“Thanks, operator, I have it.” Jack hung up and wrote down the number. Then he dialled the hotel operator and asked for another international line. He listened patiently as the switches closed in Cologne, Hamburg, London, Shannon and New York. Electricity flowing over the continents and under the Atlantic.
“FBI, New York Field Office, may I help you?”
“Special Agent Worthman, please”
“Whom may I say is calling?” So formal these government operators, thought Jack. He gave her his name. She asked him to wait.
“Jack, you old dog, is that really you?” Bob Worthman did not sound a day older or less bubbly than he had in college.
“’Tis I, good man, and brother to ye all, Bob.” The old fraternity greeting.
“You still with Smithson?”
“Yes, and that’s partly why I need to talk to you.”
“Something weird in my company – or not. I don’t know.”
“Can you tell me about it?”
“I don’t know that either. Let me tell you a bit of what I’ve come across and you tell me where to turn next.”
“OK. You talk. I’ll listen.”
Jack sat down. He paused to put his hand to his eyes, took a deep breath.
“You remember that I was sent to Rome last summer?”
“Nice promotion, as I recall. Nice party before you left.”
“Right. Well, one my main jobs, if not the principal assignment, is to be a liaison between the Italian subsidiary and the major investors in New York.”
“Not really. The main office in Richmond set it up. We owe our biggest shareholders some special treatment and a little extra reporting. Most of them are either headquartered in New York or have major offices there.”
“That makes sense. So, what’s weird?”
“They all have Italian-speaking staff. Also, I happen to be the only one in the Rome office who’s not bi-lingual. So it’s weird that I have to send copies of particular files to New York – in Italian. I can’t even read them. They’re marked up in our various offices throughout Italy, usually with multiple copies for different files: by operating division, geographic area and a copy for New York.”
“No. The special correspondence has a code on it and comes in three copies. Only about three or four pieces a week. Each letter has attachments, usually magazine or journal articles about our products.” He paused.
“Sometime in April, I noticed that the attachments were almost all from the regular press, and that certain words or photos were circled. I also noticed that only one word was circled in any cover letter. About six different colors are used. I never paid attention before, because my Italian only got good enough in the last month to start trying to look at the Italian to see what some common words were.”
“Sounds like coded messages inside the files.”
“That’s what I wonder. I’ve been having the files translated for my own reading, and the English translations didn’t have the circles on them, of course. But now that I can read some of the Italian, I noticed that most of the circles are around words about military targets, NATO bases, and security issues. I’m worried now.”
“I would be, too. How can I help?”
“Any idea who could help me figure this out? Who needs to know? You’re the only FBI person I know, so I thought I would start with you.”
“It sounds serious, Jack, and I think I know who can help.” Jack heard him shuffling a Rolodex file on his desk.
“Did you know that we have an FBI Office in Rome?”
“It’s a dream assignment, believe me, as good as this one in New York. We maintain close relations with our Allies’ police forces. Our man in Rome is Special Agent James Redwood. He’s top-notch and you can trust him. Just go see him. Want the number?”
“I’ve met him. Yes, a number would be helpful. I’ll call him as soon as I get back. I’m at a conference in Cologne this week. In fact, I have to go now.”
Bob read him the number. “A Miss Billingsley will answer the phone. If Redwood isn’t in, tell her to tell him it’s about what Bob Worthman reported. I’ll call them myself to give them a heads-up.”
“Thanks, Bob. I hope this isn’t anything serious, but it has me worried. My translator is just a kid. His mother works with me at Smithson, and I wouldn’t want anything to happen to them, either. I don’t know that they know anything about this, except the translator, and he doesn’t seem to have noticed the circles – yet.”
“Don’t worry, Jack. Whatever you do, don’t do anything different until you talk to Redwood. We don’t want to tip our hand if it’s important.”
“You got it, Bob. And thanks again. Give Patsy a big hug for me.” They rang off.
Jack finished putting his packing away, then changed. He felt relieved. Worried still, but no longer like he was bearing it alone. He remembered Jim Redwood from the American Chamber of Commerce luncheons. He had never mentioned that he was FBI, but then Jack had never had a close conversation with him.
Jack slung his tennis bag over his shoulder and closed the door gently behind himself.
They played hard and fast, not stopping for the whole two hours. They were both high on endorphins and reveling in the exercise after sitting in cars and airplanes all day. They quit at one p.m.
“You didn’t say a word,” Jack asked as he wiped his face. “Are you angry?”
“Not at all. I feel great. I haven’t had a match like that in years. Were you holding back on me in Rome?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t have much to measure against. You’re the one with the coaches and scouts looking at you.”
Nancy face darkened just for a second. Then she said seriously.
“Jack, you played with a passion I’ve never seen before.”
“Well, I haven’t felt like this in a long time. It’s even more fun than I remember.”
“Can you stand lunch? I haven’t eaten since dawn.”
“Neither have I. Knock on your door in a half-hour?”
“No. Coffee shop downstairs in a half-hour. I want to check the concession shops on the way there.” She picked up her tennis bag, and they headed for the elevators. “Would you bring your copy of the schedule, too? We might as well get some planning out of the way.”
“OK.” Jack watched her breathing. “How’s your wind?”
“Not as good as it used to be.”
“Think we can play like that every day?”
“Sure. I might even let you win one or two.” She punched him and went into her room. Inside, she flopped on the bed, and took a long series, of low, deep breaths, counting four seconds in and four seconds out. As her heart and lungs slowed down, she knew that she would never pick up her cigarettes again. She loved that feeling on the court. She resolved never to lose it again.
She thought of calling Joe but decided to do that later. The shower felt good, but she did not allow herself to luxuriate. She changed into a skirt and blue-green blouse, which she knew brought out her eyes, and some low pumps. She picked up her copy of the schedule for the meetings and her purse. Giving the door in the wall a wistful look, she went downstairs.
She walked slowly through the shops in the hotel concourse, not planning to buy anything, unless something for Joe jumped out at her. Thirty-five minutes after she punched Jack in the hall outside their rooms, she walked into the coffee shop and joined him at a table against the far wall. He looked good: clean, relaxed, casually looking at the people in the restaurant. Blue polo shirt and tan slacks.
“Sorry, I’m late,” she said, smiling as she sat down.
“Late?” he said returning her smile. He looked up at the waiter who had moved to follow her as soon as she walked in. “You’re right on time. I’m the one who needs to be early.” Nancy wondered how he could make irony sound so positive. “Shall we look at menus or schedules first?”
“Menus.” She looked at the waiter and ordered steak and eggs and coffee. Jack looked surprised.
“I’ll have the same,” he said, handing the menu back to the waiter. He looked at Nancy, “That’s a Texas breakfast. I’m surprised.”
“Then you’re in for more surprises,” she answered. “I’m not only hungry, I need protein after all that tennis. A croissant or a salad won’t cut it.”
“I’m going to enjoy seeing new sides of the boss this week.”
She looked at him seriously. “Jack, we’re both Americans,” she said. “We understand teamwork, and I’m not your boss. The other participants may need to perceive someone in charge, but I’m keenly aware that you’re the negotiating expert on the team. That’s why you were sent to us.”
Jack looked at her silently. He arched his eyebrows to signal her to go on.
“I’ve worked with these men for years now, and I have a pretty good relationship with them. I can answer anything you need to know about them. I know how to take charge of a meeting. But to push this to the next level, we need a one-two punch. You in your ‘manly’ role making it clear that we’re working together and that I’m in charge, and me letting you make points, so that we score as a team. I may be able to understand the side-chatter, but you can size them up with a different perspective than I have. That may be crucial. What do you think?”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s been my hunch about coming with you on this trip, and it’s a relief to have my hunch confirmed.”
“More like partners in a squad car, eh?”
“Sure, ‘pard’.” He grinned. “Who do we take down first?”
They paused as the waiter came back with their coffee and some sweet rolls.
“Let’s discuss our own team first,” she said after the waiter left. “They’ve been working on this deal between my visits. You should know who the different players are and what they have or can contribute.”
“Why do I get the feeling that this is a not a gung-ho bunch?”
“They aren’t. They’re unusual for an office of men working at their level. There are two who seem to carry most of the work, but even they need me or someone else from the head office to come in occasionally to confirm arrangements and make commitments. All the rest seem to do between my trips is lay the groundwork for the next meeting. That’s why I asked for only three representatives for this meeting with Bayer. It makes five of us, and two of the three Germans are the ones we can count on.”
Over lunch, they discussed the three men who would be joining them for dinner that evening. They took notes on their schedules. Several cups of coffee after the steak and eggs, they felt that each had a sense for how best to interact with the management of Smithson Deutschland GmbH. Jack signaled for the bill and put it on his room.
“OK.” Nancy said. “The third item on the list was a nap. See you at five?”
Jack yawned. “I never thought I’d ever take naps in the afternoon, but that sounds like a wonderful idea right now. See you after siesta.”
As she unlocked her room, Nancy thought that they would need the rest each day to make it through the business dinners each night. She didn’t feel the coffee at all.
The alarm woke her at four-thirty. She felt disoriented at first. It had been years since she had taken a nap in the afternoon, and the deep sleep following the exercise and lunch made the experience even more unfamiliar. She slipped into a pair of slacks and a blouse, then called home. No answer.
“Strange,” she said to herself out loud. Then she remembered that her son was usually out of the house in the afternoon, for any of a dozen reasons. Silly to worry about him, she thought, even if it was perfectly natural for a mother.
The phone interrupted her musings. It was Jack.
“Your place or mine? We never discussed where to meet at five.”
Nancy looked at the door in the wall. She would not mind either place.
“How about the coffee shop again? Or maybe the terrace by the pool. The others won’t be here until seven, so we’ll have plenty of time to change for dinner.” She felt the silence on the line.
“OK. See you by the pool in ten minutes.” Jack sounded more chipper than Nancy felt.
By six, they had laid out their plan for the meetings with Bayer and exchanged notes about the participants from both Bayer and Smithson Deutschland. All that remained tonight was to hear what the local Smithson people had to say at dinner and enjoy the meal.
Nancy came out of her room to find Jack standing by her door in the hall.
“I thought maybe we should go down together. What do you think?”
“Just don’t take my arm.” She smiled.
He laughed and followed her to the elevators.
The Cologne team were at the bar outside the hotel restaurant, as agreed. Nancy knew that they had all arrived within five minutes of each other, between 6:55 p.m. and seven. Such precision is easy, she thought. All they need are orders.
“Helmut, good to see you again.” She shook hands with the shortest of the trio, a fifty-something man with grey hair combed back and a rosy face. Then she addressed the other two in English. “Hans and Klaus, good to see you, too.” After shaking their hands, she indicated Jack. “This is Jack Arland, our Vice-President for Investment and Strategy. Jack, Helmut Gottlieb.”
The two men shook hands, and Gottlieb proceeded to introduce the other two. Hans Schmidt, VP for Operations, stood as tall as Jack, with thick blond hair carefully styled. He stood with an easy grace, like an athlete. Klaus Durst stood ramrod straight and jerked slightly, as if he remembered at the last minute not to click his heels. His handshake was short and formal.
Introductions done, the three Germans looked at Nancy.
“Shall we dine, gentlemen?” The group left their unfinished beers and followed her into the restaurant. A back room had been set aside for the occasion, so they were assured both privacy and security. The restaurant jealously maintained its five-star rating, so the dinner and the service set a tone of comfort and pleasure.
The usual pleasantries about backgrounds and favorite places occupied the first two courses. Nancy and Jack asked about the work of the German subsidiary during the meat, dessert and the fruit and cheese. Men love to talk about their work, and it was easy to keep them engaged until the coffee was brought out with the port, and the wait staff discreetly drew back. By then, they had warmed to Jack like an old friend.
“It seems that we’re about as ready we can be,” said Nancy, turning to the main course of the conversation. “As you know, Bayer is hoping that we can undercut your competitors in Germany for their new generics contract, because our labor costs are lower in Italy. They also wanted to deal with representatives from the American parent group, which is why Dr. Arland and I are here, instead of our Italian colleagues. Dr. Moretti is in on this arrangement, part of which was his idea.” She paused. The Germans nodded. “What is your sense of the competition and our ability to win the contract?” She looked at all three of them and let the silence hang.
Helmut spoke first. “I think that it will be tight.” The other two nodded. “Roche, Merck, and Schering can each match our production capacity. Can we really undercut their bid enough?”
Nancy noticed that they were looking at Jack. Nancy nodded to him.
“Well, I think so,” Jack said. “Everyone knows what our labor costs are, especially in Southern Italy. No one in Europe can produce such high quality as cheaply, in almost any industry, from movie-making to automobiles.”
“True, but pharmaceuticals have stricter regulatory and safety issues than most industries,” Klaus said.
“True, but we’re already meeting those requirements.” Jack paused and looked around.
Hans leaned forward and spoke to both Americans. “To achieve the unit costs needed in this proposal you are planning to present tomorrow, I think that we would need to increase production capacity by at least 25%. We don’t have the infrastructure for that here in Germany. And if we did, we could not attract the workforce needed to man the plants.”
“Granted.” Jack paused again. “What if I told you we could do that in Italy?”
Helmut looked sharply at Nancy. Hans straightened back up, and Klaus sucked in a short breath.
“There has been no news of an increase in capacity,” said Helmut.
“And there won’t be. We have some very confidential negotiations going on now, which could be accelerated if we win the contract from Bayer.”
“And what would our role be in this?” asked Klaus. “It looks like a Smithson Italia show.”
“Same as now. You would provide the product as the signatory of the contract and collect the revenue. Smithson Italia would send it to you in Germany as an intra-group transfer. Win-win, I think.”
“So, you do not intend to change the working arrangement between Smithson Deutschland and Smithson Italia?” Helmut said.
“Not at all.”
The three Germans seemed relieved and pleased.
“Now we understand better why the numbers seem so risky,” said Hans.
“But not impossible,” said Helmut. “I think that we can pitch this to Bayer tomorrow in a convincing way.”
Jack sat back and smiled.
Nancy brought their attention back to her with a slight cough. “One extremely important point. This extra production capacity is only in negotiation, but we cannot have any hint of it reach Bayer. We only want you to understand why Smithson Italia is confident that we can deliver, but we want Bayer to continue to work with our currently known production capacity. Is everyone clear on that?”
“Ja, frau Doktor.” Helmut grinned. “It will be a pleasure to beat out the other three contenders in this one.” The others smiled and nodded.
Nancy rose, which caused a general jumping out of chairs. Jack stifled a grin, as they all shook hands. Jack accompanied them to the door, while Nancy signed for the dinner.
“That went well, I think,” Jack said, as they walked into the cool air of the night.
“You were good, Jack. I thought Hans was going to hug you during the meat course, he got so excited that you play tennis.”
“Speaking of which, did you hear him ask about playing doubles with his wife before we leave?”
“No.” Nancy drew a breath. “Did you accept?”
“Told him that I would check with the boss and let him know in the morning.” He winked and grinned.
“I haven’t played doubles since – “
“I know. That’s why I didn’t make a commitment.”
“Have you played doubles?”
“Yes. I did have a life before Smithson, you know. I just haven’t had a tennis partner in Rome until recently.”
“Well, OK. But let me invite the Schmidts myself tomorrow. I want to make the usual noises about my lack of recent experience.”
“Of course. Hans is probably going to get an earful from his wife about committing her to play a US Olympian.”
“But they’ll never let it show, will they?”
Back at the hotel, they rode in the elevator in silence. They paused at the doors to their rooms. Nancy felt the pull as much as he did.
“Yes.” Jack stepped closer. Nancy’s eyes widened slightly.
“You were really good today. I hope that you can charm the Bayer team as well.”
“I’ll do my best.” They both glanced at her door.
“Good night, Jack.” Nancy put the key in.
“Sleep tight, Nancy. See you in the morning.”
On her side of the liaison door, she leaned against it and breathed deeply. Then she sighed and proceeded to get ready for bed. She thought of calling Joe, but she knew it was too late. At least, he’d better be asleep in bed, she thought with a smile.
(to be continued)