He took the glass and turned to walk out. She watched him. She was glad that he was going to retire. His was a job for younger men who had younger bodies and minds to throw after criminals. He had served his time in jail as certainly as the men he had sent there. His parole was at hand. She would demand, for his own sake, for his health and for their marriage, that he retire at the conclusion of this case. It was selfish and she knew it but she wanted to live out her days with him. She wanted to die before him because he was stronger than she and he would survive it. She wouldn’t. If he died before her, she would never be able to adjust to life without him. Yes, it was time for him to leave, and if the case were to drag on more than a few days, then she would insist, she would pout, yell, cry and scream until he relented. He would never understand that it was for him she did it, and he would hate her for a time over it, but he would be alive!
Franco shrugged his weapon off and hung it on the stair case banister. It was something he never did but then there were no little ones to worry over. Graziella had not even told him to wash his hands as she always did when he came in. Maybe she had and he simply hadn’t heard her… He sipped his wine. He was tired. He was lost. He did not know which way to turn. He was about to initiate an investigation into one of the most powerful men in the world, and on what, a whim, intuition, a theory? Mirko Cofau… It was pure suicide, at least from a professional standpoint. Among his many exploits and financial largess, Cofau had contributed great sums to the Police Department. Now he, Franco was about to bite the feeding hand! He would get no help from the supervisory of his employ and little more from the rest. Not only was Cofau formidable because of his position but he was also extremely generous! It was a case of the elephant and the anthill. The stings the ants provided to the elephant for trodding on their home were painful but changed the outcome none at all! Even if Cofau were guilty of something as serious as murder and even if Franco could provide the proof, his wealth would most certainly keep him from the Galera. And what would that wealth, power and position provide for the ant who supplied the stings? Well, what happened to an ant that fell or was pushed beneath the feet of a beast so large? He was crushed… Franco slumped into his chair and sipped at his wine. Maybe he could just close the case and leave it unsolved? There were plenty of them in the files, cases that simply came to an end with no satisfactory result or arrest. Could he just close this one as well? If the Prefect knew of his suspicions he would almost certainly order it closed! He could make a summary report to the Prefect and turn it in, then it would be out of his hands entirely and he could pass the responsibility for failure off onto the narrow shoulders of the Prefect! And what of his convictions? Could he just ignore them? Could he let a criminal walk free and continue to terrorize even the Marocchini, simply because he had become a coward, because he had given in to the cowardice of others? This was not America where Policeman were considered untouchable. This was Italy where Judges like Falcone were murdered on freeways with others, simply to silence them! If a Judge like Falcone, a righteous man on a mission from God himself, could be killed by rich and powerful men, how much easier to snuff the life of a midlevel civil servant like himself! And what of Graziella? How would she be required to suffer for his bravery and principles? Could he live without her? She was his Achilles heel and Cofau would know it. Every man’s wife is so to him! How would he justify closing the case to the young and idealized Antonio? After all his self-righteous spouting, would he be able to face Antonio afterward?
Franco sighed heavily and looked out at the clear night. It would be cold, and tomorrow there would be frost on the ground. He wondered where the American was, if he were alive or dead. It was certain that he must be dead or he would have been found by now. There were wanted handbills all over Venice, Lido and the neighboring cities. He would have been found before now. There was no place for him to hide. They had searched everywhere. He had to be dead. Franco leaned his head back against the soft chair and closed his eyes. It was but a few minutes and he was fast asleep.
Graziella peeked in to tell him his soup was ready and saw him slumbering in the chair, his half glass of wine on the stand beside him. He looked pale and small. Tomorrow… tomorrow she would tell him that it was time.
Martin was trembling with cold. He could not move except to shiver. He ached everywhere. His body was one big cramp, his muscles tightening until they tore. He could see nothing, hear nothing, feel only the pain that slashed at him like a beast with talons. He cried, he screamed and still he hung. He flailed about and the visions that crowed into his muddled mind comforted him, terrified him all at the same time. If he was dead this must be hell!
He didn’t know why, but Bruno understood that everything was coming to a close and that soon his life would be unrecognizable. Cofau was distant. The calls had been made and the shipment secured. Arrangements had been made and it had been decided that the Marocchini no longer served a purpose. They would not be killed, there were too many for that. They would simply not be used anymore and like the broken strands of a spider’s web they would simply be turned loose to the wind to go where they would. Bruno considered that he would soon meet the same fate as those he had ministered fate to. He thought briefly of escape. It would not be difficult. He had the means and the money and the will to do so. His mind wandered to the beatings his father had thrust upon him… the banco or punishment, and he had chosen and suffered willingly the consequences. Was he a weaker man now? No… he had chosen and he would wait for the beating that would follow, and he would suffer it without complaint.
Andrea hung up the phone and redialed the new number.
Gianna was anxious and asked, “Amore?”
“All will be explained.” He answered as he brought the receiver to his ear and listened as it rang.
“Pronto?” A gruff voice called back, “And this better be good!”
“Sergeant Perer, this is Morucchio. I know where the American is.”
“Ah, yes? Then tell me.”
“No. I must show you and right now. Meet me at my home here in Mestre.”
Franco sighed into the phone. “You are drunk Morucchio, go to bed. I will arrest you tomorrow if you have not killed yourself before then to avoid the hardship of prison!”
Andrea gripped the receiver so hard that his knuckles turned white. “Perer, you told me that my life was hanging in the balance of all this and now I tell you, your career hangs in the balance even as we speak,”
“Oa, but you are boring me!” Franco interrupted him.
Andrea drew himself up as far as he could, took a deep breath and played his last card.
“Listen to me you fat pig, I am not joking with you! Get off your great round ass and meet me at my home right now or by this time tomorrow you will be directing boat traffic in a skiff in the lagoon!”
Franco was silent for a long moment before he responded. “And so the ‘Little Fucking Man’ has found a pair of balls after all?”
“And come immediately, there may be no time to waste!” Andrea ordered before he hung up the telephone.
Andrea turned to his wife who had a look of startled alarm on her face.
“Darling,” he said tenderly, “I know you have many questions and I will answer them all, only, do not demand it of me now. You must trust me and do as I say, for, the next hours will be the most perilous of your life and that of our daughter. It is possible that a man will seek to harm us, to kill us and so you must take Angelina and flee.”
The confusion on Gianna’s face tore at him deeply but he did not have time to explain now. If he was right and things went badly for him and for Franco, Bruno would certainly come for his wife and daughter for fear that Andrea may have told her what had happened.
“Va bene Amore, alright,’ she said, “we will go to…”
“No! No please, do not tell me! If I know, it could be told and I could not bear it. Go, go now, I will find you. Stay in the company of others. It is that you will be safe then.”
While Gianna hurried to grab coats for her and her daughter, Andrea ran to the kitchen and rummaged through the shelves for a flashlight. Then he walked briskly back to his office, opened his desk drawer and retrieved a small nine-millimeter pistol.
“And what do I intend with this? Oa, I am not a hero! I am a Merchant!”
Andrea heard the front door open and then his daughter crying softly. He could hear Gianna cooing gently to her to quiet her. He stepped from the kitchen and down the hallway to join her. She looked questioningly at the pistol.
“And this, what is that for?” She asked incredulously.
“Ahhh,” Andrea shrugged nervously, “I don’t know.”
“Leave it then, Andrea.” She spoke sincerely, “Do not invite a trouble trying to be a something you are not.”
He smiled at her. How did this woman become so smart behind his shoulders, he wondered?
“You are right.” He sighed. “Ti amo.” He murmured as he kissed her on the cheek and then his daughter as well.
“Anchio ti amo.” She answered.
“Go, go!” He ordered and watched as his wife and daughter got on the elevator.
After his family was safely away, Andrea ran back inside to get his own coat and the flashlight. He grabbed the keys for his car, locked his front door and rang for the elevator. He would get his Porche from the garage and pull around to the front of his apartment house to wait for Sergeant Perer.
The elevator came to rest in the lobby and as Andrea started out, it occurred to him that Bruno could already lay in wait for him. He stopped short in the darkened lobby and tried to pierce the obscurity with his eyes. And what if this man was waiting? What could he do? He was no champion, no kind of warrior. He could not fight even if he wanted to, and as for his pistol, it had been so long since he had fired it, he was not sure that he could hit anything with it at all, let alone try to aim and kill with it in the dark! Better to just go, and if the worst was to happen, he preferred not to see it coming! He moved the length of the lobby and out the front doors into the cold. He stopped to listen but heard nothing. That meant that if his wife and daughter had taken a bus, they were already safe, if not, he could do nothing for them now. He circled the large apartment building to the left, down a small alley and then came to stand in front of his garage door. In the distance he could hear cars traversing the street, their horns blaring and tires screeching. A cat yowled somewhere off in the near distance, a low tremulous threnody, a warning to others to stay away. Under the pale halo of the sodium lamp that lit the alley, he fumbled for the key to open the garage door. After inserting it and turning the lock, he pulled the hinged metal up and over and snapped on the light. On every side in the small room were crammed the overflowing remnants of life that he and Gianna had considered important enough to store but not so meaningful that they remembered what they had accumulated in this out-of-the-way room. He threw the cover off his car, got in and started it up. He looked over the gauges and saw that he had ample fuel for the trip to be made, gunned the engine a few times and then backed the vehicle out into the alley and left it idling as he jumped out to close the garage.
He pulled around to the front of the building and shut off the lights as he let the engine idle to warm the interior.
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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