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43

But there was no one there. Beyond the marble foyer was a metal gangplank that spanned a vast subterranean space of light brown crumbling brick. A few sconces illuminated the place, casting circles of golden light around them and eerie shadows below.

Elena gestured. These are archeological ruins of the ancient aqueducts. We find them whenever we dig in this city.

Who, I wondered, was the we she was referring to? The government? She and my father?

Before I could ask, Elena made her way across the gangplank, then down a set of metal stairs. When we reached the bottom, there was another gangplank, which Elena crossed immediately. I followed her but she was moving fast again, and I couldnt keep up with her. The anticipation and the uneven gangway made me feel off-kilter and shaky.

I began to feel paranoid. Elena, where are we going? I was following my aunt towhere? Shed said she would take me to my father, but what did that mean?

He keeps an office here, she said. When he first left the United States, he needed to hide himself, but he still wanted to continue his mission, to work to shut down the Camorra.

After a few more gangplanks and stairs we came to a thick iron door with a simple round knocker. Elena looked at me, that worried expression taking over her face. I sensed a change in her energy, an anticipation that was suddenly greater than mine. She gave me a little smile and a raise of her eyebrows that seemed to say, Here we go.

The blood pounded in my ears, taking over my head, so that I felt a sudden intense headache. I was, I realized, holding my breath. I made myself breathe.

Elena raised her hand toward the knocker on the door.

And then suddenly, I was overtaken by a force of emotion-dread. A terrifying dread that was so strong, I literally felt as if it would kill me. My throat began to close, a feeling Id never had before. And then I felt something cool on my forehead. I raised my hand and touched it. Sweat. My face was coated with it. My body temperature had soared. I felt my face flush deeply. God bless it, I thought, then Goddamn it. I knew what was happening-I was suffering a flop sweat attack.

Occasionally, when I got supernervous, like at the beginning of a trial, I experienced what can only be described as extreme perspiration. This little problem of mine was mortifying. It felt as if someone dropped burning charcoals into my stomach and then threw some gasoline on them. And then a truck full of lumber. The waterworks in my body would kick into gear, and my face would get as red as the fire inside me. The last time it had happened was months before when I was about to go on air as an anchor for Trial TV. The only thing that had stopped it was some emergency Benadryl. I had no Benadryl on me now.

I cant, I choked out to Aunt Elena before she could knock. I cant do this right now. I need some air. Just for a minute. If I didnt try and stop it, it would get worse and I didnt want to meet my father in this state, sweating like a bull and glowing like a lit Christmas tree.

Maybe this is too much, Elena said, a frown on her face.

No, no. Its just that its too much for the moment. I just need a few minutes. Can we go up, please? Please?

Elena paused, inhaled sharply.

I didnt want to lose her, to lose this opportunity. Just a few minutes, I said again.

She gave a terse nod.

We retraced our steps. When we arrived back at the foyer, the place seemed too tiny, the walls felt as if they were shrinking into themselves. Elena said nothing but led me outside. We walked a few blocks away, and finally I stopped and leaned against a mustard stucco wall, sucking in air, fanning my face with my hand.

Im sorry, I said to her. I have this little problem that happens sometimes. But Im fine. Really. Im having a hard time making my brain process this. Do you understand?

Certo, she said. Certainly.

Does he know were coming?

She studied me for a second, then said simply, S'i.

For some reason, that stopped the sweating. Is he okay with that?

A small smile. Yes, cara. He is more than okay with that.

I closed my eyes and leaned my head back against the stucco wall, my breath coming easier, the color draining from my face. My father knew I was here.

I took a breath and looked down the street at an ancient stone archway leading to a garden. It could have been thousands of years old. That archway had likely been standing there during wars and strife and the marching past of a hundred generations. Likely it had seen much more overwhelming and even gruesome and troubling sights than a redhead American who was recovering from a flop sweat attack and about to meet her father for the first time in over twenty years.

Get your act together, Izzy.

He knew I was coming to meet him. He was okay with that. And right then, I was, too.

I raised my head and looked at Elena. I bent down and dabbed my forehead with the skirt of my dress, then I threw my shoulders back.

You are ready now? she asked.

I am. And I meant it.


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