“The Guard of the Finance gave us a copy of your tax records!” Perer shouted as he slammed a fist to the table. “How did you afford such a trip?”
“And have you made profits a year later?”
“I… I… I…” Andrea stammered nervously.
“You had an argument with the Marocchino over money in the campo the morning before he was killed, yes? Everyone heard.”
“Yes, I mean no, I… I… I…”
“No?” Perer asked firmly.
“It was only that he was to charge the American too much for a purse that he was to purchase and I demanded that he charge a fair price to the man.”
“And where is this ‘purse’? It was not found!”
“I don’t know, I don’t know.” Andrea gasped.
“What was in the bag?” Perer shouted.
“I don’t know!”
“Then there was something in it but you don’t know what it was?”
“I DON’T KNOW THAT ANYTHING WAS IN THE BAG!” Andrea shrieked.
Conflagration; total, complete destruction…
Perer grinned a shark like toothy smile.
“Come, come…” He spoke gently in almost motherly tones, “why not make this simple for yourself and tell me the truth? I can see that you are lying. Why would a Venetian shopkeeper who makes no profits, take almost an entire day to help a tourist, whom he does not know when everyone else is content to simply take his money from him? Why does a simple shopkeeper pay such intimate attentions to a Marocchino, when every other merchant complains to the Police of their presence outside their doors? Do you know what I suspect? I believe that you and this Marocchino had a business together with the American; computer chip technology springs to mind. I suspicion that the American came to Venice, after you and he met in the Silicon Valley on this vacation you took your family on, in connection with this enterprise and that after you and he and the Marocchino argued, you helped the American, for reasons yet unclear to kill him.”
“You can’t…” Andrea wheezed.
“Do you ever ship your merchandise internationally? It will be easy to confirm.”
“What ventures are you and the American engaged in with the Marocchino?”
“We… I… there is none…” Andrea insisted weakly.
“Where is the American now? Where have you hidden him, or have you killed him as well?”
“Why should I not arrest you now and complete this investigation while you sit in jail?”
“BECAUSE I AM INNOCENT! BECAUSE I ONLY CAME TO HELP AND TO ANSWER QUESTIONS! HOW DO YOU KNOW ALL THESE THINGS? WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE SUCH TREATMENT?” Andrea cried in anger, frustration and fear.
Perer’s tone was deceptively polite as he spoke.
“I do not believe you, but I am not going to arrest you at this moment. Shall I tell you why? Because we have not found the American, but I think, if he is yet alive, he will come to you soon enough. But, if your shop is closed and you are in jail, how will he do this, hmmm?” Perer asked. “So, you shall become bait and you will be watched. Do not to try and leave Venice or to do a stupid thing. A cell in our prison, not much bigger than this plain room is reserved for you and you will go there very quickly if you do not help to capture this man. Then it will be that we will find if you have told the truth to me or not. Better for you that you have my friend. I can become a rather nasty adversary! You see, I tire of petty retailers as yourself who look down their noses on me for the Policeman that I am. I have made a career of putting such men behind bars and I will do the same to you! Then perhaps I will visit this Roberto Colluso as well. His sartorial splendor is enough to turn my stomach. Perhaps while someone fucks his ass in prison, complicit in this as he is, he will to make me finer suits than the one I currently wear, no?”
The silence in the room that followed Sergeant Franco Perer’s speech was odiously palpable. Andrea sat at the table, soaked with sweat, his tie hanging limply around his neck, wallowing in confusion.
Perer opened the door and stated simply, “You may go for now but I would caution you Morucchio, do not go far.”
Franco stepped into the small room that contained the video camera and spoke to Antonio.
“Well? What do you think?”
Antonio considered his words carefully before he spoke.
“He exhibited all the signs of a man withholding information and yet…”
Franco raised his eyebrows to anticipate Antonio’s next statement.
“I think,” Antonio stated emphatically, “that he has basically told you the truth about what he knows. He may have withheld information that could damage him personally… for instance when you questioned him concerning his taxes he was untruthful but we both know that everyone cheats the government, probably even you! He was confused yes, perhaps because he was so frightened but I think he has told you truthfully all he knows of the Marocchino and the American.”
Franco put a hand to his chin. “I think you are right, but he is our only connection, and so we must pursue him aggressively. Send two Officers to watch his shop. The American, if he is alive, may yet come there. The hotel has already been instructed if he returns there. As for Morucchio, if making his life difficult or miserable will solve this crime, then that is what I will do, no matter if he is injured or offended.”
Antonio looked uncertainly to his teacher. This was an element of barbarity in Franco that he had not seen, known or anticipated. At first he had been amused by the exercise because he had seen it as only that, an exercise, but it suddenly occurred to him that Morucchio was a real man with a real family and a real life, one that had just been summarily turned upside down by virtue of what was probably a chance encounter with a man, a tourist, somehow embroiled in a murder investigation. He knew instinctively that Morucchio was innocent of any real criminal activity. His conscience tugged at him.
“And what of Morucchio, when we are finished? Do we abuse him the same as a criminal would, as if he were a criminal? The ends justifies the means, no matter how cruel or unjust?” He asked pointedly.
Franco’s eyes flared angrily. He whirled to meet those of his student’s as he spoke.
“You feel sorry for him, yes? And so do I but I will tell you something, something for you to consider while you pity him; he is alive! The Marocchino is not, and so now, his family, his wife and his children and he surely has them, are left without him for all time. Do you feel sorry for them as well? The American is probably dead too, for, though we cannot find his body, you know as well as I do that it is virtually impossible to hide in Venice! And so, we may well have a double homicide! Yet another family, a mother and father at the least, left to weep over a lost son! Do you have pity for them? You seem to be very concerned for Morucchio, and that is well since he is part of the public that you have sworn an oath to protect… well then protect him! Use the skills I have taught you to find who is murdering people under your nose, and in so doing, keep him, his family and all of Venice safe from a murderer! I have told you before that your conscience would wrestle with you over how you do your job, but that in the end you may soothe yourself with the fact that you have put a criminal in jail! Well, if you want to soothe that young innocent mind of yours that shares more concern for the living than those who are dead, then, I suggest that you stop feeling sorry for Morucchio and help me find the buco di buio who has done this thing before he does it again! After that, you may go and apologize to Morucchio, for unlike the Marocchino and probably the American, he will be alive! You may kiss his ass and his feet for all I care, but in the meantime, Officer Mengasi,do your fucking job!” Franco shouted as he thrust his stubby finger several times into Antonio’s chest.
“Si, Franco.” Antonio said quietly.
Franco stood back and took a long hard look at his charge before continuing, his anger unabated.
“You will go today, this evening to the Chiesa di Pietá and you will speak with the Marocchini and you will be ruthless as you do so, if for no other reason than the fact that their lives may also be in danger! Do you understand?” Franco shouted again.
Andrea went back to his shop. How he got there, he did not know. He was in a complete daze. The only reason he was not in a cell at this moment was because the Police wished to use him as bait to catch Martin! Could such a thing be possible for him? And what if the American did not come? What if he was already dead or gone from Venice? Where would that leave him? Jail… the answer was clear enough! But he was a law-abiding citizen! Okay, so he had withheld some of his taxes, it was common enough! Everyone did it, probably even that Policeman! And what happened to people when the Guardia di Finanza finally caught them cheating on their taxes? They were fined and that was the end of it. They weren’t bundled off to jail, not unless the amounts were in the millions! Millions… that was rich! Andrea was not poor but he certainly did not have millions! The amount of his deception to the Finanza would amount to a few thousands, no more. Oa, but that wasn’t even the point! How could they suspect him of involvement in a murder? It was preposterous! But the Cop had been succinct if nothing else. He suspected him…
It made no sense, no sense at all. This Policeman surely must be a family man. Why did he not stop and consider that Andrea would never risk the life of his wife and daughter over whatever could be earned in the black-market of computer technology. He barely understood how the damn things worked! How could he be involved in some sort of international intrigue of computer chips if he did not even know enough to successfully hide his obvious tax inequities? Could he just wait, wait for Martin to come? And if he did not come, then what? And that was another momentous thought… could the man that he had befriend actually have committed such a crime? Andrea had been an entrepreneur for most of his adult life and had come to trust his instincts about people. Could he have misjudged this man so terribly? He didn’t think so… If he were going to get out of this and avoid prison then he would have to reason it out for himself.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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