1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 100:



            "I wish the bells would stop," Benito said, squatting on his heels under one of the windows.


            "Me too," Frank said, sitting on a low stool and keeping one eye on the deserted street through a slit in the boards over the window. "I mean, we already know the city's about to be invaded. The only people who don't are deaf. Don't the bellringers have something better to do? Nothing else, all the folks sheltering in churches are getting deafened."


            "I'm going deaf and the nearest church is three streets away." Benito was idly whittling at a piece of scrap wood, betraying his bad nerves. Everyone in the place was a little on edge, hardly any of which was due to getting no sleep the night before. In the end, there were twenty guys and twenty-eight women in the place. The women and the disabled folks were all upstairs, and had pulled the ladder up after them through the gap where they'd taken the stairs out. While a lot of folks had gone and sheltered in churches, even Rome didn't have enough church buildings to hold the whole population at once. A lot of people were hiding in cellars or attics, or out of town. The ones who'd come and hid in the committee were the ones who would likely get grief off respectable folks if they tried sheltering in a church, or who couldn't move very far. Three of the people upstairs were bed-bound, and had had to be carried up.


            Downstairs, they had all the doors and windows nailed shut and boarded outside and in, and barricaded. Three rows of barricades, in fact, and with a little luck at least one of the back ways out would be left unguarded. There was a route out through the cellar that came up two doors down the street; with the city under siege Frank had lost his compunctions about knocking cellars through and taking advantage of the centuries-old excavations under the city. He'd wondered if there was any possibility of getting down into the catacombs, which he'd vaguely heard about but never seen. No-one had any idea where they might be, or how one got into them, so he'd abandoned the idea. And it was too late now.


            There were eight lefferti in the place, who'd decided their self-image required that they defend the one tiny oasis of American values that Rome held, or at least the one that they could hang out in regularly. Frank found that kind of funny. The main values his place stood for, looking at it from a practical point of view, were fast food and reasonably-priced drinks. All run by a hippie kid from a West Virginia commune. Not quite the American Values that the high-school jocks had been so freaking keen on. Still, in his own biased opinion, good ones to stand up for. No-one ever invaded a neighboring country to bring them pizza and beer. Maybe if they did, wars would be more civilized affairs.


            Although the Geneva Convention would have to be rewritten to forbid anchovies. And Lite beer.


            The lefferti were, at least, a calming influence at the moment. None of them wanted anyone to think he was anything other than the coolest of cool hands, for which Frank was grateful. They were all playing cards, Harry having introduced the young blades of Rome to the game of poker. The place might be turned upside down with every single exit boarded up, an invading army somewhere in the city outside and a sack about to happen some time in the next few hours, but it was hard to get really worked up when there were a bunch of guys having a quiet card game and sharing a jug or two of wine. Frank wished he hadn't decided that smoke from the chimney couldn't be risked. Firing up the oven and getting a round of pizzas on would be a good idea right now. No-one seemed to be objecting to the fact that the provisions were nothing but bread and cheese and onions and cold sausage, but Frank knew that a hot meal would lift everyone's spirits. If they got to nightfall without the Spanish army descending on them, Frank decided, he'd fire up the oven when the darkness would cover the smoke.


            For now, Frank was wondering whether it would be the boredom or the tension that would make him wig out first. Or sheer freaking tiredness. His eyelids were stinging, and felt sticky with sweat. There was a coppery taste in his mouth. For some reason, all the muscles up the left side of his back ached. They way his feet felt didn't bear thinking about. He wondered, a little dizzily, if he'd be able to sleep, and then decided that being seen to make the effort would help everyone else's nerves.


            "Benito, spell me on watch, will you. I've been up all night."


            "Sure." Benito's grin was cheeky and infectious. "You old guys gotta get your shut-eye."


            Frank flipped him the bird as he hauled himself to his feet. He went over to the bar, grabbed a blanket from the stack they'd fetched down to use as blackout if things continued past nightfall, and clambered slowly up onto the bar. He pillowed his head on the folded blanket, tugged his cap down over his eyes, and set himself to the best imitation of a man unconcerned by events that he could manage.


            Shortly, he was pretty certain that Spanish soldiers hadn't installed trapdoors all over the bar-room, and knew that they couldn't spring up like jacks-in-the-box—or was it jack-in-the-boxes ? It was vitally important that he remember. But he still had to stop them, but all he had was a big frying pan, from the kitchens, but he couldn't seem to swing it with any force and all it made the soldiers do was turn around for a moment and all the other guys would do was ask him to keep it down and—