1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 34

“You have what?”

“Uh…they’re like a really good telescope. We kept watch behind us, usually as far as a couple of miles back. Nothing.”

The man nodded. “Very well. Don Taddeo Barberini sends his personal greeting, and apologizes that he cannot accommodate you in the palazzo itself. It would be — imprudent.”

“For all of us,” Sherrilyn agreed. “We thank the duke for arranging these lodgings.”

“They are humble but will arouse no suspicion, and thus ensure that our rendezvous will remain unseen. Before discussing the situation in Rome, the duke has asked me to confirm that his uncle Maffeo and brother Antonio are still alive.”

Lefferts nodded. “Both the pope and the cardinal are healthy and safe.”

“The message we received from them seemed genuine, couched in phrases and with references that only they would know. But one can never be too careful.” Romulus inclined his head. “The duke also wonders if you would be so kind as to satisfy one other curiosity of his: by what path did you come to Palestrina and what did you see along the way?”

Sherrilyn looked up. “Any particular reason why he wants to know?”

“There is no cause for alarm, signora, but the duke now keeps all his men here in Palestrina. If one ventures out, one might run afoul of a Spanish tithing detachment. Or other potentially dangerous groups.”

“Such as?”

Romulus shrugged. “The liveried men of rival houses. With Barberini’s fortunes at such low ebb, we must be careful. Our neighbors could transform into wolves. Compared to three months ago, we are easy prey. And of course, who can really trust the papal troops? And now — your journey?”

“Yeah, sure. Colonel North is our intelligence officer, and gives great reports. Tom?” Harry’s eyes sparkled mischievously.

North suppressed a sigh. “After making landfall at Nettuno, we traveled by cart and mount to the east, where we picked up the Appian Way at the end of the first day. From there, we followed the Roman Road north until reaching Velletri, where we took the cart path to the northeast. Travel was slow, but that route kept the Alban Hills between ourselves and Rome, which we deemed prudent. That brought us here: three days travel, including this one.”

“Any sign of the Spanish?”

“Happily, no, but one of the villages we passed had been visited by a foraging unit from Rome. No one killed, but a few farmers were roughed up when the Spanish impounded all the grain.”

Romulus nodded. “This is an increasingly common story. Borja is sending foragers throughout the Lazio, rotating their destination to distribute his policy of public rapine with the greatest possible equity.” Although the man did not smile, Thomas was fairly sure he had intended his last comment as a sardonic witticism.

George Sutherland’s question came out more akin to a growl. “Is there any resistance to these thieves?”

Romulus turned to look at the immense Englishman. “Very little. None that is serious. Complaints, rather than conflict.” The man shrugged. “The farmers and mayors of the Lazio just hope Borja will depart. If he does not, they will need to be in his good graces. It is a most unsatisfactory situation.”

“Sounds pretty calm, too.” Lefferts was rubbing his jaw.

“Yes. Too calm, for our tastes.”

“How so?” asked Sherrilyn.

Romulus’s eyes seemed to glint for a moment, despite the dull light of the oil lamps. “Barberini’s other uncle — the late cardinal, Francesco — was followed out into the countryside by Borja’s thugs, taken prisoner, and then cut down when he ‘attempted to escape.’ Many of the duke’s friends from other families were slaughtered in a similar fashion. Rome grumbles. But does nothing.”

Thomas was careful to keep the tone of his inquiry interested, rather than critical. “What would you have Rome do?”

The black eyes flicked over at him. “A good question.”

Harry sat on the edge of the cart they had purchased in Nettuno. “I suggest that we do one job at a time. Once we’re done getting our friends out of Borja’s hands, I’m hoping my boss sends us back to help you with the situation here in Rome. So the faster I get the first job done, the faster I can get to whatever comes next.”

Romulus nodded. “I will tell you all that I may about Rome.”

Harry nodded. “Good. Let’s start with the basics: do you know where Frank Stone and his wife, Giovanna are being held?”

“Yes. They were recently moved to the palace now occupied by the Family Altemps. Not the main Palazzo Altemps, you understand.” Seeing the unanimous confusion on the faces before him, Romulus attempted to help. “This is the palazzo that was originally built by Scipione Borghese.”

That explanation only generated more confusion among the Crew. North sought clarification, “But wouldn’t that make it the Palazzo Borghese?”

“No, no; it’s –”

“It’s what our book calls the Palazzo Rospigliosi,” announced Sherrilyn, holding up a book with a bold-colored cover, titled in large letters: Frommer’s Rome. “Not too far from the actual Palazzo Borghese. Which is Borja’s own lair, if our information is correct.”

Romulus nodded. “Yes, this is all correct. Your friends were moved to what you call the Palazzo Rospigliosi a little more than a week ago.”

“Have any of your people been able to contact them?”

Romulus did not hide his incredulity. “Signor Lefferts — I know your name, since your reputation and style precedes you — we no longer have any informers in such places. Those few that we kept in the staffs of other families, as they certainly kept their own among ours, are no longer safe to contact, even if we could. It is the lefferti who keep us apprised of events in the city.”

“So,” Donald Ohde sounded amused, “Harry’s fan club of Lefferts-wanna-bes still exists.”

“Yes, but in drastically reduced numbers.” Romulus hesitated. “Many were killed in the initial attack. Many more were hunted down.”


“They were known to be helping your embassy, at least indirectly.”

Harry took the news with, for him, a notable lack of reaction: he seemed oddly still. “I see. And what have they reported about the conditions under which Frank and Giovanna are being held?”

“Not much. Frank was evidently wounded; some injury to one hand is speculated, and he has either lost a leg, or at least temporarily lost the use of it.”

“Damn.” Lefferts kicked at a tuft of hay. “That complicates things. What about Giovanna?”

“She was not injured, but of course is carrying a child. She is now four to five months pregnant.”

“Gotta move fast,” Harry muttered to no one.

Romulus stared at him. “‘Move fast?’ Signor Lefferts, do you have any idea how formidable a structure the Palazzo Rospigliosi is?”


“It is very formidable. Very large. Many, many halls, rooms, salons.” He looked around the stable. “I mean no disrespect, but your group seems very small for the task.”

“Maybe. But there are a lot of ways to stage a prison break. And not all of them require a frontal attack with superior numbers. As a matter of fact, that’s the kind of strategy we always try to avoid.”

“Well, your methods are none of my business, but I must point out: we do not know where in the complex your friends are being held.”

“Do you have a map, a floor plan?”

“Not such as you mean. We have only a few crudely mapped sections that former servants have been able to describe from memory. And I would not approach the present servants for additional information, if I were you.”


“They might be cat’s-paws, bait. Most of the servants live on the premises. This is not uncommon; it aids in the security of any palazzo to minimize traffic from the world beyond its walls. However, if they suspect that any group — rescuers such as yourselves, for instance — is trying to gather current intelligence about its interior –”

“Then they might put a tail on any servants leaving the premises, track them to a meeting with my people, and preemptively hit us before we can hit them.”


“Well,” mused Harry, rubbing his chin, “looks like this might be a worthy challenge for the Wrecking Crew, after all.”