He had been inside his shop only a few minutes when he heard the door open. He looked up to see Sergeant Franco Perer with Antonio in tow waddle past his displays to the counter where he stood. Sergeant Perer had a wide jovial smile across his fat face.
“I understand that you must be deaf as fully as you are stupid!” He chuckled.
Andrea put his books away and spoke.
“What are you talking about?”
“Where were you this morning?”
Andrea shifted his feet unsteadily.
“Walking. I am frightened by all these accusations and needed to get some air.”
“And your neck? Will you tell us now that you injured yourself while walking?”
“No, I, I cut myself while shaving.”
Sergeant Perer lit a cigarette and blew a large cloud of smoke into a nearby rack of silk ties before he spoke,
“But, why do you insist to lie when you do it so poorly? If the American does not come here today, I will insist that you went and warned him. Have I not convinced you of the troubles you are in? I think not; perhaps we should arrest you now? We will find this American without your help anyway. The mouse cannot forever run in circles from the cat, when both are in the same cage, no?” Perer chuckled at his own witticism.
“Sergeant,” Andrea began to plead, “I did not go to Martin, to the American.” He corrected. “If I knew where he was, do you think I would not tell you, that my innocence could be proved? I am not a fool; I know that my life hangs in the balance! And more than you know!” He did not say out loud.
“Again, I do not believe you, but,” Franco shrugged, “I am by nature a lazy man, so, you will remain as bait and I will leave three men instead of two. There will be no more slipping away this time. They will be within a discreet distance and you will be pounced upon immediately should you decide to have another wayward stroll. I will see you soon, yes?”
As he turned to leave, he paused a moment at the tie rack he had blown smoke into. He fingered an expensive silk tie, lifted it and put it up under his chin, perusing himself in the small exhibit mirror.
“This is very becoming, but not with a suit such as this one, yes? I shall have a personal tailor in the galera soon, and a personal valet to order fine accessories to wear with them, in time enough!”
He smiled viciously and then opened the door and stepped into the street.
“Antonio,” He said. “I have a very bad feeling. Somehow, we have been left behind and this investigation is about to close whether we are ready or not. You will stay here and watch this man. I will send others to accompany you. Do not let him out of your sight! I am going to speak with the Marocchini myself.”
“Franco, they will all be gone. They leave for their street corners early in the morning. They will not return until late.”
“Then I will wait for them.” Franco replied doggedly.
Andrea shivered as if he were cold. How did such men exist in the world? And yet, for all this man’s cruelty, he and Andrea were not so different, and Andrea knew it. Franco Perer knew what he knew, it was as simple as that, and he lived his life and structured his convictions and actions upon that knowledge. Before his encounter with Salah and the Marocchini, Andrea had lived his life within the same narrow scope. It was only after having his eyes opened to their humanity that he understood his own ignorance and prejudice. He laughed at himself scornfully. What a mockery to have his vision healed only to be denied the penance! It would have been better for him to have remained blind and stupid or that Salah had slit his throat in the courtyard of the Church of Pity! Andrea felt his suit pockets for a cigarette. He needed one and a coffee. They would not help. They would solve nothing but his nerves would be soothed, if even for a few brief moments.
All around him was darkness. Martin was insufferably hot. His arms hurt and seemed to be bound. His head throbbed unmercifully. He tried to move but found that his feet were not touching anything. His nostrils were assaulted with a horrible stench. He craned his neck to try and turn his head to look up. Was there an up or a down, a direction in the blackness? As he did so, he heard the soft abrupt tearing of cloth and he slipped downward a couple inches. His coat seemed to be wrapped around his chin and made it difficult to breathe. He tried to reach his throat with his left arm. Another tearing and he slipped a little farther. Each movement cause great waves of pain and nausea to roll over him. He wretched into the blackness that surrounded him. The air was bitter with grease, oil and rotting flesh. His mind was shouting something… what was it? His feet strained to touch something, anything. It dawned on him as suddenly as impact with the ground would have if he had fallen to his death, that he was hanging! How far up, how far down, he had no way of knowing. He tried to reach and grab something with his left hand. There was nothing there, nothing anywhere! A panic flooded into his throat…
Franco was at the Church of Pity within the hour. He did not bother about the side door but went directly into the church sanctuary. Just inside he found a Priest about his age. Franco stood directly in front of him, opened his badge case so that his Police Identification was clearly visible and said,
“I am Sergeant Perer. Take me to the Marocchini.”
Father Sylvestri looked at the badge and then simply answered, “No.” He turned and began to walk away.
Franco grabbed him by his right arm, spun him hard around and hit him in the mouth hard enough to knock him to his butt. Perer straddled the astounded Padre, knelt over him, drew his weapon from under his arm and shoved it into the Priest’s face.
“Father forgive me,” He began as if he were in a confessional, “for I am the devil, and you have sorely tempted me this hour…”
Once in the farthest reaches of the rear courtyard, Franco found himself face to face with the man called Salah.
Salah did not have the stomach for work that day. All the events leading to Andrea’s visit had proved too much. That a Cop, a different one than before had followed did not strike him as odd, he had expected as much. Bruno was sure to see all the people that were coming and going and Salah would be killed or worse. He no longer cared.
Franco pulled the Inquirente’s picture of Ciccio’s corpse from his pocket.
“Do you know this man?” He asked.
“I have already told the other Policeman that I did not.” Salah answered.
Franco regarded him for a moment. This was a man at the end of hope, that much was clear. There were two ways to elicit information from a man beyond hope… one was to empathize with him. The other was more direct.
Franco grabbed him by the neck and jerked him to his feet.
“Yes, and you lied!” He shouted. “I will only ask you once more and God, or whomever it is that you worship, help you if I see another lie in your eyes! Do you know this man?”
Salah had not expected a Policeman to be so blunt or physical. The surprise jarred him deeply.
“His name is Masu’ud. He is called Ciccio by the Italians.” He stammered.
“Very good…” Franco sneered. “Do you know why he was killed?” He asked as he shoved Salah to the ground.
Salah leaned on one elbow and looked up warily at Sergeant Perer. It was time to tell everything. It did not matter any longer. He had told Andrea that he was a dead man for what he would be told and Salah knew that he was a dead man for what he had spoken. Speaking more would not condemn him further.
“Si, I know why he was killed, and by whom… his name is Bruno Trevisani.” Salah began.
The day passed without incident. Customers came and went, and for a while, Andrea was able to set aside the worries for his life as he waited on them. As the lunch hour approached, business began to lull. Andrea sat on a stool behind the counter of his boutique and read a magazine. His stomach rumbled but he had no appetite. All day, at every noise he jumped, expecting a policeman to leap out at him or for Martin to burst through his door. It didn’t help matters that he ate nothing, but at least once every other hour, made yet another coffee to drink. Before closing time, one of the Policemen came into his shop and without pause or permission said,
“The Sergeant says that you are to come with me to the station.” He ordered. “Close everything and come with me, quickly!”
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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