Maggie and I took a seat in front of the travel agent’s desk. In Italy, travel agencies are as plentiful as tomatoes, and they’re always the most orderly places to book a trip in a very disorderly country.
“Tickets to Naples, please,” I said, telling the agent we wanted to leave as soon as possible.
“S'i,” the agent said. “Napoli Centrale. Regular or Eurostar tickets?”
Maggie sat, rubbing her head. “I still can’t believe all this. I cannot believe it.”
I’d told Maggie everything in the cab from the airport. The night on the stairwell, Dez and Ransom chasing me from the museum, finding Alyssa in Sam’s apartment, our teary goodbye. I even told her about the fact I had been working for Mayburn. Mayburn would kill me, but I simply could not hold it back any longer. And it felt damn good to have my best friend once again knowing all.
But Mags was having a hard time wrapping her head around it. “You?” she was saying now. “You have been doing undercover work?” More rubbing of the head. “And your dad? You think he might be alive?”
I asked the ticket agent about the Eurostar price, did the math. “Shazzer,” I said.
Maggie frowned. “What’s shazzer? Is that an Italian word?”
“My replacement word for shit.”
“Are you still on that kick? It’s not working, by the way. You always end up saying the swearword because you have to explain it.”
“Allora,” the clerk said, “regular or Eurostar?”
“How much is the Eurostar?” Maggie asked.
“I can’t afford Eurostar,” I said.
Maggie dug a credit card out of her purse. “I’ll get it.”
“Wait. Mags, I don’t want you paying for everything.”
“Well, I’m paying for this.” She gave the agent her card. “Do you remember the time we went to Florence on a ‘regular’ train? ‘Regular’ means the local line, in case you’ve forgotten.”
I had a flashback-Maggie and me, an un-air-conditioned train car, the press of bodies around us. People were packed onto the seats, some standing one after another in the aisles, some huddled at the end of the cars, near the broken, powerfully smelly bathrooms. The heat had been junglelike, the moods of all the passengers beyond surly. When the train finally spat us out in Florence, Maggie and I had practically kissed the ground. We’d stayed an extra three days just to recover.
“Eurostar,” I said definitively to the agent.
She nodded. “Passaporti, please.”
After we gave them to her, Maggie nodded at my chest. “I’ve been meaning to ask you. What is that necklace?”
I lifted the amber stone and gazed at its bevels, which seemed to manufacture sunlight. “Elena gave it to me. It was my grandmother’s.”
“Stunning,” Maggie said. “It suits you.”
At the Termini, the main Rome train station, the heat was thick and the crowds thicker. The open-air nature of the place only supported humidity and prolific sweating, and yet the Termini was nicer than when I was last in town. A huge Nike store and other designer shops resided next to the tabacchi, and the place had a little sparkle where before it had been gritty-city.
Maggie breathed out hard as we walked through the Termini, throwing her shoulders back in an exaggerated way and squinting her eyes a little.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Getting ready for the onslaught.”
“The onslaught of what?”
“The Italian guys.” She sent a couple suspicious glances over her shoulder.
“You mean, the flirting and the harassing? They don’t really do that anymore.”
“Yeah. Just the notaries from the antimafia office.”
On the train, we boarded a blissfully chilly car and began searching for our seats. Maggie struggled with her suitcase, muttering lots of scusi, scusi to the patrons she kept knocking into. When we found our seats, we looked at her bag, then back up at the overhead compartment, which seemed about nine feet high.
“How are we going to get that thing up there?” I asked.
Maggie exhaled determinedly. She’d never seen a task she thought she couldn’t do. She squatted and began tensing her arms. I sighed and bent to help her.
But then we heard, “Let me get that.”
We turned to see a huge Asian guy wearing an orange golf shirt and baggy jeans. He scooped up the massive suitcase with one hand, like a socialite picking up a kicky little purse, and slipped it into the overhead compartment.
“Thank you!” Maggie said.
Oddly, Maggie was wearing an orange-ish tank top and the same color jeans as the guy. She pointed at him and laughed. He laughed back.
The man dumped a beat-up leather shoulder bag on the seat across the aisle from us.
“Are you from the U.S.?” Maggie asked.
“Yeah, Seattle. You guys?”
“Chicago.” Maggie held out her hand-she had to hold it at her eye level since the guy was so tall-and introduced us.
“Bernard.” He had kind eyes, a wide nose and a full head of shiny, shaggy black hair. When he smiled at us, it was one of those smiles that made you want to know him.
I moved into the window seat. Mags sat next to me. When Bernard settled his big frame into the seat across the aisle, Maggie asked him, “What are you doing in Italy? Vacation?”
“I’m teaching a master’s class in music.”
“What do you play?”
“Oh, how cool,” Maggie said. “It’s such a beautiful instrument. I’ve always loved the sound of it. My grandfather has been taking me to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since I was little.”
“I’ve played there.”
“You’re kidding?” Maggie crossed her legs and turned her body to face him. “What did you play?”
“Mozart. Horn Concerto Number Three.”
“I love it.”
“You know it?” He grinned big.
“Yeah, sure. And aren’t there some Schumann pieces for French horn?”
He blinked. “Yeah. I can’t believe you know those.” He shook his head. “That’s amazing. I hardly ever meet anyone who knows the horn.” He shifted around in the seat, trying to find a comfortable position. I wondered if the guy flew coach class. For his sake, I hoped not. He wasn’t so much fat as huge-probably six-foot-seven and nearing three hundred pounds.
“What about Strauss?” Maggie said. “Didn’t he write a famous horn concerto?”
He blinked even more rapidly and gazed at Maggie, bedazzled. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah.” After a few more blinks, he said, “I’m sorry, what do you do?”
Maggie gestured at the two of us. “We’re lawyers.”
“She’s a lawyer,” I said. “A very good criminal-defense lawyer. I’m not doing much of anything myself.”
Maggie patted me on the knee. “She’s got a lot going on right now. We’re here to do some research on her family.” She leaned a little across the aisle toward Bernard, asking a question about Beethoven that seemed to absolutely flatten him. After a moment’s stunned pause he shifted his massive torso in the chair so he was turned more toward her and began to talk excitedly.
The train pulled out of the station, and I looked out the window as those two gabbed.
The outskirts of Rome weren’t much to look at, populated as they were with garbage dumps and tired apartment buildings crisscrossed with lines of hanging laundry. But soon, the lackluster urban scene gave way to a majestic portrait of rolling green hills and ancient stone houses.
Maggie and Bernard talked the entire trip. He told her that he was Filipino, midthirties, and had been raised in different towns in California. He went to Juilliard, got a couple of master’s degrees and was now with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, although he was on sabbatical to teach in Europe for the summer. He and Maggie traded stories and info, talking louder when the train dipped occasionally into blackened tunnels, laughing when the train burst forth, back into the sunshine.
They tried gamely to include me, but it was nearly impossible because they seemed to have so much to say to each other-one of those conversations where one topic led to another to another to another, so that they kept saying things like, “Oh, don’t let me forget to tell you about the time I played in Boston,” or “You’d love my mom. Remind me to tell you about her.”
When Bernard lugged his hulking self to his feet to go in search of the restrooms, Maggie turned to me, her big eyes round. “Oh my gosh, don’t you think he’s cute?”
“Uh…” A loaded question if I’d ever heard one. I settled for, “You know we never have the same taste in men.” I had thought Maggie’s last boyfriend, Wyatt, entirely too slick (and if I do say so myself, I was right). At the same time, though, Maggie had found Sam too All-American.
“I think Bernard is adorable,” she said. “And he must be so talented.” She sighed.
“You realize, of course, that he’s more than twice your size?”
She shrugged, as if she hadn’t thought about it, as if it didn’t matter a whit.
“How do you even know all that symphony stuff? I know you go with your grandfather occasionally.”
“More than occasionally. And he’s had me listening to it all my life. It’s like this bond that he and I have.”
“Really? Interesting. I thought you guys were close just because of the criminal law stuff.” Strange that there was this one thing I didn’t know about Maggie. But then she hadn’t known a rather big thing about me-my moonlighting with Mayburn-until the last hour or so.
She leaned toward me, lowering her voice to a whisper. “Look, we have to spend the night in Naples, okay? I mean, I know you’re set on chasing your aunt to Ischia, but he’s been telling me about this pizza place in Naples. He says it’s the best pizza in the world.”
“We live in Chicago. We have amazing pizza.”
“It’s not about the pizza,” she whispered, more fiercely now. “He wants to take us to this place, and I want us to go. Please, Iz.”
“Well, of course.”
“And I’m really jet-lagged,” she threw in, although she looked as perky as I’d ever seen her. I didn’t remind her that she’d told me she had gotten a great six hours of Ambien-induced sleep on the plane.
Bernard lumbered back down the aisle, smiling bashfully at Maggie as he sandwiched himself into his seat again. And then the two of them were off, veering conversationally all over the map.
I took out my cell phone and scrolled through my e-mails. Nothing exciting. Certainly no job offers or anything like that. I was, it seemed, missing absolutely nothing in Chicago.
Except maybe one person.
I looked at my texts.
There was another one from Theo. Are you okay? he wrote. I have this weird feeling that something’s wrong.
I glanced at Maggie but she and Bernard were deep into a discussion about a sheep’s-milk cheese from France they both loved. Another thing I didn’t know about Maggie.
I excused myself and went to an empty seat a few rows away. I gazed out the window at fields of yellow wheat, the train’s rocking motion making them seem as if they were undulating.
I wrote Theo back, I’m in Italy.
He texted back almost immediately. Italy?? What are you doing there?
It’s a long story.
The phone rang almost right after I hit Send. “I’d better hear this long story,” Theo said.
“It’s too long. I swear.”
“Who are you with?” Did he sound a little jealous?
I looked down the aisle at Maggie. She and Bernard were laughing, both of their heads thrown back. They almost looked as if they were in an odd sort of play, with their matching clothes, their different sizes, their drastically different looks. “My friend Maggie,” I said. “Except…”
“Well, now she’s met a friend.”
He laughed. “Ah, so she’s just like you. Meets a guy within ten seconds.”
I laughed now, too. We were both thinking about the night I met Theo. I’d walked into a club with a friend of mine and within five minutes I was enthralled with him and our conversation.
“I’m not usually like that,” I said, “and neither is Maggie.”
“So, where in Italy are you guys?”
“On a train. Almost to Naples. Tomorrow we’re going to Ischia.”
“Off the coast.”
A pause. I tried to envision him, somewhere in the apartment he lived, the apartment I’d never seen. In fact, we’d rarely been anywhere together outside my apartment. Theo and I existed inside a bubble, almost. A very sexual one.
“You know,” he said slowly. “I have my own plane.”
“I remember that.” Theo wasn’t a pilot like my father, but he and his business partner had a corporate share of a plane, a Falcon, or something like that. I’d discovered this the first time we’d dated when Theo and his partner had taken off to a remote site in Mexico, an annual surfing trip.
“It takes a couple of hours to get international clearance…” He sounded excited. “But I could be there before midnight.”
I didn’t know what to say. “Are you seriously talking about coming here?”
“Don’t you have to work?”
“Since you blew me off this weekend I worked most of the time. If I came I couldn’t stay long. Just a day or two but…” He gave a nervous laugh, which made him seem fallible and human. “Would you even want me there? I guess you didn’t really invite me.”
I looked up the aisle at Maggie and Bernard. He was showing her what looked to be sheet music, his black hair almost touching her gold curls as their heads met in the middle of the aisle. “Consider yourself officially invited.”