1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 66:

“No, it’s true.” Giacometti leaned over the bar, swaying slightly, and attempted to bellow over the noise and music in a confidential manner. “They say they’re Christians, but it’s all devil-worship in disguise.” Giacometti seemed pretty sure of his facts on this point, although Frank wasn’t sure what he’d do if he was ever confronted with an actual Protestant. Stay out of spitting range, that seemed certain.

“I wouldn’t know,” Frank shrugged. I’ve never been in a Protestant church. He tactfully omitted the information that his youngest brother had taken a notion to become a Protestant minister of the Lutheran variety. What Giacometti didn’t know wasn’t likely to hurt him. But, you know, pass the word. It’s not us saying the Pope should be killed, it’s these other guys. The Spanish.”

“Eh? I thought you said they didn’t want to kill the pope.”

“No,” Frank said, as Giovanna went off to serve another customer, “They’re just saying that, I don’t think they mean it.”

Giacometti sneered. “Frank, you’re too good a guy to see it. Not everyone’s a nice fellow like you. Spaniards, hah! You watch, they wouldn’t say a thing like that unless they meant it. No balls, Frank. They got no balls.” He made a gesture of grabbing and squeezing a pair. “They ain’t gonna just mess around when they can stab the Holy Father in the back, now.” Giacometti sat back on his barstool with the air of a man who’d completed a logical proof.

“I, uh, guess that stands to reason,” Frank said, although he wasn’t sure exactly what Giacometti was saying. He’d only had one drink himself tonight, so he wasn’t able to follow the beer logic.

“‘s right, Frank it does,” Giacometti said, waving his glass for another drink.

He was just pouring Giacometti’s drink and wondering where the man put it all—a bar could stay open just with him as a customer, and he’d never been in a condition where he’d plainly had enough—when there was an almighty crash from somewhere out in the main room. Frank winced.

The room went quiet, as usually happened, but the ironic cheers Frank was expecting as the usual response to someone going ass-over-teakettle didn’t happen. Instead, there was a hiss of indrawn breath.

Oh, hell. He’d heard that before. It was the noise people made when a fight was kicking off, but it wasn’t the sound you got when it was a kind-of-fun brawl. This was the sort where people got badly hurt. Frank put a foot on the shelf under the bar and boosted himself up to take a better look.

It was pretty clear what the problem was. The two characters involved hadn’t even bothered with the glare-and-insult stage, just gotten straight at it. One of them with a knife. “Oh, shit,” Frank murmured. They had seconds before it spread, crowded as they were, and—he looked—Dino wasn’t going to make it from his bouncer’s station over by the door. The place was way too crowded.

Frank watched with a feeling of helplessness as the two combatants grappled and staggered out of the ring they were in. There was shoving and jostling and two more guys, their blood up from watching the first brawl, started yelling and shoving at each other. Someone shoved one of those guys from behind, and he turned and threw a punch, and—

It was like watching a slow reaction spread through a reaction vessel. Roiling a little at the interface where the reagent was titrated in, but it quickly diffused. Frank heard glass break, and then the first scream of pain, shrill over the roaring. “Get down!” he shouted at Giovanna. For a wonder, she did. Probably seen more bar fights than I have, he thought, and then there was a bright flash in his eyes and a shock ran through him and everything seemed to be red a moment and then black and then he was looking at the ceiling and couldn’t get his breath.

And then he whooped air in to his lungs and started hauling himself to his feet, taking a couple of tries at it because he suddenly had to think about moving his arms and legs instead of just doing it. He could sort of remember a bottle flying at his head. He must’ve fallen off the bar. Fallen right on his ass—nothing seemed to be broken, although his back, somewhere around his right shoulder blade, felt like one massive bruise. And the whole bar, it looked like, was throwing punches and swinging furniture. His vision blurred, steadied. Someone was pulling at him to get down, but he had to see, damn it.

“Fuck!” he shouted, if only to hear himself over the din. Everyone was shouting something, the sound of splintering furniture was punctuating it and glass was shattering everywhere. The doors had to be open, both to the street and to the yard, the place was emptying fast leaving only the hard-core behind to duel on. The place was emptying in front of Frank’s eyes as people streamed out away from the mayhem.

Which was all they needed. A crowd of angry, frightened, half-drunk people in the street outside his place. Nothing he could do about—oh, double shit. There were bodies on the floor. Two—no, three. Frank hoped like hell they were just unconscious, the last thing he needed was some magistrate poking around the place. And—oh, fuck!—one of ’em was Benito. Dino had spotted him too and was cautiously making his way across to try and render some help.

Frank saw that his way across was clear, too, and began to make his way, grabbing one of the cudgels from behind the bar. It wasn’t going to do much good—everyone left had either a knife or a broken bottle or a barstool. He felt a grab at his jacket—he turned, and Giovanna was there, her eyes angry, “Don’t,” she yelled, “let them finish.”

“Benito’s down,” he yelled back, and she let him go. Please, he thought, don’t let her try and follow me. None of the dozen or so pairs now left grappling and thumping and trying to stab each other looked like they were in any condition to be chivalrous. Although even they seemed to be quieting down as their wind gave out. Twice in quick succession someone got hit hard enough to go down, was administered a quick couple of kicks for good measure and his opponent cleared out.

Dino was already with Benito when Frank got over there. The poor kid was conscious, but groggy, with a nasty red mark, probably going to be a bruise, around his left eye and what looked like it was going to be a broken nose. “Got hit,” he said, now just about audible over the last of the racket, revealing that he was cut inside the mouth as well. Sure enough, his lip was swelling.

“Doesn’t look serious,” Frank said, and indeed it didn’t. Maybe a punch to the face. In a way, Benito was lucky. He wasn’t a big guy, and getting knocked down quickly had probably saved him from worse.

“Momento,” Dino murmured and stood up. Frank carried on checking Benito over, and winced slightly when he heard a solid, wooden thump and Dino growl “Enough. Now go.”

Whoever it was didn’t think it worth starting in on the guy who’d waded in on his side—Frank hoped like hell Dino was at least trying to bean the right guy in each fight, because there was another—and another again, someone had had a hard head—and Frank didn’t like to think how it would be if they were just storing up trouble by cold-cocking people who might have helped if they hadn’t been half-brained by Dino.

And then there were none.

“Last of ’em, Frank,” Dino said, heading toward the door to see the last guy went out. He’d added two more forms to the ones on the floor, one out cold and the other one on his hands and knees and vomiting impressively. Head injury, Frank worried silently to himself and then, slightly sickened by his own callousness, as long as he dies off the premises, we’re golden. Although it was more than likely just a great deal of drink catching up with the guy. Fabrizzio had finally gotten downstairs—he must’ve heard the ruckus—and was starting to check the bodies for life-signs.

“Good work, guys,” Frank said, helping Benito to a chair. His eyes looked okay, as near as Frank could tell in the lamplight—oh,damn, the lamps—he checked around hurriedly but there didn’t seem to be any broken lamps that were about to burn the place down. He’d noticed that the previous owner had hung the lamps and candles up near the ceiling, and now he saw why. When the customers wrecked the place, they were less likely to accidentally torch it as well. “Dino, get the door,” he said, and then looked and saw Dino was ahead of him.

“Frank, you should see this,” Dino said, standing with the door open only a crack and looking out in to the street.

Frank went over. A whole bunch of rowdy drunks had spilled in to the street after a really savage brawl and hit the cool night air full of wine and hormones. There weren’t many nice possibilities that suggested themselves to him.

He looked out through the gap. “Oh, fuck,” he said when he saw what was coming up the street.