1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 84:



            The fellow who came in shortly was a far cry from what Sharon had imagined when she'd heard he was a saddler and a relative of Don Francisco. For a start, he didn't look like he belonged in the needle trades of any kind at all. Had Sharon been asked to guess what he did for a living, she'd have said he was a blacksmith, maybe, or possibly a professional prize-fighter. She knew quite a few big, powerful men. The man Adolf had announced as Isaac, no other name, was definitely among the top five. He had the big, scarred hands and rough knuckles of a man who did hard manual work and had grown up in a tough neighborhood, which by all accounts the Rome ghetto was. There was hardly a trace of the features Sharon had come to think of as Sephardic in his face. Had she not known the man was Jewish, she'd have simply taken him for an ordinary, if rather large, Roman. His face was one of those that, under the thick black hair, was always frowning with either worry or concentration. Right now, it seemed to be worry.


            The other odd thing about him was that he wasn't wearing any of the clothing that was required by Roman civic law for Jews. Of course, with his size and appearance, he could clearly get away with not bothering to do so.


            "Signora, Your Excellency," he said, clearly a little uncomfortable at the high-toned surroundings he found himself in. He was, Sharon guessed, rather used to coming to the tradesman's entrance and doing whatever it was saddlers did on a house call without getting further than the stables. "I have had news that I think should come to you as well as going to Don Francisco."


            That was immediately out of the ordinary. Don Francisco was usually extremely careful of his people’s cover, and unless they had cast-iron cover for being at an embassy, like Ben Luzatto back in Venice, the embassy never even knew they were there. Even Don Francisco's digests were careful not to give away anything that might betray a source. Don Francisco advised on the running of the embassy's own network, but it was always kept separate from the deeper network of agents he maintained himself. Sharon suspected he planned for the eventual compromise and capture of every single embassy and assumed that at some point he would be left depending on only his own network.


            "It must be serious, Isaac," Sharon said, after she realized he was waiting for permission to speak. She mentally chided herself. Just because all the members of the extended Abrabanel and Nasi families she'd met to date were highly-educated people like Don Francisco and Rebecca, she shouldn't assume that there weren't also plenty of ordinary working stiffs like Isaac who wouldn't be entirely at their ease if they were invited above stairs.


            "Please," she said, hoping her tone was putting him at his ease, "tell us. Senor Sanchez is my chief of intelligence at the embassy. Have a seat, would you? And if you’d like refreshments—"


            "Thank you, no, Your Excellency Ambassadora," Isaac said, sitting and starting to gabble a little. "I have the contract for the repairs to the tack at the Villa Borja, Your Excellency, and this morning the boy who brings the repairs came to deliver this week's work. I saw to it that he took refreshments and talked a while. When I make my reports to Don Francisco, Your Excellency, I get most of it from such gossip. You see, when soldiers or politicians send messages, they always pass through the stables when the messenger rides, and so I get to hear much because I always have some wine, you see?"


            "Yes, I see," Sharon said, trying not to smile. "Will you have some here?"


            "Oh, no, Your Excellency, I wouldn't presume to—"


            "Here," Ruy said, shoving a glass into the big man's hand. "Take a drink and slow down a little. You were talking to the guy from the Villa Borja? Good way to get news, that, by the way, well done."


            Sharon noticed, as Isaac took a deep gulp of the watered wine—clearly, he was not as observant as Ben Luzzatto had been—that Ruy's accent and use of Roman local dialect had gotten almost comically broad as he spoke to the man. Doubtless Ruy hadn't even thought about it, he was just well-practiced at putting informants at their ease. He'd probably never had to resort to beating information out of anyone in his entire career as a soldier-cum-spy. A couple of drinks and half an hour of casual bonhomie and Ruy could probably have cracked the head of the KGB, lack of common language notwithstanding.


            And, indeed, Isaac seemed a little more relaxed. He no longer seemed to be trying to sit at attention, at least.


            “Your Excellencies," he said, "I hear from the boy at the Villa Borja stables that on the night of the rioting and other disturbances, when all those poor people were killed outside the Borja's gate—"


            His face screwed up in something very much like distress at that point. Sharon got the impression that Isaac was one of those big men who had a fundamentally gentle nature.


            “—that on that night the Cardinal sent a messenger riding fast to Naples."


            "Did your man know what the message was?" Ruy asked, his tone gentle, almost casual.


            "No, Signor. But it was right after the shootings and there were messengers coming in from all over Rome. They were busy in those stables that night. And Don Francisco Quevedo was there as well, the boy remembered him particularly because he always brings a tip of a few bottles of grappa to make sure his horse is seen to well."


            Ruy snorted. "I taught him that trick. Make sure the stable-hands like you, and your horse is always well cared-for and ready when you need him. It has saved my life more than once."


            Isaac chuckled in his turn. "The same trick is also good for your saddler, Signor. I speak as one who knows."


            Ruy laughed out loud at that. "Here, have another drink," he said, holding out the decanter. "Did the stable boy have any idea what Quevedo was doing there? I can guess he was up to no good, I know him of old, but was the message from him or the Cardinal?"


            "From the Cardinal, I think," Isaac said, "We talked it over some and we think that the Cardinal is sending for more troops, maybe mercenaries or maybe Spanish troops, to guard his villa better. Or that is what we thought at the time. After the boy left, and I was getting to work on parceling out the work to my own boys, I got to thinking and I wondered what if the Cardinal was sending for a lot of troops. The Spanish sacked the city in my great-grandfather's time, you know."