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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Thirty

       Last updated: Thursday, March 11, 2004 01:48 EST



    Buckley put down his pen. There, finally done. A complete write-up on the current activities—plight might be a better word—of the Committee of Correspondence in Venice. Tiny numbers, worthless budget, reliance on street kids, the lot. Combined, however, with a wild plan to liberate Galileo from the clutches of the Inquisition.

    Damn, damn, damn, damn. It might be the greatest story of the year, maybe the decade—like being able to scoop John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry—and Joe wasn’t sure if he could print it. No, scratch that. He could print it, all right. But the consequences...

    He thought back ruefully to a conversation he’d had with Father Mazzare only a couple of weeks before. Worse than the consequences of keeping quiet, indeed.

    He’d heard a lot from eavesdropping, and filled in the rest from conversations with Michel Ducos. The French sympathizer of the Committee was generally taciturn, but put a few drinks in him and he sometimes became downright loquacious. Joe had met Michel’s type before. The kind of guy who, a few sheets to the wind, just couldn’t help bragging about things.

    Somehow they’d gotten news of Galileo being moved to Rome. Somehow they’d gotten hold of weapons, too. What kind and from where Joe hadn’t been able to find out, except that he was sure that at least some of them had been provided by the Stone boys.

    And that was an explosive element to the story, right there in itself. Even if the Stone boys hadn’t provided weapons, the fact that they were knee-deep in the plot would be enough to connect it inseparably with the United States of Europe. Only the week before, Buckley himself had done a piece on the copies of Galileo’s book that were flooding out of a press somewhere, and he figured he could guess the source now.

    Knee-deep? Joe smiled to himself. Say better: up to their elbows in it. He remembered Gerry, smeared up to the elbows with oil and ink, the very image of a hillbilly jackleg mechanic. He must be running one of the Committee’s presses into an early trip to the great scrapyard in the sky. How they were getting them out and to the Inquisition was anyone’s guess. On the whole, given Joe’s record in finding out things he’d rather not have known, he wasn’t sure he wanted to make any efforts in that direction.

    Buckley himself had spoken out in his article in favor of Galileo, of scientific freedom, of freedom of speech. And here he was with an opportunity to make damned sure the man stayed in the toils of the Inquisition and do himself a good turn into the bargain. On the one hand, the scoop of the year, maybe the decade. On the other, Galileo-Gali-freaking-leo!-in a damp cell somewhere. That was a nice clear image in Buckley’s mind. Galileo’s fierce, bearded visage, unbowed and defiant, glaring out through the bars of some dank cell.

    It was all horsepuckey, of course. Buckley knew about the house arrest and the soft treatment the old guy was getting. No slouches in the PR department themselves, the church, they weren’t going to give the man at the cutting edge of seventeenth century science any treatment anyone could describe as medieval. The truth is, there was something more than a little comical about the idea of the Marcolis and the Stones busting him out of a luxury apartment in Rome.

    Buckley sighed deeply, looking at the tablet full of notes from which he’d compiled the story. Many of those notes he’d scribbled from hiding under that window. He’d managed to divert any suspicion by spending quite a bit of time in the open with members of the Committee on Murano and elsewhere. Interviews with Marcoli and Massimo, the lot, all of it purporting to be—which was truthful enough, in itself—material for an article on the Committee’s overt work.

    Well... Joe decided he’d send that part of the story in the mail to Magdeburg. He’d send it in the morning, after a good night’s sleep. And when he’d done that, he’d think about the rescue story. Maybe he’d sent it too. Maybe he wouldn’t. He was too tired to think clearly right now.

    He got up from his desk and went to bed.



    The shock brought him awake. He blinked to clear sleep out of his eyes and then focused them. Floorboards. He was lying on the floor. How did I get out of bed? Then someone grabbed the back of his nightshirt and hauled on it.

    “What?” he yelled, and scrambled to get his legs under him. Pistol under the pillow, he thought. He made a dive for it, got a hand on the bed, and then pain exploded through the back of his head and he went out again.



    Drowning! Buckley came to from a delirium vision of suffocating under water, to find himself soaked and cold. Something was over his face, clinging and wet, over his whole face; he couldn’t see. He couldn’t get his breath through it, not properly. He tried to rip it away, but his hands were tied to something, down by his lap. Only a nightmare, I can wake up at any time.

    “Good, you are awake,” someone said. Murmured, rather, into his ear.

    “Who?” It sounded blurred even to Buckley, as he gasped it out through what he could now identify as wet cloth.

    “You don’t know me?” There was a trace of sly amusement in the voice. “Ah, but no one really knows me any more.”

    The cloth was whipped away. There was no one there. Looking down, Joe saw that he’d been tied to a chair, wrists and ankles both.

    Then the click of boot-heels on floorboards, and a figure stepped between Buckley and his desk-lamp. Even in silhouette, there was no mistaking that file-thin build.

    “Michel?” Buckley asked. His guts sank as he realized what this was about. “Marcoli sent you, right? Look, I wasn’t going to publish, all right? I got the notes right there on the desk, you can read the piece I was gonna file. It was just about the Committee, I swear to God. I wasn’t gonna say anything about the rest of it. I want Galileo busted out as much as you guys—”

    A slap across the mouth silenced him. Bare-handed, but a hand that somehow seemed claw-like, bony and calloused. Callous, Buckley thought. Not a flicker had crossed Ducos’ face. Suddenly he was Ducos, not pleasant, friendly-if-a-bit-reserved good-old-Michel. The slap hadn’t hurt much, more insult than injury, but there was a huge, brimming reservoir of hatred behind the dam that was Ducos’ face. And Buckley realized he was starting to see cracks in the concrete. Ducos’ eyes, and Buckley could see them now as his eyes adjusted to the light, were boring into Buckley. Intense. Mad.

    “Fool,” said Ducos, in English. “I have read your scribblings, reporter.”

    “Then you know—”

    “Everything. Marcoli doesn’t, of course.” A small smile twisted that narrow blade of a face. “Another dupe. A shame. He may be the one honest man in this city. Such a shame, that he should be an imbecile also.” Ducos shook his head, slowly and theatrically.

    Buckley remained silent. Don’t provoke him. He wished he knew more about hostage situations than he’d been able to gather from the movies. Sure as hell nobody’s dialing 911 right now, he thought. He put his head down, to avoid catching Ducos’ eye.

    “You made my own spy most upset, Monsieur Buckley. He wanted to know, did I not trust him to maintain a watch on the building for him? Did I think he was too stupid to keep a proper watch? I had to pay him extra because of you. Pfui. No matter.”

    Ducos began to pace. “No, that is not the problem I must solve tonight, Monsieur Buckley.” He pointed to Joe’s article on the table. “No, the problem is that you know nothing about the plot to kill the Pope. There is not a word in there about the matter.”

    He soundly deeply aggrieved, but Joe could sense that it was a pose. Underneath the sorrowful tone was just that hint of maniacal humor.

    “What am I to do?” Ducos mused, pacing back and forth. Again, he pointed to the table. “That article must be found, of course. Crucial evidence, pointing the finger in the proper direction. But nothing about the Pope!”

    Buckley’s head span, and not just with uninterrupted sleep and lingering concussion. “The Pope? What are you—”

    Ducos was behind him, and slapped him across the head. “Silence!” the Frenchman hissed the word. There was no trace of the earlier humor now. “Of course you know nothing! Imbecile. Seigneur le Comte only gave me the orders last night.”

    Buckley fought down the question. The last two he’d asked had earned him blows. He stared at a knothole in the floorboard between his feet, and concentrated very hard on not being there.

    Another little chuckle. “Ah, the manner in which I have played my would-be master! D’Avaux, the fool, has never—not once!—considered the risks of taking a Huguenot so closely into his confidence. Smug, noble fool!” The voice changed, became a baritone snarl. “As if St. Bartholomew’s Day could have been forgotten. Or La Rochelle. Or the Languedoc.”

    So Ducos really was a traitor to France after all, Buckley realized. He was working for the Count in name only. And he had reason to be pissed about his country, if he was a Huguenot. The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the Huguenots, although it was now over six decades in the past, was still a byword among Protestants for Catholic tyranny and butchery. La Rochelle had seen Protestants similarly slaughtered, starved and penned under siege to die of disease. Buckley hadn’t heard much about the suppression of the Huguenots in the Languedoc, but that was probably only because the savagery had had to compete with barbarisms in the Germanies. La Rochelle and Languedoc were recent, too, within the last five years. The wounds were still fresh.

    “Liars, the Catholics, all of them,” Ducos continued. “Did they think I would not read their stolen histories? Did they think I would not learn about the revocation of the Edict of Nantes?”

    Joe’s brain was still a little muzzy from the effects of the blows. He tried to remember what he could about the Edict of Nantes. Not much. It had been decreed by an earlier French king—Henry the Something-or-other, and given some rights to the Protestants. But what...

    Oh, hell. He remembered now. He’d read about it. Fifty years or so in the future—the future of another universe—King Louis XIV would declare it null and void.

    “Look, Michel,” he said urgently, “that’s still a long ways off. By then all kinds of things will be different. Just calm down and we can talk—”

    Ducos raised his hand and Joe choked off the rest. The Frenchman was obviously in no mood to discuss the matter. And, for the first time, as Ducos raised his hand—his left hand, this time—Joe spotted the hilt of the dagger in the sleeve. Oh, shit.

    “Ah, France!” Ducos sighed the name of his country, pacing in circles around Buckley, lost in some reflection of his own. “At least the cretin d’Avaux seeks the advantage of France, even while he mires her in the Roman heresy. He knows I am a patriot also, which is why he trusts me in what I do.”

    Another long silence. Three, four, five more circuits around the room. Buckley stole a glance out of the corner of his eye, and realized with a chill that Ducos was toying with the handle of the knife in his sleeve. Then, he pulled it out. A short, thin, and very wicked-looking blade.

    “St. Bartholomew’s Day.” Ducos sighed the words, almost in the same tone as he had spoken the name of France. “It has not been forgotten, Monsieur Buckley.” A long pause. “And certainly not forgiven. Finally, after long years of biding my time, I have my chance to strike all France’s enemies with a single blow.”

    The chuckle was becoming more like a cackle, now, as it returned. Ducos squatted in front of Buckley, and grabbed his chin roughly to lift it up. “Several blows, rather, the one riding on top of another.” Back to a soft chuckle. Buckley was horrified to see that Ducos’ face hardly moved at all as he laughed. “You American heretics—and you will receive one of those blows—even have a name for it. ‘Piggyback.’ Seigneur le Comte wanted me to mount a piggyback operation on top of Marcoli’s ridiculous scheme to liberate Galileo. Make it seem as if the imbecile intended to assassinate the Pope as well.”

    Ducos rocked back on his heels, his mouth open in a rictus than might have served someone else for a grin. “Petits cochons!” he whooped. “All climbing on each others’ backs. I clear the way for Marcoli and his children’s crusade to go to Rome. I have evidence planted in the Marcoli house after they leave, saying they meant to kill the Antichrist of Rome. So much for d’Avaux’s scheme. That, of course, clears the way to lay my own plans. You see, d’Avaux wants Marcoli to fail to kill the Pope. Not even to try, in fact—simply to have looked as if he intended to try. Whereas I want him to succeed.” Ducos hissed the last word.

    Another long silence. “The Cardinal is right about that, of course. The English stole the world. Better, though, that it be stolen by foreign Protestants, I think, than French heretics.”

    Joe was desperately trying to follow the way Michel’s mind seemed to skitter from one subject to another. He was quite sure by now that Ducos was not really sane. “You work for Richelieu?” he asked, not really knowing why but simply hoping to divert the maniac. He tensed himself for a blow.

    Which never came. “But of course, Monsieur Buckley. Why else would I send back a dispatch describing the foolish, insane, desperate venture that Seigneur le Comte has instructed me to carry out? Seigneur le Comte will be most lucky if he is merely broken and ruined. A traitor’s death would suit him better, I think.” A pause, and then another soft little chuckle. “Administered by the arch-traitor and heretic himself. Savor the irony, Monsieur Buckley. Savor it.”

    Ducos stood. “It is perfect, perfect in every detail. Your American abomination, this ‘religious freedom’ exposed as a cover for bloodshed and duplicity. The Roman Antichrist sent back to the Pit, to be chained by Christ for a thousand years. And the Beast’s henchmen on earth, they all suspect France. All the further from Rome goes France. Ah, perfect.”

    Ducos stopped behind Buckley and laid a hand gently on either of the American’s shoulders. Joe could see the edge of the blade protruding next to his cheek. The thing looked razor sharp.

    “And there is more, oh, yes,” Ducos said, purring. “Monsieur Gaston has his man here in Paris too. And he has agreed to assist with the plot to discredit d’Avaux. And such a simple matter to show that he, too, compassed the death of the Pope. Yes, all of it is perfect—except that one unfortunate detail. There is no mention of the plot to kill the Pope in your writings.”

    Ducos began stroking Buckley’s wet hair with his left hand, and in that moment Buckley realized he was going to die. He began to shudder, and felt warmth on his thighs as he lost bladder control.

    “You tremble, Monsieur Buckley. You urinate from terror. Just so will France tremble and soil herself, as she is first-born into the Millennium. Just so. As Richelieu and Gaston squabble over the bleeding body of the Antichrist, the new world will come. Yes, the new world. Born of little pigs, climbing on each other’s backs. Petits cochons.”

    He kept stroking Joe’s hair. It felt like a vulture’s caress. “And both these little pigs blaming the American pigs. I care not who wins, for by then there will be the reign of Christ. And France, reborn. The new Jerusalem, and I shall be the one to lay the first stone of that heavenly city. Mortared with the blood of the Antichrist, Monsieur Buckley, and of the little pigs who pollute France with their heresy.”

    Another soft little chuckle. “I meant to have an Inquisition guard come to murder you, Monsieur Buckley. What better sport than to set your Americans, and that Jew who is your spymaster, on the heels of the Inquisition? But I must now hurry, for you learned of Marcoli’s plan. Alas, the real plan, not the one I require. So I am afraid—my apologies—that I must do my best to question you in the style of the Inquisition.”

    Torture! Buckley moaned, and began to shake again. The chair he was tied to had a short leg, and it drummed on the floorboards. “I’ll talk!” he said, suddenly and oddly embarrassed that his voice was squeaking. “I’ll talk!”

    “Why? How? I don’t mean to ask you any questions.” Stroke, stroke. That hand on the top of his head, as Ducos murmured to him softly, almost intimately. Buckley cringed at every touch. Stroke. “I have read all your notes, Monsieur. I know all you know. And I shall send off your writing for you. In this way your death will not go unnoticed. Though for the moment, of course, it surely will. This building is empty, but for ourselves.”

    Buckley swallowed. He was dead, as dead as if he’d already stopped breathing. What to do? He was still shuddering; his testicles seemed to be burrowing into his belly. The piss on his thighs was cooling, making him shudder all the more.

    Hurt him, said a still, quiet voice in his mind. He remembered a line of poetry he’d always liked a lot. From Bob Dylan—no, it was Dylan Thomas.

    Do not go gentle into that good night,

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    The hand holding the blade was next to his cheek. Joe snapped his head around like a snake or a snapping turtle and bit the hand. Hard.

    Ducos roared with rage and pain. Buckley ignored everything except sinking his teeth into that hated hand. Ducos tried to pull the hand away but it was impossible. Then he grabbed Joe by the hair and lifted him, chair and all, and slammed his head against the edge of the table. The skinny madman’s strength was incredible.

    Joe was dazed by the impact. Finally, his jaws loosened enough and Michel ripped his hand away. Buckley saw the knife fall to the floor.

    Get the knife! Get the knife!

    The chair was off-balance anyway. He managed to tip it over and fall next to the knife. There came then the greatest sensation of triumph Joe had ever felt in his life. He managed to clamp the hilt of the knife in his teeth. Try cutting me now, you son-of-a-bitch!

    He never felt the slender cord sliding around his neck. Never felt it at all, even when the garrote tightened in the madman’s grip. The knife was everything.

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