He didn’t ask my name. But then, he’d heard everything I’d said at the office. He already knew that. Still, I offered my hand. “Isabel McNeil.”
He shook it, bowing slightly. “Alberto Giani.”
He began walking, sort of casually strolling. Hesitantly, I followed. I was here to ask questions, after all, and hopefully, he was here to give me answers.
We walked to the Campo de’ Fiori, a big piazza that hopped at night with tourists since it was lined with bars like the Drunken Ship and Sloppy Sam’s. But in the morning, aside from the fruit and vegetable markets, many establishments were closed. The smell of old cheese wafted through the piazza and newspapers blew haphazardly.
I looked at Alberto. He smiled again, gestured at one of the places that was open. We went inside. Patrons stood at the bar, sipping, or in some cases sipping-disguised-as-slugging, from white cups topped with foam.
Alberto stepped up to the cashier and ordered two cappuccinos.
“No, no,” I said, moving beside him. “Tea, per piacere.”
“Tea?” both the cashier and Alberto repeated. They both pronounced it like tay.
“S'i,” I said. “Decaffeinated, please.”
Now they both stared at me with puzzled faces.
“Decaffeinato,” I said. Since I’d been out of work, I’d noticed that the caffeine in my usual green tea was making me jittery, as if my body didn’t have enough daily running-around-stress to soak it all up. So, I’d switched to decaf. It wasn’t much fun to be a decaf tea drinker, I’d found, at least not when you went to a coffee shop. The clerks always looked disappointed at the order. There were usually only a few lame selections, like chamomile or lavender, to choose from. But if I felt marginalized as a decaffeinated tea drinker in the U.S., I knew Italy would be fifty times worse, and so before I’d left, I’d learned to say decaf in Italian.
Almost defensively, I repeated it now. “Decaffeinato.”
Alberto nodded, as if to say, Okay, then, and he and the cashier had a flurried, indecipherable conversation before the cashier seemed to cave.
When we sat on barstools near the window, I thanked him for talking to me and launched into my questions about the Camorra.
But he wasn’t responding. Or suddenly, I realized, he wasn’t listening. He was just bobbing his head, his gaze bobbing somewhere lower than mine.
“Can you help me with this kind of thing?” I asked, bending down a little to try and catch his eyes. “Can you tell me about the Camorra?”
He gave what seemed a blas'e shrug. “There are some Camorra in Rome, but mostly they are in Napoli. You want the Camorra, you go to Napoli. But you no want the Camorra. So, what do you do in America? For a job?”
“Well, you heard me in the office, right? I’m a lawyer.” I didn’t feel much like a lawyer right now, but hoped it would lend me some cred.
“What kind of lawyer?”
His eyes went big. He named a few pop bands from America. “You are their lawyer?”
“No. Look, if I wanted to find out about someone in the United States who was working on something long ago, maybe something involving the Camorra, could you help me with that?”
“How long ago was this person working on it?” he asked, although he didn’t sound particularly interested.
“Almost twenty-two years.”
He gave me that big Italian shrug. “Twenty-two years? Ah!” He shook his head, leaned in a little. “So. Where are you staying in Roma?”
I was about to mention the name of the hotel, but something made me lie. “The Hassler,” I said, naming a hotel atop the Spanish Steps.
“Ah, Hassler! They charge too much for drinks, but the courtyard…” He snapped his fingers. “Bellissimo! Have you been to the courtyard?”
I squeezed my lips together, trying to figure him out. What was with all the personal questions? “Not yet,” I muttered finally.
“We will go.” He gestured between the two of us, then cocked his head to one side and looked at me. “You are how many years?”
“You are twenty-five years?”
“You have a boyfriend?” he asked.
And suddenly I got it. He was hitting on me. At last-an Italian guy who still knew how to chase women no matter what the circumstances.
I flashed a smile. “No. No boyfriend.” I leaned in, and then I charged forward with my questions.
But the guy couldn’t be budged. By the time he’d finished downing his cappuccino, he was already trying to get me back to his apartment.
“I can’t,” I said. “Thank you. Can you tell me anything about the Camorra?”
He made a hand-waving gesture. “I already tell you. The Camorra is in Napoli. You want the Camorra, you go to Napoli.”
“But they prosecute them here, right? The directorate does?”
“S'i. Here and in Napoli. But I am not prosecutor.”
“Then what is your job?” I waited to hear detective, investigator, something like that.
“I am notary.”
“You’re a notary?” I leaned back, deflated.
“Yes. Yes, I am.” Now, he was the one who sounded defensive. “Notary here is much bigger job than in the United States. It is an honorable position.”
“I’m sure it is. But do you work with the Mafia at all?”
“Not so much.” He beamed at me, flashed his teeth. “You meet me tonight?”
I pushed my tea away. “Not so much.”
Ten minutes later, I was back at the hotel, alone and with no questions answered. I would have to keep going back to one source for them-Elena.
I looked at my watch and figured Palazzo Colonna was open for the day. My aunt would be at work, and it was time for more questions about this Camorra business and my dad. It all seemed too bizarre that my grandmother was Camorra, my grandfather had been killed by Camorra members, my father had been looking into a pair of brothers who were Camorra when he died, and I had been chased by another alleged Camorra member and saved, I thought, by my father.
I called the palazzo. No answer. Not even a machine. Typical Italy.
I tried again, and again, and finally at nine-thirty, the phone was picked up and I heard a pleasant, “Pronto.”
“Elena?” I said.
“Oh, Justina, this is Isabel. Elena’s niece.”
I tried again to explain who I was. What was the Italian word for niece? I had no idea. Finally we managed to connect.
“Elena is no here,” she said, switching to English.
“Do you know where she is?”
“She went to Poseidon.”
“Poseidon is waters. How do you say…healing waters. Si.”
“And where is that?”
Ischia. That was where the Rizzato Brothers were from. “It’s a little island,” I said. “Is that right? Outside Napoli?”
“S'i.” Justina kept talking, saying Elena wouldn’t be back in the office for a few days, in fact, she wasn’t even sure when she would return.
In my mind I kept hearing Alberto-You want the Camorra, you go to Napoli.
When Maggie finally got into town, I was standing at the Fiumicino Airport, just outside the baggage area.
She emerged, blowing her honey-colored bangs out of her face, her tiny body about the same height as the large teal-blue suitcase she lugged behind her.
“Mags!” I shouted.
Her mouth opened in a wide grin. She ran around the fencing and hugged me tight. “Happy almost birthday!”
“Thank you. I’m so glad you’re here!”
“Me, too!” She hugged me again, standing on her toes the way she does.
I pulled the luggage out of her grasp. “Jesus, what do you have in here?”
She laughed. “I had no idea what to pack for Rome these days. I mean, what do people wear now?”
I stopped, looked her in the eye. “What if I told you it didn’t matter?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, we’re not staying in Rome. Don’t kill me, but we’re going to Ischia.”
She opened her mouth. She seemed stumped for words, finally settling for, “What?”
“It’s an island off the coast. It’s not that far.” I put my hand on her arm. “Mags, we’re getting a train to Naples.”