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47

Maggie and I left the hotel. Relative quiet reigned in the city since there was a soccer match in play, and everyone in the restaurants and bars was glued to TVs. I led Maggie through the streets, consulting a map over and over. Every time a goal was scored, a collective shout would ring through the city-Roma!-and each time it startled me, made my breath stop.

But I made my feet continue to move. I cant believe this. I cant believe this. I kept saying that mantra over and over.

Stop, Iz, Maggie said gently.

I stopped the mantra, but different words rolled out of my mouth. I had him. Or I almost had him, and now hes dead. Just like that.

Maggie eyed me.

In some ways I think its worse than losing him when I was a kid.

She reached out and touched my arm.

I stopped in front of a brightly lit but empty clothing store. I waited for Maggie to say something profound, one of those things that only a best friend can say to put things straight.

She nodded, said nothing.

A tick, two, then three went by.

A roar leapt out of the doorways and into the street as another goal was scored or maybe one blocked.

Maggie still said nothing.

I nodded back.

We both knew there was nothing she could say.

When we got there, the Trevi Fountain was still crowded, although less so. I guided Maggie past it, down the tiny side streets until we reached that plain doorway, the one that looked as if there was nothing behind it, certainly nothing exciting. Nothing dead.

I turned to Maggie. Are you ready?

She shrugged.

I studied her. Eyebrows drawn together, forehead creasing, she looked more stressed than she usually did at work. And Maggie was always stressed at work.

I touched her shoulder. Mags, you dont have to do this. I have to do this, but you dont.

She shook her head. Im with you.

Some vacation, huh? Getting chased through a hotel by those guys and now this?

In an exaggerated way, she lifted her shoulders and let them drop. Girl, you forget that I usually represent guys who own TAR 21s, so a couple of handguns dont freak me.

Whats a TAR 21?

An Israeli assault rifle. So, really, all this stuff She pointed, made a circle with her finger as if including all of Rome, all of Italy and everything that had happened so far. Nah, this doesnt faze me.

She was lying. We both knew it. It was one thing to represent the bad guys from the safety of a designer suit, your grandfathers office or the heavily guarded confines of Twenty-sixth and Cal. This-this-was something different. But I was afraid to say that, to speak the truth, because I might lose her. And I didnt know if I had enough balls to go down there, into the depths of that place, by myself. But my father-my father-was there.

I turned, and as Id seen Elena do, I reached up and pressed the fist-size knob at the top right of the door. Nothing happened. I tried it again. Nada.

She did it just like this, I muttered.

But maybe shed done something else, too, or triggered the opening mechanism some other way?

I tried again, pushing the side of my fist down with all my might.

A soft whoosh came from the door, and then click. Just as Elena had done, I pushed opened the door with the flat of my hand, and we entered the white marble foyer. The coolness inside was a bitter contrast to the still muggy night. It felt like a tomb. Sconces flickered but barely.

I went to the keypad and pushed the numbers and letters Elena had used. V-I-C-T-O-R-I-A 0618, and the door clicked open.

What was that combination? Maggie asked.

My moms name, and the day they got married.

Wow. He still loves her.

Yeah. For the first time since Id seen the body, a crop of tears grew up from my belly, breaking through my heart, and shoved themselves into my throat. A few made their way to my eyes.

I pushed the tears away with my fingers. They felt hot, alive. Lets go.

What is this place? Maggie asked as I led her through the aqueducts, sinking farther and farther into the earth.

I told her what Id learned from Elena.

When I found the last gangplank, I led Maggie across it. I felt an intense sense of vertigo but ignored it completely. At the iron door at the end of the gangway, I halted. I didnt want to see that sight again. And yet I couldnt just stand there. I grabbed the round knocker in the middle of the door and pushed it open.


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