Home > The Broker(14)

The Broker(14)
Author: John Grisham

"You're Canadian, remember?"

"Okay, whatever, but we're isolated. Just us and the Americans."

"My job is to keep you safe."

"Thank you."

"And to help us do that, you need to learn a lot of Italian as quickly as possible."

"I understand."

"You will have a tutor, a young student by the name of Ermanno. You will study with him in the morning and again in the afternoon. The work will be difficult."

"For how long?"

"As long as it takes. That depends on you. If you work hard, then in three or four months you should be on your own."

"How long did it take you to learn English?"

"My mother is American. We spoke English at home, Italian everywhere else."

"That's cheating. What else do you speak?"

"Spanish, French, a few more. Ermanno is an excellent teacher. The classroom is just down the street."

"Not here, in the hotel?"

"No, no, Marco. You must think about your trail. What would the bellboy or the housekeeper say if a young man spent four hours a day in this room with you?"

"God forbid."

"The housekeeper would listen at the door and hear your lessons. She would whisper to her supervisor. Within a day or two the entire staff would know that the Canadian businessman is studying intensely. Four hours a day!"

"Gotcha. Now about lunch."

Leaving the hotel, Joel managed to smile at the clerk, a janitor, and the bell captain without uttering a word. They walked one block to the center of Treviso, the Piazza dei Signori, the main square lined with arcades and cafes. It was noon and the foot traffic was heavier as the locals hurried about for lunch. The air was getting colder, though Joel was quite comfortable tucked inside his new wool overcoat. He tried his best to look Italian.

"Inside or outside?" Luigi asked.

"Inside," Joel said, and they ducked into the Caffe Beltrame, overlooking the piazza. A brick oven near the front was heating the place, and the aroma of the daily feast was steaming from the rear. Luigi and the headwaiter both spoke at the same time, then they laughed, then a table was found by a front window.

"We're in luck," Luigi said as they took off their coats and sat down. "The special today is faraona con polenta."

"And what might that be?"

"Guinea fowl with polenta."

"What else?"

Luigi was studying one of the blackboards hanging from a rough-hewn crossbeam. "Panzerotti di funghi al burro-fried mushroom pastries. Conchiglie con cavalfiori-pasta shells with cauliflower. Spiedino di carne misto alia griglia-grilled shish kabob of mixed meats."

Til have it all."

"Their house wine is pretty good."

"I prefer red."

Within minutes the cafe was crowded with locals, all of whom seemed to know each other. A jolly little man with a dirty white apron sped by the table, slowed just long enough to make eye contact with Joel, and wrote down nothing as Luigi spat out a long list of what they wanted to eat. A jug of house wine arrived with a bowl of warm olive oil and a platter of sliced focaccia, and Joel began eating. Luigi was busy explaining the complexities of lunch and breakfast, the customs and traditions and mistakes made by tourists trying to pass themselves off as authentic Italians.

With Luigi, everything would be a learning experience.

Though Joel sipped and savored the first glass of wine, the alcohol went straight to his brain. A wonderful warmth and numbness embraced his body. He was free, many years ahead of schedule, and sitting in a rustic little cafe in an Italian town he'd never heard of, drinking a nice local wine, and inhaling the smells of a delicious feast. He smiled at Luigi as the explanations continued, but at some point Joel drifted into another world.

Ermanno claimed to be twenty-three years old but looked no more than sixteen. He was tall and painfully thin, and with sandy hair and hazel eyes he looked more German than Italian. He was also very shy and quite nervous, and Joel did not like the first impression.

They met Ermanno at his tiny apartment, on the third floor of an ill-kept building six blocks or so from Joel's hotel. There were three small rooms-kitchen, bedroom, living area-all sparsely furnished, but then Ermanno was a student so such surroundings were not unexpected. But the place looked as though he had just moved in and might be moving out at any minute.

They sat around a small desk in the center of the living room. There was no television. The room was cold and dimly lit, and Joel couldn't help but feel as if he had been placed in some underground highway where fugitives are kept alive and moved about in secret. The warmth of a two-hour lunch was fading quickly.

His tutor's nervousness didn't help matters.

When Ermanno was unable to take control of the meeting, Luigi quickly stepped in and kicked things off. He suggested that they study each morning from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., break for two hours, then resume around 1:30 and study until they were tired. This seemed to suit Ermanno and Joel, who thought about asking the obvious: If my new guy here is a student, how does he have the time to teach me all day long? But he let it pass. He'd pursue it later.

Oh, the questions he was accumulating.

Ermanno eventually relaxed and described the language course. When he spoke slowly, his accent was not intrusive. But when he rushed things, as he was prone to do, his English might as well have been Italian. Once Luigi interrupted and said, "Ermanno, it's important to speak very slowly, at least in the first few days."

"Thank you," Joel said, like a true smartass.

Ermanno's cheeks actually reddened and he offered a very timid "Sorry."

He handed over the first batch of study aids-course book number one, along with a small tape player and two cassettes. "The tapes follow the book," he said, very slowly. "Tonight, you should study chapter one and listen to each tape several times. Tomorrow we'll begin there."

"It will be very intense," Luigi added, applying more pressure, as if more was needed.

"Where did you learn English?" Joel asked.

"At the university," Ermanno said. "In Bologna."

"So you haven't studied in the United States?"

"Yes, I have," he said, shooting a quick nervous glance at Luigi, as if whatever happened in the States was something he preferred not to talk about. Unlike Luigi, Ermanno was an easy read, obviously not a professional.

"Where?" Joel asked, probing, seeing how much he could get.

"Furman," Ermanno said. UA small school in South Carolina."

"When were you there?"

Luigi came to the rescue, clearing his throat. "You will have plenty of time for this small talk later. It is important for you to forget English, Marco. From this day forward, you will live in a world of Italian. Everything you touch has an Italian name for it. Every thought must be translated. In one week you'll be ordering in restaurants. In two weeks you'll be dreaming in Italian. It's total, absolute immersion in the language and culture, and there's no turning back."

"Can we start at eight in the morning?" Joel asked.

Ermanno glanced and fidgeted, finally said, "Perhaps eight - thirty."

"Good, I'll be here at eight-thirty.'

They left the apartment and strolled back to the Piazza dei Signori. It was mid-afternoon, traffic was noticeably quieter, the sidewalks almost deserted. Luigi stopped in front of the Trattoria del Monte. He nodded at the door, said, "I'll meet you here at eight for dinner, okay?"

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Sinclairs series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
» Fixed series
Most Popular
» A Thousand Letters
» Wasted Words
» My Not So Perfect Life
» Caraval (Caraval #1)
» The Sun Is Also a Star
» Everything, Everything
» Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)
» Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)
» Cold-Hearted Rake (The Ravenels #1)
» Norse Mythology