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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Thirty Two

       Last updated: Thursday, March 11, 2004 01:50 EST



    “He’s in here, Father.” Billy Trumble stood at the door of the suite of rooms Buckley had occupied, leaning against the doorpost in the nerveless way that had come to mean “death room” to Mazzare over the years.

    Mazzare studied the young Marine officer for a moment. Very young, he was, just out of his teens. Billy’s complexion definitely looked a little green under the surface.

    “Perhaps you should stand your guard outside, Billy? Fresh air might do you good.”

    “Uh, Father, I can’t. Lieutenant Taggart told me to take guard here.”

    Taggart must have been standing somewhere in the room beyond. Mazzare heard his voice drift through the open door. “There’s no need for that now, Lieutenant Trumble. I think the Father is right. Go outside and get some air.”

    “Uh, thank you, sir.” Billy gave Mazzare a flashing glance of thanks and started marching away. A very military-looking stride it was. The boy’s back was ramrod-straight. Mazzare knew the posture was simply young Trumble’s way of maintaining himself under the circumstances.

    The priest sighed, wishing now he had brought Gus along. The big Jesuit somehow seemed to anchor the world around him to solid, physical verities. The presence of the earthy German would do Billy good that Father Mazzare wasn’t entirely equipped to deliver. Silently, he wished the lad well—hardly a lad, now, he reminded himself, a commissioned officer as he was—and went through the doorway.

    Inside was the gloomy, smoky half-dark of a candelabra-lit room. Buckley had picked one of the smaller, more cluttered suites higher up in the house, apparently for the view. Or possibly for the profusion of overstuffed and riotously-carven furniture it held. In the far corner, by the long drapes that hid the night sky outside, stood Lieutenant Taggart, looking down at something that was hidden from Mazzare by a chaise-lounge. Mazzare stopped and waited to be noticed.

    Taggart was only a moment before seeing him. “Father,” he said. “There’s been a murder.”

    “Is it...?”

    “Aye. Mister Buckley.” Taggart nodded, downward to what was on the floor by him. “Mistress Nichols has the laying out of him.”

    Sharon stood up, then. Mazzare hadn’t spotted her, kneeling next to the corpse behind the chaise-lounge. “Hello, Father.”

    “Good evening, Sharon.” Mazzare nodded to her. The candlelight revealed nothing of her complexion or how steady she was, but she had the hooded eyes and upward tilted face that were the universal signal of the young lady retaining her composure under stress. Professionalism in every line of her poise, Mazzare thought. Her father’s influence. He could guess that in a good light the blood would be visibly drained from her face, but that there would not be a tremor in evidence. “How, ah—how did Joe die?”

    “I think, um, that is—” She took a deep breath. “I think you should take a look, Father. There’s no easy way to describe this.”

    “Forgive me, I shouldn’t stand here like a spare part.” Mazzare began to walk over. This seemed all wrong. He had lost count of the deathbeds and sickrooms he had attended. The places where people came in their time to the ends of their lives. Somehow it was easy to give comfort, to be the calming presence, in places like that. Violent death was harsher. Bad enough when it happened in the street, or was carried into the emergency room. To find it like this, in an almost domestic context—Mazzare had never tried to wear what he thought of as his professional face in such a situation. This was something the police did. For the first time in years, he felt himself resist the first step forward. The prayer for strength was almost wordless. Our father, who art in heaven—and then mute appeal.

    Forward he went, feeling his face set into the serenity of his office. Around the chaise, to see the scene that Sharon had found. There was scarcely more to see than Buckley’s form, face-down on the floor, dark and shiny stain around him. A dark and shiny puddle, as the candlelight flickered and reflected in it. Red.

    “This is how we found him, more or less.” Sharon’s voice was cool as could be.

    Mazzare did not look at her. Felt, somehow, that even so slight a touch as his gaze would cause her composure to collapse. His own didn’t feel too strong. Strange, after seeing so many battle-corpses. The context made so much difference.

    “Have you determined a cause of death?” He realized as he said it that it was pure cop-show. The urge to giggle was fortunately faint.

    “Someone really wanted to make sure.” Sharon’s voice was flat now, as if the familiar routines of second-rate scriptwriters made the thing seem somehow homey. “I think he died of strangulation, this cord around his neck here. But then they bashed in his skull at the back here and cut him across the belly. They... did a lot of other things, too. There are multiple traumas.” She put a sleeve across her face and breathed in, deeply.

    Mazzare wished she hadn’t. The smell was overpowering. He closed his eyes, tried to breathe shallowly through his mouth, to ignore the smell of the corpse and the final stinking indignity of Buckley’s death. “How do you know?”

    “That he was dead first?”


    “If they’d cut him before they killed him, there’d be more blood. He’s draining, not bleeding.”

    Mazzare opened his eyes, looked up a moment. The words. He concentrated a moment, to bring them to mind. Somehow, he didn’t want to speak the Latin over this one. It had to be the up-time version. “Eternal rest grant unto him, oh Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.”

    “Amen,” said Sharon.

    “Aye. Amen,” added Taggart.

    Mazzare nodded, once. Taggart was stoutly Presbyterian, and made no secret of his dislike of Popery. But, a good man to the core, he would not begrudge the dead the right words by the lights of whoever chanced to speak them. “Thank you, Lieutenant. Thank you, Sharon. I think we should see that Mr. Buckley is attended to, yes? Lieutenant, can you have one of your men find someone—”

    Before Mazzare could say anything further, Sharon interrupted. “Uh, Father. I’d rather we didn’t do anything. Not until Ruy—Ruy Sanchez, I mean—gets here.” She glanced at Taggart. “I asked the Lieutenant to send for him.”

    Ruy Sanchez? Mazzare drew a blank for a moment. Then he placed the name. The factotum—to use a polite term—for Cardinal Bedmar, the special ambassador from the Spanish Netherlands. The old Catalan soldier—to use another euphemism—whom Sharon had been spending so much time with these past few weeks. Mazzare was still completely mystified by the relationship.

    “Ah. Why Sanchez?”

    Judging from the expression on her face, Sharon herself was a bit mystified by her relationship with Sanchez. For just that moment there, she seemed like a confused little girl. Quite unlike her normal self. As a rule, Sharon Nichols exuded a level of poise and composure far beyond what you’d expect from a woman in her early-mid twenties.

    It was all Mazzare could do, for an instant, not to bark a laugh—insane laugh, under the circumstances. The nickname of Die Fürsten which the German population of Magdeburg had bestowed upon Sharon—the word meant “princess”—had been more of a tribute to her martyred fiancé Hans Richter than anything else. But...

    The name had stuck, as such things sometimes do. Stuck, and then begun to spread, as other people observed the young woman’s stately manner in public. The fact that Sharon was black—and very dark-complected at that—simply added to the glamorous myth. Black people were not unknown in the Europe of the 1630s. They were even somewhat common, now, in some of the major ports like Amsterdam. But they were still exotic, and the continent of Africa itself was almost completely unknown.

    The damned human race was quirky, as Father Mazzare had long recognized. God had some purpose there, he was quite sure, though he didn’t pretend to know what it was. People had their prejudices; but they also had their love of legendry. So, a woman from an unknown continent and a mysterious future, daughter of a doctor whose medical wizardry was now a legend in itself across half of Europe, betrothed of Germany’s great martial champion Hans Richter, had taken on the aspect of royalty. Something similar, if not identical, had happened to Rebecca Abrabanel.

    Even worldly-wise and often-cynical Venice was susceptible. Mazzare had observed any number of times that, at the public gatherings the Venetian elite was so fond of, the Case vecchie clustered around Sharon more than any other member of the delegation. Nor were all of them—even most of them—young men with obvious motives. She was even more popular with the daughters and matrons of the upper crust. They tended to mob her a little, in a genteel sort of way. In much the same manner, Mazzare suspected, that Princess Diana had been mobbed in the years before her death by American socialites at charity functions. Even though she too, in her last years, had not technically been a princess at all.

    Sharon looked back down at Buckley’s corpse. “I’m not exactly sure myself, Father. I did it on the spur of the moment, without really thinking. Ruy, well... he doesn’t talk much about it, but I’m quite sure he has more experience with—ah—this kind of thing than anyone else I know. And...”

    She shook her head. “There’s something wrong here, Father.”

    Mazzare choked audibly—half a suppressed, hysterical laugh; half a protest at a naked, bestial universe.

    Sharon smiled grimly. “I guess that sounds idiotic, doesn’t it? Yeah, gee, no kidding, there’s something wrong about a murder. Especially one this brutal. But that’s not what I meant. There’s something wrong about the murder.”



    Coming around the corner, the first thing Frank Stone and his brothers spotted was Billy Trumble. The young Marine was leaning against the wall next to the entrance in front of Joe Buckley’s building. Even from a distance, he looked...

    “He’s practically green,” hissed Ron. “It must be true. Shit!”

    Gerry was scowling in the exaggerated manner that only teenagers can manage. “‘Shit,’ is right. Joe was a good guy.”

    Frank didn’t really share his youngest brother’s attitude toward Buckley. Hadn’t shared, he reminded himself bleakly. Frank had always found the reporter a bit two-faced. Not a bad guy, no, but way too self-absorbed for Frank to like him all that much. Still, he’d hardly wanted anything like this to happen to him.

    “Let’s go see what Billy can tell us,” he said. He began marching over, his brothers trailing in his wake.

    When they came up, Billy gave them a weak little nod. “Hey, guys. You heard about Joe, huh? Yeah, it’s true.” He paused for a moment, clearly controlling his gorge. “Jesus, you oughta see him! No—don’t.”

    Billy glanced at the door. “Don’t do up there, guys. Just take my word for it. Lieutenant Taggart probably wouldn’t let you in, anyway.”

    Frank swallowed. So did Ron and Gerry.

    “Bad?” asked Gerry, half-whispering the words.

    Billy wiped his face with the back of his uniform sleeve. “You wouldn’t believe it. They tortured him first. Then... oh...”

    He turned away and doubled up. Vomit splattered the side of the building and the garbage-strewn ground in front of it.

    “Jesus,” hissed Ron. He looked like he might puke himself.

    Frank thought he probably looked about the same. His stomach sure didn’t feel good. He was definitely feeling light-headed. Not even so much at the horror of what had happened to Buckley, but at the greater horror of what might happen in the future. To Giovanna.

    But he managed to control himself. More than anything, Frank needed to figure out what to do. Now.

    He waited impatiently—some part of his mind feeling guilty at the impatience—until Billy was done. As soon as Billy drew in a deep breath and managed to half-lift himself, hands now placed firmly on his knees, Frank stepped up and patted him on the back.

    “You okay?”

    Billy nodded.

    “Look, Billy, I’m sorry but I’ve gotta know. You say they tortured him? I mean, Joe wasn’t just murdered?”

    Billy shook his head. When he spoke, his voice was thin but firm. “No. Christ, Frank, there are pieces of him spread around. His fingers—belly—” He broke off, giving his head a shake so violent it was more like a dumb beast trying to rid itself of a swarm of insects. “Just take my word for it, will you?”

    Frank nodded and gave Billy another pat on the shoulder. “Okay, man, no sweat. I just... needed to be sure.” He glanced at his brothers meaningfully. “I guess we’d better... uh, be off, now.”

    Billy finally managed to raise himself erect. He took another deep breath and then gave Frank something which might in really bad light have been able to pass for a smile.

    “Probably a good idea.” Billy glanced unhappily at the doorway. “I need to get back up there anyway.” He took an uncertain step toward it.

    But Frank and his brothers were already around the corner before Billy made it to the door. As soon as they were out of sight, they started running.



    When Ruy Sanchez came through the door after a young officer nodded him past, the first thing he saw was Sharon Nichols. The sight of the woman, as it had for weeks now, arrested him for a moment. Had Sanchez known that Mazzare had, not long before, been puzzling over the matter of Sharon’s relationship with him, the Catalan would have been mightily amused. Since he himself was only—finally!—beginning to sort it out.

    It was not so much that the woman herself was confusing, though there were many times that Sanchez found her so. It was more a matter, he’d finally realized, that Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz—as he’d called himself for several decades now; to his amazement, with complete success—had managed, not for the first time in his life, to place himself in a quandary.

    Sharon still hadn’t noticed him, standing in the doorway. Neither had the priest standing beside her. So, Sanchez took the moment to examine her.

    Then, very softly, sighed. Two weeks earlier, after as serious and determined a campaign of seduction as Ruy Sanchez had ever launched—and he was quite good at it—he’d come to accept the fact that he’d met his match. Not for the first time, to be sure; but it was still a rare enough experience to cause him to sulk for several days. The cardinal had been quite sarcastic about it, too. Not that Bedmar knew any of the details, of course, because Ruy Sanchez never discussed his amatory affairs with anyone. But he and the cardinal had been together now for many years, and the old bastard was hard to fool.

    That left only two options: Abandon the campaign with a gracious salute to the victor; or...

    Sanchez had spent a week mulling over the “or.” And, by the end, decided he much preferred it to the alternative.

    As he’d feared he would, alas. Whatever else he was, the Catalan was no fool. His pretense at nobility had gone unchallenged, true enough, but that was mostly due to his connection with the cardinal and the fact that few men who knew Sanchez would challenge him lightly. Few, indeed, would challenge him at all; even now, as he approached his sixtieth year of life. In his own way, he was somewhat famous in the insular world of hidalgo Spain and its territories. Well-known, at least; and if not esteemed, he was certainly given wary respect.

    None of which, he well knew, would make—to use the American expression he’d picked up from Sharon—a “spit’s worth of difference” to her. He might as well advance an offer of marriage to a Spanish Infanta. Granted, Sharon Nichols would be gracious in her refusal, where an Infanta—or her father, more likely—would have Sanchez clapped into a dungeon. Refuse him she would, nonetheless—if anything, even more decisively than a Spanish princess. The Catalan had only a dim sense of the way in which Americans gauged these things, because they viewed the world so differently than other people he’d known. But he understood enough—thought he did, at least—to know that he would be considered an utterly unsuitable spouse for such as Sharon Nichols. By she herself, leaving aside her father or anyone else.

    It was all... very confusing, and left Sanchez feeling uncertain of himself and what he should do. There was nothing in the world that Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz detested more than being confused and uncertain.

    That detestation made him clear his throat more noisily than he meant to. Sharon and the American priest looked over, startled.

    “You sent for me, Dona?” Stubbornly, as a sop to himself, Sanchez used the Catalan term instead of the Spanish Señora or the Italian Signora. He knew it was silly, but not even Ruy Sanchez could bring himself to call Sharon Nichols by the girlish diminutives. Not in any language. Unmarried or not, she was simply impossible to address other than with the fullest respect.

    “Thank you for coming, Ruy,” said Sharon. She gestured at the corpse whose feet were the only thing Sanchez could see from where he stood. “You were told what happened?”

    He nodded. “The soldier who brought your summons informed me.”

    “It was hardly a ‘summons,’ Ruy,” Sharon murmured, smiling. It was a little smile, and a sad one. He wondered about that sadness. Most of it, to be sure, was due to the death in the room. But some, perhaps...

    Old habit swept his hat from his head in a gallant flourish. “From you, Dona, any request sent to Ruy Sanchez is considered a summons. I would no more think to disobey than—”

    Sharon barked a little laugh. “Oh, Ruy—give it a rest!” She shook her head, smiling more widely. “I will say you can always cheer me up. Even here, even now. But, still, put a cork in the testosterone, would you? Just for a few minutes—I know it’s a lot to ask.”

    Sanchez smiled back. He understood the term “testosterone” now. Sharon had explained it to him. Twice. The second time, laughing, after he’d strutted for minutes when she explained it the first time. Ha! The truth! Confirmed even by Americans, with their dazzling science!

    She motioned him over. “Come here, please. I want you to look at this. I think—no, I’d rather hear what you think, before I say anything.”



    It took Sanchez no more than three minutes to draw his conclusions. It was not difficult. Certainly it was not upsetting. Sanchez had seen far worse, as a young man, in the course of the endless border wars in New Spain with the savage indigenes of the mountains and deserts. Not all of which barbarisms, by any means, had been the work of the indigenes themselves. By the time he was twenty, he’d understood that savagery was the common property of mankind. The same skin, whatever its color.

    He might have despaired then, had he not discovered in the arms of his first wife that other properties were shared and common also. Those he chose to treasure. For the rest, there was always his sword.

    He rose. “This is fakery. The man fought. Not well, I think, but fight he did. Those teeth broke; they were not broken. The rest—”

    He made a contemptuous gesture. “All done after he died. The garrote is what killed him. Not a good death—what is?—but better than most. It would have been quick, at least, as deeply as that cord is driven into his neck.”

    The priest was frowning. “All... that? But—why?”

    Sanchez shrugged. “Much of it, I think, was done from sheer fury. The murderer probably did not expect his victim to strike back, and flew into a rage when he did.” He pointed to the intestines spilling onto the floor. “Why else inflict such a wound? No torturer would, for a surety. And most of this was done to make it seem that the man was tortured.”

    The priest was still frowning. Whether that was because he was puzzled or simply because a frown was his way of maintaining composure in the midst of barbarity, Sanchez could not determine.

    “I still don’t understand why.”

    Neither did Sanchez—and the matter was beginning to intrigue him. Given Buckley’s past activities, of course, there were a multitude of possible suspects. One of them being... well, Sanchez himself.

    He decided it would be best to depart now, before that thought occured to the Americans also. Besides, Cardinal Bedmar needed to learn of this matter at once. So, with a flourish, he made his farewells and came as close to scampering out the door as Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz ever came to scampering.



    Which was not very close at all. After he was gone, Sharon Nichols shook her head and said: “I swear, that man will swagger into his own grave.” But she was smiling when she said it. The first genuine smile on her face since she’d entered that horrible room.

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