My dear Readers,
Due to a massive computer meltdown this past Friday the 7th of March, I was unable to post my regularly scheduled columns to Buzzchomp. Also, as a result, I am still unable to retrieve my email, or to answer/approve any comments that may have been sent regarding those posts.
Hopefully, the latter will be rectified this week; my sincerest apologies to you all.
“A dyke.” Cofau corrected as he pulled a chair over and sat in it.
“Okay… a dyke.” Martin grunted looking from side to side.
“Please,” Cofau offered congenially as he pointed to the floor in front of him, “sit down.”
Reluctantly and because Bruno took half a step forward, Martin sat on the cold metal planking.
Cofau smiled and continued. “You experienced the high tide last night in the Macello?”
“In the what?”
“The place of your hiding; the Macello… the translation means butcher house.”
Martin laughed out loud. A butcher house! Marvelous…
“You experienced the high tide? It must have been quite terrifying for you!”
“Is that what it was? I thought… I… well I didn’t know what to think.” Martin shivered on the cold steel.
Cofau crossed his legs. “You know for every high tide, years of life are robbed from the marble and stone that suspends Venice above the sea. This…” he waved his hand in a wide circle, “will prevent all that and more, it will also prevent the low tides that expose the tops of the foundation pilings to decay. It will keep the water in the canals of Venice at a constant level.”
“Great.” Martin sighed.
“Yes, great.” Mirko confirmed, “Venice is beloved the world over and should be preserved against casualty for all time but it is expensive! The Italian bureaucracy is a cumbersome and slow moving giant. I have been laboring on this project for years and will be for numerous more. Many bribes must be paid, many officials must have cars, women, villas and the project itself is hugely expensive, but I am determined to save the city in which I live, where I was born and have grown into the man you see before you.”
“You’re a regular saint!” Martin wheezed.
Cofau was genuinely amused. “Hardly, though just a few days ago, they honored me as one! You see, the contract for this device will be worth more than the millions it has cost. Then of course there will be the parts and maintenance, staffing and training contracts, all of which I will be more than happy to provide- for a fee of course.”
“Yeah? So what… you’re rich, right?”
“Yes, but even I have my limits. I have needed to supplement my fluid assets for all of this. It would hardly be worth all the work and expense if I had to abandon the project because of insufficient resources or lost the development and maintenance contract to another corporation for the same reasons. I have a company, several companies to run, payrolls to meet and taxes to pay, I cannot afford to bleed every financial vein into this one endeavor, it would ruin me! And yet, I have spent too many millions to stop. Are you beginning to see?”
“The purse…” Martin proffered.
“The purse.” Cofau smiled.
“I still don’t understand. Like I said, it was empty.”
“Oa, the purse itself is valueless, it is what it represents that is worth millions and sadly, lives! You see, when the purses arrive, they are a signal that something else is also about to enter somewhere in the Veneto Region, somewhere out of sight. Each different kind of bag represents a different location. Each design an indication of a map co-ordinate by longitude and latitude; each individual style of stitching represents a day of the week. It is a map and quite an ingenious one, if I say so myself! Without it,” he warned sternly, “I cannot find my shipment. So… where is my purse?” He asked leaning forward.
Martin looked at him and laughed. It all made sense, and that he would lose his life over addiction was vaguely appropriate.
“In other words, you’re nothing more than a petty drug dealing pimp who preys on children! How cliché and boring! I would have thought you to be more clever!”
Mirko looked to Bruno. “Take him outside!” He ordered.
Bruno scooped him up like he was a child’s toy and dragged him outside into the cold night air. There was a stiff cold wind blowing from the North. They were standing several stories up and below them in the distance lay the lights of the city. Martin shivered.
“And now?” He asked with resignation. “You throw me off of here or what?”
Salah looked up at Andrea and snorted through his nose.
“There are many Americans in Venice and the world. Am I to know all of them or is there one in particular which you seek?”
“You know very well of which one I speak. Do not to play games with me!” Andrea spewed.
One of the men at the fire stood suddenly. Salah, undisturbed by the abrupt movement, stayed him with a raised palm.
“You speak of the one who is sought by the Authorities?”
“The very one.” Andrea answered hardly taking notice of the danger and the absolution Salah had afforded him.
“The Polizia were already here and learned nothing for we know nothing of the man you seek.”
“I must to know where he is.” Andrea insisted.
“Then go and look. The street is there for you, the same and more as it is for us.” Salah instructed.
“I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
“Of your own city? Why come to us then?”
“Because the Marocchini see and hear everything. It is well known.”
Salah looked about and gestured to the portico and the courtyard.
“Yes, we live in the open like animals, no?”
“I did not say that.” Andrea replied indignantly.
Salah stood and stepped around the fire so that he was within a few breaths of Andrea.
“Your eyes speak truer than your lips, Italian. If I came to you searching for this American, would you speak of his place of hiding to me?”
Bolstered by his newfound sense of superiority, Andrea stiffened to meet him.
“No, I would not, but you will tell me everything you know of him. I am Italian, after all and you, you are…”
Salah’s face hardened, “We are what? Tread carefully Signor; you do not to speak harshly here, away from the curious eyes of those who would defend you!
Unaware that he was in grave peril, Andrea became even more belligerent.
”You will not speak to me in such a custom! The American must be found! You will speak now or I shall bring the Polizia to this place.” He spat the words out with disgust.
Salah, a man of short temper and explosive anger leaped forward, grabbed Andrea by the neck and shoved him violently to the ground.
“It is you who will not speak in this custom to me!” He fairly shouted, standing over him. “Do you imagine that you would come here and order us about as you do in the street, as if we were children and not men? Do you think that here, away from the eyes and ears of the world, that being Italian gives you a simple privilege we do not enjoy? You are all the same! We are nothing to you and you think we do not know this? All of Venice knows we are here and yet, where is Venice? I do not see Venice, only one small, self-important Italian who whistled like a frightened child past the graves to step here! And yet, now that you have courage enough to stand beyond the stones of your saints, suddenly you find a courage to speak importantly to me? Who do you think you are and what do you think I am? Do you imagine that we do not see how you hurry past us in the streets, unless it is that we have a small something to interest your pocketbooks! Do you think that we do not see how you hide your babies from us, as if we might do them an injury or a molestation under the very eyes of God?”
Salah’s demeanor changed to one of hatred, anger and frustration for years, decades and centuries of neglect and abuse.
“Or perhaps it is that you think if your children should touch us that they will become defiled, dirty or maybe the color of my skin would come off onto them! When you see us at all, it is with only the smile that conceals a hatred, the same nervous discomfort of one who witnesses a dog shitting on the street! You clutch your wallets and purses when we are near; you look away and pretend that we do not live under your face! You have considered that you are superior, better because you are Italian. I am a citizen of Senegal and there you would be nothing! Am I a better man, then, made so by a simple frontier, a border? Or, is it only your color and citizenry that endears you to God?” He shrieked.
The men around the fire and the courtyard all stood and closed a circle around Andrea as he lay on the ground. His fear returned in waves and rolled over him without mercy.
“We have been here for centuries, my brothers and I, and it is we who have built this city on the sea! Since the first Moors were brought here by your pirates; since your Crusaders,” he seethed, “men of a Deity who slaughtered my brothers by the thousands, for the worship of a God they did not know, we have been a part of Venice! It was we who worked and died and slaved to build this miracle of the sea that you call your own! It is our dead who provide the foundation upon which these very streets run, streets in which we are called into account, that stand as a testament to Italian divination!”
Salah knelt astride Andrea with a hand in his cloak and one hand clenched to a fist as he shook it in Andrea’s face. “Everyone is so concerned for this idiot American! Who is concerned for the man that was murdered?”
“C… Ciccio?” Andrea stammered.
“His name was Masu’ud!” Salah raged, “Masu’ud, not Ciccio! Why is no one caring that his children no longer have their father? Because he was Marocchino! Why is no one distressed that his wife will weep alone in her bed every night, now and for the rest of her miserable life? Because he was Marocchino and not a man! The animals of your house are protected more than us; even the gatti, the cats in the street are better fed and have a collection of boxes for money to care for them! This American will rot in your God’s hell before we care of his innocence!”
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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