When the Lion Smiles

Chapt. 4- Part 23 “The Lion”

It was only a moment later that Gianna came running into the kitchen to find her husband with a cigarette in his hand and a broken cup of espresso spilled all over her clean floor.


Before Franco and Antonio left the Bel Sito, they had locked Martin’s room and then officially sealed it.  The Questura would allow no one, not hotel personnel, not Martin Shaw, should he return; no one except for Police personnel, and that, for the immediate, only Franco and Antonio, into the room until further notice.  There would come a time, if the case was not resolved quickly that everything in it would be bundled off to the Questura’s crime lab but for now it would stay right where it was.  Antonio headed for the boat stop but Franco said,

     “Let’s walk a bit and see if we can sort some of this out as we go…”

     As they walked Franco asked Antonio, “Tell me what we know of the American so far.”

     “Allora, ricapitolando…” Antonio began as he flipped through his notes, “his name, according to his passport, is Martin Xavier Shaw. He is registered at the Bel Sito but he has not returned.   His home address in America is some street in a city called San Jose in California.  His passport was found under the body of a murder victim and since he has been in Venice he has at least gone shopping for a hat, gloves and a scarf.  More than that, we do not know.”

     “We don’t know much but we have more information than that, Antonio!”

     “Well yes, if you are referring to the place where the murder was committed and those facts surrounding the crime itself but I understood you to ask about Sg. Shaw.”

     Franco rubbed at his temples and spoke as they strolled.  “There is more information now than ever, most of it unsubstantiated speculation however.”

     “I don’t understand.”  Antonio said.

     “Then I will enlighten you.  Firstly, the passport.  It could have been stolen from him, yes, but for a moment, let us proceed as if it were not.  If the passport was not stolen, then we must assume that the American was present at the crime scene.”

     “That would be one possible explanation for the ‘American voice’ that the priest heard.”

     “Yes.  Now then, how and why did it end up under the body?”

     “Is there a way to be certain?”  Antonio asked.

     “No, but we may suppose how and why it happened and in so doing we may arrive at a workable theory.  So, how and why did the Passport end up under the victim?  Firstly let’s examine the passport.  It is a new passport; only one entry stamp and it was issued just one day prior to his departure.”

     “A first time traveler.”  Antonio remarked thoughtfully.

     “Maybe.  What did we learn from his luggage?”

     “You tell me.”  Antonio said.

     “We learned more about him from what is not packed than what was.  There were no women’s clothing or toiletries so he is either not married or he is traveling alone.  Also, he was packed rather lightly.  Doesn’t that strike you as being somewhat abnormal?  Tell me something, when you pack a suitcase for traveling, is there nothing of who you are and what you are also contained in your belongings?  Couldn’t someone discern some of who and what you are by what you pack?

     “Si.”  Antonio nodded thoughtfully.

     “Then tell me why the American’s baggage was so similarly devoid of such information?”

     Antonio put his hand to his chin and thought.  “I don’t know.”

     “Do you own a computer?”  Franco asked.

     “Si.”  Antonio answered.  “What has that to do with anything?”

     “And what kind of computer is it?”

     “An IBM clone.  It was cheaper.”  Antonio confessed.

     Franco waved his hand dismissively.  ”And where was this computer made, do you know?”

     “America, I suppose.”  Antonio answered.

     “And where in America?”

     “I don’t know!  Franco will you get to the point?”  Antonio snapped.

     “It was manufactured in a place in California, USA; called ‘Silicon Valley’.”

     “Okay…  and then?”

     “What is the American’s street address?”

     “Something, somewhere University Avenue in San Jose, California.”  Antonio said as he searched his notebook.

     “Si, my young friend, exactly!  San Jose, California; right in the heart, or near enough to it, of the ‘Silicon Valley’, the very place where computers are made!”

Franco’s eyes were gleaming.

     “So what does that mean?”  Antonio asked.

     “A moment… what do you gather is the significance of a brand new passport?”

     “Officer Perer… I am not in the mood for games.  I would rather you just tell me what it is that is on your mind!”

     Perer regarded Antonio with some disappointment.  “You’re no fun at all but I shall tell you anyway.  A new passport can be just that, new.  But in this instance, the man’s travel documents were issued the day before he left.  Doesn’t that strike you as interesting?  Although this is possible it does not happen often except in the case of a verifiable emergency.  If there was an emergency, what was it?  Why should the man be extended a special privilege of travel to Europe on such short notice?  If this is truly a vacation for him, it is hardly emergency enough for the United States Government to issue a passport in one day!  I do not say that it is impossible, merely that it is improbable.  There is however, a large worldwide black market that deals with stolen computer chip technology and it is a lucrative trade.  This man lives in the Silicon Valley where computers and computer chips are manufactured wholesale.  It is possible that we are dealing with a spy…”

     “Oh, Franco you can’t be serious!  In Venice?”  Antonio chided.

     With more than a little contempt Franco said, “I do not say that it is the only possibility but it is one that we cannot afford to ignore.  Look at the man’s luggage and ask yourself… Why did we not find more?  Why did we not find the myriad of personal items that everyone takes with them wherever they go?  We found no receipts except for the one to the Boutique Morucchio.  No wallet with credit cards, library cards or video rental cards.  We found no cash, traveler’s checks, house or car keys.  We found no receipts for anything else that the man should have purchased, like any good tourist would.  No cigarettes, no razors, gum and only the barest minimum of personal toiletries.  We found no address books or personal business itineraries.  No watch, driver’s license; nothing!  We found only a paperback book that was not read but would rather serve as a convincing prop for anyone who took notice of him.  If I were a man trying to hide in plain sight, this is how I would do it.  His meager possessions tell us next to nothing about who or what he is.  Did he simply appear, this mystery man, out of thin air?”

     “Well, if he is a spy, he is a very bad one!  Only an idiot carries his Passport to a murder!”  Antonio snorted.

     “I did not say that he was a good spy or an experienced one.  I said that it is a prospect and one that we must consider.  Antonio, even you must realize that real life is not like the movies.  James Bond does not exist!  It could be that he is simply a tourist and that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time but remember the Priest said that they were conversing, the three men.  He only just arrived!  What would he have to converse about with two other men?  We must deliberate every possibility.”

     “Okay.  Let’s assume for the moment that he is a spy.  Why would he be in the Basilica with a Marocchino?”  Antonio shook his head with bemusement.

     “Let’s ask ourselves this… why a Marocchino at all?  The answer is simple.  It is possible that the victim was not a street vendor.  These men come from technologically disadvantaged countries all over the globe.  How better then, than to disguise oneself and to blend into Venice if you are a black man from a place such as Libya or one of the many countries with which the American Government forbids business dealings?  Where better to conduct clandestine business than Venice, where the only untoward crime is burglary and petty theft?  Where the only Police are sleepy men and women more accustomed and inclined to catching pickpockets rather than international thieves?  In every part of Europe there are spies, agents, counterspies and counteragents and you hear of them, of their exploits nearly every night on the television news but always in places you would expect, such as Germany, Switzerland or France.  Sometimes even in Italy, but always in places like Roma or Milano.  But have you ever heard of a spy in Venice?”

     “Never!”  Antonio exclaimed.

     “Never is right.  So what better place?”

     “So then why the Church of San Marco?”

     “It is easy to find, even for a first time tourist or bungling industrial spy, and it is usually safe because it is almost always filled with people.”

     “And if it is that the American is simply an idiot, spy or no, then the same would apply!”

     “Yes.  It is entirely possible that this American is just some bumbling fool, and I would be glad if that is all there is to it, but we must consider the other possibilities as well.  He had business, commercial, legal, illegal or otherwise with the victim.  Why?  What business could he possibly have and so soon after his arrival?  I would assume that either the American chose the church because he could find it easily, or the victim or someone else- perhaps the man behind the third voice- chose it for the same reasons.  What happened after they got there is so far unexplained.”

     Antonio stopped in the street and thought for a moment.  “And then after all of this, how did the passport end up under the body?”

     “It was put there purposefully to lead us away from the murderer; it was dropped accidentally during the struggle that was evident from the smear marks in the blood; it was stolen by the victim and fell out of his pocket or grasped as he collapsed or the American left it accidentally or for some purpose we do not yet understand.”

     “And then, all of this could be mere happenstance altogether!  For all we know the American could be dead as well!”  Antonio pointed out.

     “Yes.”  Franco stated.  “There is nothing to say that we are right or wrong… that is why we are investigators.  We must consider the possibilities, all of them or as many as we can think of and then proceed with each of them as if they were the truth, until we find what the truth is.”

     “The only thing we have to tie the people in this mystery together so far is the receipt from the Boutique Morucchio and several suppositions, all of which may be wrong.  We shall have to talk to Morucchio or whoever waited on him.  That he stopped there seems less and less a coincidence.”  Antonio said.

     “Again, maybe yes, maybe no, but we can begin to search there for some answers to our theories and either prove them or disprove them, but it will have to wait until tomorrow.  Today is Sunday and his shop is closed with all the others.  Tomorrow, early, you and I will begin to question his colleagues in the surrounding shops.  For today, you will place a call to the Guard of the Finance and seek a copy of Morucchio’s tax statements for the last five years.”

     “Si.”  Antonio answered.


Bruno had spent all of Sunday formulating his plan, and though it would not satisfy Cofau, providing he shared it with him and he had already determined that he wouldn’t, it seemed the best course of action to him.  He would not hunt the American.  He would have others do it for him.

The murder of the Marocchino was the lead story of every paper in Venice.  The facts were scant but one fact leaped out at Bruno and that was that the American had not only escaped but was suspected.  That would make things easier.  All of Venice would be looking for this man and that was a peril that could not be avoided but Bruno had eyes everywhere and in more places than the Police.  It was more than probable that one of his eyes would fall on the American before the authorities were able to find him, and then, the game would be finished for the American!

He had to set the trap, however, and that would require a trip to the home of Marco Balastieri, a local fisherman who knew everyone in Venice.  Marco was indebted to Cofau and it was time to collect his note.  Bruno rolled over on his side.  He would inform Marco that his debt was due tomorrow morning, Monday, before the day’s business began.


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

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