Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Seventeen

       Last updated: Thursday, February 5, 2004 01:44 EST



    When the American ambassador had moved on and the lesser lights in their train had passed also, Bedmar turned to Sanchez. “Not bad, for his first time.”

    “Oh?” Sanchez returned from whatever internal fugue he had been pursuing to save himself from tedium.

    “The American priest. There might almost be a diplomat made of him, if he survives this town.” Bedmar nodded to himself. The people from the future bore watching, whatever the rest of the hierarchy might say—which was decidedly mixed—if Mazzare was any guide.

    “And if he survives your attentions, Your Eminence.” Sanchez grinned through his moustaches. “That business over the shoes was a trifle unnecessary, I thought.”

    “Oh, Sanchez,” Bedmar said, “do permit a tired old man his fun.”

    Sanchez chuckled. “Oh, I will, if he will permit me mine. Did you see the Moorish one?”

    Bedmar nodded, although with some reservation. “Looked more like an Ethiope to me.”

    “You know what I mean. What they all call a Moor here in the Italies that hardly ever see one.”

    Sanchez’s eyes seemed, to Bedmar, to be getting a little dreamy. The man was incorrigible. The old Catalan goat had buried three wives that Bedmar knew about. And while he had been faithful to all of them, so far as the cardinal was aware, he had something of a notorious reputation during those periods he was unmarried. Even now, at his age!

    Bedmar reminded himself, on the other hand, that it was that same vigor which made Sanchez such a useful man to have around. Not to mention a comfort, of a certain specific and necessary sort, in the event of dire necessity. Even now, somewhere in his late fifties—no one, including Sanchez, knew the precise year of his birth—only a fool or someone inexperienced in such matters challenged the Catalan lightly. Wives were but a small portion of the people Ruy Sanchez had seen lowered into graves. The chief distinction enjoyed by the wives was that Sanchez had not put them there.

    Still, there were times the man annoyed Bedmar. If for no other reason than the many aches and pains from which the cardinal’s body now suffered. Sanchez was but a few years younger than he, yet the Catalan still moved with the ease and grace of a man in his thirties.

    “Dark meat, Sanchez?” Bedmar asked nastily. “Where did you learn that taste?”

    Sanchez gave him a sidelong, blank gaze that would have chilled the cardinal, had he been any other man. Belatedly, Bedmar remembered that the first of the Catalan’s wives, won and lost during his youth in New Spain, had been an Indian woman of some sort. He’d also heard that one of the bodies resting in a grave somewhere—Cordoba, he thought, if he remembered the story correctly—was that of a man who had sneered at Sanchez for the fact.

    “My apologies,” the cardinal murmured. “That was uncalled for.”

    Sanchez harumphed, clearing the matter aside. Then, smiled slightly. “Tell me, Your Eminence... would it matter if I learned it here tonight?”

    Bedmar was still feeling a bit testy. “It would indeed matter, Sanchez, if it turned out you did something foolish to compromise our—” He stopped.

    “Ah, Your Eminence has perhaps seen the difficulty with that notion?”

    Sanchez trying to be arch was laughable. Bedmar knew for a fact that the man’s alleged nobility was an arrant pretense. Sanchez had no less than seven certificates of limpieza, not a one of them saying the same thing as the others. A gentleman Sanchez might be reckoned today, but sometimes the Catalan peasant-soldier just shone through.

    Bless his iron little heart. Two of those corpses rotting in graves—two, that the cardinal knew of—had tried to kill Bedmar himself.

    “No, no.” Bedmar waved an admonitory finger. “Am I not a diplomat? A prince of the church? A man of learning?”

    Sanchez snorted. “You are the man I had to get out of this town one step ahead of a mob of angry Arsenalotti. And it was not the step of a man with long legs, I might add.” He looked down on his cardinal. Bedmar’s short stature next to, well, just about anyone was a running joke between them.

    “Hush, you Catalan dullard. Where such as you see only problems, I see only solutions.”

    Bedmar paused a moment, assessing Sanchez, assessing what little he had yet gleaned of American manners. A foolish scheme, of course—hardly worth calling a scheme at all. But then, there was hardly anything for it but foolish schemes, with the ridiculous mission he had.

    A decision. “Yes, Sanchez, pursue your Moor, your Ethiope, your whatever. It may prove helpful.”

    Sanchez’s eyes narrowed. “Prince of the church or not, Your Eminence, you will not command me to...”

    Bedmar waited until Sanchez trailed off. “Now, Sanchez, let us not leap to conclusions. We have done much together, you and I, but have I ever asked you to betray the confidence of a lady? Even a Morisco?”

    “And how do you know she is not a Christian?” Sanchez was—no, not joking at all. Interesting. The man was usually levity itself, but now he seemed to be on the edge of a frosty pique.

    Bedmar sighed. “Be quick, Sanchez. I will tear you away from her soon enough tonight, whatever she may be—and however receptive. My feet still hurt, my back aches, every Venetian here will cut me as if his life depended on it and no one else has any cause to speak with me.”

    “As you wish, Your Eminence.” Sanchez stroked his mustachios and moved off. The cardinal watched him go for a moment.

    Irritating, sometimes, truly irritating. How did a man of his years still manage to swagger?



    Buckley stamped his feet. It might be spring in Venice, but that didn’t mean the warm sunshine of the afternoons stayed on the Piazza San Marco past sundown. It was probably all right if you were moving about, but Joe had picked a shady spot under the Imbroglio to wait for the evening’s action.

    Well, some of that had been and gone, of course. He hadn’t expected to be let in, and had really only tried to insinuate himself for the sheer hell of declaiming, in a loud voice, “Do you know who I am?”

    The ducal retainers at the door—bouncers, in any other context—had given him their best sneers and inquired, oh-so-politely, who exactly he was? He had to give them credit for that. He’d told them, in a rather more reasonable tone of voice, and they in their turn had told him that his name wasn’t down and he wasn’t coming in. Or words to that effect: the bouncer’s litany was a little different in seventeenth century Venice.

    As far as he could tell, the last of the diplomatic parties had gone in. He’d only stayed out front to check their various arrivals. Shortly, once the evening’s festivities settled in, he’d mosey on around the corner to find what, grand though it might be compared to the ordinary run of doors in this town, must be there to serve the Doge’s Palace as a tradesman’s entrance. He’d find the back door in to the story he needed. He just, he figured, had to give it a few minutes.

    He spent those few minutes wandering around the Piazza, taking in the sights. They were worth taking in, actually. Centuries in the future, in another universe, this was the place the tourists always mobbed when they came to Venice. At least, that’s what Joe had read in the travel guide to Venice he’d gotten his hands on—he’d never been any farther outside the United States than a trip to Montreal, himself, back before the Ring of Fire.

    He didn’t spend much time looking at the famous cathedral, the Basilica di San Marco. Buckley wasn’t that taken by any kind of old cathedral, especially not one which was as much of an hodgepodge as the Basilica. His tastes in architecture were pretty much like his tastes in writing—Buckley was a newspaperman, not a pretentious literary author. The one time he’d tried to read a novel by William Faulkner—twenty pages worth—he’d come away convinced that the entire literary establishment were a pack of lunatics. Worst prose he’d ever seen.

    The Campanile was more to his taste. The ancient lighthouse was the tallest structure in the city, and its clean and simple lines appealed to Buckley. If he got a chance, sometime over the summer, he’d see if he could finagle his way into it. The climb would be strenuous, but Buckley was in decent shape and the view from the top of the lighthouse just had to be spectacular.

    Then he ambled around the western half of the Piazza. There wasn’t really much to see there, though. If he remembered the guide book correctly, a lot of that area would be changed by Napoleon. The French emperor had even demolished a church somewhere in the pile of buildings to build a dancing hall. In this day and age, however, the buildings were just devoted to Venice’s elaborate bureaucracy.

    Buckley found bureaucratic edifices even more boring than bureaucrats. So, deciding he’d fiddled away enough time, he headed toward the back of the Palazzo Ducale. There had to be a rear entrance somewhere.

    Rounding the corner, he saw it—but that entrance was, if anything, as strongly manned as the front door. Right, nothing else for it. He marched up, and hacking out a sentence as best he could in Venesse Italian, said: “Joe Buckley, Associated Press,” and made to march past.

    Unlike twentieth-century bouncers, the bouncers in this day and age had big guys with halberds backing them up. More for show than in any expectation of an armed rush of gatecrashers; but in best guard-style, they crossed their halberds over the door, staring straight ahead the while. Buckley could feel the liveried footmen he’d just breezed past smirking behind them.

    “There is no entry this way, friend,” said one of them.

    “Aw, come on,” Buckley said. “All I need is to get in and see what’s going on. Don’t you read newspapers?”

    “No, messer Buckley, I don’t,” the guy said, still smirking.

    Buckley became aware that there was a crowd nearby. Time, he decided, to withdraw with as good a grace as he could. “So,” he said, “been a busy night, then?”

    That earned him a blank stare.

    “You see,” he went on, into the silence, “I figure guys like you, you get to see who sneaks in to this place without everyone out front seeing, right? Guys like you could probably tell me more about what’s going on at a function like this than I could figure out by going inside, yeah?”

    He looked hopefully from one to the other. Usually, by this point, they started bragging about luminaries they’d served at whatever banquet the night before. Or better, dishing the dirt on what lousy table manners they had. That was always a good way in to the real juicy stuff.

    Not from these guys, though. One nodded to the other, or some sort of signal passed, and then two guards he hadn’t seen stepped up smartly, one to each elbow, and he was frog-marched back to the steps down to the street. He ended up hopping down the steps, trying to keep his balance, his hat and his dignity and managing two out of the three.

    He snarled a word that had been old-fashioned in his own time but was futuristic here.

    “Americain, Monsieur?” The voice was somber yet light in tone, the diction oddly stilted somehow.

    Buckley looked at the fellow who’d detached himself from the crowd that was, basically, lounging about in the street. Tall and narrow and clad in what looked like dark, dark brown. Buckley pegged him as a high-end servant, as these things went.

    “Uh, Francais?” he asked, diffidently.

    “Ah, oui,” and the man launched into a gabble of French that Buckley couldn’t follow.

    “Uh, plus lentement, s’il vous plait,” he said, looking hard at the guy. He had a broad-brimmed hat on, shadowing much of his face, but there were guys with torches moving about and Buckley could get glimpses of what lay under the hat. So that’s what hatchet-faced means, he thought.

    The torrent of French slowed, and the volume went up slightly.

    Glad it’s not just Americans who do that, Buckley thought. He still wasn’t following the guy. He had some kind of broad accent that was giving him serious static.

    “You got any Italian?” he asked, in that language.

    “Why, certainly, Monsieur Buckley.”

    “You caught my name, huh?”

    “Yes, you announced yourself as well as any major domo might have done that service for you. Permit me to introduce myself.” The Frenchman held out a hand. “Michel Ducos. You are with the embassy from Grantville?”

    “Pleased to meet you. As to the other, no, I’m not. Well, not really. I’m from Grantville, though.”

    “Yes. Tell me, are you that Joe Buckley?”

    “The one and only,” Buckley said, smiling broadly. It was always a pleasure to meet a fan.

    “I have read some of your writings, you know.” It was said almost shyly. “Are you trying to find news of the diplomatic reception?”

    “Yes, I am. Are you with the French embassy?”

    “I am, indeed. A humble clerk, which is why I must wait outside with the other servants. The Venetians are most strict about such things.”

    “I noticed. Their people are a lot less talkative than most, too.” Buckley waved up at the doorway, where the bouncers had relaxed back into their formation. He noticed that no one else was trying to gatecrash.

    “Ah, that is because they are not ordinary servants on these doors. I think it would take an uncommon sort of fellow to get past such as they.” Ducos leaned close. “Agents of the State Inquisition,” he whispered.

    “No kidding?” Buckley said, raising his eyebrows. That was unusual. Not just rent-a-cops on the door, but the genuine article. Secret police, at that. He suddenly had a burning desire to get inside, and a crushing disappointment that he wouldn’t.

    Still, he might see what he could do here. “The French embassy, you say? A clerk? Tell me, what exactly does a clerk do in an embassy? And why don’t we find somewhere out of the cold night air? My treat.”

    “That does indeed seem like a most convivial suggestion.” Ducos beamed. “I warn you, though, I know very few secrets, and I am duty bound not to divulge what paltry things I do know.”

    Yes, he could salvage something from this evening after all. A clerk would be bound to know a thing or two he could print. Buckley looked around for the nearest taverna.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image