1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 50:


“Well, this is a grand house,” Giovanna remarked.

“All of ’em are, around here,” Frank said. And it was true. The USE Embassy was in a very nice neighbourhood indeed, on the outskirts of the huge Borghese estate. That said, there did seem to be a lot of people just … hanging around. That wouldn’t have been much out of the ordinary down toward the Borgo on the other side of the river. Frank was pretty much used to the sight of the street-life being seasoned with a fair few of what you could only call “colourful characters”—assuming, that is, you didn’t want to call them bums and petty criminals. Frank had the feeling that seeing more than one around here would be a little odd, and come right to it, a few streets away there hadn’t been quite so many specimens of the local wildlife mixed in among the well-to-do. It was … odd.

That said, there were guards at the door of the embassy, a couple of big Marine cavalrymen looking relaxed but alert, and generally very smart and military.

“‘Ow do, Mister Stone,” one of them said as he and Giovanna mounted the steps.

Frank puzzled a moment to place the face under the helmet. “Private Ritson?” he guessed after a moment. He’d last seen the guy a year ago at the embassy in Venice. Looked like he’d been assigned here now. Ritson was one of the Englishmen in the nominally Scots cavalry regiment that had become the Grantville Marine Cavalry, a reminder that the regiment were borderers and that the border they came from had two sides.

“Aye, but it’s Corporal Ritson now, thank you,” Ritson said, grinning and pointing at the stripe on his arm.

“Oh, right, I didn’t notice,” Frank said, feeling a bit foolish. “Congratulations, man.”

“Cheers,” Ritson said. “Mistress Nichols is expecting you and the lady, go right on in.”

“Thanks, man,” said Frank, nodding to the other marine—whom he didn’t recognise at all—on the way in.

Inside, it was plain that whatever the USE’s other budget problems, they weren’t stinting on the rent. The place was, if anything, even gaudier than the palazzo they’d rented in Venice. In this case, Roman standards being a bit different from Venetian ones—they had more space, for one thing—the place was only accounted a large house, not a palace. Inside, though, there was marble and carven cherubs and gilt and a general air of reeeal freakin’ expensive about the place. Frank found himself looking for somewhere to wipe his feet.

Giovanna didn’t seem fazed by it one bit. She was halfway to the reception desk before Frank was done gawking. A few quick words with the clerk there—Frank noticed that the seventeenth century had had its say and there wasn’t a female receptionist, but a guy who’d been stuffed in to smart clothes and given a quill and ledger to sign folks in and out—and she was back. “The Dottora will be told we are here, someone will tell us when it is time to go in.” Sure enough, Frank could see a messenger trotting off, some kid who looked maybe fourteen. The seventeenth century was getting its way on that score as well, whatever the folks back in Grantville might have had to say about child labour.

“Hey, guys!” Sharon’s voice called from the turn of the magnificent marble staircase at the other end of the entrance hall. Frank sneaked a look and saw the receptionist wearing a slightly pained expression at the outrageous finger Sharon was flipping at the right way of doing things as he saw it. And then Sharon came in to view, trailed by the slightly sheepish-looking messenger.

“Sharon, hi, man. Are we early?” Frank wasn’t entirely sure. His watch had finally run out of battery the year before, and the time-keeping you got from Rome’s church bells was only good to within ten minutes or so and varied from street to street depending on which church you could hear best.

Sharon waved it aside. “Close enough guys, come on up. I’ve got an examination room up here at the back where the light’s good.”

The way to the examination room took them past a door from behind which could be heard the sounds of a full-on sword fight. Sharon must have seen the looks on Frank and Giovanna’s faces, because she laughed and said “Ruy’s putting the marines through their morning sword-drill. Some days you can see the testosterone seeping under the door.”

“Figures,” Frank said, and chuckled. “Jocks, eh?”

“Thing is,” Sharon said, “Ruy would agree with you. It’s just that his notion of how a jock ought to act would, ah, probably surprise some of the guys on your high school football team.”

“Yeah?” Frank asked, as Sharon opened the door to a room that was, if anything, grander than the entrance hall had been. Big, and open, and with huge mullioned windows that looked out over a big, big garden that was all straight lines and angles, the kind Frank had only ever seen in movies. “Nice place you got here, by the way,” he added.

“Is, ain’t it?” Sharon said, with a wry grin. “We pretty much have to spend all this money just to get taken seriously. Even as a doctor.” She snorted her contempt for the idea. “Ain’t like there weren’t plenty of people in the twentieth century who had the same fool idea, mind.”

Frank decided to take her word for it. “So, uh, I should go amuse myself while you and Giovanna, uh -” Actually, Frank wasn’t at all sure what the hell was going to happen. And, really, didn’t want to. Giovanna and Sharon were exchanging a look that simply said ‘Men!’. “I’ll, uh, go look in Ruy and the guys, doing, uh, guy stuff, okay?” he said, and beat it before they could mock him any more.