“How do you do that thing with your clothes and the eyes?” Jack asked, as they rode down in the elevator to the coffee shop for breakfast. Nancy considered his tailored Italian blue suit and his patterned tie.
“It’s not hard with hazel eyes,” she said. “They seem to change color slightly depending on what I wear. Speaking of which, do you pick your own ties? That one brings out your hair and eyes.”
“It does? I chose it from a selection that the clerk at the men’s store showed me.”
The elevator doors opened, and they made their way across the gleaming marble floor to the coffee shop. Nancy ordered the muesli and yogurt and coffee.
“No steak and eggs this morning?” He used his hands to tell the waiter to bring him the same.
“Can’t make a habit of that. This gives me the protein I need to get through the meeting today. Let’s see what I eat after tennis this afternoon.”
“What about doubles with the Schmidts?”
“I’ll see Hans before the meeting this morning and propose tomorrow afternoon. That should give him time to talk to his wife during one of the breaks.”
After breakfast, Nancy called home to talk to Joe.
“He’s not here, signora,” said Angela. “He left a note that he would be home late. Working at the USIS, whatever that is.”
“It’s the American library near the Embassy. He uses it for his summer homework research. Thanks, Angela. I was just calling to say hi. How are you and Mr. Ceccarelli?”
“We’re fine, signora. My sister’s with us again until she can find an apartment. We can share the shopping and cleaning.”
“That’s good, Angela. I’m happy for you. I have to go now. Arrivederci.” She rang off. After staring at the liaison door again, she gathered her briefcase, checked herself one last time in the mirror, and walked to the elevator.
Jack met her at the lobby level.
“Do you want to walk in together, or make your own entrance?”
“Did you see the others?”
“I snuck a peek at the conference room. Everyone’s there, standing around chatting.”
“Good. That means they won’t stand up when I walk in. It took three meetings to break our team of the habit. They solved it by learning not to sit down until everyone had arrived. I like that better for a lot of reasons.” She turned towards the stair leading to the mezzanine. “Let’s go in together.”
The Chief Operating Officer of Bayer stood at his place to welcome everyone. He was a tall man, slender and strong in the manner of a born aristocrat, which he was. Nancy read “Otto von Kracken” on the place card in front of him. He started with introductions, which she appreciated. The name cards were helpful for spelling someone’s name right but hearing them say something forced a first impression that went beyond the visual. The Bayer COO explained that the meetings were scheduled for two consecutive mornings, so the parties could confer between sessions. He invited everyone for cocktails that evening and reminded everyone about the absolute confidentiality of what takes place during the meetings. He then asked his Procurement Manager to outline the contract bidding process.
No one had questions, so the Bayer COO asked Nancy if they were prepared to make their presentation. She asked Jack to join her at the lectern. She watched the Bayer COO closely as she worked through the operational aspects of the proposal. He kept a straight face, but the others betrayed their familiarity with the facts.
“Doktor Mather,” said the COO, “so far these are facts we know. What is different today?”
Nancy nodded to Jack. “I would like Dr. Arland to give you the economic aspect of the proposal.”
Jack projected a color viewgraph on the screen behind the lectern. The COO’s face did not change, but Nancy heard him take an extra breath.
“Gentlemen, this table shows our pricing proposal for your generic drug lines as outlined in your request for proposals. If you want to add additional quantities or other products to the RFP, we are prepared to offer similar economic conditions.” He left the slide up, while the Bayer representatives scribbled notes. One pulled a slide rule from inside his jacket and began to run calculations furiously.
“Dr. Arland, could you have produced this for us on paper?” asked the Procurement Manager, who seemed to be trying to write down everything.
“We will be happy to provide this and all the other details of the proposal in writing tomorrow afternoon.” He looked at Nancy.
“As Count von Kracken reminded us,” she said, “this meeting is highly confidential. We would not want to risk having this information in any form that we cannot track until tomorrow. By then, of course, we should have reached some kind of agreement, and we will adjust the formal proposal to reflect that.”
Von Kracken nodded solemnly. Nancy thought the edges of his mouth turned upward ever so slightly. She had always liked him, but now she suspected that he kept a sense of humor amid the business battles that he waged.
The rest of the morning consisted of volleys of questions and answers. Sometimes, Helmut would provide specifics on how the products would move from Italy to the Bayer facilities in Europe. Hans gave examples of how additional quantities could be ordered and how that would affect the price. Jack and Nancy answered the rest of the questions. Except for a break at 10:30, the conversation continued unabated. Clearly, the Bayer team were impressed, but each representative was trying to make his mark, both for themselves and because their boss was watching. Nancy had seen it before many times. At one point, she caught von Kracken’s glance and a knowing arch of his eyebrow.
At noon, the Bayer COO stood. Conversation stopped.
“This has been a most productive session. Drs. Arland and Mather, I want to thank you for this introduction. We will now adjourn until this evening.” As everyone rose, he turned to Nancy and asked if he could have the viewgraph of the pricing just for this evening. Nancy reached into her briefcase.
“I knew you would need this. It’s the page of the proposal that we used to make the viewgraph. We will need it back in the morning, because assuming all goes well, we’ll have the proposal printed in the requisite number of copies tomorrow afternoon.”
“I am impressed by your efficiency, Dr. Mather, and your flexibility.”
“Otto.” The COO took her hand to his lips with a bow, then strode from the room, crooking a finger to the Procurement Manager to catch up.
Nancy turned to see that Jack and Hans were in an animated conversation with the Bayer representative who had pulled out the slide rule. Everyone else except Helmut had left.
Nancy caught Helmut’s attention and approached the trio.
“Herr Scherer is it?” she proffered her hand to the Bayer man.
“Ja, Frau Doktor. Siegfried Scherer. Operations Plans.”
“I was impressed that someone in the room was actually doing some calculating. How do our numbers stack up?”
“That’s what I was discussing with Doctor Arland and Herr Schmidt. It seems to me that you need more production capacity than you have, even after the explanations.”
“What numbers are you using as a labor factor?”
Scherer cited three different wage levels. Nancy smiled.
“Why didn’t you mention this during the meeting?”
“Alas, a slide rule can only slide so fast. Count von Kracken adjourned us just as I was finishing up.”
Nancy looked at Jack. He nodded.
“Jack, shall we tell him?”
“Herr Scherer,” she said, “your numbers are the Western European averages for pharmaceutical workers. Our numbers for qualified workers in southern Italy are just over half of that.”
“What happens when you start having labor problems because everyone else is being paid more?”
“Things take longer to happen in Italy,” said Nancy.
“By then,” said Jack, “we could increase our production capacity and our plant efficiencies to accommodate the new labor costs.”
“Which would still be lower than German, French or Swiss pay scales,” added Nancy. She winked at Helmut.
“Siegfried,” said the German subsidiary president. “Do you have plans for lunch?” He put his hand on the Bayer planner’s shoulder and led him out, switching to German.
“You two are remarkable,” said Hans, with obvious admiration. “It was like watching a doubles match during the meeting the way you took turns answering the questions. I am sure now that Rikky and I will have a real challenge tomorrow afternoon.” He shook their hands and walked gracefully out the door. Jack and Nancy gathered their briefcases to follow the others.
“What was that last bit with Helmut and the Bayer guy?” Jack asked.
“Helmut and I have seen this before. There’s always one guy in the meeting who has to get his questions answered when everyone is trying to leave. It was easier in this case, because Helmut had told me about Scherer and we were ready for him. They both went to the same University – about a decade apart – so Helmut will make him feel better over lunch. The labor numbers we gave him will make his slide rule come around, too.”
They entered the elevator. Jack pressed the button for their floor.
“You are impressive, you know.” He smiled.
“So are you. I think that went better than I could have had it go, alone or with Moretti. He could have handled that crowd in French, but not in English. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Are you ready to be so impressive on the court?”
Nancy looked at her watch as they stepped from the elevator.
“Our slot is in 30 minutes. See you there.”
The tennis was every bit as exhilarating and intense as the day before. The summer sun in Cologne did not add to the heat load as it would have in Rome. Back in her room, Nancy stretched out on the queen-size bed, drawing the air deep into her lungs. When her heartbeat settled down to normal, she sat up and noticed with some pleasure that she was not as stiff as the day before and that she was already recovering faster. She lay back to enjoy the well-being.
The telephone woke her up. The alarm clock on the nightstand read 4:30 PM.
“Do you have plans between now and the cocktail party?” Jack asked. “Sightseeing? Shopping? Whatever?”
“How about all three?” Nancy looked at the door and smiled. She heard Jack laugh.
“Especially lots of whatever. I know you know Cologne, so I could do my sightseeing on another trip. But I do have a few things to pick up for my niece and my sister.” It was the first time that Nancy had ever heard him mention relatives.
“Meet you in the lobby in 30 minutes.”
Jack was wearing a light blue polo and khakis with comfortable boat shoes. Nancy had a light blue blouse and a tan skirt. Jack grinned when he saw her get off the elevator.
“Did someone put out an order for the uniform of the day?”
“I would go change, but I don’t have something else.”
“I’m the one with a shopping list. Maybe I should get a different shirt.”
They walked out into the sunshine and turned right towards the upscale shopping district near the hotel.
“What you’re looking for?” Nancy asked.”
“For one thing, my sister collects those sterling silver souvenir spoons, and I try to get her one in each city that I visit. My niece is 14 going on 40, and I haven’t a clue what a teenager would like.”
“I can help with both of those. Maybe we can get you some new pants, too.”
Nancy could not remember a day so relaxed since Joe was little. They quickly found the spoons, because Nancy knew those stores. They looked at dozens of windows, until they found a teddy bear in lederhosen for the niece, as well as a record by a new group from Liverpool that had just landed in Western Europe like a second D-Day. Nancy had heard Joe playing it, so she figured the girl would like it, too.
“The Beatles? Never heard of them,” said Jack. “Look at that hair!”
“You’re going to see a lot of that hair soon,” said Nancy. “It’s already becoming a rallying point for teenagers in Italy. Driving their parents and the authorities nuts.”
“You sure about this?”
“Positive. She’ll be the envy of her friends. Joe says that the Beatles are going to the US soon and that it’ll be a mob scene. The grownups don’t have any idea what they’re in for.”
They had Black Forest cake at a teahouse and walked by the Rhine River. Nancy took him to the Cathedral, which she had visited often, and which left him speechless.
The shadows were long when they returned to the hotel.
They paused outside their rooms.
“That was fun, Jack”
“I feel like I’ve been on a date. Thanks.”
“Thank you. See you at the reception.”
“Want to go in together?”
“Not this time, Jack. It’s more social, and I don’t want our people or Bayer thinking we’re an item.”
“Makes sense. See you there. Thank goodness they all speak English.”
She smiled and let herself into her room.
As she had hoped, Jack was already at the reception when she came in. He was standing with Klaus Durst and his wife. Maryse, was it? Nancy thought. French. Jack gave her a wave when he saw her but turned back to the couple without missing a beat. Nancy sought out Count von Kracken, who was standing close to the door.
“Nancy, how good to see you. May I present my wife, Leonora.”
The Countess stood easily as tall as her husband, with broad shoulders, but otherwise slender, like a swimmer. She had a firm, confident handshake.
“Countess, an honor.”
“Leonora, please, Dr. Mather.” An English accent.
“Nancy, then. Delighted to meet you. Watching your husband this morning, I expected that you would be an interesting woman.”
“Oh, in what way?” The Countess looked with mock suspicion at the man.
“Purely professional. I think we shared an awareness of meeting dynamics.”
“Right you are, Nancy,” von Kracken said with a smile. “Rather conspiratorial of us, wouldn’t you say?”
“Indeed.” Nancy lifted a glass of prosecco from the tray passing by, with a smile of thanks to the waiter.
They clinked glasses. Leonora considered the two of them.
“Otto does like to people-watch,” she said. “He has long been a student of human beings. I never understood why he ended up in the pharmaceuticals business.”
“I was a physician first, of course. That is the ultimate people-studying career.”
“I agree,” said Nancy. “I think I learned more about working with people in medical school than in business school.” She caught sight of Helmut and Maria Gottleib coming in the door. She waved them over and did the introductions. The conversation shifted to German, which clearly posed no problems for Leonora. Nancy remembered from the research file that her maiden name was Coburg. She learned that, indeed, much of Leonora’s family was German, including most of her first cousins.
Excusing herself, she moved among the guests, meeting each of the Bayer representatives with a quick efficiency that being single made possible. She saw that Jack was circling the party, too, and making a point of casually introducing Smithson couples to the Bayer couples that he had engaged in conversation. He’s a natural, she thought.
After about an hour, the Count called for attention by clinking a spoon on his glass.
“No speech tonight,” he said, to noises of feigned disappointment. “I want to thank you all for coming, and for being who you are. I have never seen such a compatible group in a business setting, and I hope that, whatever happens tomorrow morning, we stay in touch as friends.” He lifted his glass. “To friendship.”
The assembly raised their glasses and repeated the toast with gusto.
Nancy had slipped behind him, so that he had to look around the room. She touched his shoulder gently and stood forward.
“And I would like to thank Count von Kracken and the Bayer team for your hospitality and this warm event. To lasting friendship.” The toast was answered with even more enthusiasm. That being a signal that leaving was permitted, couples began to find each other to go to dinner or home. Nancy noticed that the Gottleibs and von Krackens, the Schmidts and the Scherers, and the Dursts and the Production Manager (who was a bachelor it turned out) left as three groups, clearly continuing to dinner together. As a single woman, she was not obliged to invite anyone to join her, so she was able to slip out before someone caught her. Almost.
“Going to dinner alone, Frau Doktor? I hope not.”
Jack was standing behind her in the hall, his athletic frame silhouetted by the lights of the lobby behind him. Damn, he’s so hot, she thought.
“Did you get a dinner offer?”
“Oh, yes, but I told them that I had an outside engagement and was deeply sorry.”
“I did, and I do.”
“Might I know who this ‘outside engagement’ is?”
“Yes, you know her.” He smiled, took her arm, and they headed for the door.
He had the doorman hail a cab and ordered the hack to take them to a restaurant that Nancy recognized.
“You have done your research.”
“A good restaurant recommendation was easy to obtain in that crowd. I have a half dozen for future trips now. But this one is from Sandro, whose judgement in all things gastronomic I trust.”
“You know he’s a sommelier, don’t you?” When the President of Smithson Italia invited you to dinner, it was sure to be a night to remember.
“Yes, it’s amazing the things we all did before we got into this business.”
“I think that the kitchens of every Michelin-rated restaurant in Rome have his picture on the wall.”
Over grilled fish and a very fine Moselle, Nancy considered the success of the reception.
“You were brilliant tonight, matching all those couples up like that. So smooth, I don’t think anyone noticed but me.”
“That’s because you were doing the same thing. I read the files in Rome, too, but it wasn’t hard to pick out who would get along with whom.”
“Not hard for you, maybe, but the rest of us have to work at that. You seem to be able to size up people very quickly – and accurately, I might add.”
“Thanks for the compliment. I don’t know what it is. Maybe a sixth sense.”
“It’s a gift, Jack. And it’s one of the reasons I wanted you to be here for these meetings.” She sipped her wine. “I envy you, sometimes.”
“Well, it has its downside.”
Jack looked at her for a while, his face a little darker and sadder.
“One of the things I like about you is that you’ve never asked me why I never married.”
“None of my business,” Nancy said quickly.
“In marriage?” Nancy grinned.
“No, silly!” Jack’s face lit back up. “In the answer.”
“No, but if it has something to do with your gift, then yes.”
“The usual line is that I never met the right woman.” Jack took a sip of his wine. “Meeting women isn’t the problem. Seeing through them is.”
“Perhaps you judge them too harshly.”
“I don’t think so. I don’t judge them at all. I genuinely like the people I meet, women included. But I can’t stand phonies, or people who want to use other people.”
“Let me guess. The women you attract all want you for something else, not you.”
“Something like that. I’m a catch, not a person.”
“Is it really that sad?”
“Well, I have met a few wonderful women I could fall in love with.”
“Let me guess again. They’re all married.”
“Except for the lesbian and the one who became a nun.”
“You’re kidding!” She laughed.
“No. Really. They were honest and fun and interesting. Everything I like in a person. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
They shared light-hearted conversation after that, mostly about Joe, and Jack’s niece, Elly.
“You’re really fond of her, aren’t you?”
“She’s probably closer to me than anyone in the family. My sister is a nurse. When I lived in New York, Elly would come to my house after school when Bea worked the afternoon shift. She’s a fun kid, maybe because I’m her uncle, not her father.”
“Bea’s a single mother, I take it.”
“Yes, Jim was collateral damage in a drive-by shooting on the upper East Side. He was bringing home pizza for supper.”
“Me, too. Elly was seven. Too young to understand, but old enough to remember.”
“Same age as Joe when his father died.”
Jack nodded. They sat silently for a while.
“Dessert?” he asked, finally.
“I’m full, thanks.”
Jack signaled for the bill. On the way back, Nancy thought about his gift.
“So, what will you do when you find an unmarried woman who isn’t after your money or your career prospects?”
“I don’t know. It depends on what she wants. It’s not about me, you know.”
The cab pulled up to the hotel. Outside their rooms, they paused. They each reached for the other’s hand at the same time.
“Thank you,” they both said at the same time. And laughed. Then they stood there, each knowing what the other wanted, unable to speak. Finally, Nancy took her hand back.
“The door’s unlocked. Come on over.”…
(to be continued)