When the Lion Smiles

Chapt. 3- Part 19 “Idyll”

     Antonio looked at him in surprise. “Are you kidding? I need you with me to insure that I make no mistakes!”

Franco swiveled his head right and then left to take in the full setting. Everyone was wearing gloves and booties and though humming like drones around the corpse did not seem to be moving or touching anything.

     “Relax Antonio,” He assured him, “you are doing fine. What have you got so far?”

Officer Mengasi began to run down the list to Franco. He had a black male victim between twenty to thirty years of age. His throat had been cut, or so it appeared from the large pool of blood that had begun to congeal around the face and upper torso. They would not know for certain until they moved the body because it was lying face down. He had a witness to something, maybe nothing; he had not had time to speak with him. The witness, an elderly Priest was segregated off to the far side of the church with the two responding Officers. The criminalist had arrived just before Franco and had begun his work and the Inquirente had also arrived and was preparing to catalog every piece of pertinent information on, around and about the corpse before it was removed for the autopsy and further forensics. Franco told him that he had observed that the orders he had given concerning the outside of the church and the boats and lagoon were being followed and then asked him if there had been any tourists inside the church at the time of the killing. Antonio told him that so far as he could determine, there had been no one but the Priest, the victim and the killer or killers in the church at the time of the murder, which was surprising. The Basilica of Saint Mark was perhaps the most frequented historic site in Venice, perhaps in all of Italy! It was rotten luck that there had been no tourists present, but then, if they lived in a perfect world, Antonio and Franco would be plumbers or street sweepers instead of cops, for a perfect world would hardly require the services of Policemen.

Franco squinted through the darkness.

     “Antonio let’s see if we can get some lights on in this place shall we? Find the main fuse panel and flip every light switch. It’s difficult enough to investigate a murder, let’s not further complicate matters by trying to do it in the dark! After you have done that, speak to the Priest and take his statement.”

Antonio hurried off to find the main electrical panel while Franco walked the few paces toward the corpse and the busy throng that attended it. Antonio’s preliminary assessment had been correct. A black male somewhere between the ages of twenty and thirty, and from the shabby way he was dressed, probably a Marocchino, although that was yet to be determined. It struck him that the poor sot who had been murdered, providing he was one of Venice’s minion street vendors, was probably the beneficiary of more attention now than when he was alive. Why would someone kill a Marocchino? That was something they would have to answer. Discovery of the victim’s identity and the motive often led one to the guilty party but all in good time, Franco thought. First they had to determine how the man was killed. As if by magic, the immense sanctuary suddenly flooded to light. Antonio had obviously found the fuse panel. At the precise moment the lights deluged the church the still photographer snapped a photo and then groaned audibly as his exposure was ruined by the sudden influx of external light. He pulled his camera to his chest and reset the aperture. Several others squinted in the brightness and then resumed their grizzly task.

The victim was lying face down in perpendicular alignment with the great doors at the far end of the church. His eyes were still open and though his face was lax and seemingly peaceful, the remnant of horror that swam in his fixed stare belied the final few moments of terror he had suffered. Franco had seen dead men before, during his temporary assignments in neighboring cities; once even the pitiful corpse of a child and though he had been a cop for nearly thirty years and had been witness to cruelty on a scale approaching the holocaust of war, he never truly adjusted to viewing the victims of violent crime.

The Inquirente had finished his preliminaries and wanted to roll the body over and away from the pool of blood. Franco was not in such a hurry knowing that even if the crime scene were sealed for all time from this moment on; it would never remain in the same pristine condition that it was now.

     “Wait.” He ordered. He turned to the photographer. “Have you taken photos of everything?”

     The man shrugged nonchalantly. “As well as I could. The only angle I could not get was directly overhead. That would be the best because then I could also get a clearer view of the smears in the blood.” He pointed to the left side of the body where it was obvious that someone had struggled either with the victim as he bled or tried to run away through the ever thickening tar that used to course through the dead man’s veins as blood.

Franco turned around in a full circle and then looked up.

     “Do you have a telephoto lens in your kit?” He asked the man.


     “Up there,” He pointed to the high ceiling, “the cat-walk out from the Byzantine Horses. You can photograph from there.”


It was only a matter of minutes and suddenly the streets were filled with Police and like angry hornets swarming around a disturbed nest, they were looking for someone, anyone on which to vent their frustrations. Martin had to get off the street but he had no idea where he might go. By now the body of the poor unfortunate Ciccio had been found and just as surely, his passport. If they had that, then they knew who he was and where he stayed. Had they caught the tall man who had murdered Ciccio? If he had managed to get away, as well, then the Police would be left only with a body and Martin’s identification. What did he suppose he would think in their place? Exactly… that they had in their possession the means to identify the murderer! He needed to find some place to hide until he could figure all this out… someplace out of sight.


     “Now then Padre, tell me what you saw.” Antonio instructed.

Father Mancini took a breath and then straightened himself to stand as erect as his ninety-seven years would allow.

     “It is not so much what I saw, young man but what I heard.”

     Antonio looked up. “What you heard? What do you mean?”

     “I was in the confessional, over there,” He pointed, “and I heard voices; three male voices to be precise. One was clearly Venetian, the other, though he spoke passable Italian, was just as obviously foreign and the third was definitely American!”


If the Police were looking for him, and they surely would be whether they had caught the actual killer or not, Martin knew to stay off the boats. The last thing he needed to do to himself right now was to walk into a steel cage; whether a cell with bars or the constricted confines of a Vaporetto, it would be the same if the Police cornered him. As long as he was free to walk, or run if he had to, he knew instinctively that he was better off.


     “Okay!” The photographer yelled down from the ceiling. “That’s it. I have all I need.”

Franco nodded to the Inquirente. He and his assistant rolled the body over to the right. There was a blunted slurping sound as it disengaged from the gelatinized blood. At the base of the throat was a nasty open wound that had begun to turn a hideous dark purple. It looked to have been cleaved rather than sliced. The flesh was laid open neatly through his esophagus, just below the Adam’s Apple nearly to the bone. One or two of the younger men choked back gag reflexes. Full rigor was still hours away but the body had already begun to stiffen and the mannequin like movement somehow only made the atmosphere that much more surreal. Franco looked to the outline of clean marble where the body had dammed the sanguine flow and there lying on the floor was what looked like a man’s breast wallet.

     “Give me your pencil.” He instructed the Inquirente.

He broke off the graphite point so as not to make any untoward marks on the leather, slipped it between the folds and carefully splayed the leather open a few millimeters. A collective gasp rippled through the small gathering. It was a passport. From the seal, it was unmistakably an American passport.

     Franco spoke sharply to the Inquirente. “Give me marker from the crime kit.”

The man did as he was told. Franco very gently picked up the wallet with two fingers and then placed the numbered marker down in the place where the leather fold had lain. The photographer snapped several pictures without being told to do so. Franco then let the wallet fall open as he continued to hold it firmly from one corner. He turned to the cameraman and held it up. The man switched equipment and with an instamatic, snapped three more shots. The film spit three neat undeveloped prints out which the man laid down on a nearby pew to cure.

     “Once those have developed, have copies made and distributed to every Police Officer here and throughout the city, especially those posted at the train station and the Piazzale Roma. Then call the central records office of the Questura and find out what hotel this man is registered in, if he is registered at all, and then get on the telefax and send his photo to the other immediate neighboring townships. I want this man found if he is in Venice, the Veneto, Italy or anywhere in Europe!” Franco instructed as he dropped the open leather covered passport into a plastic evidence bag and sealed it.

     The Inquirente asked, “The murderer?”

     Franco shrugged. “Who can say? It is a place to start…”


Martin managed to walk for the better part of three hours, although he could not be sure how much time had passed, since his watch had been broken during the struggle, through the city without attracting any attention. He had slipped his gloves over his bloodied hands and turned his coat inward as far as he could so that the tear did not show. He had left his hat on the table at the door so he had kept his face turned in any direction that afforded the least amount of illumination. He wondered if the Italian Police had learned to make use of DNA testing yet… if they had, then his hat, after it was discovered, would be subjected to testing. Yet another evidence that he had been there, as if a passport were not enough and as effective as any fingerprint or eyewitness! He crossed a bridge, staying to the far right on the shallow risers and out of the way of the few passers by. At the end of the bridge he turned right. He had no idea where he was going. He was searching for someplace to hide and as yet had found none. He found himself on a broad fondamenta divided by a channel nearly as wide as that of the Grand Canal. It was poorly lit and up and down the street there was indications of some kind of construction work. That was a hopeful sign. Anywhere there was construction going on, there was bound to be some deserted building or rooms within a building that he could secret himself away and think. Along the way he passed several restaurants and small bars. He walked as widely around them as he could, careful to avoid the yellow halos of light that spilled onto the walkway. He slipped past a small grocery store as a woman yelled out.

     “Carlo, dove sei? Mi Morte! CARLO!”

     “Cosa vuoi!” The short stout man whined.

The woman came to the doorway of the store and stood with her hands on her hips.


When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.

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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 resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, event, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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