1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 67:

“What I thought,” said Dino, from over Frank’s shoulder. “Anything happens, we lock the door real quick, you hear me Frank?”

“Right,” Frank said. Dino’d know, he reckoned. Guy had grown up in a rough neighborhood and must’ve seen this sort of thing before. A whole crowd of rowdies in the street and then a militia patrol—on foot, or this would’ve been really bad—just happened along. Frank couldn’t see much—the moonlight was good right outside the club, but further down the street was shadowed by taller buildings and the fact that the street crooked slightly there—but it seemed that they were forming up with halberds to clear the revelers away.

Since when did we get militia patrols around here? Frank had seen the like down toward the Vatican, quite close by, and a fair few across the river in the nicer parts of town. Here, on the edge of the Borgo? Let the scum slaughter each other, seemed to be the official attitude. Patrols around this neighborhood, maybe. Inside, there wasn’t jack to protect or to serve, so keep ’em in to make sure they didn’t come out to trouble the nice folks.

Frank snorted, softly. Set up! Danger, Will Robinson!.

“Who called the militia, Frank? Any idea?” Dino asked. Sounded like he’d been thinking the same thing Frank had.

“Same guy egged on those guys to start the fighting,” Frank said. “This could get ugly.” Not that it was exactly pretty work right now. It’d only been a few minutes since the fight started, so most everyone was still milling about in the street outside wondering whether to go back in, call it a night, or go somewhere else. A few people were squaring up to each other, but the space and lower temperature out here meant they were less forceful about it than they’d been. And at the edge of the crowd there were guys shouting things at the militiamen. Mostly, as near as Frank could tell, about their mothers.

He got an impulse, and opened the door wide. “Folks,” he said, speaking calmly and evenly as he stepped out. Behind him he could hear Dino mutter something about damn-fool crazy Americans, but there was a note of admiration in his voice.

“Folks,” Frank repeated, and got some attention. “Let’s get inside, hey, before the militia come? They’re getting ready to oppress us all, let’s go inside were we’re free, eh? Come in, Frank’s place welcomes no militia, pass the word, come on inside, fighting’s over.” And on and on, in a voice that he couldn’t stop from becoming sing-song. A few people went inside, and then others. He wasn’t trying too hard to get everyone in. He didn’t want to get too far from the door himself, and he could see the militia dressing out into an orderly line. Those halberds looked sharp, and Frank really didn’t want to be out in the street when they charged.

Others noticed that people were going back in, and followed along. The militia were advancing, now, at a steady walk, halberds leveled. The wicked-looking spikes and axe-blades glinted as they passed the beams of light that stole through closed shutters. Some idiots were still shouting insults, probably figuring they could outrun a bunch of militia goons in breastplates.

They were probably right, too, but only if Frank could get the street cleared behind them. More came inside, and a few drifted off in to the night, or at least into alleys and sidestreets away from the main street.

Good he thought, since we ain’t got too many stools left. Where’d they all sit? He grinned a little. If he judged that heavy-footed march right, he’d have most everyone out of the way before they charged. He figured that was what the militia wanted, too. They probably didn’t like the idea of chopping people down in the street much either.

And then someone threw a stone. One of the loose cobbles from Rome’s badly-maintained streets, it looked like. Frank never saw who did it, but then another cobble flew, and that one hit. A militiaman fell backwards with a shout and a curse, and apparently without orders the halberdiers charged.

“Everyone inside NOW!” Frank roared and dived for the doorway himself. The charge had started from maybe thirty yards away, a long, long stone’s throw with one of those cobbles, but even militiamen could cover that in seconds. There was a press around the doorway, and people tripping over each other in the street, and then screams. And then a frantic heave to get the door shut when the people wedged in it got themselves shaken through.

Frank winced at the sound of something—someone—being chopped with a leaden finality, and looked at Dino.

Dino stared back. “Oppression,” he said, a slight quaver in his voice.

The sounds outside went on for maybe a minute. Everyone inside Frank’s Place was deathly silent. Just standing there, looking shocked. A few of them were putting two and two together, as well. No way in hell did those halberds just happen to be in the area. And they’d arrived too quickly to have been called out to the disturbance. Even if they had, they’d never have come until the morning, any other time.

When it got quiet again, he opened the door a crack and looked out. He could see two bodies in the street in just the thin slice he could see. He’d no idea how many they’d killed or maimed, and wasn’t about to go out and see. He could hear orders being barked. He shut the door and, with Dino’s help, barred it. This time, the bolts went home quickly and easily.

Right, Frank thought. They want agitation? I’ll give ’em fucking agitation.

He got up on a table—one of the few still unbroken and on its feet. “People,” he said, into an expectant silence. “I think we’re safe for now. The militia are just clearing the streets of some people they think don’t matter. People like you and me. That’s all they think they’re doing. I want to tell you what really went down tonight. Why we’ve got people—people you all know, people from this neighborhood—lying dead out in that street. And I’m going to tell you why it happened. Let me tell you about Cardinal Borja …”

He spoke for a good long while, it felt like. And it was a long, long night.