numerical sequence. Every opportunity had multiple choices attached to it and every choice made, led a man inexorably to his destiny and not a predestined end but one that was fashioned by his own discrimination. Bruno knew that people were fond of saying that they had done or not done a certain thing in a certain circumstance because they had no choice: they had behaved or not behaved in a certain way because they were forced. He had recognized early on that this was merely an excuse for not acting in ways that would serve to be personally distasteful or painful. When faced with a choice that you did not want to make, it is easier to say that you had none; in that way failure and responsibility were not yours. His father would tell him,
“If you do not come to the banco after school, to help me with the fish today, I will beat you when I get home.”
Bruno knew that his father meant it as a threat but that was not how he perceived it. He understood that he had a choice, spend all day in the summer heat or the winter cold shoving iced fish at the housewives of Venice and escape a beating or, go play with his friends and receive a beating. It was simple and direct. He chose his friends. He was beaten. His father never understood how he would come home, on time without any apology or explanation, go to the bathroom and retrieve the straight razor strop and then stand calmly awaiting the whipping. He seemed to have no fear of it. He did not fight, cry out or try to escape or defend himself. He simply stood there and took it. The confusion of his poise would send his father into fits of fury, so much so that on more than one occasion he was beaten into unconsciousness. His Mother tried only once to interfere and had suffered the same wrath. Bruno was as confused by his father’s rage and his mother’s pity as they were confused by his willingness to make and suffer the consequences of the painful choice. Neither understood the other but he grasped that they were the ones to be pitied for their ignorance. They lived their lives in fear of retribution. He did not. They chose a certain way of behaving because not to do so would mean that they would not get what they wanted or be able to keep what they had. Bruno realized that the only way to get what you wanted, or to keep what you had was to be willing to loose it.
The Marocchino had made a choice and though he was not trying to escape, he was afraid. Bruno understood fear, he was not free of it, no man was but he would not be ruled by it as this Marocchino was.
“Bepi,” he said calmly, “You will be beaten…”
“Please Signor, do not make me go to disappear into the leg of the sea!” He pleaded.
Bruno sighed tiredly. It was always the same: threat, fear, behavior, punishment; men were controlled by these. Men sacrificed their lives and their fates, their autonomy to these. If they would only realize as he did that their lives could be lived without surrender to fear, then they would be free.
“Bepi listen to me,” he said impassively, “I am going to beat you, that is your only concern for the moment. If you stand still, if you do not resist then it will be quick and you will have only pain from which to recover. If you try to escape or defend yourself, then there will be injury to salve as well. Do you understand?”
Signor Cofau took his cup of tea and sat down. He turned the delicate bone china cup in the saucer and crossed his legs.
“Please do not be angry Signor Trevisani…” Bepi pleaded.
Bruno smiled. “ I am not angry with you Bepi.” He said gently and began to beat him savagely.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson
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