1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 64:

James Nichols was trying to hide his genuine surprise at finally seeing Ruy Sanchez in the flesh. Surprise so great that it bordered on outright shock. The man didn’t look at all the way he’d thought he would, from Sharon’s letters.

He realized now, in retrospect, that he should have been prepared. His daughter was the sort of person who always responded to problems of a personal nature by what he’d come to think of as the “Sharon pre-emptive strike.”

And if you think THAT’s bad, Daddy dearest, lemme tell you what else—

So, naturally, her letters had emphasized all the possible drawbacks to Ruy Sanchez, as a husband. Among those, pride of place had been given to the fact that he was a generation older than she was. By the time she was done, Nichols had been stoically prepared to greet an ancient mariner, painfully hobbling about and breathing wheezily.


James Nichols no longer wondered how a man of such an advanced and decrepit age could have not only challenged six men to a swordfight, but pretty much won the thing. If you ignored Sanchez’s face, with its lines and its gray hairs, you’d swear you were looking at a man in his physical prime. Somewhere in his mid-thirties—no older than his early forties—and in superb condition. Not tall, and with a wiry build, except for very broad shoulders. A waist that would be the envy of most teenagers.

From time to time, as a doctor, Nichols had examined both amateur and professional athletes, including one memorable instance where a well-known major league baseball player had suffered a car accident nearby and been brought into the hospital. The man had been an outfielder, through most of his career, and then brought in to play first base once he reached his mid-thirties to extend his longevity. He’d lost a bit of his running speed, but his reflexes were so superb that the team wanted him in the lineup. Batting clean-up, in fact. At the age of thirty-nine, he was still averaging thirty to forty home runs a year, with a .300-plus batting average.

Nichols was quite sure that if he gave Sanchez the sort of examination he’d given that athlete, he’d find the same thing. Some men are simply blessed with a physique so hardy and top-notch that, provided they maintain a decent diet and a rigorous exercise regimen, they really don’t lose all that much physically even after they’re well into middle age.

As for the man’s face, Sharon’s letters had done the same. Gray hair. Lines all over. Weather-beaten. Etc etc etc.

The man was handsome, for Pete’s sake! The sort of Latin male who could age with immense grace and dignity, the way men of any other ethnic lineages had a hard time managing. He reminded Nichols, more than anything else, of some Italian and Mexican movie stars once they reached their fifties. Giancarlo Giannini, for itself, or Ricardo Montalban.

Well, not that handsome. But certainly a lot closer than the wizened old geezer Nichols had braced himself for.

It remained to be seen, of course, where Nichols thought Sharon’s assessment of her fiancé’s other qualities was on the mark. Her letters had been considerably more expansive in their praise of Sanchez’s character and intelligence, and positively enthusiastic—very unusual, for Sharon—about his sense of humor.

But, whatever else, the basic mystery was solved. His daughter had gotten attracted to her future husband for the same reason women had done so for ages. She had the hots for him, simple as that.

Sanchez had a very good handshake. Nichols wasn’t surprised at all, by then.


“Lunch!” Sharon exclaimed.

“Good move, girl,” Rita approved. “Always a great sideslip.”

On their way out, Sharon took Rita by the arm and murmured: “I missed you, a lot, all that time you were in the Tower. Now I’m half-wishing they’d kept you there.”

“As if they had any choice! We woulda sprung ourselves anyway—don’t think we wouldn’t—but once Harry Lefferts and his wrecking crew got to England, it was a done deal.”

“Not to mention Julie Sims,” Melissa added, shaking her head. “Gawd, at my age, to be having such adventures.”

“So what happened? I’ve never gotten any details, dammit!”

But before Rita had gotten out more than two sentences, the carriage had arrived.


“So it’s a mess at both ends of Europe,” her dad said. It was early evening, by then, and they were back at the embassy enjoying some glasses of wine at the big table in the formal dining room.

“Yes, but not so bad here,” Ruy offered. “I think we will see some play made in the internal politics of the Holy See. I cannot believe that all of this agitation is an end in itself, Doctor Nichols. I believe that Borja seeks to destabilize the Barberini and their grip on the political workings of Rome to further his master’s ends; we have had direct intelligence that this is the end they have in view. While I have taken steps to ensure that all here can get to safety at a moment’s notice, and advised the Committee of Correspondence in the same way, this is merely a precaution which your daughter has most wisely ordered.”

Her dad chuckled. “That’s got to be the first time my daughter’s ever been described as cautious by anyone,” he said.

“Compared to him, anyone’s cautious,” Sharon said, grinning.

“Well, I figure he’d have to know no fear,” her dad said, before she quelled him with a glare. “Peace. I’m proud of you, honey. You’re a surgeon in your own right now, and—if you don’t mind me saying so, Senor Sanchez—you’ve found yourself a good man.”

He gave Ruy a sly little smile. “Not that I’ve not worried on that score, before now. Let me tell you about the time, while she was at college—”

Sharon groaned and put her head in her hands. There wasn’t going to be any stopping him. She quietly thanked God that the album of baby photos hadn’t come through the Ring of Fire.