“Well, this one’ll put gas in the Vespa until he gets back,” said Joe. He put the letter in his room.Nancy went past his room to the kitchen. Angela had already set the table and fixed supper. She had not spoken about her brother since the funeral.
“Will you be going home for Christmas?”
“Yes, signora. We’re all going to Pescara to see my father.”
“Would you like a few extra days? Joe and I can manage just fine if you want to leave Monday and come back after Befana.”
Angela put her hands to her face. “Oh, signora, you are too kind. My husband gets off Monday. We had not planned on being able to beat the rush.”
“Well, ask him. It’s fine with us. Now don’t miss your bus.”
Angela seemed distracted and pleased as she gathered her own shopping and her purse. Joe always marveled at how she could shop for two households every day, carrying it all in a half-dozen mesh bags in both hands. The Mathers had kept American dinner hours on purpose ever since Nancy hired Angela. Joe knew that Angela’s family ate much later, which gave her time to get home with her shopping.
“Let’s wrap her gifts after supper,” said Nancy. Joe nodded.
“Angela’s kids are going to love the jeans.” They had worked on the surprise since the summer. Joe got the sizes from Angela on some excuse. His grandparents mailed the clothes back in November.
Wrapping gifts for Angela’s family put them both in a Christmas mood. They played carols on the record player. Presents for the grandparents had been mailed long ago, so this was the beginning of the season for the Mathers. After the gifts were wrapped, Joe translated the del Piave letter. He worked on the file from Jack Arland, too, while his mother worked in her study.
“Today, we will review the pattern research of Mendel…” Brother Peter began in his nasal drone. Joe opened his Biology notebook on the desk in front of the textbook and laid his note pad on top of it. He stared up at the board then began to read the letter. After he read the whole thing, he began to write.
With respect to your letter of the 13th last, I am pleased to inform you that the members of our subsidiary in Bergamo have agreed to travel to Cologne for a meeting on the subject. They will meet us at the Bad Kreuznach Hotel on the 25th. We sincerely hope that you will be able to join us, and we invite you to repeat the presentation you made in Milan.
As you can see from the enclosed, our work is of great interest to a wide variety of customers. The opportunity to expand the firm to include the participation of the Bergamo group should not be missed.
Best wishes and regards,
Joe then turned to the enclosed clippings. There were three of them, from three different European news magazines, Panorama in Italian, Paris Match in French and Der Spiegel in German. They all concerned the bombing in Milan, the one that killed Angela’s brother.
There must be some mistake, Joe thought. He leaned down to his knapsack and leafed through the manila folder.
“Mr. Mather!” Brother Peter’s voice broke through his concentration. A titter ran through the class. Joe snapped up, closing his note pad over the letter and articles.
“Yes, Brother.” He felt the heat in his ears.
“You seem so intent on your notes, I assume you have followed my every word.”
“I’m sorry, sir.” He scanned the board quickly, desperately seeking some clue as to what the question might be. Benny shifted to the right up ahead, revealing the letter A-B-B-A in his note pad.
“The pattern, Mr. Mather, the pattern among the grand-children plants.”
“Uh, A-B-B-A, sir.”
“And why is that?” the monk asked. Ben rolled his eyes to the ceiling. Joe punted.
“Because Mendel thought that they would have traits from both sets of grandparents.”
“See me after class, Mr. Mather, and pull your head out of whatever you’re doing that isn’t Biology.”
The bell rang only two minutes later. Joe approached the teacher’s desk.
“We’re worried about you, Joe,” said Brother Peter. He gave Joe a ticket for “academic counseling.” That meant staying after school. “We’ll do this in Brother Roger’s office.”
Oh God, thought Joe, the headmaster! Joe took the ticket and moved to history class in a daze. He could not figure out which was worse: the threat of this getting back to his mother or the fact that Brother Peter was surely going to make Joe late for his appointment with Jack Arland.
Jack Arland. He thought, They’re going to want to know what I have. This is the end. I’ll never see another translation job again and God knows what Mom’ll do.
During lunch Joe tried to call Jack at his office from the pay phone, but the executive was at a meeting in another part of town. All Joe could do now was to finish the letter he was working on and hope for the best. He smashed his fist into the brick wall by the phone, pain shooting up his arm and shoulder. He wished that he had been smart enough to say no when Jack asked for all four letters at once. He should have gone with his instincts and warned Jack that it was too much with his schedule.
He went to the washroom to clean his bleeding knuckles. His left hand ached as he recovered his bag from his locker. At least he had not swung his writing hand.
Joe had a study hall right after lunch. He finished the second letter there. He basically fretted through Math and French after that until the bell rang for the end of school. He ran to the parking lot and fired up the Vespa.
He was two miles away at a red light when he remembered the ticket in his knapsack.
Oh, hell, he said to himself. No point in going back now. I’ll just have to think of something later. At this point I’d be late for both Brother Peter and Jack.
Jack was late. Joe fretted self-consciously at the counter of the café at the Piazzale Clodio after he finished his espresso. When the third set of customers had come and gone at the counter, he ordered an acqua minerale and sat at a table outside. He could afford these kinds of luxuries now, but he still felt uncomfortable, both spending the extra money and waiting.
Joe pulled out the third letter and a note pad and began to work. It was almost four-thirty when Jack arrived. Joe had the third letter half-finished.
“Sorry I’m late, Joe,” said the executive. “I had to park two blocks away. Do you have the letters?”
“I could only finish two of them. My schedule has been too hectic at school.”
Jack’s expression fell. “I was really counting on all four. Why did you say you could do them?”
“I thought I could, really. I just didn’t know.” Joe took out the two completed letters. “I even got in trouble at school for trying to do them in class.”
“Damn, Joe! You mean someone else has seen this stuff?”
“No, not at all. But my Biology teacher caught me working on it. He didn’t come over to see it, but I forgot to stay after school for a meeting with him.”
“This is serious, Joe. Maybe I made a mistake letting you do this after all. I can’t afford to have this work mixed up with your school life.”
“I’m sorry, sir. It won’t happen again. It was stupid to work on it in school.”
“You’re right. It was also stupid to say you could do it, too. I told you never to let this get in the way of your school work or the material your mother brings home.”
“I know. I overestimated what I could do.”
“You sure did.” Jack stared up and down the street, his face grim. Then he looked back at the teenager. “I should fire you, but I don’t have anyone else to turn to.” He stared at the two letters. “I think I can make do with these for now. Get me the next two as soon as you can. And don’t ever run the risk of this being found out by anyone else again. Is that clear?”
Jack gave him two one-thousand lire notes and walked quickly away. Joe waited until the man was out of sight before leaving himself. He had never felt so low. He put the money in his wallet. Is this what thirty pieces of silver felt like in Judas’ hand?
(to be continued)