Joe looked around. The apartment was furnished with Renaissance chairs and tables. There was a sitting room, a bedroom and even a dining room. They made themselves comfortable in the sitting room as a slender, thirty-something blonde attendant came in and asked if they would like coffee, something else or perhaps lunch. They all asked for coffee, and Redwood suggested a tagliere of meat and cheese. Nancy had not had lunch.
When Laura had left, Nancy eyed both men, and asked, “OK, who is going to clear this up?” Joe felt the anger in her voice. He also felt very small.
“Mom, I’m sorry.” She held up a hand.
“We’ll deal with ‘sorry’ later. Right now, I just want to understand what’s going on.”
Agent Redwood put a hand on Joe’s arm to calm him.
“Nancy, I won’t try to defend Joe or Jack as far as how this all got started translating company correspondence, but you need to understand that your son has behaved in an exemplary manner, with a wisdom and intelligence far beyond his years. When he tries to explain it, please hear him out.”
“OK. But I have three hats here: scared mother, furious company executive, and somewhat bewildered bystander. Joe, do you think you could take me through this from the beginning?”
Joe recounted the story about how Jack had approached him at the Alfa Romeo dealership before Christmas. They paused while Laura rolled in a serving cart with three wooden cutting boards laden with Italian cold cuts and an assortment of cheeses, a thermal carafe of espresso, and bottles of mineral water, and a tray of pastries.
“Please ring if you would like anything else at all.” She pointed to the pull cord by the fireplace.
They thanked her, and she withdrew. Agent Redwood served up the coffee and placed a tagliere in front of Nancy.
Joe continued his tale, omitting nothing. It was the first time that he had ever talked so long to his mother without her stopping him with either a question or a comment. He thought that he saw shades billowing across her face, but not a muscle moved.
When he got to the part where he went to the FBI office, Nancy looked at the FBI agent. Redwood just nodded and motioned Joe to continue.
He took her through the adventures of the last four days (omitting the part about sleeping with Sandra), up until the moment Nancy walked into the command room.
He sat back. For more than a full minute, no one spoke. Joe tried to read his mother, but he couldn’t. That scared him more than anything.
“Mom, any questions?”
She continued to look at him.
“You say you think this Vespa driver put his scooter down on purpose, causing the crash?”
“Yes, I think so. I practiced the same maneuver myself, so I could do an emergency put-down. It’s a deliberate tail-spin. The guy probably saved my life, but I don’t even know who he is.”
“I can clear that up,” said Agent Redwood. “He’s a motorcycle officer with the Polizia Stradale. As soon as Joe came to us, I asked for protective surveillance on him, and they put their best man on it. We didn’t expect Joe to be so good at spotting the tail and eluding him.” He looked at Nancy. “Have you seen him drive that scooter?”
“Yes. He’s given me rides often enough.” She did not take her gaze from her son.
“If you would like to meet him, Joe, we can arrange that.”
“I would like to thank him, sir.”
Nancy was still looking at him with that stern expression.
“Another question. How is it that you had to spend the night in the secretary’s apartment? Wasn’t there anywhere else you could go?”
“Let me answer that, Joe,” said the FBI agent. “As Joe explained, Nancy, he had strict instructions to go to only three people if he was in danger: me, my secretary or the First Minister, Steve Wolcowski. He came to me first, but wisely turned around when he saw all the Carabinieri at Vigna Clara. The Wolcowski’s were out of town. My secretary called me as soon as he showed up, and I asked her to put him up for the night. Her house would probably not be a target for surveillance by the conspirators, but my place and Steve’s certainly would. We couldn’t risk having him out on the street trying to get to either of us.”
“Are all the Carabinieri involved in this?”
“No, not all. But there are enough involved that we don’t know the good guys from the bad guys. Thanks to Joe’s work, we’re rounding up the leaders, and that will confirm which units were compromised. Until then, Joe was smart to get off the streets and stay out of sight.”
“Did she have a nice place?” Nancy smiled at her son. Joe let his shoulders relax. He was surprised to feel just how tense she had made him.
“Small, but two bedrooms and a washer and dryer, so I could wash my bloody clothes. Plus, she had just been shopping when she got home, so there was something to eat for dinner.”
“I wondered why your clothes look clean. Your face and head are a mess.”
There was a knock on the door. Lieutenant del Piave came in.
“The police interrogating Dr. Arland would like Mr. Redwood to join them if he could spare some time.”
The FBI Agent rose. “This is a good time to step out, anyway. I am sure that you two have things you want to talk about without me.” He went to the door.
“We really meant what we said about calling Laura if you need anything at all, even to send a message.” Lieutenant del Piave pointed to the call cord. “And there are toiletries in the bathroom if you need to freshen up.”
“Thank you, Ercole,” Joe said. The Corazziere winked and closed the door.
“Ercole?” Nancy arched her eyebrows.
“Lieutenant del Piave is Pino del Piave’s son. I told him that I knew his father, and it came out that Pino has been holding me over his sons’ heads in a funny way when he wants to pick on them about their English.”
Nancy laughed. “But his English is excellent.”
“I know. Apparently, it’s been a running joke in the family since the Cavaliere brought the book home to dinner one night.”
Nancy reached over and squeezed his hand. “I am so glad that you are OK now. Why couldn’t you call me or Maria Grazia?”
“I couldn’t call anyone, Mom. It all started happening too fast. I was running for my life all day yesterday.”
“Couldn’t someone here have called?”
“The President himself ordered them to let you know as soon I showed up. Problem was, they hadn’t finished checking on Mr. Arland. They told the FBI man in Cologne to get you aside without him. But he never caught you alone before you got on the plane.”
“So, Jack was the problem?”
“In a way, yes. They only confirmed that he wasn’t involved while you were in the air. That’s what Agent Redwood explained to me just before lunch.”
Nancy was silent for a while. Joe saw a faraway look in her eyes, a new expression that he had never seen.
“Well, it’s true that Jack and I were never apart. Between the fact that our rooms were next to each other and all our meetings were in the hotel, I can see that your FBI agent would have been stuck.”
Joe got up. “Want some more coffee, Mom?”
“Sure. And one of those bottles of water, if you don’t mind.” She finished the last two pieces of cheese on the plate.
When Joe sat down, she drank some water, then fixed him with that stern look that made him squirm.
“About working for Jack behind my back.”
“I’m sorry, Mom. It was the worst time in my life, and I just couldn’t figure out how to get out of it.”
“It was company correspondence.”
“And he’s a company VP, even if it was a personal need that drove him to ask me.”
“But I’m your supervisor at the company, not just your mother.”
“Oh. Right.” Joe hung his head.
“That was your out, do you see?”
“I should have reported it to my supervisor.”
“Yes. Jack shouldn’t have used company employees for personal business.”
“Oh. I never saw it that way.”
“I can tell. One of those things that you’ll learn when you start working on your own. That is why we have security training and confidentiality rules. Jack is actually more to blame, because he should know better.”
“Are you going to fire him?” Joe asked. Nancy laughed, which surprised him and left him uneasy.
“Oh, Joe,” she said, shaking her head. “As I keep reminding him, Jack doesn’t work for me. We both work for Sandro Moretti, the President. On Monday, Jack and I are going to have to explain it to him. We may have to change some of our company procedures.”
“I guess you’ll have to fire me, though.”
“Maybe. Let that hang over your head until Monday night. Normally you’d be out in a flash for this, but there is the fact that no one on the Board, including Mr. Moretti, wants me to become the Board’s confidential translator again.”
Another knock on the door.
“Permesso?” May I come in? Jack’s sandy head appeared. Both Mathers jumped up.
Joe could tell from the smile on his mother’s face that she was delighted to see the man who had caused the whole mess.
“Jack! No handcuffs? Are you free now?”
Jack stepped into the room. He gave Joe a two-handed handshake. “Am I ever glad to see you! I hear that you’ve been having quite an adventure while your mother and I were playing tennis in Germany.”
“Yes, sir. You could say that.” He smiled, as Jack tousled his hair. “Joe, if your mother doesn’t mind, would you call me Jack? You’re twice the man I am.”
Nancy arched her eyebrows and paused. Then she nodded.
“So, what happened to you with the police?” Nancy asked.
“They grilled me about all the people and documents that I’d been passing to New York. Apparently, it all squared with what they already knew from Joe here. I was able to give them the names of all the offices that sent letters for me to forward, but they had that from the company records already. Apparently, this is causing a stir at the office, you know.”
“I just became aware of that. You and I are going have to sit down with Moretti for a very heavy discussion.” Nancy was not smiling.
“I know. I may need to dust off my resume.”
“I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion. There are the results from Cologne, too.”
Joe interjected, “By the way, how was the trip? You all know what I’ve been doing. Did you get the contract?”
“Yes, we did,” said Nancy. “What’s better is that we established some excellent relationships with the Bayer management. Jack had them eating out of his hand.”
“Now wait a minute,” said Jack. “They were eating out your hand. I was just the straight man.”
Joe looked back and forth at the two of them.
“I’ll bet you looked like a doubles team at the presentation.”
“We did,” said Jack. “Then, after we won the contract, we had a date to play real doubles with one of their executives. Turns out his wife was on the German National Team when you-know-who was on the US Team.” He cocked a finger at Nancy.
“That must have been something to see.”
Another knock on the door, and in walked Agent Redwood.
“Are you all caught up?” He smiled.
The three of them looked at their watches. The sun was turning the sky red outside and bathing the pastel stucco of the buildings with a golden light.
“I think we are,” said Nancy. “How’s the round-up going?”
“That’s why I’m here. The general consensus is that the coup has been broken and that we can send you home.”
“That’s great! When do we go?”
“Not so fast, Nancy.” Redwood looked at Joe. “The President wants Joe back in the command room. You’re both invited, too. And there’s some paperwork for all three of you.”
“What kind of paperwork?”
“Debriefing forms. We have to give you all security clearances for what you witnessed, then swear you to secrecy.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
“Is that a joke, Jim?”
“No. The reason that the ‘round-up’, as you so aptly called it, took so long is that it was conducted with utmost discretion. We have managed to haul in all the leaders and redeploy the Carabinieri units involved without leaking it to the public. The whole thing is going to stay Top Secret for a long time.”
Jack looked perplexed. “Even the fact that Joe was translating Smithson correspondence? Weren’t you tracking all of it back?”
“We had the Finance Guard do that. As far as your company is concerned, the poor people who worked late on Friday thought they were responding to another surprise tax audit by the Treasury.”
Nancy looked at Jack. “We’re still going to see Sandro on Monday. About the personal translation services.” Jack nodded.
“Just don’t mention that anything happened to the documents,” said Redwood, “except that Jack read them and filed them. OK?” Three nods.
Nancy said, “Do you mind if I take a minute to freshen up?”
“Sure. All three of you can use the facilities while I check on the cars and the meeting in the command room. I think it’ll be in about 20 minutes.” He left himself out.
Lieutenant del Piave appeared 17 minutes later to escort them back to the command room. The maps had been cleared off the main table, and staff were stowing papers in carrying files. Bottles of champagne had been lined up on the coffee counter, and waiters were passing out flutes of the bubbly yellow liquid.
When they stepped into the room, another round of applause went up. The President stepped forward and motioned to Joe. He walked over, feeling more embarrassed than anything.
“Joe, when we leave here, we are all going to act like nothing ever happened. So, before we go, I wanted everyone here to have a chance to toast you and to thank you for the work you did exposing this attempt to bring down our country.” He picked up a flute of champagne from the main table. “Viva il traduttore!” Long live the translator!
“Viva il traduttore!” went up in unison from four dozen healthy male voices. Joe looked around, blushing fiercely. Everyone was smiling with pleasure, including Nancy and Jack.
“Thank you, Excellency. And thank you all, especially those involved in watching over me. Someone saved my life by causing a car crash, which is a strange thought. Thank you.”
The applause was not so loud this time, because so many were holding champagne flutes.
While various officers and government officials came up to shake Joe’s hand, Agent Redwood opened a file case and took out some forms for Jack, Nancy and Joe to sign. They had already been typed up.
“Read it carefully, Joe,” said Nancy, glancing at her form. “There are some pretty serious penalties here if you let it out.”
“I read it this morning before they had the personal information filled in.”
Nancy opened her mouth, then closed it. She turned her attention to her form and signed it. Jack was already turning his over to the FBI Agent.
“Can I talk about this to you in your office?” Joe asked Agent Redwood.
“When it’s just you, me and my secretary. Let’s not make a habit of it.”
Lieutenant del Piave came up to them.
“The cars are ready, and your luggage has been transferred.”
“Good. Let’s go home.” Nancy motioned for him to lead the way.
After a final handshake with the President and the Cabinet ministers on the way out, the Americans left the command room for the last time.
In the courtyard, two black limousines were waiting. Jack and Agent Redwood got in one, and Joe and Nancy took the other.
An hour later, they were sitting at the kitchen table, eating the reheated lasagna that Angela had made the day before. Nancy was in her stocking feet. Her jacket was thrown on her bed.
They ate in companionable silence. Each had brought something to read to the table, but each kept looking up from the pages of their book to catch the other staring at them.
“Nothing, I guess. Just wondering how you became such a man under my nose.”
“Gosh, Mom, you’ve been calling me the man of the house for years.”
“But this week, I started seeing you as more than my little boy for the first time. And feeling it, too.”
“Well, for a mom, you’re pretty cool to have around. I’m glad you’re back.”
(to be continued)