“Ma! Che fai fuori?” She demanded.
Martin turned his head toward the canal and walked around the arguing pair of shopkeepers. He continued on past a bridge with three arches that spanned the fondamenta. A few paces more and he realized that he was more trapped now than ever. He was at the end of Venice. The street simply dead-ended into the sea. He whirled around and looked back from where he had come. He could not see past the rise of the bridge. He turned back to the water. To his left a few hundred yards across the sea he could clearly make out the Ponte della Libertá, The Bridge of Liberty used by the trains to enter Venice from the mainland. Several hundred yards past that lay the outskirts of a city. Was it the famed Mestre that Andrea had spoken of with such derision? Martin stared intently down into the black churning water…
“Then of course, you could sprout wings and fly, or, if it was summer, is possible to swim but not now, is too cold. A man would freeze and drown in a matter of moments.” Andrea had said.
Martin knelt down and strained to reach the tide that slapped endlessly against the sea wall. The water was indeed freezing. Well not quite freezing but it may as well have been that cold. Andrea was right. He would last maybe a hundred yards and probably less before he succumbed and that only if was a strong swimmer, which he wasn’t. He stood and looked about. His eyes fell on the twinkling lights across the cove. He was so close to freedom! So close… hell, who was he kidding? Even if it were summer and the water temperature a balmy ninety degrees, there was no telling how the tides flowed, if there were undercurrents, riptides, sharks or some other flesh eating creature that only grew in the turgid waters of the Adriatic to gobble him up. If he had no illusions in the Basilica as to his abilities in a physical confrontation, who did he think he was now, some kind of Army Ranger or Navy Seal that he could just leap into the water and swim unmolested to Mestre? Well, why stop there if you’re superman? Why not just swim all the way to America? He shook his head and laughed but not because it was funny. He would have to go back the way he came. He stood and turned and walked back to the rise of the bridge with three arches. As he crested the top of the walkway, he could see in the distance two Policemen questioning the storeowners. It had begun in earnest now. In an ever widening circle the Police were fanning out and closing in on him. They were looking for him; had to be. If they had caught the tall man they would not still be out searching, would they? He was trapped as surely as if he were on a boat or in a cell! His heart sank…
“My friend, you do not wish to be in legal troubles here… to arrest you and keep you for a very long time.” The words floundered through his mind as surely as he would have done had he jumped into the sea.
He turned back toward the end of Venice. There, near where he had been standing, was a large one-story building that was completely dark. How had he not seen it before? There was a weathered wooden door a few yards from where he stood. He eased back from the crest of the bridge, and when he was sure that he was out of sight, he ran toward it. He stopped to catch his breath, and then tested to see if the door was open. The wood creaked as he leaned on it, but did not move. He looked nervously from side to side, and then leaned on the wood and shoved with all his might. It gave but only a couple of small inches. Even if he could break it down, he did not want to, then it would be obvious that someone had gone in, and the Police that were making their way down the street would surely notice. Not only did he have to get it open, but he had to be able to close it behind him, as if no one had been there! He could hear voices and footsteps, at worst it was the Policemen making their way toward him, at best it was a citizen; either way he could not afford to wait and find out. He stepped back two paces, thrust his right shoulder out in front of him like a battering ram, and exploded toward the door. There was a soft muffled thud and then a splintering as the door gave way and he tumbled ass over teakettle into the dark confines of the empty building. His shoulder throbbed and he wasn’t so sure that he hadn’t broken something, but he had no time to worry about it. He had to get the door closed before whoever was coming down the street saw the light pouring into it and became suspicious enough to check. He scrambled up and leaned against the heavy door.
“Son of a bitch!” He gasped under his breath as he strained to close it, fighting years of rust on the hinges.
Finally he eased the door as tight as it was going to go and then took two steps back to listen. Yes… two distinct voices coming closer. He moved to his right and up against the frame. He balled his fist. If they came in, no matter the Police or someone else, he was going to fight!
Carlo looked up to see two young Policemen approaching. It surprised him. What would two Carabinieri be doing down here on the fondamenta San Giobbe at this time of night? This was the end of Venice; there was nothing of any interest down this far except his small grocery store, a Chinese Restaurant and the Trattoria Marisa several doors further down. The Police never came this far past the Ponte della Guglie unless they had reason. They approached him and asked if they could speak to him.
“Certo.” He said uncertainly.
What utter nonsense, had he seen anyone! But of course he had! This was Venice wasn’t it? There were people walking about in the street all the time! An American? Maybe a bloody American? “Oa, si!” He laughed. “And also I have seen Babbo Natale and his sleigh of eight tiny cerbiatti flying through the sky to the North Pole! Oofa!” He exclaimed as he went back into his store.
Whatever the shopkeeper had told them, the Police had not proceeded down the canal to the building where he hid, or if they did, he had not heard them. As his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he could make out vague shapes of discarded and broken furniture and other detritus. There seemed to be little roof, for he could see the heavy clouded sky above him. It started to rain. There was one corner that had an overhang of broken rafters that supported the only semblance of shelter. He crawled under it and sat down, pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. He laid his head on his folded legs and sighed. Just a few short hours ago his life was perfect and now it was a perfect mess. What was he going to do?
Sometime after two in the morning, after far too many coffees and cigarettes, Franco and Antonio decided to step out of their small cubbyhole and get some fresh air on the street. They had cleared Franco’s large desk and laid out all the photographic evidence, the copy of the passport and the statements they and the other Police Officers had taken. They had arranged them, re-arranged them, stacked them, shuffled them and laid them out again so many times that they were beginning to lose track of what they had and had not done. On the wall they had begun a timeline flowchart and began to make notations on it, but now, they were tired and prone to mistakes. Once outside, Franco lit another cigarette, drew on it once and frowned. He sighed, threw it into the canal and listened to it hiss as it hit the water. As he and Antonio stood there and watched it float slowly away, eventually to end up in the vast lagoon and then the dark Adriatic, Antonio spoke.
“Franco I’m not sure that I am competent enough to be the lead on this investigation.” He said softly.
“Why is that Officer Mengasi?” Franco asked sternly, never looking up.
Antonio put both hands on the iron railing and looked up toward the dim shimmering stars. “This is no ordinary happenstance for Venice and I have never been the lead investigator on any crime much less one as serious as murder. I am nearly blind from the work already and the bulk of the investigation hasn’t even yet begun.” Antonio turned to look into Franco’s cold hard eyes. “There can be no mistakes made here Maestro, and I am not experienced enough to avoid them even with you looking over my shoulder. You cannot be with me all the time.”
Franco angrily steeled his eyes through Antonio. He was backing out! Had he, Franco, so seriously misjudged this young man? Was that all it took; a bit of lost sleep and pressure for him to fold up and run crying home to his mother like some snot nosed little sissy, sobbing that the school bully had abused him?
“Then tell me, Officer Mengasi, what are you suggesting?” Franco asked suspiciously. “Do you wish to be relieved?”
Antonio suddenly understood. “My God, no!”
“Then what!” Franco leaned in so that his face was within a few millimeters of his student. “A man has been murdered in your city, practically under your nose,” he snarled, “and now you are whining about the work it will take to catch him? Perhaps I should tell you that it has been a long night and that you should go home to a warm glass of milk and get some rest? Perhaps…”
“Sergeant Perer!” Antonio shouted.
Franco’s tirade ended as abruptly as it started as Antonio interrupted him and brought him up short in the middle of his scornful invective.
“I am suggesting no such thing!” He shouted. “As a matter of fact, if you had requested that I be relieved because of my inexperience I would have asked you how it is that I should learn! I am merely suggesting that I turn the lead over to you so that I may see how the job is to be done correctly and observe what it is that I must do if this should ever happen again! You are soon to retire, are you not? And I am soon to take your place, correct? You are the teacher; I am the student, so teach me! Only do not suppose that I am some sort of coward or weakling simply because I know my own limits; that I know when I am in over my head and when I endeavor to be intelligent!”
Franco closed his eyes and ran his hands through his sparse hair, scratching fervently across his wearied scalp.
“You are right of course.” He began with a sheepish grin on his face, “By tomorrow,” Franco looked at his watch, “or later this morning” he corrected himself, “we will have more on the victim from the Inquirente and also we should have word from central records as to whether the American who belongs to the passport is registered here in Venice and from Interpol, if he is wanted for anything; whether he is in Italy or Europe. I have had too many coffees and cigarettes and you know, young Antonio I miss my bed and my wife’s soft skin! We have done all we can for one evening. It has been a long night and perhaps we should go home, have a glass of milk and get some sleep?”
Antonio spat into the canal. “I despise milk!”
Franco turned back to the canal as well. “Me too.” Hesaid as he rubbed the back of his neck. A small moment of silence passed between them. “Will a mouthful of cheap scotch suffice then?”
“Your bottom right hand desk drawer?” Antonio asked.
Franco snorted. Antonio was a cop and a smart one at that!
“Si.” He answered.
He managed to sneak into the house without waking Graziella and crawled into bed. He wanted to sleep, needed to but he could not shut his mind off. He wondered if Antonio was suffering similar problems. He had suggested, in sarcasm, that they both go home and have a glass of milk to soothe their frayed nerves but here in the darkness with nightmares waiting to be dreamed, swirling around him like bats under the street lamps, a mug of tepid milk actually sounded inviting. His stomach was growling like a mad dog and acid bubbled up into his throat. Slowly he got up, slipped his feet into his house-shoes and padded back downstairs. Once in the kitchen he opened the refrigerator, grabbed a small saucepan from the cupboard and poured some milk in it. He nearly jumped out of his skin when the light snapped on. Graziella stood in the doorway, her hair askew and her flannel nightgown bunched up around her waist, rubbing mercilessly at her eyes.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
Available now, in Paperback, Hardcover and e-Reader editions from, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, PublishAmerica.com.
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 resemblance 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.
PUBLISHED BY PUBLISHAMERIC, LLLP