It was too humorous for Andrea to stand. This man growing impatient with him while he was trying to treat him honestly! He laughed. He laughed long and hard as he circled back around the counter, opened his cash register and began to count the man’s change out.
Martin’s face turned red. He looked to his coat, then to his wallet then back to Andrea.
“Ah.” Andrea began, “This coat is new, no?”
“They did not make a difference for you in the shop of this coat, yes?” Andrea inquired.
“Yes, I mean no.” Came the reply.
Andrea studied the man with keen eyes for so long a time that Martin became even more self-conscious.
“It doesn’t fit very well does it?” Martin asked.
Andrea shook his head in dismay, as he spoke,
“No, where did you purchase this, this sack on your shoulders?”
Martin drew himself up before answering.
“A shop,” he began as Andrea interrupted him.
“Yes, yes a shop but which one?”
“I don’t know.” Martin replied. “Down there, somewhere.” He waved an errant hand toward the street.
Andrea took hold of the material, tugged and pinched at it as he spoke.
“Look, see this is for a man three times your size.”
Andrea moved behind the man and tugged at the collar, turning it over.
“Bend, bend!” He commanded trying to see the label but there was none.
He leaned in over Martin’s shoulder,
“And did they make for you the receipt?” He asked.
Martin’s pockets were each patted in succession. “No.” He answered.
Andrea put his hand to his face.
“MA!” He exclaimed.“You spend several hundreds for this garment and no receipt?”
“Well, they kind of rushed me in and out. They were rather rude and I didn’t think about it at the time, I mean, I’m lost and I’m wet, that’s why I went in there and that’s why I came in here… Look, I just want to get back to my hotel.”
Andrea was angry. It was for these reasons that Americans did not return to Venice. They were taken advantage of far too often. They did not need to be convinced to spend money; they were vacationing! Tourists loved to spend their earnings! That was the reason for holidays, wasn’t it? One only needed to be a salesman, not a villain to take their dollars. It only took a moment for Andrea to make up his mind. He was sick of Americans walking the streets looking, for the entire world like tramps, and he was tired of his fellow shopkeepers taking advantage of them.
“Is it really that bad?” Martin asked.
“Is terrible!” Andrea blurted out. “It is impossible for you go around Venice in this, looking like the shepherd of goats and sheep! Everyone would laugh at me!”
“You? Why you?” Martin asked.
“Because it is my accoutrements you wear; it is my reputation on your head and your hands. You see,” he continued as he held another pair of gloves up for Martin to examine, “I do not remove the labels as those criminals have done. Anche’, my apparel, unlike this rag on your back, is distinctive, only that of Andrea Morucchio! Everyone will know that I let you go out, so. No, is impossible!”
Andrea looked about his shop and sighed. There was no one else coming in or out. In fact, the American had been his only customer since opening that morning.
“Come.” Andrea spoke, “I know where to have this injustice repaired. Come, Come,” he ordered, “I’m going to save your life and my reputation while it has stopped raining.”
He would help this American. Why, he was not sure. Perhaps it was the weather that had cheered him the day before that made him generous or that this man seemed to be so helpless. Helpless, yes, something about him was helpless. It showed in his eyes. They were tired and ragged.
Both men stepped out onto the small street and while Andrea hung a sign on his door and locked his shop, Martin stood facing the canal taking in the beauty around him. Though wet and tired, lost and certainly poorer for his morning’s adventures, he could not get over the site of Venice. He put his foot up on the railing that stood as a barrier to the canal, leaned over and looked as far as he could to his right. The narrow aqua duct wound under a small bridge, before disappearing into the immediate distance. People, Venetians, passed him on the street, brushing against him. Those that walked alone hurried without so much as looking up. Others, men and women alike, walked arm in arm, strolling really, even for the threatening skies, speaking in animated voices. It wasn’t that they were loud, they weren’t but he was beginning to understand that the Italian language required a verbal ebullience, exacting gestures and facial expressions that could communicate whole sentences without the utterance of a single syllable. Like the city itself, the people were a contradiction: twentieth century inhabitants living, eating, breathing, in a museum that should be roped off for all time.
“Buon di, Signor.” A voice called out.
Andrea looked up from the lock on his door and called back,
Martin moved close and spoke softly to Andrea as he hung a sign on his door, announcing his departure.
“I see these guys all over. Who are they?”
“Marocchini, Moroccans.” Andrea answered as he hung a sign and finished locking his door. “Street Vendors. They come from many the nations of Africa and Asia, but we call them the same, Marocchini. They sell the bags of Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Fendi and others. They are very good imitations but you must be careful of these fellows, yes?”
“Are they dangerous?” Martin asked
“Who can say? No one I know has seen or heard them to commit a criminal thing but they are stranieri, no?”
“You mean like me?” Martin asked pointedly as they walked toward the black man.
Andrea cleared his throat uncomfortably.
“This is not my meaning, Signor. You are American after all. It is only…”
Martin held up his hand and smiled faintly.
“I know what you meant. We have vagrants in America as well.”
Martin leaned in and spoke pedantically to the vendor.
“Do you speak English?” He asked.
Ciccio grinned. He knew English well enough to know that both men had insulted him but he would not let them know that he understood the breadth of their ignorance. What would it change?
He picked up a large Chanel bag and presented it to Martin.
“Your wife,” he implored, “she would like, yes?”
“Mistress, girl friend?” Ciccio winked.
Martin suddenly brightened.
“Yes, my friend’s secretary.”
Ciccio stood a bit taller. Perhaps even for the miserable day, he might still make a few extra dollars.
“Ah, good. This one? Yes? Cento mille.”
“Dai, Ciccio!” Andrea exclaimed in his native tongue. “Every day for months you stand beside my shop to make your business and never have I complained to the Polizia. Come, ask a reasonable price!”
Andrea turned slightly and spoke out of the side of his mouth to Martin.
“It is well known these fellows are pirates for the prices. Let me…” he instructed.
In the distance the sky rolled over on itself and rumbled deeply. The clouds were instantly purpled by the metallic glint of an unpracticed stave of lighting and a few heavy drops began to splatter unevenly on the cobblestones.
While Andrea and Ciccio argued in Italian over the value of the imitation goods, Martin surveyed the purses and bags. He wondered if Bill’s secretary would know these were fakes. He picked a Louis Vuitton purse up and examined it more closely. It looked good enough to him but then he wouldn’t know what the real thing looked like if it jumped up and bit him. The stitching was fine and tight, the clasp held firmly and there were no obvious irregularities. He was not what one might call a fashion plate, not as it applied to women’s pocketbooks and accessories anyway. That was Elizabeth’s department but he knew that a hundred dollars was nothing for a haut couture clutch. Elizabeth had spent far more for such trifles. The smaller the purse, the larger price, it seemed to him. It made no sense to him whatsoever. He set it down and picked up a larger bag and opened the zipper. It contained nothing, save the tissue paper packing.
Ciccio suddenly stopped arguing with Andrea and gently removed the bag from Martin’s hand, smiling broadly as he did so, his great white teeth flashing brilliantly against his black skin like the lightning against the vast dark sky.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced. Stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.
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 resemblence to actual persons, living or dead, event, or locales is entirely coincidental.
PublishAmerica has allowed this work to remain exactly as the author intended. Verbatim, without editorial input.
Available in Paperback, Kindle & Nook editions, and in Hardcover from, PublishAmerica, Amazon & Banes and Noble.
PUBLISHED BY PUBLISHAMERIC, LLLP