1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 57:


            Frank was interrupted by the sound of breaking glass and a bellow of alarm and rage. He spun around and leapt to his feet. “What the—?”


            It looked like someone had thrown a brick through the window. Frank saw it bounce and tumble to a halt on the floor. He found himself, absurdly, staring hard to see if it had a message tied to it. There didn’t need to be. Another window went, and this time it didn’t just nearly hit someone, and the roar was of alarm, rage, and pain. Frank winced.  The guy it had hit was a big, usually-amiable guy name of Giulio, a teamster from just outside Rome who had moved to the city a few years before. He was a real nice guy with hardly a bad word for anyone, right down to the bottom of his third glass of wine, at which point he started getting rattier and rattier until he was a first-class mean drunk. And he’d had a few tonight.


            Frank figured he had a few seconds before Giulio ran out of swearwords and did something everyone’d regret, and still less before the place went into a complete uproar. “Benito!” he yelled. “Get the guys down here, I’ll get the shutters.”


            He grabbed the shutters for the nearest window and got them closed just as a brick hurtled through the glass—he sure as hell wasn’t going to lean out and close the outer shutters—and banged into the wood, slapping it painfully against his hands. Whoever had thrown that had meant it. From the brief glance he’d gotten out in to the street, there wasn’t a crowd there, but there was a sizeable gang of what looked like drunks.


            “Frank!” Giovanna shouted. She wasn’t a shrinking violet, either. Frank could hear her over even the sudden uproar the place was in. She’d obviously passed Benito on the stairs, and seemed to be in that state of general anger she sometimes got in where it could strike to earth anywhere, like lightning. One time it had been Frank in the way, but more usually it was her brothers. Tonight it looked like being Frank’s turn, although he didn’t have time. He dashed to the next window, and swerved as another brick came through. This time he didn’t get a whack on the hands as he shut the thing up, and he got to the third one and shut it without any trouble. A couple of the regulars had gotten the idea and the other windows were shuttered before Frank could make another move.  Everyone else was either on their feet and shouting or crouching under a table and shouting. Dino and Fabrizzio and Benito were back in the room and shouting, and Giovanna and Giulio were squared off and shouting at each other. That was kind of funny, if everything else weren’t so freaking serious, Frank thought. Giovanna, five-five in her working shoes, and Giulio, six-three and best part of two hundred and fifty pounds. Not big muscles, but the kind of fat you get on guys who load carts and wrestle with balky mules for a living. Giovanna was actually doing her best to get in the guy’s face, which given that she had to crane her neck took some doing. And Giulio had that ability to bellow back at a woman that comes with a guy who knows he’s not going to haul off and belt a girl no matter what.


            Frank could only catch bits. It sounded like he was going to have to calm things down. “Dino, Fabrizzio, hold the door closed!” he bellowed. Once he was certain they were heading that way he ducked through the now-milling crowd to get Giulio and Giovanna apart.


            When he got there she was yelling that he was a big dumb ox who should’ve ducked, and he was letting her know that if she ran a decent house this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. Better, Frank figured, than Giulio running outside to take ‘em all on, but still not helping any.


            “Sorry to interrupt this conversation!” he yelled over the noise. The pair of them weren’t even a half of one per cent of the racket in the room, and conversation was putting it a bit too gently for the business of the pair of them yelling at each other at the top of their lungs. Neither of them was listening to the other or, for that matter, Frank.


            There was a hammering at the door. Dino and Fabrizzio were holding it shut, and were getting the bolts in. Frank began to wish he’d gotten around to fixing those old and balky fasteners a bit sooner, but it’d been easier to persist with a few seconds swearing and jiggling every morning and night.


            There was a bright side, though. Everyone shut up.


            At the same time. In a room full of Romans, that was a miracle in itself.


            Bang, bang, bang. There was shouting in the street outside, but no way to tell about what.


            Frank figured he had to take charge somehow. “Giulio, come with me.”


            He had no idea whether or not the big guy was any use in a fight, and had no idea how to tell. Once upon a time, he’d thought big and strong was the way to tell, but then the one guy he knew who was good in a fight—he’d gotten the story from Billy Trumble—was a short, wiry Catalan who was older than Frank’s dad. Still, having a big guy standing behind him would help.


            And now he had backup. He hoped that would keep there from being any trouble. “Open the door, guys.”


            Dino and Fabrizzio looked at each other and looked at Frank. Frank saw that both of them had brought the cudgels that were kept behind the bar. Maybe that’d help, too, although the two Venetian boys weren’t anyone’s idea of hulking goons. Scrawny little guys from the wrong side of the tracks, those two. Not that they didn’t know a thing about street-fighting, being from Murano, where it was the local sport. And Frank had seen them pile into a gang of muggers with a will, that first night he’d visited them at home. It’s just that you wouldn’t know it to look at them, and that meant someone might try something, not knowing that the pair of them were pretty handy with those clubs.