“They’ll be hard to find.”
“You must try. You know yourself how even a small force in the right place can do untold damage.”
“I’ll send out my best thieves. Disguise them as peddlers.”
“Report anything you find back to me—especially news of Micheletto.”
“Do you really think he’s still out there somewhere? Mightn’t he have got back to Spain, or at least the Kingdom of Naples? If he isn’t dead already.”
“I am convinced he is still alive.”
La Volpe shrugged. “That’s good enough for me.”
When the others had gone, Machiavelli turned to Ezio and said, “What about me?”
“You and I will work together.”
“Nothing would give me greater pleasure; but before we go into details, I have a question.”
“Why not use the Apple?”
Ezio, sighing, explained as best he could.
When he’d finished, Machiavelli looked at him, took out his little black notebook, and wrote in it at length. Then he stood up, crossed the room, and sat down next to Ezio, squeezing his shoulder affectionately as he did so. Any such gesture from Machiavelli was as rare as chickens’ teeth.
“Let’s get down to business,” he said.
“This is what I have in mind,” said Ezio.
“There are women in this city who may help us. We must seek them out and talk to them.”
“Well, you picked the right man for the job. I am a diplomat.”
Gaining access to the first woman Ezio had in mind was easy—Pope Julius had seen to that. But getting her to talk wasn’t.
She received them in a sumptuous parlor on the piano nobile of her large house, whose windows (on four sides) provided sublime vistas of the once-great city, now part crumbling, but also part magnificent, since the last few Popes had poured money into self-aggrandizement.
“I don’t see how I can help you,” she said after listening to them, but Ezio noticed that she didn’t meet their eyes.
“If there are pockets of diehards in the city, we need to know about them, Altezza, and we need your help,” said Machiavelli. “If we find out later that you have held out on us…”
“Don’t threaten me, young man,” retorted Vannozza. “Dio mio! Do you know how long ago it is since Rodrigo and I were lovers? Well over twenty years!”
“Perhaps your children…?” asked Ezio.
She smiled grimly. “I expect you are wondering how a woman like me could have produced such a brood,” she said. “But I tell you there is very little Cattanei blood in them. Well, in Lucrezia, perhaps; but Cesare…” She broke off, and Ezio could see the pain in her eyes.
“Do you know where he is?”
“I know no more than you do. And I don’t care to. It’s years since I’ve even seen him, though we lived in the same city. He is as one dead to me.”
Clearly the Pope was being very careful to keep Cesare’s whereabouts secret. “Perhaps your daughter knows?”
“If I don’t, why should she? She lives in Ferrara now. You could go and ask her, but it’s a long way north, and the Holy Father has forbidden her ever to return to Rome.”
“Do you see her?” asked Machiavelli.
Vannozza sighed. “As I said, Ferrara’s a long way north. I don’t care to travel much these days.”
She looked around the room, glancing at the servants who stood near the door, and occasionally at the water clock. She’d offered them no refreshment and seemed eager for them to go. She constantly kneaded her hands together. An unhappy woman, and ill at ease, but whether that was because she was concealing something, or because she was being forced to talk of people she’d clearly rather not talk about, Ezio could not say.
“I have—or, rather, had—eight grandchildren,” she said unexpectedly. Ezio and Machiavelli knew that Lucrezia had had several children by her various husbands, but few had survived childhood. People said that Lucrezia had never taken pregnancy very seriously, and indeed she had had a habit of partying and dancing right up to the moment of her accouchement. Had that alienated her from her mother? Cesare had a daughter, Louise, who was a child of four.
“Do you see any of them?” asked Machiavelli.
“No. Louise is still in Rome, I think, but her mother has made sure that she’s much more French than Italian.”
She rose then, and the servants, as if on cue, opened the room’s ornate double doors.
“I wish I could be of more assistance…”
“We thank you for your time,” said Machiavelli drily.
“There are other people you might like to talk to,” said Vannozza.
“We intend to visit the Princesse d’Albret.”
Vannozza pressed her lips together. “Buona fortuna,” she said, without conviction. “You’d better hurry, too. I hear she’s making preparations to leave for France. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, she’ll come and say goodbye.”
Ezio and Machiavelli had risen, too, and made their farewells.
Once outside in the street, Machiavelli said, “I think we’ll have to use the Apple, Ezio.”
“Have it your own way, but I think you’re a fool. Let’s go and see the princess. Lucky we can both speak French.”
“Charlotte d’Albret won’t be leaving for France today. I’ve got men watching her palazzo, in any case. No, there’s someone else I want to see first. I’m surprised Vannozza didn’t mention her.”
“Doesn’t she live in Carbognano these days?”
“My spies tell me she’s in town. We have to take advantage of that.”
“What makes you think we’ll get any more out of her than we got out of Vannozza?”
Ezio smiled. “Giulia was Rodrigo’s last mistress. He was passionate about her!”
“I remember when the French captured her. He was beside himself. And then the French foolishly ransomed her for three thousand ducats. He’d have paid twenty times that amount to get her back. And he’d probably have struck any kind of deal they wanted. But I guess that’s what happens when your mistress is well over forty years younger than you are. You get besotted.”
“Didn’t stop him from dumping her when she turned twenty-five.”