Chapter 20: Rome, Thursday

The day after Nancy and Jack left, Joe typed at home while Angela was there. He kept his door closed. After she left, he gathered up all his papers and rode down to the USIS Library to work on the rest of the last batch of letters. The heat of the day only began to ease as he made his way through the afternoon rush hour.

There were new people in the colored circles in this batch. The letters themselves dealt with an old drug, one that went out of patent protection a few years ago and was being marketed as a generic drug now. Unlike the politicians and General Arcibaldo, he did not recognize any of these people.

He bought a snack at the Star & Stripes Newsstand before it closed and went back to work. A gentle rain began outside, muffling the sound of the traffic and flushing most of the tourists off the street.

“We close in fifteen minutes, you know.” Joe looked up with a start. He was on the last letter, but he needed to finish it and stash his copies at the Termini Train Station. Thank goodness, he was alone this week. He could finish up everything in the morning, then go to the train station.

He packed up and stepped into the hallway to go to the exit. A familiar perfume caught his attention, and he turned to see Sandra and Agent Redwood coming through the swinging doors.

“Working late?” he asked, with a smile.

“So are you, it seems,” said the FBI Agent. “Actually, this happens more often than I’d like.”

“It’s only four p.m. in Washington,” said Sandra. “They keep the phones and telexes busy as long as they can.”

“And your case is big, Joe,” said the agent.

“Speaking of that, I’m working on the last of the current batch of letters. There are some people I don’t recognize in the colored circles. I’ll be back here to finish in the morning, and I’ll bring it all up to you.”

“Wonderful. I look forward to it.” They paused at the door looking at the rain, which was getting heavier.

“Don’t you have an umbrella, Joe?”

“I got so used to getting wet, that I keep forgetting to bring one.”

“You can share mine,” offered Sandra.

“Come to think of it, Joe, I wouldn’t mind if you walked Sandra to the bus stop. I usually do when we work late, but I want to catch at least the end of the game.” Joe would have normally been at the game, too.

“I’d be happy to.”

Agent Redwood shook Joe’s hand and headed into the rain crossing the street to the Embassy parking lot. Sandra gave Joe her umbrella and wrapped her arm around his. He felt the heat again. Her perfume was trapped by the rain and the umbrella, and it made his head swim slightly.

They started up the Via Veneto. The rain beat a soothing rhythm on the awnings over the few late-night patrons sitting at the sidewalk cafes. Otherwise, the street was almost deserted.

“You probably take the No. 8 trolley, don’t you?” he asked, as they neared the Pincian Gate at the top of the street.

“That’s right.” She pulled him closer. It was a lady’s umbrella, not a golf umbrella.

“There’s a transit strike again tomorrow,” he asked. “How do you get in when that happens?”

“For something like that, the Embassy sends a car around to pick me up, along with some other secretaries in the Annex. If there are no cars, we have to find a cab or a friend with a car.” They made their way briskly through the gate and across the Viale del Muro Torto. The rain would alternately come down hard and drizzle. “That’s my stop.”

Sandra huddled closer under the roof of the stop. Joe felt a warm rush as the entire length of her body pressed against him up to his shoulder. It was awkward trying to stay out of the downpour without putting his arm around her shoulder, so he did. She moved closer.

“This could be worth getting wet for,” she said with a slight laugh.

“Yeah,” Joe said, trying to sound confident. But his face was very, very hot. Could she feel his pulse? He hoped there were enough layers of shirt and jacket in there.

Couples came and went from the Villa Borghese park behind them. No one else was waiting at the stop. They stood there for about twenty minutes, but neither a bus nor a trolley came by.

“I think the strike started already,” Joe said.

“I thought it wasn’t supposed to start until tomorrow.”

“Yeah, but the yard’s at the other end of town from where you live. Maybe the crew decided not to start the last run.”

“Now what do I do? I haven’t even seen a taxi at that stand over there.”

“They’ll be pretty busy if the strike has started.” Joe touched her elbow with his and grinned. “I could take you home again, but you’d have to get wet.”

“I’m already wet. Let’s do it.”

Crouching under the umbrella, they walked back down the Via Veneto to where Joe had left the scooter near the Annex.

Fifteen minutes later, they were outside her building.

“That was fun,” she said, “but now we’re soaked. Come on up and get dry, will you?”

“I’m used to being wet,” Joe said, “even in the winter. I should be getting home, thanks.” Joe waited, but she did not take her keys out to open the big portone. She seemed surprised. She eyed him with a crooked frown for a moment. Then she brightened up and fished the keys out.

“Joe, get off your scooter and come inside for a minute. You don’t have to come upstairs.”

Joe parked the machine and followed her into the building. The hall was dark. Only one light was working, on the next floor up. The portiere window was closed.

Sandra turned and put her arms around him. He hesitated. She kissed him, hard, on the mouth. His head spun and all he was aware of was a pounding sensation in his ears and the smell of her wet hair. He held her close and opened his own mouth.

Suddenly it made sense. He relaxed and held her tighter. He returned the kiss and holding it there felt so natural and pleasant that he no longer cared what was going on around them. There was just Sandra and Joe pressed together. Warm, wet, and hungry. Nothing else mattered. He felt the heat turn up as Sandra touched his lips carefully with her tongue while still kissing him. He returned the gesture, surprised at how smooth her lips felt.

They parted and stared into each other’s eyes. They kissed again, not as long, but with the same effect. When they parted, Joe felt the world coming back like an unruly crowd mobbing his soul. He yearned for the timeless bliss of that kiss, but reality was crashing loudly outside.

“I need to get back,” he said. Hell, he thought, what’s to get back to?

“I know, thank you – for the ride and, well, everything.”

“Anytime.” He felt like someone else was talking. That somebody turned toward the portone while his heart tried to follow her up the stairs to her apartment.

“Sandra,” he called. She stopped and turned around. “Could we – uh – would you like to go for a ride to, say, a movie or something sometime?”

“Yes, let’s – and soon.” She paused. “I was afraid you would never ask.”

“Well. OK. Uh, I’ll give you a call, OK?”


“And if that Embassy car doesn’t make it, call me. I can give you a ride in.”

“I’d like that.”

“G’night, Sandra.”

“Thanks, Joe. ‘Night.”

The rain could have stopped or not. Joe did not know. He dreamt of Sandra in a hundred different adventures while the scooter took him home, and his body went to bed without him.


(to be continued)


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