Officer Peroni winced from the pain of having his radial-ulnar nerve mashed against his elbow. He tried to pull away but Franco increased his grip enough so that the man’s knees buckled slightly.
“Quietly, Peroni, do you understand? We do not want a public panic!” Franco released his arm. Peroni cradled it for a moment uncertain what he should do next.
Franco smiled again, mildly. “Proceed.” He stated simply and then walked toward the Basilica.
A larger crowd of perhaps thirty people had begun to congregate at the front of the church. Several Officers stood off to the side writing in their notebooks. Franco stepped over to the most senior of them.
“Officer,” He spoke quietly, “I am Sergeant Franco Perer, the I&I; have you begun to take statements from these people?”
“Signor si.” The man replied softly. “We are nearly done.”
Franco took a cursory look through them, focusing from face to face as he did so before he spoke.
“Good. Then those whom you no longer require should be dispersed. Quickly but quietly and gently, please.”
“Signor si.” The officer replied and hurried away.
Franco saw that he had the good sense not to do something so foolish as to salute him. Not that he had the rank to rate such a formality but often in such circumstances young Police Officers became so overly enamored with their own importance that they projected it onto others and began doing such idiotic things as saluting. He turned toward the great doors of the church. He was glad to see that there were no media or news coverage personnel. They would come but the later the better. He stepped up to the doors. There was another Officer with a nine-millimeter machine pistol at sling arms across his chest. The weapon he saw was not ‘safed’ and the man had his finger in the trigger well. The officer moved half a step to block Franco.
“Mi scuzi Signor, but the church is closed.” He stated sternly.
“I am Sergeant Perer. Open the doors.”
As the Officer moved to do so, Franco noticed that he never removed his finger from the trigger well of his weapon, a device fully capable of firing in excess of six hundred rounds a minute at a velocity of one thousand feet per second. When one of those rounds impacted a body, the shock wave it produced was sufficient in of itself to kill, but so great was the speed of the projectile that it simply over penetrated. As it traversed the body of its victim, it shattered bone to dust and pureed flesh to mush before continuing through to the person standing behind the target and then proceeded to over penetrate that body as well and several others before enough energy had been transferred for it to come to a stop. The nine-millimeter was a truly vicious and thoroughly nasty weapon.
Franco stopped half way through the door and then turned back to the Officer.
“What are your orders?” He asked.
“Not to admit anyone.” The Officer answered confidently.
Franco stepped back outside the door and let it close, careful to stay up range and to the side of the muzzle of the weapon.
“And do you know me?” Franco asked.
The Officer hesitated only a second before replying, “Si, you are Sergeant Perer.”
Franco regarded him coldly. “I have never seen you. How do you know me?”
The Officer’s eyes quivered, not sure which direction to rotate first as he stuttered involuntarily in his confusion.
“The answer you are searching for is that you do not know me. You have simply taken my word that I am who I say I am and on that information are prepared to admit me into an extremely sensitive crime scene.”
The Constable began to say something but Franco cut him off.
“This, my young friend, is what is commonly known as a fuck up and were you doing something unimportant, something that did not require any brains or concentration, such as sucking on your wife’s puckered ass, then I would remain undisturbed by it. What you are supposed to be doing however, is keeping people out of here! Is that clear?” Franco’s sarcasm was nearly more palpable than the darkness that was quickly falling across Venice.
“Now then,” he continued, “You will allow no one through these doors. Not even someone with the proper identification. If an authority shows up at these doors sufficient to convince you that they belong inside, you will stick your head through the door way and call for either myself or the I&I, Mengasi. But you will not walk through and contaminate my crime scene with your wet muddy footprints! Is that clear?”
“Signor, si.” The shaken Officer replied.
Franco turned to enter the church and then stopped again.
“Another thing,” He said as he turned back toward the man, “is your weapon chambered?”
The Officer looked nervously to his finger in the trigger well of the nine-millimeter machine pistol hanging on the sling across his chest. He ducked his head and averted his eyes away from Franco’s.
“Signor, si.” He mumbled.
Franco heaved a despairing sigh and looked up at the towering obelisk that formed the Campanile.
“Listen to me very carefully. Slowly removed your finger from the trigger well. Now then… safe your weapon.” An audible faint click echoed off the stone as the man did as he was told. Franco turned his unmerciful gaze back on the man and spoke calmly and matter of factly. “If I find you with your weapon in a firing posture again I will have your badge. If you fuck with my investigation further, I will shoot you myself. Do you have any further questions or confusions about your duties here?”
“No, Signor.” Came the humble reply.
Franco stepped through the doors of the great Church of the Lion of Saint Mark. In the dimly lit interior of the Narthex he came face to face with Lucio, a friend and compatriot who was nearly to retirement himself. Lucio and Franco had started as Policemen within the same five-year span and though they were not intimate friends, they were colleagues who knew and respected each other as consummate professionals.
“Ciao, Franco.” Lucio spoke with calm restraint.
Franco’s eyes were still adjusting to the murky light. “Ciao Lucio.” He knew the voice and the vague shape that loomed in front of him. “How bad is it?”
“Bad.” Lucio said with the same nonchalant composure that one would use to discuss the weather. “Here, you will need these.” He said as he handed Franco a pair of thin surgical gloves.
As Franco stretched them on he asked, “Who is here?”
Lucio gestured toward the Nave, “Mengasi the I&I, the Inquirente and his photographer, an Officer whose name I did not learn, with a video camera as you ordered, the two responding Policemen, a priest who is old enough to have given God communion and you and I.”
Nine people in the crime scene. Nine potential contaminants. That Lucio was handing out gloves was a good sign. He wondered if that was Antonio’s doing. Probably, although fingerprints would be voluminous to say the least. The Church of Saint Mark was a tourist site that attracted thousands, millions of people annually. There would be prints everywhere and it would be nearly impossible to date them, to separate them out as being important to the crime itself, unless of course they were fortunate enough to have a print from blood. That would be a fairly obvious clue! Latent prints are capricious in nature and degenerate steadily over an indeterminate period of time, depending on their make up, origin and placement. A print on a fairly smooth surface, such as glass, in a protected environment comprised of simple body oils, could last anywhere from a few hours to weeks or even years depending on a myriad of external factors that included traffic, humidity, heat, exposure to sunlight, cleaning fluids and good God, the list was endless! Franco shook the thought from his mind. He would attack each problem in the order it came. It had been raining out and he had told the idiot at the door not to walk in and track his crime scene full of footprints. He wished that he had thought to tell Antonio to have surgical booties on site as well.
“You will need these too.” Lucio instructed and handed Franco some hospital shoe coverings.
Franco smiled. Antonio was intelligent after all.
“Lucio,” Franco began as he slipped the booties over his street shoes, “the young idiot outside the door is prepared to let anyone through who says that they belong and the press is sure to arrive at any minute. Stay here and make sure that no one gets in will you?”
“Certo.” Lucio affirmed.
“Have the upper level and balconies been cleared yet?”
“Si. I did it myself not ten minutes ago. No one is up there.”
Franco traversed the archway into the main body of the sanctuary under the first cupola of the Basilica, the Dome of the Pentecost. He had taken perhaps five steps when a loud voice commanded him to stand still.
“Who are you? What are you doing in here? STOP!”
Franco came to an abrupt halt and peered through the semi-lit cathedral.
“Antonio?” He called.
“Ah, si Franco… vien’.” Antonio answered with apparent relief.
As Franco approached the left side of the Chancel, near the Gold Screen he saw momentary flashes fissuring the malaise like lightning as the Coroner’s photographer continued to snap stills of the corpse. Another Officer had a video camera with a beacon attached filming the interior of the church with the same precision as a documentary artist. Antonio came over to greet Franco.
“Ciao, Antonio. Where do you want me?” Franco asked deferring to Antonio as the lead even though he was senior.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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