Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Fourteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 17:00 EST



    Slipping away from the embassy the next day to get a boat to Murano was simplicity itself. Ron had suggested holding the meeting with Giovanna’s father in the afternoon, so they could with all honesty tell Dad and Magda that they were going to see the sights and would be back by dark.

    Giovanna insisted on not letting them row the boat for her. Watching the more-or-less effortless way in which she’d handled the little craft, Frank was inclined to agree it was a good idea that she had. Apart from some kayaking the one time their dad had sent them off to summer camp, none of the Stone boys could have handled the boat the way she did.

    Besides, sitting in the stern and observing Giovanna in action was a sheer delight for Frank. The girl might be on the small side—by twentieth-century American standards, if not seventeenth-century Italian ones—but her lush figure was underlain by plenty of muscle. It was all Frank could do not to ogle her outright.

    The journey to Murano didn’t take much time, and half of that was negotiating the winding little canals and the heavy traffic that Venice always had on its waterways in the daytime. The taverna was on the same model as the one that was in the basement of the embassy: it was in the back of the lower story of a great house. But this one was a dedicated taverna, rather than part of a huge kitchen. It didn’t seem to be a public establishment, though. From what Frank could tell, it was more in the way of a private club for the inhabitants of the building.

    It was an odd sort of arrangement, to American eyes, even eyes which had grown accustomed to seventeenth-century central Germany. The big building fronting the canal was not a palace for an embassy but a considerably more dilapidated structure. Most of it seemed to be taken up by artisans’ shops below and their associated living quarters on the upper floors. The population density was... Venetian.

    Giovanna’s father, Frank had learned, was a metalworker by trade. Which, in Venice, meant something more like a jeweler than a blacksmith. Apparently, he’d traveled to Thuringia not long after the Ring of Fire in order to improve his skills with up-time techniques, leaving his children in the care of his relatives since his own wife had died in the plague. Antonio had returned with a burning enthusiasm for up-time ideology as well as up-time metalworking techniques. In fact, from what Frank could tell, he seemed to be the perfect illustration of the old saw about the zeal of converts. More Catholic than the Pope—or, in this case, more American than the Americans.



    The back room was smoky and dark, since at this time of day no direct sunlight was coming through the narrow windows on one wall. Just right for a conspiracy except that it was very large. There was nobody in it other than the Marcolis, Marius, and one other man, sitting at a large table toward the back.

    “You know the new guy?” Ron asked Frank quietly.

    “No. I wonder if he’s part of this or if he just wandered in?”

    Giovanna leaned close, and it was all Frank could do not to writhe in pleasure at the feel of her breath on his ear. “It is Michel Ducos, of the Paris Committee. He is attached to the French embassy, but is one of us.”

    “The Paris Committee?” Frank hadn’t been aware there even was a Committee of Correspondence in the French capital. Gretchen Richter must have been busy when she passed through the city as part of Becky Stearns’ diplomatic mission!

    He wondered how hard a time of it the Committee people were having in Paris. Richelieu’s agents were rough, by all accounts. On the other hand, Ducos looked like a mean customer himself, so maybe they were getting on okay if he was any kind of measure of the rest of them. He was a tall, narrow man with a hatchet face—the kind of face that couldn’t say ornery son-of-a-bitch more plainly if you tattooed it on his forehead. He was on his feet talking to Marcoli senior, a tumbler of something unregarded on the table beside him.

    “Si,” said Giovanna. “Their special embassy came a few weeks before yours, and Michel came with them as one of their servants. He came straight to us, and has given us much information about the Comte d’Avaux.”

    Frank heard the Michel and inwardly snarled. The guy’s a fast worker, he thought, and then told himself to cool it. “Who’s this Count Devo, then?”

    “The French ambassador, and a very bad man.”

    “That figures. Works for Richelieu, does he?”

    “Si. He is infamous for his troublemaking in the Germanies and in Italy, and now he comes to Venice again. Michel tells us he is here to make trouble for you Americans.”

    Ducos turned his head. “D’Accord,” he said. Frank realized that while in conversation with messer Marcoli, Ducos had been keeping track of the conversation on the other side of the room. Ducos went on: “Seigneur le Comte is one of Richelieu’s creatures. A man most dangerous to the advance of liberty, Monsieur Stone.”

    So the guy already knew his name, too. Frank decided to make introductions anyway, and named Gerry and Ron for the Frenchman. Giovanna’s father and Marius Pontigrazzi they already knew, and finally he learned the names of Giovanna’s brothers: Salvatore and Fabrizzio.

    There were also Dino and Roberto Marcoli, twin brothers also in their teens, and another older guy in his late thirties or early forties. Frank recognized all three of them. They’d been with Antonio Marcoli in the embassy the day before, although they hadn’t really been introduced. The older man turned out to be the father of the twins and one of Antonio’s many cousins. He was also Antonio’s brother-in-law; or had been, at least, until Giovanna’s mother died in the plague.

    Frank would have been surprised by that, and a little taken aback, if he hadn’t already learned that the general American tendency to avoid cousin marriage was not shared in most of the world. Miz Mailey had once told him the prohibition against it in many U.S. states was due to a combination of the influence of the eugenics movement in the 1920s and anti-immigrant attitudes. Nowhere outside of North America had it been prohibited and it was actually quite common, even in the twentieth century of the universe they’d come from. He’d found the whole thing rather amusing at the time, given the longstanding wisecracks about inbred West Virginians. In their new world, the former West Virginians were considered maniacal exogamists.

    The cousin/brother-in-law was named Massimo Marcoli, and was apparently the intellectual theorist of the group. At least, he had a stack of pamphlets fresh from Germany with him.

    “So,” said Gerry when introductions had gone around. “When is everyone else getting here?”

    “Everyone is here,” said Marcoli sternly, “now that you have arrived.”

    Frank’s heart sank. Venice’s Committee of Correspondence consisted of nine people, seven of whom were all part of the same extended family, one of whom worked for them as a handyman, and the last being a visitor from a Committee in another country altogether. Not to mention that, of the nine, five were teenagers or just barely past it.

    And they propose to free Galileo from durance vile? How?

    Alarm bells started going off in his mind. This had all the earmarks of a half-baked scheme concocted by enthusiastic amateurs. Well, except Ducos, who seemed to know what he was doing. But he was a foreigner too.

    “Okay, then, what’s the plan?” asked Gerry.

    Frank strained, but couldn’t hear a drop of sarcasm. Damn, he’s getting good, he thought. Either that, or his youngest brother was a nitwit.

    Marcoli didn’t hear any sarcasm either, and set off in a torrent of enthusiastic Italian. Once they got him to slow down, he explained to them the plan, with contributions from Massimo. Frank’s heart plunged lower and lower, into what seemed to be a bottomless abyss.

    First, they would circulate propaganda, to ensure that there was popular outrage at Galileo’s treatment.

    Okay, that’s feasible. If we can scrape up the money. And if the authorities don’t nab us at it. Not sure how they feel about “circulating propaganda” in Venice, but I rather doubt the First Amendment carries a lot of weight here.

    Then, they would travel to Florence, where Galileo was being held under house arrest pending his trial.

    Um. Travel takes money—from where? I can just see Dad’s reaction if we ask him for some spare change to mosey on over to Florence. And just how easy is it to travel across Italy these days, anyway? It’s not as if the place is a single country in the here and now.

    Frank tried to remember the history lessons crammed into them before they left and on the long way here. Didn’t Florence dislike the Venetians? I think so. If I remember right, everybody in Italy dislikes the Venetians.

    Then, they would “fall upon” the inquisitors guarding Galileo.

    Frank tried to picture himself “falling upon” an inquisitor. The image which came to mind did not fill him with great confidence. He had a dark suspicion that the average inquisitor in the seventeenth century bore a closer resemblance to American high school jocks than old men rubbing their arthritic hands and cackling with sadistic glee. The one and only time in his life that Frank Stone had ever “fallen upon” a jock—stupid argument in the high school gym which had gotten out of hand—the affair had gone badly. Very badly indeed. Goddam football players.

    Alas, Giovanna was beaming at him. Those dimples...

    Driven by evolutionary impulses way too powerful to be over-ridden by mere sanity, Frank squared his shoulders and did his best to look “manly.”

    And said nothing. Made no protest at all. Such is the folly of natural selection.



    Finally, Antonio Marcoli concluded enthusiastically, after freeing Galileo from captivity they would “spirit him away” to freedom in the United States.

    Galileo’s... what, now? Just turned seventy, I think. According to what Dad told me, his health is shaky and on top of that he’s losing his eyesight. Frank remembered the rigors of their trek across the Alps to get to Venice. Great. I can just see us “spiriting him away.” In what? A coffin?

    But Marcoli was plowing on, as enthusiastically as ever—and, more to the point, Giovanna was still beaming at him. So, again, Frank kept his mouth shut and just did his best to satisfy the crazed imperatives of evolution by looking as stalwart and masculine as possible. Much like a male peacock spreads his glorious tail feathers in the bright sunshine or a male frog croaks his mightiest in the gloom of night.

    Predators be damned.



    Marcoli spent the next few minutes explaining how their “great revolutionary exploit” would bring the downtrodden masses of Italy to their feet. It seemed that—according to Marcoli, anyway—every Italian of the exploited and oppressed lower classes spent every waking minute agonizing over the fate of the great Italian genius Galileo. His liberation would be the death knell for medievalism! The tocsin for revolution!

    Frank had his doubts. In fact, he was pretty damn sure he now knew what must have been going through the minds of some of John Brown’s more level-headed associates when Brown explained his plans for Harper’s Ferry.

    He’s nuts!


    Apparently, Frank’s mimicry of the-male-in-his-prime had served its purpose. Giovanna left off simply beaming and, in her own enthusiasm, gave him a hug. True, it was a brief hug. No matter. The feel of that nubile warm body against his was enough to paralyze Frank in the critical moment.

    Critical... because his younger brothers—idiots!—opened the door to madness still further, before Frank could stop them.

    “Why do we need the propaganda at all, then?” Gerry asked, running fingers through his hair. “Seems to me we’d be better off keeping quiet until we make our move.”

    Ron chimed in, after glancing at Giovanna. True, Ron seemed to have reconciled himself to letting Frank have a clear shot. But he was still a teenage boy in the presence of an exceedingly attractive teenage girl. Which is to say, a functional imbecile.

    “Yeah, that’s what I think too.” Ron swelled his chest. “Besides, I’m more of an action sort of guy anyway.”

    Massimo leaned over, his intense face more intense than ever. His dark eyes now seemed like coal. Glowing coal. “Because without the propaganda, Galileo’s freedom is only the liberty of one old man, messers! The people have clutched his cause to their bosom, to be sure. But the subtleties of the matter must still be explained to them or they will not grasp the full significance of his liberation.”

    Frank finally saw an opening. Propaganda. Yeah. Propaganda takes time. Time to stall... and stall...

    “Good idea!” he said brightly. “I’ll start working on something right off. I was thinking a pamphlet—no, maybe a booklet! For that matter—this really is an important and complicated issue—maybe a full-length—”

    Alas. Antonio’s cousin Massimo smiled and shook his head. “No need, young messer! I have already written it!”

    From somewhere on the floor he brought up a satchel, seedy-looking and frayed at the corners. From it he pulled a thick sheaf of paper, closely covered in scrawled writing, cup-rings and other, less identifiable stains. “Everything is explained here, for the people.”

    “I help to write it,” Marius chimed in proudly.

    I just bet you did, thought Frank. He’d seen enough of Marius already to realize that the Marcoli family’s handyman was, in the venerable old American saying, not playing with a full deck. Frank had an awful feeling that the tract Massimo and Marius had written would be of a piece with the rest of the plan.

    He had a moment’s wild amusement. Maybe he could send a copy of that screed back to Joachim von Thalheim on an experimental basis. Joachim was the CoC’s top propagandist in Germany and a genuine whiz at it. See if a man can really die laughing.

    “Maybe you could reduce it to just the essentials,” said Ron. “A single, uh, I don’t know the Italian. What the Germans call a flugblatt. Means ‘flyer’ in English.”

    Massimo and Marius frowned mightily.

    “Most people don’t have time to read a whole long argument, you see,” said Ron. “You’re trying to reach the workers and the tradespeople. They spend all day making a living and when they finish they haven’t the energy to go through a whole lot. What they might do is read a sheet that convinces them of the main argument.”

    Massimo and Marius still looked doubtful. So did Antonio. “But we must educate the people fully!” he protested. “They must understand.”

    “Oh, sure, sure,” said Ron, hastily. “But full understanding has to come a step at a time. Maybe we can break down your book there into ideas a page at a time, introduce the ideas one at a time, let people work up to it. They’ll read a page every few days where they won’t sit down with a whole book, right?”

    Again, Frank saw an opening. From the look of that thick, closely-scrawled manuscript, translating it into comprehensible terms on short leaflets—if it could be done at all; he had his doubts; so much the better—would surely take weeks and weeks. Maybe months.

    “Good idea!” he chimed in. “That’s the way Joachim von Thalheim always works, you know.”

    The assembled Marcoli clan studied him with bright eyes.

    “Si?” asked Giovanna. “That is how the great Thalheim does his...” She groped for a moment with the English term. “‘Agitprop,’ I think they call it.”

    She looked at her father. “Thalheim is very good, you know. He is the one who writes as ‘Spartacus.’ I have read some of his tracts you brought back with you. The ones you translated, at least. My German is still not good.”

    Bless the girl! Frank was still holding on to the hope that the love-of-his-life possessed all of what little common sense God in His Heaven had seen fit to bestow upon the Marcolis. Not much, maybe. But with those dimples and... everything else, he was willing to overlook some minor flaws.

    Besides, it wasn’t as if Frank’s own genetic heritage didn’t include a fair share of lunacy. Hypocrisy, get thee behind me. Down with double standards!



    Antonio Marcoli’s doubts seemed to be assuaged. In fact, he was positively beaming. “If this is as Spartacus, then we must do it also!”

    “Ab-so-lutely,” Ron said firmly. “Joachim’s a genius with propaganda, and this is something he found works really well.”

    That was true enough, actually. Joachim von Thalheim was one of the stars of the Committees of Correspondence, after Gretchen Richter, of course. Other people thought about propaganda as something you just did. Joachim lived it, breathed it, and probably spouted it in his sleep. Of the three Stone brothers, Ron paid the most attention to Joachim’s lectures and writing. Frank realized with relief that if Ron could get these guys onto the subject of propaganda and tied up in getting out their message then they wouldn’t be thinking about doing anything stupid with the Inquisition. Not any time soon, at least.

    Praise be. Frank had mental visions of the Inquisition’s goons. Huge, mustachioed guys, he imagined, with those crescent-shaped helmets the Spanish used all the time, prodding people with long, wicked-looking swords into cellars to be tortured. Handing out leaflets and doing a spell in the kitchens at the Freedom Arches was his own idea of revolutionary activity. Taking on huge sword-wielding thugs and their sinister priestly masters was not included.

    Ron and Massimo were getting into a serious debate, now. Marius was following the talk back and forth, and looked to be getting a little dizzy. Granted, Marius would probably get a little dizzy trying to follow any extended conversation.

    Ducos, on the other hand, was silent and reserved. He’d moved away from the table a little, his face looking more saturnine than ever. Apparently, the Frenchman was a man of action and wasn’t entirely satisfied with the new developments. Roberto and Dino were discussing something else at another table, something that involved them making notes on a piece of paper.

    And Marcoli himself—Marcoli was now speaking to Frank. “Messer Frank—perhaps your brother Gerry also—this propaganda talk does not need us. May I ask you to help with the technology?” He was awkward in pronouncing the up-time word.

    “Uh, sure,” said Gerry.

    Frank nodded vigorously. He was hardly what you’d call experienced and adept at the art of getting on the good side of the Male Parent of The Intended—even leaving aside the fact that he still didn’t really know exactly what he intended—but this was a gimme. In West Virginia, showing off one’s mechanical skills to the MPTI was hallowed tradition and custom. Even for someone whose real name was Faramir.

    And at least, this time, whatever the MPTI wanted wouldn’t involve internal combustion engines. Frank suppressed a wince, remembering that one time... Missy Jenkins’ father hadn’t stopped laughing for three minutes.

    “It is for the propaganda. Please, come.” Marcoli got up and went over to the back of the room, where a big crate was lying on the floor with three smaller ones stacked next to it. “Our printing press, si? But our mechanical skills, they are not great for something like this.”

    Frank recognized it. One of the things the German committees were doing—Joachim again—was shipping improved little printing presses out to committees across Europe. Essentially, they were the seventeenth century’s closest equivalent to the mimeograph machines which had been the staple for radical organizations up-time in the years and decades before the advent of copying machines.

    “What’s the problem?” Frank asked.

    Marcoli lifted the lid on the big crate, and pulled out a many-folded piece of paper. “The directions for assembly,” he said mournfully, “they are impossible to understand. Even for something in English, it is... “ He passed the sheet to Frank and threw up his hands.

    Frank and Gerry both chuckled. “A law of nature, sir. I’ve no idea why, but these things are always written by people with no grasp of reality.”

    “Also, please,” Marcoli went on, “what is a ‘Philips screwdriver’?”

    Frank looked down at the instructions, which were written in English. Sure enough, they had been written by an up-timer. Probably one of the machine-shop guys, who’d assumed that everyone knew what a Philips screwdriver was.

    “Gerry, you brought a toolkit, right?”

    “Not with me now, but I got one back at the palazzo, sure. We should pass word back to include a Philips with these things?”

    “I think we should,” said Frank, “although Allen wrenches would be even better, you ask me.” Studying the instructions, he shook his head. “Machinists and mechanics are almost as bad as computer geeks, when it comes to assuming that everyone else in the world shares their expertise.”

    To Giovanna’s father, he explained: “Messer Marcoli, a Philips screwdriver is a special tool. We have one at the embassy. We’ll bring it and help set up the press.”

    Giovanna came up then, standing close to Frank. Very close indeed. “You can make it work properly?”

    “Oh, sure,” replied Frank, doing his level best to exude male-in-his-prime. “No sweat.”

    Then he had to explain the colloquialism. That segued neatly into an explanation of “piece of cake,” which, in turn, segued into “cakewalk” and “milk run.”

    All was right with the world, again. Better than ever, in fact. Frank was now quite confident that, between the gadgetry and the needs of coherent propaganda, he could postpone any real madness indefinitely. While Antonio Marcoli and his daughter might have been a bit short-changed in the common-sense department—more than a bit, in the father’s case—both of them were quite intelligent and were the kind of people who were interested in just about everything. Which meant...

    Easily distracted. Serenely, Frank foresaw months of distraction, in the most distracting company he had ever met in his life. Oh, brave new world!

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image