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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Thursday, November 27, 2003 23:33 EST



    “Bonsoir, Monsignor.” The servant seemed nervous as he took Mazarini’s coat.

    Mazarini’s fatigue-blurred mind was still alert, despite an evening of glitter and repartee that had tired him more than a week’s riding. He nodded acknowledgement of the servant’s greeting. “Is something wrong?”

    “Monsignor?” The question was in an almost affronted tone.

    Mazarini had not yet learned the names of all the servants at the maison Chavigny—come to that, he had not seen all of them yet—but they were generally a lively lot, less cowed than most. Something was definitely up with this one; his manner went beyond the usual scraping of the servants that so annoyed Harry. “Is M. le Comte at home?”

    “Non, Monsignor. He is with M. le Vicomte de Turenne.”

    That would be the younger Tour de l’Auvergne, the elder being largely out of Paris these days, while the younger basked in the sudden favor of the king and Richelieu.

    “M. Lefferts has passed the evening in your chambers,” the servant finished.

    Mazarini was not surprised. Harry was set to depart in the morning, and had decided to take an evening’s rest. He needed it. Rome had had its high spots for Harry, but Paris, to any young man with dash and money and a hint of the exotic was a city that opened its... arms.

    Mazarini smiled slightly at the thought of what he had all but left behind, middle-aged before his time. “I shall retire, then. Have something brought to me in my chambers. I shall take supper before my bed.”

    “Very good, Monsignor.”

    Mazarini walked up alone. Now that he thought about it, the house seemed entirely normal. Even with its owner out for the evening, the place was home to dozens of servants. Only in the very small hours was it free from the tick and rustle of people distantly going about life and work. Those sounds—for all that there seemed to be no one around—were still there, muted to their night-time level.

    He paused at the door of the apartment that the Comte had given to him and Harry for their residence while in the city. “Harry?” he called. The room—the first, a salon—was lit only by the dim glow of red embers. “Harry?” he called again, feeling slightly foolish.

    He looked to either side. The corridor was well lit. Lamps, and a chandelier over the stairwell. That was not normal, the risk of fire usually caused all lamps to be doused by this hour. He suddenly realized that standing in the doorway—

    Mazarini was on the floor before he heard the snap of a flint-lock. A jet of burning powder roared out through the door.

    Somewhere in his—yes! There—his pistol! He tugged at the hilt of the thing through the pocket-cut of his soutanne, at the same time scrabbling across the floor. Out of it stepped a man—dark-dressed, rough, villainous-looking. Mazarini took in the twist of his mouth where a scar—but he was raising a pistol and Mazarini, cursing, could not get his own free of his soutanne, all he was doing was pulling at his own leg and—

    A blast of noise, and scar-face jerked sideways and was crumpling, his face screwed up. Somehow Mazarini could see the detail that his breeches were stained.

    Within the room—”Fuck!” Harry was definitely alive in there—another shot. Harry’s shotgun, by the sound.

    Silence, then. Mazarini got to his feet, saw that scar-face was down, unconscious and bleeding in several places. He shook at his pistol, drew it free. He rapped the butt against his palm, then hauled back on the lock. His mouth was dry. He sidled up to the door.

    From within, a slight noise. The light was behind him; if he went in, whoever was within would see him first. “Harry?” he called out.

    The only answer, two shots. The first, the throaty cough of a pistol. The second, Harry’s shotgun. Then a thud. As, perhaps, of a body hitting the floor.

    Mazarini swallowed, then thought to check either way along the landing. Movement. “Arrete-là!” he called out, spinning to level his pistol. Whoever it was, a shape at the far end of the corridor by the stairwell vanished. He ran, realizing only halfway down the corridor that he had just exposed his back. He got to the head of the stairs, shouted down: “Stop him!”

    “Stop who?” came back the answer, and mocking laughter.

    The twentieth century had some things worth the Ring of Fire to bring them back. “Motherfucker,” Mazarini snarled, and felt better for it. On the wall, there was a display of old swords. Better than nothing. He took one down, felt the weight and ill balance of a weapon meant more for battering armor than the singing phrase of steel. He brought it up to a badly-balanced mockery of a sabreur’s guard and edged back along the corridor, pistol leveled in the other hand, his back to the wall.

    A body flew out of the doorway to his chambers; the fright made him squeeze the trigger. Somewhere, something shattered. Whoever it was hit the opposite wall and landed badly.

    “Giulio?” It was Harry’s voice. “You there?”

    “I’m here, Harry.”

    Harry Lefferts swaggered out of the doorway, the bravo’s pose only mildly spoiled by the fact that he was sucking on the knuckles of his right hand. “Three of ‘em, there were,” he said, taking the knuckles out of his mouth. There was a scorch of powder up the left side of his face. His sawed-off shotgun dangled almost negligently from his left hand, broken open and empty.

    “Four,” said Mazarini. “One ran.”

    “Two,” said Harry, looking down.

    Scar-face was gone. The other seemed to be in poor shape. Mazarini bent to see. “Dead,” he said, “or soon will be. I think his skull, perhaps his neck is broken.” The man had fouled himself where he lay, his eyes rolled up white.

    Harry was looking left and right along the corridor, his hands reloading the shotgun almost automatically. “Glad Dan Frost never took this ‘un off me. I gave my other one to Becky.”

    “Your pistol?”

    “I got it. In there.” Harry nodded his head back toward the room. “Stripped down for a little servicing. When these jokers turned up I was behind the screen, taking a leak. Lucky I didn’t have a lamp on, and the bastards didn’t think to check in the wardrobe, which was where I hid.”

    “Monsignor!” It was the servant from the hallway. “I heard someone shoot--” He stopped, breathless. “Assassins!”

    “Well, that was just as convincing as all hell,” drawled Harry Lefferts. A flick of the wrist and his shotgun snapped shut.

    The servant’s face went into a parody of puzzlement. “Monsignor? What did he say?”

    “He wants to know how much you were paid not to warn me.”

    “But Monsignor, I—” The outraged bluster cut off, as Harry poked the muzzle of his sawed-off into the man’s belly.

    “Ten livres,” he said, simply.

    “Fair.” Mazarini nodded. “And you did not tell them that M. Lefferts was in?”

    “Non. I told them he was out. When I heard nothing, I feared the worst for M. Lefferts, and thought that they must have succeeded in killing him quietly.”

    Harry snorted.

    “Now, Harry, let us not be harsh. He thought he could take his ten livres and let these ruffians die at your hand, eh?”

    The servant nodded.

    “It is probably for the best that I do not know your name, eh?”

    Another nod.

    “For if I did know it, I might denounce you and you would suffer death on the wheel as an accomplice to murder, yes? But if you leave Paris so I never see you again, you might live a long life.”

    Nod, nod.

    Mazarini took a deep breath. “Go. Now.” He did not raise his voice.

    The servant ran.

    Harry broke open the action on his gun, pulled out the cartridges. “What the hell was that all about?”

    Mazarini raised both eyebrows. “But surely you have some idea? Which father or brother or husband—cousin, for that matter—have you outraged most these few weeks past?”

    Harry twisted his lip. “Funny, Giulio. Funny. They spoke French, that I do know.”

    “Which means nothing. Such as they can be hired in any tavern you care to name in this city.” He sighed. “I could use a drink,” he said, and walked into his chambers.



    Shortly thereafter, the real alarm was raised. Servants—frightened-looking ones, who approached nervously, not wanting to get shot—turned up. Harry spoke to them, and they began to remove the two corpses. The one in the corridor had been relatively decorous. The one Harry had shot at close range was missing a face, mostly.

    “The fellow who came a-running was just some footman, been here maybe a week.”

    “Ah. Perhaps he was a little too glib.”

    “Whatever. He wasn’t going to tell us anything anyhow, Giulio. Nor is anyone else. They thought those guys were just regular visitors. For me, that is.” Harry paused a moment. “I think your guy was telling the truth, actually. He didn’t tell them I was in, did he?”

    Mazarini pondered the matter, briefly. Then, shrugged. “He’s gone now.”

    “Well, perhaps it was an outraged husband. Or father. It’d have to be one from Rome, though, on account of I’ve steered clear of that here.”

    Mazarini raised an eyebrow.

    Harry grinned. “Honest!”

    Mazarini felt his head beginning to ring a little, and sat down. Harry sat as well, reached for the drink that a servant had brought. “Never mind. It’s got to be something from Rome, yes?”

    “Has it?” Mazarini was suddenly not feeling very subtle.

    “Sure, I mean here—in Paris, I mean—you’re an ambassador. The one group of people who ain’t going to kill you are the French.”

    Mazarini thought about it. True, he was quite sure the assassins had not been sent by Richelieu. Certainly not after the cardinal’s veiled offer that very day and the evident rapport between himself and the Queen that very evening.

    But “the French” numbered in the millions. Had he somehow gotten wind of Richelieu’s scheme—or, more likely, simply read one of those cursed American history books—Monsieur Gaston and his confederates had every reason to want Mazarini dead.

    Giulio Mazarini, envoy of the Papacy and possibly the future chief minister of France, rubbed his face. Of course, Monsieur Gaston was only one possibility. In the Europe of the year 1633—and never leaving out of the equation, as Americans liked to say, the long arm of the Ottoman Turk—the workings of diplomacy were often hard to distinguish from murder. The American history books had simply—again, to use an American expression—poured gasoline on the flames.

    “Motherfuckers,” he said again. And, again, felt the better for it.



    The next morning, Harry Lefferts departed for Grantville. Once astride his horse—he rode the beast easily and gracefully; it was almost frightening the way Harry had adopted the seventeenth century—the young American looked down at Mazarini.

    “You’ll be all right without me?”

    Mazarini smiled crookedly. “I shall certainly miss the security of your shotgun. Not to mention that barbaric knife of yours. But, yes, Harry, I’ll be fine. I did somehow take care of myself for thirty years before you showed up, you know.”

    “Okay, okay. Just checking.” Lefferts’ face was unusually solemn. “They’re all going to be playing for your loyalty, too, Giulio, not just trying to cut your throat. You know it and I know it. Betcha anything the cardinal made you a hell of an offer yesterday.”

    Not for the first time, Mazarini reflected that there was a keen brain underneath the young American bravo’s swagger. Harry had taken to everything in this century with panache and gusto—including scheming and maneuver.

    The months they had spent together, if nothing else, would allow no dissemblance. Now that Harry was leaving, Mazarini realized with a bit of a start that he had come to cherish the young American’s friendship.

    “Yes, he did. And, no, I don’t know yet how I will respond.”

    Harry nodded. “Fair enough. I’m glad my loyalties ain’t so complicated.” He leaned over and extended his hand. “So long, then. It’s been a pleasure, Giulio, really has. However we meet again, I promise there’ll be no hard feelings on my part.”

    Mazarini returned the firm handshake. “Mine, neither.”

    It was all true enough, he thought, watching Harry trot away. Not entirely comforting, of course. Mazarini also been one of the witnesses at Harry’s duel with the brute Agnelli. Whatever fury there had been in Lefferts’ bloody actions of the moment, there had been none shortly thereafter.

    “There’s a man needed killing,” Harry had commented casually, almost cheerfully. “Glad to have been of service.”

    He’d been quite relaxed about it all. Mazarini had no difficulty at all imagining Harry standing over his own corpse. Sorry, Giulio. No hard feelings, but... it had to be done.

    So be it. What would come, would come. Mazarini turned back into the Comte’s domicile, his mind already turning to the maneuvers of the future. Besides, he still didn’t know what decision he would finally make, in the end.

    Who was to say? The next time he saw Harry Lefferts, he might be shaking his hand again.

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