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Home > Playing for Pizza(12)

Playing for Pizza(12)
Author: John Grisham

Indeed I do, Rick thought. He decided to cooperate, score some points with these guys, and help them discover the truth, whatever that was. Romo nodded down the street and walked beside Rick as they followed the first cop.

"Can I make a phone call?" Rick asked. "Of course. A lawyer?"

"No." Sam's phone went straight to voice mail. Rick thought about Arnie, but little good that would do. Arnie had grown increasingly hard to catch by phone.

And so they walked, along the Strada Farini, past the small shops with their doors and windows open, past the sidewalk cafes where people sat almost motionless with their newspapers and little espressos. Rick's head was clearing, his stomach had settled. One of those small strong coffees might be welcome. Romo lit another cigarette, blew out a small cloud of smoke, then said, "You like Parma?"

"I don't think so."

"No?"

"No. This is my first full day here, and I'm under arrest for something I did not do. Kinda hard to like the place."

"There's no arrest," Romo said as he lumbered heavily from side to side, as if both knees were about to fold. Every third or fourth step his shoulder nudged Rick's right arm as he lurched again. "Then what do you call it?" Rick asked. "Our system is different here. No arrest." Oh well, that certainly explains things. Rick bit his tongue and let it pass. Arguing would get him nowhere. He had done nothing wrong, and the truth would soon settle matters. This was not, after all, some Third World dictatorship where they ran domly rounded up people for a few months of torture. This was Italy, part of Europe, the heart of Western civilization. Opera, the Vatican, the Renaissance, da Vinci, Armani, Lamborghini. It was all right there in his guidebook.

Rick had seen worse. His only prior arrest had been in college, during the spring of his freshman year when he found himself a willing member of a drunken gang determined to crash an off-campus fraternity party. Fights and broken bones ensued; the police showed up in force. Several of the hooligans were subdued, handcuffed, knocked around by the cops, and finally thrown in the rear of a police wagon, where they were poked a few times by nightsticks, for good measure. At the jail, they slept on cold concrete floors in the drunk tank. Four of those arrested were members of the Hawkeye football team, and their adventures through the legal system were sensationally reported by several newspapers. In addition to die humiliation, Rick got thirty days suspended, a fine of four hundred dollars, a scathing tongue-lashing from his father, and the promise from his coach that another infraction, however minor, would cost him his scholarship and send him to either jail or junior college. Rick managed the next five years without so much as a speeding ticket. They changed streets and turned abruptly into a quiet cobblestoned alley. An officer in a different uniform stood benignly by an unmarked opening. Nods and quick words were exchanged, and Rick was led through the door, up a flight of faded marble steps to the second floor, and into a hallway that obviously housed government offices.

The decor was drab; the walls needed paint; portraits of long- forgotten civil servants hung in a sad row. Romo selected a harsh wooden bench and said, "Please have a seat."

Rick obeyed and tried Sam's number once more. Same voice mail.

Romo disappeared into one of the offices. There was no name on the door, nothing to indicate where the accused was or whom he was about to see. There was certainly no courtroom nearby, none of the usual hustle and noise of frantic lawyers and worried families and cops bantering back and forth. A typewriter rattled in the distance. Desk phones rang and voices could be heard. The cop in the uniform drifted away and struck up a conversation with a young lady at a desk forty feet down the hall. He soon forgot about Rick, who was quite alone and unwatched and could have nonchalantly disappeared. But why bother? Ten minutes passed, and the cop in the uniform finally left without saying a word. Romo was gone, too. The door opened and a pleasant woman smiled and said, "Mr. Dockery? Yes? Please." She was offering him an entrance into the office. Rick walked inside. It was a crowded front room with two desks and two secretaries, both of whom were smiling at Rick as if they knew something he didn't. One in particular was very cute, and Rick instinctively tried to think of something to say. But what if she spoke no English? "A moment please," the first lady said, and Rick stood awkwardly as the other two pretended to return to work. Romo had evidently found the side door and was no doubt back on the street pestering someone else. Rick turned and noticed the large, dark double wooden doors, and beside them was an impressive bronze plaque that announced the eminence of Giuseppe Lazzarino, Giudice. Rick walked closer, then even closer, then pointed to the word Giudice and asked, "What is this?"

"Judge," the first lady said.

Both doors suddenly flew open and Rick came face-to-face with the judge. "Reek Dockery!" he shouted, thrusting a right hand forward while grabbing a shoulder with his left, as though they had not seen each other in years. Indeed they had not. "I am Giuseppe Lazzarino, a Panther. I am fullback." He pumped and squeezed and flashed his large white teeth. "Nice to meet you," Rick said, trying to inch backward. "Welcome to Parma, my friend," Lazzarino said. "Please come in." He was already pulling on Rick's right hand as he continued to shake it. Once inside the large office, he released Rick, closed both doors, and said again, "Welcome." "Thanks," Rick said, feeling slightly assaulted. "Are you a judge?" "Call me Franco," he demanded, waving at a leather sofa in one corner. It was evident that Franco was too young to be a seasoned judge and too old to be a useful fullback. His large round head was shaved slick; the only hair on his head was an odd thin patch on his chin. Mid-thirties, like Nino, but over six feet tall, solid and fit. He fell into a chair, pulled it close to Rick on the sofa, and said, "Yes, I am judge, but, more importantly, I am fullback. Franco is my nickname. Franco is my hero." Then Rick looked around, and understood. Franco was everywhere. A life-size cutout of Franco Harris running the ball during a very muddy game. A photo of Franco and other Steelers holding a Super Bowl trophy triumphantly over their heads. A framed white jersey, number 32, apparently signed by the great man himself. A small Franco Harris doll with an oversize head on the judge's immense desk. And displayed prominently in the center of the Ego Wall, two large color photographs, one of Franco Harris in full Steeler game gear, minus the helmet, and the other of Franco the judge here, in a Panther uniform, no helmet, and wearing number 32 and trying his best to imitate his hero. "I love Franco Harris, the greatest Italian football player," Franco was saying, his eyes practically moist, his voice a bit gravelly. "Just look at him." He waved his hands triumphantly around the office, which was practically a shrine to Franco Harris. "Franco was Italian?" Rick asked slowly. Though never a Steelers fan, and too young to recall the glory days of Pittsburgh's dynasty, Rick was nonetheless a fair student of the game. He was certain that Franco Harris was a black guy who played at Penn State, then led the Steelers to a number of Super Bowls back in the 1970s. He was dominant, a Pro Bowler, and later inducted into the Hall of Fame. Every football fan knew Franco Harris.

"His mother was Italian. His father was an American soldier. You like the Steelers? I love the Steelers."

"Well, no, actually--"

"Why haven't you played for the Steelers ?"

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