Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Thirty Six

       Last updated: Thursday, March 25, 2004 00:08 EST



    As soon as they’d left Venice, Michel Ducos had pulled a tarp over himself and the bag he’d brought, and promptly went to sleep. In truth, Frank thought Ducos looked exhausted. The wound he’d suffered on his hand seemed to be bothering him a lot, too.

    Ducos had snored all the way up the Brenta, provoking giggles from Giovanna every time he turned over and grunted. That would have been interesting if they’d been pulled over by whatever passed for cops hereabouts, although messer Marcoli had said Frank should relax, they were running ahead of even the news of their departure, let alone any pursuit.

    Michel woke up in good time to help the boatmen tie up, and while messer Marcoli paid the last quarter of their passage—his credit wasn’t good for much in Venice, apparently—Frank decided to let the Venetians organize the unloading. He and his brothers would take advantage of the moment to see Gerry off quietly to go find their father.

    That was no problem, as Frank had expected. Gerry was good at making himself scarce without being seen, and the Marcolis weren’t paying the slightest bit of attention anyway. Frank had known they wouldn’t. After all these weeks in close proximity to the family, he’d come to know them quite well. As much as he liked them—and he did, all of them, even if Giovanna was the only one he really cared about—he’d long since realized that if this new universe had had a television industry, the Marcoli family would have made the ideal subject for a situation comedy series.

    The Marcoli Bunch, maybe. No, that was too sedate. The Seven Screwballs. No, that wasn’t fair to Giovanna—which wasn’t just natural prejudice on Frank’s part. Even Ron would admit that when God had been passing around common sense to the Marcolis, he’d given all of it to the one and only female in the pack. Giovanna and the Six Loose Cannons on the Deck.

    Alas, no. The problem with that title was that it implied that Giovanna was in some sense the captain of the crew.

    Alas, no. The Marcoli males, revolutionary firebrands or not, were every bit as mired in some customs as any Italian. Listen to what the girl says? Nonsense! Practical matters are for men.

    Besides, the title omitted the biggest goof in the bunch—Marius, the handyman. Whatever the Marcolis didn’t mismanage, the hired help would invariably make good the lack.

    Oh, well. Frank went back to his favorite pastime, which was watching Giovanna. She was something to watch, too, scampering around with her usual energy and giving constant advice to her father and uncle and their assorted sons—to which, of course, they paid no attention whatsoever.

    It went well enough until they started to haul out one of the big boxes with the propaganda in it. The boatmen had been about to simply toss them up onto the wharf one by one, two men to a box, but Massimo would have none of it. He had a better idea. He insisted that the whole operation would be smoother and easier if they rigged up a tripod of spars on the wharf and swung a block and tackle off it. They could sway up the boxes onto the wharf without any effort, that way.

    Thus spake Archimedes. And so he and messer Marcoli fell to work, using materials from the boats that were lying around as well as such things as are wont to be found on wharves, even small river wharves like Padua’s.

    Frank stood to one side with Ron while Massimo and messer Marcoli fiddled with their jury-rigged crane. Michel had wandered off somewhere. Giovanna had finally given up trying to inject reason into madness, and had found a seat on a barrel. The barrel was close to Frank, but just far enough away so as not to incite the territorial instincts of her family watchdogs. Had the matter not concerned Frank himself, he would have been mightily amused. No matter how enthusiastically pre-occupied the Marcolis males got with one of their projects, they never got so pre-occupied as not to notice where Giovanna was in relation to Frank. It was downright weird—as if they possessed some kind of automatic daughter navigation radar.

    They were never nasty about it, he had to admit. By their own light, he supposed, they could even be considered tolerant. They did not object to Giovanna sitting next to Frank at the dinner table, and never made any attempt to look under the table to see if their daughter and her enamorata were playing footsie. (Which, they invariably were. By now, Frank’s ankles were almost callused.) Nor did they object if she and Frank held hands whenever there was the slightest excuse for them to do so—such as helping Giovanna negotiate a street she had been walking since she was two years old. They didn’t even object when Giovanna kissed Frank every time he left—although, after enough time had passed, comments would be made. Jocular ones, initially, rising steadily in serious timber thereafter. Frank and Giovanna had learned exactly how long they could maintain the kiss before Antonio would rise huffily to his feet.

    They even made earthy jokes about the matter in Frank’s presence—so long as Giovanna wasn’t around to hear them. On one occasion, they’d been repairing the printing press and had had to fit a new drive shaft into its appointed slot. It proved difficult to get it in, as was often the case when mating a brand-new part to a used one. The Marcolis had lightened the burden with fifteen minutes worth of ribaldry on the subject of how much more difficult it would be to mate two brand-new parts together—especially in the dark. Grinning at Frank the whole time. Frank’s ears were red by the end of it.

    They were, in truth, nice people. But they had their customs, and that was that. They weren’t prudes about sex, they just set certain limits. By now, Frank was quite sure that if he proposed to Giovanna her family would agree instantly. Enthusiastically, in fact.

    And... he was almost there. In truth, he would have done so already except that the prospect of having the Marcolis as his in-laws was just that little too daunting to accept yet. Especially when they were on the eve—no, not even that, anymore—of undertaking what was probably one of the screwiest stunts Frank had ever heard of. The Marcolis Go to Rome.

    A little flurry of shouts broke Frank out of his reverie. The Marcolis were in the middle of hollering orders and advice at each other. Six opinions, not one of which matched. Naturally.

    Frank reflected that in the time Giovanna’s father and his cousin Massimo had spent lashing spars together and rigging the thing up, the boatmen, who were standing in the bottoms of their craft, grinning at this display of lubberly ingenuity, could have heaved up all twenty boxes and been on their way. They were both born engineers, that way. Perhaps the two finest examples in the world of the perils of being an autodidact.

    Naturally, the boatmen had stopped work to watch the fun. Frank was suitably embarrassed on messer Marcoli’s behalf, although Antonio himself didn’t seem to notice the grins, nudges, and sly chuckles he was getting from the peanut gallery down on the water. Giovanna just watched with cool disinterest. Frank was getting good at reading her expressions, and this one said Papa will grow bored of this game soon, don’t worry.

    That was the other thing that made Frank still hesitate. On most subjects, Giovanna was a level-headed girl. Well, as level-headed as a girl just turned eighteen ever gets, anyway. But that was still more level-headed than Frank himself, half the time, he’d cheerfully admit. The problem was that Giovanna’s good-humored sanity seemed to come to an abrupt halt when it reached that border which she and her beloved father both called The Revolution.

    It wasn’t the ideology that bothered Frank. Except for an occasional curlicue or excess here and there—he didn’t think demanding that the church melt down all its gold—the artwork, too?—and distribute it to the poor was really such a great idea—Frank shared most of it himself. Hardly surprising, of course, since the core of the ideology came from the American up-timers in the first place. It was just that...

    Did they have to be so impractical about everything connected to politics? Look at Mike Stearns, for Pete’s sake. He was probably even more radical than the Marcolis, in lots of ways. But that never stopped him from being as canny and slick as you could ask for. Alas, in the Marcoli lexicon, the word tactics seemed to be a synonym for unthinkable.

    “Done!” Marcoli shouted, dumping Frank back into the here-and-now. Marcoli and Massimo had spent some minutes pulling on things and, in the finest tradition of pioneer engineers since the dawn of time, kicking at the spars and lashings to make sure they were secure. Massimo sat on the back leg of the tripod to weigh it down. At a word from messer Marcoli, one of the boatmen put the hook of the lower block under the sling of a stack of boxes.

    “Marius!” Marcoli called, beckoning his handyman to come help pull.

    Frank and Ron looked at each other, amused. They’d noticed before that whatever Marcoli’s pretensions to liberty and equality, he invariably stuck Marius rather than one of his own sons or Massimo’s with the worst of the grunt work. Not that Marius wasn’t eminently suited to the lifting and moving of heavy objects. That was just about all he could be relied on for. And at that you had to watch him carefully. It wasn’t just that the poor guy was on the dimwitted side. He also tended to be watching a completely different channel to most everyone else, most of the time.

    And, of course, he was strong as an ox.

    Antonio Marcoli shouted “Pull!”

    Marius pulled. The boxes shot into the air.

    Now, Massimo had paid attention to his Archimedes. He’d figured out where to sit so as to balance the boxes exactly. What he hadn’t counted on was having the leg of the crane he was sitting on, left loose as it was, suddenly jerk under him like a spooked mustang. He also hadn’t counted on this happening without sufficient warning. He really, really, hadn’t counted on losing his balance.

    His weight came off the spar, the spar shot into the air, and, in a neat demonstration of angular momentum, inertia, and slapstick comedy, Massimo was turned end-for-end in the air and landed head-first on the cobbles. Meanwhile, the boxes swung on the end of the tackle and plunged into the water between boat and wharf. Marius, ordered to pull on the rope, kept trying to do so—instead of just being sensible and letting go. All that he accomplished was being slammed into his boss’ back. Marius fell, still holding the rope, and sent Antonio Marcoli flying into the water.

    There was a thud down below, and then a splash. Frank ran over. “What happened?” he called down into the boats,

    “The messer hit the boat and then fell in!” came the reply. They were fending their boats away from the wharf, peering into the water.

    Frank looked. No sign of messer Marcoli. There! Bubbles were rising. He looked again. Perhaps three feet to the water. He sat on the wharf, pulled off his boots, and let himself down into the river.

    And was brought up short with a jar. It was only three feet deep! Frank felt around in the brown and turbid water and—there! He grabbed a handful of clothes and heaved. Marcoli came up, flailing and gasping, wild-eyed and obviously stunned. He coughed once, twice, and then began to retch. Frank tried to turn him over, put himself under, and then stood up with an arm under Marcoli, letting him throw up what looked like a gallon and a half of the Brenta’s finest mud.

    And then a groan. Frank tried to help Marcoli to a standing position, and was rewarded with a choked-off half-scream.

    “My leg!” Marcoli screeched. He drew in a ragged breath between gritted teeth. “Broken, I think.”

    Frank looked up. The rest of the Marcolis were still standing on the wharf. Frank realized that he’d moved faster than all of them. A fact that was not, he was pleased to see, lost on a radiantly smiling Giovanna.

    He shoots, he scores!

    That was habit, though, more than anything else. Whatever else Frank had to worry about in the world, gaining Giovanna’s approval was no longer one of them. He knew damn good and well that if he proposed to her she’d say “yes” before he even finished the sentence. She’d told him so. Three times already.

    Still, it was hard not to crow with glee. Saved by the bell! He was sorry messer Marcoli had gotten hurt, of course, and hoped the injury wouldn’t be too serious.

    Just serious enough to scuttle this whole crazy expedition. That’s all Frank asked for. By nightfall, Gerry would have found their dad. Whatever his quirks, Tom Stone just had a naturally calming influence on the people around him. Between him and the leader of the pack being laid up with a busted leg...

    What could go wrong?



    By the time they finally got Antonio Marcoli into a bed at the inn they’d be staying at that night, Gerry was back.

    “Dad’s gone. He and Madga both. Got called back to Venice.” The youngest of the three Stone brothers looked miserable. “I can’t believe it. We must have passed them on the river, going the other way. Nobody even noticed.”

    Frank sighed and ran fingers through his air. “All right. Bad luck, that’s all. Look at it this way. Every project gets its fair share of bad luck. So we just got ours. From here on...”

    He couldn’t finish the sentence. It was too asinine, under any circumstances, much less these.

    Combine The Marcoli Bunch with “project” and you just automatically raised bad luck by an order of magnitude. By now, Frank was pretty sure that was a law of nature.

    “That may be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say,” mused Ron.

    “I know,” said Frank glumly. “Best I could come up with.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image