1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 52:

Frank felt certain that Sanchez was hinting at something, but he couldn’t tell what the hell it was. “Yes, Ruy,” Frank said. “Understood. I’ve had my taste of stand-up fighting and I guess I’m not the kind of guy that enjoys it. If it can be avoided, I’m out of there. I, uh, guess I’m a lover, not a fighter.”

“Exactly my point, and as you—Ah!” Ruy straightened in order to deliver a sweeping bow. “Senora Stone, it is a pleasure and an honour to see you again. I regret, most sincerely, that I have caused your husband some shortness of breath, but it is certain to pass before you require him for anything.”

Frank grinned ruefully and hauled himself to his feet. “Senor Sanchez let me try out with the sabre. He recommends I practice my shooting.”

“Oh, now, with much study, you would become a fine and competent swordsman, Senor Stone,” Sanchez said, and then, to Sharon, “I felt it would be worthwhile to equip the young caballero with the rudiments of self-defence. If worst comes to worst, he should be able to hold off ordinary ruffians. With your permission, Dona Ambassadora, if he will again accompany his most beautiful wife on her next visit, I will endeavour to impart some more training?”

“By all means, Ruy, Giovanna and I went and had a coffee and a chat after we were done precisely to let you get on with that,” Sharon said. “Frank, Giovanna’s in fine form, nothing to worry about. I’ve suggested she start taking it easy as she gets toward her third trimester, just light work from then on. She’s a healthy girl and a hard worker, and she complained about it, but those are doctors’ orders. No sense in unnecessary risks, I say. See she doesn’t take ’em.”

Frank sketched a salute. “Ma’am,” he said, “Exactly what I was saying. Between me and her brothers, we should be able to keep her from doing anything too strenuous. Uh, what’s a trimester?”

Once that had been straightened out, and Frank had gotten the long cool drink he was gasping for, Sharon made another suggestion. “Frank, would you like Ruy to come over and check out your place to advise on things like defences and routes out in a hurry?”

“Well, sure, Ms. Nichols,” Frank said, frowning, “Senor Sanchez is welcome any time. But, uh, between you and Senor Sanchez that’s the second warning of trouble I’ve had today. You think there’s more to it than leaflets and rentacrowds?”

“Well, we are and we aren’t,” Sharon said, her face a perfect deadpan. “On the one hand, we can’t see where everything we’re seeing is leading except for trouble for the Vatican. On the other hand, there’s trouble in the streets as well, and Ruy’s seen at least one guy he knows is a real nasty customer, and apparently he’s capable of anything”

Ruy barked a laugh. “Say rather, he will attempt anything, and the results are usually disastrous for many. Capable, outside of doggerel and philosophical musings, he is not. But in bungling whatever business he is about, he is sure to cause trouble. I have had one of my own operations ruined by Francisco Quevedo y Villega, and been one step ahead of an angry mob as a result.”

“How will I know this guy if I see him?” Frank asked, visions of some sinister Spanish agent haunting his club flitting through his mind.

“Likely, you will not,” Sanchez said. “It was purely good fortune that I spotted him when and where I did, and it beggars belief that he is not working for Cardinal Borja, if the evidence of the past few weeks’ deeds is of any worth. It is precisely the manner of foolishness that he would attempt.”

“So, Frank,” Sharon said, “We’re taking precautions just in case. And you have responsibilities, not just to the committee.”

“Dottora!” Giovanna said, her voice sharp, “Do not suggest that I will shirk any danger!”

Frank stifled a groan. Sharon had unwittingly pressed the Revolution Button in Giovanna’s brain. “Giovanna,” he said, “look at it this way. We don’t have enough to face these guys in a straight fight. If we have to, we simply melt away, and come back when their attention moves on. We don’t play the game by their rules, Giovanna, because if we do, we lose. We stay until it gets hot, and then we get our heads down until the trouble passes.”

“Frank -” Giovanna began, her eyes starting to flash. She wouldn’t even think about hesitating to pick a fight right in front of Ruy and Ms. Nichols.

Nothing for it, Frank thought, and drew himself up. “Enough!” he said, looking her straight in the eye. “I decide the tactics, and when we cannot win, we bug out. No-one’s going to be a martyr. No-one.”

Giovanna plainly didn’t like it, but she had very strong reflexes where some things were concerned. She’d been raised to be a dutiful daughter and some day a dutiful wife. Frank hated using that against her, but on some issues—like her probable willingness to stand on a barricade and defy a regiment of cavalry with nothing but cobblestones and raw courage so as to be a Martyr Of The Revolution—he figured the pay-off was worth acting like some domineering asshole. Raised as a commune hippy he might have been, but if it came to a choice between dumping his dad’s principles in the crapper or letting Giovanna get shot, he didn’t really have to think too hard.

Giovanna subsided from the rant she had been building up to, and Frank could tell, from the way her lips thinned and she glared at him, that he hadn’t heard the last of this. He’d deal with it later. Although, from the looks, he’d gone up in Sanchez’ opinion.

“Senora Stone,” Sanchez said, “your husband’s thinking is in accord with that of a professional soldier. I, Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz, can find no fault in his reasoning. Duty is not always both honourable and pleasant, and is frequently neither.”

That didn’t go over too well with Giovanna either, Frank noticed, but decided that pressing it now wasn’t such a good idea. “We should get back,” he said to Giovanna. “We need to make sure the guys are ready for the lunchtime rush.”

They said their good-byes to Sharon, and Sanchez agreed to come over and make a start on the defences of the committee and have lunch with them. On the way out, as they turned along the street to head for the bridge that would take them to their own side of the river, Sanchez leaned over, and in conversational tones, said, “Our movements are being reported. One of the people who have been watching the embassy building for the last few days just ran away, doubtless to deliver tidings of your departure.”

“You saw?” Frank said, fighting the urge to turn around. He didn’t know much about this sort of thing, but he figured letting on that they knew was a wrong move.

“A small boy, who was standing with a group of ruffians. Who, I might add, did not accord well with the character of this quarter of Rome.”

“Did you see where he went?” Giovanna asked.

“The opposite way from our present direction,” Sanchez said, pausing a moment to tip his hat to a lady passing them, “running fast. A risk of using street-urchins in this kind of business, they do not know how to be inconspicuous.”

“What do we do?” Frank asked, trying hard to give an air of just chatting with an old friend as we stroll along.

“Nothing, Senor Stone,” Sanchez said. “Let them believe we do not know we are being watched.”

The rest of the walk back passed without incident.