Andrea turned slowly to his right to face the voice and was confronted with a short and solidly muscled man. In the ominous adumbrations he could make out the man’s compact shape and his startling teeth, pursed in a snarl.
“No,” he spoke clearly as he forced himself to be unafraid, “I must speak with the Capo, now.”
“You are in grave danger, friend.” The man forewarned.
Andrea suddenly became indignant.
“How dare you to threaten me!”
“It is of your own making.” The man rasped through clenched teeth.
The fear that had clutched at his heart was immediately forgotten as Andrea took the man forcefully by the arm.
“I am Italian, a citizen! You may not speak to me in such a manner! Take me to your Capo!”
“No.” The man decreed as he jerked his arm away from Andrea’s grasp with surprising strength, “You will wait!”
“And just who does this, this man, think he speaks to?” Andrea thought to himself with loathing. “Soon enough, I shall enlighten him!”
The Marocchino stepped nimbly through the tangle of sleeping men, carefully picking his way through the bodies that lay shrouded on the ground in heavy fabric, like so many corpses draped in sackcloth, until he reached the enclosure where the Capo, already awake and making ready for his prayers, waited.
As Andrea lingered, a small fire was lit and the men around it were bathed in a soft crimson halo of dancing light. He could see the Marocchino speaking to the Capo in animated but hushed tones. The Capo sat regally straight, cross-legged on a carpet, listening and then turned his unblinking eyes to Andrea. Even across the distance and darkness, his stare was penetrating, unnerving. There was an uneasy minute as the two men exchanged summations of each other, one in which Andrea fell short though he did not realize it and then the Capo beckoned him to come near with his hand.
Andrea turned, half expecting that the Capo had waved to someone behind him.
“The arrogance!” He seethed half out loud. “That he would summon me as one would summon chattel!”
He started toward the man, grumbling and blundering through the darkness as he stumbled over the slumbering men, most of who were beginning to stir. Their time of prayer was approaching. The complaints they murmured were as soft as the wary twilight; they obediently cleared a path for him to Salah, Capo di Strada, Boss of the Street.
Salah sat like a prince laved in the light of the small fire and watched the Italian lurch awkwardly through the throng of his kinsmen without so much as an apology for trampling on them or disturbing their rest.
“How like them to encroach without overture or simple decency!” He thought. “Look how he parades over my brothers as if he were a sovereign!”
Andrea came to a stop a half meter or so from the fire and stood without apology in front of Salah. Salah was dressed in a simple robe with a decorative cap on his head; his tea, brewed and ready in his hand.
Salah looked deep into his cup and without raising his eyes to the Italian, spoke in measured tones.
“Whom do you seek?”
“I am here about the American.” Andrea said forcefully.
“Stand him up.” Cofau ordered.
Bruno grabbed him around the armpits and hefted him up.
Martin focused his eyes on Cofau.
“Signor,” Mirko spoke firmly in the soft red light, “can you hear me?”
Martin put a hand to his head.
“Yeah,” He answered wearily, “I can hear you. Who the hell are you anyway?”
“Your host.” Cofau said thinly.
Martin turned to look at Bruno. “And him?” He asked.
“A servant.” Cofau replied.
Martin sighed as he tried to salve his shivering.
“I don’t suppose you know that he kills people?”
Cofau snickered. “But of course!”
“Where am I?” He asked.
Cofau waved his hand about grandly. “You are in the control tower of a collapsible sea wall, a prototype of a breakwater that when combined with a chain of similar appliances and secured to the bottom of the mouth of the lagoon, will stop the damaging high tides that assault Venice every year.”
Martin sighed again. “Yours?”
“Mine.” Cofau affirmed proudly.
“Are you going to tell me why you and this… bozo brought me here or what?”
“Be careful Signor. He has a rather nasty temper, you know, and because he does not understand your words, does not mean that an insult will escape his comprehension. First things first, Signor Shaw; where is my purse, the one you purchased from the Marocchino?”
Martin looked at Cofau and laughed a short burst through his nose.
“You don’t have the legs for it.” He snorted.
A glance from Cofau was all that was necessary.
Bruno slapped Martin hard with an open hand along the back of his head. Martin stumbled forward as his eyes fell out of focus. He braced himself on all fours on the steel deck plate inside the poorly lit control shack.
Bruno reached down and gently stood him up and then brushed him off.
“Thank you.” Martin mumbled absent mindedly.
“As you can see, he is also rather jealous for me as well. You will want to speak civilly to me. I will ask you again, Signor Shaw; where is my purse?”
Martin flinched as he glanced sideways at Bruno.
“Would you believe me if I said I don’t know?” He asked contemptuously as he rotated his eyes back to Mirko.
Another arcane glance from Cofau and Bruno moved swiftly. Martin tried to step out of the way but Bruno simply sidestepped and cut him off. He laid Martin’s head over with another open handed slap to the side of his face. Martin went down in an ungraceful heap to the deck again.
“Be careful idiota!” Cofau warned. “Don’t kill him yet!”
Bruno stood him up again. Martin wiped blood from his lip and raised an eyebrow at the tall man. It wasn’t that he was trying to be obtuse, heroic, brave or snide; it was that he simply didn’t care anymore and he knew, now that these two had him, especially the one who seemed to take such perverse pleasure in knocking him down and the standing him up, they would kill him anyway.
“You know Cisco, I wish you would make up your mind… up or down?” He panted.
Cofau smiled evilly. “Don’t waste yourself. As I said, he does not speak any English.”
“Marvelous.” Martin breathed. “What did you say your name was?”
“It is of no consequence for you to know it…”
“Hey look,” Martin complained as he straightened up, slowly, “I’m not stupid! I know you’re going to kill me and you know what, I don’t care, but for the meantime, what do I call you, Signor dumbfuck?” Martin spat.
Bruno recognized the phrase or at least a part of it. He moved to strike Martin again but a slight inclination of Cofau’s head stayed him.
“You may call me Cofau. Now then, once more Signor Shaw, where is my purse?”
Martin raised a hand in defense. “Just a minute? Okay? Don’t let him hit me again…” he steadied his eyes on Mirko. “I don’t have it. I bought it, I guess from that black kid but I don’t know what I did with it and what does it matter anyway? There was nothing in it!”
Bruno raised a questioning look to his employer. Cofau ignored it. “Signor Shaw, it may surprise you to know that I am a man of little patience…”
Martin wrapped his arms around his waist and bent over. “I don’t have the fucking thing!” He screamed. “What is so important about it anyway?” He pleaded. “I told you… it was empty!”
Signor Mirko Cofau was unmoved by the display. “Signor Shaw,” He began quietly, “you are a business man, yes?”
“I was once. Maybe I still am, I don’t know.”
“Ah yes, your water business and your divorce. Bloody business divorce. Women can be quite vindictive, can they not?”
Martin looked up at him in surprise. “How… how do you know?”
“About you? Money can purchase a great many things… silence, loyalty,” He gestured toward Bruno, “conversation, information. Your name appeared in the paper and I simply paid to find out who you are. Do you have any idea what you are standing on and what it represents?”
Martin looked nervously around. “Yeah, you said it was some sort of dam or something.”
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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