Operation Caesar’s Folly (part XXI)

“Absolutely unacceptable!” Minister Ricci was shouting.

Issac watched the man stomping furiously back and forth across the room. He looked over to Stein, who rolled her eyes. Baldrik Frey was merely nodding in agreement.

“It is my opinion, Herr Schultz,” Baldrik said, turning to Issac, “That the Turks are indeed being unreasonable. I doubt they plan to part with Istria or Dalmatia, at any price.”

“They named a price,” Issac said, shaking his head, “Sig. Ricci is merely unwilling to pay it.”

“Herr Schultz,” the minister said, trying to calm himself, “I should think a man such as yourself would understand. We cannot allow ourselves to be bullied by these…these…” he struggled to find the appropriate insult, “Muslims!” was the most he could manage.

Issac had to fight to keep the frown off his face.

“Be that as it may,” Issac couldn’t help but growl, “You’ve laid out an offer, they’ve laid out a counter-offer. All that’s left is to haggle and meet halfway.”

Issac looked to Balrik, and Stein, gesturing with his eyes for them to back him up. Stein nodded, Baldrik did not. Stein had been right after all; Baldrik’s bias would no doubt be an ongoing problem for negotiations. Good, Issac reminded himself, the point is sabotage, remember.

He did remember. And yet, if he sabotaged the potential for peace…he began to realize how many might die because of this mission. But then again, how bad would a war between Britain and an alliance of Germany, Italy, and the Turks. There was likely to be a death toll no matter how things went here. How many lives is peace worth?

“Herr Schultz?” Issac shook his head, Ricci, had been talking.

“I’m sorry, say again,” Issac mumbled, “I was distracted.”

“Herr Schultz, you cannot expect the Italian crown to pay so much,” Minister Ricci said, absolutely incredulous, “Thirty million goldmarks maybe, but forty is impossible. Even if His Majesty was willing, there isn’t enough in the discretionary budget for that.”

“Well we wouldn’t want to go over budget,” Issac mused sarcastically.

Baldrik, oblivious to sarcasm, enthusiastically nodded, “Of course. So what is the solution?”

Issac gave a dissatisfactory grunt, buying time to think. Maybe it was time to switch dance partners.

He stood. “I think I’ll go see our Turkish friends. See if I can’t get them to see some kind of reason. 0sc4r?”

“Yes *click*, Sir.”

Issac excused himself, assuring Ricci that he would not mention that the Italians couldn’t afford forty million goldmarks, “I wouldn’t want them to think we’re unable, just unwilling. You understand?”

“Of course,” said Issac.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like an escort, Herr Schultz?” Stein asked, who remained seated, “That janissary certainly makes me uneasy.”

“Oh…” Issac started, but failed to finish his reassurance. He had almost forgotten the janissary. “I imagine I’ll be fine. The monster may be intimidating, but we are all friends here, yes?”

Stein nodded, that small smile back at the corner of her mouth. It made her look mischievous, full of an energy undiminished by age beneath that veneer of German professionalism.

So Issac left the small office Minister Ricce had set aside for their little meeting, and headed down the beautiful halls of the palace toward the rooms set aside for the Turkish delegation.

“0sc4r?” Issac whispered.

“Yes?” 0sc4r responded quietly.

“Can we talk here?” Issac asked.

“I would *click* not advise it.”

“Just tell me,” Issac slowed his pace, “Italy has holdings in North Africa, yes? Do I remember that right?”

“*Click* Indeed, sir. Italian North Africa consists of *click* the former French protectorate of Tunisia *click*, and the former Turkish territory of Tripoli.”

“Tripoli….do you think they’d ever part with it?” Issac asked.

“The *click* Italians, sir?”

“Yes,” Issac said, “What do you think?”

0sc4r stopped in his tracks, emitting a series of loud clicks followed by a whirring sound. A moment later he resumed walking and said, “No. *click* I am *click* almost certain they would not.”

Issac nodded, “Thank you, 0sc4r.”

He immediately felt silly for thanking the machine, but he decided it was a harmless gesture.

He knocked on the door of the interim Turkish office.

Mr. Youssef opened the door.

“Mr. Youssef, right?” Issac forced himself to smile in the face of the intimidating Egyptian, “Is Mr. Gavrilović in, I wish to speak to him.”

There was a narrowing of Youssef’s eyes, but he nodded and stepped to the side.

The room was absurdly opulent, like most in the Palazzo Ducale. The Turkish staff worked amidst gold trim and polished stone, ornately carved furniture with plush cushions, and art from the heady days of the Italian Renaissance. The automata janissary, huge as he was, seemed almost perfectly suited for the room, his armored skin shining as brightly as the gold. Issac could feel the hair of his neck stand on end, as the featureless face of the thing tracked his entrance.

“Herr Schultz!” Gavrilović called from a cream colored couch, “We were just talking about you.”

“All good things, I hope,” Issac said, taking an empty seat in a chair facing Gavrilović, trying to ignore the janissary.

“Naturally,” Gavrilović chuckled, “What do you have for us?”

Here I go, Issac thought, steeling himself, “What I have to tell you must be kept in the greatest confidence. I’m sure you understand.”

“Yes, yes. Ahmed,” Gavrilović said, turning from Issac, “Take the staff on a tour of the palace. It is a beautiful place. Parushta, you stay.”

The janissary stirred, emitting a low mechanical growling.

“Yes, yes, you as well, Zoraster. The Italians probably won’t like you stalking the halls.”

The staff closed up their folders, disengaged a few devices, and followed a young man Issac presumed was Ahmed out of the room. When it was done, Gavrilović turned back to Issac.

“So, what is it we must talk about, Herr Schultz?” Gavrilović asked.

“I come first with assurances from the Kaiser,” Issac began, “We fully understand the desire of the Sultan to maintain the territory hard-fought by your troops. And while we have always been good friends with the Italian King, I find their obsession with the Adriatic…fatiguing.”

Gavrilović leaned forward, far more attentive, “Truly? And this is the position of your government, or just your own opinion?”

“The Kaiser’s official policy is that we are building an alliance, and are not to play favorites. But there are official policies, and there are actual policies,” Issac said confidently, “All the same, I want to see some kind of agreement reached. But that cannot happen so long as you are asking for forty million goldmarks.”

Gavrilović furrowed his brow, and folded his hands together elbows resting on his knees, “I understand. But I wasn’t lying, good sir. The Sultan cannot part with the land for a mere twenty-five million. The Balkans are worth more than the simple territory you see. They represent everything about our rebirth. Our revolution, our recovery, our final defeat of an ancient enemy, the Hapsburgs. We cannot just sell it within the living memory of those who bled for it.”

The janissary let out a whirring sound as it adjusted its stance.

“Metaphorically speaking,” Gavrilović added.

“Not even if you can reclaim another lost territory?” Issac leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers. Revanchism was a repugnant policy in his opinion, but it was an obsession that had driven the Turkish to take the Balkans, and the entire impetus for this conference was the Italian plans to take back the Adriatic states. It was a blind-spot for both parties.

Gavrilović gave Issac a curious look, then looked to Youssef, who mumbled something Issac couldn’t make out (perhaps in Turkish or Arabic) and shrugged. Gavrilović sat up, “Very well, Herr Schultz. You have my undivided attention.”

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