Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Sunday, December 28, 2003 03:21 EST



    “Cool.” Gerry put the enthusiasm into the word that you probably had to be sixteen to manage.

    “Yeah, it’ll do,” Ron drawled, looking around.

    Frank couldn’t quite figure out if he was looking at the decor or the help—who clearly thought the Stone brothers’ various attempts on the Italian language were funny, but were being polite about it. At least, he hoped that was what they were finding funny. They had also insisted on doing more-or-less everything for him and his brothers when they had lugged their bags up to their rooms, short of—

    He let that thought die a natural death. True enough, the help was worth looking at. All four of the servants assigned to them were girls about their own age. If only two of them could properly be called “pretty,” all of them could certainly bear the label of “healthy” with great ease.

    But if there was one thing that Frank’s not-so-great weight of experience with the female of the species had taught him it was that not pushing too hard on the first date—don’t hump her leg, as his dad had once put it in a jocular mood—did wonders for the success rate in the long run. Things had been decidedly fluid on that front these past two years, though, and he was a free agent for the moment. Part of that was the way in which German attitudes were rubbing off on everyone he knew—including himself, truth be told. Everyone seemed to want to get themselves set up and steady before they got romantic. Which was odd, but then again most of the things everyone had taken for granted as opportunities for dating had gone away. And then the rubbers had run out, and things had gotten decidedly chilly on that front, damn it.

    So, he looked around. “It isn’t quite how I imagined it.”

    “Oh?” Ron sounded interested.

    “Sure. I looked it all up. You wouldn’t believe how many books of photographs of Venice there are. Well, you would now you’ve seen it, and this town’s famous for looking pretty. But all the photos have captions about how such-and-such a palazzo or the Casa-de-that was refurbished in the eighteenth century. So I figured it’d all look more—different—than it did in the pictures, and all.”

    “Oh,” said Ron. Frank’s younger brother was trying very hard not to stare at the rump of the chambermaid who was bending down to sort their linen into drawers. Frank sympathized with his struggle. She was the only maid left in the room, since the others had left in a swirl of giggles—and easily the best-looking.

    “Whoah!” Gerry called out, “Not that one!” He stepped smartly across the room to where the maid was about to try and lift his bag of tricks. The one that clanked when he moved it.

    Frank didn’t doubt that someone would take a peek later anyway, but by then the Stone boys would have taken the more outré stuff out of it and hidden it somewhere safer. Gerry was the youngest of the brothers and he’d packed the thing—which meant that “outré” would be outré indeed.

    The maid gave Gerry an odd look. Not puzzled so much as...


    A thought came to Frank, and he decided to take a chance. “Committee?” he asked, making sure to use the English term.

    “Yes,” the maid hissed softly. “You are the Committee with the Grantville embassy?” Her English was surprisingly good, aside from a heavy accent. But Frank thought the accent was as charming as the rest of her.

    “Yup,” he said, extending a hand. “All three of us, actually. You learned English for us?”

    “No.” She took his hand a bit shyly, not shaking it so much as just holding it. “My father make us learn, so we can work with Sir Henry Hider. And then he made us study even harder, when we learned you were coming to Venice.”

    “Who’s Hider?” Frank asked, feeling a sudden twinge of anxiety. Well. Jealousy, to be precise. Did some lousy Brit already have the inside track with the girl?

    “Steady on there, podnuh,” Gerry said. “Ma’am,” he said, sweeping off the silly cavalier hat he’d taken to wearing, “might we have the privilege of your name?”

    Frank nodded. The courtly manners thing might be a good idea after all. It had seemed excruciating stuff when a small assortment of Nasis and other gentry had been giving them crash-courses in current manners—Dad’s attempts had been hilarious at first until he seemed to just accelerate ahead of everyone—but the effects could be impressive. Frank swept his baseball cap off with the hand that the maid wasn’t holding—score one, he realized, she hadn’t let go yet. “Lady,” he said, in his best shot at the Italian language, “permit me the honor of naming my brothers Gerry and Ron Stone, and I am Frank, very much at your service. And you are?”

    The giggles suggested he’d got it wrong, but at least in an amusing way.

    “Giovanna Marcoli. My father Antonio is the—what is the word for capo?—of the Committee of Correspondence in Venice.” The girl straightened proudly. “All of north Italy—even Milan! Even though he is only a glassmaker.”

    She giggled again, and Frank realized her amusement had been at the notion of herself as a Lady. Craftsmen were respected enough, in Venice, but very far removed in social terms from the Venetian noble merchant families. The Casa vecchie, Frank thought they called themselves—the “Old Houses.”

    Giggling or not, Giovanna still hadn’t relinquished his hand. Frank was in no hurry for her to do so. The hand was of a piece with the girl herself—small, warm, and very well-shaped. “Sir Henry is a merchant and a man of some note in Venice,” she continued, “if you like I will tell you more of him later?”

    “Sure,” said Ron. The middle of the three Stone brothers had just turned eighteen, and had a slightly-too-eager tone in his voice. No, make that much-too-eager. He took off his hat, an English foghat he’d gotten somewhere, just to make sure Frank was outnumbered in the dumbass headgear stakes. “Thanks.”

    Great, thought Frank, he’s going to hump her leg any minute. Actually, he could feel that urge himself. Please, please, please, he thought, let Giovanna not turn out to be attached or something. Short, brunette, dark-eyed, and—and—


    Damn. Frank was sure he’d blow it.

    As if foretelling his doom, Giovanna finally let go of his hand and frowned. Suddenly, she seemed all business.



    “Messer... Gerry, it is?” Giovanna asked. “Why must I not touch that bag?”

    “This bag?” Gerry said, hoisting it up with a grunt of effort.

    “Yes. Is it secret to you or to the Committee?”

    “Both, in a manner of speaking.” Gerry crossed the room to a table to unpack it.

    Frank went over to watch. He’d been kind of curious himself.

    “Now,” said Gerry, “I expect y’all got a thing or two on sale hereabouts in Venice for the man of action, but I figured on being prepared, one way or another.” He looked around to his audience, which was now everyone in the room.

    “Y’see,” he went on, “I figure never to need any of this stuff. On the other hand, I figure Darryl figured on that, too, and look where he ended up.” He paused. “I sure wish I knew what that guy is doing, still locked up in the Tower. I figured he’d have taken it on the lam by now, but maybe he’s waiting for--”

    “Gerry!” Frank said, pointing. “The bag?”

    Gerry visibly wrenched his train of thought back off the track of the mayhem he was missing elsewhere. “What? Oh, sure. The bag. Well, lessee now. We got pistols, six of, modern, for the three of us. Well, not ‘modern’ modern; I mean state-of-the-art seventeenth century style flintlocks. Made by the fellers good old Mister Santee is trainin’ up. They’re small and look down-time, only they got rifling and they take Minie balls. To look at, nothing much, but way better than anything here and they don’t say up-time to anyone who sees ‘em.”

    “Messer Gerry?” Giovanna interrupted, “those English words you used? ‘Up-time’? Down-time?”

    “Oh, sorry,” Gerry said. “Up-time is anyone from the twenty-first century. Americans, like us. Down-time means everyone else.”

    Giovanna nodded. Frank found the effect distracting. Somehow a girl could be a lot sexier buttoned up to the collar than in shorts and a T-shirt. It was all very mysterious. He could see out of the corner of his eye that Ron was not paying a whit of attention to their brother Gerry. It was a mercy his tongue wasn’t hanging out.

    “Anyway,” Gerry was continuing, “we got some explosives and detonators, slowmatch, some corned power for reloads, rope, some tools for bullet-making—oh, and that reminds me, Captain Lennox let me put the ammo crate on the Marines’ pack-horse, I gotta collect that later.”

    “Eh?” Frank said. “How much ammo did you bring?” He was surprised that Gerry had brought more than three guns. Still another surprise was that he’d brought enough ammo to show he was expecting to use them seriously, because Gerry wasn’t anyone’s notion of a good shot. Some plinking and a few sessions with borrowed pistols. Gerry’s talents ran more toward pyrotechnic pranks, booby traps and practical jokes. It seemed that Gerry was forgetting that he’d been raised on a hippie commune, not in the hillbilly-hard-ass school that had turned out the likes of Harry Lefferts and Darryl McCarthy. It was kind of sad to watch.

    “Just a couple of boxes for the pistols, mostly the special bullets. We can buy powder here, but obviously we won’t find any Minie balls. I got some sulfa drugs, too. Dad’s shop is turning that stuff out at a pretty good clip nowadays, and I figure it’ll be a while before we can get set up to do the same down here. Wish it was as easy to make chrolamphenicol.” He seemed wholly matter-of-fact about it.

    Ron beat Frank to it. “Gerry? Are you expecting to fight a war or something?”

    That made two mental sighs of relief for Frank. First, that if Ron was spotting it as well, Gerry was clearly off the deep end. And, second, that Ron was finally paying attention to his surroundings and not just drooling down his shirtfront.

    “Yeah,” said Frank, “hadn’t you noticed we have Marines along to do that sort of thing? Like, professional soldiers? Remember? Big, gloomy Scots guys on horses?”

    Gerry waved a hand. “Sure, sure. Though Billy’s as American as you and me and I’d hardly call Conrad a ‘Scot,’ much less ‘gloomy.’ But like I say, better to have and not need, than—”

    “Whatever,” said Frank, exasperated. “What else’d you bring, Rambo? Nerve gas? Nukes? Punjee sticks?”

    “Mock all you want, flower-child.” Gerry said it flatly.

    Frank could feel the mood turning ugly. All three of them had had to listen to talk like that back up-time, and had gotten a rep for the elaborate revenges they humiliated the offending jocks with. Hearing it from his own brother was...

    He forced it down. “Cool it, okay, man? Just because I think you’re overdoing it, no need to get heavy, all right? Just my opinion, is all.”

    Gerry took the hint. “Ah,” he said. “Mayhem is still on the menu, which is, like a bummer. But the whole destruction trip is just outsville. Because, like, I brought this, in case it turned out this was the bag we were all, like, into, maaan.”

    He reached into the bag with both hands, grunted a little, and lifted out an oblong steel box with snap-catches holding it shut and wire handles at either end. It was army surplus, and at one time it had been painted olive drab which, along with the rust, still showed through in a few places. Most of it was covered in flowers and peace signs and a really drunken-looking mandala painted on in lurid enamel paint. The lid had Make love, Not war scrawled on it in bright orange balloon script.

    “Cool,” said Ron.

    “Heaveeeee,” added Frank, giving the voice everything he had before realizing that Giovanna was now looking at all of them funny.

    “Yup.” Gerry patted the lid of the box gently, grinning from ear to ear. “I brung the Hippy Flower Child Peace and Love Revenge Kit.”

    Frank nodded, savoring the memory of some truly outstanding pranks. In the years before the Ring of Fire, they’d often enough been confusion to the jocks. “The Lothlorian Hippy Ninja clan is once again ready to wreak havoc in the darkness.” He turned to Giovanna. “On no account open that box.”

    “Please, why?” She looked worried.

    “Because, milady,” Gerry said, “this box contains everything you need to embarrass and humiliate anyone who annoys you. We are highly trained and highly motivated pranksters, and this box contains the old standards of our repertoire. Guys, it’s all in working order, and what with Dad opening his lab I added a few new items.”

    The new items probably didn’t include nitro, or the box would have exploded already. On the other hand, Gerry was inventive, smart, and had a mean streak in him to reckon with. Frank decided it was time to introduce calm and relaxation. “Say,” he said, “now we’ve made out like we’re a crew of madmen, where’s the Freedom Arches in this town? Any chance of a few beers?”

    Giovanna smiled. “No Freedom Arches in Venice! Not with the heel of the Council of Ten on the necks of the populace.”

    The words were said lightly, though, not with a snarl. Frank had learned enough of Venetian politics to know that the secret police of the Senate’s clandestine governing body were nobody to fool with. On the other hand, they seemed to be more concerned with plots among the nobility than with the doings of Venice’s working population. Not surprising, that. The artisans of Venice—especially the workers at the Arsenal—had a rather fearsome reputation themselves, and the Venetian powers-that-be had always been careful not to aggravate them.

    Giovanna’s smile kept widening and Frank found himself no longer thinking of politics at all. For a wonder, the girl even had straight teeth! Dimples!

    He was lost, lost.



    “We are free of our duties for the day at sunset—and it is Carnevale!” she announced. “We can meet my father and brothers and cousins at one of the taverna. I know which one they will be at, too, because it is right here in the palazzo.”

    Lost. And didn’t care in the least. Even the prospect of meeting Giovanna’s father and brothers on their first not-date didn’t faze him at all.

    “Frank?” said Gerry, “do you have a problem with that?”

    Frank frowned. “Problem?” How could there be any problems on this most sublime of all days?

    “Astlay imetay ouyay amecay omehay unkdray, Frank,” Ron said in a sing-song voice. “Aren’t you going to have to speak with Dad about that?”

    “Ah,” Frank said. “No biggie. Dad calmed down, and I think you’ll notice he didn’t mind us staying up on the way down here as long as we were with Father Gus.”

    “Oh, yeah.” Ron nodded. He could see the plan, right enough.

    “Guys?” Gerry was looking worried. “If this is going to be anything like—like—” He gave Giovanna a nervous glance. “I mean like a date—”

    Now the nervous glance came to Frank. “Okay, dates, I’m not trying to horn in on you but aybemay eshay’s otgay reindsfay—I’d like not to bring the priest, okay?”

    Giovanna was frowning. “I don’t understand some of those words. But if you want me to give you dates, I warn you it is expensive. How much money you have?”

    All three Stone brothers stared at her. Frank’s heart stopped. The girl he was completely fascinated with—practically the love of his life already—turned out to be a prostitute!

    She spread her hands, a bit exasperated. “What you expect? Dates have to be imported into Venice. From the Levant, I think.”

    Frank’s heart started up again.

    “Now, Gerry,” said Ron, “leave it to your big brothers to be ahead of this situation. If Frank’s thinking what I think he’s thinking, I think we’re thinking of the same plan.” To Giovanna, he added: “Uh, the word ‘dates’ is just a slang expression. We’ll explain it later. It’s, uh, complicated. But it doesn’t mean those fig things.”

    Gerry stroked his chin theatrically. “Hmmm. I think I think that I’m thinking what I think you’re thinking, Frank, I really think so.”

    “Then you don’t exist,” said Frank firmly, “on the best authority, Descartes himself—who’s still alive, remember—and so your opinion can and should be discarded. Just try and keep up, okay?”

    “We are done here, yes?” asked Giovanna. “When can we go to the taverna?”

    Frank hesitated. “Well... We won’t be unpacking any of the stuff for the pharmaceutical lab today. Dad told me he wanted to make sure we had a safe place to set it up first. But I promised Magda we’d go help them get moved in downstairs and we’ll probably run into Father Gus while we’re down there. Giovanna, I suspect it’s where you’re going to get sent next anyway. Our stepmom travels with enough stuff for a medium-sized army and it’ll take some doing to get them squared away. Sharon’s no piker either, widder’s weeds or not.”

    Giovanna tilted her head on one side. “What is a ‘piker’ and a ‘widder’ and why would either of them want weeds? Your father is the buon Dottore, yes?”

    “Uh, yeah—but he’s a chemist, not a doctor.”

    Giovanna frowned. “We were told that Tomas Stone was a maker of medicine, the Indian Hemp?”

    “Well, yes, he makes medicines, and he sets bones and some other simple stuff, but he’s not what you’d call a doctor. Sharon Nichols is really the Dottore in our delegation—uh, I think that should be Dottora, actually.”

    That made her eyebrows shoot up. She rattled off something in Italian that Frank couldn’t follow at all.

    “What? I mean, please say that again, slower?”

    Giovanna tried it in English. “You have a lot of doctors—even female ones—that your father seems like nothing special?”

    “Uh, I guess,” said Frank, unsure where this was leading.

    “From what we hear, you see, he makes physics and medicines that are better than anything we have ever known. The mist that kills lice—the diditi, I think it is called—and the specific against all illnesses, the clorfeniculo-”

    “Chloramphenicol,” Ron said.

    “Si—chlorafenico, we hear that your father makes all these.”

    “He makes some other stuff, too,” Frank said. His father would want to be modest, but Frank thought he overdid it. “He makes hash for pain, and some disinfectants and some herbal medicines. He consults for some of the other chemists on the drugs they make. Dad knows a fair bit about making medicines, but it’s not what he does for money.” He scratched his head a moment. “I guess you could say he’s the best...” He searched for the word in Italian, but couldn’t find it. “--drug-maker in Grantville, but that’s practical industrial chemistry. He’s one of the two with the theoretical training to understand how it all works, though. Dad’s good at research.” He grinned. “You won’t get what this means, but he made LSD in the sixties.”

    “No,” said Giovanna, looking thoughtful, “I do not know what it means. Do I need to?”

    Frank exchanged a look with Gerry and Ron. “On the whole,” he said, “I don’t think you do. Let’s just say it was a hard thing to do, and he did it. Now he makes dye and disinfectant and some other things. Yes, and medicines.”

    “Anyway,” said Gerry, “what were you saying about Dad?”

    “Oh,” said Giovanna, “only that it is always the way with the natural philosophers that they have a huge amount of baggage. There are many in town, and we have been working in many places that have needed extra chambermaids, and we see a lot.”

    Frank nodded. “True enough. So let’s go see how they’re getting on.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image