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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Twenty

       Last updated: Sunday, February 15, 2004 22:35 EST



    Joe Buckley drained the last of his glass, and thought about pouring another. He thought better of it. He’d matched the Frenchman Ducos drink for drink in the earlier part of the evening, and the hangover was already starting to nibble at the frontal lobes of his brain. He looked over his notes and decided they were legible, although how they’d look in the cold hard light of morning was anyone’s guess. His last ballpoint had died months ago. Thankfully, the modern-style fountain pen had proven a massive hit with Germany’s stationers and while they weren’t cheap they were very good indeed. In fact, the only ones being made yet were the kind of finely-crafted high-end items he’d always liked back up-time. Good note-paper was the problem, since the Turkish stuff fine enough for handwriting tended to be expensive, and the newsprint of the time turned into a blotched rag if you wrote on it with anything harder than a feather pen.

    The embassy’s reception room was quiet, the silence marred only by the crackling in the grate and Captain Lennox’s heroic snoring. Jones and Mazzare were looking bone-weary and ragged. Everyone else seemed to have gone straight to bed. If they’d had a debrief, they hadn’t done it anywhere where journalistic ears might catch a word or two. Buckley was bone-weary himself, and wanted nothing so much as to drag himself across the way into his own building and his own bed. But he was still on that fine line between drunken bravado and sober enough to know better, which was why he was aching to start asking questions but keeping quiet anyway. Besides, with no deadline to meet, he told himself, he could leave the polite request for an interview for the morning, when everyone would be better rested and feeling more accommodating. There was that to be said for biweekly publication and filing stories by horse-borne mail; you could take a few hours off now and then. He had the Ring of Fire to thank for never having had the tyranny of a daily news hole to fill, and this week’s was already nicely plugged with a damned good story about d’Avaux.

    Tom Stone came in as Buckley mused on the ruckus that that was going to cause. The old hippy-turned-industrialist—and wasn’t that a switch!—picked an armchair by Jones and plopped into it.

    “Man, am I beat!”

    “Tell me about it,” said Jones. “My feet are killing me.” He had kicked off his shoes and had both much-darned socks on public display on a handy hassock.

    Mazzare sat up straighter. “How’s Frank?”

    Stone grinned. “Mortified, Father. You’d be pleased.”

    Mazzare chuckled. “Somehow, Tom, I doubt you play the stern father very well.”

    “Honesty and sweet reason, gentlemen, has always been my watchword in raising those boys.”

    “Ouch,” said Jones. “That’s just cruel, with teenagers. Makes me glad my own father believed in sparing not the rod. Or the belt, in his case.”

    “Man, I don’t even like jokes about that.”

    “Sorry, Tom,” Jones said, sounding like he meant it.

    Buckley, almost automatically, wondered what lay behind that exchange. He knew altogether too little about any of the three leading figures in the United States delegation. Mazzare’s background he had from the State Department press-pack on him, at least as far as his clerical career went. Chaplaincy for the USAF posted in England, a spell at the Vatican, work in the office of the Archbishop of Baltimore before coming to pastoral work in Grantville. From Chicago originally. Other than that, nada.

    Jones... Buckley had only what Rita Stearns had told him. No—Rita Simpson; he’d gotten the information from her after her marriage to Tom Simpson. He and Rita were friends from college, which was why Joe had been in Grantville on the day of the Ring of Fire.

    All he knew about Jones was that he was a Grantville local boy, settled as the town’s Methodist minister alongside his wife, who was from out of state. There had been that business back in 1631 when he’d somehow come by a sudden surge in church funds. The story had dried up in one cold lead after another and Buckley had reluctantly dropped it, but not without putting acres of bad blood between the two of them, however polite Jones might be to his face,.

    Stoner—what about him? There was a story waiting to be written. Probably an easy one to get, too, with the man’s hippie openness. The problem was finding a time when Stoner was free and available. For a supposed counter-cultural slacker he worked long hard hours. Hippy, commune founder, chemist—like the reason for that wasn’t obvious—and growing hash for the government.

    Joe had tried to work that angle precisely once, when word got out. There was always good copy to be had from the War on Drugs. But then he’d had a visit from Doctors Nichols and Abrabanel after he’d published the first piece. Nichols had offered—no, insisted on—an interview in which he and Doctor Abrabanel had explained, in excruciating detail, all of the medical uses of Cannabis, Opium, Cocaine and just about every narc—Buckley stopped himself. He’d used the word narcotic precisely once in relation to the drugs under discussion, which had prompted a long, technical and utterly patronizing digression from Doctor Abrabanel about how precisely none of these medicines were in fact narcotics at all, but euphoriants, analgesics, anti-whatevers and whocaresiates.

    Whatever. The DEA came in for some trenchant comments from Doctor Nichols, before he’d gotten back to the topic at hand, which was how banning any one of the formerly illegal drugs would condemn hundreds, thousands, to unnecessary pain and hardship.

    It had been a thoroughly dispiriting interview. Especially since, for a doctor, Nichols was a thoroughly menacing individual when he put his mind to it. Doctor Abrabanel, on the other hand, had been a lot more urbane and Buckley had turned his “suggestions” on how to make a face-saving retraction and change of line into, though he did say so himself, damn good copy. But the memory was still tender.

    Mazzare was speaking again as Buckley’s mind wandered. “Does he understand what the problem was?”

    “Sure,” said Stone, “although I think Frank figures we’re being a bunch of old squares about it.”

    “What did he do?” Buckley asked. He decided it wouldn’t be honest just to sit there and listen in, and besides it sounded like a story. If one of Stone’s kids had gone along to the first major diplomatic function of the USE embassy to Venice and screwed up—maybe an article on the scandal of nepotism—the viper in the bosom of liberty—

    “Not him,” Stone said. “He’s just having his first real crush. That’s the teenage version of trying to get laid with panache and style.” The old hippie was grinning. He clearly didn’t think that whatever the offence had been was that great, although Mazzare and Jones were both frowning pastoral disapproval.

    Buckley didn’t ask the obvious question, but Stoner answered it anyway. “His date turned out to be a girl from an artisan family, dressed up in finery. No sweat—except the Venetian upper crust assumed she must have been a whore—since no lower class girl could have afforded those clothes—and they were a bit miffed that she wasn’t wearing the customary red shoes. Go figure.”

    “Oh.” Buckley saw the story vanish before it even formed. Who wanted to hear about horny teenage boys and the fixes they got themselves into thinking with their dicks? Any villager in Germany could tell you that story. By the baker’s dozen.

    But maybe there was a different angle. A political angle. “Was she one of the chambermaids here?”

    Stoner nodded.

    Buckley smiled thinly. “Bet you dollars for donuts she was inserted into your staff by the local Committee of Correspondence, then. I know there’s one here in Venice, although I haven’t been able to find out much about them.”

    “Mister Buckley,” Mazzare said sternly, “I’d really appreciate it if you’d be a little careful there. We are trying to avoid obvious links with the Committee. I realize asking that of you is probably a waste of my time. Still, I am asking.” He sighed. “How many of our staff do you think belong to the Committee?”

    Buckley shrugged. “Hard to say. For women, membership in the Committees of Correspondence tends to be elastic in areas outside of the United States itself. At a guess, I’d say Frank’s new girlfriend is the only actual member of the Venice committee—but if you looked closely, you’d find that lots of the other chambermaids are friends and relatives of hers. Think of them as Committee, once removed. Most of your staff, of course, are Francisco Nasi’s people.”

    Jones groaned. “Our security’s perfect, then, and we’re totally compromised anyway. Wait’ll I see Luzzatto again.”

    The Jewish commercial agent was back in the ghetto for the night. Venetian law might be elastic on the restrictions on its Jewry, but Luzzatto liked to observe the proprieties. Doing so practically defined the man, in Joe’s limited experience with him. Buckley realized that Jones had a point about Luzzatto’s handling of the set-up of the embassy. His own sources said that Luzzatto had regarded the Committee as a good voucher for the reliability of prospective staff. If he hadn’t, he’d have had trouble getting any help at all for the embassy. The plague a couple of years before had sorely depleted Venice and everyone from the Doge on down was having trouble keeping servants. Being picky about who one hired was a recipe for a very short queue of applicants.

    Still, it sounded like Mazzare didn’t want to frighten the notables, and there was every chance that the Committee connection would be spotted. Whatever the history books might say about Venice being in the first years of its decadent period, the Council of Ten’s agents were still justly feared.

    “The girl probably wasn’t a prostitute,” he said, in an attempt to change the subject. “She could have borrowed the clothes, easily enough, assuming she’s connected to the local Committee. The CoCs almost always have a presence in the needle trades. It’s easy enough to get your hands on finery for an evening, if you know a seamstress working on something. Just hope you don’t run into the real owner or that she doesn’t recognize her own outfit on someone else.”

    “If you wind up doing a story on them, Joe, let me have a copy. Although I did get a briefing and I should have—” Mazzare let out another deep sigh. “What’s done is done. I suppose we should look at what we’re paying our staff, make sure the girls don’t have to sell themselves.”

    Buckley bit down on what he’d been about to offer, that the embassy was in fact paying very generously—even by the standards of Venice, a town where plague had made pretty much every job market a seller’s market. He was, he told himself, a reporter, not a researcher for the embassy.

    “I gave the boys a lecture about exploitation, just to be on the safe side,” Stoner said, looking considerably more serious now. “Maybe we should say something to the soldiers?”

    The two pastors digested that in silence.

    “Doubt it’d do any good,” Jones said at length.

    “True,” Mazzare agreed gloomily. “Although I suppose they’ll be discreet about it. Maybe we should say something to them about security?”

    More silence.

    Buckley thought the gloom was misplaced. First, there was something downright comical about two ministers fretting about security lapses on the part of the soldiery when they had a Scotsman named Lennox in charge of that very matter. Buckley knew for a fact—he’d gotten two different accounts, both agreeing on all the major points and both wickedly amusing—that Lennox had thoroughly reamed out Billy Trumble and Conrad Ursinus for their behavior the night the embassy had finally arrived in Venice. Since then, the two young officers looked to have ramrods up their ass.

    Secondly, and more important, Mazzare and Jones underestimated—by about an order of magnitude, Buckley thought—the difference that up-time social habits made in the attitude of their hired help. Just being treated like a regular working stiff was a major step up from the condescension of the served to their servants that was the norm in the seventeenth century. Half of Buckley’s journalistic success depended on that simple fact, which infected even the journalists of the time. They went for interviews with the Great Men and their hangers-on and wrangled for admission to the councils and conferences at which great matters were discussed and decided. Buckley just asked the waiters and footmen what they’d seen and heard, and so got in on things that others were excluded from. He had to be careful sometimes to cover up sources, but it worked every time.

    He’d gotten the idea while doing a story on Admiral Simpson. The man’s household staff had fallen over themselves to dish on the man and his wife. To Buckley’s surprise, it had all been praise. But getting that experience stood him in good stead in Venice. The French embassy, in particular, leaked like a sieve.

    Which reminded him of what he’d actually written. “I’m for my bed,” he said, gathering up his papers and nodding to the other three.

    They bid him good night, and he left with all the dignity of a half-drunk journalist getting the hell out before anyone asked him what he was actually going to file for this week’s story.



    After Buckley’s departure the two pastors and the hippie lapsed into companionable silence for several minutes. Lennox’s snores took on the breathy, whistling tone of a man well away in the land of Nod.

    “You think pinching that Scot warthog’s nostrils would help?” Jones finally grumbled.

    “Oh, I don’t know,” said Stone, “I find the noise kind of restful. Almost as good as a ticking clock.”

    Mazzare chuckled at the banter. Jones’s acid wit and Stone’s casual, good-natured humor had eased a lot of the frustration of their journey to Venice. Switzerland in winter had been no joke, even for the hard-bitten cavalrymen of their Marine guard. “What we could do with, I think,” he said, “is pinching Buckley’s mouth.”

    “You think he’s up to no good?” Stone asked.

    “Depend on it,” Jones said, still glaring at Lennox. “Man’s a damned nuisance. He’s bound to be up to something that’ll bite us all on the ass.”

    Jones’ run-in with Buckley had been a fairly quiet business, for all the newsman’s efforts at scandal-mongering after the Ecumenical Relief Committee had gotten its mysterious boost in funding over the winter of 1631. Away from prying ears in the garage at Mazzare’s rectory, Jones had waxed positively sulfurous, using a great deal of what he called “agricultural metaphor” to describe the journalist and the inquiries he’d been making.

    “Has anyone heard what he’s been up to?” Mazzare asked. “I asked Gus to look into it, but he hasn’t gotten back to me. Fortunately, Joe can’t use the radio to file anything—although I’m sure he knows we have one. But Joe’s plenty ingenious, so he’ll figure out some other way to get his stories across the Alps.”

    “Set Gus and his sneaky Jesuit tricks onto him,” recommended Jones. “Of course, knowing Gus, he’d probably start by laming every horse in Venice.”

    Mazzare laughed out loud at that. Whatever the reputation of the Society of Jesus for subtlety of approach and cunning casuistry, Father Augustus Heinzerling SJ was one of the most direct and straightforward men anyone knew. Gus was about as devious as a charging boar.

    “We can’t just shut him up, can we?” Stone asked, sounding a little worried.

    “No, Tom, we can’t.” Mazzare said. “I just think we should all be very, very careful about what we say when Joe is around.”

    “And then some,” Jones grunted. “Man’s a muckraker. Emphasis on muck.”

    “Should we give him press releases to distract him, then?” Stone asked.

    “Tell him Elvis was spotted rowing a gondola, be about his speed,” Jones snarled.

    Mazzare snorted. “Leave off, Simon. Two years—more than that, now—is a bit much to be bearing a grudge, even for you. But yes, Tom, I think giving him a prepared statement or two to use would be a good idea. If we can plant ideas in his mind we may influence what investigations he actually goes off on. In fact, if he thinks he’s going to get the straight goods from us without having to work for it, he’ll go off and annoy someone else.”

    Jones grinned, and snapped his fingers. “That,” he said, “for the Jesuits.”



    The next morning, as he returned to the embassy in a gondola in bright sunlight, Frank was in a much more sanguine mood. All was well with the world.

    It must have still showed when he reached the embassy. His brothers took one look at him and simultaneously shook their heads.

    “Boy, do you look like the cat’s meow,” Gerry commented.

    “Something exciting happen?” asked Ron.

    Frank was grinning from ear to ear. “Sure did. Giovanna kissed me. Twice. Once before she went to bed—right in front of her dad! Okay, it was more like a peck on the cheek, but still. And this morning, she kissed me again when I left—and that was a real one, since her dad wasn’t watching.” The grin was in serious danger of dislocating his jaw.

    “That’s it?” Gerry demanded. “Nothing else? Then what caused that bruise on your forehead? That’s one hell of a hickey.”

    “You have a dirty mind.” Frank thought about it. “Well. There was a spot of trouble with some goofs outside her house. No big deal. Did I tell you she kissed me?”

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