1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 65:



Frank stood behind the bar and moodily wiped at a glass. That morning’s meeting with Sharon at the USE Embassy had been an eye-opener. It hadn’t been helped by the fact that he’d been tired and sweaty and aching from another punishing session of sword practice with Senor Sanchez.

The goddamn nerve of the bastards! They needed him, and claimed they would keep their inquisitors off their backs. They hadn’t been able to do that for poor Galileo, and he had been one of the Pope’s oldest friends. What chance did a bunch of scruffy revolutionaries stand? He wasn’t even that safe by being inconspicuous, and had to dance pretty damn fast to make sure the Inquisition didn’t blame him for the crap that was going around with his name on it. Come right to it, they were all but admitting that even that pathetic little protection was about to dry up like spit on a hot stove.

And it was that last part that had Frank worried. It looked like it was going to be a long, hot summer, and he’d heard that there were always at least some riots when food prices went up. Apparently it was like summer storms, everyone expected it and provided it didn’t go too far, there wasn’t much official reaction. Except this year, Frank had heard of at least two groups getting attacked by militia horsemen, and some of them had been killed. That was pissing people off. And there was also the rumor that whoever it was that was claiming to be the Committee was being run by some Spaniard, and that was pissing people off even more. So, if there were riots, they were likely to be bad ones. And since riots tended not to happen in the nice parts of town, Frank’s Place was at risk.

Senor Sanchez had been round and gone over how to defend the place, but he’d been more focused on the best ways out. He’d not been too reassuring about that, either. Frank’s place was backed in to blind walls on three sides. Pretty much the only ways out were into the street out front. Frank had been over the cellar as carefully as he could, and he thought that one bricked-up arch might lead somewhere. But he’d been afraid to knock it through in case it turned out that the folks next door had something in there that they’d be ticked about him getting in to. Like he’d be, if someone tunneled into the cellar he kept his stock in. Although, if there was any real trouble, he had a pick and a prybar down there and he reckoned he could be through any of those walls inside an hour or so.

Still, despite it being a hot, sticky night that might have seen everyone get irritable—more so since they’d stopped leaving the shutters open at night, to avoid repair bills if nothing else—the crowd in Frank’s place seemed to be pretty good-natured. The football league had had its first five-a-side tournament, and the winners were drunk and singing while the losers were drunk and, well, singing too. Frank felt a bit peeved that he wasn’t really able to get in to the mood with everyone, although there was a rowdy edge that seemed to have everyone a little on edge, under the cheerful barracking and singing.

“Why so melancholy, husband?” Giovanna said, coming stand behind him and wrapping her arms around him.

“Mmmm,” he replied, as she began to nuzzle his neck. “Melancholy, me?”

“Melancholy, you,” she said. “You’ve done nothing but mope since you got back this afternoon.” She began rubbing his stomach in tight little circles. Fortunately, Dino was tending the bar, because Frank was beginning to think that stepping back from the counter to get anyone anything might suddenly not be so good an idea. And—he looked—a few of them could clearly see what was going on, and were smirking.

What the hell. He turned around and hugged her back. “Sorry,” he said, “it’s just all that crap about the inquisition. And maybe it’s going to come to us having to bug out. I mean leave, that is. Because it might come to the inquisition having a free hand to act against us because Borja’s taken him out.”

“Borja’s trying to assassinate the pope?” Giovanna said, her eyes going big and round. “The Dottoressa didn’t say that!”

“Not assassinate, maybe,” Frank said, “but make him unable to act to protect us. Do something political, maybe, make him a lame duck or something.”

“You said the pope is going to be assassinated?” The voice came from behind him. One of the regular barflies, a guy name of Giacometti, and Frank found it kind of surprising that he’d heard over the hubbub of a pretty raucous night in the club, or was sober enough to follow the conversation. Still less that he’d been able to say something relevant.

“No, Giacometti, I didn’t say that. But all the crap you’ve been hearing about the Committee is part of a plot to make the pope look bad. It’s Cardinal Borja, he’s pissed at the pope.”

“Not going to assassinate him?”

“No, Giacometti. Nobody thinks he’ll do that. Well, he probably won’t. He might, I guess.” Frank realized that he probably ought to start a rumor that the fake committee was part of a plot to assassinate the pope. That would piss people off with the rent-a-mob organizers, maybe make things more difficult for them. It was just that Frank was, deep down, too frigging honest. He heaved a deep sigh. “Mostly folks think he hasn’t got the balls, you see.”

“Cardinal Borja’s got no balls?” Clearly that was getting through, although Frank wasn’t sure what starting a rumor about Cardinal Borja’s testicles was going to do to help.

“That’s right, Giacometti,” Giovanna added. “No balls at all. It’s why he’s got guys pretending to be Committee when they’re not.”

“So you don’t really think the Pope must die, then?” Giacometti frowned. “Everyone said that didn’t sound like you.”

Frank frowned back. “What didn’t sound like me?”

“Was in a paper, going around. Heard it today while I was toting some stuff over by Sant’Angelo. Committee paper, they said, but it sounded like it was a phony one. Everyone knows you folks got married in the Sistine chapel, like not even nobles get to do. You wouldn’t want to kill the Pope, not when he’s your buddy.”

“Not buddy, exactly,” Frank said, “But we’ve met. And no, I don’t want the Pope dead. Freedom of religion and all that, y’know?”

“Right, let everyone be Catholic how they really want to be, not like these princes in Germany and England who make people be Protestant and spit on the body of Christ at mass.”

“I don’t think they do that, Giacometti,” Frank said, not sure how to follow this turn in the conversation. For all he knew, spitting was part of it. He’d been raised—technically—in a religion that had smoking as a sacrament, so who knew? It still sounded unlikely.