The Europe trip was one of the longer trips the President had made. The goal was to develop a series of cooperative measures on the climate, trade and technology protocols. The five capital cities that had been selected were based on their friendliness to the U.S., so it looked like it was going to be a fairly relaxed trip.
However, the party’s first night in Rome proved otherwise, even though it shouldn’t have. One of June’s friends, an American model named Nina Collodi, whose uncle was the Italian Foreign Minister, had seemed the ideal date for that evening. Nina had served as Mark’s date fairly regularly back in the States, so she knew what to expect. In addition, her Italian was as flawless as any other native’s, since she’d learned it from her parents, who had emigrated to the U.S. before she was born.
Collodi met the Presidential party during their first morning in Rome. She was tall, olive-skinned, with stunning shiny black hair. Sharon made a point of briefing Collodi, but, as a result, missed what should have been a minor meeting between Italian Foreign Ministry and U.S. State Department staff members.
Which was why, many hours later, when Sharon, Yesmenia and June were enjoying a huge bowl of spaghetti, Sharon got a text and gasped.
“We’ve got a problem,” she announced.
“Why? What?” Yesmenia asked.
“If I’m reading this right, the Transportation Minister took offense that Nina is Signor Montefiori’s niece,” Sharon answered.
“Why would he?” asked Yesmenia. “Even their president seemed pretty proud of Nina.”
“Signor Roscano is about to be indicted,” Sharon replied.
“This is Italy,” June said, slurping a last strand of pasta. “Someone’s always about to be indicted.”
“Yeah, but apparently, it just came out today that the indictment is over some pretty egregious nepotism on Roscano’s part,” said Sharon, glaring at her Blackberry. “Why didn’t I know about this?”
Yesmenia sighed as she picked up her purse. “Possibly the same reason I didn’t. We were doing something else when the news broke.”
“If it broke,” grumbled Sharon, texting as fast as she could. “I’d better head back to the hotel.” Her phone buzzed. “Wait. Raul says he’d heard a hint of the issue during today’s meeting that I missed because I was briefing Nina.”
June frowned. “Is it my imagination, or does that sound he’s blaming you for missing the meeting?”
“Raul always sounds like he’s blaming someone for something,” Sharon said, still glaring at her phone. “Your brother is not going to be happy.”
June shrugged and looked at Yesmenia. “Why don’t we go soothe his feathers and leave Sharon to soothe the Italians’?”
“Best thing we can do,” said Yesmenia.
“I’ve got a staffer to rake over the coals first,” said Sharon.
But as she got up to go, her phone rang and she began speaking rapidly in Italian.
Back at the hotel, she glared at Raul.
“It was just a hint,” said the tall, balding man with the dour face. “This is Italy. Someone is always being indicted for something.”
“Raul, you know better than to take that attitude,” Sharon said.
“But none of the Italian population cares, not even the rest of the cabinet,” Raul said.
“Well, if you’re the one being indicted, you care. And you know damn well, the problem isn’t whether it’s a significant issue or not. It’s about how we appear to the rest of the world, and the last thing we can afford, especially after the last administration, is to appear as if we’re insensitive.” Sharon paced for a few minutes, then looked over the upcoming schedule on her laptop. “I’m going to have to send you home. Randy can take over for you here.”
“That’s my job,” Raul said, stopping just short of whining.
“And you didn’t do it,” Sharon said. “Furthermore, Raul, if you blow it one more time, I will have to fire you, I don’t care how good your contacts are. And, yes, this is a formal notification. I’ve already emailed Human Resources. Are we clear?”
“Are we clear?” Sharon repeated.
“Yes, we are.” Raul turned and stalked off.
Sharon gathered herself together and made her way to the suite where Mark was staying.
“Well?” he asked as Sharon entered.
Sharon looked around the room. Yesmenia, June, the president’s official personal assistant Gen Flowers, the Deputy Chief of Staff Terry Barker, and speechwriter Calvin Whitecross were scattered about the sitting area, looking at her expectantly.
“Prime Minister Dellacandro laughed. She thinks the whole thing is hysterical,” Sharon said. “Signor Roscano has been mollified.”
“What did you tell him?” Mark asked.
Sharon looked a little guilty. “That is was Signor Montefiori’s idea that we have his niece accompany you, which it partly was. Montefiori is already angry with Roscano for making a fuss, and grossly offended that we would have passed over his niece just because Roscano’s about to be indicted. So, per Signora Dellacandro’s suggestion, I’m letting them fight it out.”
Mark suddenly laughed. “Seriously? Can we afford to do that?”
“I think so. Signor Montefiori was claiming credit for you having Nina with you, in the first place. So we can go with that. If it makes things difficult for him in the face of Roscano’s legal troubles, that’s essentially his problem. We can’t be responsible for their in-fighting, especially if one of them is claiming responsibility for Nina. And nothing has been officially announced. The rumor about the indictment only got out today, and this has been in the works for some time. We can claim some unfortunate timing, say we’re sorry that it hurt Signor Roscano’s feelings, and emphasize that we want to continue our good relations with the country of Italy.”
Yesmenia was typing furiously on her laptop. “The timing was way bad, but we don’t want to apologize if it’s not our fault. Why don’t we say that we regret that the timing of Ms. Collodi’s appearance turned out to be so awkward?”
Mark looked at Sharon. “Ms. Wheatly?”
“Perfect,” said Sharon.
Mark sank back in his chair and chuckled. “This was supposed to be the easy trip.”
“It may yet be,” Sharon said. “I, uh, had to send Raul home.”
“Good,” said Terry, a tall, blonde man. “He is such a pain in the butt.”
“But that does mean I’m a little short-staffed, since I’ll only have Randy,” Sharon said.
“Have your assistant fly out tonight,” Mark said. “I’ll call State and have them bring over a couple translators for her.”
“That shouldn’t be necessary,” Sharon said. “I’d rather have Randy interfacing with the Europeans. That way, Julie can stay focused on keeping me on task. Besides, her French is actually very good, and after Berlin, we have Brussels and Paris, so we’ll be good there.”
“All right,” said Mark standing up. “Then let’s get rolling so we can get some sleep. Tomorrow is another long day.”