He would rather have closed his shop early and gone home but he knew that the Cop would be good to his word. Besides, although they were trying to remain inconspicuous, the two fools in uniform the Questura had sent to watch his shop, stood out like big toes! The American, if he came would probably overlook them, but Andrea could not help but see them! He got out a legal pad and the stub of a pencil and began to write the facts down as he understood them. First there was Ciccio, a Marocchino… but was that all that he was? Maybe, but it seemed more than likely now that he was more. There was the matter of the purse that he had sold to Martin. He was genuinely intent on getting it back, and absolutely terrified that he had mistakenly sold it. Why? What was in the purse? Drugs?
His door was opened and a young woman stepped in. He ignored her, not because he did not want to wait on her, but because he was so engrossed in what he was doing that he simply did not hear the bell.
Then there was Martin, the tourist. He was a strange man. Why was he so… so… how would he put it?, melancholy! Yes, that was it, melancholy! What reason was there for him to be so down trodden? Was it because he was in Venice on untoward or illegal business and dreading it? Oa, but that was ridiculous! He didn’t come prepared in the least! Even a novice spy, or whatever they call those who involve themselves with stolen computer things… what had Sergeant Perer had called them?, chips?, would have more sense or someone to instruct them! No, he had to be exactly what he appeared to be. A bumbling fool on his first adventure abroad.
The young woman cleared her throat for the third time.
“Signor?” She asked insistently.
Andrea looked up. “Ma! Who are you?” He demanded angrily. “How did you get in here? What do you want? Can you not see that I am busy? Get out! Get out!” He shouted as he hurried around his counter and literally shoved her out the door.
Two hours and five sheets of paper later, he was no closer to figuring out what he had been dragged into than he was in the first few minutes he had begun. He was only sure of three things: He was innocent of any criminal proceeding, Martin was similarly hapless and the Marocchino may be more than he appeared but what that might be, he had no idea. In the distance he heard sirens wailing. There would be a high tide tonight. He looked at the clock… it was time to begin closing his shop. He would have to set everything up out of the way of the encroaching sea tonight and put the metal dyke in the doorway.
Bruno turned his head toward the sirens. High water; L’Aqua Alta. It never caused him trouble. His furnace room sat high enough so that the water that seeped in under his front door represented no danger to his warm house, and his living quarters were upstairs anyway. As for walking the streets in the pursuit of his mission, well, his feet would get wet and he would ruin a pair of shoes. His feet could be rinsed and dried and new shoes could be bought. It represented no inconvenience to him whatsoever and he wondered why the Venetians seemed to become so alarmed or anxious over an event that happened several times a year every year and had been doing so for centuries!
“There are other cities… go and live in them!” He thought to himself.
He had learned nothing of the American’s whereabouts from Marco and his fellows or the Gondolieri. He made a special point to remind both men of the consequences of their failure and both men had paled at the thought. He had no doubt that they were pursuing his instructions in earnest, but he did not want or need their enthusiasm, but rather he required results! He had said the same to both men and both had eagerly affirmed that they understood. He would give each of them one more day before he would make good his threat to both. Killing a small dog was not enticing. Though he had no special affinity for animals he did not wish to hurt them. If there was an innocence on the face of the earth, then it belonged to them. He would do what was necessary. That went for Marco’s wife and daughter as well although he knew them to be anything but innocent. They were human. That in itself made them culpable in his eyes. Rape was not a cherished activity either, and that he had spent years blunting his sexual urges left him to wonder if he could even achieve an erection. Well, there were other ways if he could not. And whether a broomstick or his cazzo, the lesson would be the same!
The high water actually worked to his advantage. It would frighten the American out of hiding. He would have to remind Marco and the Gondoliere of that.
From his office, Franco heard the sirens as well.
“Antonio, tell your men to get out their rubber boots and to remain in the streets for the duration of the tide. If the American is alive and hiding, then he will surely be terrified that all of Venice is sinking and he will be found!”
“Si, Franco.” He answered and picked up the telephone.
When he was done with his conversation Franco asked him, “What did you learn from the Marocchini at the Church of Pity this afternoon.”
Antonio sighed. “Nothing. The Capo, a man named Salah claims not to know the victim but I think he is lying. I showed him a photo and I’m sure he recognized the face. I will return tomorrow and speak with him again.”
From his hiding place Martin heard the sirens wailing across the ever-darkening sky. Had they found him? He stumbled the few short steps to the door and listened. He heard nothing except the far off excited shouts of children and what seemed to be the normal ambience of boat traffic and snippets of distant conversation that had been echoing in from the street and canal all day. Why air raid sirens? Half an hour later his question was answered, although he did not readily understand the connection. It started innocently enough. He noticed that the water level at the edge of the building where it was opened to the sea began to rise. Or was it just his imagination? Then the level reached in and began to lap at the garbage that was strewn everywhere. Martin dragged his mattress and blanket as close to the door as best he could. It seemed to be the highest spot that still offered some protection from the damn rain. His fingers were nearly purple now and he could no longer feel his nose or cheeks. His throat was parched and sore and his body ached from shivering and the involuntary muscle cramps that clawed at every piece of him. The water continued to rise and within a half-hour it was ankle deep throughout the cavernous structure. His bed, such as it was floated a few yards and then as the wool became completely saturated, it sank. He managed to save the blanket, which he had thrown over his shoulders. The seawater was diabolically cold. If he had flesh that extended below his knees, he could no longer feel it. What was happening? Was the building sinking? He was going to drown after all. The water seemed to level off at a depth of about two feet. It was just high enough that it washed up over his calves. They were numb now too. He knew that as his body core temperature dropped he would fall into a stupor, a coma and then he would drown and die. He was beyond caring. If he were dead, at least he would no longer be in any pain. He put his back to the door and wedged himself as best he could between the jamb and the stone, laid his head over on his shoulder and closed his eyes. Maybe he would meet God tonight and if he did, he would ask why?
Andrea turned the key in his door and let himself into the apartment. Angelina tiptoed up to him with her chin tucked down to her chest, eyeing him carefully. He sighed, for having been such a beast to her, and then scooped her into his arms and kissed her very gently.
“Are you angry with me amore?” He asked her.
“No.” She whispered doubtfully.
He looked into her eyes. “Not even just a little?” He prodded.
She smiled. “Maybe.” She admitted.
He couldn’t help but grin himself. “Should you spank me for being naughty?”
“Mommy says you’re in trouble. You don’t get spankings for being in trouble unless it is on purpose.” She offered, timidly fingering his tie.
He smiled broadly. “Mommy’s right and so are you.” Hesaid as he touched he nose.
“What kind of trouble are you in Papá?” She asked as seriously as she could. She would help she said.
“Oa, its big people stuff and it’s not serious enough for you to worry over. I promise.” He lied as he buried his face in her soft fine hair hoping she would not feel the sobs that twisted unmercifully at his chest. Oh, but God in Heaven, what would he do without his precious daughter and wife? How would he survive without them? Separation from them would kill him! Prison… how would he ever see his beautiful daughter grow to be a woman with a husband and children of her own?
Gianna watched from the kitchen door. She buried her cheek in her hand while she held her other across her stomach and tried to stop the tears that welled up inside her. What would happen to her husband? What would happen to her and Angelina? Was there nothing she could do? Anger flared up inside her with the tears.
Angelina sensed her daddy needed one of her super hugs. She threw her arms around his neck and squeezed as hard as her little muscles would allow. She didn’t know what kind of grown up trouble her daddy was in but she knew that hugs could salve everything from scraped knees to skinned elbows. He had taught her that. His grown up trouble couldn’t be more serious than a super hug! She was sure of that, and having fixed his problem so neatly, she squirmed to get out of his embrace. TV wanted her attention!
While Angelina watched her nightly variety show, Andrea and Gianna sequestered themselves in the kitchen.
“I was questioned today for several hours, Gianna. They think I am involved in this. I do not know what to do.”
Gianna looked at her husband with disbelief and alarm.
“You must engage and Avocato immediately!” She warned.
“And confirm their suspicions of me? A Lawyer? Can you be serious?”
“Then what?” She asked desperately. “What shall we do?” She cried. She took hold of her husband and buried her face into his chest. “What will Angelina and I do without you, Andrea?” She sobbed. “You are my life! I could not live without you! I could not! I would sooner die than to have you removed from me.”
“Anchio amore, anchio.” He mumbled as her held he close.
Dinner was a wordless dispirited affair. Only Angelina, certain that her hug had fixed everything prattled on as if nothing were wrong. When dinner was finished and the table cleared, Andrea excused himself to his office with orders to his wife and daughter not to be disturbed. For Angelina it was a sign of nothing unusual. Her father often withdrew to his office. It was for what her mommy called ‘Business’. Daddy always had ‘Business’ when he went into his office. He always had ‘business’ when he was in the bathroom too. Angelina wondered why her daddy had so much more ‘business’ than her mommy or her?
After two more hours of thought, Andrea had reached only one positive conclusion out of the myriad of that swam around him like the high tide that was sweeping over Venice, and that was that there was more to Ciccio the Marocchino than was known. He was dead and so the answer would not come from him but there were others, his compatriots, the other Marocchini. He was their Capo. They would know something more of him and he would go and ask. No, he would demand answers! His life and that of his wife and child rested on what they knew, and what they would tell him if he had to shake them by the shoulders to get it out of them! He would get up early, before three in the morning and he would go to the Church of Pity. That was where they stayed. He knew it. Everyone in Venice knew it. It was only that they pretended not to. One way or another, he would get answers!
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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