Chapter 18: Rome & Cologne, Wednesday

The next week, Nancy had to go to Cologne for meetings with Smithson’s German subsidiary. Joe felt relieved. Jack Arland was going, too, which meant he could work late on the translations without having to come home or go back after Angela left. The USIS Library closed at 10 pm. 

He came out of his room to see his mother off.

“That’s new,” he said, pointing to the case with her tennis racket.

“Oh, that. Well, Jack is going, and isn’t this week when we usually play? Unlucky you, you have to miss your lesson.” She smiled, pecked a kiss on his cheek, and went out to the waiting company car.

Joe closed the door and turned toward his room. He noticed his mother’s cigarettes and lighter were on the side table in the hall. He picked them up to run after her.

The car was gone. He shrugged and put them back on the side table. Then he recognized them as the same pack that she had bought at the tabaccheria when they walked home from the trattoria after signing their statements at the police station. The seal was still unbroken.

=*=*=*=

Nancy leaned back in the rear seat of the car and breathed deeply. She knew that Joe should be just fine by himself with Angela coming in every day. She had left him countless times before. But it would take some time for the stress of the home invasion to abate. She tried to analyze her feelings, which did not always help.

She felt violated. A home should be a place of safety, but she may never feel safe in her own home again. She wondered if rape felt like this on a larger scale, a ripping away of any sense of security that one might have. With that thought, she realized that her tension was getting worse, not better.

She felt the car speed up on the Via Appia, heading in the opposite direction of the morning rush hour. Nancy stowed her feelings about the burglary, unhappily aided by the consideration of the coming plane trip to Cologne.

Right now, she wanted a cigarette. Her body was not happy with the choice her head had made. The fact was, she could feel the difference on the court now that she was playing tennis again. Jack may not be the champion player that Jason had been, but he was a worthy opponent, and he was getting better, quickly. She had not realized how much she missed the game all these years.

It was not as if she needed the smoke. Unable to light up in the office, and with Joe becoming more adamant at home about smoke-free zones, she hardly got many chances to enjoy the habit. She knew that women smoked freely back in the States, but here in Italy, ladies did not smoke except in social situations with people they knew. She had smoked less the last month, and already she could detect the stale smell on her clothes. She was ready to quit – she hoped.

Eccoci, signora” here we are, ma’am. The driver pulled up next to another black Alfa Romeo Giulia. The driver of the other car waved as he backed out. “Dottor Arland is already here.”

Grazie, Adriano. Arrivederci a sabato” See you Saturday. Nancy let herself out while Adriano collected her suitcase and tennis racket from the trunk and carried them to the check-in counter. Nancy collected her boarding pass and walked into the waiting area.

She saw Jack staring at the mix of military and civilian traffic through the big glass windows. He stood easily with his right hand in his pocket and his left hand holding his briefcase. Nancy paused to consider his broad shoulders and the way his hair fell over the back of his head. The crew cut he had brought from New York had grown out completely, and whichever stylist he was using had turned his head into a model of male elegance. With his tailored suit and the Gucci briefcase, he no longer looked like a naïve American. She walked up behind him and stopped again.

“You still nervous about this?”

Jack smiled even before he turned deliberately toward her. She moved up to the window.

“Frankly, yes.”

“Well, don’t be. I can tell you that you’ll at least cut a good first impression. And that’s important.”

“Says the Amazon who can fight in four languages.” He knew that she had heard that crack about her negotiating skills already. “I’m finally getting comfortable with Italian, and we’re off to Germany.”

“The discussions will be in English, Jack.”

“But not the side talk. I never appreciated how important your ability to overhear that muttering was until I saw you working with the Del Piave group.”

“Well, only one of us has to be a spy. I’ll keep you up to speed.”

“I’ve never had occasion to ask before: just how did you learn all those languages?”

“Army brat. My father was the military attaché in Berlin and Rome before the war. No bases in Europe back then. We lived on the economy and went to local schools. My mother’s French. When the war broke out, we moved to Montreal to stay with cousins. Quebec is for me as Italy is for Joe, I guess.”

“That’s amazing.”

“Not for a little girl. I grew up using four languages every day.”

A Lufthansa stewardess called their flight at the door to the tarmac. Soon they were buckling themselves into their seats. Nancy insisted on an aisle seat.

“You going to need that?” she asked, pointing to the doggy bag.

“No. Do you get airsick?” Jack’s surprise was written all over his face.

“Yes. I need to be ready.”

“I just never figured.”

“We all have an Achilles’ heel, Jack. Mine is motion sickness. I don’t think that I’ve ever flown with someone from the company before, so I haven’t had to advertise it. But it seems fair to warn you, in case we hit turbulence.”

Jack smiled, his eyes taking a gentle depth that Nancy had never seen before. “My co-pilot carried four of those on every mission, and he filled every one. I can handle it.”

“You mean they let him fly bombers when he was airsick?”

“Recruiters couldn’t be picky towards the end of the war. Once the flak started, we were too busy for him to notice. All that mattered was getting back.”

The engines began their roar and the plane trembled before launching down the runway. Nancy leaned back, closed her eyes and gripped the armrests until her fingers hurt.

Warmth flowed over her left hand, as Jack put his hand over hers and held it firmly. The feeling from Jack’s hand ran up her arm like an IV injection. She relaxed her shoulders and realized that she had been holding her breath. She focused on her diaphragm and breathed steadily and slowly. She kept that up as the brakes released and the jet barreled down the runway.

When the pilot leveled off at 30,000 feet and turned off the seat belt sign, she sighed deeply and turned her head to look at Jack. His gentle expression had not changed.

“Thanks. That helped.”

“You’re welcome. I should have held my co-pilot’s hand, but I never thought of it.”

She laughed and realized that she had not noticed her stomach at all.

The flight was calm above the clouds. Nancy turned to look through the window. Jack backed into the seat to let her lean in front of him.

“It’s beautiful up here,” she said. “I’ve never let myself look before.”

Jack looked out, and his eyes took on a faraway look. “It is. I’ve never stopped loving the view, or the feeling of flying your own aircraft.”

“Flying is fun?” Nancy’s wide eyes surprised him again. He saw the fear and disbelief.

“Hard to imagine maybe, but nothing can top it – except maybe sex.” She laughed, then turned sober.

“Not my experience of flying, believe me.”

“It might be different if you were in control, like steering a boat instead of just sitting in it. People who get car sick as passengers don’t often feel it when driving.”

The cloud cover thinned, and Nancy could see the Alps crawling in the other direction.

“Maps just can’t capture this, can they?”

“Nope.”

After passing the Alps, the cloud cover thinned and disappeared. She saw the patchwork of farms in Luxembourg and northern France, and the watery flatlands of the northern Rhine Valley. As the jet began descending, Nancy sat back. This time she reached out for Jack’s hand. He put his other hand over hers and smiled.

“I’ve been noticing how this pilot controls the plane. He probably trained as a Luftwaffe bomber pilot. I’ll bet he makes a long, slow approach, and you won’t even know when we touch down unless you’re looking.”

Nancy squeezed his hands.

“You look. I’ll just breathe carefully.” She turned to look into his eyes, smiled, then fixed her gaze on the “No Smoking” sign at the front of the cabin. Talking with Jack relaxed her, she realized. She tried to think of something besides her fear.

“Did you fly over Germany?”

“Yes, but not over Cologne.” He looked out the window a moment. “My bio mentioned that I flew bombers. Do you think that it could come up at the meetings?”

Nancy thought briefly.

“It could, but I don’t think anyone will mention it. The war affected everyone here more deeply than perhaps you can imagine. Some don’t want to be reminded; others would consider it bad manners to bring it up; and still others wouldn’t want their views to come out in public.”

“I saw the BDA photos, and I still can’t square them with the postcard pictures of German cities today.”

“BDA?”

“Sorry – bomb damage assessment. The fighter pilots covering our exit would take pictures – if they could.” He fell silent.

She squeezed his hand again. “Focus on what we’re doing here, and everything will be fine. You don’t need to feel guilty or worry about our hosts. Europeans learned long ago to put war behind them and get on with life.” She smiled again.

“That worked.”

“What?”

“Look out the window. I told you he would come down smoothly.”

Nancy gasped to see the fence of the airport outside the window. The pilot reversed the engines gradually and slowed the big jet as the airport terminal came into view.

“I don’t know whether to slap you or thank you.”

“Let’s thank each other. The war thing has really been eating at me. I needed someone to explain my options. Thanks.”

“Thanks, yourself”. She squeezed his hand again and let go to unbuckle her seat belt.

As they collected their bags at the terminal, Nancy recognized a slender man in a chauffeur uniform, holding a sign that read “Smithson Italia”. She touched Jack’s shoulder to get his attention then walked over to the driver.

Guten Tag, Manfred. You did not have to draw a sign for us!” She smiled.

Manfred drew himself up stiffly, but also smiled.

Guten Tag, Frau Doktor,” he said. “I was not sure who would be coming on this flight.”

“This is Dr. Arland,” she said in English. “I think that we’re the only arrivals on this flight.”

Manfred gave Jack a brief bow, then reached for their bags. He led them to the curb, where a black Mercedes limousine was parked. Jack held the rear door for Nancy, while Manfred loaded the luggage.

Back in the car, Manfred started the car and pulled smoothly into traffic.

“Do you wish to stop anywhere in particular?” he said in English, looking at them in the rear-view mirror.

“I think the hotel directly would be fine, Manfred,” Nancy said. “Do you have other pickups today?”

“Not until this evening, Mrs. Mather.”

“Good. Maybe you can take a nice long break.”

Manfred smiled briefly, then focused seriously on the drive.

Jack and Nancy were silent during the short ride. The hotel manager was waiting at the door for them. The doorman held the door. Jack got out on the other side and walked around.

Doktor Mather, what a pleasure to see you again!” the manager beamed. He waved at the bellboys, who were already racing to the car trunk.

“Thank you, Hans, it’s good to be back.” Her reply in English was all the hint the hotelier needed.

“Dr. Arland, I presume.” The two men shook hands. “Hans Ulsdorf. We are delighted to have you staying with us. I have arranged for adjoining suites, in case you need to confer privately between meetings.”

“Nice to meet you. And thanks. Whatever arrangements suit Dr. Mather are fine with me.” He nodded clearly towards Nancy.

“Of course, sir.”

As they walked into the lobby, the manager gave them their keys, and accompanied them to the elevator.

“Please deposit your passports at the reception at your convenience.”

“Hans, do you mind taking care of it? Here’s mine. Jack?”

Jack pulled his passport from his coat pocket and handed it to Hans.

“Thank you. I will bring them back myself today, unless you want to pick them up.”

“We’ll pick them up later,” Nancy said. “I expect that we won’t leave the hotel until this evening.”

As they walked to their rooms, Jack could not help expressing his admiration. “You have them eating from your hands, Nancy.”

“Companies like Smithson and Bayer spend a lot of money here. It’s not just the rooms; it’s the conference facilities. When we use a big hotel like this, they take care of all sorts of little details we would have to arrange ourselves, like security, PA systems, and such.”

“I know about that, and you know what I mean.” He winked at her with an innocent smile. “They genuinely like you.”

“It’s the respect, Jack. They know that I care about them as people. You learned that in med school. They react to it. And it pleases me to see them enjoying our company.”

“Still, you have an amazing bedside manner, if that’s all it is.”

“Don’t ask Joe’s opinion. Teenagers are tough patients.” They both laughed. “And you’re no slouch yourself. People like being around you. They relax around you. I’ve seen it – and after the flight today, I understand it.”

Their rooms were indeed adjoining. Nancy unlocked her door.

“Feel like some tennis, lunch or just take a nap?” she asked. “We probably need to discuss the dinner tonight with our German counterparts, but that shouldn’t take long.”

“I was thinking of all three in that order. Shall I reserve a court?”

“Maria Grazia already did, but I’ll tell them a precise time, so they can free it up after us. See you there in a half-hour?”

“Give me an hour. I want to look at the room a bit, and any info they left in the room. You already know the place.”

“OK. See you in sixty.”

Inside her suite, Nancy found her luggage sitting on the luggage caddy. She called the front desk to confirm the court for two hours, then unpacked quickly. She had had this suite before and knew that the door in the wall was one of two doors between her suite and Jack’s. She smiled as she freshened up. Europeans are so clever and discreet, she thought. She gave herself a mental slap. Business was business, and Jack was part of business. With a sigh, she changed into her tennis outfit. Having Jack along for one of these conferences would be more enjoyable than the lonely sorties she had made in the past. At least she hoped so. Sometimes he was so sharp, and sometimes, what he did not know amazed her.

Through the adjoining door, she could hear Jack on the phone. She wondered why he might be calling anyone in Cologne, but then remembered that he probably had family back in New York. She knew so little about him.

========

(to be continued)

JT

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