Unlike many companies, Smithson Italia did not work on Saturday. After sleeping in late, Joe walked to the Cavalieri Hilton Hotel to deposit his money in the night depository slot of the Bank branch. Nancy went with him, to pick up a new umbrella. Having a large luxury hotel right across the street was very convenient. The shops were expensive, but they were open late and on weekends.
The rain had eased to a light drizzle. When they came back out the sun blinded them, reflecting off the puddles and wet cars in the parking lot. As they stepped into the driveway, a red Jaguar XKE came to a sudden halt in front of them. Nancy jumped back, and Joe froze.
“Going my way?” said the driver. Joe thought he might be a movie actor. Blond hair, chiseled features, broad shoulders. Joe’s felt the back of his neck tighten. He had seen enough handsome men try to pick up his mother. Around the Cavalieri Hilton, they were often rich, too.
“Oh, hello, Jack. You startled me.”
“You know him?” Joe mumbled to his mother.
“Jack Arland, this is my son Joe,” said Nancy.
Jack leapt from the car, leaving it running in the driveway and crossed around to shake Joe’s hand. “I’ve heard the world about you, Joe. It’s really a pleasure to meet you finally.” He turned to Nancy. “Not just a lift. I must take you somewhere. Have you had lunch?”
“Well, no,” said Nancy, “but⌐”
“No buts, let me treat you.”
Nancy looked at Joe. Joe shrugged.
“I’ll take that for a ‘yes’,” said Jack. “Let’s go to Frascati to that place where we had my welcome-aboard luncheon.”
“That’s outside town,” said Nancy as they got in the car. Joe had to squeeze sideways onto a sort of rear deck behind them. The XKE was a real sports car, with only two seats. “Do you think you can find it?”
“Sure,” said Jack. “And the view should be stupendous today.” He closed the door behind Nancy, ran around and jumped in. In no time, they were flying out the Via Aurelia to the Grande Raccordo Anulare , the brand-new ring road that connected about half the roads leading into Rome. That someday it might be a true beltway all the way around was a running joke among political skeptics.
Jack handled the car with confidence, but also a certain care. After his initial reaction, Joe found himself warming to the new Vice-president of Smithson Italia. From what Nancy had said, Jack had only arrived from the States in late August but had already made an impression on the Board. “So naïve he makes us think sometimes,” she had said.
Jack turned off at the Via Tuscolana, heading southeast away from the City. Like many Roman highways, the Tuscolana was lined with tall Mediterranean pines and ran straight to the base of the Castelli Romani hills before starting its winding climb.
“You seemed to have found your way around pretty quickly,” Nancy said.
“Not hard when you’re single with a car and nowhere to go.” Jack hazarded a quick look on a relatively straight stretch and flashed a smile.
“Where do you play tennis?” Joe asked, shifting the tennis bag at the end of the shelf with his feet.
“I like the courts at the Cavalieri Hilton, and I play near Elio’s restaurant in the Hills, which is another reason I’ve gotten to know the roads around Frascati and Lake Albano.”
Soon they had climbed the Alban Hills and were walking from the car across the park in front of the Villa Torlonia with the white marble fountains of its Water Theatre carved into the hillside.
They ate at a restaurant that overlooked the Pontine Plain. The air was exceptionally clear right after a rain. Rome shimmered in the slight haze from its own heat to their right. To their left, Joe could see the silver expanse of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The coastline looked like a white stripe across the scene. Without it, he could not tell where the flat, wet farmland ended and the sea began.
Joe noticed that Nancy seemed to relax as they talked about sports. Jack quizzed Joe about the Italian campionato, the professional soccer series, and the Giro d’Italia, the premiere bicycle race. Joe grilled him about baseball.
“I guess it catches me off-guard to see such a typical-looking American kid not know much about baseball,” Jack said at one point. Joe shrugged.
“We don’t have a baseball team at school. Or football. Too much equipment, and the travel is too complicated. There’s no one else to play but American military schools. The closest one is Naples, so even a regular game is a two-day trip.”
“But that doesn’t stop your basketball team. I’ve already read about the multi-year winning streak of the Roman Eagles. You guys are the NBA of the Mediterranean.”
“Yes, sir, we do that well, but fielding a basketball team is easier. We can pack everything we need in the team’s personal luggage. And uniforms and basketballs are all there is to buy.”
“The school’s only ten years old,” said Nancy. “Brother Roger, the headmaster, wants to build a pool for a swim team, but that will take a few more years of fund-raising.”
“So, what do you play, Joe?”
“Nothing, really. I’m always the last kid chosen in pick-up games. Kind of klutzy, I guess.”
“Now come on, Joe,” said his mother. “You ran track last year.”
“Oh, yeah. I run the 440 and 440 hurdles. We have two meets in the spring season.”
“Ever play tennis?”
“No, but I wouldn’t mind learning how.”
“When are you going to do that?” asked Nancy, laughing.
“They have lights at the Hilton courts,” Joe said, with a grin. “I could play from eleven-thirty to midnight after the Goldoni Theatre closes, right?”
“Only if your homework is done.”
“You’re one busy guy, Joe,” said Jack. “What’s at the Goldoni Theatre?”
“I run the concession stand in the lobby during the shows. Mrs. Simonetti, the manager, hired me during a school play that we were doing there, when her regular concession manager quit. She knew I ran the snack bar at school for Brother Timothy.”
“And Scouts. And Church. And Photography Club — I saw the pictures in your mother’s office. Anything else?”
“Sure. Anything you say could wind up in my column in the school newspaper!”
Jack laughed. He signaled for the waiter. “Coffee, Nancy?”
“Let’s take a walk and get a caffé on the way. Joe?” Joe nodded in agreement.
Jack wrote in the air with an imaginary pencil. The waiter, still crossing the room, stopped, bowed and turned to go get the bill. “You drink coffee, too, Joe?”
“Sure, don’t you?”
“Yeah, but when I was a kid, no one did.”
“I started two years ago during the coffee-hour in the Church courtyard one Sunday. The Coca-Cola had frozen in the bottles and I nearly did, too.”
Nancy reached into her purse for her cigarettes. Jack reached over and touched her hand, stopping her. “Please,” he said. She put the pack back and set her purse down.
Jack paid the bill. They rose and walked back up toward town. On the way, they stopped at a bar for espresso. Nancy ordered a bag of red wine biscuits to take home.
“Frascati is famous for these things, Jack. Try one.”
Jack agreed and ordered another bag of the hard cookies.
Soon they were speeding back to the Eternal City. Jack left them outside their apartment. He declined an invitation to come in, saying he had to meet some friends downtown.
The Beatles had started singing Twist and Shout on the jukebox when Joe arrived at the Alfa Romeo dealership bar. A deep voice surprised him from behind.
Joe turned sharply. “Hello, Mr. Arland. What are you doing here?” Joe asked the barista for a cappuccino and waved at the gang around the juke box. He joined Jack Arland at the counter. “I meet my friends here on the way to school.”
“Sorry about crashing your huddle, but I need your help.”
“Yes, I need a confidential translator, too, but I can’t ask your mother. She already has too much to do.” He glanced up at the gang. “Is there some place we could meet later for five minutes?”
Joe thought for a minute.
“I guess I could meet you at the Cavalieri Hilton after school and still get home in time.”
“Great. See you about four?”
“Yes, sir, but I must get home by four-fifteen.”
“I’ll be there.” And he was gone. Joe shrugged and took his cappuccino to the juke box.
“Who was that?” asked Matt.
“Guy who works with my mom.”
“Looks worried,” said Aldo. “What’s he want with you?”
“He’s got a job for me – I think.”
“Wants a date with your mom, I’d say,” said Doug. They laughed while Joe felt the heat burning his ears and cheeks. He glared at Doug and clenched his fists.
“Easy, Joe,” said Matt. “You got a good-looking mom, and you know it. And it’s just a joke.” Joe took a deep breath and relaxed.
“Sorry, Joe,” said Doug, “no offense, man.”
Aldo nodded at the wall clock.
“Five minutes to bell, guys. Let’s roll!”
That afternoon, Jack Arland was sitting in an armchair in the lobby of the hotel when Joe walked in at exactly four o’clock. He rose when Joe approached, and they shook hands. Jack wore a tailored blue suit that hung on him like a cover of Gentlemen’s Quarterly. Joe normally did not care what his clothes looked like, but now he was conscious of the sweat stains and wrinkles of his own tan suit, and the mud drying on the outside of his left pant leg.
“Thanks for coming, Joe, here’s what I need.” He picked up a fat file with letters, brochures, and some long documents stapled together. Joe backed up.
“I can’t do that in one night, sir.”
“Oh, I didn’t expect you to.” Jack seemed distressed by his own failure to anticipate Joe’s shock. “I thought you might take only as much as you could handle, a little at a time.”
Joe regained his composure and took the file from Jack.
“Why can’t you use anyone at the office?”
Jack stood, motioned to a sofa, and they sat down. Jack opened the file on the coffee table in front of them.
“Joe, it’s a personal problem. You know I’m new here. I can handle enough Italian for dinner at a restaurant and some of the shorter meetings, but I can’t read all the background material in this file. Your mother and the others have read this stuff.”
Jack signaled to a waiter and pointed at Joe. Joe shook his head and tapped his wrist watch. He didn’t have time for a drink. The waiter nodded and turned to a table close by.
Jack continued. “I can’t ask them to translate something that no one needs but me.”
“So you won’t be typing it or giving it to anyone?”
“No, just reading it myself. Then I’ll file it. Of course, if anyone needs an English version, we’ll have your translation, and we can have it typed then.”
“Why didn’t you ask my mother to bring it home?”
“Two reasons – one, she doesn’t work for me, and, two, she’s the busiest person in the company. It wouldn’t be fair to add something else because I can’t read Italian as fast as I need to yet.” He paused. “Will you take the job?”
“Whatever the company’s paying you now — and you must do the stuff your mother brings home first. Always. It’s more important.”
“That’s a thousand lire a page then. Will you be giving my mother the money, or having Mr. Sacchi mail me a check?”
“Cash, and I’ll give it to you myself when I pick up the translations.”
“Mom could bring this to you, couldn’t she? I’ll ask her.”
Jack put his hand on Joe’s shoulder.
“I’d rather you didn’t, Joe.” He put down his hand and leaned over. “Did you know that you are the only outside translator authorized by the Company to see this material?”
Joe shook his head. “I thought that was only for the stuff Mom brought me.”
“Well, you are, so I can’t go to anyone else. Between you and me, I’d be very embarrassed if your mother and the others knew I was having you do this. But I need help and I’m willing to pay.”
“Well, OK. Let me try something small at first.”
“Thanks, Joe.” Jack selected two one-page letters. “There was a lot of discussion about these two, so I probably need them most, but I’ll take them when you can finish them. Here’s my card: call me when they’re ready, and I’ll meet you.”
Joe put the letters in his rucksack. They stood and shook hands. Joe went to his bike parked outside. As he swung into the saddle, he saw Jack walking briskly towards his XKE in the parking lot.
The letters were easy, and he did not have any work from Nancy that night. He called Jack the next day from a pay phone at school. They met at a coffee bar that Joe passed every day on the way home. Jack gave him two thousand lire and some more letters from the file folder.
“I’ll collect these as you finish each one, but this way I won’t need to bring the whole file with me each time.”
That file folder had enough work in it to put Joe over the top for a new Vespa by the middle of December. But Nancy had not brought home anything for him since Jack’s work started, so he could not ask her about it.
(to be continued)