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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Thirteen

       Last updated: Thursday, January 15, 2004 03:08 EST



    Finally, they were finished unpacking. Better yet, Magdalena had charged off to take care of something else. Best of all, Gus Heinzerling had appeared and announced he was done for the night.

    All was well in Frank Stone’s world. Bases were covered, with dad and stepmom alike—and the rest of the evening beckoned.

    “So,” Frank said brightly. “This taverna of yours. How do we get there?”

    Giovanna gave him that dimply smile which was doing the weirdest things to his stomach. “The kitchen,” was all she said.



    The kitchen turned out to be bright, warm, steamy and full of bustle. It wasn’t extravagant, there wasn’t anything really riotous happening, but there was a definite air of ongoing party about the place.

    “Do all these people work here?” Frank asked, as the descended the steps into the room.

    “Yes,” said Giovanna. “Well, most.” She made a beeline toward an open doorway across the large room they’d entered, passing a hearth to her right along the way.

    The first big room of several, from what Frank could see. He realized that the “kitchen” should probably be called “the kitchens,” in a palace like this one. The rooms were big, and spacious for all their clutter, but they still managed to look full with the number of people who were there.

    Not all of them were working, either. The kitchens seemed to combine the attributes of a work place with those of a tavern. Packed into the main room as well as three side rooms which were within his view despite the smoke and steam, Frank could see dozens of people. At least a third of them, although dressed in what he took to be workclothes, were sitting at tables chatting over glasses of wine. In one of the side rooms, out of sight, he could hear what sounded for all the world like a pickup band playing a folk tune.

    He followed Giovanna through the doorway, his two younger brothers in tow and Gus bringing up the rear. The room they’d entered was apparently a cellar of some kind, judging from the lack of any hearths or other cooking implements and the casks, jugs, and barrels stacked against two of the walls.

    The real function of the room, however, was pretty much “tavern pure and simple.” There was a huge table at the center of the room—three tables, rather, fitted together like a T—with at least a dozen people sitting around it on a haphazard collection of stools and chairs.

    Using the term “sitting” loosely, that is. Frank immediately recognized one of those people—and Billy Trumble was “sitting” in the manner that a man wrapped around a lot of wine generally “sits.” Especially one who was only a year older than Frank himself and almost certainly had less experience with mind-altering substances. His Marine uniform was in such a state of dishevelment that Frank gave silent thanks that Admiral Simpson was several hundred miles away.

    “Yo, Frank,” slurred Billy. “‘S’up?”

    Billy’s seat was all the more precarious because the young soldier clearly had a lot on his mind. Or, rather, one single subject upon which he was concentrating as ferociously as a man can concentrate when he’s several sheets to the wind. Perched on a stool next to him was a grinning, dark-haired girl perhaps two years older than Giovanna and bearing something of a vague resemblance. A cousin, perhaps, if not a sister.

    A moment later, Frank recognized the soldier sitting next to Billy—and with not much more in the way of sober stability. Conrad Ursinus, that was, another of Grantville’s star baseball players and one of Billy’s close friends. Conrad was wearing a naval uniform which was every bit as disheveled as Billy’s. This time, Frank muttered aloud his fervent thanks that Admiral Simpson was across the Alps.

    “And they call it a ‘security detachment,’” his brother Ron murmured sarcastically. “God help us all.”

    Now that he listened more carefully, Frank realized that the folk-tune being sung in the adjoining room had a definitely Scots air about it. Apparently, Lennox’s soldiers had found a better place to ward off the early spring chill than standing at attention outside the embassy.

    Heinzerling confirmed his guess. “Lennox will flay them alive, when he finds out,” he growled.

    “Venizz’s great,” Billy announced loudly, with the rousing and expansive good cheer of the irretrievably drunk. “Wine, women, song. La dolchy vita!”

    Giovanna said something that sounded decidedly arch in rapid-fire Venetian-accented Italian, and the girl sitting next to Billy giggled. She prodded Billy in the chest, and said something in Italian herself. Fortunately, she spoke much more slowly and enunciated clearly, so both Frank and even Billy could understand her.

    “Won’t you introduce us, Lieutenant?”

    Billy tried, and completely failed, to suppress a belch. “‘Scuse me and sorry,” he said, “but, uh, not in that order. Or something.” He cleared his throat. Then, as solemnly as a man in his condition could manage:

    “Frank, guys, permit me to introduce the lovely, the charming, Arcangela. Arcangela, this is my good friend Frank Stone, and his brothers Gerry and Ron. They may be soccer fags, but otherwise they’re great guys. The beefy old fellow glarin’ at me over their shoulder is Gus Heinzerling.” He shifted to English, waving his wine glass. “Forgive me for not rising, gents, but I am shit-faced drunk.”

    Alcohol consumption was making Billy maudlin. In point of fact, he and Frank were not “good friends.” True, they weren’t personal enemies, or anything like that. As jocks went, Frank had always found Billy a pretty decent guy—way better than the outright muscle-Nazis on the football team—and so far as he knew Billy had no particular animus against him. Still, they remained on opposite sides of that great high school divide which both were too fresh from to have forgotten or forgiven yet. Here, the in crowd, with their athletes and cheerleaders and class presidents; there, the polyglot semi-alliance of the outcast nerds and geeks and hippies.

    Far more important at the moment, however, was that a matter of honor was at stake here. “Soccer fag, is it?” Frank demanded. His Italian was considerably better than Billy’s, but he stumbled over the second word. There was undoubtedly an Italian equivalent, but since he didn’t know it he just tried to give the English word a foreign flavor. “That’s a bit rich coming from a guy who can’t even throw a ball in a straight line.”

    Billy frowned back with grim deliberation, trying to assemble the glower one eyebrow at a time. It looked like he was having trouble controlling his face.

    “It’s true,” Frank went on solemnly, speaking now to Arcangela. “I’ve seen him. He throws the thing, and it curves.” He mimed a thoroughly banana-shaped pitch. “Clearly incompetent.”

    Billy got it at last, and laughed, nearly falling onto the floor. He would have, too, except he got a good grip on Arcangela’s arm. She pried it off, but not too quickly and giggling while she did so. Drunk as a skunk or not, Billy didn’t seem to have irritated her any. Frank ascribed that to the unfair advantage of the uniform.

    But he didn’t care, really. Frank’s interest was elsewhere—and Giovanna was already passing him a glass of the wine. Then, moving deftly, she poured three more glasses for Frank’s brothers and Gus.

    Gus nodded his thanks, but Frank noticed that he didn’t make any move to drink the stuff. Suddenly cautious—and not simply because he didn’t want to make an ass of himself in front of Giovanna—Frank decided to follow his lead.



    Gerry was the first to take a mouthful, and his eyes bulged as he got a taste. “Gah! What is this stuff?”

    “Call it ‘grappa,’” Billy slurred. “Great stuff onc’t get used to it.” He transferred his bleary gaze to Frank. “Say, about pitching and stuff, I been telling the folks about baseball here. I reckon we might be able to get a game on.”

    That figured. Billy had had a real chance of getting picked up for pro baseball when the Ring of Fire had stopped his career before it started. Rather than just swallow the disappointment, he’d helped organize the first big game after the event. Frank was no great shakes at baseball himself, and didn’t really like it much. Soccer was his own passion. But Billy was passionate about baseball and had managed to transfer that passion onto a number of young Germans he’d come into contact with—none more so than his friend and now fellow officer Conrad Ursinus. He’d been on the Marine team in Magdeburg before he was posted away to Venice, and Conrad on the naval yard dog team.

    There were five or six other regular teams in Grantville and Magdeburg, and teams were springing up in most of the larger towns in Thuringia and Franconia and anywhere else the Americans had a real presence in the USE. The Germans had taken to the game in a way they hadn’t to football or basketball and been slower about with soccer. Talk about organizing real leagues had not gotten far, what with the war and all. But that was just a matter of time, especially after the Committees of Correspondence decided that organizing sports clubs was an excellent way of extending their influence still further.

    The whole subject was something of a sore point with Frank and his brothers. They’d done what they could to get soccer adopted as well, but—

    And then it hit him. They were in freaking Italy. Italy! For crying out loud, there pretty much wasn’t any more promising territory for spreading the word about soccer without going to Brazil or—he was reminded by the sight of Aidan talking to some other soldiers with drunken animation—England. Back up-time, soccer had been Italy’s other national religion.

    Arcangela broke into Frank’s train of thought, all but derailing it. “It is true,” she said. “Billy has told us all of this game. But it was not very clear to me.”

    When he stopped laughing, Frank said: “And now let me tell you about the game they play in Italy in the future.”

    As he explained, he could see the interest taking hold, people drifting over to listen. He’d been right. Better still, Giovanna seemed as interested as anyone.

    One of the Venetian guys—Frank could recall seeing him horsing trunks into the embassy—said, “We need a ball?”

    “Sure, about so big.” Frank held his hands out to indicate the size of a FIFA standard ball.

    “And with just the feet and the head?” the porter asked.

    “Yup. Handling it is a foul. What’s your name, sorry?”

    “Marius,” the porter said, rising and holding out a hand. “Marius Pontigrazzi.”

    Pontigrazzi waved his wine glass in the direction of an intense-looking middle-aged man sitting at the center of the T in the big table. “I work for Giovanna’s father, over there.”

    Frank’s enthusiasm came to a screeching halt. Giovanna’s father. Oh, Christ. Now that he really looked, he could see the family resemblance—just as he could see it in the two younger men sitting on either side of the man.

    And her brothers. Oh, Christ.

    The father’s name was Antonio, he recalled. Antonio Marcoli. Frank couldn’t remember the name of Giovanna’s brothers, if she’d even told him at all.

    Frantically, he tried to figure out where to go from here. Swapping insults with a drunken fellow American and then launching into a fervent speech for the introduction of soccer was probably not, he feared, the best introduction he could have made of himself. He felt like Romeo finally introduced to Juliet’s father, and completely blowing it. Might as well pull out the dagger and take the poison now and be done with it.

    Alas, Pontigrazzi wasn’t going to give him a break, either. The porter was starting to shuffle around. “Just the feet?” he demanded. “Silly!”

    “And your head, Marius,” Gerry said. He’d gotten a cabbage from somewhere. “Watch,” he said, and dropped the vegetable.

    Frank winced—et tu, brother?—but Gerry caught it neatly on his foot and balanced it there. Fortunately, the one gulp of the grappa didn’t seem to have affected Gerry’s reflexes—as he went on to prove with a quick flurry of keep-up moves, flicking the cabbage into the air and knocking it up off his left, then his right knee. As it came down again he caught it on his foot, paused a second and chipped it up and over to Ron, who headed it in a shower of cabbage leaves to Frank.

    Fortunately, Frank had the presence of mind to chest-trap the cabbage; then, leaned back as it fell to kick it back up. He fluffed that a bit, and had to hop to get his knee under it, but then he was able to get into the rhythm and drunken cheering broke out.

    What the hell, he told himself. Giovanna’s dad probably thinks I’m a jerk anyway, so I may as well prove I’m adept at it.

    “Marius?” he called out, and saw Marius nod. Frank flicked it up, wincing a bit as he had to hit the thing a lot harder because it had almost no bounce. He was going to have a bruise in the morning. He got under it as it came back down and nodded it over to the Venetian.

    Who chest-trapped it like a pro, and took it on the drop for a shot that would have gone clear to the back of the net, but—

    It was a cabbage, after all. It exploded in a shower of healthful greens. The heart shot out at about mach three and landed in the hearth to a shower of sparks and curses from the cooks.

    Then, salvation!

    Giovanna’s father rose to his feet, bellowing praise, and proceeded to slap Marius on the back. Gerry and Ron went into full-on goal-celebration mode, heaving their doublets up over their faces and waving like loons.

    Billy was throwing up now. Whether that was because he had actually laughed himself sick or because he’d just seen his plan to pollute Italy with baseball explode in a shower of cabbage leaves, Frank didn’t know. The Italians were all cheering Marius, who was grinning like he’d scored the winner.

    Which, in a sense, he had. Definitely, Frank thought, promising territory for three missionaries of the Beautiful Game.

    Better yet, Giovanna was hauling her father over and making a proper introduction. Antonio Marcoli still looked far more intense than Frank would ever be comfortable with, but the man was smiling and extending his hand. Best of all, Giovanna’s smile was wider than he’d ever seen it and the dimples were on Full Charm Display.

    Mentally, Frank put away the vial of poison and the suicide dagger. All was well with the world!



    Alas, he should have known.

    No sooner did Antonio Marcoli take his hand than he drew Frank close. Then, whispered into his ear.

    The whisper even sounded conspiratorial.

    “Tomorrow. At night. Giovanna will bring you. Full meeting of the Committee. We must conspire to rescue Galileo.”

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