1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 36

“And so you believe Urban hopes to escape that way?”

“It is the only way out of Italy that Spain’s forces cannot block. And the up-timers would be most eager have Urban VIII further indebted to them.”

Borja’s affirmation was guttural. “And it would give Urban the excuse he has always wanted to consort freely with them and their heretical Swedish overlord. Urban may have been sitting upon the cathedra, but he was always ready to get down on his knees whenever the Swede deigned to dictate policy to Mother Church. But no longer.”

If Dolor was moved by the stirring rhetoric, he gave no sign of it. “In short, Your Eminence, we will need to remain watchful in all places, but particularly Venice, while your men continue to dig through the rubble of the Hadrian’s Tomb. If, upon turning the last stone, they still find nothing, and my confidential agents have also found nothing, we will need to revisit our course of action in this matter.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that if Urban was blown into small pieces, how will we ever know that was his fate, rather than an escape? We may have to accept that God has decided to deny us certainty.”

“Your point is well-taken, Señor Dolor. But this is my decision: we will search for Urban VIII until his body is found. Or our savior comes again.”

“Your Eminence, that could be an expensive proposition. Very expensive.”

“I need no schooling in the expense of such operations. But more to the point, I am quite expert in appreciating the methods required to pursue the enemies of Mother Church. And of all possible enemies, the most dangerous are traitors. So if we must keep a day and night watch upon the USE’s Venetian embassy, then we must. No matter the cost.”

“Constant, close surveillance would probably be detected, and thereby, defeat its own purpose. Happily, I also very much doubt it is required, Your Eminence. Has there ever been an embassy in which there is not at least one individual willing to sell important information for the right price?”

Borja smiled tightly. “Foreign offices are rarely schools of virtue. So, let us presume you are right: that the Ambassadora Nichols is sheltering Urban and others of his retinue. Then why have the Americans not already flown down in one of their massive, heretically named Jupiter airplanes?”

Dolor frowned, nodded. “I have wondered the same thing.”

“And your conclusions?”

“Let us call them my conjectures. It could be that the Americans intend on doing just that, but either do not have all the desired passengers in hand yet, or are simply keeping them in an undisclosed location until the plane arrives. At which point they see to it that the passengers will arrive in Venice just before the plane departs, in order to make a quick escape.”

“You must take preventative steps against such an eventuality.”

For the first time, the faintest hint of a smile rippled at the corner of Dolor’s mouth.

“Ah. So this is already in hand.” Borja smoothed his cassock again. “Do you have other conjectures?”

Dolor pursed his lips for a moment, then said, “Not exactly, but I am troubled by the number of USE troops that apparently headed into Italy after the action outside Chiavenna. Why bring in so many security personnel if Ambassadora Nichols’ important guests are soon to fly away in an airplane? And why send Simpson and his rather important companions home though a risky transalpine route first, rather than waiting for the plane? And why not escort Ginetti down here separately for the same aerial extraction?”

“Perhaps the USE’s large aircraft cannot be spared for a trip to Venice.”

“I think not, Your Eminence. Even though the largest aircraft are in constant demand throughout the USE, the events here must certainly warrant the speedy redeployment of at least one of their Jupiters.”

Borja frowned. “Yes. It is strange, all this running about when they have these wondrous aircraft. There is something missing here. What do you think it is?”

“I do not know, Your Eminence. But I begin to wonder if one of our central assumptions might be flawed.”

“What do you mean?”

“Can we be sure that Urban does indeed, wish to depart Italy at this time? Even if he means to leave eventually, is there anything he might achieve by delaying that departure?”

Borja scoffed. “You need not trouble yourself with that baseless speculation, Señor Dolor. The man who has forever soiled the papal title ‘Urban VIII’ remains the back-stabbing, nepotistic, heretic-lover who was born under the name Maffeo Barberini. And you may be sure that his nature will not change: he will forever love his pretty furnishings and his Church-wrecking cronies almost as much as he loves spending money like a drunken sailor. But he loves one thing more — far more — than any of these.”

“And what is that, Your Eminence?”

“His contemptible hide. The man is a coward, has always wrung his hands looking for peace and accommodations when it was clearly Mother Church’s duty to wage war to protect her interests and her flock. He is a coward and a turncoat and will flee behind his Swedish pimp’s skirts at the very first opportunity.”

Dolor had raised one eyebrow but said nothing.

Still caught up in his ire, Borja snapped, “It that all?”

Dolor nodded. “Yes, Your Eminence.”

“Very well. Keep me apprised of any new developments. You may go.”


As Pedro Dolor emerged from behind the absurdly tall doors of Borja’s office, the short man who had accompanied him on his first visit to the Villa Borghese rose from an upholstered chair farther down the hall. When Dolor reached him, the fellow fell in beside his captain, observing, “If Borja is going to converse with everyone as though he is issuing a public declaration, he needs to get thicker doors.” Dolor did not answer; they walked on together for a few more steps. “Does he really intend to kill Urban?”

“Borja has reportedly killed sixteen cardinals, although some may only be languishing in hidden dungeons. Either way, he does not seem like a man who stops at half measures.”

“Maybe not, but he does seem fond of putting a legal gloss on his atrocities. As I hear it, all those dead red hats were killed resisting arrest. Funny: I didn’t think there were that many brave cardinals in the whole Church.”

“There never have been and everyone knows it. And of course Borja would prefer Urban VIII dead rather than alive. As you probably heard, he wants to keep searching for him until we find the living man, the dead body, or the returned Christ sitting on top of the Sistine Chapel.”

“So do we recruit for a full search of Venetian territory now, and –?”

“No. We don’t have any intelligence to act upon yet. We don’t even know where to look.”

“But you just said that Borja ordered you to –”

“Dakis, when your lord tells you to kill a pig that’s ruining his vines, you do his bidding, but you don’t consult him about how to do it. Like as not he’d steer you wrong or get you killed. That’s why the best lord just gives you the order and leaves you to your business.”

“And is Borja such a lord?”

“No, but we’ll make sure he behaves like one.”