My aunt and I sat on the train hurtling back to Rome. I was jumpy, moving around in my seat, almost rocking with anticipation, but Elena was as still as night. She looked out the window, her eyes obscured by her sunglasses, the silver braid on the arm of those glasses glinting occasionally with the disappearing sun outside. Once or twice, I attempted to make conversation, first a stab at small talk, then a direct question about my father.
She didn’t respond.
I waited for ten more minutes, then said, “Please, Elena, please just tell me.”
She didn’t react to my plea. She continued to stare out the window. We fell into silence, the train making a soothing, rocking motion. A few times, Maggie walked halfway down the aisle from her seat and gave me a questioning look as if to say, Need any help? Need anything?
Each time, I only shook my head sadly. The sun slipped away, night fell. And yet Elena’s sunglasses remained on her face.
When we were about twenty minutes outside Rome, Elena spoke. “I guess I cannot wait any longer.” She turned to me. “I was the one who caused this.”
I sat and looked at her, wondering what she meant. I was about to ask, but she opened her mouth, and, finally, my aunt removed her sunglasses. Only then did she tell her story.
She clasped her hands tight in her lap, gazing down at them. “When we were in high school, they killed my father because of your dad, Christopher.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Camorra wanted Christopher.”
“In what way?”
“Here, in Italia, they call the Camorra the System.” She shrugged as if this didn’t matter or she didn’t care. “The System wanted your father, because the Camorra was trying to establish a presence in the United States. The Rizzato Brothers were already in the States and they were doing well. But they needed more members. The right members. The System thought it would be perfect if someone like your father, who was Camorra but not Italian-looking at all, who had a name like Christopher McNeil, could be an active part of the Camorra. They wanted him to infiltrate businesses, to learn everything and then give everything back to the Rizzato Brothers and the Camorra. They had big plans for him. He would eventually help the Rizzato Brothers run the System’s operations in the United States. Eventually, he would be a boss, one that no one would suspect of being in the Mob. They thought it was perfect. But my father wouldn’t hear of it.”
The train raced around a corner and everything in the car lurched to one side. For a second, I fell against my aunt.
“Sorry,” I said.
She smiled a little. “Do not be sorry, Isabel.”
“You were saying that your father wouldn’t go along with the Camorra’s plan?”
“No. Christopher heard a conversation about it one night when he came home earlier than expected. He was a senior in high school then. Our parents didn’t know he was in the house, but he heard one of the Camorra bosses who’d come from Italy telling our parents of the plan to use Christopher. Our father told this man, in no uncertain terms, that his son would not be a pawn for the System.” She shook her head. “This is not my part of the story to tell, but you already know the facts. My father, Kelvin, was killed.”
I felt a sick knowledge dawning. “They killed him because he refused to let his son work for the Camorra.”
“Yes. It was a message. To my father certainly. The last message he would ever get. It was also a message to your father, Christopher. To our mother. The message was, We will ask and you will say yes, or there will be punishment.”
“But there was no further punishing. My dad went off to college after your father died, right?”
She dipped her head slowly in acknowledgment and seemed to be drawing in breath for strength. “Yes, Christopher went to college.” She looked at me, eyes unblinking. “He also joined the System.”
I don’t know why I suffered such shock, but I felt it like a long, steady electrical charge through my whole body. “My father joined the Camorra?”
“S'i. After what they had done to our father, he saw how strong they were, how unflinching. He knew they would stop at nothing to get what they wanted. And therefore he agreed to their wishes.”
“He said he would work for them.” I had to say it to believe it. The electrical charge fizzled, and all I felt was disappointment.
“But he also joined the FBI, Isabel.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Christopher contacted the FBI as a freshman in college. He told them he wanted to work for them, but he said that he would be working for the Camorra, too.”
“He would be a double agent?”
“Yes. It was the FBI who put him through college and then paid for his master’s degree in psychology. It was the FBI who moved him and your mother to Detroit and placed him in a government job with the Detroit police, although the Camorra took credit for it. They thought they had an inside man. But what your father was doing was reporting on them and consulting on any cases having to do with the Mob, particularly with the Camorra. As I said, the Camorra wanted desperately to establish a foothold in the United States in the seventies. Because of your father’s work, because of what he knew, the FBI was always able to find the men who were in the U.S., and those who were coming to the U.S. They were able to shut them down. The Rizzato Brothers were killed, we believe, by some men whom they had stolen from. And many Camorra members eventually gave up and returned to Italia.”
Until now, I thought, thinking of Dez Romano and Michael DeSanto. But I didn’t want to stop Elena from talking.
But she did anyway. Her words died away and she dropped her head into her hands. My aunt began to weep softly. For a moment or two, I didn’t move, didn’t do anything. I stared at the empty seat in front of us. Then I looked back at Elena. I didn’t know how to comfort her, didn’t understand exactly what she needed comforting about. Her tears grew more powerful then, her back began to tremble.
I saw Maggie stand in the aisle, a number of seats in front of us, a sad, concerned look on her face. She held up her hands. Do you need anything?
I shrugged then shook my head no.
It was killing me to see my aunt in that state, so I put my arm around her shoulder. I tried to pull her close, but aside from the sobs that shook her body, she was as stiff as a block of wood. I kept squeezing her a little, kept drawing her ever so slightly nearer. Finally, she seemed to succumb. She crumpled a little, her shoulders sagging farther. She turned her head and placed her forehead on my shoulder. And then, even though I didn’t know why, tears began to stream down my cheeks, as well.
Maggie was kneeling in her seat now, turned around and watching us. She looked agonized.
Eventually, Elena’s sobs were reduced to gulping tears, and eventually those diminished into sniffles. But finally, she’d had enough. My aunt sat up.
“Grazie,” she said to me.
She took a tissue from her bag and dabbed at her eyes, rimmed in red now. “Allora,” she said. “Now I will tell you more.”