He crawled back to his cubbyhole and hunkered in as close as he could get to the wall. His wool overcoat insulated him from the warmth-robbing stone and the mattress, even wet, at least kept him off of the ground. He drew the fetid blanket around his chin and tried to ignore the stench and the insects as they slithered across his face. He started to whimper. He couldn’t help it. How, why did this happen to him? What had he done so terrible that God would desert him now? He cursed the sky as it opened up and began to soak him again. He was so cold and he knew that eventually hypothermia would take its toll on him, would kill him as certainly as the tall man would have done, would do if he found him. Was a jail cell such a bad place? At least he would be fed and clothed. At least he would be warm…
“Stop it!” He growled through his clenched teeth.
Freedom, no matter how appalling, was preferable to imprisonment; especially prison in a foreign country. American jail might be sufferable but only because there was such a thing as release on bail, which would allow him to sleep in his own warm bed, but here, if what Andrea had said was true and he had no reason to think differently, he would be in jail indefinitely with no hope of release until his jailers tired of their sport with him. Andrea had said years! No… he would freeze to death or starve to death or die of dehydration before he went to the Police in Italy willingly. He would escape, he would evade and if need be, since he was probably already accused of the same, he would murder, but he would stay out of Italian prison! Martin was suddenly very sleepy. In the back of his mind he knew that he was in a dangerous situation physically and that sleep could mean death but he was so cold, so tired. Maybe just a few seconds rest. Maybe he would close his eyes for just a couple moments…
He awoke with a start. He had no idea what time it was but darkness had enveloped him. His muscles were cramped and he was shivering so badly that he could hardly stand. His jaw hurt from clenching it to keep his teeth from chattering together and he was beyond cold… he could not feel his feet or his fingers. How long had he slept? He felt stupored, almost drunk. He knew that he was well into suffering hypothermia. He had to get up and get moving, get his blood circulating and try in some way to warm himself! He was not going to jail, he was not going to surrender, and he was not going to die! How he was going to avoid all that was beyond him for the moment, but he was going to figure it out, somehow. Boats… yes, the boats. He was going to try and steal a boat. He crept to the door and listened to see if he could hear any movement. A light rain was still falling and he could hear the droplets as they struck the water and the pavement sounding like a sizzling grill. He heard the gentle lapping of the waves as they licked at the canal wall and the boats bumping impatiently against the stone. He heard no voices but he knew they could be out there waiting for him. Perhaps they had discovered him while he slept and were simply waiting him out. Why rush in on a man barricaded in a run down tenement? Why try to break in on someone who could be armed? And for all the Police knew, he could be armed… did he dare try? He looked around him. He watched his breath form a vapor cloud. He shivered and his arms cramped as he clutched them around himself. If he were not close to death at this moment, he soon would be. He listened at the door again. Nothing… nothing. What time was it? If it weren’t for the clouds and the rain, he might be able to tell from the nighttime sky but then he was on the other side of the world, wasn’t he… were the constellations the same in Italy as in California? He shook his head against the cobwebs of ice that grabbed at him. He didn’t know! He just didn’t know! He listened at the door again. If they were out there then they would have to shoot him. At least the bullet that took his life would be warm!
He pulled at the door. It didn’t budge. He shoved his numb frozen fingers into the crack and pulled as hard as he could. The door creaked heavily and dragged open a foot or so. The sound seemed to be deafening. Well, if there was someone out there, they surely knew that he was here now. He shoved his face into the opening and looked as far as he could in both directions. No one seemed to be about. He turned sideways and forced his bruised shoulder into the fissure, placed his hands in front of his face and pushed the stubborn worn wood another six inches or more. He stepped into the darkness of the street and hugged the wall. He searched the obscurity for shadows, for movement. He saw none. The boats lay just a few yards ahead of him. He crept to them as carefully as he could. There were three of them all in a row and several others to the far side of the canal but he would have to walk the several hundred yards to the three arched bridge and cross it to get to them. That would be dangerous for directly opposite him there were lights on in the windows of the buildings that lined the canal and it was obvious that behind the windows, warm and safe, well fed and washed people lived, people who would turn him in to the Police if they saw him. He would stay on this side of the canal, close to his refuge and try to steal one of the boats bobbing like corks in the seawater. He lowered himself to the pavement and crawled to the first boat. He knew that he was scrapping his knees through his light slacks but he could not feel it. His flesh was numb from the cold. He reached the first boat panting. He felt as if he had crawled for miles… was it only because he was out of shape and not used to such activities or was it because he was freezing to death. He could not be sure. He leaned over the edge of the canal, careful not to fall in and grabbed the rope that held the boat securely to the cleat. His fingers wrapped unwillingly around the wet rope and he pulled. As the boat bumped into the wall he heard a metallic clatter. In the vague light he saw that there was a padlock securing a hasp over a corrugated piece of fiberglass covering the interior of the craft against the weather.
“Damn!” He breathed in desperation.
He had nothing with which to break it. Ten minutes later he had discovered that the other boats were similarly defended against theft. If he had anything that would serve as an oar he could steal a boat anyway, riding the top of the fiberglass cover but he had found nothing in his earlier searches that would serve the purpose of an oar. He crawled back to the door and lay there sobbing softly. He didn’t have strength enough to stand. If he could just get warm! If he had even a crust of bread or a half sip of water…
He finally calmed himself enough to stand and reenter the abandoned shell of building that was serving as much a prison as a cell with bars. He had no other place to go. He crawled to the mattress, pulled the wretched quilt over him, curled into a fetal ball and cried himself to sleep in the rain. Maybe tomorrow, he sobbed.
The inquisition would begin with Morucchio
He was kept waiting in the small room for more than an hour with nothing to do after he had filled out the intake questionnaire. Surely they were watching him but he could not tell from where. There was no mirror, and those were things of the movies anyway. Everything had been taken from him, his wallet, watch, money, everything, so he just sat.
What Andrea did not see was the small hole in the wall directly in front of him that concealed the fish-eye lens of a video camera on the other side of the wall where Antonio sat watching a monitor while taping the entire session for later review.
It was obvious that they wished to speak to him of the American and the murdered Marocchino. Why did they not simply ask him? He had nothing to hide, no secrets to keep concerning either of them. He would freely tell everything! But where were they? It had taken some thirty minutes to get to the station of the Polizia from his shop and he had arrived to unlock his door just before eight that morning. After they had arrived at the station, it took another thirty or so minutes of waiting before he was taken into this room and all his valuables removed from him. Then some cursory information, his name, address and such innocuous facts as these that the Polizia most certainly would already know, had taken another fifteen minutes. He had waited perhaps an hour or maybe as much as an hour and a quarter, so it could be as late as eleven in the morning.
“OA!” He huffed.
He stood and stepped toward the door. There was no handle on the inside. No way to open it. There was no window. He put his ear to the wood and listened. He heard nothing. He took a step back and surveyed the door from top to bottom.
“Ma!” He cursed again. “Oa, but this is ridiculous!” He said half out loud and half to himself.
He reached up with his right hand and pounded on the door three times.
“Hello? Is anyone there?” He called and then laughed to himself for asking such a stupid question. Of course someone was there! He was in the station of the Polizia after all. There was someone there, wasn’t there?
A small panic tugged at his chest. What if no one was there? What if they put him in this small room with a door that had no handle to get out and then forgot about him? He looked about the room for any means of escape; there was none.
“Stop now.” He commanded himself. “Do not think like a child!”
“Once I am inside,” Sergeant Perer instructed, “there are to be no intrusions; turn the thermostat to it’s highest setting, and then every two minutes, increase the ambient hum in the room and the brightness of the fluorescent lights, until you have reached their limit. Do you understand?”
There came the sound of a key being inserted in a lock from the other side of the door. Andrea wheeled around as it opened to be faced with a rotund and balding man of about fifty in a plain blue suit, disgracefully tailored by Italian standards. The man looked harried and what hair was left on his shining head was in disarray. He was breathless and sweaty. Andrea smiled. This would not be so difficult. This man looked to have the intelligence quotient of an infant, even less.
The Policeman looked up at Andrea, smiled weakly and then dropped his considerable girth without ceremony into the only other chair in the room.
“I am Sgt. Franco Perer.” He said apologetically. “I am sorry to have kept you waiting. It is the curse of a Policeman to be always late and always in a hurry.”
“As if I had no enterprise to attend to this day.” Andrea said indignantly. “I shall wish to speak to your superior of this! And what of those two idiots who came to me this morning in front of my colleagues, after questioning them all day yesterday? They had the audacity to threaten me with arrest! Me, Morucchio, who has done nothing wrong and has no secrets! This is an outrage and I shall press a full complaint.
“You are right,” Franco agreed readily, “of course and I shall help you! They are subordinate to me, and yet, speak to me as if I was nothing! Yes, I will help you make the complaint, even, I will write it for you myself, but you must help me first…”
The morning may indeed be gone and business with it, but Andrea would certainly have some satisfaction before the day was through. He would see that those underlings who paraded him through the street like a common criminal were put out of their jobs, before he was through. This fat one, he would have mercy on, for he seemed to be quite sincere in his apology, but Andrea would see that he was reprimanded, at any rate, for inconveniencing him.
The Sergeant began. “Now then, would you be so good as to tell me everything?”
“Everything…” Andrea repeated. “What everything?”
“And be so kind as to write it down for me.” Franco said as he slid a pad and pencil to Andrea.
Andrea was caught off guard. What ‘everything’ did this man want to know?
“First, start with the time you got up the morning before last.” The Sergeant smiled warmly.
“Sergeant Perer,” Andrea said firmly, “I do not understand…”
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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