I closed my window shade and thought about my conversation with the reporter, the one Mayburn and I had spoken to about the witness protection program.
I turned back to my father. “Families can enter the witness protection program together.” I said it as a statement and it was intended as one. I wasn’t asking him a question of whether it was a possibility that we could have all entered the program together, but simply why he hadn’t exercised that possibility.
My father gazed at me somberly. He nodded. “But that program is no place to grow up. I didn’t want you to have to move and start over, and change your identities, and your friends, and your schools, and I didn’t-”
“Are you kidding me? That’s exactly what we did anyway. We moved to Chicago. We had to get all new friends. It was an entirely new identity. And we had to do it all without you.”
Neither of us said anything. I could feel Maggie and Elena looking at us from a few rows back.
“But you were well,” he said. “You didn’t live your life in fear. That’s what scared me the most. I didn’t want my children always looking over their shoulder. You and Charlie and your mom…you have always done well. You have excelled and without fear.”
I pursed my mouth to stop words from flying out. I studied him, replaying in my mind what he’d said. “Why do you sound so certain about that? That we’ve always done well?”
“Have you been watching us?” The volume rose again at the end of my question.
“I have been keeping tabs on you, of course.” He didn’t look chagrined about it.
“Wait a minute. Have you been following us our whole lives?” My mind scrolled back to different times in my youth, times when I felt my father watching over us. Had he really been watching us, somewhere in the stands of the bleachers at Charlie’s baseball games? Somewhere on the street as I walked to school with a house key on a pink shoelace tied around my neck?
“No. I have been in Italy. Usually. But I came to the U.S. from time to time to ensure you were all right.”
“And for work, of course.”
My father dipped an ear toward his shoulder, his salt-and-pepper hair hanging down a little at that side. His green eyes peered through his copper glasses, looking at me as if he didn’t understand.
“Of course you were coming to the U.S. for work,” I said, “because isn’t that what’s most important to you?”
A look of agony seared across my father’s face, causing lines to cut into his forehead. “No, of course not. Work is not the most important thing. You were the most important thing. Victoria was the most important thing. Charlie. That’s why I left.” Now it was his voice that rose, his features slightly contorted in anger, irritation, and something else. I couldn’t yet read him, but I could tell that he was struggling with his emotions. Almost as if it was the first time in a long while that he was experiencing any emotion at all.
His face quickly drained of all expression, though. He settled himself back into place, but as he did, something else dawned on me.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Were you one of the people following me last year after Sam disappeared?”
He said nothing. But I could tell he knew what I was talking about.
Just to make sure, I said, “You knew that I was engaged and that my fianc'e disappeared, right?”
My father opened his mouth, but I could see the answer. I was correct.
“No way.” My voice was filled with disbelief. “So you were one of those people.” Now my voice was very loud and very angry. “I got followed last year, and I was scared shitless.” Oops. There went my no-swearing streak. “I never knew when I walked out the door who was around, whether someone was tailing me. It was terrible. I can’t believe it was you.”
My father shook his head and held his hand up. “Isabel,” he said with determination. In fact, he sounded very much like a father who had heard enough, and was about to set the record straight. “Isabel,” he said again. “Of course I have watched over my little girl and my little boy and my wife.” He cleared his throat. “My former wife. But I was never intrusive. I never followed you in the way you are talking about. Of course, I heard about Sam disappearing and your client dying, and then a few months later I heard about your friend dying and you being suspected of her murder. So, of course, I was around more at those times. That’s why I was still around when I saw you meet with Dez Romano. But I never tailed you so you felt watched, never so you felt me there. I had to make sure you were okay. Certainly you can understand that. I had to ensure that you were protected. I just could not believe when I saw who you were hanging out with.”
“Hanging out with? What does that mean?”
“I wasn’t hanging out with Michael DeSanto.”
He held up his hand again. “I realize that. I figured out that you were doing undercover work with John Mayburn. What I couldn’t figure out was if it was some kind of trap. I knew that DeSanto was working with Dez Romano. I knew Romano was in the new version of the Camorra in the United States. The thing is, Romano and these U.S. guys in the System work differently. I had no idea what was going on. It took me a while to determine that it was just a coincidence-an entirely freakish coincidence-that you were involved with them.”
I stopped and thought about it. “That must have been bizarre.”
He shook his head. “You have no idea.”
We both chuckled, but then I stopped short.
“What?” he said.
“That’s the first time I’ve seen your smile in twenty-two years.”
That made him lose his smile. Both of us fell silent for a moment.
“I never intended to step out of the shadows, Izzy. But then that night when Romano and DeSanto were running after you…” He shook his head, as if trying to shake off a horrid memory. “I had to save you.”
After a minute of uncomfortable quiet, we began talking again. And we talked for an hour. It was a quiet conversation filled with short questions designed to find the most minimal amount of information without prying too much. We were like new parents dancing around a baby, not wanting to wake it up, afraid of what might happen if we did.
“Where did you live the whole time?” I asked him.
“ Rome,” he told me. “Mostly Rome, but also Milan and Naples.”
“What did you do with yourself?”
“I joined the antimafia office. I practiced my Italian. And I went back into profiling.”
“Trying to bring down the Camorra.”
A solemn nod.
“You just couldn’t leave it behind.”
His face turned fast to mine, his eyes flashing, then he looked back at the seat in front of him. “I knew nothing else.”
“So when I went to the antimafia office in Rome, did they let you know?”
“Not right away, but yes. Hardly anyone knows that I work with the office. Almost no one knows my real name or identity. But word of your visit eventually got to some people I know. And they briefed me.”
“And then I was followed to Naples, and those guys came after me with guns.” Something occurred to me. “Elena said that those men were just trying to scare me, because the Camorra doesn’t chase, they kill.”
I felt a little frozen with fear. “Did you send those guys after me? Were you trying to scare me into going home or something?”
“No.” His voice was curt, distinct. “Of course not. I never want you to be scared. From what I can tell, there must be a Camorra spy in the Rome antimafia office, a mole who told someone you were in there. They must have figured out you were going to Naples and followed you.”
I replayed that night when the guys were chasing me, when they were getting off the elevator near ours in the hotel and ran down the hall toward our room, only to get clocked with that door.
“That was you, wasn’t it?” I said. “The door opening when those guys were running down the hallway at the hotel?”
“Very Laurel and Hardy of you.”
He chuckled again. “Sometimes you have to go back to the basics.”
I folded my hands in my lap and looked down at them. “Did you ever remarry?”
A sad smile, a definitive yet soft, “No.”
“Do you have any other kids?”
A shake of his head, a flash of pain across his face, as if the thought seared him.
He seemed so strong, someone who could endure anything, even the forced loss of his family, and yet, now that the secret was out, there was something that arose from within him and was revealed in his eyes. It was…What was it? He was wounded. Yes, my father was a wounded man.
How strange to think of him alive, as someone suffering right now, instead of thinking of him as my father, who passed away when I was young.
“And you,” he said. “I know a little more about you. And I have to say, from what I saw, I liked that Sam.”
That Sam…I felt a wave of sadness. It was so powerful I closed my eyes against it. But then I realized it was just that-only a wave, one that crested and went away. When it was gone, I opened my eyes and looked into my father’s-green eyes that looked like mine (minus my eyeliner and two coats of mascara).
Thinking of Sam and me, of the couple we used to be, made me think of another couple, and I had to ask. “Does Mom know?”
“That I’m alive?”
He shook his head no.
The internal wounds seemed to pain him now, and his eyes took on an anguished tint.
“I guess we need to figure out how to handle this,” I said.
He nodded. “Yes, there’s a lot to think about.”
I said, “Who did you tell?”
He looked at me questioningly.
“I mean who did you tell that you faked your death? Anyone?”
“But no one else?”
“Of course not. That’s part of the deal.”
“No one. Wow. That can’t be good for you.”
He shot me a question with his eyes.
“You know,” I said, “you must be really fucked up.”
He laughed. I laughed. Then we started to laugh harder. It wasn’t particularly humorous, but somehow a funny bone had been struck, one in both me and my dad. My dad. That was the first time I had thought of him like that since I learned he was alive.