So a stand-up fight was out of the question. Some of the older folks in the neighborhood remembered stories their grandparents had told them about the last sack of Rome. Also by the Spanish, as it turned out, although that time they'd had Germans along to help. The town was going to be sacked, no question. Anything not nailed down was going to be stolen, because that was how soldiers got paid. And once the soldiers got good and drunk, or right away if they'd had to fight hard to get in and they were good and mad, the nasty stuff would start.


            Rape, said a little voice in the back of Frank’s mind. He'd tried, in the wee small hours of the morning, to persuade Giovanna to take some of the women and kids over to the embassy, to leave with the convoy they'd be getting ready to roll with right about now. He winced at the memory. They'd fought before. Blazing rows, fit to loosen plaster three streets away. In a way, they were kind of nice, they cleared the air. And often the prelude to some excellent make-up sex.


            So having Giovanna ream him out in a low, sneering monotone had been pretty awful. She was, in some ways, a stereotype Italian girl, raised to be feisty. Hot tempered. She'd defer to her husband, but would make sure her input into his decisions had been fully and clearly registered beforehand. This time, though, she'd come off as genuinely offended that he'd even considered the possibility. The idea of sending people to live on the charity of the USE Embassy had pushed the Revolution Button.


            He'd given ground as gracefully as he could, which wasn't very gracefully at all. The best he'd been able to manage was a promise that she'd stay on one of the upper floors, throwing firebombs if they had to defend themselves.


            Would it come to that? Frank looked at the building again. Hopefully not. It looked like it had before they moved in, just another dilapidated wreck of a place, nothing valuable inside. Hopefully they wouldn't get so stuck for billets that they'd try and move soldiers in. Hopefully they wouldn't just torch the entire neighborhood. Hopefully they'd stick with attacking the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo and the rich folks' houses, where the good pickings were.




            Frank was finding it hard to hold on to his hopes after a night without sleep.


            A figure walking through the mist, silhouetted against the light that scattered from the eastern sky, resolved into Piero. "Does it look good?" the lefferto asked.


            "See for yourself," Frank said, gesturing back up the street.


            Piero gave it an appraising look. "Much the same as the other buildings around here. Which is to say, a shithole. I would not want to loot it. A Spaniard? They say they would steal dogshit from the gutter, but there are better pickings in Rome. My own family's place, for one."


            "Why aren't you there?" Frank asked. "Not that I'm not grateful you're helping, but won't your folks need the help?"


            "I won't discount stupidity, Frank," Piero said, shrugging. "Truth be told, I asked myself what Harry would have done. I think here is where he would choose to be."


            "True," Frank said, guessing as much as Piero was doing. He'd not really known Harry—the guy was a good few years older than him and had left high school just as Frank was starting.


            "And," Piero went on, "my folks can afford a fast carriage and armed riders to remove my mother and sisters and the real valuables to safety. For the rest, a few barrels of wine on the ground floor will likely satisfy the Spaniards. Our real wealth is in land and buildings, Frank, which cannot readily be stolen. There will be some breakage, and my father will complain loudly about the loss, but my allowance will not dry up nor anyone who depends even on a casa as modest as my own go hungry."


            "Still, they're family," Frank said, probing. "Surely they could use—"


            Piero wagged a finger. "Yes, but there I make little difference, as one more guard among many. At worst, we lose a fraction and it is already well-guarded. Here? These people came to you for the protection of everything they have. If they lose, they lose everything."


            "Well, I can't fault your logic, and I'm grateful as all get-out for you acting on it. Wish I could be certain I'd be as good as that in a pinch."


            "You are, Frank," Piero said. "You could have left. I heard what that runner from the embassy said. Although you have a reputation as a tireless champion of the people to uphold. Me, I am a ruffian and a layabout and a philanderer. If word should get about that I engaged in—" he shuddered theatrically—"altruism, why, I should be ruined."


            "My lips are sealed," Frank said, chuckling, "I'll tell everyone a jealous husband hit you over the head with a bottle while you were dead drunk, and your brains were scrambled."


            "True," Piero said, grinning back. "Why, I hardly know what day it is. How many fingers am I holding up?"


            "One," Frank said, dryly.


            "See? I had to ask for help even with that. Must remember that gesture. If the Spaniards spot us, I shall need it again."