1636 The Vatican Sanctions – Snippet 19
“Maleït sigui!” cursed Chimo the Catalan. “I left my loaf in the privy!” He moved hastily toward the door.
Gasquet’s lieutenant, Donat Faur, wasn’t sure he had heard correctly. “You took your breakfast to the shitter?” Chimo shrugged. “Really?” Donat was not squeamish, but imagining that made him feel queasy for a second.
“I was hungry.” Chimo sounded both defiant and abashed. “I still am.”
“Get it. Quickly. You’re supposed to be guarding the door.”
“Okay, okay,” Chimo called as he started down the stairs. “It’s just out back. Not like anyone can come in the building and get up the stairs without me seeing.”
“Just hurry up!” Donat shook his head. “Manel?”
The quieter of the two Catalans looked up. “You want me to watch the door until he comes back?”
“I was cleaning a gun in the workspace.” He glanced toward the small, draped-off area to which they had moved all their weapons and the work table that shielded them from the roof’s many leaks. Manel waited for a reply, wearing his typical hangdog look.
Christ in a whorehouse, are they all dullards? “Well, then go get it and bring it out here. Just be ready to hide it if someone comes.”
Manel nodded, rose, and disappeared behind the drapes. “No one ever comes,” he added softly.
Donat rolled his eyes, went into the small, curtained area that was Gasquet’s room and office, the only place in the attic with a window that provided enough daylight to read comfortably. Only he and Gasquet had learned their letters, and Donat tried to improve his by reading over the messages their handler left in a window box languishing in the perpetual gloom behind L’Anguille Vernie.
Beyond the workspace drapery, Donat heard a thump and a sound like a small cascade of marbles. Now what? “Manel, what the devil did you — ?”
“The balls for the pistols. I knocked them over.”
“Well, leave them be. Watch the door.” Donat muttered, after which he devoted himself fully to deciphering the tightly packed script with which their handler had covered a small sheet of paper.
* * *
Baudet Lamy retreated backward toward the door of the largest ground floor apartment. Although a landlord of some means, he was careful not to antagonize his better tenants, and the widow Coton was one such. Her lawyer husband dead (probably slain by the barbed darts launched by her tongue) and her only child carried off by fever some years later, she was alone in the world and as miserly a soul as had ever wanted redemption. And if her current indignant temper was any measure, her soul wanted redemption more than most.
“I do not know what they are doing up there!” she hissed so loudly that Baudet wondered why she did not just shout it. “But they are moving heavy objects and up at all hours! And constantly coming and going, keeping no schedule appropriate to tradesmen.”
Baudet raised his hands in an attempt at humble placation. “They may not be fully settled in their livelihood, Madame Coton. Indeed, they may not be tradesmen at all, but common laborers, attracted by the new businesses that the pope’s visit has spawned. They may be stockmen, working at all hours, according to the needs or whims of their employers.”
The widow Coton drew up to her full, desiccated height and tried to stare down her nose at him, although being half a foot shorter. “That is not my concern. Their hours are irregular, their habits repulsive, and their use of the latrine vile. I am not even sure they avail themselves of chamber pots, so often can they be found inconveniencing the rest of us by occupying the privy for extended periods. It is probably a result of their irregular hours and constant shuffling and banging: it would put any normal person off their digestion, of that I am quite certain.”
I can think of another tenant’s behavior far more likely to curdle the contents of my stomach, you old prune. “Madame, I shall go upstairs and inquire as to their habits and if they might show more consideration to their fellow tenants.”
Widow Coton’s expression became sly. “You do that, Monsieur Lamy, and while you’re at it, you might count just how many tenants there are in that apartment.”
Lamy forgot about Madame Coton’s vinegary personality and expression. “You mean — their number has increased since they occupied their rooms?”
Madame Coton shrugged histrionically. “I am an old woman, with failing eyes. But I have seen new faces coming and going. Just yesterday, in fact. I would not be surprised if their numbers have increased in the past two weeks.”
Baudet Lamy straightened. Now, this was serious. “I thank you, Madame Lamy. I shall attend to the matter at once.”
Her smile was a horrible thing to see. “I am sure you will.” Her voice was a reedy, cynical coo.
Lamy opened the door to the hall, hearing the rear door to the privy close as he stepped out.
“There goes one of them now,” Madame Coton hissed archly. “Did you not hear him come down the stairs?”
Ears like a bat and a face like a rat; no wonder Monsieur Coton had died an early death. “I did not. I was entirely focused on your concerns. Which I shall now address.” He closed the door with a bow and walked briskly toward the stairs. If her observations were accurate, it was time to set things right, both in terms of the behavior and the rent he had a right to expect from the occupants of the attic.
However, he reflected as he began to climb the stairs, they were all ready and rugged men. It would not do to antagonize them. But after all, there was no need of that. Rooms were at a premium in le Boucle. If they refused to comply with his terms, he could simply shrug and point out that the town council had empowered select men of the watch and militia to intervene in the case of squatters. And then he would leave and let them stew in their own juices.
Winded at the top of the stairs, Lamy raised his hand to knock…but discovered the door ajar. While not in any way illegal — it was a tenant’s right to tempt burglars, if he was willing to pay for the losses — an open door was undignified and created an appearance of carelessness, of disregard for safety and propriety. Well, perhaps a little surprise was in order to startle the occupants back into something like an awareness of civilized decorum —
Lamy pushed open the door enough so that it banged back against the wall.
“Monsieur Gasquet? You are present?”
The attic was so dark that Lamy could not be sure if the cheap bedframes were occupied or not. But it was not Gasquet’s voice that answered him from behind a screened off area which allowed little of the main dormer’s light to enter the room. “No, Monsieur Lamy. It is Donat Faur.” The man sounded surprised. “I am coming.”
On the other side of the room, a silhouette slowly rose from one of the beds.
“Please do and quickly,” Lamy replied, noting another draped area, smaller, off to the right. “I am told that you have had many visitors recently. Perhaps some family who has come to stay with you? If that is the case, they are more than welcome, but we must also increase your rent. There is also the matter of noise and late activity that has disturbed some of your — ”
Sudden movement rustled the drapes of the screened area on the right. The cloth panel closest to Lamy opened, revealing a small dark man he had seen only once before, cradling a wheel-lock pistol. There were several more on the table behind him. As well as swords, daggers, even what looked like some kind of small petard. What on Earth — ?
Donat Faur emerged from the larger screened area at the back of the room, his gaze shooting quickly from the man with the gun to Lamy. He raised his hands slowly. “Monsieur Lamy, I see we will have to take you into our confidence. We are undisclosed agents of the pope’s, here to watch for threats to his life which might arise among the criminal elements — ”
Feet pounded on the stairs behind Lamy, who finally recovered enough from his surprise to be terrified, cold sweat starting out all over his body. As he turned to face the stairs, he was trying to keep from stammering. “Y-yes, of c-course, Monsieur Faur. I am sorry to have incon-convenienced you and your — your men.”
The smallest of the tenants — a little Catalan who, from prior encounters, seemed closer in wit to an idiot than an intelligencer — bounded to the top of the stairs. He frowned, reached behind his back as he glanced over Lamy’s shoulder, in the direction of the man with the gun. His eyes widened slightly. His hand reappeared, clutching a slightly curved dagger.
“No, no!” Faur was almost shouting from behind. From which direction, stealthy footfalls were approaching.
“No?” said the dagger-wielding fellow in surprise. “You mean, he’s going to help us kill the pope, too?”
Shock — at the audacity of that statement — vaporized Lamy’s fear, but only for a moment. Because, he realized, the little Catalan had just uttered his death sentence.
Even before the next wave of cold sweat could start from Baudet Lamy’s pores, he was dead on his feet.
* * *
Donat Faur watched the inevitable transpire with a time-slowed exactitude that, until this moment, he had only experienced during combat.
The moment Chimo uttered the words, “kill the pope,” Brenguier, who had risen from the bed to close in softly behind Lamy, leaped forward, a thin dagger thrust out like a comically short rapier. The couteaux-breche, usually used for slipping between links of mail or through joints in armor, disappeared into the thick folds of flesh where the landlord’s head sat upon his neck: Lamy went limp.
Brenguier had to leave the blade in place in order to get his arms around the stout man’s body, to keep it from crashing to the floor. But while he was still swinging wide his arms to make that catch, Chimo rushed in, slashing a quick figure eight with his knife, his face contorted in what looked like an orgasm of savage ferocity.
The last “no” died in Faur’s suddenly dust-dry throat. He put his hand to his head as Brenguier caught the almost eviscerated man, staring contempt at Chimo. “Idiot,” Brenquier snarled at the little Catalan.
Brenguier huffed out a laugh that was anything but amused. “The idiot wants to know why he’s an idiot. Mon Dieu, where do I start?”
Chimo’s face began contorting back into a mask of animal fury. “Hey — ” he began.
“Enough,” Faur snapped. Prior experience took over and had him uttering orders almost as he conceived of them. “Manel, go get Peyre from his watch point at the head of the street. Close the door behind you and lock it. No, fool; put that damned gun away first! Brenguier, hold Lamy up, but at an angle — yes, leaned back like that. Chimo, pull down those drapes, get them under the body. And yes, Chimo, you are an idiot.”
They worked quietly, getting Lamy’s corpse on the ground, and then getting a small chest under his back; the dead man looked like he was being broken on the wheel by the time they were done.
Chimo, blood spattered on the front of his shirt and coating his arms all the way up to his elbows, sat back and stared. “Why do you have him bent that way?” Peyre came in with Manel, stared at the aftermath, shook his head, and headed toward the bucket they used to fetch water.
Donat sighed. “To keep as much of the blood from collecting near the damn trenches you cut into his chest. We don’t want him to bleed out here.”
Chimo shrugged. “Yeah, well…it’s already a mess.”
Donat leaned forward, hand on his own dagger. “And we don’t need it any messier, you fool. Besides, we’re going to have to plant his body somewhere else, and when we do, it would help for him to have a little blood left in him.” Faur saw the puzzled scowl growing on Chimo’s face and cut off the question before he had a chance to form it. “Wherever we put him, it’s got to look like he was attacked — and died — there. That means blood — lots of blood, considering how you carved him up.”