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Wiseguy: The Proposal

By Suzinsf

Mystery / Thriller

Prolog: January 2001


                                           Late January 2001

Mitchell Hanley turned up the collar of his greatcoat to keep the damp wind off the back of his neck, watching Roger Lococco walk across the wet lawn to the three graves, their grassy coverings shockingly green in comparison to the frost-scorched turf of the rest of the cemetery. The graves had not been there long enough to permit the placement of the permanent granite markers, being less than three months old. He shifted his weight moodily and leaned back against the side of the car. He hated cemeteries, and particularly hated visiting them in the dead of winter. The bleak weather too closely mirrored his feelings for comfort. And these were people he had known and respected. And even loved, despite himself. As a Federal Agent, he had thought undercover work to be the ultimate in glamorous career paths. What it was, was hard: tedium interspersed with boredom, punctuated by adrenaline surges of such intensity that he was sure they shortened his life expectancy by decades.

And then there was the moral ambiguity inherent in the work itself. To penetrate a criminal organization, one assumed a criminal's mindset and even actions in the effort to bring them down. Nowhere in his training had anyone thought to mention what happened when you began to become personally involved with the people you were collecting evidence on.

His feelings regarding Lococco were a prime example. The man was a stone killer. Hanley had seen it in his eyes at regular intervals over the last two years. And yet, not once, had his use of a weapon been unprovoked. Never had he killed - or even injured - in cold blood in the time Mitch had worked with him. On the contrary, Lococco had seemingly gone out of his way to avoid letting a situation disintegrate to the point where that sort of lethal violence was necessary. It was this unexpected restraint in someone who had clearly spent a good portion of his life killing people that had drawn Mitch to respect and even like the man.

Lococco's partner and friend, Vince Terranova, and Terranova's wife, Tracy Steelgrave, had been two more such surprises. There had been something inherently honorable about them. Ruthless when necessary, they, too, had demonstrated a reticence in their actions that had frequently astonished him. They preferred to out-think their enemies, rather than out-gun them, whenever possible. The fact that they had come to treat him as a reckless and headstrong younger sibling had thoroughly clouded his judgement regarding them. That and the fact that he had nursed a school-boy crush on Tracy, despite the gap in their ages. She had seen him through half a dozen legal scrapes, constantly teasing him about his failure as a criminal. You aren't supposed to keep getting caught, she had reminded him after each court appearance, a sentiment his field supervisor was in hearty agreement with.

He was vaguely amazed at the pain their deaths had triggered in him. It gave him a level of empathy as to what Lococco must be feeling in so much more extreme a sense. Never in his life had he seen an emptiness in a man's eyes like that he had seen in Lococco's, the night of the car bomb. He had seen a soul stripped of civilization, of emotion, of humanity: a spirit destroyed, though the body lived on. In the mind-numbing months since that night, Roger had moved through the world like an automaton, dismantling the organization he and Vince had so laboriously built almost three years before, dispersing its component pieces back to the families from whom they had been received. In most cases, the businesses had been returned in vastly better condition than in which they'd been given, and the men that Terranova and Lococco had groomed to run them were accepted into their adoptive families with enthusiasm. The consensus in the mob was that Terranova had had an uncanny sense for placing the right people in a position. The mob had asked Lococco to stay, to retain control of them. Roger had not even bothered to dignify this with a response. The mob had been Vinnie's family, not his. Roger's loyalty had lain exclusively with the Terranovas.

When they had been killed, he had watched Lococco slowly disintegrate before his eyes. He swore that Roger hadn't slept more than three hours a night since the car bomb had destroyed the big Mercedes and the family it carried. All the family Lococco had. Vince, Tracy, their unborn child and their sixteen month-old son had died instantly. And some part of Lococco had died as well. The man was hanging onto sanity by a thread. It was brutal to watch. It had to be even more brutal to live through.

Roger crouched beside the bronze markers, feeling nothing. Exhaustion – physical, mental and emotional – left him incapable of even as simple a thing as feeling. He had used the myriad of endless details to attend to with Vince's loss to anesthetize himself. And now it was done. The New York mob would survive this power grab, and he could walk away from the city having kept his promise to Vince to see that the plan was followed through, that Cerrico would inherit Aiuppo's legacy. His body ached with the weariness that slowed his muscles and numbed his heart.

Carefully, he lay a single red rose across each of the bronze plaques in turn, gloved fingers tracing the names engraved there: Vincent Michael Terranova, beloved husband, father and friend Tracy Louise Steelgrave Terranova, cherished wife and mother. Michael Peter Terranova, their son.

He was finished here. New York no longer held anything he wanted, anything he cared about. Only his promise had kept him here this long. He would not have to endure the utter loneliness of this city of millions for much longer. All he cared about in it had vanished in the explosion that had left a smoking crater on a rural Long Island road and scattered two-and-a-half tons of armor-plated German engineering over a quarter mile radius. He rose to his feet slowly, looking down at the markers, vision blurring. "So long, Buckwheat," he whispered.

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