Chapter 24: Cologne, Friday

Friday morning, Nancy woke up facing the sun coming around the drapes. She kept her eyes closed and was instantly aware of the hard, muscular body behind her. She luxuriated in the feel of Jack’s lungs slowly expanding and contracting against her back. She had been surprised at how smooth his skin was. His body hair was fine and soft. She liked it. She controlled her breathing, hoping not to wake him.

“Mm. You’re not sleeping, are you?” Jack murmured almost inaudibly.

“Mm. Neither are you.”

“Mm. Can you see the clock? I don’t want to move.”

“Mm. Seven o’clock”

“Mm. Do you want breakfast?”

“Mm. Maybe later. You?”

“Mm. Later.” He moved his hand from her hip to her breast, and nuzzled the back of her neck…

On her way to the elevator, Nancy tried to get her mind focused on the coming meeting with Bayer. Jack had still been shaving when she had closed the door between their rooms. She had smiled to see Jack rumple the sheets and covers on his bed when he returned to his room. She hated to let go of this blissful feeling.

She had just ordered the continental breakfast when Jack walked into the coffee shop. Nancy noticed that his tie today also set off his skin tones. Hard to believe that he was as clueless as he seemed, but she figured that the clerks in the stores that he frequented knew their business.

“Good morning, boss.” He smiled. She arched her brows and did a wide eye roll. Jack sat down as the waiter approached. He ordered the continental breakfast without looking at the menu. “You look great.”

“Do you always order what I eat?”

“Continental breakfast, too? No, it’s a total coincidence, believe me.”

“OK.” They paused while the waiter set down their coffee and brioches.

Jack opened his mouth to say something, then stopped. Nancy caught the hesitation.

“About this morning, what’s the worst that we have to be ready for?”

“I would say that Slide-rule Scherer gets cold feet, and they come in prepared to argue or turn us down.”

“That serious?”

“No, but that’s the worst, I think.”

A waiter approached the table. “Excuse me, Frau Doktor, a phone call for you.”

Nancy rose and went to the telephone on the counter near the cash register.

“Nancy Mather”

“Ah, signora, buon giorno.” It was Maria Grazia.

“Hello, Maria Grazia, is everything, OK?”

“Here in the office, yes, but I thought you should know that Bayer has scheduled a press conference for 1300 today. About their new generic line. They did not specifically mention the production RFP.”

“That’s still a surprise.”

“I thought it would be. Have you finished already?”

“No. The Bayer response comes this morning. Obviously, they’ve made up their minds.”

“Or maybe it’s not about the contract.”

“Maybe. Anyway, thanks for the heads-up. Mr. Arland and I will discuss it before we go in.”

In bocca al lupo, signora” Good luck.

Grazie. I’ll call after the meeting. See you Monday.”

Jack’s face mirrored her concern when she returned to the table. She briefed him on the news. They discussed various positions to take, depending on how the Bayer team approached them this morning. Anything about the new plant was off the table, so they prepared to discuss public negotiations in progress and options that they had contracted, which could be turned into brick-and-mortar facilities faster than anyone else could react. Their competition had recruiting problems; Smithson Italia could hire qualified technicians faster than the masons could put up walls.

Neither discussed the night before. It was time to focus.

Breakfast done, they both rose to head for the conference room. Jack went first, while Nancy deliberately tarried in the ladies’ room so that she could come in later. As before, everyone was standing around when she walked in. She need not have worried about the slide rule. Conversation stopped as they all turned toward her.

“Ah, Doktor Mather, good morning.” Count von Kracken beamed with pleasure.

Guten Tag, meine Herren. Shall we start?” She thought the scene looked a little silly, as if she were the Queen, but it felt good. And it was effective. She knew already that this would be a good day.

In fact, it took less than an hour for Bayer to brief their response to the Smithson proposal. The Bayer group confirmed that they would award the contract to Smithson. They had already scheduled a press conference to announce it.

“Can you prepare the proposal in the terms you presented this morning instead of this afternoon?” the Count asked.

“Certainly,” said Nancy. Helmut was already up and heading for the phone bank in the hall.

“Excellent! It seems that we have a deal.” He shook her hand, and the two groups walk past each other around the table, shaking hands, and punching shoulders. Like the end of a World Cup match, Nancy thought.

The Count drew her aside and motioned for Jack to join them.

“The press conference is scheduled for 13:00 hours today. Could you both be there?”

“If you like,” Nancy said. “It’s your show. We don’t want to communicate anything that the press could mistake.”

“Which they will if we do,” said the Count with an eye roll. “I think that it would look good for both companies. Television is changing the way we make these announcements, and our marketing people tell me that we need to remember the visual impact.”

“Our PR people say the same thing. We’ll be there.”

“And we still have the dinner tonight.”

“All the more to celebrate. Bayer headquarters at 12:30?”

“Yes, if that is convenient.”

“See you there.”

They shook hands again. Jack and Nancy joined the flow leaving for their offices.

“Wow. That went much better than I expected.” Jack punched the button for the elevator.

“I think so, too. Would you call the Schmidts to let them know that we’re still on for two? I’ll call Rome.”

“You got it.” Jack gave her a half-cocked salute and a smile. They let themselves into their respective rooms.

The meeting had been so quick, that the rooms were still not made up. Nancy put her briefcase down and pulled the fallen bedclothes back up to the bed. She got a glass of water from the bar and sat down at the desk to call Rome.

Sandro Moretti had just gotten back from his coffee break. He would make the announcement at the staff meeting but warn everyone to keep it confidential until the news came out in the afternoon.

Angela answered at home.

“The signorino went out early this morning, signora. He left a note that he would be late getting back. I will leave food for the weekend as usual.”

“Thank you, Angela. See you Monday.”

She dialed Jack’s room.

“You know, you could just knock on the door now,” he said. She could hear the smile on the line. She walked over and opened her door. She tested his doorknob. Unlocked.

“But you might not be decent.” She stuck her head in the door. Jack was sitting on the desk in his shirtsleeves, a bottle of mineral water next to him, still on the phone. He grinned and slid off the desk, returning the handset to its cradle.

“I can be decent, too.”

“But that wouldn’t be as much fun.” They laughed. “Anyway, we have a couple of hours before we have to be at the Bayer building. Want to do some more sightseeing?”

“Sure. Let’s close the doors before housekeeping walks in.” Nancy returned and traded her heels for a pair of low pumps. She checked her makeup and her purse, then went out into the hall. Jack was just coming out. The chambermaid rounded the corner as they stood at the elevator. They greeted her as the doors opened.

“What can follow the Cathedral?” Jack asked as they stepped out into a brilliant summer morning.

“Do you like art?”

“Sure. All kinds.”

“Let’s check out the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. It’s the oldest in the city, and it has a vast collection. Lots of little jewels, rather than loads by just a few artists.”

“Let’s do it.”

They spent a relaxed hour in the museum. The collection surprised Jack. It was indeed a tour de force of some of the best representatives of European art from the Middle Ages to contemporary. Jack’s face turned somber as he read the history of the museum on their way out.

“So much destruction, even before we bombed everything. I didn’t realize how much damage the Nazis had done already.”

Nancy took his hand and squeezed. They stood briefly. Jack brightened after a moment.

“It’s almost unfair being able to enjoy this with someone like you. Thanks for suggesting it.”

“You’re welcome. But let’s get back. I’d like a small bite along the way if you don’t mind, or I won’t have enough energy for both the press conference and tennis.”

They had an early lunch at a café near the museum, then walked briskly back to the hotel. After a quick stop to freshen up in their rooms, they took a taxi together to the Bayer complex across the Rhine River.

The press conference proved to be a very different media event, as Count von Kracken had predicted. The usual chairs had been set out for the reporters. The Count made his prepared announcement form the lectern on the podium, then invited questions.

Standing behind the Count on the podium, Nancy noticed that there were as many photographers and cameramen as reporters. The reporters were clearly surprised by the announcement. They jumped to their feet when the Count finished, each trying to get their questions in ahead of the others. The Count began pointing and taking control of the crowd.

Meanwhile, the photographers and cameramen were zooming in on the Count’s distinguished face, but even more on her and Jack. They did not speak, just moved around filming the scene.

Jack nudged her almost imperceptibly. “You have a question,” he whispered. “He asked if you have a statement,” She looked down front to the large reporter staring at her with his pad poised.

She smiled what she hoped was a good camera smile and asked him, “Im Deutsch oder Englisch, mein Herr?” That drew applause from the reporters, and a few of the photographers.

The reporter bowed, smiling broadly, “As you prefer, madam, George Schmidt, Wall Street Journal.”

“English, then.” She looked over the crowd, which went silent as she gathered her thoughts. “I think that this is more than a simple business contract we have here today. It represents another milestone on the road of European collaboration and movement toward the integrated economy that the signers of the Treaty of Rome envisioned ten years ago. Smithson Italia is proud to be part of that, and part of this partnership to bring affordable generic medicines to millions of people worldwide. Thank you.”

All the while, the cameramen clustered around her. She bowed slightly to them, then backed up, turning her head to the Count, who was beaming from the podium.

“That’s all, gentlemen. Thank you for coming.”

With that, he turned and the party on the podium quickly exited as the last few reporters continued to shout for attention.

Von Kracken had to go to a Board meeting, but he ordered a company car to take them back to the hotel.

“Thanks for the nudge,” she said as they watched the Rhine River flow under them from the Mülheimer Brücke. “I think that I spaced out there looking at all those cameras.”

“No problem. I don’t know if anyone noticed. You were a hit anyway with that German one-liner. What was that, anyway?”

“I asked him ‘in German or English, sir.’ Just buying time.”

“Well, it worked. Did you feel like the cameras were all over us? There were another half dozen people on the podium.”

“Yes. I think it has something to do with the ‘visual message’ that Otto was talking about. They like handsome people on the screen.”

“Hm. A new era, I think.”

“Well, you’re ready for it. You looked good. It’ll be interesting to see if any of this makes the evening news.”

Tennis with Hans and Rikki Schmidt proved to be a challenging two hours for all four players. The German couple had played together for years, and it showed. But Jack and Nancy concentrated and soon learned to read each other without trying. Nancy felt the same rush she remembered from matches with Jason by her side, but it was not a memory that distracted her.

The games ended tied, and they had to vacate the court for the next reservation.

“That was more fun than I expected,” said Rikki as they gathered their gear and walked to the main building. Tall, slender and classically athletic, she was clearly the superior player of the pair. “I hope that you will please be our guests next time you come to Köln – together or alone.”

“That would be nice,” said Nancy. “Speaking for myself, I accept.”

“Me, too,” Jack added. “I hope to come back here often and soon.”

They shook hands at the main building, agreeing that there wasn’t time for a post-game drink. The Schmidts walked towards their car; Nancy and Jack to the elevators.

“So much for Hans getting an earful from his wife about playing us.”

“Why?”

“I remember her. She was Ulrike Bessemer back then. West German national team. The nickname Rikki didn’t mean anything to me.”

“You knew her?”

“No. We never played each other, but I remember studying film of the German team when we were training for the Olympics.”

“Well, I know how Hans feels now. Two champions and two schmucks. What a workout.”

Nancy punched his shoulder as the elevator doors opened. “You were no schmuck. You were smoking out there.”

“Yeah, that’s why my whole body is burning now, huh?”

“You don’t feel good?” Nancy was still high on endorphins.

“I feel great. That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the stretch that it took.”

They paused at their doors. Jack arched his eyebrows.

“Cocktails before dinner at seven. Don’t you want a siesta?”

“Up to you. I haven’t locked the door since we checked in.”

They went into their respective rooms. Nancy went to the liaison door and opened it. He was just walking toward the door himself.

“You weren’t kidding.”

“My shower or yours?” He grinned. She felt the desire run all over her sweaty body.

“Let’s set the alarm, just in case we do take a nap.” She stepped into his room…

=*=*=*=*

The wrap-up dinner started in the hotel bar, where a wing had been roped off for the group. It’s not the alcohol that makes this party seem so merry, Nancy thought as she walked up to the group. These people genuinely like each other. Otto von Kracken detached himself from a pair of couples and came over to her. He bowed and kissed her hand and asked her to join them. Besides his wife Leonora, there was the CEO of Bayer, a tall, blond man with incredibly broad shoulders and his hair parted almost in the middle.

“Kurt Hansen, delighted to meet you, Doktor Mather.” He bowed and kissed her hand.

“Nancy, please,”

“Kurt, then. This is my wife Mathilde.” Nancy shook hands with the rosy cheeked woman, who could have been a model for the fairy godmother in a Cinderella storybook.

“Call me Matty. It is a name that I save for my American friends.”

Jack appeared a few moments later, waved to Nancy, and paused to chat with Hans and Rikki Schmidt, who happened to be by the door. Nancy caught his eye and waved him over to meet Kurt and Matty.

There was not as much circulating tonight, because the groups of friends had sought each other out. They made their way to the dining room amid much laughing and storytelling. By the end of the evening, plans were made by some couples to go clubbing together. Others had extended invitations for ski trips and house visits during the coming winter. Nancy sat between Otto and Kurt, Jack between the two wives. Nancy noticed that he was charming them quite effectively.

After the after-dinner cordials had been served, Otto von Kracken made a 30-second speech, followed by equally short remarks by Nancy and Kurt – not long enough to really stop the flow of the conversation. The noise level went back up, but everyone was free to get up and leave. When about half the room had emptied, the Bayer managers both excused themselves for the evening, with much thanking all around and best wishes for a mutually beneficial relationship.

Jack came around the table.

“Let’s say goodbye to Hans and Rikki before they get away.” Nancy nodded, and they intercepted the couple, who had just risen and were walking to the door.

“Thank you for everything, including the great match today,” Jack said as he shook hands.

Hans put his hand on Jack’s upper arm. “Remember to come see us.”

“I would not mind a rematch,” said Rikki. “I don’t get that level of play very often.”

“Because I am such a klutz,” said Hans with a smile.

She punched him playfully. “You are not a klutz, but we don’t get such a challenge in doubles here.” She studied Nancy’s face. “It did not come to me yesterday, but I know you from somewhere – and in a tennis outfit.”

“Guilty as charged. I was Nancy Ardwood.”

“Ah yes! I saw the movies of you playing. Very fast!”

“I only remembered the movies of you after we played this afternoon. Bessemer, right?”

Ja. So, you were the secret weapon today.”

“Hardly. I only started playing again this spring, after many years.” She looked at Jack. “He got me back on the court.”

“No. Joe got you back on the court. I just happened to help.”

“Joe is your son, no?” asked Rikki. Nancy nodded.

“He wanted to learn.”

“Bring him, too, sometime. He would be welcome.”

“Thank you.” They shook hands again and walked out together. The Schmidts went out to their car. Nancy and Jack stopped in the lobby to talk to the General Manager, who was on hand to greet the VIP’s in the group as they left.

“It’s been a very good stay, Hans,” Nancy told him. “Thank you for the arrangements. We could not have done so well without you and your staff.”

“I am a happy man, then, Frau Doktor. As for tomorrow, we will have a car ready at nine o’clock to take you to the airport.”

“Thanks, Hans. And would you send the invoice to Rome, as usual. I don’t think that I charged any personal items this time. Jack?”

“I made some phone calls.”

“Telephone calls are complimentary, Dr. Arland.”

“Thanks, then no, I don’t have any personal items, either.”

They shook hands with Mr. Ulsdorf and watched him move to the next party leaving.

“Too tired for a night cap?” Jack asked.

Nancy looked around. “I think I’d like to have that nightcap upstairs myself.”

“OK.” They took the elevator up to their rooms. Inside, both liaison doors were unlocked…

========

(to be continued)

JT

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