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Chapter 6


Frank opened the door and looked inside. The building had looked ratty enough from the outside, although that was only to be expected when you considered the rest of the neighborhood. Inside, it looked like—

"What a fucking dump," said Dino from somewhere behind Frank and Maestro Bazzi, who had met them at the new place to hand over the keys and get Frank's signature on the lease.

"A real fixer-upper," Frank agreed, ambling inside and twirling the key ring on his finger. The place was a state, all right. From the looks of it, the ground floor had last seen its intended use as a taverna around twenty years before. The neighborhood looked like the better days it had seen had been in Caesar's time. Either prime Committee recruitment territory or a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Or, of course, both at the same time.

Maestro Bazzi, who was more or less the Cavriani office in Rome—truth be told, an attorney who handled the occasional bit of business for them, for Rome was not a major trading city—had come through exactly as asked. Cheap, low-rent neighborhood, something that could be opened as something like a taverna. To the letter, this place was. Although there was a definite smell of something here: sewage, and possibly something had died in the cellar.

Dino put down the box he'd carried in after Frank. "Where should we put our stuff, Frank?"

"Good question. I think maybe we should have a look around, first."

"Is all to your satisfaction, Signor Stone?" Bazzi asked.

Frank looked around at the lawyer, who had followed him in and appeared to be trying to keep from touching anything and getting a couple of decades' worth of dust and ratshit on his clearly-expensive clothes. "Oh, certainly, Maestro, our requirements have been met exactly."

Bazzi's expression clearly showed he thought Frank wasn't playing with a full deck, but he was politeness itself. "I am grateful for your confidences, Signor Stone, and with your leave I shall proceed to other affairs. Please, do not hesitate to call on me if you have any further requirements, for it is an honor and a pleasure to serve a son of such a famous and illustrious house."

That confused Frank for a moment, and then he remembered that his dad and stepmom were well on their way to becoming some of the richest people in Europe. Sharon Nichols wasn't far behind, either. But, yes, it was just about possible to describe Frank Stone, former hippie kid from the Lothlorien Commune, as the son of a great house. If you squinted a bit. He tried to nod an acknowledgement in the best noble style—the little voice in the back of his mind sniggered uncontrollably—and replied in the floweriest formal Italian he could manage, "And thank you, Maestro Bazzi, for your most excellent service and please be assured we will not hesitate to recommend your services to all of our friends."

Frank decided he'd got it somewhere near right, for Bazzi gave a little bow. "I thank you, Signor Stone, and please, if you see Her Excellency Dottoressa Nichols before I next have that honor, do be so good as to remember me to her. She is a most charming lady as well as being one of my most valued clients." With an elaborate flourish of formal goodbyes, took his leave.

"The dottoressa is still in Rome, then?" Dino asked.

"Guess so," Frank said. Sharon had been moved from the Venetian embassy to the Roman one by Mike Stearns, although Frank wasn't up on the why of it. "I wonder if she's okay about us dropping by to say hello?"

"Why wouldn't she be?" Dino asked. "You've known her for years, haven't you?"

"Yeah, but she's an ambassador now. I guess she's got to be careful about meeting"—Frank grinned—"us scary revolutionary types. I remember when we were first in Venice. They told us not to mix with the Committee."

Dino snickered. "Sure, and you ignored it then when you were a respectable diplomat; who says you gotta respect it now you're a wild-eyed revolutionary yourself?"

Frank chuckled. "Well, not a whole bunch. On the other hand, Sharon's pretty cool, she's a friend, and I for one don't want to give her any grief while she's working. I mean, she's the USE ambassador, right? I figure that means we're sort of on the same side, even if we gotta pretend like we're not. So play it cool, I guess. Maybe send her a letter saying hi, or something."

"I guess," Dino said, and Frank was relieved to hear that his cousin-in-law didn't sound too pissed at the thought of not making mischief. Getting arrested will do that for a guy's sense of fun, Frank thought.

"Anyway," Frank said, changing the subject, "what do we do about the luggage?"

"Well, I did ask you, messer," Dino said, grinning to show he was just kidding.

"Uh, yeah, right," Frank said, remembering. "I guess we should take a look around, see what's where and all, before we start piling things up. Maestro Bazzi sent us a floorplan, but I never looked too closely. Tell you what, go tell Piero to park the carriage in this yard thing here, while I try and get a handle on how this place is laid out. I figure he's going to want to stay over night before he heads back to Padua with the carriage."

"Right," said Dino, putting the box he was carrying down where he stood. "He's going to ask when we eat—what'll I tell him?"

That was true enough, Frank realized. The coachmen who came with the carriages they'd hired in Padua—there were some real advantages to being the son of one of Europe's leading industrialists, and a generous allowance to spend was one of them and Frank was by god not going to try doing that journey in cheap carts again—seemed to have only two topics of conversation, which were how slow they were going, and how long it seemed to be between meals. Still, his own stomach was starting to rumble a bit.

"I figure if you ask Piero to find us a cookshop or something where we can get dinner, it'll give him something to do while we unload the carriage."

"Sure," said Dino, and went outside.

The taverna was basically one big room with a big kitchen walled off at the back. The previous proprietor's living quarters were two floors above, if Frank remembered the plans right, with guest rooms on the floor in between. Servants got the attics and garrets. It had, in its day, been quite a decent place, judging by the trash. Sure, the furniture was only staying together because the woodworm was being careful not to breathe too hard, but it looked like it had been good stuff, once.

A quick look around confirmed that pretty much the whole building was in the same sort of condition. Four floors and a cellar, the bottom three the derelict taverna, the top two what could just about be called apartments.

The whole building was L-shaped, forming two sides of the coach yard with the stables at the back and the next-door building on the third side. The front of the courtyard was walled off with a high gate in the middle of it. A carriage would go through the gate, just, if everyone on top ducked. And what the contents consisted of mostly was pigeon-crap, broken furniture and trash. Cleaning up was going to be . . . interesting.

Still, there was a first job. From outside, he could hear the sound of the second carriage pulling up. And that meant—

He ran downstairs and outside, and there she was. There were some things that tradition just plain got right, and Frank had been looking forward to this.

He handed Giovanna down from the carriage seat next to Niccolo, the other driver—the inside of the carriage was stuffed full of baggage, and the trip to Rome had been barely faster than the last fiasco—and kissed her hungrily. "Okay," he said, "I don't know if they do this in Venice, but—"

Giovanna squealed when he reached down and caught her up in his arms. As he got her to the taverna door Dino was just coming out and stopped to hold the door open. "Gotta carry you across the threshold," Frank said, trying hard not to show that carrying Giovanna was causing assorted muscles to protest.

Giovanna just giggled, and Frank stepped across the threshold with her in his arms. Only when they were inside did he put her down and kiss her again. Damn, Frank thought, that felt good, as he broke off to a chorus of cheers and whistles from the guys, who had all got down from the roof of the carriage to watch.

Meanwhile, Giovanna was looking around her at their new home, and her reaction was the same as her cousin's. "Merda," she breathed. "Don't unpack yet! Get the carriages into that yard, we'll get some space cleared."

Frank turned around to where Dino, Fabrizzio and Benito stood around the door, and shouted, "Guys, you heard Giovanna! Get the carriages squared away and we'll start clearing up."

Little Benito got moving, but Dino and Fabrizzio just looked at each other. Frank could guess what was coming next. Time, he realized, to be distinctly firm with them. "Dino, Fabrizzio," he said, sauntering over and putting a hand on each of their shoulders, "am I about to hear some reactionary crap about women's work? Surely not?"

The Marcolis looked confused.

"I really, really hope not," Frank said. "You see, we've got a lot to do here, and we're all part of the same revolution, and we're all the same when it comes to doing the work of the revolution, right? Equality and Fraternity, remember?"

"Sure, Frank, but—"

Frank clapped Dino on the shoulder. "Dino, I know, I know. You've been raised all your life among"—Frank stopped to look either way, and lowered his voice—"reactionary elements, right?"

Dino frowned. "Papa always said—"

"Oh, not Papa," Frank said. "Your neighbors. Everyone else on Murano. Shiftless idle guys who let their wives do all the work around the house, right?" Frank knew absolutely that there were plenty of guys like that on Murano, just as there were in pretty much every time and place. "Guys like that are part of what the Committee is trying to fight against. Oppressors. Exploiters. You know, reactionaries."

Frank couldn't quite pronounce the words the way Antonio and Massimo Marcoli did, with the capital letter, but he could see the buzzwords getting through. Frank always felt that doing it this way was a bit unfair, but there were definitely areas where the Marcoli boys were in need of reeducation and if there were shortcuts, Frank was going to take them.

Fabrizzio was starting to nod. "You are saying that cleaning this new place is the work of the Revolution"—he had no trouble with the capital letters—"and not women's work?"

"That'll do for now," Frank said. "Get to it. Start clearing away the trash from this main room, hey? I guess we can stack it in the yard for now and figure out where we tip it later." He looked around. "Uh, I guess we can salvage some of this furniture, maybe, so put that in the stables that aren't being used for the horses."

"Okay, Messer Frank," Dino said, and began carrying stuff out.

Say what you liked about the Marcolis, they had no qualms about hard work, once they saw their way straight to it. By the time Piero and Niccolo returned from the cookshop Piero had found, bringing a couple of steaming pots of a soup they said was stracciatella, a big basket of gnocchi and another basket with cheese and bread, they had the main room cleared and a table and a lot of mismatched chairs set up.

Giovanna sat down to eat with her sleeves rolled up, soot smudged on her cheeks and her hands red from scrubbing. Dino had gotten the ancient brick range working—Frank wouldn't have been surprised to learn that the thing had been installed in Caesar's time and the rest of the building progressively rebuilt around it over the years—and she'd been using the resulting hot water to good effect. The kitchen was now just filthy rather than the total gross-out it had been when they arrived.

Fabrizzio had been going around with the DDT sprayer giving the place a good fumigating. Frank doubted whether a building uninhabited this long would have any lice in it, but the cockroaches would be suffering. They might, he figured, get as much as a whole day free of roaches before their cousins moved in from the buildings on either side to replace their dead relatives. It kind of reminded him of the Freak Brothers cartoon—Dad had been a fan, naturally—where the cockroach king dismissed the millions slaughtered by Fat Freddy's cat by saying "plenty more where they came from." Frank made a mental note to write off for more DDT, and to get everyone alongside the idea of food hygiene.

Dino and Benito had been with Frank, shifting the trash out into the yard and, once they had a couple of rooms upstairs clear, fetching the first of their stuff inside. They'd made a priority out of cleaning gear. Giovanna's insistence on having a full set of that, along with a complete set of cooking utensils, was looking more and more like outright prophecy by the minute.

Frank had been making a mental checklist of everything they'd need to get fixed about the place. While Dino and Fabrizzio were pretty useful handymen in all sorts of ways they were going to need to hire some guys to get it all done in any reasonable time. Again, it was lucky Frank had a rich dad, or this revolution would be going on without any home comforts at all. Not that they couldn't do that, Frank thought as he spooned the soup up, but they'd be a lot less likely to get grief off the Roman authorities if they at least looked respectable.

They all ate in silence. It had been a long day, and was starting to get dark outside, and everyone had worked up a good appetite. Except for the coachmen, who just seemed to start with a good appetite and get hungrier as the day went on. "I figure," Frank said, "we should maybe concentrate on getting beds made up for the night, and then unload in the morning?"

That got a round of assent. Grinning, Piero produced a couple of jugs of wine that he'd got while he'd been out.

Later, sipping what wasn't bad wine by candlelight, and sitting with Giovanna on a blanket by a fire made of retired furniture, Frank reflected that this wasn't a bad start on the Committee's work in Rome. He figured that it'd take no more than a couple of weeks to get a Freedom Arches open, although using that name openly in Rome—much less the well-known golden arches insignia—would probably not be a smart move. They'd start by running the place like a social club, and see what they could do about getting a soccer league going. He was actually looking forward to doing a bit of coaching and spending the evenings in the bar, amiably spreading the good word about freedom and justice and generally being the good-natured kind of revolutionary. He'd had a bellyful lately of the other kind in the shape of his father-in-law, who'd had four guys beaten up and their ears cut off—one each, no one could say Messer Marcoli wasn't merciful—only the third time Frank had met him.

Not that Marcoli senior wasn't, for the most part, a great guy and as pleasant a father-in-law as a man could wish for, especially from the perspective of a couple of hundred miles. It was just that when he was thinking inside the box marked "Revolution" he got a little . . . scary.

Frank could see the point of that, in places where things got rough. On the other hand, a lot of Italy wasn't what you'd call a bad neighborhood, not these days, so Frank figured they could do it with food, drink, sports and a lot of social organization.

"Frank," said Giovanna, after a long and comfortable time spent staring into the fire and musing in this way.

"Hmmm?" he replied, not really being up to much else after horsing heavy furniture and making makeshift beds on top of a long half-day's travel.

"I think I'm going to have a baby."

That stopped Frank's train of thought. Derailed it completely, rather. "Baby?" he said, weakly, unable to think of anything else.

"Yes. I'm fairly certain. Two months, now." She looked up at him. "I think. It's hard to be sure."

"Uh," he said. And then, collecting himself, "Well, I guess there's one way to know for certain and that's wait and see if you are pregnant."

"Are you happy, Frank?" she asked.

Frank paused a moment. How did he feel about it? After a moment he realized that what he felt was pretty good. Very, very good, in fact. He looked down at her upturned face, paused a moment to fall in love all over again, and let his grin do all the talking.

She smiled back, and it was pure sunshine. "Frank!" she chided him. "Don't tease me like that." Then she reached up and dragged him down for a heart-stopper of a kiss.

When she let him up for air, he chuckled. "Giovanna, darling, it's great news. We'd better start making sure you ain't doing any of the heavy work, though."

She frowned and wagged a finger. "Oh no, you don't! My mamma never stopped working, and none of the other women back on Murano ever stopped working. I am not some stupid noblewoman, finding excuses to lie about all day with the vapors, Frank, and don't say I should."

"Whoa, don't bite my head off. All I'm saying is take it easy for a bit, we're not in any great hurry here, and you've got someone else to think of now." He looked down at her hand, with the wineglass in it. "Speaking of which," he said, and reached down to take her glass away.

"Hey, I hadn't done with that," she protested.

"Yes you have," Frank said. "Drinking while you're pregnant is bad for the baby. I don't know much about pregnancy, but I do know that."

Giovanna's eyes narrowed. "Who told you that?"

"It's common knowledge in the twentieth century," he said. "No drinking or smoking while you're carrying a baby."

"No wine?" There was a hurt tone in her voice. "I always learnt it was best for a pregnant woman to be happy, so the baby will be happy. No wine with food?"

"Well, you can be happy without wine, Giovanna." Frank could see that this idea wasn't going over so well, even though Giovanna never usually had more than a glass or two of wine with meals, and that watered. "Tell you what, Sharon's in Rome at the moment; we can go see her and she'll tell you. Wine, beer, grappa. It's all bad for a baby if an expectant mother drinks."

"I'll believe it if the dottoressa says it. Meantime, give me that back." She took the wineglass back from him.

Frank didn't protest further. Thinking about it, if pretty much everyone drank and they still managed to have babies, it was probably one of those things that was only bad if the mother did too much of it. When all was said and done, Giovanna didn't drink much by anyone's standards. Certainly not by seventeenth-century standards, and especially not by seventeenth-century German standards. It could probably keep until Sharon gave Giovanna the straight dope.

Besides, Frank realized a little later at bedtime, the state of mind his mother almost certainly spent most of her pregnancy in didn't seem to have done him any harm. So far as he could tell, anyway.

The next morning, after breakfast and after an hour or so getting the carriages unloaded and Piero and Nicollo on their way home, Frank took a moment to check out the neighborhood. They were on the northern fringe of the Borgo, which was apparently one of Rome's roughest neighborhoods.

Frank could well believe it. Half of the neighborhood, even though it was right between the Vatican and Castel Sant'Angelo—you could just about see the dome of St. Peter's from an upper-story window—was in outright ruins. The rest would need a lick of paint and a good sweep just to look shabby.

Even mid-morning, there was hardly anyone about, just a few samples of street-life, a couple of stray dogs and a whole bunch of cats. Frank wondered, at first, where everyone was, but then remembered that Maestro Bazzi had told him it was one of the poorest quarters of Rome, that only the truly desperate lived there, and on no account to go south of the street called Borgo Angelico during the hours of darkness, unless he took several heavily armed friends with him.

Frank could believe that, too, and Borgo Angelico was a whole block over from where he stood surveying the street scene. Still, staying out of the genteel neighborhoods would keep them away from the attention of the authorities until they got established. Hopefully they'd be set up and running smoothly by the time they got their printing press, because that'd be a sure signal for Massimo to come visit, and if there was a man with a talent for putting out propaganda by the ton, it was Uncle Massimo. It would be about then that trouble might start.

It was while he was musing in this way that he felt a pair of slim arms go around his waist from behind. "Slacking, husband?" said Giovanna.

He laughed. "For a couple of minutes. Just thinking about all we've got to do here."

"Oh, yes. A crib to make, and baby clothes to make, and Dottoressa Sharon to see. You have responsibilities, now."

He turned around in her grasp. "You too," he said. "Mind what I said about the wine, hey? One glass, watered, with dinner, and if Sharon tells you to stop, stop."

She nodded, solemn for a moment. Then the smile came back. "It's a nice neighborhood, isn't it? So much space and sunlight."

Frank chuckled. "I guess it would look that way after Murano. I was just thinking it was a bit run-down around here."

"All the better!" For a moment Giovanna was all Revolutionary and a hundred per cent Marcoli. "If we are to bring the news of Freedom and Justice to the oppressed, we must go where they are, no?"

"True. But we'll start with the social side of things. Maybe run a school, like Uncle Massimo does, hey?"

"Sure," Giovanna said, not sounding very convinced. "Meantime, we got work to do, husband."

They went back inside and got on with scrubbing their new home.


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