1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 76:



            Frank shoved the broom across the floor with angry, bashing motions. They'd had maybe half an hour of quiet followed by the first sounds of trouble. The band had quit—half of them had gone off to join in the so-called fun—and when it was quiet, it was eerily quiet. Everyone who'd stayed behind had gotten a little bit subdued. Even the lefferti, normally a boisterous bunch, were hunched over their tables and conversing in low tones. Frank was making an early start on the cleaning once the patrons had been persuaded to shift in close to the bar. Some nights like this had been pleasant, convivial even. A few regulars, up half the night and putting the world to rights.


            Tonight, it was small knots of people around the couple of tables nearest the bar.  Frank figured he’d get the place near enough that it wouldn’t be too much trouble in the morning and call it done. Then he’d pour one for himself, see that Giovanna was getting some rest, and see if he couldn’t get the worry out of his head. He kind of wished he’d inherited more of his dad’s calm approach. Or maybe it was something his dad had learned; there were a couple of incidents in the early seventies that dad was pretty quiet about.


            Benito wandered over with a dustpan just as Frank got the crap into one tidy heap. “It’s not a good night,” he remarked. Frank had been about to think of him as a kid, and then stopped for a moment. When he’d first met Benito, nearly a year and a half before, he’d been a snot-nosed little guy that Frank had taken for about eight, maybe nine. Since then, with a fair chunk of help from Frank’s dad, who had remarked that you couldn’t solve world hunger by buying everyone dinner but you could at least make a start, Benito and a fair few of the other youngsters whom Massimo was more or less bringing up as Committee cadets had gotten a good deal more feeding. Benito was now nearly as tall as Frank and occasionally his voice wobbled a bit. It would be easy enough to take him for a kind-of-short fifteen now.


            Frank caught himself. “Sorry, Benito, I was daydreaming. I think I’m getting old.”


            Benito shrugged. “Kid on the way, I figure you are old, or will be soon.” He stooped to hold the dustpan where Frank could make use of it. “Gonna be weird, you’re the first guy I know to have a kid.”


            “Eh? Messer Marcoli’s got—“


            Benito stood up with the pan full of garbage. “You know what I mean. Regular guys. Guys I, like know …" He trailed off, expecting Frank to get it.


            He didn't, of course and he was trying to think of something to say that would make any sense when there was a godalmighty bang from the shutters out front. "Shit!" he yelled as he flinched.


            "What was that?" Benito said, and there was a chorus of scrapes as everyone in the bar-room got to their feet.


            Then the door flew open, banging back against the wall. Frank didn't get more than a split second to take in the sight of half-a-dozen guys bursting in through the door, before one of them yelled "There he is! -" The guy doing the shouting was a local, a short, wide guy who'd been in a couple of times maybe. Frank didn't know his name, he was just one of the neighborhood bums. Some kind of small-time criminal, if Frank was any judge. The mob with him—there were more coming in the door, maybe fifteen or twenty, started to move in on Frank.


            "Basta!" Frank looked to his right when he heard the word snarled, and saw that Piero and a couple of his friends had stood up and come over by Frank. All three had the big knives, the nearest the local cutlers could get to Bowie knives from descriptions alone, that the lefferti tended to favor if they didn't carry rapiers. Piero, being a bit more of a high-roller than the others, had a rapier as well and was using his bowie as a main gauche.


            Frank hefted his broom, feeling more than a bit silly. The crowd came up short, the guys in front staggering a bit as the ones in back crowded up behind them. Frank saw clubs, a couple of lengths of chain and some knives in evidence. Piero and his friends—more were coming over to join them and they all looked like they were looking forward to a fight—certainly had them outclassed in the blade department.


            That cheerful thought was followed by another that made his belly sink. People are going to die, tonight. Right in my bar. He took a deep breath. He wasn't going to let this happen without he at least tried—


            "Everyone calm down!" he yelled, trying to keep his voice steady, hoping that the various noises behind him didn't include Giovanna getting tooled up. "Nobody needs to get hurt, just head back on out, okay?"


            "Damned foreigner!" That was “Shorty”—as Frank found himself mentally naming the first guy to speak. "You think you can tell us what to do in our own neighborhood?"


            Frank took a step forward. "No," he said. Then, with another deep breath and a step toward Shorty, he yelled, "But in my own damned bar I can! See if you get served another drink in here, asshole!"


            Shorty seemed a bit nonplussed at that. So Frank decided to try and defuse it some more. He let the broom fall and leaned on it. "Anyone who wants a drink, take a seat. Except you, asshole," he said, pointing at Shorty, "Get out of my place."


            That got a laugh. Frank let himself hope that the situation was about to defuse, when there was another crash and something smashed through the window and shutters both. A kerbstone, or something like it, Frank thought, as he watched it come through and smash a chair to kindling.


            And then the place just erupted. Frank never did figure out who started it, but there was a sudden swirl of bodies, he brought up the broom to fend someone off, gave him a face-full of bristles, swayed back as someone else slashed at him with a knife and missed, stumbled as someone else jostled in to him from behind, and flinched again as the first shot was fired.


            Oh crap, he thought, now it's really serious. Except that the mob seemed to be retreating, and there were clouds of plaster dust in the air. Then he heard, slicing through the din, female shrieks. His heart tried to sink and soar at the same time, as That's my girl! tried to shout down It's not safe! in his mind. Still, he stood up straighter, and looked around. There were a couple of the crowd on the floor, mostly still moving, and clutching bits of themselves. And there, coming from behind the bar, eyes flaming and Venetian invective in full Marcoli flow, was Giovanna, working the slide on the shotgun.


            "Who's next?" she shrieked. That was followed by comparisons between the crowd and various animals, all of them greatly to the disfavor of the crowd. But as far as Frank could see she'd only shot holes in the ceiling so far. "Come on? Lackeys of the exploiters! Class traitors! I'll give you a taste of what's waiting for your noble masters—"


            She punctuated it with another round into the ceiling and the last few die-hards turned and bolted for the door.


            Frank let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.


            Giovanna handed him the shotgun and a handful of shells from her apron pocket. The sound of the broom hitting the floor as he dropped it was the only sound. Into the silence, she said, "Next time, we have someone waiting for them."


            Frank wondered what to say. What he dared say. In the end, like husbands since the dawn of time, he settled for "Yes, honey."


            Ten minutes later and it was hard to tell whether or not there'd been a fight. The lefferti had ordered more drinks and were congratulating each other. None of them had had chance to close in on anyone and hurt him; they were all too well armed for anyone to have tried anything in the few seconds the fight had lasted. A couple of the other regulars had been hit, and had bruises, and a couple of others had gotten in a few licks, and left some of the crowd limping as they left.


            Benito was watching out of the door, occasionally orbiting the windows on to the street, and looking worried. After a while he came back over. "There are still some guys out in the street, Frank," he said.


            "Doing what?" Frank asked, checking where his pistol was holstered across the back of his belt where he could get at it without looking too threatening.


            "Just watching the place," Benito said, looking worried.


            Frank remembered that Benito had grown up in a far, far rougher neighborhood than Grantville, West Virginia, which while not exactly high society had been a quiet and decent place. He pretty much ought to know what trouble in the offing would look like.


            "Okay," Frank said, thinking about it. They'd been driven out once, they were more than likely pissed about it, but most of them wouldn't want to come back in and get shot at. After a while, though, only the real die-hards would still be out there. What would they do? A few unpleasant possibilities crossed Frank's mind. The building was brick, solid brick, but most of the internal floors and the furniture and fittings were wood. Extremely flammable wood. And all the lamps that made the place so bright and cheery at night were, from one point of view, simply fragile bottles of oil held up where they could shatter easily. "I figure we keep watches all night," he said after looking around the place. "Fire watches."


            Benito nodded. He'd probably been thinking the same sort of thing.


            It was a long, hot night. Uneventful, in the end, but long and hot.