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Chapter 8


Frank was beginning to think that whatever he managed to do as a revolutionary, he always had a career ahead of him in the restaurant trade. Within a week—a week of chaos and backbreaking work—they had had the Freedom Arches end of the operation open for business. Benito was a natural with flyers, a form of advertising that hadn't apparently been a major feature of Roman commercial life until now, and they'd started getting good crowds within a couple of days.

They didn't call it the Freedom Arches, though. It was just "Frank's Place" for the time being. Frank had decided right off, even before they got to Rome, that they'd do the political stuff quietly and without fuss. Concentrate on substance, not form, to put it another way. He thought waving red banners and engaging in firebrand street oratory in the same city as—in fact, no more than a couple of hundred yards from—World Inquisition HQ was just plain stupid. Not to mention being a good way to get tossed into a cell. He'd had all of three nights in prison in his entire life and didn't want any more of that than he could possibly avoid, thank you very much.

Besides, it seemed to fit the Roman style. Frank had the impression even before moving to Rome—which had since been pretty well confirmed—that the Church and city authorities, at least with the current pope in power, were inclined to look the other way as long as you didn't insist on rubbing their noses in your activities.

There were only a few flies in the ointment, the main one being the lefferti. Naturally, Benito had mentioned that the place was run by Americans, and that had attracted the guys Harry Lefferts had hung around with during his time in the city, along with people with an actual interest in political issues. At least, they claimed Harry had hung around with them.

Harry had been more or less okay for a jock, as far as Frank could remember. He hadn't even been a real "jock" in the first place, in the sense of those mindless high school athletes who honestly thought that winning a football game was something you needed to pray to God for, because God actually gave a flying damn whether the guys in blue and white or the guys in red and gold got a ball across an arbitrary line more often that the other ones did. Harry had been one of the tough kids who were often enough in trouble. No high school letters for him, no sirree. He'd just been a "jock" in the operative sense that the real jocks stayed away from him because he'd beat the crap out of them if they tried to pick on him they way they did on Frank and his brothers. But really not a bad guy, in Frank's experience, as long as you didn't mess with him.

Some of these lefferti, though, were mean. Well-dressed mean, like the kind of guys who, when you saw them in a Western, you just knew were going to turn out to be called "Doc" or something similar.

Oh, sure, polite and friendly enough, and they all wanted to practice their English. A couple of them were looking Giovanna over, too, although there wasn't much Frank could do or say about that unless one of them stepped over the line. Not much he could do after, either, unless he was willing to shoot them. All of them had some sort of weapon on their belts. None of them had guns, but there were certainly swords and a couple of bowie knives. They were consciously trying to ape Harry Lefferts, and Frank hoped like hell they'd picked up on Harry's good nature.

On the positive side, at least some of the lefferti were reading the literature that could always be found in "Frank's Place."

Frank was taken from his reverie by a customer waving for service.

And one of the kind Frank was less than happy about, to be honest. One of the lefferti. "Signor?" Frank asked, going over with pencil and notepad.

"Signor?" the fellow said, swinging his boots off the table, which Frank noted with a small degree of satisfaction had a stack of pamphlets on it from the literature table. "Please, I am Piero."

Frank heaved a mental sigh of relief. This was one of the amiable ones, it seemed. "What can I get you, Piero? I'm Frank, by the way."

Piero touched a finger to the brim of his hat—a wide-brimmed number, naturally. "A pleasure to meet you, Frank. I should like a jug of wine and a pizza, if you please."

"Certainly," he said. "Be maybe half an hour before we have another batch of pizzas out the oven, though."

Piero nodded. "In the meantime, the wine. And when, pray, does the revolution begin?" Piero garnished that one with a big smile.

"Revolution? Not on the menu here, Piero." Frank's instincts started to murmur a gentle warning. He'd knew the term agent provocateur, after all—having been made a fool of by one only the year before. He'd damned near gotten killed because of it.

Piero shrugged. "Harry said something about revolution, I think." He'd dropped into English. Pretty good English, at that.

"Sounds like Harry. You knew him, while he was in Rome?"

"Who didn't? Harry was popular. Some nights, it was hard to get the attention of any girl in Rome, truly it was, but it was hard to resent him for it."

Frank smiled. "Harry, to the life." He found himself warming to Piero. "Say, mind if I join you in that jug of wine? Sounds very much like we have a friend in common, hey?"

That was overdoing it a bit. Frank had barely known Harry back in Grantville. After the Ring of Fire, Frank had seen Harry a few times in the Thuringen Gardens and spoken briefly to him when he showed up at Lothlorien now and then—sometimes on government business and a couple of times to quietly transact his own. Some of Dad's plants didn't turn out to be quite medical grade, and he didn't mind the occasional discreet recreational sale, provided the boys didn't make too flagrant a business of it. Although the War on Drugs had ended with the Ring of Fire, there were still some people with distinctly modern attitudes on that score.

However, part of what Frank had been doing since he got to Rome was making as many friends as possible. Contacts and allies and establishing a reputation as easy to get on with were as good a protection as Frank could think of in this time and place. So he went and got a jug of wine and a couple of glasses, letting Dino know that he was taking a few minutes out for political work.

"So, Piero," he said when he got back from the bar and sat down. "How long did you know Harry? He was here, what, six months?"

"About that, yes. Truth be told, I only got to know him later in that time, but as I am sure you can imagine he made something of an impression."

"Well, I guessed that from the clothes," Frank said.

Piero laughed. "Harry certainly changed fashion in Rome, that I can attest. I hear they're calling anyone dressed like this a lefferto."

"Seems to me there's quite a lot of you guys?" Frank had actually been wondering about that. Surely, not even Harry could have converted every single male between twenty and twenty-five in the city into an extra from a bad western.

"In truth, not many. A lot of us seem to come here, though. At least, those of us for whom it is not just fashionable dress."

Frank thought that one over. It figured. The ones who'd gotten a taste for Harry's American values would naturally find their way to the Committee of Correspondence's first establishment in Rome, even if it was just called "Frank's Place."

But then—

"You say there are some of you guys who it's just clothes with?"

"Sure. There are always plenty of people with enough money to be idle but not enough influence to have anything to do. Well, I am sure I need venture no lecture on politics, yes?" Piero took a gulp of his wine. "We would, after all, be wise not to incur any more Inquisition attention. I think you are not a popular man in that quarter, whatever his Holiness might say."

"Really, you don't say?" Frank grinned. "And here I was thinking that the pope had told them to play nice."

Piero threw back his head and laughed. "You intervene in their show-trial of the decade, and your punishment is a wedding in the Sistine Chapel? The chances of the Inquisition 'playing nice' after that are remote at best, Frank. Anyone could tell you that."

"Well, yes." Frank spotted the hint. "You can tell me more?"

Piero shrugged, but there was a smile on his face. "A little, as it happens. I have, ah, a cousin?"

Frank nodded. "A cousin, yes. Not necessarily implying any degree of relationship in particular?"

"Indeed not. But what I will imply is that he is from a branch of the family that is not perhaps as well-off as mine, and so must work for his living."

"With the Inquisition?" Frank frowned. This could be—but he resisted the urge to jump to a conclusion. He'd made that mistake before and ended up in seriously hot water.

"Sure. As a servant, yes? Family pride would have me add as a fairly senior and honored servant, but still a servant."

"Nothing wrong with waiting tables and serving drinks, Piero." Frank grinned. "You want to get involved here, we kind of like it if you take a turn at it yourself."

Piero shuffled through the pamphlets. "So I understand. This is how it is done in Germany, yes?"

"Is indeed," Frank affirmed. "Value of work and the worth of workers is one of the points of our program, and doing a bit yourself is a way of learning that lesson. But about your cousin?"

"I do apologize," Piero said. "My cousin was, I should say, favorably impressed by your performance at Galileo's trial. So he asked me to pass on that your presence in Rome is not passing unnoticed."

"Oh?" Frank raised his eyebrows.

"Oh, indeed. You're safe for the time being, though. The Holy Office will not act against you so soon after that visible demonstration of His Holiness' support."

Frank thought about that for a moment. It was more or less what they'd been counting on, because even though he was a little hazy on the details himself he had managed to grasp that the pope's intervention had been very direct, very personal and very clear. The Galileo affair was very much closed, with no reopening possible by, for example, imprisoning and trying the perpetrators on any account.

Of course, none of the perpetrators had wanted to push their luck at first. Galileo had retired to his home, living near the abbey in which his daughter was a nun and probably working on his diplomatic skills for when he published his next paper, which Frank suspected would be a lot more polite than his last one. Most of the Americans had gone back to Germany, and the Marcolis—until Frank and Giovanna and her two cousins returned—had gone back to Venice. Even Mazarini had disappeared, Frank had no idea where.

"Safe?" He asked, after taking that moment to think.

"Within reason, I should say. They have other things to do, I don't doubt." Piero waved a hand in the air. "Oppression of the masses, lying propaganda, show-trials of men in the vanguard of Truth and Progress."

Frank laughed. "Yeah, the usual."

Piero grinned back. "I have a friend in Venice who sent me some of the Committee broadsides your friend Marcoli prints. It is not difficult to mock, I regret to say."

Frank grimaced. "I know. Massimo means well, but I wish he'd stick to actually doing some good rather than just flaming away the way he does."

Piero raised an eyebrow. "He does some good?"

Frank nodded. "Sure. You'll see Benito about the place, he learned to read from Massimo. He teaches street kids their letters."

"What good does that do?"

"Well, the idea is that as they grow up they're capable of more than just grunt labor or enforced idleness. With a bit of education, they figure out how to do things better. Not all of them, just the ones who really were being held back for lack of opportunity." Frank mentally summoned up Committee Propaganda 101. "You see, the way a lot of folks end up going nowhere just because they're peasants or whatever is a real waste of talent. Give those people some education and the means to use it, and everyone ends up better off. We're trying to make all of Europe a land of opportunity."

"So I've read. For the time being I'll help by buying a meal, hey?"

"Right you are," said Frank, "every little helps. You want to get more involved some time, just ask anyone here. We've always got work for willing hands."

Frank took the order back to the bar. Before he got there, though, he heard a commotion and he turned around.

It was two guys over by the door, another couple of lefferti, albeit low-budget ones who could only afford the jacket and hat. Both were on their feet, stools overturned on the floor behind them. Neither had his weapon out quite yet, but there was a definite hovering of hands in the general vicinity of belts. The room was starting to go quiet, and the sounds of stool and chair legs scraping as the other customers turned to watch the action was, Frank had learned in only a few weeks' experience, a Bad Sign.

He dropped his notepad and began to amble over. A quiet word might help, and certainly couldn't do any harm. Hopefully, someone was pulling a gun out from under the counter to back him up if it turned ugly. He was careful to look as unthreatening as possible, and pasted a large smile on his face.

"Guys, guys," he said. "How's about being friendly about this, hey."

"Mind your own business," the taller of the two growled, not taking his eyes off the other guy, who was a short, wide, villainous-looking customer with several days' growth of stubble and caterpillar eyebrows.

"You guys break any furniture, it's my business. My business if there's bloodstains to clean up, too." Frank kept his tone light and pleasant. "Now, I could say take it outside, round the back some place, but maybe you guys can talk about this, hey? Try and get along peaceful-like?"

That provoked a stream of very colloquial Roman dialect from both of them, and hands to clench around the knives—big knives, Frank noted—at their belts. He raised his hands, making placating motions. "Guys? Calm down, please, or take it outside. Neither of you has any quarrel with me, and I'd rather not have to clean up."

Glowering at each other, they did. Frank hoped they'd be able to sort it out without bloodshed, but from the way they a crowd of spectators gathered to follow them out—including Piero, he saw—he didn't think it likely.


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