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Life and Death in Venice
There is no
city like it in the world, nor will there ever be.
Charlie Knight's third visit to Venice. He came
alone the first time, the
time he came with Helen -- and here he was again,
alone in Venice, for the
You can't help falling in love with this city in
the sea. It rises and falls
with the tide. It's an ancient city, yet its
newness surprises you every
Water and stone and history. Saint Mark --
Tintoretto -- Monteverdi -- yes,
even Shakespeare chose Venice to be a setting for
his plays of racial and
The first time Charlie visited Venice he felt
guilty falling in love with
He couldn't wait to bring Helen here after he
retired, he wanted to see it
again -- with her. Together, they roamed the
twisted streets and byways,
lost again and again. They fell in love with it
together. They fell in love
with each other too, all over again. Long after
their children were gone and the nest was empty, these two elderly lovers walked
arm in arm through a
that welcomed lovers of any age. Now for the third
time he sat in the Piazza
Marco at that special hour all Italians cherish.
Late afternoon. A time for
putting the papers away, closing the desk -- time
for a cappuccino or a
Cinzano, perhaps even a flirtation before going
Home was Chicago for Charlie and much as he admired
Venice he missed the
windy city. He missed being with Helen, dead now
for the better part of a
Why did he bring her here this time? He thought
she'd like it .... one more
time. Now, he wasn't so sure. Leave her here? Turn
around and go home
It didn't make sense now. Five thousand miles from
Chicago. What a crazy,
romantic idea! Like something out of an old Italian
It wasn't easy getting her here this time. Forms to
be filled in,
.... it seemed the governments of the United States
and Italy were more
concerned with the remains of the living than the
living themselves. His
scattering her ashes in the Grand Canal now seemed
absurd .... perhaps
As he signaled the waiter for another, he saw two
priests with attache cases
crossing the Piazza. They shook hands; one left the
Piazza for the quay and
the other sat down at a table next to him. A rather
young Priest with close
cropped black hair -- he lounged, rather than sat,
lit a cigarette and
girls walk by.
Charlie wished he was older, gray haired and rosy
cheeked -- like the
he was used to back in Chicago. Still ... maybe he
could help .... "My name
is Charlie Knight, Father, may I trouble you?"
"You are English Signor?"
"Ah! American, I am Father Ambrose. I know many
Americans. I have been to
both Biloxi and Grand Forks. A great and generous
"I'm from Chicago Father -- a city in Illinois, may
I speak with you a
The priest indicated the seat next to him and
smiled. "You may buy me an
aperitif for my trouble, Signor."
"Are you a practicing Priest, Father? What I'm
trying to say is .... this
really very awkward .... do you have a
congregation, give penance, minister
to the sick? Like the Priests I'm used to back
home, I mean?"
"At Santa Maria Della Salute? Alas, Mr. Knight,
there is no congregation --
not for three hundred years. There are few families
in Venice today, I have
seen a congregation since my young days in Padua."
He patted the case at his
side. "This is my congregation. In this briefcase
there are three lawsuits
from tourists that have fallen on the floor of the
rotunda and an estimate
the electrification of the candelabra in the nave.
This is what we Priests
Venice these days. Dear me .... " He lit another
cigarette, "Where will the
money come from? The Vatican?" He rubbed his thumb
and forefinger together.
"Just between you and me Signor, they are very
tight with the lira, and
money comes from the government. They pay more attention to the needs of the
people rather than the needs of the church. Are you
enjoying yourself here
Venice, Mr. Knight .... is your wife with you?"
"It's a long story, Father." He was half tempted
not to tell it, Father
Ambrose was not the sort of Priest he was looking
for. But he came this far,
perhaps he should go a little farther. "My wife
Helen, yes she is with me in
.... I think she will always be." A quick shade of
Father Ambrose's eyes. Charlie was encouraged.
"I worked here many years ago, Father. I fell in
love with Venice -- head
over heels in love with it. I promised my wife I
would take her here when I
retired. I did. Five years ago Helen and I roamed
the length and breadth of
for a month. I can't tell you how wonderful it was.
We often told each other
that if we had a choice of where to die, we would
choose to die here in
She didn't have that choice, Father, she died in
the spring of last year --
but not here. In Chicago."
"Let me buy you a Cinzano, Mr. Knight .... this one
is on the Catholic
Church." Father Ambrose settled back in his chair
and signaled for a waiter
grinned at Charlie conspiratorially, "If I order it
they will charge neither
"I brought my wife's remains with me Father. I had
the foolish notion .... "
Charlie closed his eyes tightly and turned his
head. "I thought .... "
"And now you have a second thought, is that not so
Mr. Knight? But Santa
Maria has a place for her, you would not be the
first person to make such a
request. The Priest looked nervously at Charlie's
shopping bag, "She is not
at the moment, is she?"
"No," replied Charlie, "back at the hotel, Hotel Da
"I would not suggest you throw her remains into the
polluted waters of the
Grand Canal, Mr. Knight. She would not thank you
for that .... you would
it too. The Grand Canal is not a pleasant place to
spend eternity. She was a
good Catholic, was she not?"
"Better than most, Father, kind, gentle .... and
generous to the church," he
It was getting late. Father Ambrose glanced quickly
at his watch. "You can
give yourself great peace of mind, Mr. Knight. Go
back to your hotel. Bring
wife to the church and ask for Sister Angela.
Providing such services is her
station in life." He crossed himself and went on.
"You must be aware the
church has never fully endorsed cremation, Mr.
Knight. It reduces the
remains to ashes, making it rather difficult to
.... what is the word?
Reassemble? Ah, no! Resurrect them on the Day of
Judgment. Therefore it can
guarantee, but," he shrugged his shoulders, leaned
forward and touched his
temple like a judge. "I can assure you there is a
stronger possibility of
redemption if you leave her with Sister Angela."
Charlie slowly walked back to the hotel. The Priest
was probably right. The
canal stank to high heaven at low tide. He couldn't
remember it smelling
bad this afternoon. On top of that, it was an
irrevocable decision, once
never to be undone. Suppose he wanted her back home
in Chicago again ....
the Priest was probably right. Not much of a Priest
really, more of a
businessman than a Priest, but an ordained Priest
He went up to his room. It was evening now, maybe
he could do it before
supper. The view of Venice outside his window
didn't seem as attractive as
before. He emptied his shopping bag and gently put
the small urn inside. So
small, he thought, how could it possibly hold all
the things she meant to
think you'll like being in Santa Maria Della
Salute, dear. I'll make sure
there's a place for me too. We'll be happy here."
Charlie went down to the lobby again and stepped
outside. It was dark now
the lights of the shops, the restaurants, and the
little lights on the
mooring posts made it bright as day. He paused in
the middle of the Rialto
see the canal again with her. The magic was still
there, it was a sight he
would always remember.
He never heard the soft pad of running feet behind
him. All he knew was the
shopping bag was snatched away. Before he
straightened up and realized what
happened she was gone. He shouted and started to
run, bumped into a crowd of
people and fell heavily. "My wife, he took my
wife!" he sobbed.
He found himself running unsteadily to the foot of
the bridge, then sinking
to his knees, not knowing which way to turn. This
had to be something
happening to someone else, not to him. How could
someone run off with the
ashes of his
wife? "I'll never find her! Never find her!!"
He was pulled to his feet by a man with a pencil
thin mustache dressed in
what looked like a comic opera uniform -- a man who
smelled of musk oil and
"Politzia, Signor -- parla inglese?"
"Knight, Knight -- Charlie Knight .... my wife ....
some bastard stole my
The policeman decided Charlie was deranged or
drugged, a mental case
obviously, wives were not stolen on the Rialto
Bridge! People were crowding
them -- he had better subdue him. As he began the
arm procedure Charlie went
and the policeman had to keep him from falling
instead. Charlie lapsed into
trauma as deep as that of a man pulled out of a
"Probably American, from the look of his clothes,
no passport .... ah! the
wallet 'Charles Knight,' 67 years old, Chicago,
Illinois." He radioed it in,
"Mr. and Mrs. Kinigehit." That was as close as he
could come to the
of Charlie's name, so he spelled it out,
'K-N-I-G-H-T.' The ambulance barge
arrived as the call came back from Politzia
Centrale -- "Guest of albergo Da
Vinci -- been here three days. There is no Mrs.
'K-N-I-G-H-T,' the man is
Charlie lay as if in a coma that night at the
Ospedale Santa Theresa.
Bewildered and alone, he had been the victim of the
imaginable. To have
his wife's remains stolen and probably discarded
God knows where -- why did
he come here anyway? He wanted nothing to do with
the nurses, ignored the
doctors and even turned his head to the wall when
the American Consul made a
special trip all the way from Milan, a three hour
drive each way. The Consul
Richard Knight, noted as next of kin on his
passport. Richard Knight seemed
bewildered and had no idea his father was in
Venice. "What's the old fool
over there? Let me check with my brother in
Lansing, I'll call you back."
There is a landing stage before you get to Venice.
It is really a small town
that thrives on tour buses and families arriving in
private cars for a week
two. The buses and cars stay behind and the
visitors take the vaporetto
across the lagoon to Venice. In this little
mainland town called Piazzalle
will find a mixed band of Italians, Turks, Greeks
and Algerians who work in
the shops, the hotels and make up the small army of
gondolieri who work in
Venice during the tourist season. Their wives and
children have little to do
during the day while the men are busy across the
bay. It is not a wholesome
environment for children.
One little boy named Angelo Manieri from Taranto
spent his days picking the
pockets of the spellbound tourists wandering
through San Marco. He was
years old, old enough to carry a box cutter.
With a box cutter you can strip a Hasselblad from
the shoulder of a Swiss
banker or a camcorder from the arm of an American
investment broker and be
sight before they're missed. Young as he was he had
a fence, a young Greek
shipping agent who paid cash on the spot. The cash
meant a lot to Angelo --
was just getting into drugs and you've got to have
cash on the spot for
It was Angelo who was working the Rialto Bridge the
night Charlie carried
Helen to Santa Maria della Salute. The box cutter
went through the plastic
of the Benneton shopping bag like butter, and
Angelo was gone before Charlie
knew what happened. In the dim light under the
bridge Angelo looked inside
saw only a dark ceramic jar. "Bullshit," he said to himself. He was about to
throw both the jar and the bag into the canal when he paused. "Maybe it is a
valuable relic, perhaps priceless." He could read a name engraved on a seal,
strange foreign name, one that made no sense to
him. He tried to mouth it - 'Kinidghet.' From an Egyptian tomb perhaps.
He hid it in the rubbish under the bridge, and
continued preying on the
evening strollers. A Nikon F-3 was all he came up
with. He cashed it in quickly and
smoked a joint under the Rialto Bridge with his
friends, then he picked up
his mysterious Benneton bag and headed home. He
would hide it in his bedroom
show it to his mother in the morning. His mother
would know what it was.
Eleven years old or one hundred and eleven years
old an Italian always
the opinions of his mother.
"Ma, look what I found in Pop's gondola last night.
What d'ya s'pose it is
Anna, noting the handle had been cut, shook her
head and clasped her hands
together. Her eyes rolled up, "Forgive him Father,
he is a child. It is our
fault for bringing him here .... his father's and
mine, not his." Then she
on Angelo and batted him across the kitchen with
the Benneton bag. "You so
like you father! Why we call you Angelo -- Diabolo
Manieri!! My sister. she
marries a doctor, a doctor of the tubes of women, I
marry a Manieri! A
strong man with a slipping disc. Dear Lord, he
implants into me the seed of
Angelo, take him in the power of your presence, O
It is fruitless to follow the logic of Italian
women when they pray. Roman
Catholic Priests will quickly turn away and wait
for the smoke to clear.
from his squatting position under the kitchen sink,
wished he'd never brought
the damn bag home. He had never been able to put
anything over on his
He put his head in his hands and waited for the
blows to fall. He didn't
to wait long. Anna chose the wide flat pan with the
long handle, that was
favorite weapon. A series of blows to the seat of
his shorts, a back hand to
his knees and finally a service winner to the top
of his head.
"So, you're at it again, no? Your father works all
day and half the night
pushing the gondola -- and you little Diabolo, like
a hyena swiping from the
tourists on the Rialto!" She raised her eyes and
the frying pan to Heaven,
me Father what must I do with this monster!"
She retrieved the Benneton bag from under the sink
and looked inside. "What
is this you bring home, Angelo?"
"I don't know Ma, it's heavy, it looks like it
could be a valuable vase."
She pulled it out of the bag and as best she could,
she slowly read the
seal. "AAIIYYEE!! you fiend -- you know what you've
"What's the big deal, Ma?"
She put the urn on the kitchen table and crossed
herself while hanging the
frying pan on the wall. Her eyes were big and full
of fear. Angelo drew a
of relief -- it seemed the beating was over but he
couldn't understand the
change in his mother.
"In there are the ashes of a deceased. You fool,
you should be forced to
this about your neck the rest of your life." She
pointed with a shaky finger
at the seal. "That is the name, it is not an
Italian name. It is an
The first name is Elena, it is spelled H-E-L-E-N. A
woman, Angelo, you have
stolen the sacred remains of a woman."
"Holy shit, Ma, how was I to know." The words were
hardly out of his mouth
when the back of Anna's hand slammed into it. "And
you can use foul language
her presence .... you are doomed, Angelo, I wash my
hands with you!"
This was only one of many crises in the Manieri
household. It would pass and
another would take its place. Anna was a devout
woman, however, and she had
carry this particular problem to a conclusion, it
involved a loved one. One
that must be protected until the Day of Judgment
and only the church could
her guide. She put the urn back in the bag and tied
a kerchief under her
She shook her fist once more at Angelo and headed
for St. Cecilia. If she
hurried she could also give confession.
Father Alessandro had heard just about all he could
stand this morning and
groaned inwardly when he heard Anna enter the booth
next to him. "I am not
here to confess, Father. I am here with the ashes
of an English woman and I
have the advice of the church." Father Alessandro,
who desperately needed a
Sherry, suggested they go to his office where they could discuss the matter
They sat there with the urn between them. Father
Alessandro couldn't read
name either. The best he could come up with was
Elena Kinighit. "I will have
to notify the police. However the church can
protect you and your son, I can
say this urn was found and given to me in the rite
of confession. They will
press me further."
"I will beat my son daily, Father," Anna promised.
"It will take more than that my child, (Anna was
old enough to be his
we must guide him, and you must get him out of
here. The Piazzalle is a cesspool of sin. You are not from here, yes?"
"We are the family Manieri from Taranto, Father.
Here only for the season. My husband will not budge from here, Father ....
not until the last tourist
leaves for home."
"Then keep your son on this side of the lagoon and
pray for him Mrs.
Manieri." Father Alessandro picked up the phone and
"Officer, this is Father Alessandro of St. Cecilia,
a funerary urn was
to me a few moments ago by a gondolieri. He
discovered it under the seat
cushions. Let me read the engraving, the name is
unpronounceable, but it is
spelled H-E-L-E-N K-N-I-G-H-T."
The final piece of the puzzle suddenly fell into
place. Signor Knight's mad
raving the previous evening made sense at last to
the arresting officer and
Captain of Headquarters. By early afternoon the
paperwork had been finished
and Politzia Centrale was ready to swing into
Like the police everywhere Politzia Centrale acted
with admirable dispatch
once the road was clear before them and the goal
was in sight. Sgt. Luigi
Marinella was told to take the moped and get on
over to St. Cecilia as
possible and return with the ashes of the wife of
Signor Knight. Once back
headquarters it was verified and photographed. Then
Marinella got back on
moped, turned on his siren and bounced through the
crowded streets and over
narrow bridges to Ospedale St. Theresa.
Charlie stood by the hospital window. From the
eleventh floor he could look
out over the city in the golden afternoon light.
The red brick obelisk of
Campanile, the chaste whiteness of the Doge's
Palace. It wasn't the fault of
Venice, it was his fault! He couldn't believe he'd
been in the hospital
twenty four hours. No reason to stay longer, what's
done is done, he
He made a terrible mistake coming here, and there
was only one way to make
right again. He knew where she must be by now and
he would not go home
"First things first," he sighed. He reached
over his bed and pushed the
buzzer for the nurse.
"Sister, would you get the doctor .... il medico,
please?" While waiting for
the doctor Charlie got his clothes out of the
closet and put them on. He
couldn't wait to leave -- to be with her again.
"I don't see any reason why you can't leave, Mr.
Kinighet ..... am I
pronouncing your name correctly? There are no
charges against you, and it
diagnosis from the beginning that you had an attack
of what the French would
"Yes I did, Doctor, for a moment it was like she
was standing next to me.
sorry to have caused you so much trouble."
Downstairs at the admitting desk Sgt. Luigi
Marinella, a little disheveled
from his harrowing moped ride through the narrow
alleys and bumpy bridges of
Venice, slapped the palm of his hand on the desk
loudly and demanded to be
to the room of the husband of Elena Kinighet. The
Sister had seen his type
before, and she consoled herself with the knowledge
that she would see him
some day as he was wheeled into emergency.
"There is no one here by that name, Sergeant." Her
innocent smile deflated
and frustrated the sergeant who began shaking the
urn and shouting like an
"He come in here last night. Say his wife is stolen
on the Rialto." He
to a tall wide eyed man approaching the desk from
the elevator. "Dove sta un
Charlie, with his eyes riveted on the urn muttered,
"You found her, Good God
Almighty, you found her." He backed the Sergeant to
the desk and with what
Sergeant later said was superhuman strength, pulled
the urn from his hands.
"There was something about him," he said, "that
told me he was Signor
"You are Signor Carlo Kinighet?" The Sergeant asked
"You bet I'm Carlo Kinighet. I'm anything I have to
be as long as I have
back again. Helen, I'm sorry I got you into this,
let's get out of this damn
place. We're going home to Chicago."
Ciao Charlie! Arrivederci -- and don't come back.
Venice is the most
beautiful city in the world, but it's not for you
Charlie -- it's for the
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