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by on July 30, 2022


by Marco M. Pardi

Untold Stories of Tonio

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A cool Autumn wind blew leaves among the sparsely occupied tables at the outdoor cafe. Two blocks from the university, it was across the street from the tavern most favored by students, and the pretenders always found hanging on. Though he rejected picking favorites, Tonio liked this time of year best. Gaia was slowly closing her robes, beckoning her family to come within. It was also hunting season, when buffoons in their costumes hoped their guns would bolster their fading masculinity. Tonio hated hunting; but for him hunting season was year round. Knowing the character of his prey, he waited to see him arrive and mingle among the gathering evening crowd across the street.

His server, a fairly attractive girl who looked more like she belonged at the tavern, had apparently assumed, from the labeled notebook atop his table, that he was open to conversation. She introduced herself as the daughter of the proprietor and that she had a street view apartment above the cafe. All in textbook English. Red flag. But then, in a university town, maybe not.

Alone for the moment, he entertained his discomfort with certain aspects of his specialty: Problem solver? Fixer? Tourist? As the server attended another table he thought about the times he had used people for purposes they never knew and probably would not have agreed to. Had any of them come to grief? Well, yes, but he told himself it was not his intention. In the cards, so to speak.

But what about those people he didn’t select, but came anyway? Those people who seemed to appear and disappear, seemingly without consequence but later proving to have been pivotal to the unfolding of what appeared to be a plan far too complex for his own making. Maybe he was guilty of ego-centrism, seeing things only from his perspective and not realizing he had played a part, the importance of which he would never know, in the unfolding of their plan. How many times had he himself been a tiny wheel within a wheel within a wheel inside the kinetic unfolding of someone else’s life? And how many people were even aware there was a plan, if there was one? Are we all just sub atomic particles/waves blinking in and out of existence in a cosmic chaos? Is it possible to throw a cork into a bubbling creek and mathematically predict and chart every bob and sink and twist? For Tonio the word “random” was just a cheap cop-out, a way of pedantically saying, “I dunno”. The school of strict Determinism would say, Yes, we can predict and chart the cork, given enough information. This, of course, is anathema to at least two camps: The religious folks are determined (pun intended) to cast us as completely free in our choices, thus leaving us open to the charge of sin and guilt, for which we can pay the church to absolve us; and, the people who see Humankind as separate from and superior to all the rest of Nature and who seek to uphold free will as a hallmark of evolution, proof we have risen above savage beasts and dumb animals ruled by instinct alone. Many geneticists and ethologists would hasten to disagree with that view of non-humans. And many of the religious folks seem to have forgotten or ignored their own literature. For example, Ecclesiastes: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. Of course, one question the religious folks never answer is how one reconciles a belief in an omniscient god, knowing everything past, present and future, with a creature such as Man having Free Will.

But Tonio, while aware of subtle details in his surroundings, was judicious about his intake and analysis of information. His occupation channeled him into a pattern of thinking in ultimates; he would either survive or he wouldn’t, his target would either survive or not. Yes, each operation had to be calculated precisely and that principled habit carried over into the mundane passage of daily life. That principle also drove his insistence on not knowing much about the reason(s) he was dispatched to resolve certain problems. He did not want to slip into the morass of second guessing, devising alternatives which might cause him to hesitate. Nor did he want to allow the assignment to become personal, arousing feelings he would have to deal with. Either could be fatal, quickly or in the long run.

Tonio felt he had arrived at that principle in his youth. Very often engaged in fights with boys older and larger than himself he learned awareness of every part of his body, its position, its potential for action in any circumstance. This served him well when, in military unarmed combat training he allowed a much larger mixed martial arts instructor to seize him in a neck grip from behind. In under a minute he gripped the man’s arm, tucked his own legs, threw the instructor over him, and applied a “sleeper hold” to the man’s carotid and jugular, rendering him unconscious. A second instructor, in a panic, attacked him. Helping the second man find rest took an entire minute. The supervisor of that section asked him to stay at the facility as an instructor, but he respectfully declined, citing a desire to go where the real action was. The same scene played out in firearms training as Tonio registered “Above Expert” with every foreign and domestic one-man firearm and turned down an instructor position. Tonio was an angry young man, but did not fully realize it.

Having been to the funerals of several young people Tonio had often heard the trite saying, Taken before his time. He thought that utterly illogical. To him it was a presumption of a preordained time frame, a frame others could read and judge. And who made this frame? He was also disgusted by terminally ill people who bankrupted their families getting prolonged treatments and medicines so they could hang on a few more days or weeks. The consequences of obtaining a short and probably miserable reprieve for oneself could impose serious, even crippling determinants on the family perhaps for more than just the current generation. Housing, nutrition, education curtailed or lost so Pop could suck oxygen and piss himself a while longer.

His mind drifted to motives as he returned his attention to business. Why would someone successfully employed in an agency dedicated to the preservation of peace go rogue and provide catastrophic information and resources to a manifestly hostile power? The acronym inside the agency for such motivation was MICE: Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego. As Tonio saw it, each of those four concepts was a focal point behind which lay a forest of determinants. Well, the CI (Counter-Intelligence) Division would figure that out.

As the evening darkened and the crowd across the street swelled Tonio spotted his prey, accompanied by a single escort, heading into the tavern. He was glad to see the man was wearing a waist length cardigan. Tonio would circulate among the jostling crowd, a thick fountain pen holding a pneumatic charge and a proven pellet of a lethal substance for which there was no antidote was among the other pens in Tonio’s shirt pocket protector. Milling around the bar, Tonio would bump against the target’s back, zap him high on his buttocks, and melt into the crowd. The pen would go down the first sewer Tonio came to. Death would be certain within 48 hours, possibly 24. By that time Tonio would be somewhere in Scandinavia.

He casually finished his meal and paid his check, along with an extra large tip. As he rose to leave he turned to the server, who was looking pensively at him. “Perhaps I’ll see you later, or certainly tomorrow”, he said. She smiled rather doubtfully and Tonio had a very odd feeling. It felt like sympathy for the girl who, night after night, could only stand, invisibly, as her peers frolicked in clear view. Must have been something in the food, he told himself and turned to leave.

  1. mkdohle permalink

    Enjoyed this. i reminds me a bit on how Ann Rice would write when she was into Vampires. Precise style, and a big emphasis on intelligence and rational thinking. Though still into stereotyping those who are not like him, a very human trait that no one seems to be free of.

    The ending with the girl not clear, but overall well written.

    Or again maybe a James Bond type LOL



    • Thank you, Mark. Of course, you saw that this story is simply a vehicle for the presentation of ideas, chiefly that what many people view as chaos is really a Cosmic Dance. Choreographed by whom….or what?

      The girl was just one of many examples of passing flirtations, particularly in youth. Perhaps forgotten by both, or remembered by one. Perhaps a turning point in life for one, completely unknown and never to be known by the other. We live, so often unwittingly, in a Cosmos not limited to just the Present, but carrying the fullness of our past and the seeds of our future.

      By the way, James Bond was without doubt the most unsecret of all secret agents ever known to Man. His “Time” would have come quickly.


      • From Mark: LOL, yes I believe that spies are very plain looking so as not to be seen or remembered. James Bond is pure fantasy, that is why teenage boys love it.

        There is more mystery than actual knowing, but mystery is something that can be known ever more deeply, a never ending journey I believe.

        When I think of my past, I often get a very fast moving slide show of the many I have known, loved some, and miss them.

        Again, thank you for your unique ability to get people to step out of the lines a bit.



  2. Excellent! This is the best bit of Tonio that you have shared with us so far.

    At first I questioned that the overly large tip was an error, that it might cause the girl to remember him, but then I realized that being remembered was the point. She would not only remember him, but also recall him leaving. The writer in me follows the story, wondering where it goes.

    Thank you for the tale, and for the lessons that accompany it. I hope there is more to come.


    • Thank you so much, Rose. Your well demonstrated talent as a writer encourages me to keep going. You certainly pick up on every nuance, and a skilled operator would need to keep that in mind if dealing with you.

      Tonio, though constrained by NDAs, is exploring ways of providing vehicles for the delivery of the cerebral and emotional sides of life.


  3. Tilly permalink

    A wonderful long weekend treat to be able to immerse myself in Tonio’s world once again. I like the picture you paint with the words” How many times had he himself been a tiny wheel within a wheel within a wheel inside the kinetic unfolding of someone else’s life?”. This caused me to stop and reflect about our signifigance/ insignifigance to others. Thanks to Tonio for another great imaginative journey. Do I sense a part 2 coming soon?


    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Tilly. I will pass this along to Tonio as I am sure it is a wheel within a wheel in the unfolding of his writing. More is coming, when it is a time to speak.


  4. Dana permalink

    Marco, Tonio is a fascinating, complex “character” capable of certain things, including the range of human emotions. I’m always thrilled to discover more about him.

    Sometimes it has required years, if not decades, for me to process feelings from a set of circumstances. Perspective taking isn’t an easy process but I’m learning. While I don’t want to speak for others, admittedly I probably always view my own perspective first. This has led to being called all sorts of things, including “cold.” I can’t help this aspect about myself, but I can work to improve it. The ability to suppress our own point of view is critical to that process. And while Tonio used people and might wonder how that turned out for them, resourcefulness can play a strong role in survival. I wonder if our species would still be here today without using certain tactics, including deception.

    From Reflections and Zep Tepi it appears Tonio was a sensitive, introspective boy – brilliant and interesting, as well as deeply connected to nature. At the military academy we found out he was also a little bad-ass, defending himself against an older and bigger boy who was a cruel bully and frankly deserved that wooden rifle crashing into him. From this excerpt we know he most enjoys Autumn, and was attuned to the season prior to a job that had to be done. That’s an interesting addition, along with an obvious ability to compartmentalize.

    I’m curious about Tonio as an “angry young man.” Did his career become an outlet for the anger? Was he destined for his career? Groomed? A combination of both? As a little boy he developed a friendship with a tortoise named Petra, feeding her lettuce. It seemed they had a deep and unique bond for two very different species. But he also survived events and circumstances many would not. I can’t blame him for being angry about some things, and anger is just another acceptable human emotion.

    It appears his occupation was similar to the lottery, where players either win or lose. Ultimates. You have reminded me that second guessing can be fatal, and my life as a child and adult includes potentially fatal events that required quick thinking, or perhaps no thinking at all. Just action. Yet I’ve also wondered how things would have turned out if the other outcome had occurred.

    I’m glad he left the server with an extra large tip. It’s possible she remembered him for generosity rather than anything else. I guess we’ll never know.


  5. Thank you so much, Dana. Your commentary makes the adventure of writing this so worthwhile. Seriously, it does.

    Yes, sometimes years pass before the Aha moment arrives. And it’s easy to feel that the years in between could have been better spent. But it’s experiences like that which reinforce the sense that this is all an orchestrated play, that we are “actors on a stage” as a famous bard once put it.

    Given the setting in which he was raised, deception was probably the first life skill Tonio learned. And he quickly learned that with only a fine touch people willingly deceive themselves. The trick is in learning where and how to touch them. But Tonio also learned early that other people had nowhere near the sensitivity that life, such as tortoises, shared with him. People were less than, not more than.

    I don’t think Tonio was conscious of his anger. His career specialty was simply a way of eliminating those who unacceptably stood out from the rest, while the rest were only tolerable. He was aware of the danger of letting an unacceptable person trigger a depth of feeling in him that could harm or damage him, especially if it caused him to lose precision.

    The server was a reminder to Tonio that he recognized the existence of naive and lonely people. But, here again, he knew to not let them get emotionally close.

    I had considered this might be the last we read of Tonio. Only a few people seem interested. But thanks largely to your comments I will see if he is still available.


    • Dana permalink

      Thanks Marco. I would truthfully be devastated to think this is the last we will hear about Tonio. See? There is my perspective first. Yet I would also be sad to think you feel these efforts go unnoticed and/or unappreciated. They aren’t completely.

      It is interesting to think of us all as actors on a stage. Or that this is all an illusion. Fascinating ideas, and I wonder if we will ever know.


  6. jkent33 permalink

    Very interesting tale of high adventure and espionage, worthy of actually taking on the role for some of us; quite entertaining while, dreaming of having the cover of being in your own J. Bond adventure. I’ve never tried to figure out why I’m attracted to that. But since young childhood, I would try on stories and actions to overcome the bullies and hooligans that made it a point of always be making fun of me because I was so different from the ignorant clods I attended school with. I was preoccupied with getting bigger and stronger to be able to do harm to anyone who failed to treat me with the respect I felt I was due. I was a sickly small child who was smart enough to start attending school before the prescribed age that made me the target of me classmates. So for years, I had to be able to protect myself just to get through the day. Finally, at around 15 I had my growth spurt that allowed me to focus on other thoughts. But for years, I spent a lot of time pretending to be a badass kicking the crap out of most of my classmates.

    As I read along Tonio became my hero, who had found a way to not so much join in but exist in peace with the evil doers of the world, while he “irradiated” them in the process. Once I learned how to not have anyone pose as harmful, life can safely be viewed in color and alternatives. Tonio, to me has created the same environment freeing him from any fear of failing. And as you know the fear of failure is real as rain in May. But if you can train yourself to focus more your enemies will appear smaller meaning easier to overcome.

    I won’t go into his amorous side but he is charming and suave in his own almost shy demeanor. Paint him in as much as possible in the future because he is engaging in the telling of his travels. Thanks for another opportunity to be in his world.


    • Thank you, Jerry. Actually, James Bond, the most unsecret “secret agent”, was a grotesque caricature of a specialty known to less than a handful of people in the clandestine community.

      The story is a vehicle to present the inner life of a person who is generally viewed only through the lens of his outer actions. Tonio’s inner life was intensely thoughtful. His unfailing compassion for non-humans seeped into his thoughts about interactions with humans. He was known to say, “I don’t mind killing someone, but I hate hurting their feelings.”


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