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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Forty

       Last updated: Friday, April 2, 2004 04:16 EST



    Blinking in the sunlight, Frank Stone turned to look at where the shouting was coming from. Although it was well into the spring, the sun was still low in the sky at mid-morning. Some of that blinking was fatigue, too. He’d gotten very little sleep in the day and half since Antonio Marcoli and Massimo’s accident. Frank and his brothers had been as quiet as they could, sitting nervously in the next room as the doctor who’d been called out for messer Marcoli and his cousin Massimo had done his work on the injured men.

    They’d had no choice. The problem was that every medic in this town would know the name Stone, and be sure to ask after them. Their dad had been the star lecturer at the university here for weeks now. The Marcolis had expected only to pass the one night and be out of town with the dawn; and here they were, still debating the difference between asses and elbows.

    The noise was Salvatore and Dino chest-to-chest screaming at each other. They were both soccer-mad, and with more than just the zeal of recent converts. They had the zeal of Marcolis. They’d been playing a little one-on-one up and down the street outside the inn, where they were all waiting for Roberto, Marius and Fabrizzio to get back with the wagons they were going to be using for the next stage of the expedition.

    And... now they were about to start brawling in the street. Frank took a moment to bring down a silent curse on the entire Marcoli clan, with the sole exception of Giovanna. Then, hurried toward them.

    “Guys! Guys! Knock it off, okay? We’ve got enough problems already.”

    Both began a blustering explanation of how it was the other guy, and then trailed off, looking past Frank.

    Frank looked round. It was Michel.

    “Frank is right,” Michel said. Somehow, he had chill pouring off him like an open freezer. When he wanted to be, Michel could be a damn scary customer. Dino and Salvatore nodded meekly and scurried off.

    Frank turned away, sighing. “Thanks, Michel.”

    His face must have been a picture. “I, too, worry,” said Ducos. “We are about a desperate and dangerous business, and such as this is cause for great worry.”

    Frank nodded gloomily. “If I didn’t know we were being chased, I’d give up now.”

    Michel clapped him on the shoulder. “Courage, mon brave. We can surely not have been missed until late yesterday, and no pursuit will be properly on its way until today. If we are vigilant, we will see any assassins on our trail before we are struck.”

    “Assassins?” Frank’s stomach churned. “You think so?”

    “It comes as naturally to Venetians as hiring a gondolier, especially to their Council of Ten. The Spanish as well.” The narrow face creased with something you might call a smile if you were inclined to be charitable. “And so, to be perfectly honest, my own French.” Michel held up his heavily bandaged right hand in the way of rueful proof.

    Frank had a vivid mental image of some Venetian senator at a big desk somewhere, barking orders to kill someone into one phone and for an anchovy pizza into another. The image wasn’t improved by Michel’s next words.

    “The creature that did for Monsieur Buckley is almost certain to be the closest one on our heels.”

    Frank shivered. Having poor Joe murdered back in Venice was bad enough. The thought that the murderer or murderers would be chasing after them across all Italy...

    “Do we, uh, do we need to change our travel plans then?” he asked uncertainly. “I mean, we’re taking the main road to Rome, after all.”

    Michel rubbed his chin with his uninjured left hand, pondering briefly. “There is reason in what you suggest. In fact...”

    Another ponder, before the hand came away from the chin and clenched into a decisive fist. “Yes! We should change our route! There will certainly be ample opportunity for the assassins of the Inquisition and of the Council of Ten to lie in wait for us on the road to Florence. We should take a less obvious route. Well thought out, Monsieur Stone! Perhaps the route by way of Ravenna?”

    “You know the way?”

    Ducos shook his head. “Not as such, no. I had to deal with maps and the like when I worked for the embassy, but I have no clear memory of the roads as they are in Italy.”

    “Maybe messer Marcoli will know?”

    “Better yet, he almost certainly has a map,” Michel said. “Let us consult with him.”



    Antonio Marcoli looked better than he had the night before, that was for sure. He was sitting up in bed in his room in the inn, being tended to by his daughter. Frank had his usual moment every time he caught sight of Giovanna—warmth; tenderness; okay, yeah, sheer lust too—seeing his girl play the ministering angel for her poor hurt daddy.

    Damn, I love her. If only—

    He shook the hopeless thought away, and looked around. Massimo was lying in another bed, still out cold. He seemed to be breathing normally, though. In fact, he was more than breathing normally, he was snoring. At least the Paduan doctor who’d attended Massimo also the night before hadn’t done any actual harm. Frank had been worried about that, from all the stories he’d heard of the standards of seventeenth century medicine. But, according to Giovanna, the doctor had never even mentioned using leeches.

    “How’s Massimo?” Frank asked.

    “He rests,” Giovanna said. “He was awake a little while ago, while you were outside. He had some bread and some water, and went back to sleep.”

    “Uh, okay,” Frank said, although he was troubled a little. Weren’t you supposed to keep concussion victims awake? But he didn’t really have a clue. Sharon Nichols would know, but she was left behind in Venice. He hoped she was okay, but then the embassy had guards and that old Spanish guy she was seeing a lot of lately—for reasons that Frank couldn’t begin to fathom—seemed to be able to handle himself.

    Maybe they should send Massimo back to the embassy? He decided to see what messer Marcoli thought.

    “Maybe we could ask the embassy for asylum or something, for Massimo? I mean, he’s not going anywhere like that. They could get medical help, proper up-time medical help that is. I mean, they wouldn’t want to help with the Galileo business, but they’d keep Massimo safe while he gets better.”

    Marcoli digested that for a moment. Then, mournfully: “It is not just Massimo who will be going no further.”

    Frank nodded. And then realized what that meant. “We’re not going back to Venice, are we?” he asked, incredulous.

    Venice... with its assassins and murderers and inquisitors and who knew what-all else. Not to mention having to face the wrath of Magda without having pulled off the rescue first. Getting reamed out and then assassinated was bad enough; getting reamed out and then assassinated after having failed was just about the most awful prospect he could imagine. He dwelt a moment on the memory of one of Magda’s more impressive ass-chewings, multiplied it about tenfold, and realized he was less scared of the assassins than he was of his stepmom, right at the moment. It was all he could do not to smile at the thought of standing in the street and shouting out who he was so that the assassins would get to him first.

    Marcoli interrupted his flight of whimsy. “No, of course not!” he said, sounding quite indignant. “Galileo must still be rescued! You must go on without Massimo and me.” He sighed deeply. “The doctor, he said that there was a risk I might lose the leg without the hygiene your father taught, and I should stay here and keep clean.”

    That nearly set Frank off again. His dad had included lectures on aseptic technique, that he did remember. There had been a strong smell of grappa—the stuff was a pretty good antiseptic, even if drinking it took the lining out of your stomach—while the doctor had been working. And it seemed they were taking no chances with how far you had to go with it, either. As well as setting and splinting the bone, the doctor had insisted that Marcoli be washed all over and put to bed in freshly-laundered linen. The bed bath, Frank decided, probably wouldn’t do any harm and would help keep his temperature down. Dad’s teaching hadn’t been even close to comprehensive, but basic sick care had been a must, living as they did on a commune with no health insurance.

    Frank was no judge, but he didn’t think Antonio Marcoli had suffered a very serious break. Just bad enough to keep him off his feet for a while, following any kind of intelligent medical regimen.

    Frank realized it was turning into a long, uncomfortable silence. “What do we do, then?”

    Another long silence.

    Marcoli took a deep breath, and looked Frank firmly in the eye.


    “Messer Stone,” he said, giving the name a portentous roll to it. “You must lead the rescue of Galileo.”

    Somber, it was. The tone of a man reading a death sentence, Frank thought. How did they execute people in Italy nowadays, anyway?

    Was there any limit to folly?

    But all he could manage was:

    “Uh. Me?”



    “What is it, Lieutenant Trumble?” Sharon asked, doing her level best to keep irritation and exasperation out of voice. Since the operation the day before, Ruy’s condition seemed to be stabilized for the moment. But she was still gnawed with deep fear—somewhere in the corner of her brain the words peritonitis! peritonitis! peritonitis! wouldn’t stop gibbering at her—and in no mood to be called to the embassy’s front entrance to settle some kind of squabble with—


    She cleared her throat. “Good morning, Your Eminence.”

    Just beyond the door, Cardinal Bedmar gave Billy Trumble a triumphant little glance. “And good morning to you as well, Signora Nichols. I have come to inquire about my servant, Ruy Sanchez. I have been given to understand that you intend to keep him here at your embassy.”

    Been given to understand, Sharon thought sourly. That was spook-speak for my spies tell me.

    On the other hand, she could understand why the special ambassador from the Spanish Netherlands would be concerned at discovering that his top spy was now residing under the roof of a foreign nation’s embassy. All the more so when that nation was at war with his own—and, by the latest reports, the war was heating up rapidly.

    “Yes, he is here.” A sudden impulse swept over her. Probably undiplomatic as all hell, but...

    Oh, she just couldn’t resist.

    “Indeed,” she said firmly. “After an extended and relentless campaign—a veritable Champion of Lust, that man—Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz has finally succeeding in worming his way into my bed.”

    She pressed the back of her wrist again her forehead; the gesture was as flamboyantly histrionic as anything Ruy himself might have done. “I fear I was taken completely off-guard. The flatteries, the flowers—certainly the plying with wine—all that I expected. But I had not foreseen that the man would stoop so low as to take a sword in the guts. That duplicitous stratagem succeeded where all others had failed. I fear my reputation is now ruined.”

    Sharon was immensely proud of herself. She’d kept a straight face all the way through.

    The old cardinal smiled thinly. “Yes, indeed. The man is amazingly stubborn and persistent. He’s driven me to the edge of madness with it, at times.”

    But the smile didn’t extend to the eyes. Sharon suddenly realized that Bedmar was a very worried man.

    “Signora... please.” The Spanish ambassador swallowed. “Ruy and I go back many years together. I would know how he is. Please.”

    Sharon found herself swallowing a lump. However the relationship between Bedmar and Sanchez had gotten started, and whatever its formal nature, she understood in that moment something she should have understood simply from knowing Ruy himself. Ruy Sanchez, ruthless as he might be, was no Michel Ducos. And Bedmar was no Seigneur le Comte d’Avaux, who would treat his most trusted agent and bodyguard as a mere lackey.

    “My apologies, Your Eminence,” she murmured. Then, stood aside and motioned with her hand. “Please, come in. I’ll take you to him immediately. He’s awake now. Was, at least, when I left him two minutes ago.”

    As they moved through the salon leading to the great central staircase, the cardinal gave Sharon a sidelong look. “Did you really put him in your own bed?”

    “Yes. It’s a good bed—one of the best in the embassy—and I can easily manage in one of the Stone boys’ rooms. He is absent at the moment.” She decided not to mention that the Stone kids seemed to have all decamped on some hare-brained scheme. Bedmar probably already knew, but...

    She hurried past the problem. “I’ll be spending most of my time in that room anyway, except when I’m actually sleeping. It’s big and I’m used to it, so... it just seemed like the best place to put him.”

    She saw no reason to mention the confusing swirl of emotions that had been involved in the decision also. Listen to your woman! she’d screamed at the man, less than two days before, in what could quite literally be called the heat of action.

    Had she meant it? She still didn’t know herself. Looking back, she could see that it had been, tactically, exactly the right thing to say to get Ruy out of her line of fire. And that’s still the party line, she told herself firmly.


    She hadn’t been thinking tactically at all, at the moment she said it. They had just been words, boiling up out of a cauldron of fear and fury. In vino veritas, the old saying went. In wine there is truth. Could the same be said of adrenalin?

    She didn’t know; wasn’t even prepared to think about it now. What she did know was that Ruy Sanchez could quite possibly be dead very soon. That bed was, perhaps, the last bed he would ever sleep in. So had come the decision, as of its own volition, just like the words she’d screamed.

    If that was to be Ruy Sanchez’s last bed, then it would be hers. Even if it had never been put to its accustomed use between man and woman. He would still die in it.

    And, on the plus side, it might help keep the pestiferous man alive. Most doctors and all nurses understood that a cheerful patient—especially a sanguine one—had a better chance of surviving serious illness than one who was morose and gloomy. Finding himself in Sharon’s own bed when he came out of anesthesia had certainly seemed to pick up Sanchez’s spirits.

    Old goat.

    The first victory! Then had come the inevitable stroking of the mustachios. Now I must only persuade the slippery woman to get back into her own bed. An interesting twist...

    Bedmar seemed to understand at least some of what was involved. As they moved up the stairs, he gave her another sidelong glance. “It seems important to tell you that Ruy Sanchez has spoken of you many times.” The cardinal’s old lips thinned. “Sometimes to the point of sheer tedium. For me, if not him. But he has—never once—told me anything of what, ah, you might call his amatory success.”

    Bedmar shook his head. “He is something of peculiar man, you know. Where others would lie in order to boast before their fellows, he would—ha!” He gave Sharon an almost gleeful cock of the head. “Do you know that—just five days ago—I had to drag him away from a levee lest he challenge one of these Venetian merchants to a duel? The man had offended him by making sly innuendos complimenting Sanchez on his success in bedding you.”

    Sharon’s eyed widened. “You have got to be kidding. Ruy was going to fight a guy”—she grimaced, now having seen what a Ruy Sanchez fight looked like—”because he assumed that Ruy had seduced me? Which, in point of fact, is exactly what Ruy has been trying to do these past many weeks.”

    “Oh, indeed.” Bedmar barked a laugh. “And they make jokes about we Castilians and our touchy honor! I sometimes think a proper Catalan would take offence at the movement of the heavenly bodies, did the mood take him. Challenge the moon to a duel. Rise before dawn to meet it sword in hand. And then accuse the moon of cowardice and dishonor when it refused to appear on the chosen ground.”

    Sharon shook her head. “You may well be right. I don’t know. Ruy is the only Catalan I’ve ever met, so far as I know.”

    They’d reached the door to her bedroom. Sharon opened it and ushered the cardinal in.

    Ruy was lying in the bed, glaring at the window.

    “You malingering bastard,” growled the cardinal. “And who gave you permission in the first place to go pick a fight on behalf of these heretics? Who are also, I might remind you, our king’s mortal enemies. For the moment.”

    “Never mind that,” Sanchez growled. “Spanish kings change enemies as often as they change clothes, and you know it as well as I do.”

    He pointed an accusing finger at the window. “Something’s going out there! What is it? I can’t hear well enough because the window is closed.”

    Now he glared at Sharon. “And I can’t get up and look for myself because she told me not to move.”

    Bedmar’s eyes widened. “And you obeyed her?” He turned and gave Sharon a very courtly bow. “My deepest congratulations, Signora. You have succeeded where princes of state and church alike have failed often enough. Ignominiously, at times.”

    Ruy slapped a hand on the bedcovers. “Damnation! What is happening?”

    “Oh, hold your horses,” Sharon snorted, moving toward the window. As she drew near, she realized that Ruy was right. There was some kind of commotion going on out there.

    She hurried a little, the last few paces, to throw open the window. Then, leaned over to look out.

    “Oh, my.”

    “What is it, Signora?” The cardinal had come to stand behind her. Then: “Interesting.”

    He took his head out of the window and looked back at Sanchez. “It will be a bit more difficult to escape this time, I fear. With you in that absurd condition!”

    Sanchez winced. “The Arsenalotti? Again?”

    But Sharon had been listening more closely. And she was probably the only one of the three in the room who could have really followed the—ah, debate—going on below. Most of the exchange between Billy Trumble and his two Marines and the mob gathering outside the embassy was taking place between Billy and his friend Conrad Ursinus. Who, naval officer of the USE or not, seemed to be the leader of the mob.

    Well... not exactly. Leader, perhaps, but also one who was trying to convince his followers to follow him.

    It was her turn to wince. Ursinus really did have an impressive command of the cruder forms of invective. Billy Trumble was no slouch either, come to it.

    “Just stay put, Sanchez,” she commanded. “The gist of what’s happening is that Billy is assuring the crowd that you Spaniards were not complicit in the foul and dastardly and—oh lots of other words—murder of Joe Buckley. Indeed, he is casting some aspersions on the crowd itself—he really shouldn’t use language like that—for their, ah, stupidity is the mildest term he’s used so far, in even thinking so.”

    She pursed her lips for a moment, whistling a little. “Um. That was a particularly unnecessary flourish, I think. Now he’s pointing out to the crowd—mostly in what we’d call four letter terms—that even sorry imbecilic—ah, that last expression refers to incestuous persons—should have enough sense to understand who was really to blame. The more so since the Venetian residents on Murano who came to our aid immediately thereafter will vouch—I’m really cleaning this up a lot, you understand; maybe in another universe I should look into getting a job as a UN translator—that we found evidence planted by Ducos’ agents as well, of course, as having two of the agents themselves now in the custody of the Venetians—although God knows what’s happened to them since—and—”

    She broke off, recoiling from the window as if suddenly splashed by a wave. “Oh, Lord! Now Conrad’s getting into the act—his language really stinks—I wonder if he and Billy set this up ahead of time?—and the gist of what he’s saying, leaving aside about five hundred I-told-you-sos, is that they ought to be heading for the French embassy.”

    The crowd started chanting something. The name “d’Avaux” figured prominently in the chants. Within seconds, the sound of the chants grew dimmer in the distance.

    Sharon closed the window. “And that’s that. I do hope, for his sake, that the Comte has a fast horse.”

    “Sweet it is,” murmured Bedmar. He took three little prancing steps. “I could die now, happily. That stinking Frenchman, on the run!”

    Ruy shared none of his glee. Again, he slapped the bedcovers. “Curse you, woman! I want to watch.”

    “You don’t move, Sanchez,” she hissed. “You don’t even think about it.”

    Bedmar, grinning, plunked himself on the bed next to Ruy. “So, Ruy, tell me. How were you so foolish as to let”—he pointed a finger at Sharon—”that Gorgon, that Medusa, that black demoness from the Pit, inveigle you into her bed?”

    “She tricked me,” Ruy insisted. “It was most foully done. Lured me into an ambush, the witch.”

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