“Why would Cofau have your friend killed over a purse? Why would he involve himself with you at all?”
“This is not known to us, as I have said, we are virtual slaves to this man and he does not tell his reasons to us.” Salah spoke with resignation. “The bags are important and worth great sums of money for we are paid great sums to bring them. We have found, and too late, that money is not enough. Our children and our wives enjoy a better life, it is true but it is without us for we must stay longer and longer.”
Andrea looked down into his empty teacup and groaned.
“This cannot be, there must be something more…”
Salah reached a heavy hand to Andrea’s shoulder and spoke,
“There is more. As I have told you, your life is forfeit for having come here. It will not go unnoticed. This man, Bruno, will know of your presence here and he will come to you. The same fate that awaits the American that has befallen Masu’ud and others of my brothers will fall to you now. You should not have come, Signor. The Polizia will do nothing for you for they will hear nothing against Cofau, even with an evidence and there is none. We should anoint you with perfume and oil, as one would do for a man deceased, for that is how you have become for your presence here. There is nowhere that you will go to hide, to escape. I have told you that you would not want to know these things, that you would not want to hear the words I had to speak, for, knowing and hearing them would profit you nothing. Before the prayers, before the Haji stopped me from doing you an injustice: I was to teach you what it is like to be a Marocchino, to be without a hope and without mercy, perhaps it is now that you know these things without a savagery from me? You are worth less than a Marocchino now Signor, tell me, how does this feel? I am not to be feeling glad for it, I am sad for you Signor, for I am looking into the eyes of a man condemned!”
There was no satisfaction in seeing a man as hopeless as he was, as his brothers were. The others, hearing, stopped what they were doing and stood transfixed as Salah continued to speak softly.
“It was that you and I were brothers when you came, separated only by the idea of a color, only you were blind and did not see. Now it is that you see, but the sight shall cost you your life! The sun is coming quickly and you must leave now. You shall not return here ever! We will speak no more and you will not recognize me if we should meet in the street!” Please, please you must hurry now.
Salah stood and barked an order.
“The Haji will take you out in a way you did not come, a way known only to us. Do not come here again for if you are to escape once, you will certainly not escape twice! Go, go!”
The Haji took Andrea by the arm and began to hustle him toward the trees. As he was pushed along, he turned back to see that Salah had buried his face in his hands and began to weep as his fellows ministered to him. He was pushed through a small hole in the thicket of brush and then boosted by the Haji over a small crumbling brick wall and onto a narrow side street on the opposite side of the calle di Pieta’. The Haji pointed and spoke in a whisper,
“Run, run away!”
Andrea began to walk briskly and then to trot as his footfalls echoed in the crevasse between daylight and darkness. What had he fallen into? How could he come to know the Marocchino as a man and then deny him forever afterward? He began to run as fast as he could but he knew that it was useless, no matter how fast he ran or how far the distance, it would not be enough. He knew the truth but it would not set him free, only entrap him further. Knowing who had killed Masu’ud was more dangerous than not knowing. The fat Sergeant would get it out of him and use it to further his suspicions about his complicity in the murder. How would he tell the Police of Cofau when they were convinced the American was guilty and that he had helped? And if what Salah had said of this Bruno was true, the Police were the least of his worries. A simple act of kindness had brought him to the very brink of death! How was it possible?
Out of breath and strength, he stopped to lean against the damp stucco of a crumbling façade.
Not a kindness… no, an aggrandizing gesture of self-importance had brought him to this. He did not assist the American so much as he had helped himself to look splendid in his own eyes and in those of his colleagues. He had used the American to appear a generous man, when in fact he was as Salah had said, “one small, self important Italian.”
He wiped a small bead of sweat from his forehead and looked up and down the street before turning back against the wall and laying his face against the moist stone and the moss that grew on it.
His whole life had been an exercise in generosity aimed solely at ingratiating himself to those around him. When had he ever come to the aid of anyone, but that he did not receive a recognition in return? When had he assisted anyone but that he was rewarded doubly? True virtue gained nothing at expenditure and yet he knew that he had achieved wealth both literally and figuratively at every turn. And now, what was he to do with his epiphany? Andrea looked to the gloom above him as it began to break into daylight and shook his fist to God.
“What am I to do now?” He whispered.
His plan had been a simple one, go to the place of the Marocchini, find out where the American was, report it to the Police and extricate himself from a situation that would have dire consequences but it had all gone horribly awry. And what would he explain to the Police now? He had told them the truth before and they had twisted it into something else! Would he tell them the truth he had come to learn from Salah? They would have a day of festivity with that! If they did not shoot him on the spot, they would certainly laugh him out of the station and all the way to jail!
Andrea bent over and put his hands on his knees so that he could breath easier.
His situation was impossible. Even if the Police caught Martin, there was still Bruno Trevisani to worry over. How would he know if Bruno were going to come for him? Salah had said to never return and he would not. What then should he do, wait to see if he would be swallowed up in this ‘leg of the sea’? And could he let Martin go to jail knowing he was innocent? Could he let this Bruno and Mirko Cofau continue to enslave and kill men with impunity? He stood and looked back to the ever-brightening sky.
“And what am I to do?” He yelled. His voice bounced down the alley like a rubber ball and in the distance a dog barked.
He must warn Roberto. Yes, his friend would be in trouble as well, though he would not know it. Andrea hurried off down the street.
“Basta,” He said to Bruno, “Enough.”
Mirko reached into his pocket and pulled out a silk handkerchief, which he used to shield his fingers against Martin’s bloody chin.
“I will ask only once more. Where is my purse?”
“Fuck you!” Martin gasped.
Cofau stood and looked at Bruno and then back to where Martin lay gasping in pain.
“I think not… this man will kill you if I tell him to.”
“Yeah?” Martin rasped through clenched teeth as he struggled to stand. “And does he know that you will have him killed too?”
Cofau raised a questioning eyebrow in Bruno’s direction. It was an interesting query and he wondered if Bruno did know.
“And would you like me to ask him for you?” Cofau asked.
“Yeah!” Martin spat blood.
Cofau looked past Martin to where Bruno stood expressionless.
“Bruno, this straniero wishes to know if your are concerned that I may have you killed when this is done? Are you anxious for such a thing?”
“No, Signor.” Bruno answered. He had known all along it was a possibility. He did not fear it. When death came to him, no matter the form or author, he would accept it knowing he had made the choice, knowing he had invited it.
“You understood, Signor Shaw?”
Martin dropped his head and sagged back to the deck.
Cofau stood straight and sighed with resignation. He turned and spoke to Bruno.
“He will tell us nothing. He knows nothing. It is dangerous, but calls will have to be made. When I am gone,” He said, “put him with the others. When it is done, close everything and come to my office.”
Only after the third ring of the bell at the door did Roberto answer the intercom.
“Roberto, it is Andrea. Let me in, I must speak with you now!”
“Go away!” Roberto said angrily.
Andrea pushed the bell again and again and kept ringing until the door was opened a small crack. Roberto stood in his silk robe and slippers, guarding the door.
“What do you want Andrea?” He snapped.
Andrea tried to push the door open but Roberto held it fast.
“Roberto,” he pleaded, “please let me in! I must speak with you.”
“No! The Polizia were here yesterday and you have already implicated me in your problems with this maledetto, this American! You are not my friend! I do not know you anymore! Go away!”
He slammed the door and left Andrea alone in the street. It was no use; Roberto would not listen. Andrea turned back down the street and headed for his shop, he would open early and wait. What else was there for him to do? If Martin came, he did not know what could be done, but he would do something, of that he was sure.
Martin watched Cofau leave. He heard the elevator grate open and close and the mechanical whirring of the lift. He struggled to his feet and looked at Bruno. Bruno stood motionless, studying him. Some hundred feet below him, he saw the headlights of a car and heard the engine roar to life. A moment later the car sped away, showering the steel structure with coarse gravel as it sped away.
Martin coughed and turned his head to spit blood.
“Hey uhm… Goliath,” he mustered, “How ‘bout we make a deal?” He pleaded hopefully.
Bruno took a step forward. Martin backed up against the rail. He looked over the side and then back to Bruno.
Bruno stopped. Would the American really jump? He might. It would keep him a few minutes longer but the outcome would be the same. It would be quicker, more merciful provided the distance was great enough to kill him. Bruno wasn’t sure that it was. He looked over the side himself. There was a morass of machinery below. If the American struck that, the uneven surfaces would probably cause enough injury that he would certainly die, and if he struck his head, which he was bound to do, then he would be dead on impact or soon after. He decided he would let him choose. After all, he had required the same for himself. The choice had been offered him and he had made it.
Bruno assumed a benign posture and gestured to the American.
“You choose.” He stated simply as the wind whistled around his head.
“A deal?” Martin asked reassured.
“Choose…” Bruno instructed again.
“A million?” Martin pleaded.
Bruno cocked his head to the side? What had the American said?
“Two? What, how much?” Martin asked looking over the side again.
Bruno understood. The American would not choose and it was the same as choosing. Bruno would do as Cofau instructed. He reached out and took hold of Martin by the collar. Martin began to fight and struggle as only a man who knew he was about to die could. In the pitiful desperate fray of flailing arms and legs, Martin managed to connect a glancing blow to Bruno’s nose. It made him snort like a bull. Bruno shook Martin about, growling as he did so. Martin simply gave up. He was trapped. He was caught. It was hopeless. He began to cry. Bruno sighed, turned Martin to face him and spoke softly, genuinely.
“Americano, Signor Shaw…” He said gently, “non lottare contro il tuo destino, invece invitatalo e sará piú facile a sopportarlo.”
Martin looked into his eyes. They were no longer threatening or deadly but soft and pliant and kind. He knew this man was about to kill him. It didn’t matter that he did not understand what it was he said. It soothed him. He would go to his death without any more struggle. He would not escape anyway. He slumped forward into Bruno’s arms like a prodigal lover and gave in. Bruno dragged him to a hatch cover and flipped the hydraulic lever over. There was a hiss as the solenoid disengaged and the heavy steel plate popped open a few inches. The opening was about three feet wide. It was black and dark. Bruno hefted Martin up, held him over the chasm and without a word, dropped him. Martin fell without a scream. His mind seemed to race over a thousand, a million, a billion things at once. He was going to die, and now. He would finally meet the God of his understanding. He wondered what Elizabeth would do when she found out, if she ever did. He might never be found. He thought of his business, his house. He wished that he and Elizabeth had, had children to survive him, to carry his name. He thought fleetingly of Kansas in the summer, in the bleak winter. He glanced off a rough wall and began to tumble. End over end he fell, unable to distinguish up from down. Suddenly there was a deafening sound ringing through his ears, a splitting pain ricocheted through his head, a blinding flash of white light and then he knew no more.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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