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27

The station in Naples was nowhere near as nice as the one in Rome, and the line outside for taxis was at least a block long. When we finally reached the front of the line, Maggie and Bernard started to say their goodbyes, if only for a few hours. He was taking a taxi directly to the school where he would teach later in the week, but wed all promised to meet up for dinner.

So I definitely have your number, right? Maggie asked, peering at her phone, then peering up at him, her head cocked back so far that her gold curls hung over her shoulders.

Youve got it, he said, a calm voice, a calm smile. He looked at his own phone, rattled off Maggies number.

But I dont know how to make a call over here. Maggies voice was worried.

I know how, Mags, I said.

Here. Bernard raised his phone aloft. Ill text you right now so you have it. You text me when you find a hotel.

Okay, thatll work. Maggie kept gazing up, giving him a sunbeam of a smile.

And Im going to call you in one hour, Bernard reminded her.

He put his suitcase on the ground, bent down and gave her the most gentle of hugs.

When he turned and got in his cab, Maggie turned to me. Hes so amazing.

He seems like a sweetheart, I told her.

No, he is amazing. She shook her head in wonder.

When we got into our own cab, our driver spoke perfect English and Maggie began chatting with him. So whats the name of a really nice hotel here in Naples?

Grand Hotel Vesuvio, he said immediately. On the waterfront. Looks at the bay.

Perfect, Maggie said. Take us there, please.

Mags I said.

She held up a hand. Stop. Please. Ive got the money right now so let me spend it. When Im flat broke in the future, you can take care of me.

I will take you on a tour of the city on the way there, the driver said.

No, no, I answered. That will be too expensive.

I do not charge for that.

I looked at Maggie.

Lets do it, she said.

The driver took off, but then right away Maggies office called. She spent most of the cab ride on the phone, while the driver pointed out the streets and sights. Naples was different from Rome-dirtier and certainly more dangerous-looking. The driver showed us the massive port where miles of boxy container ships spread out into the sea, Mount Vesuvius hulking over them all. The streets that surround the port were wide and flat, but the real Naples-the bubbling, chaotic inside-consisted of rocky, steeply angled streets, where children played along piles of street-side trash and under canopies of washed clothes strung from appartamento to appartamento. There were caf'es on these streets, too, their doors open, their tables with pristine linens pushed against the soot-covered walls.

But when we turned onto the broad street that ran along the bay, Naples got pretty. The sea was a crisp teal-blue. About halfway down, a medieval castle made of brown stone seemed to rise out of the sea.

Castel dellOvo, the driver said, pointing to it. Built in the sixth century.

Like so many buildings in Italy, the ancient edifice was flanked by a contemporary setting, in this case a gaggle of bars and caf'es that stretched along piers where boats were tied.

Halfway down the block, the cab pulled in front of Grand Hotel Vesuvio, and Maggie finally hung up.

The bellman began to pull the luggage from the trunk.

Wait, I said to him, hopping out of the cab. Do you know if they have vacancies?

S'i, the hotel has rooms.

I bent down to talk to Maggie, still in the cab. Let me go see how much it is.

She shook her head and scooted out. Whatever it is, Ill bargain them down, and Im in desperate need of a nap, so were staying here. She gestured at the bellman to go ahead with the bags and paid the driver.

Thank you, I said, stopping Maggie with a hand on her shoulder. You are a good friend.

Of course I am. She hoisted her bag higher on her shoulder. Now, lets go check in.

Inside, the lobby was indeed grand and decorated with oriental rugs, potted palms and crystal chandeliers that hung from high, sparkling white ceilings. The front desk was made of carved dark wood topped with marble. As the clerk checked us in, Maggie pulled her phone from her bag. I have to text Bernard. She smiled as her little fingers flew over the keys.

When she was done, I said, Okay, can I get your attention for one second without Bernard or your office?

She put her phone away. Yes. Shoot.

Theo is on his way.

She slid her credit card across the counter to the clerk. On his way where?

Here.

Here, as in Naples?

I nodded.

When in the hell did that happen?

When you were falling in love with Bernard.

Im not in love. She made a little face that seemed to say, At least not yet.

I told her the story of how Id called Theo, how he had a corporate share on a plane and said hed be in Naples by midnight.

And then what? Maggie asked.

I shrugged. I guess I didnt think much after that. He said he couldnt stay more than a day or two.

The clerk handed the credit card back, and Maggie tucked it into her wallet. Do you really like this guy, or is this a reaction to finding Alyssa in Sams apartment?

I winced at the memory. If anything its a reaction to Sam and me saying goodbye. It was just soso final.

If its a reaction to that, why not just pick up an Italian guy? Why have the kid fly all the way over to Italy?

It was his suggestion, not mine. I thought about it some more. And theres just something about him.

I cant believe I havent met him.

Well, you will tonight.

The rooms at the hotel werent large but they were beautiful. The floors were tiled in blue and yellow. A tall window overlooking the street and bay was covered with tasseled robins-egg-blue drapery.

While Maggie took a nap, I went back downstairs to the concierge desk. I was here in Naples to talk about the Camorra, but I had no idea where to do that. Once again, all roads pointed to Elena.

The concierge was an older gentleman who looked as if he took his profession very seriously.

When I asked for information about traveling to Ischia, he nodded somberly and gestured to a seating area to the left. Please, he said, sit down and I will bring you information.

A minute later, he had spread maps, ferry schedules and hotel pamphlets over the table. He sat down across from me. Okay, he said, you tell me what you want to do in Ischia.

Is there a place called Poseidon?

Poseidon, yes. Now he sounded pleased. He riffled through the materials and pulled out a white brochure with blue-and-green lettering.

I was told that this is a place for healing waters.

S'i, s'i, he said. The island ishow you sayvolcano? And so the water on the island is like medicine. Full of minerals. You may go different places on Ischia to sample the waters. Poseidon is one of the best. He made a gesture, his fingers and thumb together, and brought it to his lips as if he tasted something delicious.

How do the waters heal exactly? I asked.

Well, he said, how do I explain? He looked upward, lifted his shoulders high and dropped them slowly, showing me that they did the Italian shrug as well in Naples as they did in Rome. You sit in the waters. There are different temperatures with different minerals. You move from one pool to another. You relax, you are quiet, you eat well, you do not drink alcohol. Another shrug. When you leave, you feel wonderful.

Sign me up.

He opened the Poseidon brochure, and explained that Poseidon Gardens was essentially a park that charged daily admission. You spent the day in the different pools or on its beach and then you went home at the end of the day. Wed have to find somewhere to stay, he said, and showed me different brochures with hotels of varying costs.

Thank you, I said. Now, if I may ask you something different about Ischia? What the hell, I thought. Give it a shot.

Of course. He nodded gravely. This is my job.

I have heard that Ischia is a place where some Camorra people are from. Is that true?

The concierge drew his head back and looked around swiftly. He looked back at me, his eyebrows pushed together, a stern expression on his face. Why do you ask about the Camorra?

I shrugged, giving my best impression of the Italian version. I just wondered.

He shook his head. No, no. Please. You dont ask about the Camorra.

Why not?

He sighed deeply. The Camorra has done nothing but bring ruin to this city. Did you see the garbage outside? He gestured with an arm toward the front door.

Yes. I saw it. I thought of the children kicking balls and playing next to that garbage.

That is all because of the Camorra. They take over the garbage, the recycling, so they say, but they cannot handle it. It was so bad, the Italian military had to step in. He made a disgusted face. And did you see down at the docks? Did you see all the big ships?

I nodded.

The Camorra, they ship goods from China. He shook his head, made a sad expression. But they dump the waste into the waters. Everyone becomes sick. He shook his head again. My mother, my family, ah! So many of my family have died because of the terrible waste that the Camorra puts into our water. Miss, you do not want to ask about the Camorra. No one around here wants to talk about them. This is not something for turistas.

I sat back and nodded. Im sorry, I said simply. Then, I know its not a matter for tourists, but my father died, and I think it was because of the Camorra.

The concierge swallowed, his mouth twisted a bit. He looked over his shoulder at the front desk. The few people behind it were on the phone, talking to guests. What do you mean when you say this?

I believe my father was working on a case having to do with the Camorra. He died many years ago. I am trying to find out what happened.

The mans face softened. What is your name?

I held out my hand. Isabel.

He shook it. And I am Carlo. He gathered the brochures and pamphlets in his hands. Come. Lets go somewhere where we can discuss this.

He led me past the side of the front desk and up a double staircase trimmed in silver and gold. Upstairs was a set of meeting rooms. But it was as if we were inside a grand palazzo, the walls decorated with art from all different periods-sketches, paintings, sculptures. Carlo took me into a meeting room where staff was cleaning up from a previous event. Coffee, tea and other refreshments still sat on a buffet table.

Carlo pointed at the table. Please have something to drink.

I helped myself to a sparkling water with lemon. He said something in Italian to the cleaning staff, who left the room. Carlo poured himself a cup of coffee and we sat at one side of a table designed to seat ten people.

Now, Carlo said. This is unpleasant, butokay. What do you want to know about the Camorra?

I told him I just wanted the basics. What did the Camorra do or specialize in? Were they also in the United States? I really didnt understand much of anything about the group.

He took a sip of his coffee, then crossed his hands in front of him, lacing his fingers tight. He nodded. The Camorra is not a group. Here in Naples, we do not even call it Camorra. We call it the System, and the System is not a group, either. It is made up of many clans. But for our discussion, let us call it the Camorra, okay?

I nodded.

The Camorra does many things. One is drug running. They take the drugs in at the port, then they take them around the country. They go to Roma, Milano. They have teenagers who take them to these big cities, and they reward the teenagers with a motorcycle when they are done. They do not tell these teenagers that if the carabinieri stop them, they will be arrested and they will spend ten years in prison. So that is one thing, the drugs. But really that is something little. They also try to do the garbage, which I tell you about already. The big thing for the Camorra right now is in fashion.

Fashion? I was definitely confused now.

Yes, the Camorra deals in fashion. You see- he spread his hands across the table -this is how it works. The designers, the italiano designers will come to Camorristi brokers here in Napoli. They will say to these brokers, Okay, here is this fabric and from this fabric we want to make these dresses. He gestured again at my dress. They will tell the brokers, Please, find us the cheapest but best seamstresses. The Camorristi then take the fabric, they go to different teams of seamstresses around Napoli, around the country, sometimes even in China, and they pick the groups they like. Those seamstresses then work all day, all night, around the clock, Saturdays, Sundays, every day.

They work around the clock until they finish. Whoever finishes first, and also has the best product, the Camorristi broker will award them the contract. The designer then pays the broker, who pays that seamstress.

What about the other seamstresses? The ones who have been making the dresses and still have the fabric?

A very good question. They get to keep that fabric, and the dresses they have made. The fabric is cheap. The designers do not care about it. So the Camorristi brokers pay those seamstresses, but less, for the dresses, and they sell them onwhat do you call it? The black market?

Yes, the black market. Underground.

S'i, but it is not always so underground. Sometimes they sell right to stores, and you americani will never know the difference. Very few people can tell the difference. Sometimes they sell to discount stores. Sometimes to africani who sell on the streets.

Like in New York?

Esattamente. Exactly. He gestured at my yellow sundress. For example, what designer has made your dress?

Its Parker Casey, an American designer. I twisted around and tried to see the tag on the dress.

If that had been an Italian designer, Carlo said, it could have been a Camorra dress. The problem with the Camorra is that they dont care about people. They use these people who work for nothing. The people dont stand up for themselves, because they live in an area where theres no other industry. There is nothing else for them to do to make money to feed their families. So they work for the Camorra. Many times, they give their earnings back to the Camorra, hoping that the Camorra, like a bank, might be able to provide interest. But often it doesnt. Many people lose everything. My mother was one of those people. My grandfather also gets sick from the garbage and the water. My whole family He waved his hand, disgusted. For a second, he looked on the verge of tears.

Im so sorry.

Be glad you dont know about the Camorra.

Do they have a presence in the United States?

As to the clothing, s'i. As to everything else? A shrug. For your sake, I hope they are not there. I hope that you will never, never have to deal with the Camorra in your life. He gazed at me miserably. Miss, he said. If you do not have to ask about the Camorra any further, if you do not have to deal with them, then please, per favore, do not.


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