We went to Bernard’s hotel, a small villa near the school where he was teaching.
Bernard led us into his room, minimally decorated with white walls and simple furniture. “Ladies,” he said. “I think you owe an explanation to two men.”
“Dude,” Theo said in return, nodding like hell yeah.
Bernard bent over a small refrigerator and took out four Peroni beers. He opened them, handing one to Maggie, then me, then Theo.
Theo and I sat on one of the twin beds. Maggie and Bernard on the other.
“So?” Bernard said.
Maggie and I exchanged frightened looks. “Here’s the deal,” Maggie said. “Izzy thinks that her dad, who died when she was eight, might not be dead. And so she came here to Italy to look for him.”
Both Bernard and Theo stared at me, their mouths open in surprise.
“Thanks, Mags,” I said. “Thanks for making me sound like a freak.”
“I was trying to be succinct.”
“Okay, well, here’s the long version…”
We talked and talked, the four of us an odd and bizarre quartet. An hour later, I had told Theo and Bernard everything about my father and how I’d been looking for him. I skipped over the part about working for Mayburn. Maggie didn’t disclose that part, either. Maggie was always a vault. The information you told her went in and never came out unless you wanted it to.
I told them about my aunt Elena, how we were heading to Ischia to find her, how the Brothers Rizzato-the guys whose case my father was working on when he died-had been from Ischia, too. I told them what I’d learned about the Camorra so far.
I kept looking at Theo, anxious for his reaction. If I had been afraid it might be a little much to have him come to Italy, then certainly dumping this boatload of information on him, was way too much, wasn’t it? And yet he didn’t look freaked-or maybe I just didn’t know him well enough to tell. He simply kept nodding when I talked, his face tense with concentration, as if he had discussions about reincarnated fathers often.
“So, let’s go back for a second,” Theo said now. “Some Camorra guys killed your grandfather?”
“Right. His wife, Oriana, who was my grandmother, was from a Camorra family originally.”
Theo brushed his hair out of his eyes and nodded thoughtfully again. “Oriana was originally from Naples?”
“What was her maiden name?”
“Lombardi.” I’d found that information among my dad’s papers-the ones that my mom had saved for me-but it hadn’t led to anything more significant. “It’s a common name around here.”
“And after your grandfather died, your aunt Elena moved to Italy,” Theo said. “I don’t get why.”
“She said that her mom, Oriana, was having a hard time after her husband was killed. Oriana moved to Arizona to try and put the whole thing behind her. Apparently, her family must have thought Oriana was a bit unstable. They thought it would be good if Elena went away from anything that reminded her of her father. So she moved in with a cousin who lived outside of Rome.”
“What about your dad?” Bernard asked.
“He was a senior in high school when his father died. So he just went off to college.”
“And got a psychology degree,” Maggie said. “He met Izzy’s mom in college.”
“Then he got his master’s degree,” I said, “and he landed with the Detroit police.”
“And they had two kids,” Maggie said.
“And then he died.”
“So, who were those dudes in the hotel?” Theo asked.
“I have no idea.”
“Do they have anything to do with your dad or your grandfather?”
“Again, no clue. All I know is that I asked my aunt questions about my grandfather and my dad and the Camorra, and I asked questions at that antimafia office, and then I decided to come here and now this happened. Maybe it’s a coincidence?”
“That’s a hell of a lot of coincidences,” Bernard said.
“It’s just hard to know…”
There was quiet in the room except for the faint tick, tick, tick of a round, black clock on the nightstand between the beds. And a quiet tap, tap, tap on the window.
“It’s raining,” Bernard said.
My phone rang and we all jumped.
I looked at the screen on the phone, then I looked at Maggie. “Sam.”
She pursed her mouth, gave a slight shrug.
“Excuse me, you guys, I should take this.”
I felt Theo watching me, wondering. He didn’t even know who Sam was, but it was probably pretty easy to figure out that he was someone important to me. And that was still the case, no matter what had happened at his apartment, no matter what our status. Sam would always be important to me.
I gave Theo a smile, then I took the phone in the hallway and answered it. “Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” Sam said back.
We were silent. I walked down the hallway of the villa and into the breakfast room. It was a lonely room at that moment, only one weak lamp lighting the yellow wood tables and the blue plates stacked on a side table.
“So,” Sam said. “How are you?”
“Well…” I sat down at one of the tables, put my elbows on its painted yellow top. What should I say? I’m freaking out right now, because I just got chased by some guys with guns, but other than that I’m peachy. “It’s been a little tumultuous.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Sam exhaled. “I’ve been so damned sad since I saw you. I mean, I feel like…I don’t know…We broke up a while ago, but for some reason I feel like the other night…I guess I felt like that was…”
“Yeah, I know. For some reason it felt like that was it.” I swallowed hard, fought back a rush of tears.
Sam sighed again. “I love you, Iz.”
“I love you, too.”
More quiet. The rain tapped, tapped, tapped on the windows.
“So what have you been up to?” Sam asked.
I paused, then ignored his question and instead spoke what was on my mind. “We would have been married right now,” I said. “And now we’re down to this. Down to small talk.”
He said nothing. I said nothing. I think we both knew what the other was thinking. I was thinking that the reason we weren’t married right now was Sam’s fault, and he was thinking that although he’d done some things that were tough to get over, I should have gotten over them, and therefore, it was my fault.
But we’d had that conversation ninety-seven times before, so I just said, “I’m in Italy.”
“You’re kidding? That’s great. What made you decide to go there?”
“I wanted to ask my aunt Elena some questions about my dad. And after seeing you at your apartment, I decided I needed a vacation.”
“Jesus, Red Hot, I’m so sorry about that.”
Red Hot was what Sam had always called me when we were dating. Now the nickname, coming from his lips, sounded wrong, awkward. “I’m sorry,” he continued, “that you had to see Alyssa.”
The image of her flashed across my brain, then returned to stab me a million times. “Yeah, me, too.”
“I don’t know how in the hell that happened.”
I laughed. It sounded bitter. “You don’t know how that happened? You’re dating your ex. You let her sleep in my T-shirt. That’s how that happened.”
“Izzy, you’re the one who stopped by without calling.”
“Yeah, Sam, because that’s what we always used to do. I know we’re broken up, but I didn’t know I had to be careful of that.” I said that as if I were saying the worst word possible. And Sam knew that in my world, Alyssa was the worst thing I could have seen in his apartment.
Sam started to say something then stopped, then tried again. “Look, I’m really sorry. But I’m not going to apologize for dating her. You and I are broken up. But it killed me that you had to see that.”
There was a pause. Neither of us knew what to say.
Finally Sam spoke. “So who are you with in Italy?”
“And who else?”
Sam knew me so well. He knew when I was leaving something out.
“Well…” How to say this?
At that moment Theo appeared in the hallway outside the breakfast room. He looked at me with raised eyebrows, as if wondering if I was all right. He held up a thumb and gave a questioning expression. I nodded and returned the thumbs-up. I’m okay, I mouthed.
As Theo turned away, Sam spoke again. “So who else are you with? Charlie?”
“No. I asked Charlie to come. But he’s got a job.”
Sam coughed as if he was choking, then laughed. “Charlie has a job?”
“I know, I know. I couldn’t believe it, either. It’s at WGN, the radio station.”
“So who are you with then?” He never was able to leave any detail unresolved behind when we were dating, and apparently he wasn’t going to break that habit now.
“He’s a friend of mine.”
Through the silence, I could almost hear Sam stewing.
“Who is he?”
In our life together I’d never wished that Sam and I had known each other less, had understood each other less, but now that’s exactly what I wished for. I really didn’t want this conversation. “It’s just someone I’m dating.”
“Huh. I guess I don’t have to feel so bad about Alyssa.”
“I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t have had this person come to Italy if I hadn’t seen what I’d seen in your apartment.”
“So it’s my fault?”
“There is no fault here. He’s a friend and he’s visiting me. That’s all.”
“What’s his name?”
“How did you meet?”
“I don’t think we’ve been broken up long enough to have this conversation.”
“We’re going to stay friends, right?”
“Friends have these conversations.”
I bit my lip. It sounded logical, but wrong. And yet, having this conversation, this awkward and yet normal conversation, appealed to me, felt like a balm in contrast to being hunted by scary men in a city I didn’t know.
“Tell me, Iz,” Sam said softly.
“Okay, well, I met him when I was out with a friend one night.”
“How long ago?”
“It was back in April, but we haven’t been dating the whole time.”
A silence. “Do you like this guy?” He sounded hurt, and I almost felt bad about it.
“Yeah, I do like him.”
“You must. You invited him to Europe with you.”
“It’s a long story, Sam. I didn’t exactly invite him. He has his own plane and so…”
“Whoa. You’re dating a dude with his own plane?”
“It’s a corporate share.”
“How old is he? Sixty?” Sam asked with faint scorn.
“If you must know, he’s in his early twenties.” I said this with some pride in my voice, then immediately felt embarrassed.
“Well, well, well,” Sam said. “Someone in their early twenties.”
“Hey.” I sounded defensive now. “I’m in my twenties.”
“Not for long.”
“I’m surprised you remembered.” I immediately regretted saying it. “I’m sorry I said that.” I stood from the breakfast table and walked to the window, which overlooked a tiny Naples alleyway, dim now but for a few soccer flags flying under a streetlamp. The rain tapped away on the glass, sounding like a soft but distinct drum.
“Iz,” Sam said with weight in his voice, “this whole thing makes me so sad.”
“Me, too. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be happening.”
“No. It has to go down this way. This has to be more than a break. This has to be it for now. I mean-”
I interrupted him. “You don’t have to say it. I know it as well as you do.” I stared down at the cobblestoned alley, watching the rain run in rivulets through the cracks. “We’re over.”
He said nothing, but I heard, very clearly, his silent yes.