When the Lion Smiles

Chapt. 6- Part 6 “Cowardice”

Perer bent over at the waist and sucked in the air in great heaving breaths. The long walk through the yard had winded him.

     “Now what?” He asked between breaths.

Andrea looked from side to side. He saw nothing they could use to scale the fence.

     “Climb.” Andrea ordered.

     “You must be kidding!” Perer gasped.

     “Just do it.” Andrea ordered.

     “Fine, okay. You know, you rotten little bastard of a man, if you continue to force me so much in this fashion, you will not have to shoot me; I shall have a heart attack and drop dead at your feet!”

     “Climb.” Andrea said warily.

It took fully five minutes of starts and stops, but Franco finally cleared the top of the fence and then fell to a breathless heap on the other side.

Andrea scaled the fence rather handily although it was no easy task, he was no longer the teenager he imagined himself to be in his daydreams.

There was only the reflected light from the city by which to navigate and Perer began to complain loudly.

     “I don’t suppose you thought to bring a lamp with you?”

     “Yes I did, but I forgot it in the car. Did you want to go back for it?” Andrea asked sarcastically.

     “No! But has it occurred to you that we may become hopelessly lost in this puzzle? Has it also occurred to you that it is winter and we would most certainly freeze to death?

Andrea stumbled over a piece of machinery and barked his shin sharply.

     “God damn it! Will you just proceed?” He spit through teeth clenched in pain.

     “Or what? You will shoot me in the dark? I am not so large a target that you could hit me in the dark, for you nor I can see anything!” Franco shouted.

     “Lower your voice!” Andrea rasped.

     “Why?” Franco huffed loudly, “There is no one for miles to hear us and if there were dogs protecting this God forsaken place, they would have eaten us long before now! I am tired and cold and I am not so sure now that you have been correct in your suspicions!”

This was the moment that Andrea had known would come.

     “Sergeant Perer, remember I told you that there would come a moment when you might seek to desert me? That when that moment came, I would most certainly shoot you for I am beyond caring what happens to me now? That moment is here…” he said and Perer heard the action on his nine millimeter pistol being cocked. “There is sufficient light for me to see you and I will kill you here and now if you do not shut your mouth and continue on!”

Perer was beyond rage and also beyond caring what happened. He bent down and picked up a large fist full of rocks and flung them blindly at Andrea. One or two found their mark on his chest and neck but the rest scattered like pellets from the blast of a shotgun and rained noisily onto the discarded shapes of all the metal pieces around them.

     “Do not do that again you fat arrogant bastard!” Andrea shouted.

     “Or what? You did not have the courage to shoot yourself, what makes you think that you have the courage to shoot me? 

Without a word, Andrea pointed the pistol and pulled the trigger. The report of the weapon echoed through the yard like thunder under the clear night sky. There followed an eerie silence. Andrea strained hard to listen for he could not see, blinded as he was by the brilliant muzzle flash.

Suddenly Franco collided into him and the considerable weight he carried knocked Andrea off his feet. Both men crashed to the ground and began rolling violently in the rough gravel, shouting, cursing and scraping their elbows and knees as they fought. Andrea managed to squirm away from Franco and stand. He took two steps backward and bumped into something large and hollow. The lights of the city silhouetted Franco’s considerable bulk and Andrea raised the pistol, closed his eyes to avoid the muzzle flash and pulled the trigger again. There was another thunderclap roar and then Franco’s scream, high pitched and angry.

     “You little son of a bitch!” He shrieked, “You shot me!”

     “Yes, and I am going to shoot you again, you big fat fool!” Andrea panted.

Franco Perer charged forward and collapsed Andrea between him and the large metal stanchion. There was a large hollow vibration that echoed the full length of the steel as Andrea and Franco wrestled for the gun.

     “Son of a Bitch!” Perer screamed.

     “Va fa in culo!” Andrea yelled.

     “Porche, pig…” Perer grunted.

     “Troia, bitch!” Andrea finished the epithet.

Perer managed to grasp Andrea’s gun hand and began to pound it against the metal. After three resounding strikes that reverberated the length of the column, Andrea could no longer hold the pistol and it went flying off into the darkness. Perer drew back and threw a blind right cross into the darkness. He missed and his hand smashed into the steel.


Martin was drifting lazily in and out of consciousness. His life, insufficient as it was played out in the borderless darkness around him. He heard voices. Cofau and the giant had come back for him. He could take no more. He had suffered more than was possible for anyone man. He was terrified. Fight… he had to fight… he could not, would not die like this. He began to scream and flail…


Andrea heard a scream and then another, far off and distant. Almost muffled. Something wasn’t right. Perer had fallen to the ground and was moaning.

     Andrea strained to hear. “Shut up! Quiet!” He shouted.

     “My hand is broken, you fool!” Franco whined.

     “Listen…” He hissed. 

It was then that Franco heard it too, a desperate clawing and mewling coming from somewhere above them.

Andrea felt his way past the steel and then several meters beyond. He turned and looked toward the lights of the city and there towering above him, profiled by the moon like a medieval dragon was the dark sinister shape of the Mosé towering into the crystalline winter sky.

Franco stood and nuzzled his round face against the cold shank of the great dark beast and listened. Inside the leg of the sea he could hear Martin screaming like a small child, losing his mind.


Bruno was suddenly awakened. He did not know why. He listened intently. There again… footsteps! He rolled to his right. It sounded as if the footfalls were close, creeping. As he sat up the door of his bedroom was kicked in and the room flooded with narrow bright swaths of light. Dark shadowy figures surged forward and fanned out in a deadly pre-choreographed ballet.

     “Fermo!” A masked face screamed shoving a military style weapon with an attached flashlight into his face. Bruno sat blinking in the light. It was over or would be soon. It seems that the Police would pursue Cofau after all. He hadn’t expected that they would but he was not surprised that they did.


Martin laid in a feverish delirium for two days in the hospital before he finally regained a portion of his senses. His right arm had been set and cast in plaster, his battered face and body ministered to with stitches, healing ointments and aloes but it was the exposure and severe dehydration that gave the doctors fits of apprehension. Between the terrible beating, the cold of his ordeal in the butchery and the time that he had hung in the leg of the ‘Mosé alone in darkness, he was all but dead when Andrea and Sergeant Franco Perer had finally stumbled upon him. Exposure and dehydration is a difficulty best defeated with intravenous fluids and nutrition, but complete sensory deprivation is a matter for Psychiatrists or conquered only by a man who can be stronger than his own demons. Martin seemed to be a man larger than life when it came to personal devils… the doctors did not understand why.

The rescue had been painstakingly slow and arduous. Once the fire truck had arrived with its extension ladder and navigated through the fragmented yard strewn with metal side castings and debris, once the enormous cover of the leg of the Mosé was opened, they found Martin inside, dangling precariously on the re-bar risers by the twisted tails of his superbly tailored overcoat. Bruno had thrown him down into the darkness and then closed the hatch, figuring that, like the others before him, he had fallen to his death. Martin’s expensive overcoat had saved him. Had Roberto been any more an expert, if such a thing were possible, had his talents extended to a greater degree, even an inch more, Martin would surely have fallen to his death and been forever entombed with the six other men found in the four legs of the ‘Mosé.

Franco’s superiors and the Mestre Police for that matter, were still unsure just how Sergeant Perer had come to know that the American, Martin Shaw was interred in the Mosé in Mirko Cofau’s industrial yard, and even after Andrea and Perer had babbled excitedly for more than thirty minutes on the subject, it was still no clearer. There was the unsettling fact that Franco had somehow managed to sustain a broken hand, a minor bullet wound to his upper left arm, and there were bruises on Andrea’s face that suggested a fight between them, but somehow the conversation drifted away from those occurrences, back to Martin, Bruno Trevisani, the Marocchini, and Signor Mirko Cofau. There would be time enough to straighten all the facts out when the official report was written; for the immediate, their concern was getting the American fugitive out of the immense Mosé without dropping him to his death or causing him further injury.

The first few hours in the hospital were tentative to say the least. Martin was delusional and combative and had to be heavily sedated to keep him from pulling the intravenous tubes from his arm. The Mestre police had insisted that since he was found within their jurisdiction that he should be brought to a facility in the city, but Franco had belligerently insisted that he be brought back to Venice since it was his investigation. He had refused all medical attention for himself and had stood guard over Martin and Andrea like a rabid Mastiff, using his authoritarian skills as an interrogator, investigator and all around bully to get his way, even going so far as to threaten several of the officials present, including one or two of his own superiors. The private and untold reasons for his stubborn vigilance were his shame at having been a coward, something of which he had accused Andrea. As a result of his insistence, Martin was transferred to the Giustinian Hospital for the aged in Venice, which was the nearest medical bureau with sufficient means to care for his injuries.

Franco and Andrea had spent the night by his bed and then kept checking in on him until he had reached a level of consciousness that allowed him to think with a measure of clarity. In spite of strenuous objections from the medical staff, Sergeant Perer had Martin give a statement as soon as he could speak and had him give the same statement several times more to make sure that all the details were given. He had also given the order to arrest Mirko Cofau and Bruno Trevisani and both had been detained at their respective homes. Trevisani was unsurprised by the action, almost as if he had known that it ultimately would come; Cofau was enraged and indignantly bellicose, threatening to have the entire Venetian Police force shipped away to prison for false arrest, but in the case of homicide, of serial murder and the attempted killing of Martin Shaw, even Signor Mirko Cofau’s millions could not protect him from the ensuing investigation; Franco would see personally to that. The unfortunate discovery of seven bodies, one of them alive, in his Mosé on his property, and the statements given by Martin, Andrea and Perer would keep Cofau in jail indefinitely and would most certainly result in a conviction that would imprison him for the rest of his natural life. Bruno Trevisani would fair no better.


Bruno Trevisani knew that he would never leave his cell, or if he did, it would be only to attend the confines of yet another dungeon mew… it mattered little to him. This was an eventuality that he had long anticipated and prepared for. He slid the heavy wool blanket off of his bed, shook it once with authority, turned it back onto the mattress and folded the corners at perfect forty-five degree angles and tucked them under. He stood back and surveyed his work. The blanket was smooth and without wrinkles. He smiled faintly. His longing for structure and discipline would finally be met. He would no longer be at the mercy of those who had no taste for the rigors of castigation. He would answer now and for the rest of his life only to himself. His cell was precisely nine feet by seven feet and he had cleaned it thoroughly, wall to wall, floor to ceiling. He had already memorized every Spartan inch, every bar and every crack in the concrete, every uneven surface and scratch. He would be spending the rest of his days here, or in a place like it and would probably do so in abject solitude for he had been isolated from the other prisoners because of the nature of his crimes and had no reason to suspect that it would change. It suited him wholly because from the moment the policemen had rushed in through his door and taken him prisoner, he had vowed himself to silence. He would not speak, ever to another living soul.

     “All a man can truly call his own is his honor and dignity,” he thought to himself, “and I will keep mine inviolate even unto death, for to betray them would be to condemn myself.”

He would not speak, not of Cofau, the Marocchini and their deaths; though he knew that Mirko would surely sacrifice him to save himself from prison if he could. He would not speak to other prisoners, guards or officials; he would not speak to family, though they would not come to him out of shame and fear of reprisal; he would not speak to or be represented by an attorney, and he would say nothing in his own defense. If he could have carved his own tongue out, he would have. He was a man of stern will and cruel resolve and his unrelenting wordlessness would out-last the walls, Cofau, the world and his own life. He wasn’t afraid. He did not fear any threats or torture, nor did he fear dying, an intimate subjugation he had forced on men and had become passionately familiar with. He did not fear the confines of prison, or those of his own mind. He was no longer subject to any authority; the authority of Mirko, the Police, the courts or the kingdom of men. He would seek no sanction from anyone, no permission. Only God would judge him and he would spend the remainder of his life in meditations with Him. Man could inflict nothing further on him and so their feeble sovereignty was no longer important or valid. They would not understand that he was free! There was nothing further on the earth, no vigor that he would bow to. He felt an unrequited ache of serenity quell him, a pang of irresistible joy flood over his heart! Freedom, he was free! He was cloistered and safe; secluded like the priests he had ridiculed and yet admired for the fidelity of their courage and dedication to conviction. Like them, he would serve only the confines of silence now, for prison was nothing to him so long as he kept his vow.

“Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage;

Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage;

If I have freedom in my love

And in my soul I am free,

Angels alone that soar above,

Enjoy such liberty.” [i]

Within the closed walls of his dank cell, he finally succumbed to the frantic immolation of a singular calm, a delirious river of tranquility and a serene madness as he silently recited the lines of the poem, “Nor iron bars a cage…” He surveyed the boundaries of his sepulcher and laughed silently. They had in their ignorance, in their desire to punish him endowed him with a liberty that men had fought and bled and died for, for centuries!


It was only a day later that Martin was sitting up in bed and complaining to everyone that would listen, whether they understood him or not, and most didn’t, that he wanted out! The Nurses would smile pleasantly, nod their heads and then wander out of his room, wondering to themselves what it was he said. For his part, Martin had decided that the next person to walk through the door that understood English, or something even remotely similar, would be pressed into service as a translator, and then he was going to disconnect himself from the I.V., find a pair of pants and leave. He had had enough of hospitals, of Venice and most certainly of high and enclosed places! Just after his morning’s breakfast a nurse came into his room to tell him something, he had no idea what but there was a large grin on her face. God, he wished that these people would either learn English or that he would have learned one or two more words of Italian because he would not be able to stand much more of this…

Andrea stuck his head around the door.

     “Andrea!” Martin exclaimed.

He stepped through the jamb with a round man in tow whom Martin only vaguely recognized. Andrea stepped up to the railing, lowered it and bent over to kiss his friend on both cheeks.

     “We were not so sure, my friend, that by this time you would still be among the living! I am so glad to see you!”

     “Yeah well, it will take more than a bender and a couple nights in that thing, whatever you call it, to get rid of me. Hey, Listen, how long do I have to stay here anyway?” He bluffed. “Who’s he?”

     Andrea turned to Perer and translated. “He wants to know who you are and when he can get out.”

     “Do you not remember me, Signor Shaw?” Franco asked in English.

     Andrea looked to him with great surprise. Franco smirked. “Did you think me so big, flatfooted and stupid that I would not have learned English? I have been to America too, you know; business congresses for the Police Department; it is where I learned how to interrogate suspects.”

     Martin studied him for a moment and then spoke, “Yeah, you asked me a bunch of questions. I remember you, sure, you’re the cop.”

Franco smiled warmly. Yes, he was the cop.

     “May I ask you some more questions Signor Shaw?”

     “Well, sure, if you have any new ones…” he said as he shifted uncomfortably in his bed trying to find a position that would pain his arm less. “What happened to you two anyway?”

Andrea looked toward Franco’s left arm hanging across his broad chest in a sling, his broken hand and the slight bullet wound on his upper shoulder. Perer scrutinized the yellowing bruises on Andrea’s face.

     “We will speak of that later, Martin.” Andrea said stiffly.

     “Signor Shaw,” Perer began as he took a small notebook from his jacket, “can you tell me a something that you have not already said about this man Bruno Trevisani or his employer, Mirko Cofau?”

     “Well…” he began thoughtfully, “I’m not sure what I have already told you, I mean, it’s all rather a blur. This man, Trevisani killed the Marocchino, what was his name, Ciccio?”

     “Ciccio.” Perer repeated.

     “Masu’ud…” Andrea whispered.

     “What?” Martin asked.

Perer frowned at Andrea.

     “Nothing Martin, please continue.” Andrea said as he lit a cigarette and blew a large lazy cloud of smoke into the diffused sunlight bleeding through the partitioned drapery.

     “Is it okay to smoke in here?” Martin asked anxiously, “After all, it is a hospital…”

     Andrea looked to Perer who merely shrugged. “Why not?” Andrea said as he offered a cigarette to Martin and then lit it for him.

Martin sucked in on the filter, drawing in a large lung-full of smoke before exhaling and blowing a great billowing cloud of the gray fumes to the ceiling, punctuated by three perfectly formed rings at the end.

     “Ah…” he breathed, “cigarettes; coffin nails, assassins and killers. Don’t you just love them?”

     He snapped his eyes back to Perer’s. “I didn’t mean it quite like that… I mean; I, uhm…”

     Perer chuckled warmly. “I understand Signor, I am a smoker myself. Please, continue…”

     “As I said, it was this Bruno who killed Ciccio. I only met Cofau once, on top of that Mosés thing, or whatever you guys call it, but he’s the main guy, the man in charge, and Trevisani worked for him.”

     “Why did you have occasion to be at the church of San Marco?”

     “The Marocchino left a message with Andrea…”

Marocchino… Andrea would never be able to think of them as simply Marocchino ever again. He would never be able to mouth the word Marocchino with the same dispassionate carelessness, as he would say the word glass or house or car, as if they were nothing more than a possession. They had names and faces now, Salah, Masu’ud, the one called Haji, a term of honor extended to any man who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca. They had wives and families, babies; dreams and aspirations and wanted nothing more than to be able to feed and clothe their loved ones, just like him. That they did it on the periphery of the law was no justification for their mistreatment, no defense for the abuse they suffered; that they lived on the edges of society, no reason to pretend that they were not there. It was time that the Venetians, the Italians in general and the world recognized them for what they were, every day ordinary men and in that, they were extraordinary! When this was all finished Andrea had things to do and he hoped there was time enough to complete them.

     “And then he cut his throat! I tried to help, I really did, but I couldn’t react fast enough. I was terrified, not only that I had witnessed a man brutally murdered but also that the killer might come after me, so I ran. It was only after I was sure that he was not following me and that I got so lost that I realized Ciccio must have ripped my passport out of my breast pocket when he grabbed at me.” Martin finished.

[i] Richard Lovelace. To Althea from Prison. English Poetry I: from Chaucer to Gray. The Harvard Classics, edited by Charles W. Eliot. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14. Page 238.


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

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