“Then sing, dance with me you young fool! OOOH AYY, Ooh oh; OOOH AYY, Ooh oh! JUVE, JUVE, JUVE!!!”
They sang the chant used by millions of soccer fans around the world and though neither could carry a tune, they didn’t care! Drunken sailors would have sounded better but the two shouted and stomped around the small office as if their team had just won the UEFA Soccer Cup. They howled like a couple of banshee devils! Genghis Kahn, Attila the Hun and all the barbarians of history could not have raised such a cry!
Suddenly the door to the small office was thrown open and an officer stepped into the room.
“What is all this?” He asked indignantly. “We are trying to work in the next office!”
Antonio spun on his heels and leveled a harsh glare on the man.
“How dare you to enter the office of the I&I! Have you not been instructed that no one comes in here without a permission? You are interrupting an important lesson! Get out! GET OUT AND KNOCK FIRST, SHAMO!”
The errant Policeman exited the office as quickly as he had entered, nearly falling over himself as he did so. Franco turned to Antonio.
“If I had champagne, I would offer it! I will offer you lunch instead… come!”
“You know, Franco, it is truly amazing!” Antonio said as he sipped his after dinner coffee. “I understand now why you wanted me to learn chess. Will you play a game with me when we return to the office?”
Franco set his cup down and regarded his protégé. There was nothing like success to whet one’s appetite for greater challenge. Yes, Antonio had arrived and he finally understood. Now the real work would begin. Now the tutelage would progress in earnest. It was like watching the sun come up and break open the sour nighttime sky. He smiled. Another young man who, though he may not realize it now, in time would come to understand that Franco had fathered him, mothered him, shoved, pleaded and cajoled him into success. He was not only proud of his pupil, but of himself. No children…
“Perhaps,” he said, after a moments reflection, “it would be better if we were to take the I&I and break it down piece by piece and critique it. You were successful and I did not make it easy for you. In fact, I did my best, and you must believe that Antonio, my very best to defeat you! But there are always mistakes, everyone, even I make them and a good I&I reviews his work, studies the errors and then learns to avoid them. You will make it a practice to review every encounter in two ways. One will serve the purpose of gaining more insight and knowledge, of puzzling together the crime and the other for your deficiencies. Each I&I will be different and what is right for one will not always be right for the next. And besides, reviewing your triumph will be a greater diversion than a chess game today, yes?”
Antonio waved for the bill. “Yes,” He affirmed, “but I would still like to pursue the chess instruction.”
The waiter brought the tab and before Franco could take it, Antonio produced the necessary currency. “A small inadequate reward for your patience with me, Maestro.” He said softly.
Franco uncharacteristically lit a cigarette! Why not? It was a celebration wasn’t it?
“Thank you.” He replied. “As to your schooling in the expertise of chess, I will suggest to you a superior teacher for I am actually a rather poor player.”
Franco laid his pack of MS Italian cigarettes on the table. Antonio took one and lit it.
“Whom do you suggest?” He asked as he blew a perfect ring of smoke into the air. His confidence was obvious and growing by the minute. It would have to be carefully cultivated.
Franco smiled deviously. “My wife! And may God have mercy on you!”
The waiter brought the bill to the table, and Andrea and Martin walked to the cash register to pay. Martin looked at it, noted the amount, and pulled the American equivalent in dollars out of his wallet and handed it to Signor Costa. Andrea watched closely as Signor Costa made the change, though he needn’t have. Costa was accustomed to dealing with tourists and making the proper change from American dollars to Italian lire, and he did so honestly, always. If for no other reason than that fact that it was good business. He even extended the American a small discount since he was with Andrea. As they turned to leave, the American stopped to leave a tip on the table. Andrea placed his hand on his and simply said,
“No. The servizio is included.”
Martin looked at him questioningly. “Servizio?” He mimicked.
Andrea thought for a moment and then said, “I believe you Americans call it ‘tip.’ The tip was included on the check.”
“How interesting,” Martin thought to himself. “I wonder how much I tipped him?”
As they walked out the door, Andrea continued. “In nearly all of the restaurants of Venice, the servizio… the ‘tip’ as you call it… will always be included in the final bill. Come,” he said as he looked at his watch. “your coat should be ready now.”
It had stopped raining for the immediate. The storm seemed to be taking a breath, but it would resume soon enough. They hurried back through the streets to the shop of Roberto Colluso where, Martin hoped, his jacket would be ready.
Andrea and Martin stepped back into the entryway of Roberto’s tailoring salon. Though unseen and forgotten, Martin’s purse squatted like a poisonous toad in the shadows behind the umbrella stand in the corner.
“Roberto! Dove sei?” Andrea called out sharply.
“Qui!” Colluso called. “Vieni!”
Andrea and Martin crossed into the main Gallery to where Roberto was waiting for them with the ever present Gianni. Roberto spoke a few short words to his assistant and he hurried off into the back room.
“E pronta?” Andrea inquired after Martin’s overcoat.
“Si, Aspetta un momento per Gianni.” Roberto answered and then asked of Martin in English, “And how was your dinner, or do you Americans call it lunch?”
Martin smiled in Andrea’s direction. “Lunch and it was very good. Even the snails.”
Roberto glanced to Andrea. “Shame on you! And you speak of others who play nasty tricks on this poor man.” He grinned evilly, “You know Americans have palates accustomed only to hamburgers, fried potatoes and feeble beer! I hope you bought him a fine red wine to go with his snails at least, and not some Mestrino house swill dispensed from a box…”
Andrea assumed an aristocratic pose of indignation. “He does not drink wine! And who are you to tell me of fine wine? I am Italian, Venetian; who are you to suppose that I know less about wine than you simply because I am forced to live in Mestre?”
Roberto threw back his head of white hair and laughed heartily. As he did so, he waved his right hand in small dismissive circles and then wiped a small tear from the corner of his eye.
“I am always glad to entertain you, Little Fucking Man! Honestly, you bring me such delight, so easily are you affronted!” He wagged a mischievous finger at Andrea as Gianni came back into the room with Martin’s coat. “But one day you must learn to soften that fervid disposition… your quickness to insult will one day cause you injury!” He said as he continued to chuckle.
He reached and took the coat from Gianni and, still giggling like a schoolgirl in braids and slipped it around Martin’s shoulders as he spoke.
“Where did you take this ignorant straniero to eat then?”
Andrea’s countenance eased and he answered, “The Conca D’Oro.”
Colluso pinched and tugged at the dark rich wool, checked the pleats and the fit as he continued his conversation with Andrea in Italian, his eyes twinkling impishly.
“Signor Costa’s restaurant is excellent of course and I happen to know that his wine is superior, even that dispensed from a box! I hope you made him pay for it?” He said motioning to Martin, who though he understood none of what was being said, still found himself amused by Andrea’s obvious discomfort and Roberto’s obvious glee.
“Si.” Andrea confirmed.
“Bravo!” Roberto exclaimed.
He turned his attention back to Martin for a moment. “Please excuse our ill manners Signor Shaw. We are old acquaintances, Andrea and I and we often find small pleasures in insulting each other.
Now then,” He said as he ushered Martin by the elbow to a full-length mirror. “how do you like it?” He asked as he stood slightly behind and to Martin’s left.
Martin put his hand to his waist and then turned to his right perusing how the coat hung on him and how it fitted.
“Very good.” He answered sincerely.
His tailor in San Jose could never have done such work in only a couple hours! Such a miracle could not have been accomplished in two weeks! Roberto was an artist! Or maybe Gianni, Martin wasn’t sure.
“I will make you a favor for this simpleton, Andrea…” Roberto continued.
“Please, Roberto he is not a simpleton, do not insult him so.”
Roberto looked in Martin’s direction and smiled warmly. Martin smiled back.
“Oh but he is so completely stupid and dull he does not even imagine that we speak of him and, he will be just as stupid to tell everyone on the planet that his coat was tailored here! Please, instruct him to tell no one that I did this thing. Even though this piece of trash is superior to anything he currently owns and better than he could get anywhere in the backwoods of America, it is still below the standards of Roberto Colluso! I will charge him a comparative pittance but only if you promise to spare my reputation and find some reason to convince him as well?”
Andrea stood a moment and then as his eyes twinkled asked, “And just how much, my vain friend, is the pittance of which you speak?”
Roberto knew that Andrea had him at a disadvantage. He shook his head and once more a gleeful smile crept across his face.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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