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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Twenty Five

       Last updated: Monday, March 1, 2004 23:54 EST



    “It’s like negotiating with a committee, Larry,” said Jones as they mounted the stairs to the reception room of the embassy, which they used as their main centre of operations.

    “In a sense, we are,” Mazzare said. Then, thinking about it: “No, we are negotiating with a committee of the Council of Venice. The Grand Council is Doge Erizzo’s compromise between all the factions he has to please.”

    They reached the top of the stairs, where one of the maids was waiting to take their coats. Mazzare was never quite able to keep them straight, except for Frank Stone’s would-be enamorata Giovanna—impossible to forget her, and not simply because she was the prettiest!—although he thought this one was Maria.

    “That’s what I meant, Larry,” said Jones. “Thank you, Maria.”

    Mazzare handed over his own coat, thanking the maid as he did so. Then he turned to Jones. “I know. It’s frustrating, thoroughly frustrating, having to listen to twenty senators say more or less the same thing in seventeen or so subtly different ways.”

    “Well, except for—” Jones said, reaching for the doorknob.

    “Yes, Simon,” Mazzare said as Jones opened the door, “and I think we can lay that before the principal offender, ah—right now.”

    “Buckley!” Jones called out, seeing the young journalist across the room sharing a bottle of wine with the civil engineer Ernst Mauer. “You idiot!”

    “What?” Buckley looked around in surprise.

    Jones strode across the room, playing the agreed-upon role of Bad Preacher to the hilt. Mazzare ambled after him, taking his time so that the Good Preacher could go in after the preparatory barrage. He stopped halfway to collect a glass of wine from—he guessed—Rafaela.

    Jones was in full pulpit fire-and-brimstone form and giving it his Methodist best. Buckley was, to his credit, not flinching, but getting a word in edgewise was proving beyond him. Mazzare decided to let him roast a few minutes longer as Jones enumerated his various defects of character, intelligence and consideration for his fellow-man.

    The rest of the room was gawking. Ernst was edging discreetly out of the splash-zone and Sharon, who seemed to be dressed up to go somewhere for the evening, had gone from open-mouthed amazement to badly-concealed amusement.

    He decided it was time, and sauntered over. “Joe,” he said, “Why?”

    “Reverend,” he said, “I have a right--”

    Mazzare held up a hand. “I know. Back in the USE, freedom of the press is written into the Constitution. Here, there are—differences. You can have all the rights you want, but—”

    “The silly bastard—” Jones began.

    Mazzare stopped Jones with a look, as much to control his laughter at the sight of Buckley flinching when Jones swore as anything else. It still shocked people when it came from a pastor.

    “Reverend Jones is annoyed, Joe, because we both just got chewed on, politely, by the Doge of Venice for permitting one of our servants to slander another ambassador.”

    “Servant?” Buckley grew a little flushed. “I’m not—” Then, he dried up, apparently having started after all this time to think about how things looked.

    Mazzare smiled while Jones glared. “Joe, almost no one believes that. The French embassy is seething right now. Because, as far as they’re concerned, we just pissed”—another cringe from Buckley—”all over every canon of diplomatic protocol.”

    Buckley was now visibly bewildered.

    Jones’ voice was fit to pronounce curses in. “Sure, we’re all polite. You idiot. We’re all good friends with the greatest of respect for one another. We’re all reasonable men, diplomatic-like. And one thing we do not do, idiot, is carry on our private fights on the territory of our generous, benevolent and above all neutral host. This includes, dumbass, publishing—across a third of Europe, yet, and how a pissant muckraker like you got syndicated beats me—a full indictment of what one of our fellow-diplomats is doing.”

    “It’s also dangerous for you, Joe.” Mazzare gestured at one of the windows. “That’s not Magdeburg out there, much less Grantville.”

    “Safety’s not something I lose sleep over,” Buckley said breezily. “Father, look, I’m sorry if I’ve caused you a problem, but—”

    Mazzare frowned, realizing what was coming next. “Joe, I think you should think hard about that. ‘Just doing my job,’ when you get down to it, is only a hair away from ‘just following orders’.”

    “Now hold on, Father! My job is to get important information to the people who matter, which is all of them.”

    “And the hell with the consequences?”

    Buckley wasn’t going to back down. “Well, not all of them. It’s just that most of them are worse than shutting up.”

    “Point,” Mazzare admitted. He notched his estimation of the journalist up a point or two. Joe had been caught in the Ring of Fire when he turned out for Rita Stearns’ wedding. He’d been a friend of Rita and Sharon’s at college, a graduate student in journalism, and he’d found himself in at the birth of modern journalism. The first newspapers of a recognizably modern type had been in print for perhaps twenty years, with pamphlets and broadsides before that. Nowadays, the Imperial Mail service carried news dispatches around Europe to feed hungry presses.

    Like everything else, news reporting had developed an arsenal of tricks and techniques over three and a half centuries, and Buckley was equipped with a beginner’s arsenal of them. So when he’d discovered that there was work for him in this time, he’d gone at it with enthusiasm. Dedication, even.

    Mazzare had read some of his stuff. Buckley would never have won a Pulitzer Prize. On the other hand, by seventeenth-century standards he was polished, crisp, informative, original and readable. Whether he was popular for his originality or whether the twentieth century style would catch on remained to be seen, of course.

    “Look,” Joe said, “I moved out of the building next door a while ago.” He hesitated just an instant, then: “I did that precisely to put some distance between you and me, so nobody would think we were connected politically. I live all the way across Venice now.”

    That was a fib, Mazzare thought. He was quite sure that Joe had moved simply because he discovered he couldn’t afford the rent in this rather ritzy part of Venice. Buckley’s argument was silly anyway, since the reporter spent perhaps half his nights taking advantage of the hospitality at the USE embassy. Not that Mazzare begrudged him the free food and drink. He had his own memories of life on a tight budget.

    Mazzare wondered how Buckley had managed to stay so fundamentally naive after almost three years of the seventeenth century, and especially after all the digging he seemed to have done in Venice. Beneath the patina of a tough street-wise news reporter was a young man who still really thought it was all something of an exciting game.

    “Joe,” he said gently, hoping Buckley wouldn’t take it as condescension, “the fact that you don’t live nearby anymore means exactly nothing to the people you need to worry about. These are people who routinely scheme and maneuver on a continental scale. Please—be careful. Try to be at least a little discreet. Powerful people in these times can have you killed or jailed, and they will get away with it. Or you’ll find yourself having to fight a duel, or getting sued or something.”

    Buckley’s grin was pure joie de vivre. “But, Father,” he said, “I’m young and popular. That makes me invulnerable!” After a moment, he went on, “Seriously, though, I do watch my back. The thing is, there’s a lot of journalists out there, and the powerful tend to ignore us. They think that they’re taking the long view that a lot of yapping nuisances—”

    “Good phrase, that,” Mazzare put in, in a sudden spirit of pure mischief.

    Buckley snorted his amusement, acknowledging the hit, and went on. “They think that sooner or later everything blows over. But it doesn’t, of course. Woodward and Bernstein are a long ways off yet, but there’s already a lot of light being shone on the doings of the muckity-mucks.”

    “Some of it’s less than honest, though,” Mazzare said. “I know they’ve already invented the press release. What’s that piece of slang? ‘Tear off and print?’“

    Buckley smiled ruefully. “I know, I know. Laziness wins nine times out of ten. But the principle is there.”

    “Still. Be careful.”

    “I will, Father, don’t worry. Both ways before stepping into the, uh, canal.”

    Mazzare chuckled. Anyone who fell into one of Venice’s canals had more pressing problems, even assuming he could swim, than being run over by an oncoming boat. There was all manner of ordure and filth in them; the ebb and flow of the lagoon as the Adriatic’s gentle, almost non-existent tides washed back and forth cleaned them a little, but there was still the unmistakable whiff of eau de sewer down close to the water.

    “Anyway,” Buckley said, draining his glass, “I should get going. It’s a long way home for me these days.” He rose and left hurriedly.



    Jones came back over, now with a drink in his hand. “He’s really a pretty nice guy, underneath that damn Woodward and Bernstein act,” he admitted. “Not that I’ll say it to his face.”

    “Yes. Although lacking a little in forethought.”

    “Who wasn’t, at his age?” There was rather more charity in Jones’ tone than Mazzare had been expecting. “Think I registered my displeasure strongly enough?”

    Mazzare laughed outright. “I think he’s as chastened as we’ve any right to expect.”

    “Whatever.” Jones handed over a slip of paper adorned with the seal of the Most Serene Republic. “While you were having your little heart to heart, this came.”

    It was a note from the Doge, inviting Mazzare to a reception at the Ducal Palace for the Turkish delegation which had arrived in the city recently.

    Oh, wonderful. Just what we needed. The Ottomans added to the mix!

    Mazzare decided he needed some expert and informed advice. He turned, to pick out Benjamin across the room, where the lawyer was going over some kind of paperwork with Magda and Sharon.

    “Benjamin? Can you spare a moment? No, better, we’ll come over.”

    As Mazzare and Jones went over to the table they were using, Mazzare asked, “Where’s Tom, by the way?”

    “Gone to Padua for the week, lecturing,” Jones said. “It’s just up the river, about ten or fifteen miles. A day’s boat ride, or a little less, and a bit less back.”

    The arrived at the table. The paperwork spread across it did indeed look excruciatingly commercial. “So while Tom’s away you’re handling the chemicals-buying business,” Mazzare said to Benjamin and the ladies.

    “Sure are,” Sharon said. “The going got tough, so the tough went shopping.”

    “We do well, I think,” Magda said, evidently satisfied with how it all seemed to be stacking up, although unlike Sharon she seemed to be settled in for the long haul with the mound of contracts and balance-sheets. “Much now awaits my husband’s signature.”

    “Oh, yes,” said Benjamin. “We have a number of advantages. Being in—ah, more rapid than usual contact has let us buy some excellent futures in the Baltic trade.”

    Mazzare sighed. That was a euphemism for “radio contact,” of course. Yet another problem! Sharon had told him of the disturbing ease with which the Cavrianis had penetrated the security surrounding the USE’s use of radio, which Mazzare had passed along to Nasi in Magdeburg. They could only hope that the Cavrianis would keep it to themselves and that the League of Ostend hadn’t figured it out as well.

    “Trade is still going on?” Jones asked. “Surely the war--?”

    “Nope,” Sharon said. “Remember: we’re in the seventeenth century, not the twentieth. Wars are the business of princes, got nothing to do with merchants except being another factor in the equation. Trade carries on right through. Prices are way up, is all, and we get killer margins on anything we know got out of the Baltic safely. Killer margins. You wouldn’t believe it.”

    “Oh,” said Jones. “But don’t we just buy stuff from the Baltic direct? Why are we getting it through Venice?”

    “Oh, we are not,” Magda said. “But while we are here with the radio to get information, we can make good trades, which means more money to buy the things we need and which we must get through Venice.”

    Something besides Ottoman politics began to nag at the back of Mazzare’s mind. Trading—?

    “Hold on,” he said. “Isn’t that a bit unfair? Insider trading, or some such?”

    Sharon flashed a rare smile; she was usually a solemn woman, these days. This smile, though, was purely predatory. “It’s not illegal here, Father.”

    “Except for trades in state bonds,” Benjamin put in firmly.

    “Sure, sure,” said Sharon, “but we didn’t buy any of those, and besides, in this town they respect you for sharp deals and stacking the deck.”

    Mazzare decided he had enough other things to worry about. “Well, if Benjamin says it’s legal, and no one’s going to be sore at us over it, fine. Just don’t get anyone else annoyed at us, please. Mr. Buckley—”

    “We heard,” Sharon said, smiling.

    Jones looked downright smug. The strip he’d torn off Buckley had been country-wide.

    After Mazzare showed him the note from the Doge, Benjamin nodded. “I will make enquiries. Although I think you might do better to inquire of Don Francisco. Any intelligence from the City will reach him directly, and he has the advantage of knowing most of the principals personally.”

    Mazzare chided himself, briefly, for the relief he felt at dumping the problem of the Turks in someone else’s lap. He’d still have to act here on the ground, after all. He nodded agreement to Benjamin. “You’re right about that last, Benjamin. The radio’s going to be busy tonight, I fear.”

    He took the invitation back off Benjamin. “Now,” he said, “about this reception. Magda?”

    “Yes, Monsignor?” she said.

    “Will your husband be back from Padua by the day after tomorrow?”

    “No, Monsignor, unless we send for him.”

    “Invite didn’t mention him, Larry,” Jones pointed out.

    “You’re right, Simon, of course. They knew he was out of town for the moment. Wouldn’t want to embarrass us, or inconvenience the professors at Padua.” Mazzare tapped the invitation onto his palm once, twice, three times. “Can’t be helped,” he said. “Sharon, can I prevail on you to come back to your attaché role tomorrow morning, and get with Gus to organize our turnout?”


    Sharon’s elaborate costume finally registered on him. “Sharon? Are you going out, tonight?”

    “To the opera,” she said cheerfully, rising to her feet. “With Feelthy Sanchez. In fact, he should be here any moment. Ta-ta.”

    Waving a casual hand, she breezed through the door. Mazzare stared after her for perhaps half a minute.

    “Oh,” he said.

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