1635: THE CANNON LAW — snippet 90

 

1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 90:

 

 

CHAPTER 34

 

 

Rome

 

            Frank heard Benito coughing in the dawn mist as he trudged along the street to get a look back at the night's work. He'd seen Piero handing around the handrolled cigarettes that Harry Lefferts had made popular, and had thought about trying to issue a health warning. The tobacco that they got downtime was way, way stronger and harsher than Frank remembered from back up time. When he'd thought about it, it had seemed hypocritical . He'd been thinking wistfully about having a smoke himself to calm his nerves and settle his stomach.

 

            Just not of tobacco.

 

            He reached the corner of the next block down from the Committee building, about the furthest away you could stand and actually see it, given how crooked the streets were in Rome. If the  rumors were right, he was standing about where a Spanish soldier would when he first caught sight of it.

 

            So, he thought, I've been marching all day. Maybe had to fight a couple of times getting here. Imagining being tired wasn't hard. He'd gotten an hour or so's nap in just now, and it hadn't done him any good at all. He'd been running himself ragged-assed since yesterday afternoon. Which meant the footsore and pissed-off part wasn't exactly tough to get into either.

 

            Oh yeah, he thought, I'm a jock, too. He hunched forward a little and let his arms hang loose. Knuckles down, to drag on the floor. Enough method acting, he thought, and chuckled to himself.

 

            Right now, the light was in his eyes. The sun wasn't over the roofline yet, but the sky was bright and the morning mist that had come up off the river hadn't burnt away yet. The diffuse and silvery light hurt his eyes and made details hard to pick out. Later on, there'd be early summer glare, and maybe smoke. And maybe we'll make sure there is smoke, he thought. Bound to be someone who can tend a smudge. Me, if no-one else. Not that he'd ever thought that the gardening he'd picked up from his dad would find a use in this kind of situation.

 

            He closed his eyes, counted slowly to ten, and then opened them and tried to make himself really see what was in front of him. He'd tried to remember what the place had looked like when they'd first moved in, all those months ago. They'd done a lot. Frank couldn't remember sleeping much in those first weeks, could remember spending money like water and having workmen in every day. And with enough hands the work had gone fast and come in less than they'd guessed at.

 

            Then we wrecked most of it in one night, he thought, and looking at the facade of the building he could see that they hadn't wasted their time. The yard gate was nailed shut, a couple of baulks on the outside for show and a much stronger reinforcement on the inside. The windows had had all the outside shutters replaced with boards nailed over them, and most of the glass smashed. Soot had been smeared everywhere they could reach—leaving Benito and a couple of guys he'd gotten to help under firm orders from Giovanna to get washed. Like chimney-sweeps. Although that was a real job here and now, even though the sight of one walking down the street made Frank start humming songs from Mary Poppins. The door was ready to be nailed shut as well.

 

            Inside, most of the stock had been hidden on the still-mostly-derelict upper floors, and Dino had thought for about two minutes about how to keep the Spanish from looting the booze and then ripped out the staircase. It had taken him the best part of an hour with a prybar and provided a lot of the scrap timber for the frontage.

 

            Basically, the place didn't look like it was worth looting at all, and inside they'd find pretty much nothing where they could get at it easily. There were plenty of more tempting targets, even if the soldiers strayed into this neighborhood despite richer pickings elsewhere. Hell, even after they'd vandalized it, Frank's place was still in better shape than most of the places around it. A quarter of them were derelict for real.

 

            Doing it had been the toughest call Frank had had to make. The easy choice, the obvious choice, was to take it on the lam and hide out in the sticks for a week or so. That wouldn't have been hard. It was what he'd meant to get everyone organized on when he started back from Sharon's wedding, refusing to run and strolling along with Giovanna on his arm and the rest of the guys trailing after him, taking their cue from him and chatting as they ambled along.

 

            Probably no-one had noticed, but Frank at least figured that anyone who looked would see the revolutionaries fearing nothing while the nobility scurried. When he'd gotten back, though, the reaction of the neighborhood had been weird. Benito and Roberto had been left minding the store, and they were swamped. The place was packed. Well, not packed, but definitely full. It wouldn't have surprised Frank to have everyone go quiet when he walked in and look at him expectantly.

 

            They didn't. It took Frank a while to get around everyone who was there and figure out what was going on, but it boiled down to a fairly simple notion: these were the people who weren't leaving. A few, because it was sheer defiance. Leave on account of a few fucking Spaniards? No way!

 

            For the rest, they simply couldn't leave. Or had no reason to. And they wanted to get together somewhere and try and stay safe. Frank would be the first to admit that he was far from being a highly experienced political organizer, but even he could see that bugging out right now would pretty much doom the Committee in Rome, and harm it everywhere else in Italy.

 

            A straightforward defense—and some of the folks in there were already well in to the wine and talking about barricades—would have been suicide, however. Frank had, precisely once, seen the results of a real battle up close, when he'd been running about as a medical orderly after the battle of Badenburg. And had seen that what it took to stop a tercio was a whole bunch of guys with rifles and a machine gun. And even then, from what he'd heard, they'd sucked it up and kept coming. The amount of firepower they had at the Committee was two pistols, the shotgun, a revolver and whatever collection of rusty antiques the neighborhood managed to turn up. Likely nothing. A decent pistol was pretty much no use at all in a street fight and could be sold for at least a week's food for a family. Or a couple of days' drinking, depending on who was doing the selling.

About Eric Flint

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