1636 The Vatican Sanctions – Snippet 20
“Yeah, well — how was I to know that Brenguier had already snuffed him?”
“By taking half a second to look and think before slashing, you idiot,” Brenquier muttered. “The man was already folding over when you started.”
“Yeah, well — that’s my job, you know?”
No one said anything. What, after all, could they say? Other than the obvious: that Chimo truly was an idiot. And that several of them were seriously considering the possibility of dumping two corpses, rather than one. Not out of anger — although that would have been sufficient — but out of self-preservation: given time, Chimo might do something equally stupid. And they might not be able to control the consequences that next time. Assuming they all survived the aftermath of this event.
Peyre, watching the street, said, “Gasquet and Huc are back. I’ll open the door, let them in, head down to get some water.”
“While you’re at it, steal some bedsheets, if any are out drying along the way.”
Peyre nodded, unlocked the door and began descending the stairs just as Donat heard Gasquet starting up. Sounds of downward progress met upward progress: both stopped. Silence, then a few fierce whispers, one muffled curse, and the downward progress resumed. Two seconds later, so did the ascending footfalls.
Gasquet slipped into the room, looked around, and looked away as his expression darkened.
Chimo carefully studied the dirt under his fingernails.
Gasquet gave a quiet order to Huc, who locked the door, stood ready beside it and drew his knife.
Gasquet walked over, looked at the body, at the blood on the drapes and floorboards.
Donat looked at him squarely. “Did Peyre tell you what happened?”
“He told me he wasn’t here, but it’s not hard to figure out. What I want to know is why.”
Donat shook his head. “People weren’t doing their jobs. The person who should have been guarding the door left it open when he went to the privy, and the person who was assigned as his relief didn’t stand his post right away. He was too was busy picking up pistol balls, it seems.”
Chimo and Manel looked like they might fold into themselves and disappear. At least, it looked like that was their intent.
“And you?” Gasquet asked, staring at Faur.
“Reading the most recent messages. Memorizing them.” Which was partially a lie; Donat read them simply to practice his reading. But in doing so, he usually wound up memorizing them, too.
Gasquet looked away. “You’re my lieutenant. You’ve got to keep an eye on things. Personally. Until everyone is where they belong and doing what they’re supposed to be doing. That’s your job.”
Brenguier shifted uncomfortably.
Gasquet’s eyes snapped over to stare at him. “You have something to say?”
“Yes, I do. Donat just about had the situation in hand when the little idiot got knife-happy. Again.”
Chimo darkened. “Listen, you Occitan dog, I should — ”
“Shut up,” Gasquet whispered. “All of you. If Donat had done his job more carefully, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Faur felt his brow and ears grow hot; if Gasquet was going to blame him —
But Gasquet was already moving on. “Neither I nor Donat have the time to make sure you follow every little order. And if you can’t follow simple orders, then I need you to tell me: why should I keep you? What good are you? Because it’s plain to see how much trouble you are.” He stared at Manel then shifted his eyes over to Chimo. His eyes became even harder. After two seconds of silence, he muttered, “I’m waiting. I asked a simple question and I want a simple answer: Why should I keep you?”
Manel cleared his throat. “Because I won’t make that mistake again. I got distracted. By guns. And then I dropped all the bullets. Next time, I’ll put the guns aside. Right away.”
Gasquet leaned down toward the small, dark man. “You put aside anything and everything when you’re ordered to. And you never, ever, get distracted. That could get all of us killed. What you did today might still do that. But I promise you this, Manel: you do it again, and it will get you killed, for sure. By my hand. Do you understand?”
He didn’t wait for a reply; he turned toward Chimo. “So what about you, Chimo? No answer? Because if I don’t get one in the next five seconds, you’re going to the same place we’re taking him later tonight.” Gasquet gestured toward Lamy’s corpse.
Chimo’s answer came out as an angry, confused whine. “But I — I didn’t do anything wrong! Yeah, I left the door open: I won’t do that again. I promise — ”
— which elicited eye-rolling from several of the group; even among thieves and cutthroats, Chimo’s inability to remember, let alone keep, a promise was marked —
” — but Gasquet, you hired me to kill. And I did. Is it my fault Lamy was already dead?”
There was an uncomfortable silence in the room of hardened criminals. If Chimo couldn’t see, or wouldn’t admit to, his actual failures, then the next minute might be his last.
Gasquet looked away, closed his eyes. Donat knew he was deciding. Without opening his eyes, he asked, “Were you ordered to draw your knife?”
“N-no. I’m sorry about that. But I thought — ”
“Don’t think, Chimo. That’s your problem, because you don’t do it well. As a matter of fact, you do it so poorly that, if you’re going to continue to work with us — ”
Translation: “if we decide to let you live”
” — then you have to stop thinking. You just wait for orders. And you obey them. That’s it. Understand?”
“Yes, but I — ”
“Chimo.” Gasquet opened eyes that were devoid of all emotion or expression. “Do you understand?”
He swallowed. “Yes, Gasquet. I understand.”
“Good. Now, get the water and a brush. And the last of our soap. Scrub this floor clean.”
Chimo looked around. “Just me?”
Gasquet turned back to stare at him. “Yes. Just you. You made the mess; you clean it up. Besides, it’s the kind of job you can be trusted with.”
Chimo’s eyes widened, as did his nostrils, but he got up and fetched the bucket and brush.
Gasquet glanced around at the others. “The rest of you: start packing everything up. We’re going to have to find new rooms.”
“New rooms?” Peyre repeated. “How? There aren’t any left in the Buckle, or even — ”
Gasquet shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. We can’t stay here. We’ve got to find a place and move. So we need to be packed and ready.” He motioned for Donat to step behind the dropcloth that marked his private sleeping space.
Once there, he asked a string of practical questions: how much noise had been made? Exactly how long between the time Lamy entered and he was killed? Did he say why he had dropped by on them? Had he said anything suspicious? Acted oddly? Tried to stall for time? Seemed like he wasn’t surprised when he was threatened?
When Gasquet had heard all Donat’s answers, he nodded, rubbed his chin. “Sounds like it was just dumb luck. And all because Chimo left the door open. The idiot.”
Donat looked sideways at him. “You really mean to keep him, or are you just reassuring him until we can dispose of him more — quietly.”
Gasquet shrugged. “The thought did cross my mind, but no, we can’t afford the possible exposure or the loss in manpower. As it is, there aren’t a lot of us to carry out this plan. And anybody that turns up in this city this week is going to be investigated. By up-timers, possibly, or at least with their help. So, for now, we keep Chimo on a leash until we can let him off it to kill the pope.”
“And after that?”
Gasquet let a lopsided grin creep on to his face. “Then it will be time to get rid of our rabid dog. We might have to run pretty quickly and silently once we’re done, and Chimo isn’t clever enough to do either without being led by the hand.”
Donat nodded. “We heard the noise up by the cathedral. Did everything go as planned?”
“Yes. Better. Von Meggen had a leading role in defeating the ‘assassins.’ Took one down with a pretty fair crossbow shot.”
“So Eischoll wasn’t lying about his marksmanship.”
“Any evidence that the pope’s officers find it suspicious that all five of the assassins were killed?”
Gasquet grimaced. “Not as though Sanchez sends me his intelligence reports. But I don’t see why they would be suspicious. The four in the square were torn apart by the Swiss and the crowds. And the one on the Ponte Noire fell to the street when von Meggen shot him, and Eischoll was first on the scene. With his knife. Understandable enthusiasm in protecting the person of the pope. And the crowd followed his example.”
“So no suspicion that it was staged? Not even any investigation into how the crossbowman got atop the Pont Noire?”
“Why would there be? The ladder was still there, on the ground. I just had Huc tip it over.” Gasquet smiled. “You should have seen that crossbowman when he saw that the ladder had fallen: stopped like he’d run into a wall. But as far as Sanchez and his minions are concerned, it was just a lucky mishap that prevented him from making good his escape.”
Gasquet sighed. “And now we clean up the real mess that Chimo made.”
“You mean, planting the body?”
“Are you sure we wouldn’t be better off hiding it?”
“Sure we’d be better off, but where? We’d have to be certain it wouldn’t be discovered for a week, maybe more. Because if Urban’s people find a carefully hidden body, they will treat it as a probably significant murder, something that was meant to be kept from their attention. At that point, it’s only a matter of time before they check all three of Lamy’s properties and interview all the tenants and examine all the rooms.”
Donat nodded. “At which point, even if we left, they’ll discover that this attic was abandoned about the time the murder might have occurred. Then they’ll get descriptions of us and our accents. It might take them a few days but they’d find us.”
Gasquet nodded back. “Right. Whereas if we plant the body in an alley, make it look like Lamy was drunk, got killed for his purse, they’ve got a much less suspicious crime. Murders aren’t that frequent, but right now the Buckle is packed with strangers. And where the streets are full of strangers, there’s easy picking for thieves. If Lamy got unlucky or fought back,” — he shrugged — “well, there’s your crime. Anonymous and routine.”
Donat frowned. “How long do we have, do you think?”
“Before he’s missed? Well, his family will be worried tonight, unless they’re a hateful bunch. But they won’t be able to get an official search started until sometime tomorrow. So if we plant the body tonight, we should be fine. The real uncertainty is how quickly we’ll be able to relocate.”
Donat cocked an eyebrow higher. “If you’re sure that they’ll accept his murder as a common crime, then why relocate at all? What do we have to fear?”
Gasquet shrugged. “What if they decide that maybe Lamy’s murderer wasn’t just any ordinary thief, but someone he had dealings with? If they put that kind of effort into investigating his death, they could wind up coming here, to interview us.”
Donat rolled his eyes. “Yes. That wouldn’t go well.”
“Right. So, come on; we have to figure out where to plant the body.”