When the Lion Smiles

Chapt. 6- Part 5 “Cowardice”

There had not been sufficient time to think about the consequences of what he was about to do before, but in the quiet confines of his car, the green dash lights shining in his eyes, he began to consider just what would happen if he were wrong. He would so infuriate Sergeant Perer that he would be summarily hauled away to jail and life, as he knew it, would cease. If he were right and did nothing, it would only be a matter of time, a few days at most before Trevisani came for him; at his boutique if he were lucky, to his home if he were not, to the detriment of his wife and daughter and life, as he knew it, would cease. If he and Perer were to discover the American dead, and others as he suspected, he would surely be blamed for their demise, after all, was he not the one who knew where to find them? He would go to jail for that and life, as he knew it, would cease. Franco might even take him to jail anyway, for not telling where the American was, whether they found him dead or alive, simply because he hated Andrea so much, and life, as he knew it, would cease.

Andrea took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. If there was a positive light to all this, he had not found it, but he could not turn back. He would not stop now. For once in his life he would do the right and generous thing whether it benefited him or not, and in this case, it seemed that there would only be detriment, regardless of the outcome, for he had taken Perer in hand and insulted him rather savagely. He would hardly be able to count on any good graces from him now. What did the Americans call that? Ah, yes, “Taking a stick to a bear!” Franco Perer was all of that! If the American were found alive, then he stood a chance, for however remote, but a chance at least.

Andrea counted as three busses passed and wondered if Perer were coming at all? Maybe it would be better if he didn’t. He could say that he was drunk, as Perer had suggested; that he remembered nothing of their conversation and credit it all to too much Grappa. Perhaps it would work out after all? He could be wrong and for all he knew, the Marocchini had spun a great lie to play an evil trick on him, or, if it was true, this Bruno Trevisani knew nothing of him and he was safe from everyone except the foul temper of Franco, who, it seems, could be mollified by his superiors. If he were to seek help from a Lawyer, the man could speak on his behalf to keep him from jail. After all, justice was not foreign in Italy. It could be had for everyone equally, here as in America.

He shook his head. No, he would not be a coward! He would not be content to simply save himself. There were others whose lives were just as precious as his own, others who had dreams and families like him, and had no power to save themselves. They would possess only a dim hope that someone would come for them, that someone would provide a rescue. Could he be that someone? Oh, but he was so frightened by the prospect! This was not how he had imagined it would be in all those boyhood dreams of heroic adventure. Didn’t men of valor always know of their own bravery and hold the treasure of its virtue close to their hearts as a shield against terror? He was not such a man; he was petrified beyond description! He believed he knew fear when Salah had held the knife to his throat, how he wished he could feel that wonderful again! He could feel his resolve slipping away. This was a mistake for him. No, he could not do this thing! He would confess it all to Perer the next morning. He had been drunk, yes, drunk with stupidity and an over-zealous imagination fueled by copious amounts of alcohol induced courage! Bravery was a guise that suited him as well as Martin’s poorly fitted overcoat, and twice as cumbersome to a heart made faint by the desire to live! He was not a courageous man and had no longing to be one! This was crazy and he was all the more so for thinking he could manage it by himself. He reached to turn the headlights back on. He would pull his car back around to the garage and go home. His wife and daughter would return soon enough and in the meantime, he would get drunk for real!

A single loud tap on his window nearly made him wet himself. He looked to see Sergeant Franco Perer frowning at him through the glass.

Too late. Now God would decide whether he was a courageous man or not, for everything rested with him from this point on. He took a deep breath and set his mind to the task ahead.

Perer lumbered around to the passenger’s side of the idling car and slid his considerable girth in to the bucket seat next to Andrea.

     “Well,” he huffed, “I have brought my ‘great round ass’ as you have commanded. And I have,” he sniggered. “also brought a pair of handcuffs that I think will fit you very well. Shall we try them on now?”

Andrea turned in his seat so that he could face Sergeant Franco Perer.

     “Sergeant, I know that you do not like me and that you think me guilty of a crime, many crimes, and perhaps some of them I could answer to, but not this one, not murder. I am going to drive you to a place where I think the American is, and on the way, I wish to tell you what I think has happened. If, when this night is over, I have not convinced you of the truth and we have not found Martin, then I will go happily to jail if that is what you choose for me. Will you listen?”

Perer studied Andrea for the briefest of moments before nodding in agreement.

Andrea put the car into gear and broke traction, his tires squealing their malcontent as he sped away.

     “Before you start on this lie you have invented,” Franco began as he reached for his seatbelt, “I will advise you of this, slow down! We do not need to be involved in an incident on the roadway or to receive a multo, a ticket for speeding!”

Andrea reduced his speed.

     “Okay, Morucchio, spin for me this canard so that I may arrest you and go home to my wife’s great round ass!”

Andrea took another great breath and began as the headlights of the other cars intermittently illuminated the cab of his car.

     “This morning, I did not go for a walk, not so much anyway. I went to the courtyard of the Church of Pity and spoke with the Capo di Strada of the Marocchini.”

     “Oa, yes but I know this already!” Franco intoned with incredulity.

     Andrea ignored Perer’s sarcasm and continued. “Salah, the man of the Marocchini told me that two years ago, he and his brothers were put upon to smuggle contraband into Venice. They were paid well for it.”

     “But of course we know this! He has told me the same story. Are you going to bore me with that we already know? 

     “Just listen!” Andrea turned the wheel left and the car followed down the turn onto the next street. “There is always one purse or bag that is special in the shipment that is reserved for one buyer only, marked with a yellow tag, yes?”

     “Yes, and what is in this bag? And don’t tell me drugs for then I will know you are lying and as I have already told you, it is a thing you do very poorly!”

     “There is nothing in the bag, the bag itself is the contraband.” 

     Perer shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

The light turned green as they sat idling.

     “Nor I, and the Marocchini are at an equal loss but the purse is very valuable and they are paid great sums for it. They have told me that at least six others have died because they mishandled that which they were entrusted with.”

     “It is unconfirmed that they are dead for there are no bodies.” Franco pointed out.

     “They are presumed to be dead by the Marocchini for they were never found.” 

     “Naturally.” Perer stated as he shifted in his seat. “Are we going to sit at this light until we are hit in the rear by someone, or are you going to drive?”

Andrea eased the car through the intersection.

     “Sergeant Perer, if your were the proprietor of a large firm that had a great project that was expending vast amounts of money, would you not seek to offset the expense in other ways?”

     “Yes, yes of course. You are referring to Cofau… your point?”

     “And if you needed the offset to be as large as the expenditures and to come in as quickly and easily, what avenues would you seek to pursue?”

     Franco looked over at Andrea and spoke dryly, “Criminal?”

     “Exactly. But not just any crime. You would seek out an enterprise that was immensely lucrative.” 

     “Can you at least think to tell me what kind of crime?” Perer asked.

Andrea looked to him and saw that Franco was making fun of him, that he did not believe his story at all.

     “Drugs, who knows?”

     “Then tell me if you are quick enough, what you are talking about?”

He signaled and then turned right down a smaller street.

     “Tell me, how would you go about investigating the disappearance of one of the Marocchini?” Andrea asked.

     “It is all but impossible.” Perer answered. “They come and go on a whim. No one knows where they come from or to where they go.”

     “Yes. Can you think of a better criminal syndicate?”

     Perer studied Andrea. Perhaps he was not as stupid as he had originally thought. “No, but then I have already considered all of this.”

Not three blocks from their destination, Andrea pulled over to the curb on a deserted street in an industrial section of Mestre.

     “And this is what I have brought my ‘great round ass’ out of my warm home for? You are going to jail, my friend and right now.” Perer squeaked as he fumbled for his handcuffs.

Andrea hung his head and gripped the stirring wheel. It was now or never. He turned once again to Franco and spoke as evenly as he could though his heart threatened to leap from his chest with every beat and every breath.

     “Perer, I told you that when we were through, I would go willingly to jail, if that was your pleasure. But we are not through just yet. I intend to go to the ‘Mosé and search there for the American. The Marocchini said that those who disappeared were swept away by the gamba del mare and that they did not know where or what that was. I did not know either until tonight. The Rai Uno reported on the television of more problems with the hydraulics on the legs of the Mosé and it was then that I put this all together. It is not a lie or a tale. I tell you it is the truth!”

     Perer looked at Andrea as if he were an idiot. “But are you a mental deficient? Even if it were true, which I do not believe, do you think that my career as a policeman would be worth even as much as the life of one of those miserable fucking Marocchini, of which you seem to have become so fond? Ha! I am not sure I would wish to accuse Cofau if I had the world as a witness!”

     “Sergeant, will you answer two questions before you take me to jail then?”

     “Oa, fine, sure, I am feeling very generous tonight!” He cried.

     “Will you come with me now to see the ‘Mosé? Will you be patient long enough to see if I am right?”

     “No, I have had enough for one night. I have determined that this case is unsolvable and I am going to order it closed tomorrow but not before I arrest you for something, anything and send you to jail! I have lost all patience with you, this case, everything! Once the Prefect learns of our suspicions against Cofau, he will order the case closed whether I wish to pursue it or not!” Perer sneered.

     “I cannot suffer the indignity of prison, it is as you have said, I am too weak. So it is that you have reduced me to nothing and I have nowhere to run. I will confess to everything and make you a hero if you but allow me to end all of this myself. Then it is that you may rest your investigation with an arrest if you will come with me to the ‘Mosé.”

     Perer sighed heavily. “You said that you would go to jail willingly.”

     “I lied.” Andrea answered flatly.

     “And how would you make this confession? Into what ears would it be witnessed? Oa, but you are boring me!”

     “I will write it. I will confess to everything. I will sign my name to a blank piece of paper and you may fill in any detail that will solve your case for you, if that is your wish.”

Perer pursed his lips. That would be a delicious confession indeed and he would certainly be a hero to solve a murder in Venice, a place where crime is small and homicides rare.

     “Well, I must admit you surprise me Morucchio. I would never have guessed that you would have the heart for this, for however faint the act may be. Fine, bravo, you wish to condemn yourself, why not?” Franco reached into his pocket and pulled out his note pad and pen. “Here, sign.”

     Andrea took the pad and did as he instructed. “And now on to the Mosé?” He asked timidly.

     “No.” Franco said as he reached for his handcuffs. “Now we go to jail. I am tired.”

Even Franco was surprised by the suddenness of the movement. His consternation was made all the greater however as he looked down the barrel of the pistol Andrea held.

     Andrea’s voice was calm. “Sergeant Perer, I have no wish to kill you but I will and it is doubtful that I could do less with this weapon at such short range.”

     Beads of sweat like small pearls bloomed along Franco’s brow. He spoke carefully, evenly. “You will not shoot me, Morucchio.”

Andrea quickly turned the muzzle slightly upward and squeezed the trigger. There was a deafening explosion as the soft nosed hollow point round tore through the roof of the car. Perer froze. The smell of cordite and sulfur filled the air and his ears rang mercilessly. He felt himself all over to see if he was injured, seeing that he wasn’t, he sighed slightly with relief and turned to eye the corpse of Andrea Morucchio.

As he turned, the barrel of the still smoking weapon was pressed against his forehead.

     “I will kill you,” Andrea said matter of factly, “if you do not do exactly as I say.” 

     “Y… you are a fool!” Sergeant Franco Perer said, his voice quavering.

     “Yes, a fool with nothing to live for beyond this last gamble, and you will help me to roll the dice. We are going to the construction yard where the prototype of the Mosé is kept and we are going to see if my suspicions are correct. After that, you may do as you wish, whether I am right or wrong. You drive.” Andrea said as he slipped out of the car.
Franco stepped gingerly from the right side of the car and moved awkwardly to the driver’s side. He sat a moment gathering himself together and then turned to Andrea to speak.

     “Morucchio, I want you to listen to me very closely…” he began. “You are not a suspect in this.”

     “What are you saying? Do you wish to try and convince me of a lie while I have a gun to your head? ‘But why do you lie when you do it so poorly?’” he sneered.

     “Andrea you must understand…”

     “Drive!” Andrea commanded.

Perer slid the indicator down and pulled the car back onto the roadway.

     “Listen to me! I treated you poorly, yes; it’s true but not because I suspected you even though I told you so. You were the last person to see the Marocchino before he was killed and the American before he disappeared. It was obvious that you had more information than you were willing to tell so I bullied you, but I would not have arrested you.”

     “Then perhaps you will tell me why it is that you had me sign a blank confessional?”

     As the dark gray Porche sped on through the night, Perer explained. “Why did I have you write everything in the station? An interrogation technique. You tell me something and I twist it against you to make you more uncomfortable. If I twist enough, if I push hard enough eventually you would tell me the truth. You see, no one tells me the truth, at least not the first time I ask. It is cruel, yes, but murder is exceptionally cruel and if I can solve a crime through some minor bullying, would you have me to do it or would you rather a criminal to go free, to continue to kill?”

     “You are a bastard. You said you were going to close the case and arrest me! I do not believe you and in case you are wondering, I have just enough courage in reserve to kill you. Do not mistake my personal cowardice for one that would let you live.” Andrea seethed. 

Perer pulled the car into a long narrow driveway, bracketed by a high cyclone fence. Dust from the gravel billowed behind them as they drove to the entrance. Franco stopped the car and turned off the engine. He left the headlights on, shining on the fifteen-foot gate that was padlocked with a heavy chain. Once again, he turned in the seat to face Andrea.

     “Andrea, you do not have to believe me and if I were you, I probably would not, but let me warn you of this… for now, I would not have a reason to arrest you. Oa, there are some, discharging a weapon, kidnapping but if everything is as you suspect, then, I will be inclined to forget about these. However, if you should injure me, or kill me, then my friend, the real nightmare for you will begin.”

A calm had spread over Andrea, the same as a drowning man before he surrenders to the water, there to claim his life.

     “Look at me, Perer.” He stated. “Tell me what you see.”

Perer considered Andrea thoroughly from head to toe before answering.

     “I see a frightened man trying not to be frightened and endeavoring to be a gentleman of conscience.”

Andrea cast a paltry smile against the green haze of the dash lights.

     “No, what there is before you is a dead man. What I have not told you is that this Bruno Trevisani will come for me and probably my family as well. Would your Policeman’s mind deduce less? I do not know if I am a man of conscience but I cannot let the American die if he is here, and yet living. If he is, will you believe that I have told you the truth? And if you believe, will you do your best to protect my wife and daughter and also the Marocchini, for they are under penalty of death from this man if they do not find the American before you?” 

Perer was struck by the fact that Andrea asked nothing for himself, not even to be relieved of the fear of prison.

     “Yes.” Came the single word reply.

     “Okay, then we shall proceed.”

     “One thing?” Franco asked.


     “May I have the weapon please?”

     Andrea considered the request and then shook his head. “No. I believe you to be a man of your word but there may yet come a moment when you would seek to desert me. I do not care what happens to me after we have found Martin. But we must find him first, then you may have my weapon and you may shoot me, arrest me, pin a medal on me or whatever you wish. I have learned over the last few days that I can control very little in my life, and though this moment for us was set into motion days, months even years before, and I have little authority over it, I will continue the charade a while longer if only to have a firm place upon which to set my feet.”

Both men stared ahead at the gate for a silent minute before Perer spoke.

     “The gate is locked. How do you wish to proceed? Do not say that we will climb over. I am too fat.”

     Without turning his head toward him, Andrea answered, “Run it.”

     Franco turned the key and gunned the Porche’ to life. He pulled the indicator down to drive, put his foot on the brake and wound the engine so tightly that it fairly screamed in anguish.
”Better tighten your belt and hang on.” He warned and then released the brake.

The quick agile car leaped forward as if shot out of a canon. There was a loud crunch as the hood and bumper folded into the web of fencing and a simultaneous snap as the chain and lock gave way. The right side post of the gate twisted over and was thrust through the windshield, showering both of them with tens of thousands of small pieces of refractive shards of glass. Franco jammed the brakes to the floor and the whining Porche’ slid sideways, dragging one section of the dismembered barrier with them. The car came to a screeching halt spraying gravel and glass in all direction and as the dust began to settle, both men began to brush the broken glass off themselves as steam from the punctured radiator billowed into the night.

     Perer shook his head and looked out into the night. “I hope there are no dogs.” He thought to himself as he kicked the ruptured door open and got out. “Now what?” He asked.

     “Now we look for something tall and rectangular. That will be the ‘Mosé and that is where we will find Martin and probably the bodies of others, if the Marocchini were right. Do not think to try and escape, Sergeant.” Andrea warned.

     “Escape to where, idiot?” Perer mumbled. “The ‘Mosé would be to the center of the yard if it is used for what you say, that and because it is so big.”

Franco would have to give this little shopkeeper credit for valor and a rudimentary acumen. At least he believed enough in himself to go all the way out on a limb. Something Franco had done as a young Policeman many, many years before. Something he was prepared to do before his self-pitying thoughts in his chair earlier. He had to admire the small man’s honor in that.

The two men wound their way through the morass of indigent parts and rusted hulks of machinery, crunching through the coarse gravel as they went until they came to an impasse. It was another fenced off area, but it was too dark to see what lay on the other side. Although a few feet lower than the previous obstacle, still a formidable climb for either of them and most especially for Franco.


When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.

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