1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 47
“A classic, that one.” Harry beamed at the walls in happy reminiscence.
“Yes, the talk of Europe. Which unfortunately, may be hurting us now.”
“Well, commando teams are useful, in large measure, because they are covert. Covert, as in unseen and unknown.”
Harry frowned. “I guess I see your point. We’re not exactly an unknown quantity.”
“Harry, I think it might be worse that that. It’s possible that whoever is running the show on the other side of the curtain may have made a study of your methods. Let’s ignore your technological edge, for a moment. None of your strikes to date could be pulled off without a great deal of advance reconnaissance. That means you, or your agents, observe a target before you strike, often for a long time. That means you are in your area of operations well before you drop the hammer.”
Harry nodded. “And so, the guy running the show for the Spanish today put out Frank and Giovanna as bait, figuring that even if he didn’t know where we were, that we’d be somewhere close by, probably watching. Maybe being tempted to do something stupid.”
Thomas nodded. “That’s the gist of it.”
The Crew, sans George and Juliet, had been silent throughout the quick council of war that had been summoned on the rooftop. It was Donald Ohde who looked out over the half-classical, half-ramshackle Roman cityscape. “So do we know anything else?”
Sherrilyn had taken another quick, four-points-peek with her binoculars. “The coaches are moving pretty slowly, except the one that went north on Strada Felice in the direction of the Pincio.”
“Toward the old embassy and the Palazzo Barberini,” nodded Harry.
“Yeah. They’re moving at a pretty good clip. Juliet’s kids are not going to keep up with that one. Besides, the farther north they go, the more sparse the crowds and the houses. The kids are going to start sticking out more, particularly when they have to start running to keep up. And they’ve been told not to be obvious, so I think we have to assume that they’ll stop following that coach any minute now.”
“Does that coach seem to be in more of a rush than the others?” Thomas could hear the predatory anticipation in Harry’s tone.
Sherrilyn shrugged. “Hard to tell. Maybe they are. But it might just be that there’s a whole lot less traffic out there. So it might be that those Spanish want to move faster, or simply that they can move faster.”
Donald Ohde nodded. “And the other coaches?”
“I’ve lost sight of the two that went south and west.”
“Any guess where they might have been headed?”
Sherrilyn consulted her map: a tangled composite of modern and recent cartography. “The first one which turned off the Via Recta could follow along the Strada papale, or might be making for the Ponte Sisto, and over the river into the Trastevere district. It’s a rat-warren over there. The one that went south — that’s even harder to say: maybe toward the Forum, maybe toward the new palazzi north of the Jewish ghetto, maybe all the way to Isola Tiberina. Again, a maze.”
Harry nodded thoughtfully. “And the closer one that went north?”
Sherrilyn raised her binoculars in that direction. “Still on the Corso, moving slowly.”
“And the kids got chased away from that one?”
“Yeah, the outriders seemed to assume that our kids were beggar urchins, trying to trail along and stick out their palms at the quality when they finally got wherever they were going. So we’ll have no way to know if that’s the one carrying Frank and Giovanna.”
Thomas cleared his throat. “I would make one addition to Ms. Maddox’s summation. We cannot actually be sure that Frank and Giovanna are in any of the coaches. Our informer in the Spanish command indicated that this transfer was taking place, and we have certainly observed movement consistent with a transfer. But how do we know — know for sure — that, in the end, the hostages really have been relocated? Or that they were conveyed to a new prison by one of the four coaches? As far as we know, they could have been sealed in an old barrel being removed for disposal from a rear entrance.”
Harry nodded. “Okay. That makes it imperative we get a pair of eyes on each of the coaches we can still see to follow. So we’ve got to put a new tail back on the northbound coach. The same goes for the one that’s headed for the Pincio along the Strada Felice. We’ve at least got to have someone trail them in an attempt to determine — even if it’s after the fact — where they deposited their passengers. If they’ve got passengers, that is.”
Donald shouldered his gear. “Right. Teams?”
“Juliet stays behind here. The kids will eventually return and make their reports on the southerly wagons, and they’ll all want their quatrines. And she’ll need to set up some occasional watches on wherever those southbound coaches dropped off their passengers.”
“I’ll tell the missus.” George started down the stairs.
“Not so fast, George; tell her on the way out.” Harry turned to Thomas. “You, Sherrilyn, and Felix will follow the coach going north along the Corso. When you find where it has stopped, break off, and head east to rendezvous with us one block west of Palazzo Barberini. The rest of us will fall back on that point as soon as we’ve finished following the coach heading toward the Pincio along the Strada Felice.”
“They’ve got a long head start on you, and that’s quite a walk.” Thomas considered the manpower in each group. “Why so many people in your group, Harry?”
“Because” — and Lefferts started shouldering his own gear — “I’ve got a funny feeling about that coach heading to the Pincio. There isn’t a lot up there.”
“So, they must have anticipated that that one would move faster. And if Frank and Giovanna are in one of those coaches, that’s the one they’d want to make sure we can’t cut off. And oddly enough, the coach heading to the Pincio is the only one of the four that is arguably getting away. I find that –” he turned and smiled like a wolf seeing a lame rabbit ” — suspicious. It could be an opportunity, too. If they get a little too cocky, if they think they’re safe and out of our reach, well, I want most of the Crew’s manpower on hand to take advantage of their mistake.”
Thomas nodded. Yes, that all sounded good, and maybe Harry was right. But on the other hand, Lefferts was counting on the kind of slipup that Thomas doubted their opponent would make. Their unknown adversary seemed too methodical to create a situation in which the hostages would be easily snapped up by the opposition.
“We’re moving.” Harry headed for the stairs. “Now.”
“Are you sure this is the place?” Owen asked in a low voice.
John O’Neill looked up at the second story of the unfamiliar house. “I think so, but I’m not sure. When I was here, students stayed back there.” He waved farther down the street by which they had approached St. Isidore and its college, which was only a small wing added onto the church’s rectory.
O’Neill looked up beyond the steep, flanking steps at the porticoed white façade of the church: two tall openings framed an even taller, wider archway that was in line with the doors. Bordered on three sides by the lush green vegetation of the largely unbuilt Pincio, Luke Wadding’s Irish College looked unchanged from when he had visited it, shortly after its opening ten years ago.
Owen’s voice was still low, but was now worried, as well. “John, we can’t stay here. It’s too open, and we’re too many not to attract attention. Besides, the place is thick with Spaniards.”
John frowned. Thick with Spaniards? Hardly. Well, not so much. But, now that he looked closer, beyond the two at the entry, and the two he’d seen leaning in the shade of the portico’s arches, there were several more that appeared occasionally in the windows of the rectory and annex. Not exactly patrols, or at least not strict ones. Just a continuous presence, moving irregularly through the whole complex.
“Yeh, yeh. I’m cogitating, Cousin.”
“Well, do it quickly, Johnnie. I think we’ve attracted the attention of the guards at the gate.”
“Aye, so we have. Well, there’s nothing else for it then. You stay here. Stay in the house, actually.”
“In this one just behind us?”
“The door is locked.”
“And you’re a mighty fellow. Besides, it seems like classes have been suspended. There’s been no sign of the students who should be running in and out of here, and no fires or domestics preparing dinner. Just wait until I’m distracting the guards at the church’s main gate before you bust into the house.”
“You’re going to distract guards at the main gate? John, what are you going to do?”
“Use the only kind of power these Spanish are likely to understand. Synnot, McEgan: with me.”
“What? John –”
But John was already walking briskly across the Strada Felice, approaching St. Isidore’s along a small side-road from the west. The two morioned Spaniards at the gate exchanged long looks. One of them took a step forward, a hand raised. “Non si puó.” The Spanish guard’s Italian was ragged. “Chiesa chiusa.”