1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 71:








            Frank returned from the embassy to find his place full of people, most of whom he'd never seen before. Pretty much all the regulars were in, though. And everyone wanted to know if it was true that the Spanish were about to invade. The best Frank could manage was “not right now.” He could tell a lot of folks weren't believing him, but nobody seemed to be calling for barricades and the like yet. In fact, everyone seemed to have settled in for a goodly long evening of drinking, dancing and generally hanging out.


            Dino, Fabrizzio, Benito and Giovanna were moving quickly and dealing with the rush for beer and wine and pizza. Frank had a moment's unease about whether a crowd like this could drink his bar dry, and decided he was probably okay for stock—and it looked like some of the guys from the soccer league were starting to get down with the whole working-together thing they did in Germany's Freedom Arches and were helping out.


            Frank had taken a flying leap earlier in the day. Getting people to spread out in the right neighborhoods and find the guys hiring rentamobs had been easy. Lots of his regulars didn't have day-jobs, as such, being hired by the day, and could afford to take the occasional day off. And, being as they were pretty pissed about the whole nearly getting killed thing, and Frank had goosed 'em up a bit by ranting about the Spanish—he was kind of pissed himself—they'd been pretty enthusiastic about getting themselves planted in today's faked demonstration to find out where it was.


            What hadn't been quite so certain was that anyone would show, when he asked for volunteers to turn up and bring friends. He'd timed it for after the usual working hours, since the bad guys had done the same thing. They were having trouble recruiting, according to a couple of reports. The crowd he'd got was gratifyingly large, and not a penny spent. If anything, he'd had more trouble persuading them not to just charge in and rip the poor slobs who'd taken the money limb from limb. Frank had managed to bring them round to the idea that it wasn't right to beat up on someone for being so desperate he had to take Spanish money. And it'd all come off pretty sweetly, so now he'd just led maybe fifty guys—the others had peeled off into other tavernas on the way back—into a bar that was already crowded.


            Giovanna took one look and just dealt with it. It was a warm night, the stableyard was clean and hadn't been used for stabling in a while, so she got a few of the soccer players to drag some tables out there and break the really old furniture out of storage in the stables. Then, with the musicians persuaded to play an outdoor gig and the dancing moved outside, it was all going smoothly again. Frank took a moment to open the yard gate as well. If he could turn this into a really good party, that was so many more people not off somewhere else rioting. And there was the local goodwill part to remember too.


            Frank found himself playing politician, or at least as near to it as he got. Yes, they'd run those sorry fools off. No, this wasn't the revolution, not yet, it was a long way off still. Yes, the beer was good here, they tried their best. Yes, pizza was a good idea, wasn't it, and no, he didn't want a bite, he'd already eaten.


            All in all, pretty good-natured, considering, but he'd seen how that could change in a minute. Wasn't like he could even spot the provocateurs, either. He had to force himself not to act suspicious, in case he set everyone else off. For all that everyone was eating and drinking and having fun, there was an undercurrent in the crowd.


            Damned Spaniards!


            It wasn't so much that the militia was breaking heads, although if it had been women and kids, that'd be different. A lot different. It was the fact that they were doing it at the bidding of foreigners. Being Romans, big-city folk from a very cosmopolitan city, they had a much suppler notion of what constituted “foreign” than you got out in the sticks. The year before, Frank had met one old guy who figured foreign parts started about ten miles from his house, any direction. Romans, though, while they preferred fellow Romans, were pretty much okay with most other Italians. So the Committee weren't foreigners, much. Venetians, to be sure, and apt to be a bit strange. Frank seemed to be either getting a bye as an honorary Venetian, or, as an American, they were assuming—until they met him—that he was too weird to count one way or the other. Foreign, but an okay kind of foreign. Not trying to be the boss of anyone. Looking back, Frank realized that he'd probably done himself good by starting out low-key. He'd done it to avoid the Inquisition, but it'd probably stood him in good stead with the people he was trying to reach. Let him earn some trust and credibility before he tried anything. So now, he had some to spend with his neighbors, when they were pissed off enough to be buying.


            He probably still couldn't lead them to much of anything, mind. The folks who'd nearly gotten killed here last night had been royally ticked off and looking for someone to beat on good and hard. Frank had just directed them to the spot they wanted to go anyway. No biggie. Afterward, he hadn't even been able to lead them all to an open bar. Still, he'd work with what he'd got.


            Then he heard the cheers. Uh oh.


            Frank didn't know where he'd acquired his instinct for trouble, but his chicken-sense was tingling now. It didn't take long to find out why.


            The news went through the place quickly:


            They've gone to the villa Borja.


            Hundreds of guys.


            Some of 'em got weapons.


            They're going to run that fat son-of-a-bitch Spaniard out of town.


            Frank pasted a smile on. Not a thing he could do about it, clear over the other side of the city. And trying to stop anything would just get him ignored.


            Inside of five minutes, the place was nearly empty again. Everyone had gone to the villa Borja, to find the nearest Spaniard or just to look for trouble.


            Frank sat down and wondered what tomorrow morning would look like.


            Another long, long night.