|Jan/Feb 2018 Fiction|
Textile Photo Art by Jeffrey Trespel
1. The Sally Garden
Her name was Sally Manin. Her great-grandfather had come from a part of Italy called Liguria. The king had made him leave the country because he was a republican, which her father, Daniel Manin, liked to say was more honorable in Italy than in America; but she knew he meant Republican with a capital R. They lived in a townhouse on Cathedral Avenue and Sally was finishing seventh grade at J.C. Oyster School. One evening in May 1946, as they sat at dinner her father, who worked in the State Department, told her that they would be moving abroad this summer—to the embassy in Rome.
Sally looked across the table at her mother, who said, "Darling, I think it's going to be fun. There is an international school in Rome, and we hear it's a good one. We're sorry you won't have eighth grade at Oyster. But perhaps some of your friends can come visit us, later on."
Sally soon decided that she was happy at the prospect of Italy. Her favorite book was an old Italian novel her grandmother had given her on her last birthday. It was called, even in the English version, I promessi sposi, which meant The Fiancés. It was a story of young lovers who lived in the Alps, hundreds of years ago when the Spanish controlled northern Italy. The book had two engravings Sally especially loved. One showed a village below steep wooded hillsides with snowy mountains in the distance; the other showed the young couple fleeing across the mountains. Of course that was not Rome, was not, she suspected, like most of Italy. Still, the thought of living in Italy was romantic.
The next weeks were busy. It was only two years since the Allies had liberated Rome. The Department's post report made clear it was still hard to find things they would need there, clothing and sometimes even food. Sally and her mother spent hours at Woodward & Lothrop buying for what was to be a three-year assignment. They could obtain canned goods at the embassy commissary.
Hot weather had set in by the time the Manins were ready to leave Washington. In mid-June Dan Manin took three days off, which with the weekend gave them five days. They drove to New Hampshire, to Sally's grandparents in Enfield. One afternoon they all climbed Mount Cardigan. In an hour they reached the long stone slabs on top. They sat and ate sandwiches and looked north across the forests to Mount Washington, still white in snow. Sally wondered if Italy could be as beautiful as this.
Ten days later the three Manins took a taxi to Union Station and boarded the Boston overnight express. The train dropped their sleeping car at Penn Station in New York sometime in the night. They got off at seven, and by nine they were at a Hudson River pier—and there was the big Vulcania that would take them to Naples.
They went up the gangplank and were directed to the purser's desk. When they were transferred to a new post, Foreign Service officers were entitled to travel by ship in "minimum first class," but the ship was not full and there would be a luxury suite for the three of them. When a steward led them to the suite and unlocked the door, Sally saw two adjoining, good-sized cabins, with a small balcony where they would be able to sit and look out at the sea.
"Elegant," said Sally's mother. Neither Anne nor Dan Manin had ever sailed on a liner before, and of course Sally had not. Her father had joined the Foreign Service when Sally was three. They had been sent to the embassy in Mexico City in 1939 and traveled there by train. After three years in Mexico, with America now at war, Manin was transferred to the Department and they bought the little house on Cathedral. Soon Manin was commissioned a lieutenant in the Marine Corps and went off to the Pacific. He was wounded on Guadalcanal and they discharged him, but after several months he got a medical clearance from the State Department and was back at work there.
They had a pleasant ten-day passage to Naples. They lounged by the pool. Sally sat on their balcony and read her mother's copy of The Foxes of Harrow. Dinners were elegant; the men all wore tuxedos. The ship stopped at Lisbon and they walked around the old town of pastel-colored houses. Europe was exotic, Sally decided.
Lisbon was not just exotic but poor. Naples, they found, was shockingly poor. The embassy had sent a car to meet the Manins, which Sally thought was very nice of them. The driver, Amedeo, arranged for their trunks to be shipped to Rome, and they drove north through a ravaged landscape. The Italian campaign had been hard fought. There were ruined houses and olive groves in the countryside. Halfway to Rome, Amedeo pointed out, high above them, what remained of the abbey of Monte Cassino that Allied bombers had targeted just two years earlier. But these Italians were clearly hardworking people. Sally could see a lot of rebuilding going on in the towns and villages they drove through.
When they came into Rome, Sally was surprised to see how few cars there were. There were buses, but a lot of people were on bikes and on foot. The Romans were thin, some very thin. Amedeo drove them straight to their new home—not an apartment (most Romans, Sally's father had told her, lived in apartments) but the Villa Taverna, which was the ambassador's residence.
The next American ambassador to Italy was going to be Mr. James Cartwright Dawson, and he was expected in Rome in several weeks. Most recently Dawson had been the assistant secretary of state for European affairs, Dan Manin's top boss.
After he was nominated for the Rome ambassadorship, Dawson had learned his future Rome residence, Villa Taverna, was not in good repair. Little maintenance had been done during the war, when Wehrmacht officers occupied the house. The ambassador-designate got the Department to agree he could occupy a suite at the Grand Hotel until the house was renovated.
Dawson then called in Manin. "Dan," he said, "What would you say to moving into Villa Taverna with your family? I trust it won't be too many years until you have an embassy of your own. Meanwhile I can let you have an ambassadorial residence without delay. I'm not trying to make you a caretaker; you're going to be busy enough as a political officer. But we want to have someone in the house, rather than leaving it empty until it gets repaired. The place is furnished, so you won't have to ship your furniture. And your family might enjoy the gardens, which I understand are quite nice."
Manin quickly agreed. He went by the Department's Foreign Buildings Office to see what their schedule might be for renovating the Rome residence. No schedule yet, they told him. So many posts had reopened since the war, they were concentrating on refurbishing offices, leaving residences for later. It would be a year or two before they could start work on Villa Taverna. That evening, Manin told his wife and daughter the good news. With luck, they might be able to live there for their full three years in Rome.
They drove now into a green park—the Villa Borghese, said Amedeo—and passed the Rome zoo. In two minutes more they came to a massive gate in a long high wall and Amedeo stopped. An older man was standing there—Gianluca the gardener, said Amedeo—and now the man darted through a door next to the gate, and in a minute he had the gate open and saluted as they drove in.
Sally saw the house a hundred yards down the driveway. It was big, not huge. It looked older than anything she had ever seen in America. Her father told them it had been built in the late 1500s and rebuilt in later centuries. Thick ivy covered the house's right side.
They drove up to the front door, and here now was the housekeeper, Signora Lecci, a thin, gray-haired woman. She welcomed them warmly in Italian, and Dan and his wife replied as best they could. He had spent an hour or more a day, these last two months, working at converting his fluent Spanish into Italian. Anne, whose Spanish was equally good, had started reading an Italian grammar before they left Washington. Sally wondered how long it would take her to learn the language. She had understood nothing she had heard since they got off the ship.
Signora Lecci presented the rest of the staff: two maids and an old cook named Sergio, plus the gardener, Gianluca. The house had two floors, big rooms, high beamed ceilings. The Manins found as the signora led them through it that it was not in such bad shape. There were leaks in the roof, she said, but patches had been put over them. There seemed to be almost no damage on the second floor, which had five bedrooms. One upstairs toilet was out of commission; no parts could be found, but there were two other bathrooms. The interior did need painting, and in the dining room the red wall covering was ripped in one place.
Her parents sat down with Signora Lecci. Sally went out the front door and around the left side of the house. French doors opened from a large room in the back part of the house onto a sizable lawn. Beyond the lawn were rows of big shade trees, as big as those along the canal outside Georgetown.
After the trees came a flower garden, not well kept, she thought. She walked past this on a gravel path leading farther back through the grounds. The wall enclosing the grounds ran along to her left. Beyond the wall must be the street that led from the zoo to the front entrance of the villa. She heard a streetcar run by.
She came to a quiet, green place. Three huge plane trees made a triangle with sides a hundred feet long. In the center was an old fountain with three stone cupids playing horns. Water fell from each horn with a plashing sound to a stone bowl, which in turn overflowed into a larger round basin at ground level. The ground was bricked and mossy. Beyond the shady triangle there was sun and rosebushes with red blooms. She could smell a faint perfume.
She stopped just before this triangle of trees. On a rosebush a big blackbird with an orange beak was singing a melodious, loud song. Her English class came to mind. She thought, "That's a good declarative sentence!" The sun was bright and hot, but not here in the shade of the plane trees. The falling water made a constant, peaceful sound. It was the perfect place. There was a cast-iron bench. She sat down to look at the murmuring fountain.
Then Sally went half-running, skipping, back to the house. Her parents came with her to see this secret place. They agreed it was lovely.
"We can call it the Sally garden," her father said.
"You mean Sally's garden," said Sally.
"I was thinking of Yeats." Dan Manin had majored in English at Northwestern. "‘Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet...' Can't remember the rest. But I always liked that poem."
They had ordered a new postwar Chevrolet even before her father had gotten his orders, and it reached Naples three weeks after they did. On hot days that August, Anne and Sally drove to the beach and cool sea at Ostia. On Saturdays and Sundays the three of them began to hike the wooded ridges of the Monti Sabini and Monti Simbruini, the Apennine chains that rise inland beyond the Roman campagna. It was a different country from Rome: cooler, greener, with groves of huge beeches up on the rounded mountainsides. There were no marked trails, but there were mule tracks they could follow. Hiking along a mountain track above the village of Carpineto Romano, they came upon a peasant with a small herd of sheep. He had a big cape to keep off rain and homemade sandals that looked like a picture Sally had seen of ancient Roman footwear. When Dan Manin asked him for directions the man answered politely in a dialect even Sally could tell was unlike standard Italian. It was like something from past centuries, from I promessi sposi.
The summer progressed. Her father told her mother it was pretty quiet at work. The Italians were rebuilding their country, but they still believed in vacations. Many politicians and journalists whom he wanted to meet were out of town. Manin's immediate boss, the political counselor, was a man about 50 years old named Shep Farley who had a big Bulgarian wife. The Farleys had the three Manins to lunch one Saturday. They were very nice, Sally thought.
Ambassador Dawson arrived in Rome. He came by one afternoon to see his future residence. Manin told his family that evening that the ambassador said he hoped to advance the date for the villa renovation, but meanwhile found living in the Grand Hotel pleasant. He had confided to Manin that Mrs. Dawson was not displeased to give dinners in the hotel dining rooms, with things arranged by the hotel staff so she did not have to oversee details. He was happy to have the Manins in his residence.
In September Sally entered eighth grade at the Overseas School of Rome. The school had taken over a part of the Villa Torlonia, outside the ancient Aurelian Wall. It had been once been Mussolini's residence. Now the Allied command, what was left of it a year after the war ended, had its headquarters there. The Villa was vast. Beside the headquarters in the main palace, there was a smaller palazzetto that housed the school with its principal, four teachers, and 70 students.The gardens were far bigger than those at the Villa Taverna. There was a field where they could play soccer and field hockey at recess and sometimes after school. Sally liked it all.
The all included her new history teacher, a young Scotswoman named Madeleine Brown, who had studied at Oxford and told them inspiring tales of ancient Rome. After a month with Miss Brown, she knew she wanted to be an archaeologist. Or perhaps a classicist. Certainly a writer. Anyway, something that would let her live in Italy and study its fascinating past.
As autumn came on, Sally's father was doing well in the embassy, from what he said over dinner. Sally learned her father really had three bosses. His immediate boss was Shep Farley, who ran the political section, consisting of five officers besides Farley and her father. Above Mr. Farley was, it seemed, not just the ambassador but someone named McFeatters, who was the DCM.
"What does DCM mean, Papa?"
"He's the Deputy Chief of Mission, Sally. The number-two. Mr. McFeatters basically runs the embassy, so the ambassador can spend most of his time seeing top people in the government, and politicians and businessmen and editors and so forth."
"Oh," said Sally.
Manin turned to his wife. "I think Jack McFeatters is just what this ambassador needs. He's good at details, and he keeps the machine running smoothly. But he and Farley give us political officers a lot of autonomy, and I think I work all the harder because neither of them looks over my shoulder all the time."
Sally made friends at school with Mary Tyson, who was just her age and whose father was the embassy's agricultural attaché. Mary was less inspired than Sally by antiquities and Miss Brown, but she came along happily with the Manins on a Saturday excursion to Horace's villa, in a green valley under a mountain 40 miles inland from Rome. Dan Manin showed the girls the little Bandusian spring, still flowing with cool water, that Horace had written about 2,000 years ago in one of his Epistles.
Then there was Robert Curry. He too was in eighth grade—there were only a dozen eighth-grade students altogether—and his father was the Canadian ambassador. Robert was tall for his age, poised, polite, and handsome. Anne Manin soon got to know Robert's mother, Claudette, at the American women's club that had resumed its activities after the war. The two women were, like their two children, about the same age. They discovered they had grown up only 40 miles or so from each other, one in Vancouver and the other across the border in Bellingham, Washington.
Dan and Anne Manin were expected to do a certain amount of entertaining, and it was understood that an officer's wife would provide major help. Official representation funds were limited, but Dan told Anne that Jimmy Dawson had made sure before leaving Washington that Rome got its fair share; so Shep Farley was able to allocate 300 dollars to Manin for the fiscal year that began that fall.
By December Manin had begun taking foreign ministry officers out to lunch a couple of times a week. One-on-one conversations were bound to be more productive than noisy cocktail parties, he said to Anne. He had asked Shep Farley, though, whether he shouldn't also make use of the elegant place where he and his family were living. He told Farley he realized it might be a little delicate. He certainly didn't want the ambassador to think he'd forgotten he was only a mid-grade officer. It was the ambassador's residence, and he was just the interim caretaker. Still, there was a cook and there were two maids who for now were underemployed, and the house was not too dingy to invite people to come dine there.
Farley said he was glad Manin had raised the question, and he would ask the DCM about it. The next day he told Dan that Jack McFeatters thought there was no reason for the Manins not to give occasional small dinners at Villa Taverna; it was just as well for Sergio the cook to be keeping up his skills in the kitchen.
Rome was having a mild and sunny winter. Sally invited Mary Tyson to come over a couple of times after school. The first time the girls spent two hours in Sally's room, talking about movies and magazines and boys—including Robert Curry, who they agreed was very nice.
The second afternoon that Mary came to the Villa Taverna, Sally took her back into the gardens to share her secret place by the fountain. It was still and shady, and they sat a long time on the iron bench, talking. Sally said she had decided she was going to study classics at Smith, her mother's alma mater. Mary hadn't thought much about college. Maybe the University of Kansas; her family were from Wichita.
There were also afternoons when Sally Manin would walk back alone to the fountain and sit there with Emily Dickinson's poems, or sometimes one of the novels her mother had brought from Washington. It was good to be alone sometimes. (Gianluca the gardener was seldom visible. Signora Lecci had told Sally's mother he spent afternoons drinking grappa elsewhere on the grounds.) When she was grown, Sally decided, she would definitely have a villa in the Monti Sabini with a garden and a fountain—or maybe a spring like Horace's.
Her parents began to have a busy social schedule. Sally heard her father tell her mother he didn't want to spend too much time socializing with other Americans or diplomats from other countries; he was here to do business with the Italians. Sally could see her parents were pleased, though, when the Canadian ambassador and Mrs. Curry had them to dinner and Daniel Manin was the only male guest who was not an ambassador.
A couple of weeks later, Anne told her husband they simply had to reciprocate for that evening at the Currys'. He agreed. They gave a small dinner one February evening, inviting just the Currys and two other couples: Paolo Dabormida from the foreign ministry and his wife, Maria Teresa, and Dan's fellow political officer Ted Kozak and his wife, Louise. The cook produced a delicious meal, and it was almost midnight when the Currys finally got up to leave.
The Manins gave another small dinner three weeks later, one Thursday in mid-March. This time they invited two couples from the foreign ministry plus a top Italian journalist, Luigi Barzini, and his wife. One of Dan Manin's responsibilities was to follow the affairs of the Partito Liberale Italiano, a respectable small party somewhat right of center. But few Italian politicians, he found, spoke any English at all. Then he learned Barzini was prominent among the Liberals—and as a young man had studied journalism at Columbia University. Manin went to call on Barzini at his big house out on the Via Cassia. Barzini gave him tea and a brilliant discourse, in English, on his complex fellow-countrymen and the appalling state of Italian politics. Now, at the Manins' dinner, Barzini held forth after dessert and coffee in equally brilliant style, mainly on the Communist threat.
A light rain was falling when Friday morning came. Dan Manin kissed his wife and daughter, put up his umbrella, and walked to work feeling content. Cutting across the grass in the Villa Borghese, under the big umbrella pines, little white flowers were everywhere underfoot. They would have to go for a hike somewhere tomorrow, and take a good look at spring in the countryside.
That afternoon the roof fell in on Daniel Manin: the roof of the Villa Taverna, figuratively speaking. Shep Farley summoned Manin to his office. He looked pale.
"Dan," he said, "The ambassador just called me in. He is absolutely furious. He says you've forgotten who you are and you've been giving ostentatious dinners at his residence—his residence."
"My God, Shep," said Manin. "You know what's been going on. We've had just two dinners, small ones, and the DCM said explicitly it was okay."
"I know. I know. Apparently Luigi Barzini phoned the ambassador to say he enjoyed the dinner you had given last night at Villa Taverna—and he hoped to have the pleasure of meeting the ambassador himself sometime in the future. It seems Mr. Dawson has been wanting to meet Barzini, but somehow hasn't done so, and when he heard Second Secretary Manin had entertained Barzini in his own house—and that you'd had an ambassador to dinner, too—he more or less exploded."
"Shall I go see him? Or shall I go see the DCM? I'm terribly sorry. I just couldn't imagine anything like this would happen."
"I think you'd better stay away from both of them. I know the DCM told you you could use the house for entertaining. I think our number-two may have some explaining to do to our number-one. Let's let the dust settle."
The dust settled, or so it seemed. Farley told Manin that fortunately the ambassador hadn't raised the question of the annual efficiency report for Manin—the reports were due in the Department in two weeks. So Farley would do the report on Manin, and he assured Dan it would be a very positive report. The DCM would do the required reviewing statement, which would say he fully agreed with the political counselor's high assessment of Manin's work.
But, it turned out, there was more. Jimmy Dawson pounded on the Department, and they agreed to have the residence renovated sooner, over the coming summer. Then the ambassador told the DCM he wanted Manin out of his house before the work started—and he wanted him out of Rome. It had been a mistake ever to let the Manins move into the house. He knew Manin was a good officer, and he was not being vindictive, but there must be no question in the minds of the Romans as to the status, the stature, of the American ambassador. He had talked with Washington, and there was a good job opening for Manin. The sole political officer in the legation at Sofia was due for transfer in a year. Personnel would be sending orders transferring Manin back to the Department for a year of Bulgarian language training, followed by assignment to Sofia.
Next day Manin told his daughter they would be leaving Rome. He was sorry. It was bad news but, he told her, it could have been worse. He and her mother had discussed things. In September they would send Sally to a good boarding school in New England. She could stay there for all four years of high school instead of having to change schools midway, as she would have had to do if they had stayed on in Rome.
"It's all right, Papa, I really don't mind." And she didn't. She loved Miss Brown, but there were not many kids her age, not that much social life. Mary Tyson was her close friend but was not much interested in antiquity, and she had decided Robert Curry was too full of himself as the son of an ambassador. The important thing was that she had discovered Italy. Someday she would come back here. She would have a modest villa and climb mountains and write odes and eclogues.
The day before they were to leave Rome, late in June, Sally went up to her room in the early afternoon. Two weeks earlier, just before school ended, Miss Brown had called her in and given her a little coin, a silver denarius from the reign of Marcus Aurelius. She said to Sally, "He was the good emperor; and you are my good student. Don't forget me. And don't forget Italy."
Ah, no, Miss Brown, she would not. Now she took the denarius from her jewelry box and went downstairs. No one was in the kitchen. She took a large iron spoon.
Sally walked to the fountain. The old bench was firmly fixed in place. No one would ever move it. She measured a foot back from its right rear leg, dug a deep hole, and buried the coin. I will come back. This is my pledge to Italy. She thought for a moment she might cry, but she did not. That blackbird was singing, telling the world his truth, and a warm sun was shining.
2. A Counselor and An Envoy
It was not quite six on an April morning. The sun was already shining on the red rooftops. John Lang was doing his last of four loops around Piazza Navona. There was no other human in sight; he had the place to himself. Just as well, he thought, but what most mattered at dawn was running. And the sweet Roman spring. And love.
In ten minutes he was back in his apartment on the top floor of the oldest building on Via del Governo Vecchio. The building's dirty stone facade bore the date 1490. Inside, his apartment had been lately redone and was bright with early sunshine, while the street below remained in shadow.
Lang had been transferred to Rome from Cairo a year ago to head the embassy's political section. The admin people had wanted him to move into the big apartment on Via Pinciana that political counselors had occupied for decades. No, thanks, said Lang. His wife had left him two years before, he had no children, and he did not want so big a place. The flat he found for himself on Governo Vecchio had only one bedroom, but it had a large living room and a dining room just right for small dinners, which were the only entertaining he did at home.
A decade earlier, Lang had spent three years in Rome as a junior officer. His Italian had become fluent. He had gotten to know Italian politics and acquired a wide range of Italian friends. A number of them were fellow hikers and climbers with whom he spent many Sunday excursions in the Apennines.
John Lang had been climbing mountains since boyhood. He had grown up in Gunnison, Colorado, where his father was professor of geology at Western State College. Tuition was free for professors' children, and so John, who had dreamed of the Ivy League, studied at Western.
His senior year he was captain of the cross-country team, and they won second place in the NCAA national championships. That had something to do with the fact that Gunnison was almost 8,000 feet above sea level and they did training runs up near Crested Butte at 10,000 feet. If you could run at that altitude, you could really run in the lowlands. But the team's success also owed much to their inspiring coach, Duane Vandenbusche, who was also a professor of history. It was Vandenbusche's stirring lectures on the world that had first made John Lang think about a career in foreign affairs. He took the exams for the Foreign Service the year he graduated, and somewhat to his surprise, he passed.
Some of Lang's fellow hikers in the Apennines, he found when he returned to the Rome embassy as the political counselor, were now prominent persons. Valerio Arata, a career magistrate, had lately become Procurator General of the Republic. Pietro Del Buoncastel, an unassuming and gentle man who possessed 2,000 acres of pastures and vineyards and the title of Marchese, was now president of the association of large agriculturists. Del Buoncastel's wife, Maria Teresa, had just published her second book on the Etruscans. Franco Floret, a Jesuit priest, was the Vatican's Substitute Secretary of State. It was fun to pick up again with these friends. Lang was all the more content when he found the broad meadows below the high ridge of Pizzo Deta and the old beech woods under Monte Autore were as unspoiled as ever.
Lang had worked hard this past year at comprehending the ever complex Italian political scene and reporting on it to Washington. He had befriended members of parliament, top journalists and writers, office directors in the foreign ministry. His six subordinate officers were competent and assiduous. Lang thought his deputy, Jane Farnham, might be the very best Foreign Service officer in her class. The Department had recently complimented the embassy on its political reporting and analysis. Lang was altogether satisfied with his first year as the counselor for political affairs.
He had, however, encountered problems in the embassy. The problems did not include the ambassador. Her name was Sally Manin. After college she had gone to work as a staffer on Capitol Hill, and after becoming chief of staff to a Senator, she had herself been elected to Congress, to represent Maryland suburbs in the House of Representatives. She had become a leading force among the Italian American members of the House. She might look and sound like a Yankee, she liked to tell people, "...and you know I'm a Republican with a capital R, but I am also very proud of the fact that my ancestors were some of Italy's first democrats—and that's with a small D."
Congresswoman Manin had first been elected to the House as a Democrat, but she had changed parties in the belief that Republicans were the true fiscal conservatives and some, at least, were good conservationists like her. She had been rewarded for her services to the Republican cause by a Republican President named Bush who gave her the Rome embassy, a year before John Lang arrived there. She came to Rome alone. She had had loves but never a husband. She had also had a father who was a career Foreign Service officer. He had died on a mountain climb in Bulgaria when she was only fourteen.
Ambassador Manin quickly decided she liked John Lang's frankness, which was coupled with both a good understanding of Italian matters and an objectivity she had not often found in Washington.
The deputy chief of mission, Fred Dustman, was another matter. Dustman had been vice consul in Florence, Italian desk officer in the Department, consul in Milan—and was going nowhere career-wise when he convinced Human Resources to put him on the list of candidates for DCM in Rome. He had more Italian experience than the others, so Sally Manin picked him.
Now Dustman sat in his large office in the Palazzo Margherita, administering an oversized embassy containing attachés from two dozen federal agencies. He complained audibly that his burdens were such he had no time to get out and see Italians. He also made clear he did not much care for the Romans. Florentines and Milanese, he did not mind saying, were finer people.
What Dustman did not say was that his Italian was halting and he had made no more friends among Florentines or Milanese than he did in Rome. He and his shy, awkward wife liked best to stay home evenings and watch old films.
Ambassador Manin did not, Dustman knew, dote on him. At staff meetings he sometimes sensed she was mocking, if gently, things he said. He was soon jealous of Lang, who had no wife, who spoke fine Italian, who seemed to know everyone who counted in the capital—and upon whom the ambassador clearly doted.
John Lang was no fool. He knew he could suffer if he got caught between the ambassador's liking for him and the DCM's mistrust. By the time Lang had been in Rome for a couple of months, Sally Manin was calling him into her office with some frequency for information and advice. The approach to her office was through the large room where the ambassador's secretary sat.
This secretary was Marie Takala, who had served with Lang in Budapest. She was a good friend... but to the left of her desk a door opened into Fred Dustman's office, and the door was usually open. If he liked, Dustman could see Lang going into Sally Manin's office, and Lang had no doubt Dustman did see. John Lang therefore took pains to keep the DCM well briefed on his conversations with the ambassador. At least he did so until one Friday afternoon in February.
At three that afternoon Marie called: the ambassador wanted to see him. Lang walked into the ambassador's opulent office, which had been a ballroom when, a century earlier, the palace belonged to Italy's queen mother.
"Good afternoon, Madame Ambassador. What's up?"
"Sit down, John, and tell me all I need to know about Italy's relations with North Korea. This instruction from the Department says I have to weigh in, in person, with the foreign minister. I would rather you did so, but orders are orders. So tell me what I don't know—but for heaven's sake don't tell me anything I don't really need to know."
He talked for ten minutes. Fine, she said, just what I needed, thanks. She looked at him, and he at her. Sally Manin, Lang thought, was a really beautiful woman. She was, he knew, 44, just his age. She was blonde, slim, not tall. When she smiled, and she was smiling at him now, she dazzled.
Sally Manin looked at John Lang and saw him fit and trim and handsome. He was smiling, too.
"John," she said, "Sometime I think we would do well to have a talk outside the office. I do like to escape from bureaucracy sometimes."
"And so do I... I know how full your schedule is. You wouldn't, by chance, be free for dinner tomorrow evening? Saturday, I mean."
"I know tomorrow's Saturday... I can ask Marie to check my schedule. But yes, I'm sure I'm free. Shall we do it?"
And they did. A security officer was supposed to accompany the ambassador whenever she left Villa Taverna, her residence set in seven acres of walled gardens. But there was nothing scheduled for her that Saturday evening, and the security officer was not around. At eight o'clock Lang drove up to the villa gate and was instantly admitted by the guards. Ten minutes later he and Sally Manin drove out.
Lang had thought carefully where they might have dinner with less chance that the American ambassador would be recognized. He settled on the Osteria da Nerone, on the hill above the Colosseum. It was much frequented by foreign tourists, who were less likely to recognize her than people at a restaurant where most diners were Romans.
It was a warm evening for February, so they sat outside, looking down the street at the great Colosseum in the gloom. No one paid attention to them except the waiters, who recognized him as he ate there often. Their greeting for the lady seemed simple politeness. The two Americans had an antipasto romano and spaghetti alle vongole and broccoletti ripassati in padella and almost a liter of the house's white wine.
They talked of nothing serious. Sally Manin said how happy she was to get away from the round of diplomatic dinners. John Lang said he could stomach the diplomatic life six days a week, but he did try to keep weekends, or anyway Sundays, free.
When they finished, he looked at her and said, "You know, I live near Piazza Navona. What would you say to a coffee at the Bar Navona?"
"Fine," she said, smiling.
He parked his Lancia in Via del Governo Vecchio, a few yards from where he lived. They had their coffee in Rome's grandest piazza and walked back toward the car.
"Would you like to see my modest apartment? No Villa Taverna, to be sure."
"Why... yes, thanks. Just for a minute."
In ten minutes, or it may have been 20, they were in bed. He thought afterward, she is glorious. She thought, he is fine, strong, good.
They slept then, and at dawn on Sunday he woke her and took her home. Lang was committed to a hike that day, and he went with six friends to climb Monte Navegna over crusty old snow. That afternoon, back in Rome, he called her.
"I hope you do not think I am guilty of disrespect to the Chief of Mission."
"You are my good counselor. My good friend. My buddy."
"If I am violating laws and regulations and protocol, I want to do it again."
The question was, when? The next week passed quickly. The ambassador told Marie Takala she thought she had been over-scheduled recently. She was not blaming Marie, but henceforth she wanted to keep Saturday evenings and Sundays free.
That shouldn't be too hard, Marie said. Other ambassadors, and prominent Italians, certainly did all they could to keep weekends free for themselves and their families.
Over the next two months, Lang and his ambassador spent every Saturday night together in his apartment, except for one weekend when he had to visit Turin and another when she had a speaking engagement in Naples. On Sundays, Lang took her to the mountains with his friends. Her Italian was good, and she was a strong hiker. Lang wondered what people might be saying about the two of them, but he said nothing to her about that.
Now it was April. The cruelest month, Lang thought as he tied his Fendi necktie. He ate a quick breakfast and skimmed the pages of the Corriere della Sera and La Stampa. He opened the window and took a long look at the street below. No one lurking, so far as he could see. He hoped not. His counterpart in our Paris embassy had left his house one recent morning to find waiting for him a young gunman from the Middle East—who fortunately was a poor shot.
Well, it was 7:15. Time to go to work. Lang varied his routes through the city, for security reasons and for pleasure. Today, walking past the Pantheon, he thought of the annual efficiency reports due on his staff. He needed to complete them this week. He had done as the book said, keeping a folder on each officer and reviewing their performance with each of them, several times. He had some hope his report on Jane Farnham might get her promoted to senior ranks. But what sort of report was Fred Dustman going to do on him? The DCM had given him no clue.
It was just after nine when Dustman summoned Lang. Dustman shut both doors to his office, pointed Lang to a place at his long conference table, and sat down across from him.
"John," he said, "You know it is all coming out. I mean about you and the ambassador. I have told the security officer not to say anything to the Department, but I think they know. And I suspect everyone in this embassy knows, Americans and Italians alike. Even I know, and nobody likes to share confidences with the DCM.
"It is a bad situation. Certainly if you were married to the lady, you couldn't work here. The anti-nepotism law prohibits one spouse supervising the other. You know all that. But I don't suppose you realize, or care, what kind of position you have put me in.
"So what should I do?" Dustman continued. "I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I am going to write an efficiency report that rates you very low on discretion and judgment, and you are going to agree with it. You may want to ask for a transfer."
"Fred," said John Lang. "Do whatever you want to. You are, you know, the perfect bureaucrat. As for me, I'll consider my best course." And he walked out. But Dustman was right about the rules. He was finished in Rome and maybe in diplomacy.
As the week progressed, Lang completed his staff's efficiency reports, in between conversations at the foreign ministry, the drafting of many cables, and luncheons with an editor, a deputy minister, and Italy's best political analyst. Jane Farnham glowed when he gave her the report he had done on her. His other officers also seemed pleased.
On Friday Lang told the DCM he wanted to take a week of leave. There were no pressing matters, and Farnham could handle anything that came up. Dustman had done his damning report on him, and it had gone forward to the ambassador to add her reviewing statement—when she returned. She had been called back to the Department and had left for Washington the previous day.
Dustman agreed to his taking a week off, but asked, "What then, John?"
"I'll let you know."
At ten on Saturday morning, at Roma Tiburtina station, a sturdy-looking hiker bought a ticket for Arsoli and boarded the Pescara express. He was clearly off on more than a Saturday excursion. He had a large backpack with a rolled sleeping bag on top.
Lang had decided to do something he had long dreamed of, a three-day walk southeastward along Apennine ridges, starting at the Arsoli station and ending on the summit of Monte Viglio, the highest peak in the Lazio region. From there he would come down to the village of Filettino and take a bus for Rome. If he reached Filettino too late in the day—most buses carrying commuters left villages for Rome in early morning—he would spend another night up in the woods.
Before he left home, he phoned Marie Takala and told her his plan, just so someone in the embassy would know. No need, he said, to tell the ambassador, who was due back from Washington later that day. He would come see her when he returned.
It was past noon when he got off the train at the little Arsoli station and started tramping down the road. The first five miles were all on pavement, but by 2:00 he had reached the three-monk monastery of the Madonna dei Bisognosi, 1,000 meters above sea level. From there he started up the faint path along the rising ridge. He passed through oaks, then across pastures and copses of stout beeches whose fallen leaves were thick on the forest floor.
Sundown was near when he reached the Cima di Vallevona, 1,800 meters above the sea. He gathered dry wood and made a small fire below the ridge, out of the wind. His dinner was simple: beans and sausage washed down with some wine from a flask. Not long after dark he was asleep on the mountain.
The next day he started out at cool dawn. By mid-day he was sweating and fast emptying his two canteens of water. He made his way around the southern slopes of what must be Monte Tarino—and found, as he had hoped to, a wood where cold pure water poured forth from many small springs: the sources of the Aniene, which joined the Tiber at Rome.
That evening he reached his intended goal, the high round top of Monte Cotento, and camped there. The weather was holding, not cold or windy, and the stars were brilliant. A good omen for his future. But what future?
The next day he reached the summit of Monte Viglio, 2,156 meters, in mid-afternoon, after clambering gingerly across the steep pitch called the Gendarme. He had done it! Now for Filettino.
Another hiker was coming up, someone in a red windbreaker climbing fast. A woman with blond hair.
Lang sat down and waited.
She said, "I thought I'd do Viglio now, since I can't be sure when I'll get back to Italy."
"I'm leaving. You don't need to."
"We're both leaving. I've been sacked. You can marry me at the National Cathedral. They have an hour open next month."
That settled that. They started down toward Filettino. The sun set, but a great moon was rising, and it lit their trail through the forest.
3. Fire and Ice
Sentiments of hope this January, but would it all last? Not likely. Wells Moncure, Director General of the Foreign Service, swtiched off the TV in his office. He turned to Paul Candiano, who had recently retired as ambassador to Greece and had come back to work as a part-time consultant. "You think this good feeling will last, Paul?"
"Not very damned likely. I've lived too long to be an optimist. I remember the buoyancy we all felt, way back when Kennedy came in. I was at Embassy Lima. I remember how we were instructed to trumpet our new Alliance for Progress, and how the Latinos' interest dropped off fast when they realized our bankroll wasn't all that big. Not the same thing, but..."
"You can give me ancient history another day. Let's get to business, my dear consultant," said Wells Moncure. "Just what do you want me to tell the new Secretary of State about the state of our service?"
"Wells, if you really want to know, it's bad. Some of us could see 20 or was it 30 years ago that the security officers were multiplying so fast, they were becoming the tail that wagged the dog. A much bigger tail, now. We've closed almost all the small consulates because Diplomatic Security said it couldn't protect them, and instead we've got consulates that are nothing but fortresses, and the biggest embassy anywhere in the world, that bloody palace in Baghdad. And it's not just our own people but those hordes from CIA, DEA, DOD, FBI..."
"I've been there, you know. You don't need to preach to me."
"Yes, I do. That's why you're paying me. Nobody else is going to talk straight to you. Do you realize how bureaucratized we are? I don't mean just this Department. I mean the whole damned country. But no one seems to care. And if we're talking about embassies, I've got figures for you on how much bigger our embassy staffs are than those of anybody else—in almost any capital."
"I'm not into reform right now, Paul. Just keep those figures for me. I've got other problems. Our new chief is going to give out a lot of plums to campaign helpers. And I need to be able to tell him honestly what sterling types our career officers are, so he doesn't agree to giving all the major ambassadorships to the fat-cat contributors. I need to know whether our people in the field are getting out the way they need to. Forget Baghdad. What about, say, Rome and Delhi and Brasilia, which I think are the posts you just visited? Are our people getting out and seeing the deputy ministers and senators and editors, the way they ought to—or are they just sitting and e-mailing each other?"
"Well, you know they send hours' worth of e-mails, and then they go home and all too often watch videos instead of socializing with local folk. It's a bad scene. I do think the best of them are still getting out the way they should... but speaking of Rome, let me take a minute to talk about John Lang."
"What about John Lang?"
"We ought to bring him back on board. You know he's on extended leave without pay. He did a superb job in Rome—until that creature Dustman ratted on him."
"Dustman's retired, if you didn't know. I hear he's lecturing on cruise ships."
"I know, I heard."
The Director General caught sight of himself in the mirror on the wall that had been left there by his predecessor, Nancy Rosen. At 50, Wells Moncure had two ambassadorships behind him, Accra and Tunis. He was trim and looked confident, and he resembled his ancestors who had been Virginia plantation owners as much as he did the ancestors who had been plantation slaves. He still had a long way to go, if he was careful.
The thought came to him that it was all a question of screwing. John Lang screwed a lady ambassador, and that screwed him. And now he had married the lady. And Moncure really did not want to screw himself with a new administration by bringing back on board this guy with his consort, or whatever she was, whom the White House fired.
"Time for lunch, Paul. We can talk about Lang later."
Luigi Castaldi, the foreign ministry's director general for political affairs, was admiring the view of Palazzo Farnese as he enjoyed a Campari before dinner, standing with his host, Franco Serra, his deputy as the ministry's director for Eurasia.
"Luigi," said Serra, "Whatever happened to the Americans? Remember John Lang? He and that woman colleague of his—Farnham, no?—they were always in my office. In fact I saw a lot of them away from the office, too. We shared a lot of confidences even if we didn't always agree. First class, both of them. Now that they've left Rome I seldom see any of their people. Someone told me the American diplomats now spend all their time in front of their computers... Speaking of good diplomats, here come my other guests, the new Russian counselor, Smirnovsky, and his wife. His Italian is near perfect, and I think he already knows our country well... Sergei Pavlovich, have you met Director General Castaldi?"
The log cabin was two miles beyond Gothic, once a mining town and today, in summer, home of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. It was winter now. At the Lab were just a caretaker and his wife. The road was not plowed but cross-country skiers often did the three miles from the town of Mt. Crested Butte out to the old Gothic store, to sit on the steps and eat their sandwiches and gaze up at the peak of Mt. Gothic, 3,000 feet above them. Few skied farther than the store.
John Lang and his wife, that former ambassador Sally Manin, had rented the cabin for January through March. The cabin was a century old, but the owner, a Denver lawyer, had lately redone it. It was well insulated and had new solar panels.
They skied out to it on New Year's Day, each towing a sled with provisions. The cabin was nearly buried beneath snow. They had brought shovels and soon cleared the space in front of the door and the two windows. The roof rake was where the owner said it should be, and in another half-hour John had cleared off much of the roof, working carefully in order not to damage the solar panels.
There was a good stack of firewood. Sally laid a fire in the stove and in a half-hour the interior was warm enough that they took off their down jackets. John produced a bottle of vodka, Sally broke out bread and sausages. They drank to their new home.
Months had passed since they had left Rome and married. The Department said John was guilty of misconduct and put him on indefinite leave without pay. Sally had been summoned to the White House, where some young deputy assistant to the President told her, not politely, that her resignation was desired.
What to do? John was in limbo, for who knew how long. Sally didn't want to be a lobbyist and looked for a job with a non-profit needing her expertise. The economy was headed downhill, and she failed to find anything that paid, other than a job with an Institute that raised ten million each year for the third world and paid its president two of the ten. No, thanks.
Sally and John had some money, and they first decided on a long honeymoon in Costa Rica and Belize. The beaches were fine, but they felt their fate lay North. For now, this meant a Colorado mountain cabin. The world and Washington were far away. One day they would go back East, but not now.
The cabin was their love nest, and they were full of love. On mornings when the sun shone or at least the snow was not falling so hard they couldn't see, they would venture on skis or snowshoes out toward Emerald Lake and Schofield Pass. Almost never did they see another human. Even animals were rare. They saw tracks but only occasionally caught sight of a fox or coyote, and once or twice a little ermine, white with a black-tipped tail, when they came down near East River. The black bears were in their winter dens, the elk somewhere else. One day when they skied back to Gothic, the caretaker's wife, Lucy, told them she had seen a puma's tracks that morning, but not the puma.
Most days the two of them came home for lunch and then went to bed beneath the thick down comforters, slept an hour, and then made love. He kissed her fine breasts and said, "Nothing like passion in the cold," and she gently bit his ear, and he came on her again.
The TV worked, thanks to the solar panels. They could only get one channel, though, and so more often they listened to the radio and all the nation's fears and worries. They had brought journal books and spent an hour or so writing, most days, and then sharing what they wrote. John told Sally he had long thought of writing stories about old diplomats. One of his ancestors, a man named Weed, had been in the embassy at St. Petersburg before the Bolshevik revolution. He was sure there was a tale in that. Sally showed him the story she had begun to write of a little girl, not exactly herself, whose parents had taken her to live in Rome.
One morning, when John went out with his bucket to get snow to melt on the stove, there were fresh coyote tracks just outside the door.
"I think I'll go follow those tracks after we finish breakfast. Want to come along?"
"No, thanks," she said. "We must have done eight miles yesterday. I think I'll stay here and be lazy—but I promise I'll chop some wood, too, while you're gone."
It was nine when he left on snowshoes, well equipped. He carried a pack with sandwiches and water, matches and dry twigs, cell phone and compass, headlamp, even a small shovel. KBUT in Crested Butte was forecasting cloudy weather but no snow and a high temperature of 15, but one never knew what a winter day would bring in these mountains, 10,000 feet above sea level.
Lang followed the coyote tracks up the valley. The animal had stayed near the river, no doubt looking for an ermine or mouse or some other foolish little creature. As far as he could see, it had not found prey. After perhaps four miles, the tracks turned to the right and went uphill. The slope was free of trees but not steep, less than 30 degrees. There should be no danger of an avalanche. In half an hour's climb, Lang reached a ridge—and saw the spoor of a second coyote that had joined the first one. Perhaps if he followed, he would find their den. He went on into aspen woods. He saw no wildlife except for two gray jays. They followed him for an hour, hoping for a handout. When he stopped to eat his sandwich, they swooped down near to him. He threw them small pieces and started off, trudging onward through the aspens.
He looked at his watch: 2:30. The coyote tracks still led onward. In an hour more he was tired and turned toward home. He had come a long way, he realized. Eventually he came back out of the aspens to the ridge he had climbed and stopped for the view. From Mt. Gothic on his left, a long ridge descended rightward and then sloped up to the reddish side of Mt. Baldy. Someone had told him that a large herd of elk wintered under Baldy, but nothing was in sight. He felt good, not too tired. He started down the slope at a kind of slow jog, sliding and glissading in the soft and thick white powder.
Suddenly his left snowshoe was stuck under something deep and hard and he felt sharp pain. A buried tree trunk? The snowshoe was jammed fast. He needed to dig out, but when he leaned down the pain grew sharp, too sharp. The cell phone... he managed to pull off his backpack and it rolled down the snow out of his reach. The sun set and it was colder.
At the cabin, Sally turned off the radio and walked outside at 5:00 PM to see the sky already darkening over the mountains eastward. Where was John? He should have called. Cell phone service was spotty in these parts. He might well have tried to call her and not gotten through.
Sally finally phoned 911 after the stars had come out, brilliant in a frozen sky. The dispatcher said he would relay her call to Pete Davis of Crested Butte Search & Rescue. Pete called her back after several minutes.
"Sally," he said, "What equipment did John take with him—firemaking materials, flares, a cell phone? Do you know whether he had a space blanket?"
"I'm not sure about flares. No, I don't think he had any. Otherwise I think he was pretty well equipped."
"Okay. We're coming out as soon as we can. Expect us in an hour."
In not quite an hour two snowmobiles reached the cabin, with Pete and three other volunteers. One snowmobile was towing an empty sled. For a second Sally shivered, thinking A sled for a body.
She invited them in. The temperature was heading below zero, and she had fixed hot chocolate. The four drank their mug-fulls and went out to start the engines again.
"What's that?" said one of them, a black-bearded fellow named Tom Fort.
In a minute or more the others could see it, too: a faint light, in the general direction Lang's tracks pointed.
It was Lang's headlamp. He came trudging slowly toward the light of the cabin, hobbling and half-frozen. He had managed to free his leg after an hour. Something was broken in his foot, but he knew he had to get back to Sally. He made it home, five miles in pain, but the boot gave him some support. The two coyotes had followed him at a distance, no doubt hoping he would drop and they could have a late dinner. Cowards, he thought as he stumbled along. They're handsome in their fine coats, but they're cowards. Like people in the Department.
In a half-hour Lang was warm and full of food and chocolate (and just an ounce or so of vodka). The men bundled him on the spare sled and they went off toward civilization, promising Sally they'd phone once in town. Next afternoon Tom Fort delivered John, equipped with a big new prosthetic boot to protect the bad foot, back to the cabin.
Sally always remembered that John came back to her on a Tuesday—Tuesday, February 15th—because early the next morning his cell phone had rung. The doctor, following up? No. The State Department.
It was Paul Candiano. He told John there was going to be a long delay in getting the new ambassador to Libya confirmed by the Senate. He was a political appointee, a big contributor, and a couple of Senators had raised questions about his background. For now the Tripoli embassy was in the hands of a mid-grade career officer, Tom Kornblum. He was a good man, but someone more senior and experienced was needed to run the post until the new ambassador got confirmed—if he ever did.
"John," said Candiano, "Wells Moncure wants to know if you would be willing to go out to Tripoli as our chargé d'affaires. You can use your Arabic and your Italian, and you know the region, and we know you can deal with that bastard Qadhafi. I expect the job will last six months at most. It's not an ambassadorship, and I don't know where you might go after Tripoli, but..."
"But it might wash away my sins? Sounds good, Paul—a really pleasant, relaxing post." He looked at Sally. She had a questioning look. He smiled at her. "I do have to get a certain ambassador to agree. But I think I can do that."
4. Envoy in Ottawa
It was exhilarating, a good start to the working day. She came gliding along the ice of the Rideau Canal on a cold—minus 22, Celsius—but windless February morning, as the sun was rising. In 20 minutes she skated the three miles and more from where she had taken to the ice, at Dow's Lake near her apartment, to the landing before the canal reached the locks and the Ottawa River. She took off her backpack, exchanged her skates for Nikes, pulled on the pack again, and ran along the edge of Major's Hill Park to the four-story glass and steel front of the embassy.
Past the Canadian guards outside and the Marine checkpoint inside, she picked up her set of morning newspapers, jogged up three flights of stairs, stopped by the window at the Communications section for her stack of cables, and came to the door that read Jane Wells Farnham, Counselor for Political Affairs. It was 7:30, and her secretary was not yet due. Meno male, just as well, as the Romans said. Quiet was nice.
Jane Farnham had been in Ottawa for a year and a half, after three years in the Rome embassy and a summer attending a Harvard seminar on international affairs in Cambridge. She was someone people liked to look at: five feet six, 38 years old, fit and trim, smiling brown eyes and light brown hair. She had graduated from Boise State, spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru, and entered the Foreign Service. Before going to Rome she had spent two years in the Department of State and six years abroad at Vancouver, Quito, and Zagreb. She felt seasoned and competent, she knew she was good-looking, and she feared becoming forty.
The Cambridge summer was pleasant. She rented an apartment just off the leafy Common, ran two miles along the Charles in early morning, and spent an evening or two weekly in Boston with her fellow seminar members. These ranged from young doctoral candidates to business people and diplomats, mainly fortyish ones like her, from Brazil, Cameroon, Ireland, and Mongolia. Her Irish colleague was handsome and entertaining but no doubt he had a wife in Dublin, and she did not want a one-night stand. Better things would happen.
She had last had a lover, for a year, in Rome. He was an American named Hobbs who had a Ph.D. and a stutter and worked at the headquarters of the UN's World Food Program. She liked but did not love him, yet might have married him, but he had a Roman wife who wouldn't give him a divorce, and a contested divorce was unlikely to go through in Italy. He could, she thought, file for divorce in America, but he didn't. Eventually she ended the affair, and after a month felt a sense of relief.
The lecturers in the Harvard seminar were authoritative and in the main fluent and informative. She learned much she had not known about birth control in Africa and poor management in UN agencies and what was really happening in Russia. All good, but July began, and she wondered what—if anything—the Department had in store for her, come September. A week before the seminar ended, one evening when she was cooking pasta for herself in her Cambridge apartment, Tom Schmidt called her.
Thomas Franklin Schmidt was, most people thought, one of the best senior officers in the Foreign Service. He had been ambassador to Sweden and more recently the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. The President had lately made him ambassador to—where? Suddenly she drew a blank.
"Good evening, Mr. Ambassador," she said. "What can I do for you?"
"Thanks for taking my call. I think you must know I was recently named to Ottawa, which is where I'm calling from. When I got here I learned my political counselor, Steve Jones, was leaving for Warsaw to be deputy chief of mission. I was DCM there myself once, a good job, and I won't try to stop him. He's been here three years, anyway... but I need someone to run the political section, and I wonder if you'll accept the job. You come well recommended, and I understand you've got Canadian experience. What do you say?"
"Well, you know, my Canadian experience amounts to just two years as vice consul in Vancouver… but if the Department agrees, I'll be delighted to come."
"The Department does agree, and I understand your orders are on the way. In other words, it's a done deal, and I admit I've been dissembling. But I thought I might call you, just to make sure you'd really want the job, and to make clear it was my idea and not those people in Human Relations."
"Well… it's a great idea, from my point of view. And I will look forward to seeing you soon, sir."
For some reason she thought back to this now, as she exchanged her running shoes and skating suit for a long-sleeved blue wool dress and black heels that she pulled out of her office closet. 7:30, said the clock. The mirror said, you're quite good-looking but do comb your hair and put on lipstick. She did that and called the briefer, Terry Dyer. In two minutes he came in with his worn leather briefcase and pulled out the three-ringed notebook with Top Secret intercepts and the Morning Brief from CIA headquarters.
"There's some interesting stuff," he said, "But nothing bearing explicitly on Canada." She skimmed the 30 pages, said, "Thanks, Terry," and he left. She picked up the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Ottawa Citizen.
She spent ten minutes skimming the newspapers, turned to the pile of cables for another ten minutes, locked the cables in her safe, went to her computer and skimmed far too many classified e-mails, rolled her eyes at the complications of bureaucracy, and went up to the fourth floor with her notebook.
It was just before eight when she walked into the ambassador's office and sat down with Tom Schmidt and his deputy chief of mission, Evan Kingsdale. The regular staff meeting of a dozen officers from five agencies started at 8:30, but the ambassador liked to see Kingsdale and Farnham for a few minutes before that.
"I don't have much to report," she said. "The papers say the President is sending the Prime Minister the case of Sam Adams ale he promised if our women's hockey team lost to Canada in the Olympics. Are you going to deliver that, Mr. Ambassador?"
"Afraid so. I was going to get someone from Admin to drop it off at the Langevin Block, but one of the 18-year-olds"—this was Schmidt's term for White House staffers—"called to say it was desired I do it myself. Just who desired it she didn't say, but I didn't argue. Heather has gotten me an appointment to see the premier at 11:00 this morning. You can come along, Evan, while Jane stays here and holds the fort. And I won't even ask you to carry the beer. Mr. Murphy, our trusty and hefty security officer, can do that."
At ten to 11:00 the ambassadorial Cadillac and the security Ford pulled up in front of the dirty sandstone front of the imperious Langevin building. The ambassador, Evan Kingsdale, and Tuck Murphy got out of the Cadillac. There were a half-dozen red-coated Mounties and several dozen other people, most with press badges, waiting in front of the entrance.
"Well, Evan," said the ambassador, "It's a good photo opportunity if nothing else."
Tuck Murphy turned to make sure his assistant was getting the case of Sam Adams out of the Ford's trunk. A young man shoved aside a tall Mounty, who lost his balance. The man quickly fired many rounds from his Glock into the torsos of the two top American diplomats. Murphy came running, but Schmidt and Kingsdale had fallen. They were dead. Two Mounties grabbed the assassin, but he had turned the pistol on himself, and he, too, was dead.
Five minutes later Murphy had called Farnham and Farnham had called the State Department operations center, who would notify offices in the Department, the White House, and elsewhere. Then she quickly sent a brief telegram to Washington she knew would be repeated to a dozen agencies in Washington and all our posts abroad:
P 171634Z FEB 09
FM AMEMBASSY OTTAWA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC FLASH
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLAS OTTAWA 3415
SUBJECT: ASSASSINATION OF AMBASSADOR & DCM
AS I INFORMED THE DEPARTMENT OP CENTER BY SECURE PHONE, AMBASSADOR SCHMIDT AND DCM KINGSDALE HAVE BEEN KILLED BY AN ASSASSIN. I HAVE ASSUMED CHARGE. WILL REPORT FURTHER.
The next weeks she always remembered as the most trying time in her life. That day, her first step after sending the initial cable was to request appointments with the prime minister, the foreign minister, and the head of CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. She sent a cable asking the State Department's Canadian desk to get in touch as quickly as possible with the ambassador's wife, Ellen, who was visiting friends in Washington, and to notify her when this was done so she too could call Mrs. Schmidt. Evan Kingsdale had a male companion in Ottawa named Sy Rose. Tuck Murphy said he'd call him and let her know when he'd done so. "Fine," she said. "Tell Sy I'll see him later today."
Next, Farnham cabled the Department that she was asking to see the top Canadian officials on an urgent basis. Did they have specific instructions for her on what to say? Of course, she said, she planned to ask each of the three Canadians to ensure better protection for her embassy and its staff, and to assure them that Washington would want to cooperate fully with Ottawa in identifying the assassin and what links he might have had to others.
The office of Prime Minister Jules Flandin called back to say he would see her that evening at seven. She called Frank Ayala, the head of the Department's Office of Canadian Affairs, on the secure phone.
"Frank, you saw my cable. I can wing this, but I'll feel better if I have instructions."
"Jane, I completely understand. Sorry to say, people here can't agree on what's to be said. The White House staffers want us to go easy on Mr. Flandin, but Tolliver"—that was Tolliver Todman, the Secretary of State—"says we must make clear, very privately and politely, that the Canadians didn't do their job, didn't protect our people. He would like you to spell things out clearly for Flandin. The Canadian press mocks us for making our embassies into fortresses, and indeed we do, but then Tom Schmidt leaves the fortress and gets shot down right outside Flandin's own office. There's limits to what an embassy can do to protect itself. It's essentially the job of the host government. You know that. And if you say this to the prime minister, on instructions or not, you won't get any flak from me or the Secretary."
‘"What about the 18-year-olds?"
"Oh—the White House staffers, I mean."
"Forget them, at least for now."
"Gladly. And I'll let you know how I come out with the premier."
She hung up the phone and started crying. In half a minute she stopped, but she was thinking Tom Schmidt was such a good, sweet man. He didn't deserve to die. What was it he used to say? Onward and upward. Oh, Tom, I'll try.
The meeting with the prime minister, a 60-year-old Québecois known for his temper, did not go well. She told Flandin, as diplomatically as she knew how, that Washington was grateful for Ottawa's close cooperation on intelligence and security, but obviously more had to be done. We had just lost two of our best senior officers, and frankly we did not want any more of our people gunned down.
"Miss Farnham," said Flandin, "Are you saying our people are not doing their job?"
"What I am saying, Mr. Prime Minister, is that I have just lost the best person I ever worked for. We have built about all the security we can into our premises. You know the Canadian press mocks us sometimes as hiding inside a fortress. That's not fair. I think our people probably have wider contacts with Canadians than any other embassy in Ottawa. But we do need protection, and the Vienna Convention says the host government must take all appropriate steps to prevent attacks on foreign missions and diplomats. You know..."
Flandin broke in on her. "What I know is that the United States has outraged much of the Islamic world—and much of the rest of the world—with your belligerence, your over-use of military force. And you have pressured us to go along with you. And we have. You know well that we have hundreds of military personnel in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. And now some crazy young Yemeni—our people have identified him—some Yemeni kills your boss on our soil. We have instructed our ambassador in Washington to tell your President how profoundly sorry we are about this. But I wonder, Miss Farnham, what next?"
"Mr. Prime Minister, I appreciate all that you're saying, but we are not a belligerent nation, and we don't overuse military force. I will report our conversation to Washington as soon as I return to my embassy. Let me stress that we want to work closely with you. To answer your question, we hope that the future will see enhanced security for our people and our premises here in Ottawa, and of course also for our six consular posts in this country."
"I trust you are not trying to lecture me, Miss Farnham, on what my government should do. We know our responsibilities. I am very sorry indeed about your ambassador. Thank you for coming to see me. Good evening."
Wow, she thought as she walked to her car, accompanied by two tall Mounties. That didn't go too well. I'd better call Frank Ayala quick. And she did so, as soon as she reached the embassy.
"Fine, Jane," he said. "I think you did just right. We know full well what a testy sort the man is. And it's no news that he'd like to see us all pull out of Iraq. Now, I think their Ambassador, the skilled Mr. Fullerton, is with the President as we speak. I hope for a report on that soon. Meanwhile, fire in your own report as soon as you can."
She did so, expecting a rebuke from Washington for having riled up the head of government of our northern neighbor. Instead, Ayala told her on the phone at 8:00 AM the next day, the President had commented to his staff that we needed strong souls like her, and he wanted to know more about this young Ms. Farnham.
At nine she met with the embassy staff in the small embassy auditorium. "I will be as frank as I can," she said. "We don't know whether the assassin was part of a bigger plot, but at this point we don't have any indication that he was. I have made it clear to the Canadians that they must do a better job of protecting this embassy and our consulates. Of course we ourselves have got to exercise care. Prudence is the word. You know the drill. Don't always take the same route coming to work or going home, or going anywhere else, for that matter. Keep your eyes open and report anything suspicious. It's a worrisome time, but we'll do well. Come see me whenever you feel the need; my door is open."
She wondered if anyone would ask for a transfer. One young vice consul, Kent Fain, came up to her after the meeting. "Ms. Farnham, I'm not afraid in any way," he said in a low voice, "but, well, I am concerned about my wife. And, you know, we have a three-year-old..."
She knew she had to get him out of Ottawa fast, before he got his colleagues more worried than they were. She phoned Ayala, who said he'd tell Human Relations to issue Fain and family orders for immediate transfer to Washington.
After her call to Ayala, she went off to see the foreign minister, Charles Bennett, and then the head of CSIS, Roy Roper. Both meetings went better than her call on the premier had. Of course, she thought, Bennett and Roper had to echo what their boss, Flandin, had said to her, but they each assured her Canada would do all it could to protect its Yankee friends. "Friends, and cousins," Minister Bennett said with a smile.
Roper told her at CSIS that the young assassin had been born in London to parents from Yemen. "He came to Canada five years ago, when he was 17, and until now he'd done nothing to bring himself to the attention of my people. Your station chief is, I think, asking CIA headquarters if they can add anything to the picture."
When she got back to the embassy, the chief, Dick Pribyl, told her the Agency knew no more than Ottawa did. What was behind the killer and killings remained unclear.
At 1:00 PM, Ellen Schmidt arrived in Ottawa with her son John, a sophomore at the University of Virginia. Jane Farnham met them at the airport. Ellen was, Jane thought, subdued, but after they got to the ambassadorial residence and John, glum and silent, had gone off to his room, she burst out.
"Why couldn't they protect him, Jane? They, I mean their security people, must have seen the man was no sort of journalist. Why didn't they watch him and grab him? Dear God, I hate this country. They're so damned polite, and they're so sorry my husband is gone, and it's all their fault..."
"Oh, Ellen, I know. I've talked to them, I've told them how they failed. I'm just so sorry. He was the best man I ever worked for."
The new widow would not be assuaged, and next day she took her husband home to be buried in Charlottesville, where he had been born, son of a professsor. Jane told her she would have gone with her, but there was no chance of her getting away from Ottawa at this point.
In the next few days, no one else in the embassy asked for a transfer. She sensed that morale was not bad. But there were two big holes in the embassy staffing plan: no ambassador, no DCM. She wondered what Washington would do about replacements. DCMs were always career officers, but American ambassadors to Canada were most often fat cats, big supporters of the current administration, people who knew Canada, if at all, from a fishing trip to Labrador or skiing at Whistler. God save us, she thought, from some rich asshole. Maybe the billionaires will be afraid to come now.
A year earlier Jane Farnham had been promoted to the lowest of the senior ranks in the Foreign Service, that of Counselor. It was the right rank to be a political counselor—at a smaller embassy. Her predecessors in Ottawa had mainly been one rank higher, Minister-Counselor.
She was doing all right so far, she thought. Maybe when she turned over the Ottawa embassy to the new chief of mission and his or her new deputy, they'd give her something good. Consul general in Marseille or Milan, maybe, or DCM in some small embassy in Africa? She tried not to think about it, to concentrate on the work here in Ottawa that was making for 12-hour days. She suddenly recalled one of Tom Schmidt's favorite sayings: The proof is in the pudding. Indeed. I'm in the kitchen working on it.
Washington decided it was a good time to invite the Canadian foreign minister to come visit. Farnham delivered to Charles Bennett's executive assistant, Marie Lafourche, a warm invitation from Secretary Todman. "Thanks, Jane," said Lafourche. "We'll get that into the papers right away. People will be pleased."
A week later Bennett was in Washington. He and his Washington ambassador, Phelps Fullerton, had a good and friendly meeting and then lunch with the Secretary of State, who had Farnham at his side. Then Farnham took the foreign minister, who was accompanied by Marie Lafourche and Phelps Fullerton, to the White House to see the President, who had invited him to call. Protocol did not require a head of government to see a visiting foreign minister; it was a nice gesture, and, Bennett told Farnham in the car, a gesture that would be much appreciated in Ottawa.
Jane Farnham had never met President Farley Kerst. He had won the Presidency easily in 2008 against a weak Republican opponent. The real battle had come earlier, when he won the Democratic Party nomination in a hard fight against an attractive younger African American Senator named Obama. Kerst had invited Obama to become his Vice President, and unlike many past Presidents made Obama his true deputy and close collaborator.
Kerst, Farnham saw as she entered the Oval Office with the three Canadians, was a thin man of sixty. He was, she thought, slightly paler than he looked on TV. He greeted the Canadian minister with a smile, shook Farnham's hand warmly, and said to her, "If you think Mr. Bennett can make his own way home from here, I'd like you to stay for a minute afterward."
"Of course, Mr. President," she said.
Bennett said, smiling in turn, "Mr. President, as much as I like being in my friend Jane's company, I do know my way around this town. As your staff may have told you, I spent four years here as a young attaché. In any case Ambassador Fullerton will take care of me."
The press was invited in to see and hear the two statesmen exchange initial pleasantries. The journalists and cameramen left, and now in the Oval Office were just the President, the Canadian minister and his ambassador and aide, and the American chargé d'affaires, plus one of the 18-year-olds, whose name Farnham did not catch, as notetaker.
All went well. Minister Bennett assured President Kerst that Canada had no closer ally than the US. Kerst assured Bennett we felt the same about Canada. "But," said the President, "I do sometimes fear that you see us as a little uncouth and uncaring. We do care. We badly need you as friends. We need your help, as I think Ms. Farnham has made clear."
Bennett, Fullerton and Lafourche were gone in 20 minutes after more warm handshakes. The notetaker went out another door. President Kerst turned to Jane Farnham and said, "I'm happy to see you, my young friend. You've been doing a fine job for us, and I would like you to keep on doing it."
"Of course, Mr. President."
"Perhaps I'm not being clear. What I mean is that I want to make you our ambassador to Canada. Would you accept the appointment?"
She looked at him and fought back tears.
He grinned at her. "Well, what do you say?"
"Mr. President, Yes. Of course, sir. It would be a great honor. I could not imagine..."
"No need to imagine. We'll call it a done deal. And I don't think you'll have any problem with Senate confirmation."
She walked out of the White House and told the driver of the car from the State Department that she'd walk back to Foggy Bottom. It was 4:00 on a sunny and warm March afternoon. She came to 19th Street and Rawlins Park and sat down on a bench by the bronze statue of the Union general, under trees just beginning to leaf. She looked at the long rectangular pool that contained one duck. An odd duck, she thought. Am I an odd duck? I think not. But people in the Department won't like this. They'll think I went around end. Well, people, I really didn't.
Frank Ayala told her not to worry. There were male officers who thought women were getting unfair breaks in ambassadorial appointments, but he didn't think anyone would say that about Jane Farnham. Of course she was young for the job, but she wouldn't be the youngest chief of mission ever. That had been John Quincy Adams, just 27 when he went as envoy to the Netherlands; he'd looked it up.
So she felt happy and was confirmed by the Senate by unanimous vote a month later. The Department transferred William Rockhill, the energetic consul general in Québec City, to Ottawa as her deputy. Soon she was pleased to see that in addition to spending long inside days running her embassy, Rockhill was finding time to get out and see Canadians.
The American and Canadian security people decided the Yemeni assassin might have been influenced by radical Islamists but had acted on his own. There seemed to be no imminent threats to the embassy and consulates. Dick Pribyl told her the Canadians were doing all they could to exchange information and analysis with his CIA station. Nevertheless Farnham bought a little Colt Mustang pistol, had an hour's firing practice with the embassy's Marine guards, and kept the pistol in her purse—on days when she was carrying a purse big enough to hold it.
Summer slid by easily. She got up most mornings at 5:30 and ran four miles, varying her course as best she could. As far as she could tell, no one was targeting her. The embassy's Diplomatic Security staff did not want her to run alone, but she insisted she was less identifiable if she did so. Besides, no one on the DS staff was a good runner.
The Canadians agreed to keep their people in Iraq, there were no major trade problems, and Bennett told the American ambassador that Canada fully shared US views on the need for a stronger NATO, given the menacing ways of Vladimir Putin. There were issues between them, notably on the environment, but all in all it seemed that things were good.
She was very busy, both during the working day and attending too many receptions and dinners (and hosting some), but she realized when by herself that she was a little lonely. A gentleman friend would be nice, but she didn't see anyone in the diplomatic corps who might qualify even if Diplomatic Security had eased up on relationships with foreigners. She was decidedly not attracted to the hard-smoking ambassador of Slovenia, who was more than a little friendly when they met at receptions.
She had moved into the grandiose limestone residence called Lornado that a Canadian magnate had built in 1908 and the State Department had bought cheaply for American envoys during the Depression. Too big, she thought, even if my Pakistani and Australian colleagues have bigger places. There were ten acres of grounds, lovely and green but not quite enough for a good running course. Besides, beyond the walls was a quiet, wooded part of the city. During her long dawn runs down the streets beyond Lornado, she seldom encountered any cars or humans.
At 6:00 AM on a Thursday in August, she was coursing down a lonely stretch of Rockcliffe Driveway near the river. There were thick woods on either side; the river was invisible but not far away on her right. She realized two runners, a man and a woman, were keeping pace with her, not gaining on her, not 100 yards back. She began to sprint, rounded a sharp curve, and before the followers were in sight she darted leftward into the woods. She hid in thick bushes, called 911 on her cell, and told the operator she needed help. In several minutes she heard sirens. Hurray for the Ottawa Police! But the pair could not be found.
That was her last run alone. Tom Hoekstra from DS came along each morning after that. She slowed down a little, he improved, and soon they were doing nine-minute miles together. From time to time they encountered another runner whom Hoekstra identified as a police officer. No more suspicious types, at least for now. But someone or other had their eye on her. Well, she thought, you don't run scared, you just keep running. And how does it all end? Who knows? The future is unknowable.
One Friday evening in September, she went to dinner at the home of Charles Bennett and his plump, red-headed wife, Caroline. There were 12 at the table. Farnham was the only ambassador there and so was seated on the minister's right. On her right was Hayes Sinclair, whom she had not met before. He was around 45, trim, and handsome, she thought, despite a prominent nose.
Sinclair was, she knew, the chairman of BR, the Bank of the Rideau, Ottawa's biggest. He was also, he mentioned after some minutes, a recent widower.
"Mr. Sinclair, if I may ask, am I right that you're called Governor? But you're really the chairman of the board, no?"
"Please call me Hayes. Yes, you're right. I'm governor as well as chair. You might say we copied the Hudson's Bay Company, which has had a governor since the 1600s, when you know it held a huge part of this country. We do own some land ourselves, but nothing like their old kingdom. Which is fine by me. We've got enough of Ontario. We don't need the Yukon..."
When they rose from the table, they were still talking. When the evening ended, they were still talking. They exchanged cards.
"From something you said," he said, "I gather you are an outdoors person. Me too—skating, skiing, hiking, mainly. Perhaps sometime soon, before winter comes on, that is, I might show you some of our outdoors that you haven't seen yet. We have a lot of it, our bank, I mean, and then I own a little of it myself."
"That sounds lovely. I like the woods and lakes in this province."
She went home happy. But, she thought, I must be careful, that is if he does call. "Canadian executive and American envoy reported intimate"? Was it Washington or Jefferson who warned about entangling alliances? But I really wonder if he'll call.
The next morning her phone rang at 8:30. By midday they reached Sinclair's log chateau on his big estate of maple and birch forest surrounding a broad pond. It was, he said, well fenced, all safe and secure. His and her security people left them and went to have lunch at the gate house. Hayes and Jane ate a simple picnic lunch, smoked meat sandwiches with pickles and Molson's, sitting on the porch facing the pond. It was a windless warm day, and the forest was reflected nicely on the still water.
"I think," he said, "that before our pleasant evening at the Bennetts', and of course seeing you on the TV, we may have met somewhere. Are you a skier?"
"Cross-country. I don't do downhill. I've gone on several excursions with the National Capital Ski Club."
"And so have I, some Sundays. I think I must have seen you flash by me on the track, one day."
"Flash, no. But I like a good groomed track."
"Same here. If we get some snow this coming winter, which seems to be no longer guaranteed in our warming world, perhaps we can spend an active afternoon or two together."
"That sounds good," she said.
Across the blue still water of the pond, maples were turning red in the sun. Lunch finished, they walked along the lakeshore and into the woods on a broad trail. He took her hand, and they went on for ten minutes. But, she thought, things will really go no further. I have a trail of my own to take. I am the cat that walks alone. Tiger, not tabby.
They stopped. A hundred feet ahead, a plump brown doe stood in a bright ray of sun, looked at them, and bounded into the dark woods.
He turned to her, still holding her hand, smiled, and said, "That's loveliness... You know, Madam Ambassador, despite all the sadness in this world, I do think life is good. Won't you agree?"
She looked at him keenly. She smiled. "Ah, yes, my friend the Governor," she said, "I will agree."