Since this book should be available now, this is the last snippet.
1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 50
Boss-man was an earl? Named O’Neill? The earl of Tyrone? But what the hell was he doing in Rome? Wasn’t he supposed to be commanding a tercio for– ?
“My men: where are they?” said O’Neill. It wasn’t a request. Even though the earl of Tyrone was looking down the barrel of a twelve-gauge shotgun, it was still a demand.
Harry waggled the gun a bit. “Do you know what this is?”
“Aye. And do you know how much shite you’re standing in this very moment?”
Lefferts smiled. “You have a point there. We hadn’t planned on stopping in, certainly not for this long. But when all the good father’s guards went rushing outside to the cistern, it was easy enough to slip in, sneak through the pantry, and find our way here.”
“Where you hoped to discover what?”
“Our friends. Or someone who might know something about them. Like you, maybe, Earl of Tyrone. So tell me, are you the mastermind in charge of intelligence operations for Borja, by any chance?”
That query produced the most unusual — and uncomfortable — reactions yet. Wadding tried, unsuccessfully, to conceal his surprised smile; John O’Neill, seeing it, flushed hot red. For a moment, the tense, armed stand-off in the room became secondary to what felt to Harry like an up-time reality TV moment, where one family member revealed the other’s faults in front of total strangers. So John O’Neill isn’t a mental giant or a spymaster. Brave, though: damned brave. Well, no reason to leave him embarrassed, Harry —
“Okay, I get the picture: you’re not the guy we’re looking for. Which is more than fine by me. Hell, too much thinking spoils a man of action, eh, Your Earlship?”
The change this brought over O’Neill was nothing short of miraculous. The pugilistic stance and pugnacious expression evaporated. “Right enough. Now look, I’ve got little time as it is, and Father Wadding here needs to come with me for his own good, so I’d best –”
“Whoa, whoa. Slow down there. Last I heard, the good Father doesn’t want to go with you.”
“Perhaps,” said another voice, accented similarly to John O’Neill’s “but you’ll not be involved in the decision one way or the other. And be very careful as you turn — you and all your men.”
Harry obeyed, turning carefully. He discovered that no less than six soldiers, in buff coats and capelline helmets similar to the earl’s, had eased silently into the rectory’s antechamber. They had evidently entered through the doorway leading out into the small arboretum that was tucked against the building’s north side. They were all carrying what looked like primitive, oversized pepperbox revolvers; about half of them were aimed at him. And Harry thought:
Well, this sucks.
Owen Rowe O’Neill tried to make sense of what he was seeing: one of John’s escorts — big Synnot, no less — had been disarmed by the newcomers, hastily bound, and left behind like a sack of potatoes in the antechamber. These newcomers were obviously not Spanish, but then again, they were not obviously anything. They were deployed like soldiers, or raiders, but they evinced no uniformity of equipage whatsoever. Except, that is, the up-time weapons they were all holding. And these firearms were not the exorbitantly priced and notoriously unreliable copies that were as obvious as they were rare. These up-time guns were the real business, from the look of them. But that implied — no, no time for hypothesizing.
“You.” Owen jabbed the muzzle of his pepperbox at the youngish fellow who seemed to be the leader of the newcomers. “Why are you here? Be quick in answering; the guards will be back soon enough.”
“They are here already, Señor,” amended a new voice, in English, but with a heavy Spanish accent. “Drop your weapons. All of you.”
Owen and his Wild Geese turned. Standing wide-legged and with a clear field of fire upon both groups of intruders, was a young Spanish officer flanked by two guards, all with guns out and ready. They had evidently followed along right behind Owen and his men over the front grounds and through the small arboretum.
Owen calculated. If he rushed the Spanish, his own men would certainly have time to take cover and then their pepperboxes would carry the day, at this range. If he was less suicidally minded, Owen might live by dropping flat, but then some of his own men would surely get cut down, possibly leaving the newcomers in charge of the situation. And if he waited —
Spaniard lifted his snaplock pistol impatiently: “Señores, I will have either your weapons, or you, on the ground — now. Juan, inform Sergeant Juarez that we have discovered a plot to –”
A hint of movement — a tall, stealthy figure — flitted up to the rear of the young Spanish officer, who must have seen the quick shift of focus in Owen’s eyes; he spun.
Or tried to. Behind the triad of Spaniards, the wraithlike form resolved into a man, up-time pistol already hovering at the rear of one guard’s head. There was sharp report, then, as the gun re-angled slightly, another report. The first man had barely started falling as the second bullet exited the young officer’s skull just above his ear, a jet of blood tracing the projectile’s trajectory.
The second guard, his rifle turning through a longer arc, had almost completed spinning about when another weapon spoke twice from farther down the arboretum’s path. The last of the three Spaniards doubled up around the first slug, and slumped over limply when hit by the second.
The unseen gunman emerged from the concealment of the arboretum’s vines. But no, Owen realized: it wasn’t a gun man.
It was a gun woman. The realization of which made Owen’s jaw sag.
Sherrilyn almost grinned when she saw the look on the faces of the pepperbox-armed gang that had sneaked in just ahead of them. “Keep those hands up, mister,” she said to the one who had been talking. “Same goes for your pals.”
“Eh?” he answered.
Thomas North pushed past the still-stunned down-time leader, nine-millimeter pistol secured in both hands as he moved quickly to link up with the rest of the Crew and Harry —
— Who sounded genuinely grateful. “Well, Thomas, you sure are a sight for sore –”
“Make your apologies, later, Harry. Right now, we –”
“Hey, I wasn’t apologiz –!”
“Well, you should be. First things first: what the bloody hell is going on here?”
Sherrilyn waved Felix and Gerd — whom they’d met just south of the rendezvous site — toward the guns of the nine buff-coated intruders: Irishmen, from the sound of them. As the two of them collected the weapons and held the Irish at gunpoint, Sherrilyn joined the group clustered around the door into the rectory.
Things had gone deadly quiet as soon as Thomas had opened his mouth. The other Irish fellow in the rectory — medium-sized, built square and deep in the chest, but light in the hips and legs — was looking at Thomas as if he had just devoured a newborn infant. “Feckin’ sassenach. Of course. Here with some up-time mercenaries to assassinate Father Luke, using the chaos of the moment to sneak in and kill ‘im.”
For a moment, the whole Wrecking Crew was speechless. “What?” Sherrilyn finally squawked, “What the hell is he talking about?”
But the Irishman wasn’t finished. “Well, yeh bastards, you’ve put your foot in it now. Drop your weapons or I’ll call the rest of the Spanish on you so fast that –”
Harry didn’t shout often, but when he did, it was a sharp, cutting baritone: “Shut up! Those gunshots have called the Spanish better than you could have. Now, the way I figure it, we’ve got maybe ten seconds. So hear this: I don’t know what the hell a sassenach is, but I’m here on orders from the USE. And I’m not here to kill the priest. Hell, I don’t even know who he is. But you want him out? Fine by me. Because right now, if we don’t work together, we’re all going to die together.”
The irate Irish earl frowned more deeply but looked less homicidal. On the other hand, at the arctic rate his mood was changing —
“Agreed!” barked the other Irish leader, the taller one who had been in Sherrilyn’s sights. “We work together, leave together, sort it out afterwards.”
“Done,” said Harry —
— Just as the first of the Spanish came charging in through the same doorway that Harry had used, the one that led back to the staff quarters and the kitchen in St. Isidore’s annex.