My eight pages from debriefing Eliza was the crux of my second lunch with the countess. We sat, once again, facing her garden.
"We have made amazing progress," I said.
"Tell me." The countess rubbed her hands in anticipation.
"Not only did our operative monitor your daughter and grandson, she has become their close friend. She had long talks with Lara during shopping expeditions into town. I'm going to read directly from my notes on what the operative told me."
"Lara is very private, but very conversational..."
"She talks to new people, but won't talk to her mother."
"Lara said that Santa Fe is 'never dull.'"
"What about the winter?"
"Lara complains that she's had a hard time with servants. She says drivers are worse in Santa Fe than in Iran. Next day, they went into town to shop..."
"She has time to shop, but no time to call me," said the countess. "Egotist!"
"Lara likes western shops and bright colors. She bought hot pink jeans. Her son bought a fleece jacket."
"Clothes for the closet," snapped the countess.
"Lara needed to have a crown recapped so she visited a local dentist."
"What a place to fix teeth!" the countess wailed.
"Lara told our operative that her son has a difficult relationship with his father..."
"It's a lie!" The countess detonated. "He has a wonderful relationship with his father. How dare she talk against him to a stranger!"
This was the same lunatic baron she'd hired us to neuter.
"Lara said that after visits with his father, her son climbs into bed with her."
"You see what she does?" The countess frowned. "He is not a man."
"Lara reads everything," I continued.
"But she doesn't even read the newspapers.”
"These are my operative's observations," I said. "Lara has an inquisitive mind, she likes to learn and explore new things..."
"The wrong things."
"She's astute at sizing things up."
"Lara told my operative, and I quote, 'Money is not a substitute for family fulfillment.'"
The countess jumped up. "Say that again, I’ll write it down." She whipped around the large room like a tornado, found a pen, whirled back.
"Money is not a substitute for family fulfillment," I repeated.
The countess put ink to paper. "I see. So why doesn't she give her money to the poor and go to work?"
In the interest of diplomacy, I skipped a passage on what Lara had told Eliza about her parents: She loved her father but her mother was "very programmed" and "not a good role model" and "superficial." She told Eliza that her mother was jealous of her husband's love for their daughter and so she had contrived to stick her daughter with a governess while she and the count hobnobbed around Europe with aristocratic jet setters.
"Our operative reports that your daughter has a good sense of humor," I said.
"She has no sense of humor," the countess spat. "She never had a sense of humor."
"She likes Monty Python," I added.
"That is not humor," said the Countess. "It is... different."
"Now your grandson," I said, scouring my notes.
"Yes. Tell me."
"He's an expert on movies."
"I must shoot my daughter!" she hissed, teary-eyed. "She is ruining the count's heir!"
"A very polite, well-spoken boy," I read from my notes. "He wanted to try chewing tobacco. Lara let him. He turned green and ran off to be sick."
"This is a mother?"
"Toward the end of our operative's stay," I said, "some people from Connecticut arrived at the ranch. Your daughter told our operative that they might be 'spies disguised as a family.' They laughed about it, but Lara said, 'I've had worse—they’re always watching me.'"
"My daughter thinks I'm spying on her? How can she think such a thing about me? Does she think her life is so interesting?"
There was no way to answer this.
"Our operative," I continued, "is given to understand that Lara and her son will return to Santa Fe in August.”
We moved to the open-air terrace for lunch. Our first course made me gag: cold soft-boiled eggs in jelly.
"My late husband, may he rest in peace, told me he married me because I'm so sincere," the countess finally spoke. "Can you believe I gave birth to such a thing?"
I did not reply, jiggling soft-boiled egg in jelly with my fork.
"I will change everything," the countess hissed. "She will wait and wait and wait." The countess paused. "She should spend time in jail. Have you thought about this?”
I wanted no part of putting the IRS onto Lara. "I don't think..." I began.
"The maestro," she said. "We must know what the maestro thinks. He will know the answer. Will he come?"
"Where's your phone?"
I phoned Clair, returned to the table. "He's making travel arrangements."
The countess smiled for the first time since the briefing began. "Ah, this is good news."
Two days later, Clair left a phone message saying he would not be coming. I found him seven hours later and he sounded awful.
"This is very embarrassing," he said. "I was bitten by my cat. I've got an infection or an allergic reaction or something. I can't walk. I haven't slept all night. I'm on antibiotics."
"What should I tell the countess?"
"Tell her I've had a family emergency. I’ve got to go, I feel awful. Call me later."
First the countess was disappointed. Then she turned cold and abrupt—and after that, dismissive. "I think we should close the curtains on this play,” she said. “Finito bon soir."
"The maestro can visit next week," I said.
"Next week I have visitors."
"The week after?"
"Thank you, goodbye."
I phoned Clair to fill him in. He sounded unwell.
“Anything else?" he asked.
"Yeah. She wants to unleash the IRS on Lara.”
"She thinks it would be good for Lara’s character to spend time in prison. And it would free up the boy to be in his father’s custody."
"She wants that?"
"She seems to want anything that will punish her daughter."
"This really has taken a strange turn," said Clair.
"The IRS you say?"
"Her own daughter?"
"Well, f--- her."
"My sentiments precisely."
Breaking through fever, Clair phoned the countess to explain his cat bite.
"Well, thank God you're really sick," she told him. "I thought you found something else to do."