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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Twenty Four

       Last updated: Friday, February 27, 2004 23:57 EST



    Maestro Luzzatto’s office wasn’t what Sharon Nichols thought of when she heard the words Expensive Commercial Lawyer. It was more what she thought of when she heard the words broom closet. Actually, given the amount of paper and vellum stuffed into every available nook and cranny and piled atop the desk—albeit in neat, fussy piles—it was still more what the words filing cabinet brought to mind. The office was absolutely tiny, and part of a building shared with about thirty other lawyers. Some of the less well-established ones were crammed two and even three at a time in rooms about this size. With her and Magda and the man Luzzatto had brought them here to meet, the place was stuffed wall to wall with bodies and legal impedimenta.

    She would have ascribed it all to ghetto crowding, but she knew this was pretty much what real law offices always looked like, even back in the century she’d come from. She’d dated a law student in college for a few months—whose father had been a lawyer before him—and he’d told her that all law offices had a population-and-paper density that shamed Calcutta. The aim of the game was to pack as many fee-earners as possible into as little rented space as possible. The elegant, book-lined rooms they showed people on TV shows were modeled on the conference rooms reserved for client meetings. The actual working space, he’d told her, usually looked like an explosion in a paper-mill followed by a commando raid by the coffee-ring gnomes.

    Still, she was sure this level of crowding was extreme. That was, of course, the ghetto effect. The word still gave Sharon a touch of conceptual whiplash, not least because this neighborhood was the original “Ghetto” for which all the others would be named in the centuries to follow. Plus, this was the place where the Jews lived, rather than the black folks. Not that Sharon had any real personal experience herself with the black ghettos of the old United States. She only knew the ghettos of up-time America from stories her father occasionally told, and the few months she’d spent working for him in his clinic.

    The Jewish ghetto in Venice wasn’t really a poor neighborhood, either, even if the severe crowding could make it look that way at times. The inhabitants might live packed in like sardines, but they did pretty well—although they suffered disproportionately from fires and disease. Venice might not like their company much, but Jews could do business just as well as Christians on the islands of the lagoon; and when it came to making a deal, they made the same deals as everyone else. They even had the advantage—if you were prepared to go looking for a bright side to the seventeenth century’s equivalent of Jim Crow laws—of sumptuary regulations which forbade them the extravagant finery of the Venetian upper crust. Maintaining that facade could be extremely expensive, so the Jews probably weren’t doing quite as badly as the rest of Venice out of the current lean time.

    “Not doing as badly” was a relative term, of course. The Ghetto was as down-at-the-heels as most of Venice, and the plague had probably hit it worse than it had the rest of the city. Having met them on the way in and walked them up to his office, Luzzatto had remarked that the place felt empty these days. Hard as it was to imagine, before the plague it had apparently been much more crowded.

    Luzzatto sent an office-boy running for coffee and began with introductions. “Signora Nichols, Signora Stone, may I present to you messer Giuseppi Cavriani, who is the agent in La Serenissima for the Cavriani family.” That provoked a round of charmed-to-meet-yous and a rather lengthy one, as Cavriani insisted on rising and bowing. Sharon wondered how he managed it without knocking something over.

    Coffee came, presented on quite a nice tray—although the tray itself had to be balanced between two stacks of parchment briefs tied up in bundles with actual by-God red tape. While Luzzatto was fussing over the tiny cups and the Turkish-style coffee pot, Sharon took a good long look at Cavriani.

    She knew the name—the family name, at least—even if she’d never met the man. That had been part of the briefing which Ed Piazza had given them, before they left on this mission to Venice. Today, Piazza was the appointed governor of the province of the USE known either as “Thuringia” or “East Virginia.” (That depended on who you talked to. No official decision had been made yet regarding the eventual name of the province which had once been a semi-independent nation under Grantville’s leadership. In fact, the official government stationery of the province still read “United States.”) But before that he’d been the Secretary of State of the original small U.S.; and, during that time, he’d been approached by one of the representatives of the Cavriani clan. Ed hadn’t gone into the details, for reasons he had declined to give—which, to Sharon, meant diplomatic skullduggery and maneuver. She’d asked her father about it, and he’d told her he was pretty sure the Cavrianis were also agents of the Neapolitan radicals as well as legitimate continental businessmen.

    Although he hadn’t explained his reasons, Ed Piazza had asked all of them to report to him if they ran across any Cavrianis in Venice. And...

    Now they had.

    Sharon was a bit intrigued to see that a Cavriani in the flesh didn’t look at all like the combination of bomb-throwing anarchist and suave Genevan man-of-affairs she would have imagined. If anything, he looked like a younger, shorter version of Father Mazzare. Less grey at the temples, a little fuller in the face, he had the same aquiline profile and deepset eyes. He smiled rather more readily, though, and had an animation that contrasted with Mazzare’s habitual cool demeanor.

    Luzzatto explained that he wanted them to consult with messer Cavriani, because although he wasn’t Casa vecchie or even a retainer of one, he did have a lot of connections throughout Europe by way of his extended family, which was based in Geneva. After Luzzatto had finished explaining all the things the Cavrianis did, what Sharon gathered was that they were professional middle-men. Luzzatto did not say anything about whatever their political proclivities might be.


    Sharon decided she’d go along with Luzzatto’s inclinations. He was probably right, she reflected, that using a middleman like Cavriani gave them better prospects than trying to deal directly with the trading houses themselves.

    “So, please,” said Cavriani after Luzzatto’s prologue was done, “tell me what you are trying to achieve on the Rialto. Maestro Luzzatto has given me sight of your list of desiderata, and I have heard a great deal from my cousin at Geneva about how you Americans work.”

    “Nothing bad, I hope,” said Sharon.

    “Oh, no, no, no—quite the contrary. Dear Leopold attended your Rudolstadt Colloquy, you know, and heard the argument there.”

    Leopold Cavriani. Yes, that was the name Ed Piazza had mentioned, Sharon could now remember. She relaxed a bit. If this Cavriani wasn’t trying to hide his connection with the other one, he was presumably not up to anything worse than middling-level skullduggery. Of course, in Venice—all of Italy, so far as she could tell—middling-level skullduggery probably put you somewhere on the third or fourth level of Dante’s Inferno.

    “He was much impressed,” Cavriani continued with what seemed to be real enthusiasm, “by the contrast between the manner in which these things are traditionally done in the Germanies and the way in which you Americans approach business. He also had high praise indeed for your Maestro Piazza. A very able and forthright man, according to Leopold.”

    Sharon nodded, but decided to say nothing. In point of fact, she thought Ed Piazza was a very able and forthright man herself. She also liked him personally. On the other hand, he’d spent most of his adult life as a high school principal. High school had not agreed well with Sharon Nichols. She’d been one of those bright-but-easily-bored kids who had been habitually labeled an “under-achiever” in high school and hadn’t really come into her own until she reached college. She’d admit it was probably childish, but even after several years of college and almost three years of the seventeenth century, she was still nursing something of a grudge. In her opinion, high school principals were probably assigned somewhere to the fifth or sixth level of the Inferno.

    “Now, let us to business!” Cavriani said brightly. “Just how were you proposing to get some of this stuff? Half of it I never heard of, to be honest. And I hear you got short shrift from the Casa Falier a couple of days ago. Yes?”

    “We certainly did, and the fellow was very rude!” snapped Magda. “I should like it if we do not use their services at all for this business.”

    Cavriani rocked a hand back and forth in doubt. “I think maybe you got messer Petro Falier on a bad day.” He snickered. “Not that he has many good days, you understand. He’s a sharp customer, that one, although as you say, lacks in the manners department. You aren’t the first he’s been that way with, and the story surprised no one when it got around that you’d had bruises off him. And, Signora Stone, may I add that all the Rialto heard what you called him to his face, and two-thirds of it agrees with you. But, as I say, he’s good and his House is good, too. So, if we need Casa Falier for anything, we try and delay it until we’ve got you, ah, raised in the profile a little, yes?”

    He’d tried out an English phrase on them. “I think you mean, ‘until we’ve raised our profile a little’,” said Sharon. She’d heard some of that about the Rialto. Occasional boulders of English in the stream of Venesse Italian. She’d decided it was because there were a lot of English merchants in town, handling this end of the Levant trade, and that she was probably missing other imported words from other languages that she didn’t recognize. On the other hand, that phrase was straight out of the twentieth century. Had the tendency of visiting Nasis and Abrabanels to pick up MBA-babble started to spread to other communities than the Jewish one? Sharon hoped not.

    “Ah, I thank you,” said Cavriani. “When we are visibly making deals in this town, there will almost certainly be a brief fashion to be seen trading with your good selves. Brief, but if we work quickly we will be able to do much in that short time to establish ourselves. And if, in that time, such business as you take to Casa Falier is expressly reserved for factors other than messer Petro Falier, the prestige he will lose...” Cavriani’s face was the very picture of schadenfreude. “And, of course, just to rub it in, his fellow factors will ask him for advice on the deals they are doing for you, so we will even get the benefit of his experience.”

    “Will he not simply lead them astray?” Magda asked.

    Cavriani’s grin turned wry. “Petro? I think not. The man’s a notorious pedant. And besides, what price his good name as a trader, for everyone acknowledges that he knows his business, if he publicly gets it wrong?”

    “Ah, I see,” said Magda, nodding in satisfaction.

    Sharon almost giggled. Magda, concurring in a plot to visit humiliation on the pompous, abrasive messer Petro Falier, looked like she was going native in Venice real fast. “Thanks for that pointer, messer Cavriani. Now, to our own business, we’ve spent the time since we arrived going about and getting a feel for the place, and we’ve revised our ideas about the kind of deals we want to put together. You see, we’ve got some money that might well amount to down-payments on everything on our list, but hearing the traders talk we thought we might be a little more ambitious and perhaps use it as seed money. Also, we’ve been cultivating the people to whom Signora Stone’s husband has been talking, some of the businessmen he’s been advising on chemical industry—”

    “Ah, the good doctor! Yes, he has been making a stir. For a long time before he came, as well. New dyes, new medicine, some of it coming through Venice, and getting richer by the day, so we hear.”

    Magda preened. “Also, he has spoken with many artisans and master dyers and apothecaries here in Venice, and we have begun to make deals for the new processes they will be trying.”

    “We think a lot of them will be ordering things from our list as well,” added Sharon.

    “Ah. Then perhaps we will want to organize a collegando and send a ship to some of the places—” began Luzzatto. But Cavriani cut him off in a sing-song voice:

    “Oh, you who follow in little boats...”

    Luzzatto gave him a half-glare. Cavriani waved him down. “Please, please, no offense! I am here to consult, maestro, so let me consult.”

    Luzzatto held up a hand. “Fine. But—please—keep the crazy schemes to a minimum.”

    Cavriani harumphed. “He’s going to tell you what they call me,” he said to Sharon.

    “‘Crazy Giuseppi.’”

    Cavriani harumphed again, and louder. “Yes, yes. But you’ll notice they don’t call me ‘bankrupt Giuseppi’. Or even ‘poor Giuseppi’.”

    “Granted,” Luzzatto admitted. “But I hear the Christian God has a special providence for the incurably mad.”

    “Luck is where you go looking for her. And if I choose to go looking for her in places where no one else is looking, who is the crazy one, eh?”

    Luzzatto rolled his eyes. “Was I mad myself, to invite him?” To Sharon and Madga: “Ladies, I will allow that messer Cavriani is very good. But I will advise you to leave him to risk only his own money on the more insane ventures. Yes, he does well, but he’s not always so lucky, and it’s only the big wins he brings home that keep him ahead.”

    “Risk, that’s the thing.” Cavriani turned visibly more serious. “But if the ladies wish to be safe and secure, I can do those kinds of deals as well. To tell the truth, they’re the deals we make the money on, to risk on the crazy ventures. And I do come out ahead more often than I come out behind, or I wouldn’t still be in business. I wouldn’t be the first Cavriani to get put behind a desk somewhere and left in charge of ordering the wherewithal for more capable Cavrianis.”

    Sharon found herself smiling at the by-play. “Gentlemen, assume that we are prepared to run perhaps a few risks. What do you propose?”

    “Ah, now that’s proper talk!” Cavriani actually rubbed his hands. Sharon was beginning to realize that beneath the unprepossessing exterior lurked the soul of a ham actor. “First, do I understand that you have the radio between here in Venice and the Baltic?”

    Sharon and Magda looked at each other. That was supposed to be a secret. It was Sharon’s turn to roll her eyes. Magda just looked pained.

    Cavriani went on: “Please, please! It’s all in confidence here. I assure you that the Cavrianis have ways of knowing things that are beyond the grasp of the miserable Spanish and French heretics. Not to mention the pitiful Venetians, who are long past their prime.” He gave Luzzatto the kind of raised-eyebrow look that Sharon had only seen before in the movies. Bad movies. “The Jews are another story, they will naturally know also. They are an especially clever people. Why else would they have attached themselves to you so readily? So there’s no danger there of idle words slipping.”

    Now he sighed, histrionically. “A pity they are all condemned to everlasting torment, of course. It grieves me to think of my good friend Benjamin Luzzatto, his flesh torn for eternity by hot pincers in the hands of daemons—But!” Again, that histrionic sigh, coupled with outstretched hands. “What can you do? These are a stubborn folk as well as a clever one, and insist on denying the Savior.”

    Throughout, Luzzatto had simply smiled serenely. Sharon had the feeling this was an old game between the two of them. She also had the feeling that Cavriani wasn’t lying at all when he referred to Benjamin as “his good friend.” For reasons she couldn’t begin to explain, she was starting to like Cavriani. Whether that was because of the ham acting or despite it, she wasn’t sure.

    For the moment, though, she decided there was no point in trying to deny the existence of the radio. She’d tell Father Mazzare about it afterward, of course. But whatever damage was done—if any—was already done.

    Sharon nodded. “Yes, we have a radio here. We can reach as far as Grantville, most evenings. Sometimes as far as Magdeburg. Through relays, as far as Lübeck and Wismar with no more than a day’s delay.”

    “And Hamburg?” Cavriani asked. He was all business now. “Hamburg is, ah, very important.”

    Sharon thought about it. They got only condensed news reports, down here, of the progress of the war. But with spring coming, nobody had any doubt at all that the League of Ostend was going to try to finally capture Lübeck and Amsterdam. Nor that, if they failed, Gustav Adolf’s counter-attack would roll over a good chunk of northwestern Germany, in the middle of which—right smack in the middle—sat the still-neutral city of Hamburg.

    She shrugged. “Impossible to say, at the moment. But even using couriers, I’d think no more than a few days’ delay. Why? What are you thinking of, messer Cavriani?” She had a feeling she knew what was coming.

    “Well, if we had advance news of cargoes, ahead of anyone else...” Cavriani grinned, looking more shark-like by the second. “You might find that you could make some very good trades in futures.”

    “And get yourself hanged!” Luzzatto snapped. “Some of those cargoes will be underwritten with State bonds. Insider trading”—again, an English term—”is illegal where State bonds are concerned. And the penalty is death.”

    “But the ladies have diplomatic immunity—” Cavriani began.

    “You don’t!” Luzzatto said forcefully. “More to the point, I don’t—and I won’t even be able to get away from it the way you might, with enough money. A Jew on the run in Italy is as good as a dead man.”

    “Who’ll know?” Cavriani said, brightly. “Besides, we can just make discreet enquiries and make sure we don’t play a trade on anything with State Bonds riding on it.”

    Luzzatto seemed to relax. Apparently, Cavriani’s willingness to avoid anything that involved State bonds—whatever those were, exactly—was enough to mollify the agent. Sharon had been in Venice long enough to understand how the city worked, that way. Crossing the Council of Ten was a desperate business. Whereas simply crossing commercial rivals, while it had its own dangers, was more-or-less taken for granted.

    Sharon was impressed with Cavriani already. As far as she could tell, no one so far had thought of that as a way of making money out of radio. No need to tell Cavriani that, through relays, they had radio all the way to the embassy in London—overlooking the main commercial port, at that—and in Amsterdam as well.

    “Would this enhance our working capital?” Madga asked. “Maybe we could use this to generate quick cash-flow?” From the tone of her voice, Magda was starting to get into the excitement of the scheme. She smelled money in the air. And for all that Magda was happily married to a hippie, she’d been brought up the daughter of a hardnosed German merchant.

    “Oh, certainly,” said Cavriani, leaning forward. “Now, Signora Stone, here’s what we do to begin with.”

    Sharon demoted herself to note taker for what followed. It seemed Magda had found a kindred spirit in Cavriani. About half-way through, just as the German hausfrau and the Venetian wheeler-dealer were concocting a scheme that would, if Sharon followed it right, involve them selling futures to themselves in a cargo they’d never actually need or want and which would never come within five hundred miles of Venice, she stole a look at Luzzatto who had become almost invisible in his own office.

    His shrug and upturned eyes spoke volumes. But so did the sly smile on his face.

    Sharon wondered about that. Mostly, though, she wondered at herself. Unlike Magda, Sharon had been brought up in the household of a doctor. To be sure, her father had always provided well for his family. But he could have provided even better if he’d been willing to forego his ghetto practice for more lucrative work. He hadn’t, because money had never been the principal motive in the life of James Nichols.

    Nor was it in the life of his daughter. So why, now, did she too feel that growing, almost feral, excitement?

    The answer came to her on the very heels of the question. She rose quietly from her chair and moved as far off as she could in the tiny room, staring blankly at a wall. At first, just to fight down the spike of sheer pain. There were times, even after all these months, when she wondered if the hole ripped in her soul by Hans’ death would ever heal.

    Maybe not. But, if it did...

    Quiet fury came to flush aside the anguish. If it did, Sharon knew, it would be a fine clean anger that managed the trick. Only if she struck her own blows at the world which had led her beloved to fly his plane into an enemy warship, would she find surcease from sorrow and acceptance of his passing. She understood that now.

    She smiled at the wall. She would do it in her own way, of course. Hans had been flamboyantly heroic, which Sharon would never be. Had no desire to be, really. Still, there were many ways to strike a blow at that cold, callous aristocracy that ruled all of Europe and most of the world beyond.

    One of them was money. A predatorial, ruthless willingness to use every advantage to cut the bastards where they lived.

    Oh, yes, money was where they lived—their pretensions about “blood” notwithstanding. A bankrupt nobleman was just another beggar, after all. Sharon thought the aristocracy of Europe and their factors and financiers—as many of them as she could manage, anyway—would look splendid lined up alongside the roadway. All of them with signs around their neck.

    Will act haughty and superior for food.

    The image made her laugh aloud. Smiling, she returned to her seat and took up her notepad and pen.

    “So let’s get rich,” she murmured. “Stinking, filthy rich.”



    When they returned to the embassy, the doorman handed Sharon a note. It was written on fine paper and sealed with wax. The only thing written on the outside was her name, in handwriting she recognized immediately.

    “Another one, Signora,” the doorman said with a small, half-apologetic smile. This has gotten to be something of a joke between them.

    “What’s this, now?” Sharon snorted. “The twelfth? Thirteenth? I’ll say this for the man. Whatever else he is, he’s a stubborn bastard.”

    Madga came up to look at the note over her shoulder. “Feelthy Sanchez again! What is wrong with that man? By now, even an old lecher should understand the situation.”

    Sharon shook her head. She’d never opened and read any of them after the first two. Not that what Sanchez had written had been anything other than respectful. Simply polite requests to allow him the privilege of accompanying her to some public event or other. Perhaps the opera? Whatever the Signora desired.

    She started to hand the note back to the doorman to be disposed of as all the others. But, then, a new thought brought on by the day’s work came to her and she drew it back. On impulse, she broke the seal and read the note.

    As she expected, it was another request to accompany her to a public event. She was a bit surprised, though, to see that Sanchez had added a few self-deprecating lines allowing as how he could only hope she might deign to read what he’d written. It was rather droll, actually.

    So. Witty Sanchez as well as Feelthy Sanchez. Hm...

    “You can’t seriously be considering to agree!” Magda hissed.

    Sharon tapped the note against her chin. “Well... maybe. You know, Magda, it occurs to me that we should have paid more attention to Ed Piazza’s briefings. One thing I do remember, though, is that he stressed that any contacts we could make with the Spanish Netherlands would be exceedingly valuable. And if what I’ve picked up here and there is accurate, there seems to be some doubts—fuzziness, anyway—as to exactly who holds Sanchez and his paymaster Bedmar’s leash. The King of Spain—or his younger brother the Cardinal-Infante?”

    She reopened the note and studied it. “Be interesting to find out, don’t you think?”

    Magda still looked dubious. Very dubious.

    Sharon couldn’t help grinning. She and Madga had gotten to be pretty close friends, all these months they’d spent together as the only two women on the mission. But, now and then, she was reminded of their very different life experience. Madga had no experience with the freewheeling American custom of dating.

    Sharon did. Quite a bit. She’d be the first to agree she was hardly what you’d call a beauty queen. But her features were attractive enough and she had the kind of full-bodied figure that plenty of men were drawn to.

    Um. Drooled over, some of them.

    She patted Madga reassuringly on the shoulder. “Relax, girl. I’ve got no intention of sleeping with the old goat. But how hard can it be fending him off, at his age? Especially if he’s got a sense of humor? Someday I’ll tell you about a basketball player I went out with once. Him, I had to threaten with a kitchen knife.”

    Again, she felt that spike of anguish. Briefer this time, fortunately, and not so painful. She hadn’t had to fend off Hans Richter, for all that he’d made his interest in her crystal clear. In that, as in everything, he’d been transparent and... sweet, was the only word.

    She pinched her eyes, for a moment. When she took the fingers away, her vision was a bit blurry.

    “Still,” said Madga. “I think you should get advice from someone. Perhaps...”

    She glanced up the staircase which led to the ambassador’s suite. Then, simultaneously, she and Sharon burst into laughter.

    “Oh, right!” choked Sharon. “I can see it already. ‘Father Mazzare, please guide me through the proper maneuvers involved in keeping an old Spanish lecher out of my pants while I try to finagle information out of him.’ Yup. I bet he’d be a fountain of wisdom on the subject.”

    Madga shook her head, still chuckling. “Still. You should ask someone.”

    The answer, also, came to them simultaneously.


    “The very man!”

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