After they left the restaurant—or “café,” rather—Piccolomini glanced up at the sky, which had grown leaden.
“Snowing soon,” he said, reaching up and drawing his cloak around him more tightly.
Von Mercy followed suit. The temperature wasn't too bad, but there was something of a wind that added considerably to the chill. “Where are we headed? Unterer Werd?”
Piccolomini shook his head. “No. The ghetto would be too far from the center of things for Abrabanel's purposes. And he's got plenty of money.” With his chin, he pointed straight ahead down the street. “Just up there a ways. Less than a five minute walk.”
Franz was a bit surprised, but only a bit. Although Jews in Vienna usually lived in the ghetto located on the island formed by the Danube and one of its side branches, the city did not enforce the provision strictly if the Jew involved was wealthy enough.
As they walked, Franz noticed two other restaurants sporting the new title of “café.”
“I swear, it's a plague,” he muttered.
Glancing in the direction of von Mercy's glower, Piccolomini smiled. “If you think it's bad here, you should see what it's like in Italy. My younger brother is the archbishop of Siena and he told me there was almost a public riot there a few months ago, because of a dispute involving the rules in a game of soccer.”
“A game of . . . what?”
“Soccer. If you don't know what it is, be thankful all you have to contend with is the occasional restaurant with pretensions. And pray to God that you never have to deal with the intricacies of baseball.”
“Intricacies of . . . what?”
“Never mind. Stick to the cavalry, Franz.”
A few dozen yards further along, Piccolomini pointed with his chin again. This time, at a small shop they were nearing. There was a small sign over the door, reading: Sugar and Things.
“There's the real money,” said the Florentine general. “That shop's owned by a partnership between two local merchants and one of the American mechanics whom the emperor hired recently to keep his two automobiles running. Sanderlin's his name—although it's really his wife who's involved in the business.”
“They are sugar importers?”
“Yes—but mostly they process it into something called ”˜confectioner's sugar' and sell it to the city's wealthiest residents and most expensive restaurants.” He shook his head. “Sugar is already worth its weight in gold. What they do with it . . . ”
He shook his head again. “But people are besotted with things American—especially anything they can find involving Vienna in those tourist guides. So, they say Vienna needs its cafés with coffee and pastries—and the best pastries require confectioner's sugar.”
“A plague, as I said.”
“May as well get used to it, Franz,” Piccolomini said heavily. “When Wallenstein's Croats failed in their raid on Grantville, all of Europe was doomed to this lunacy. Even in Paris, I'm told.”
He stopped in front of a nondescript doorway. Just one of many along the street, marked in no particular way.
“And here we are.”
Uriel Abrabanel proved to be, just as Piccolomini had said, a man whom no one would think to call “comely.” He was saved from outright ugliness only by the fact that his animated and jovial spirit imparted a certain flair to his coarse and pox-marked features. It was hard to believe, though, that the man was closely related—uncle, no less—to Rebecca Abrabanel, reputed to be one of the great beauties of Europe.
But von Mercy was skeptical of that reputation, anyway. He didn't doubt the woman was attractive, probably quite attractive. But he was sure that the near-Helenic reputation given to her appearance was mostly the product of the same glamorous aura that surrounded almost everything American by now, almost four years after the Ring of Fire. An aura that was just as strong—probably stronger, in fact—among the peoples who were the USE's enemies than those who lived under Stearns' rule directly or counted themselves as his allies. Unlike the Swedes or the Germans or the Dutch, who had had many occasions to encounter Americans or their Abrabanel associates directly, for most Austrians or French or Italians—to say nothing of Spaniards or Poles—they remained mostly a matter of legend and hearsay.
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- The Grantville Gazette Staff