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58

Christopher saw his life in two different ways. The beginning of his life-the life he had led with his mother, father and Elena on the East Coast-was in color. They were a typical family. Everything they did, from the summer vacations at Jones Beach to the winters they spent tucked in their little house, was typical. Although they didnt necessarily think such normality made them happy at the time, in looking back, he could tell they were.

Later, once his father died, Christopher McNeils world shifted from one of bright tones intohow should he put it? It wasnt that his world went straight to black and white, because that would imply sharpness in some way. No, it was more of a sepia life, where all the edges were muddied and brown.

And yetAnd yet here was his daughter with her bright orange hair and her blazing green eyes against this white airplane seat. His whole life had suddenly caught up with him and shifted back into color.

She changed seats with Maggie, and then asked that they move another row of seats ahead so they would have some privacy. He followed her request without saying a word.

He watched now as she threw her shoulders back, glancing out the plane window as they climbed above the Italian night, then back at him. He watched as her face cleared.

Okay, she said, and even that one word was commanding. Lets go back and establish some things, just so I can understand.

He nodded. For decades, no one ran the show except for him, and it felt oddly soothing to have someone establish authority like this. He felt a swell of pride, which he knew he had no right to feel.

Elena told me Izzy stopped, glanced over her shoulder at Elena two rows back. She and Maggie were in a quiet conversation, and Christopher was relieved to see that, for now, his sister appeared calm.

Elena told me, Izzy said, her voice lower, that this all really started when the Camorra came to your parents and told them they wanted to get you involved in the business.

He nodded. They said I was perfect for the Camorra. I could infiltrate different groups and circles of society without anyone knowing who I really was. I had the McNeil name, a name no one would ever associate with Camorra, or even the Italians. They said they would let me go to college for a year or two and then I would come home and work for them, eventually heading up their U.S. operations.

What about Elena? Did they want her to do the same?

He shook his head. You have to remember that at that time, women were looked at differently than they are today. Women were essentially prized for their ability to have children and raise the family.

And what did your parents do when they heard this?

He sighed. My father told them no. They were in the living room, and I had been out with some friends. I remember I thought it was strange when I got home, because it was warm out, but all our windows were shut. I came in the house from the garage and I heard arguing. I stood there and listened. My father protested. He insisted that I would never be brought into the Camorra. He said he would never allow it. I remember hearing my mother weeping. My fathers face contorted. Ill never forget the sound of her crying. It was like a cat mewing.

Did they know you were there?

No. I listened to the conversation, then I left. When I came back inside, I made lots of noise. I just wanted to forget what Id heard. Plus, I was sure my father would win the argument. He was such a strong man. You always felt protected by him. He dropped his head. But two days later, he was dead.

That must have been horrible.

It was.

So you decided you would get back at them another way.

Yes. I already knew much about the Camorra from growing up. I knew about the different clans and that they were always warring, which meant they could be pitted against each other. I knew that although they continued to assert their presence in the U.S., many had melded with other American Mafia groups. Theyd never really had success on their own. But after what happened to my family, I knew they were trying hard.

What was your major in college? The hard tone of her words had changed, softened, and his daughter had asked this last question as if she were speaking with a friend. The quietly personal nature of it broke his heart and yet made it soar.

Originally my major was going to be Business, he said, but I changed it to Psychology so I could officially go into profiling.

When did you start working with the Feds?

In college. I had my counselor contact someone at the FBI, saying I wanted to learn about job potentials there. I got a meeting with someone, and I told him I had no money, that my father was dead and my mother was struggling, but if they put me through college, I would work for them for the rest of my life, and I would help them find and put away members of the Camorra. At that time, the FBI didnt allow its agents to work close to home or with any kind of culture they were familiar with. Im not sure if its the same now, but it went back to the days of J. Edgar Hoover. They thought if you were close to the subject of the investigation then you could get personally involved, and that could cloud your judgment.

But they let you get involved.

Yes, the Camorra was what they called an old dog within the bureau, a file that had been on the books for a long time and that no one had been able to crack.

So you went undercover? Thats what Elena told me.

Not right away. Despite what people think, not many FBI agents do undercover work. Instead they rely on informants. He shrugged. Eventually, I became both.

Izzy turned momentarily and looked out the window. There was nothing out there, just the black night, and yet, despite that blackness, just watching her, Christopher knew he was right. Because of her, he was back in color.


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