Ciccio stood outside the doors of the Basilica of San Marco. He looked right and then left. There was no one. He had arrived early and he would wait for the American who had to come… he had to! He had offered prayers to Allah all day. Surely Allah would not fail him! He opened the doors and crept silently across the marble toward the golden jewel encrusted screen at the far end of the massive sanctuary. Even here, Allah would surely hear his prayers, wouldn’t he? Even in a place where the Crusaders from the centuries before had prayed to an infidel’s God before they set sail to slaughter the thousands of his ancestors, Allah would be with him? There could be no place that was so far removed from Allah that he could not be heard, was there?
Bruno heard the stirring and watched from his perch in the catwalk far above the sanctuary floor as Ciccio skulked toward the golden altar screen. He had been waiting for more than an hour and he would wait an hour more, or all night if he had to. He had a lifetime to wait, Ciccio’s lifetime. He regarded Ciccio coldly, with the same cruel detachment one had when eyeing a steak in the display case at the butcher’s. Too fat? Too lean? Too thick or thin? It was meat and only to be of concern when properly prepared. Before that, it was little more than an inanimate object. He would hold his approach until the American made his presence known and then he would take possession of the purse personally to insure that Ciccio would not make a second mistake. Then there was the matter of Ciccio himself. He would have to be disposed of. It would have to be done quietly. Not that he cared that he was in a church. God, if he existed at all, would hardly draw near from heaven and stop him from what he was about to do. God never stopped anyone from what they were about to do! He gave his children minds to exercise and he expected them to do so. Hadn’t Christ wept in the garden, “Father if you are willing, take this cup from me…” [i] And had God done so, even for his own Son?
Martin managed to arrive at the church just before six. He opened the door and walked in. He removed his hat and realized he could not take off his gloves with his hat in his hand so he laid it down on the small table to his right. He removed his gloves and shoved them into his right coat pocket. He had never before seen the inside of the Basilica. The night before he had been so enthralled by the old violinist that he had simply neglected it. He waited just inside the Narthex for his eyes to adjust to the semi-darkened gloom. Just beyond the Apse he could see the dimly lit interior of the Church of the Lion, the flickering lamps, the statuary. Of the few times that he had darkened the doors of the Spartan confines of his local Protestant temple he had never been too impressed. If God were holy and all-powerful, surely he would have picked a more impressive place to abide than the sickly paneled walls and cramped frugal interiors of the Protestant church! And by that same token, God must certainly inhabit the Cathedral of Saint Mark!
No wonder the peasants had trembled in fear and awe of the priests as if they were deities! They lived with God in temples of such opulence as to only be imagined by mere mortals! He crossed into the sanctuary and as he traversed the worn and troughed marble floor he looked up. The Dome of the Pentecost slid silently by and then the Dome of the Ascension. In both, Christ in all his gentility stared down at him. His eyes followed Martin as he continued to walk. Such kindness and caring were reflected in His gaze and yet a great sadness too, a remnant of the pain He had suffered for mankind. Crucifixion was a ghastly way to die. It could take hours, days and the pain was unrelenting. Christ, as the professors in his Middle Eastern Studies Classes at the University had taught, was beaten until the tissue literally fell from his bones, until there was nothing of his back left to cleave with the whip before he was nailed to the cross and suspended by his own torn flesh between heaven and earth for all humanity! Whether a fact or a myth, the thought of such devotion was terrifying! Was he so loved by God, his God, his understanding of God as Alcoholic’s Anonymous coined it; that He would suffer his own Son to be beaten so unmercifully and murdered in the most fiendish of ways for his transgression? Could he be so beloved by God that he would suffer His only Son any discomfort whatsoever? Wasn’t it the nature of fathers to protect their children? How could God love so dearly, so effortlessly and completely that he would willingly sacrifice a piece of himself to the very heretics whom accused Christ, his Son of apostasy? Martin wanted to believe but standing in the caliginous holy atmosphere of the Basilica of Saint Mark, in all its dark religious fervor and hallowed splendor, he wasn’t so sure that he would ever be worthy of such devotion!
“American!” Echoed a whisper that could have been heard over the rushing of a tornado.
Martin was startled out of his preoccupation and with his eyes followed across the dim expanse to where the sound of the voice had come.
“Ciccio?” He called barley over a whisper himself for to speak louder seemed more than simply irreverent!
The two met under the dome of the North Transept and Ciccio asked as he nervously looked around, “Have you brought the purse?”
“What?” Ciccio rasped! “Allah have mercy!” He cried out in his native tongue.
A figure moved from the shadows. Ciccio abruptly stiffened in abject terror. Martin immediately saw that Ciccio stared past him and he half turned to see Bruno Trevisani walking calmly toward them. In his confusion he turned back to the Marocchino and tried to discern from his eyes what he had looked upon that was so frightening. Martin had no idea, standing in the holy Cathedral of Christ’s faithful disciple Mark that he had just looked upon the very devil himself!
Bruno smiled warmly and came to stand behind Martin. As long as the American had done what he was told and brought the purse; as long as he did not interfere he would walk away, he would live. Bruno had nothing for the American, no punishment or recompense unless he chose to insert himself in something that was none of his business. It was the American’s choice, whether he knew it or understood it and Bruno would abide by that decision.
“Ciccio,” he ordered in a gentle voice, “come and stand with me.”
Ciccio’s eyes searched for any avenue of escape. There were many but none he dared take. Bruno would find him. He crossed the short distance and stood shuddering with his back to Bruno, facing Martin.
Martin could see that Ciccio was beyond terror but he did not know why… something was wrong, very wrong. Martin could sense it in the air, so electric and alive that it seemed to breathe! There was a pernicious malevolence that seemed to wheeze down on him as heavily as the gentle gaze of the Holy Savior had in the short moments before. The hair on the back of his neck bristled and he had the awful sinking feeling that he should run or scream but he didn’t know why and his confusion stayed him. The man behind Ciccio spoke but Martin did not understand.
“I don’t think he has brought the purse with him Ciccio.” Bruno said calmly. “Ask him where it is.”
Ciccio was trembling nearly beyond his capability to stand. His shoulders were bunched defensively up around his slender neck, his lips were drawn tightly and thinly across his startling white teeth and his hands were wrapped across his abdomen. He blinked slowly twice, bit his lip and in a voice that quavered so violently that Martin found it difficult to understand he panted,
“American this man does not speak English. If you want to live beyond this hour, run! Run for your life!”
“W… what?” Martin stammered, confusion, alarm and uncertainty written all over his face and body. Ciccio’s terror was infectious and had begun, for reasons he did not comprehend, to worm it’s awful way into him.
Bruno listened very carefully to what was said and though he did not understand he knew instinctively that Ciccio had not done as he was told. He reached and grabbed Ciccio by the inside of his elbow and spun him around. He slapped him hard across the face but held him so that he did not fall.
Martin winced uncontrollably as a sound like that of a whip or gunshot bounced back and forth through the vague empty church.
“HEY!” He shouted reaching toward Ciccio as the echo of his exclamation reverberated off the marble.
“Stai attento straniero!” Bruno growled low and threateningly.
The American had made his choice and now he would be required to suffer but first things first. It was time to ratchet the fear up several levels. Bruno had no more time to waste and the church would not remain devoid of people indefinitely. He tucked his wrist into his waistband, folded his fingers under and slipped out a razor sharp six-inch double bladed dagger, which he slid under Ciccio’s chin.
Ciccio convulsed rigidly and exhaled softly. So this is how he would come to meet Allah…
Martin’s eyes went wide with fear and he stopped just short of taking hold of Ciccio’s free arm. His mouth was open and he wanted to say something, to protest but it was all just too unbelievable.
To add emphasis to the words he was about to speak, Bruno hefted Ciccio upwards and scored the soft flesh of his neck just enough to turn the paper-thin edge of the blade crimson.
“Tell this man that I want my purse.” He instructed evenly.
“W…what are you doing?” Martin gasped.
Trevisani trained his cold unemotional eyes onto Martin as he spoke quietly into Ciccio’s ear. “Ciccio, you know that you are going to die. You may yet save this man from death… tell him!”
Ciccio steeled himself against what he knew would become of him. He said a silent prayer to Allah for his wife and children and in one final act of courage, grabbed Bruno’s arm and screamed,
Why it happened, Martin would never know. He was no hero and had no delusions of grandeur. He was not athletic nor was he any kind of skilled combatant but he could not stand by and watch a man be killed. He gathered all his strength and resolve, bunched it together in as big a ball as he could muster and leaped forward.
Bruno saw what was about to happen. The clumsy American had telegraphed his move so that even a blind man would have seen it coming but Ciccio’s resistance surprised him just enough that he could not stave off the attack as it came. The American hit Ciccio in the chest with the force like that of a bullet train and though Trevisani saw it coming, his head snapped back as if he had been hit by a truck. All three men slammed backward with the full weight of Ciccio and Martin landing on Bruno’s chest, knocking the wind out of him.
Though Martin had made a grab for the knife as he leapt, he misjudged his action wildly and missed the foul weapon altogether. There was the awful cleaving sound of shearing cloth as the three men collapsed in a heap to the floor. Ciccio was face up below him and Bruno gasping on his back beneath the both of them. Martin shook his head and scrambled off to the side. His ribs hurt. Bruno was wheezing gulps of air like a bellows and had thrown Ciccio off of him as if he were nothing more than a rag doll. He was trying to stand but he had been crushed under the weight of two men. Martin looked down at his hands. They were warm and darkly sticky. They were bloody! He screamed. He held them closer to his face to scrutinize them. He did not seem to be injured. He felt all over his chest and stomach and then his face but found no wound. Bruno was still struggling, slipping and sliding as he tried to stand and there was a sound of rushing water. Martin glanced at Ciccio, laying face down on the cold marble a dark wet circle forming around his head. He held in his paling fist a dark piece of cloth. His mouth was agape and his eyes wide with latent terror. He twitched. He quivered. He blinked his eyes once. He convulsed twice and then he did not move. Bubbles of dusky liquid foamed at his lips and then his eyes changed ever so slightly. Martin gasped. He was suddenly very dizzy and the world seemed to spin around as if he were the axis on which the entire universe hung. Bruno was finally able to get his feet under him but Martin didn’t wait. He ran! He hit the door and if he touched the marble on his way down the steps, his feet never registered that they felt the stone beneath them!
 Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids Michigan. Luke 22:42. Holy Bible. New International Version. Zondervan Bible Publishers. Copyright ©1970- 1978. Page 977.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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