The plane doors opened and bright morning light filled the cabin. It made me suck in my breath. The air smelled like the Midwest somehow-like trees, like something scrubbed clean but with a lingering layer of smoke. I inhaled again. Chicago. I was back on my turf, in my hometown.
Following my dad, I moved to the plane door and walked down the few steps to the ground and swiveled my head around. I’d never been to that airport in the suburbs before. A small one-story building stood to the right. I looked to the left and flinched. Four men, dressed all in black, stood there.
“Isabel,” my father said. He was a few steps from the plane. “They’re here for us.”
I noticed that the men wore black baseball hats, just like my father had that day when I’d seen him outside of Gibsons. I took a step closer to them and lowered my voice. “Who are they?”
“No. I have no association with the FBI anymore. They don’t know I exist.”
“But these guys do?” Other questions hung in the air. And your wife didn’t? I didn’t?
He gave a terse nod. “Only recently.” No other explanation was forthcoming.
The men walked toward my father and he to them. They all bent their heads down as if in a huddle. A minute later they broke apart. One of them handed my father a set of keys, then two others walked to one of two black town cars and stood outside it.
“They’ve been here since we left Italy yesterday. They’ve done a complete sweep, and there’s no one here at the airport. Either Romano couldn’t figure out what airport we were coming into or…”
“Or he doesn’t care, because he wants us to come to him.”
My father nodded. “But at least we know we’re on our own for now.”
Maggie and Elena got out of the plane. “Maggie,” my father said, gesturing to the men near the cars. “I don’t want you going home. Is there somewhere these men can take you where you’ll be safe?”
“Sure,” Maggie said. “My grandfather has been a defense attorney for a long time. His house is a fortress.”
My father nodded and pointed at the town car. Then he smiled a little at Maggie. “It was nice to meet Izzy’s best friend.”
He and Maggie shook hands. I gave her a hug and she got in the car.
Elena’s face was pale, her eyes darting around.
“Elena, I am so sorry about this,” my dad said to her, his words tender. They hugged. He whispered something in her ear.
She nodded and, still trembling, followed the two men toward the other town car.
As it pulled away I looked at my dad. “Where is she going?”
“You don’t need to know.”
My irritation flared. “Why not? I’m sick of your secrets.”
He gave me a look of consternation. “Izzy, I’m not telling you these things for your own good. The less you know the better. Your aunt will check into a hotel suite. She is fine, for now.”
I looked back down at my phone. What about Charlie? Was he fine?
My father gestured to another town car parked apart from the others.
“Shouldn’t we have people with us?” I asked.
“What did that e-mail say?”
“It said, ‘Bring cops and he goes bye-bye.’”
“Right.” My dad looked up at the sky then back at me. “I don’t know the American Camorra well, but what I know for sure is that members of the System make good on their threats. So, while we wait for their signal, we’re going to ask a few questions, we’re going to try and figure out what their endgame is. And if the situation appears stable…”
“Stable?” I said, unable to stop the indignant tone. “How is any of this stable?”
He glanced at me. “I’m grading on a curve here.” He began walking to the car, his eyes scanning the place as he moved. “If the situation is stable, relatively, then we’ll wait for the address and go on our own.”
“What could the endgame be?”
“That’s what I can’t figure out. If we were in Italy, they would have killed Charlie already.”
I closed my eyes and felt myself sway.
My father put a hand on my shoulder. It was the first time he had touched me since I’d seen him.
I looked at his hand then back at him.
He drew his hand away quickly. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
I shook my head. “That’s okay.” And it was.
“Let’s get in the car and we can talk more.”
I felt safer once we were inside. We drove away from the airport and I pointed out the highway exit to my dad. “I can’t figure out what they want,” my dad said as he drove. “I know they want me. But there’s no reason for them not to kill Charlie, and then try to find me later.”
I closed my eyes and winced. “Will you please stop saying that about Charlie?”
He looked at me curiously. “It kills me, too. But I’ve learned that the way to deal with everything I’ve seen and done is to simply be up front about it. Hiding anything from myself, even my worst fears, never leads to anything good.”
I stared at him. The skin around his mouth sagged as if he’d spent a lifetime frowning, but he was still an attractive man, one of those guys who used to be cute but has aged into handsome. From what he told me on the plane, he had spent most of his life on his own. That made me incredibly sad.
He must have felt me looking and glanced my way.
I turned and put my hand on the gray felt armrest. “So you think they want to draw you there and then kill you? Or us?” Was I really having this conversation?
My father glanced at me again, then back at the road. “It’s obvious they want something from me. I know you don’t like me to say it, but I have to analyze it from an intellectual capacity. From what I know, there is no reason not to-” another glance at me “-harm Charlie if they simply wanted to send me a message. We’ve been watching Dez Romano for a long time. He is an exceptionally smart businessman and a shrewd strategist. He wants something from me. I just wish I knew what it is.”
“Why isn’t he in trouble with the Feds if Michael DeSanto was arrested?”
“Excellent question. The charges against DeSanto are the closest things the Feds have been able to get on Romano, but the truth is they don’t have anything lock solid on him in particular. They can’t prove that he and DeSanto are tied. The evidence the Feds have on Michael DeSanto, they didn’t even get themselves, or at least they didn’t start the trail that led to that evidence. You did that.” He looked at me, and if I could read his expression, it was satisfaction. He shook his head. “I couldn’t believe it. My daughter.” Another shake of his head. “The work you did with Mayburn and the bank brought DeSanto to his knees.”
“But if they bring Michael down, won’t they be able to do that to Dez, too?”
“They can’t tie Dez to the corporation that Michael was laundering money for.”
“Advent Corporation,” I said, remembering what Mayburn had told me. “They were in the suburbs, and they did corporate consulting or something like that.”
“Right. Allegedly. It was mostly just a shell corporation.”
“Who were the registered agents or officers?”
“Dez was never listed. The registered agent was a lawyer who sets up corporations over the Internet. He never met anyone face-to-face. And the president was listed as Michael DeSanto. And although they’re pretty sure it was Mob owned, by Dez or the Camorra, they couldn’t tie it to him, but they wanted to send a message to him. And by prosecuting Michael, whether they’re successful or not, the message is still clear.”
“We’re on your ass.”
“It sounds like what we need is something on Dez then. Whether it’s something the Feds can use or not, it would give us more equal footing when we see him. It might stop him from…” I opened my phone, looked again at the photo of Charlie and the swollen, bleeding side of his face. I looked back up at my dad. “How are you so calm? My insides are boiling and it’s all I can do to not scream or cry or pass out.”
I held the phone toward him. I thought that seeing the image would make my dad crumble. But he only glanced at it, then set his mouth firm so that the folds of skin grew taut. “You just have to turn it around.”
“What do you mean?”
He looked at the picture again, then narrowed his eyes. “Don’t let that make you weak. Let it make you stronger. More determined.”
“Right. More determined to get this mother hen in a basket,” I said.
My father’s steely look turned to one of confusion.
“I’m trying to stop swearing,” I said. “What I meant was it should make us more determined to get this motherfucker.”
My dad laughed. “Now you got it.”