1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 70:



            Sharon couldn't tell who was right from the second floor, with the dusk gathering, but the folks out front were starting to spot the oncoming crowd. And the ones who saw what was coming were peeling off from the bunch they were with and getting away. None too slowly, either. In fact, as Frank's impromptu army got closer, the rest realized they were outnumbered and began to run. Some of the front rank from Frank's people dashed after them, but Sharon suspected they wouldn't chase far. Down in the street, lit by the light from the embassy's windows, Frank waved up at what, to him, must have been just silhouettes. Everyone else with him had stopped to shout insults and jeers after the running rentacrowd.


            When Sharon went down, followed by Tom, Rita, Ruy and her dad, Frank was grinning. "Not bad, for my first night as a rabble-rouser," he said, once greetings had gone around. "Problem taken care of, and nobody hurt."


            "You've come a long way since last we met," Dr. Nichols said. "You were having a beer in the Gardens, as I recall. What happened to that soldier you were with?"


            "Aidan? He made sergeant, he's still posted in Venice, I think," Frank said.


            Sharon remembered the serious-faced Englishman. He'd joined the USE forces after being taken captive at the Wartburg, learned to read and joined the marines. Since the Venice embassy was on pretty much friendly territory now, the guard there had been reduced and Sergeant Aidan Southworth was second-in-command after Lieutenant Trumble. Which was, unless Sharon missed her guess, doing a world of good for his career.


            "So you're doing what Cardinal Barberini wants?" Sharon asked.


            "Not from my point of view, no," Frank said, shaking his head. "Although I guess you could argue the matter either way. Somebody tried to organize a massacre at my place last night, and nearly did a real number on us. Four dead, maybe ten badly hurt but they'll make it. That kind of got me mad. So we figured we'd completely cover everywhere they were hiring rentacrowds, get someone on the inside, and pass the word that they were setting people up for militia massacres, which put a few people off. And I've got the word that those guys are working for Spain around most of Rome's worst gossips."


            "Good work, Senor," Ruy commented.


            "Yeah, good. What're you planning from here on in?" Sharon asked. "If you can tell me, that is."


            We'll keep spoiling this rentacrowd crap, where we can. Can't do much about the fake propaganda for the time being, although between the fifty or so people who nearly got killed last night, we've now got a cousin's wife's brother or something like that in every printing shop in town. We'll find out what's going down there, too. I, uh, got a lot of new friends last night."


            "Sounds like it," Sharon said. "Come by in the morning and tell us the whole story. Right now I've got to go and be an ambassador, but this has to be worth hearing."


            "Sure is," Frank said. "Gist of it is that they got someone to start a bar fight in my place, and had militia ready to 'suppress the riot' when it spilled in to the street. We got lucky, to be honest, their timing was a bit off. We saw it coming in time to get a lot of people inside and safe. Turns out they had some other guys on the street as a backstop. We'd have lost a lot more people if they'd been able to stop up all the little alleys and such."


            "Why?" Rita asked.


            "Disorder and riot, Dona Rita," Ruy said. "A pretext for political action against His Holiness. Senor Stone, ensure you have scouts to warn of militia movements. I would wager that Quevedo has suborned militia whom he positions to be ready. Many of their officers truly believe they are suppressing genuine insurrection, and harsh measures are required. They will not readily see the difference between your people and Quevedo's hirelings."


            "I figured as much," Frank said. "I'm not going to do much beyond spoil this kind of crap. I saw how trigger-happy they were last night."


            "Is there likely to be real rioting?" Dr. Nichols asked. "Way I heard it, it was just stuff like tonight. But from what you're saying, people are getting pretty pissed."


            Frank rocked a hand. "Maybe. There's usually some, this time of year. But like you say, people are getting pissed. Now that we've got people finally listening to what we're saying about it being the Spanish, that's really got 'em going. What can I say? They don't cotton to foreigners much, when they look like they might invade. And, uh, no disrespect, Senor Sanchez, some of the older folks remember what you did in Venice and are saying something like it's going to happen here."


            Ruy chuckled. "A shame, really, that the elder Osuna was executed. It would be such a pleasure for him to know that that scheme was still biting Spain in the ass fifteen years later. I shall tell Alfonso when I see him, he will be ecstatic. At the time, he truly believed it was a good plan."


            Rita spoke up. "Sharon, can you explain all this on the way? We really should be going."


            "Right," Sharon said. "Frank, can you be here at, say, ten tomorrow? We need to talk. I need to make a report back to Magdeburg about tonight, if nothing else, and your part of the story needs to go in it."


            "Sure thing, Ms. Nichols," Frank said. "Meantime, I've got a bar to run."




            The evening at the palazzo Colonna was quite refreshingly dull.