Bruno set his empty cup down, ignored the veiled insult and began.
“You have seen the news paper? You know of the murder that has occurred in your city?”
“Yes…” Marco answered warily.
“A terrible thing that! Well, then you know that the Polizie are to search for an American in connection with this unearthly deed, yes?”
Marta and her husband exchanged glances. They knew only too well that if Trevisani were in their home asking such questions, that he had to be responsible for the crime in some manner.
“Yes.” Marco finally answered.
“Good, bravo! You see? Isn’t this pleasant then, to discuss current affairs like the gentlepeople we are? Now then, what I ask of you is that you be a patriot, no more, to your city, your country! What I wish is for you to speak with your colleagues in the market. You and your people see and hear everything in Venice, even more so than the Marocchini, yes? I must find this American, we must find him. When that is done your debt to Signor Cofau will be absolved. But if you should fail or refuse me…”
Marco suddenly found a small section of his backbone and stiffened accordingly.
“Or what? You will beat me, or kill me?” He asked indignantly.
Marta put a warning hand on her foolish husband’s arm.
“Marco…” She pleaded.
Bruno looked at her with a wicked quizzical gleam in his sinister eyes.
“Indeed Madame!” He exclaimed. “Oa, but Marco you know how I detest violence of such a nature. No, I would not hurt you, my friend!” He said, as he rose and crossed around to sit on the other side of Marta with his powerful arm around her shoulders. He pulled her close to him gently and ran his index finger across her soft fat cheek. He stared longingly into her terrified eyes and spoke softly, tenderly; “No, Marco I would not harm you but there are others who would not benefit from my compassionate attentions.” He smiled a reptilian smile and continued to peruse Mrs. Balastieri’s eyes as he spoke. “Personally, I consider your wife to be a fat and ugly cow,” He caressed her large sagging breast with the flat of his palm and then dropped his venomous fingers to her lap and continued to grope her as he spoke, “but I would not object to a moment’s dalliance with her or even that with your little girl, firm green fig that she is!” He turned his vacant eyes to Marco and saw on his face the utter horror he had hoped would be there.
His hands remained on Marta as he spoke again.
“You will find this American. He is a criminal after all and when you do, you will call me, not the Polizia and I will arrange a justice for him myself, or you and your family will expect another visit from me, and one that will not be so friendly and hospitable as this one has been! Do you understand?”
Marco’s breath came in ragged gasps as he answered. “Si, Signor Trevisani.”
As abruptly as it began, the dreadful encounter was finished and Bruno stood.
“Signora, your coffee is excellent and the warmth of your home comparable to none. Thank you for receiving me at such an hour! Marco, you are a consummate host. I shall not forget your kindness to me. Shall I retrieve my coat from your daughter’s bedroom or would you prefer to do so?”
Marta leaped from the divan and ran crying from the room. Marco stood as she ran and wanted to go to her but knew better than to try. He went to his daughter’s room and retrieved Bruno’s coat and brought it to him. They stood at the door.
Bruno shrugged his coat and looked at Marco.
“You will remember what is important to you over the next day or so, yes?”
Marco cast his eyes downward away from Bruno’s. He was ashamed of himself for being a coward.
“Si.” He answered.
Bruno left the apartment and headed for the home of a Gondoliere that was similarly indebted to him. The man had no wife or children but he did have a small yapping dog that he loved more than life. Convincing him would be, amazingly enough, easier than with Marco! Why people attached such affections to beasts was beyond him, but that they did, and seemingly more so than to people, would be to the man’s detriment. The American would be found as Cofau had ordered and before the Police were able to discover him. Between the fishermen and the Gondolieri of Venice, the American could not hope to stay hidden for long. The Marocchini would already be searching for him he knew for it was one of their number who had been killed; it wasn’t known to them by whom and even without warning them to search, he knew that they would, knowing instinctively that it was their duty to do so, and that to fail him or Cofau would be disastrous for them! As for the owner of the boutique, he would save him as a last resort. Better not to involve anyone outside his circle of ready influence until absolutely necessary. But before he did any of these things, he needed to find a cistern and wash the smell of Marco’s pig of a wife from his hands!
That night at dinner, Gianna questioned her husband.
“And what of the American?” She asked.
Andrea was poking at but not eating his spaghetti with oil and garlic. He had drunk two glasses of wine and was working on his third. She frowned. She did not like to see Andrea drink to excess. He had poured a glass of bourbon when he entered their apartment, gulped that and then had shooed his daughter away from him as if she were a leper, leaving the poor child in confusion and nearly tears. The kiss he gave her was a cursory one and then he had sat down in his chair and began to stare absent-mindedly out the window over the city.
“Andrea?” She asked again.
He looked up to her, his eyes clouded with consternation.
“Cosa?” He asked impatiently.
She took a breath and let it out slowly. “Any news of the American?”
He poked at his spaghetti again. He stirred it once and rolled some onto his fork, which he set off to the side of his plate. He reached for his glass of wine, downed the last dollop and then poured another glass.
“Andrea, please! Don’t drink so much!” She pleaded.
He set his glass down and looked at her.
“I think I am in deep trouble.” He confessed to her.
“But why Amore?” She whined. “What have you to do with this man?”
“Nothing!” He fairly shouted. “But the Police were in the Campo all day and talking to everyone except me… why? Why would they not come to me but go to everyone around me unless they suspected something? And why should they suspect me of anything? What is it that I have done except to be kind to that fucking…”
“Andrea!” Gianna exclaimed breathlessly as she shielded their daughter’s tender young ears.
He put a hand to his forehead and frowned.
“Angelina, are you done eating?” He asked.
She looked at her mother uncertainly and then back to her father.
“Si Papá.” She answered shyly.
“Good. Then please go in the other room and watch television while your mommy and I speak… okay? Da mi un baccio.” He pleaded as he held his arms out to her.
Angelina approached her father carefully, ready to run should he curse again. She reached up timidly and kissed him on his rough cheek ever so swiftly and then ran to the living room. Gianna began to clear the dishes, making sure that she removed the wine first. It was only after they heard the volume of the television that they began to speak again.
“Gianna,” Andrea began, “the Police spent the day speaking with all my colleagues but they did not come to me and it wasn’t that they did not have sufficient time. I cannot imagine what they would have to suspect of me. I have always been kind to the Marocchino, to Ciccio and I only tried to be compassionate to the straniero. But now I think the Police suspect that I am somehow entangled in this terrible thing and they are trying to gather an evidence against me!”
She looked at her distraught husband and tried to comfort him.
“If they thought you guilty of something, already I would be visiting you in the galera.” She pointed out.
“Yes, yes, I know, but the Police are so unpredictably stupid… why do they not simply ask me? I would tell them what I know, which is next to nothing. I know Ciccio, I know the American and that is all!”
He insisted and took up his wineglass again. It would be a long sleepless night for him and probably his wife as well. Tuesday promised little relief.
Martin looked up at the sky. It was going to rain again. During the day, as much as he dared, he sifted through the rubble of the abandoned building and found a discarded mattress that was only half soaked and a moth eaten partially rotted blanket. These he used to try and warm himself. He was horribly cold and had shivered most of the day. His shoulder hurt and so did his ribs. An examination of his chest revealed bruises, probably from the tall man’s fist but he didn’t know for sure. The skin was purpled and tender. His shoulder was also black and blue; the ugly welt grew like a cancer radiating a discoloration onto the base of his neck. He was thirsty and hungry. There was no source of fresh water and though he knew it was unwise, he had stooped to take a sip of sea water that lapped up at the interior wall that bordered the outside of the quay that laid across from the city that represented his freedom. The brackish fluid had done nothing to stave his thirst but at least it whetted his mouth some. He found nothing to eat.
As darkness approached he began to consider the boats. Only when he was sure that it was dark enough and late enough that no one would see him would he dare to venture out and inspect them to see if it was possible to steal one. After he was safely out of Venice would he risk a phone call to Bill. Bill would know what to do, how to get him out of Europe. He would have to!
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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