“No.” Andrea’s mind raced. What should he say? What should he do? Should he lie? Should he tell the truth? His eyes snapped from side to side, a movement not unnoticed by Franco and Antonio in the other room.
“You mean like the Marocchino is a friend who is not a friend or like your colleagues in the campo who may or may not be friends?”
“The American is a tourist.” He sighed.
“And how do you know which American it is that I refer to?”
Andrea stood and shouted at Franco.
“Because he is the one from the paper! The one who came to my shop! The one everyone is looking for!”
It shocked Andrea that a man so large could move so swiftly and yet, faster than he could see, the fat Policeman was on him, had him by the collar, trapped against the wall.
Even Antonio was surprised to see that Franco could be so nimble and swift. So caught off guard by the suddenness of Franco’s action, Antonio nearly fell out of his chair.
“You will wish to remain seated Morucchio!” He snarled.
Without removing his unblinking eyes from Andrea, he reached around behind him, snatched up the chair, slammed it to the ground and shoved Andrea into it. Franco stepped back to the corner of the room, resumed his lackadaisical stance and spoke softly.
“Did the American make any purchases?”
Andrea was shaken and he began to tremble. He reached a hand to his jacket pocket for a cigarette before remembering that they had been taken from him.
Franco produced one from his own shirt pocket and lit it for him.
“Did he make any purchases, your friend the American?”
“Yes.” Andrea spoke uncertainly. “He purchased a hat, gloves and a scarf.”
“Ah, then he is your friend as I have suggested?”
“No. Please, he is just a tourist.” Andrea lamented as a single tear of sweat fell to the tabletop.
“Then why did Signor Colluso, the tailor, tell me that you introduced him as ‘your friend’?”
“Roberto?” The droning grew louder and more insistent so that Andrea cowed his head against his shoulder.
“Yes. According to your multitude of friends,” Franco’s voiced literally dripped with sarcasm, “you took him to his shop, why?”
This was unbelievable! Did this man have nothing to do rather than spend his time investigating him? Why was it so hot and bright? It had not been before and what was that irritating noise that breathed down the back of his neck so constantly?
“His coat needed to be altered. He purchased it in a shop and they treated him very poorly. They sold him a coat too large and did not make the proper exchange for his dollars. I felt sympathetic to him and wished to help.” Andrea tried to explain.
“He is a povero then, as well?”
“No, I mean yes. You are confusing me!” Andrea shouted.
Sergeant Perer remained unmoved.
“Well, he is a povero or he is not? Would you feel sorry for someone who was not a beggar?”
“No.” Louder. Brighter. Warmer.
“But you have a sympathy for a beggar?”
“Yes, I guess, I mean I suppose…” The room was tinder dry.
“Then why feel a compassion for an American tourist who flies to Venice first class, who is obviously not a beggar?”
“Sergeant…” Fuming. Seething. Scorching.
Perer stepped up to the table and leaned his full weight on it as he shouted in anger.
“You have a sympathy for a great many poveri who are not poor, and a sympathy for a great many friends who are not friends, yes? I am not treated so well in the shops of my own city! How is it that this American can walk into your shop and be treated so wonderfully if he is not your friend?”
Andrea slumped hopelessly back into his chair as far as he could go. “As I have said,” he answered pitifully, “It is a manner of speaking only.”
Andrea buried his head into his hands in an effort to hide from the oppressive light and the whining that seemed to assault his ears from everywhere at once.
“So we have a Marocchino, a povero, who is a friend who is not a friend; colleagues who are friends but maybe not necessarily friends; an American tourist who is a povero who is not a povero, who is a friend who is only a tourist friend and a friend that is a friend’s friend who is a tailor? Is this correct? You will pardon me but I am confused and only that happens when I am lied to. It seems that everyone is a friend of some kind to you, no?” The sarcasm in Franco’s voice was thicker than the oppressive atmosphere in the little room.
“Sergeant, this is wrong…” Andrea said as he blinked his eyes in the extreme light.
“Would you like to know something about your friend, the American povero?”
“No.” Andrea said as he slid warily out his coat and clutched against his breast like a shield from the verbal onslaught. The exchange began to smolder.
“He is from a place in California called San Jose. You knew this?”
“No.” He responded raggedly.
“Did you take a vacation last year?”
Once again, Andrea was caught completely off guard.
“Vacation? Yes, but what has that to do…” he moped his brow with a silk kerchief.
“How did you afford this vacation?”
Andrea squirmed in his chair.
“According to your tax record at the Guard of the Finance, you made no profits last year. Surely, you would not lie to the Guard of the Finance about your taxes and profits, would you?”
Franco knew that every Italian lied to the Guard of the Finance to avoid paying taxes. It was nearly a national pastime and something even he did, albeit not on as grand a scale, because his salary as a policeman was easily verified.
“And where did you go for this vacation?” He continued.
He looked up at Perer, his eyes darting right and left like a trapped animal searching for any small crevice, opening or crack to slither into and escape.
“I, we went to America.” The room and everything in it reached touchwood.
“My wife and daughter and I?” The room seemed to be closing in on him.
“And where did you go in America?”
“New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, Arizona of the Grand Canyon and…”
“California.” The word seemed to droop like an over ripe fig in the tyrannical heat.
The room roiled athwart as the heat and the statements pressurized in a great wave, sucking away the oxygen as it cooked across the ceiling.
“And where in California did you go?”
“Los Angeles, Disneyland?” He begged. The lights were almost unbearable. Even Perer was beginning to squint.
And where else? Did you not go to San Jose?”
“And who did you meet there?”
“No one!” Flashover! The dialog burst into full open flame.
“Then why go? Is there a Disneyland there as well?”
“No, is Silicon Valley, the place where computers are manufactured. I wished to purchase a laptop computer there. Is cheaper…”
“Yes…” Franco repeated triumphantly, “computers… and how did you afford such a trip with no yearly profits?”
The room seemed to be consumed by flame.
“What?” Andrea was confused. What did all this have to do with the murder?
“How did you afford such a trip?” Perer repeated forcefully.
“I don’t understand?” Fueled by ignorance, innocence and stupidity, immolation began to lick at Andrea.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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