Wiseguy: The Proposal

January 30th

At three fifteen, McPike and Captain Jórge DeSilva stood at the door of Lococco's suite waiting for a response to their insistent pounding. McPike had just raised a fist for a second attempt when the door opened and Roger Lococco, automatic aimed straight at them, faced them. He looked like hell, Frank noted, as he brushed past the former C.I.A. assassin. DeSilva stepped in after him, hauling his equipment, and Lococco shut the door behind them, holstering his weapon.

DeSilva made straight for the patient on the settee, turning back the blanket, approving of the hot water bottles packed around the man's body. He removed the now-bloody gauze pad that covered the knife wounds and bent, rummaging in his larger-than-usual medical bag, finding his stethoscope and placing it on Terranova's broad chest, listening intently as he moved it from spot to spot. "What do you have him on?" he asked, glancing up at Lococco.

"Morphine and Demerol," Roger supplied. "A hundred milligrams of Demerol orally over a half hour, around one thirty, and about fifteen milligrams of morphine an hour ago."

"He's just a tad overmedicated," was the physician's dry response, his attention returning to his patient as he hung the stethoscope around his neck and began a visual examination of the wounds. "I guess I won't be needing any anesthesia. Well the puncture sights are nice and clean, no excessive laceration of the muscle tissue. No breath sounds from his left lung to speak of. Doesn't sound like there's much fluid in there, though. Your friend is a lucky bastard. An inch over and he'd be dead."

"Oh, yeah, real lucky," muttered McPike who stood at the foot of the settee observing the examination. "Dr. DeSilva, can you get him on his feet?" he asked reluctantly.

"By rights, he should be in a hospital," DeSilva remarked disapprovingly.

"Putting him in one right now means a quick trip to the morgue, Doc," Lococco informed him acerbically. "In case this hadn't dawned on you, there are people trying to kill him. Get him on his feet and moving for twenty four hours and I promise you, after that, he'll either be in the hospital, or on a slab. The odds on which it's likely to be are pretty close to even, right now," Roger snapped irritably.

DeSilva looked unhappily between Lococco and McPike, then frowned. "I should be getting a chest tube into him, but I'll try reinflating the lung," he told them, at last. "As long as he stays relatively quiet, he should be alright for about a day. It's a sure bet that he's developing pneumonia and we need to see if there's any damage to his stomach or other internal organs." As he spoke, he fitted a seven inch, large gauge needle to a three hundred milliliter syringe and uncapped it, pushing the plunger down to force the air from the body of the syringe. With careful deliberation, he maneuvered the wicked-looking needle into Terranova's chest and drew back on the syringe, sucking the trapped air out of the thoracic cavity.

Roger paled at the blood and nameless fluids that were drawn out along with the air. "What are you doing?"

"His chest cavity is full of air from the punctured lung," DeSilva answered. "The pressure is keeping the lung from reinflating, so, reestablish negative pressure and, hey-presto, the lung reinflates. One of the miracles of modern medicine."

"Just so it works," Roger said, suppressing a shudder.

"It generally does, as long as the lung or the wound doesn't leak more air into his chest," DeSilva informed them, removing the syringe body and leaving the needle in place in Vince's chest, rewarded with the sudden, deep, shuddering breath that wracked Terranova. "See?" he told them. "Now let's take a look at the wounds," he added, taking out another syringe, this one far less frightening in size. "A little novocaine, a few stitches, and a hellovalot of antibiotics, and he might just make it through the next few hours in reasonable shape." He methodically made his way through the various procedures, ignoring his audience. He taped a heavy, Vaseline-smeared gauze dressing in place over the knife wounds and prepared a second, smaller one. Finally, he took a portable pulse oxymeter from his bag and clipped it to the injured man's forefinger, waiting for a reading. "Could one of you give me a hand? I need one of you to slap this gauze over the hole when I take the needle out of his chest."

Roger went white as he approached Vince's body and picked up the dressing, holding it poised over the needle site.

"Ready?" DeSilva asked, holding the needle fitting.

Lococco nodded, swallowing.

The doctor eased the needle out of Terranova's chest quickly and Roger slipped the gauze into place, holding it while DeSilva taped it down firmly. "We've got to maintain negative pressure in the chest cavity," he told Roger.

"What do you mean, ‘We', pale-face?" Lococco snarled, clearly shaken. "You're the doctor, Buckwheat."

"I mean that if he moves around too much, the puncture in his lung could bleed air back into his chest and the lung'll collapse again. I'm going to leave a few of the 16 gauge needles and a syringe with you. If he starts complaining of pain and his breathing gets worse, stick one of those in him near the wound like you just saw me do. Take the syringe off and just let the air bleed back out of his chest. Don't worry, you won't hit anything important as long as you keep the needle to the right of the wound and parallel to his sternum. If he's gonna stay quiet, take the needle out and get the puncture site covered fast. If not, leave the needle in, it'll allow any air that gets in there to escape before it causes him too much trouble."

Lococco stepped back and closed his eyes for a split second before nodding.

DeSilva turned his attention to the PulseOx. "Hmmm. Mr. McPike, could you hand me the canister in the bottom of my bag? The mask, too."

McPike did as he was directed, and DeSilva fastened an oxygen mask over Terranova's nose and mouth, hooking the line to the miniature oxygen tank Frank had handed him. "About ten minutes of O2 and his saturation levels should be back to normal."

~*~

By the time he had finished, Vince was beginning to come out of it, the morphine wearing off enough for him to open his eyes. The near-cessation of pain made it through to his drugged awareness, and even the aching sting in his right flank as DeSilva injected him with a heavy dose of antibiotics was minor by comparison to the overwhelming relief of being able to draw a normal breath. He blinked, trying to focus on the voices in the room, to identify them.

Lococco's irritable drawl he knew immediately. Identifying McPike's sarcastic tones took a moment longer. They were clearly in the midst of a dispute, however quietly they conducted the argument. Vince ignored the sting of another needle, this one an I.V. in his right arm, trying to hear what was being said.

"Welcome back, Mr. Terranova," came a strange voice beside him.

Vince turned his head to try to see the speaker, his question in his eyes. "Who?" he asked through the oxygen mask.

"Dr Jórge DeSilva, U.S. Army. You gave your friends a scare," he added, with a jerk of his head toward the two men arguing in the corner of the sitting room.

Vince nodded. "Didn't do much for my peace of mind, either," he replied, hoarsely. "I'm gonna live, I take it?"

DeSilva grinned, liking the agent's pragmatic attitude. Judging by the scars on his body, this was far from his first brush with violence. "As long as you refrain from doing anything too monumentally stupid, yeah. But get yourself to a hospital ASAP. You need more treatment than I can give you. And if you start coughing, especially if you start bringing up blood, drop everything and get help." He waited for a nod of understanding. "You feel up to moving to a more comfortable location?" he asked when he was sure Terranova was clear on the seriousness of his injury.

Vince nodded, letting the little doctor help him to sit upright. It was a slow and painful process, and getting to his feet was worse, but nothing when compared to the agony it had been to get to the hotel suite in the first place. His attention was so narrowly focused that he wasn't aware of Lococco's proximity until he found himself with an arm draped over Roger's shoulders as he was helped haltingly across the sitting room to his bedroom, DeSilva following with the I.V. bag held high over his head. McPike moved into the bedroom ahead of them, carrying the blankets and DeSilva's gear, hovering anxiously.

"Mr. McPike, find some way to hang the I.V. fluids in the vicinity of the bed, please," DeSilva directed him.

Frank scanned the bed, assessing the two wall-mounted ornamental plaster corbels on either side of it, surmounted by tasteful objects d'art. There was no protrusion small enough on which to hang the fluids, so he went in search of a way to suspend them, returning with a stray wire coat hanger which he promptly bent into a loop that fitted over the top of one of the brackets, the hook hanging down. "That work?" he asked DeSilva.

In answer, the doctor hung the fluids from the hanger, which shifted, then stabilized. "Looks like it," he said cheerfully. He helped Lococco get Terranova onto the bed and wedged all the pillows under Vinnie's knees while McPike tossed the blankets over the naked agent. "Mr. Lococco, I've got him on ringers at the moment and I'm going to leave you with a second bag of fluids. That one will be dextrose with a potassium piggyback. I need you to switch bags when you see this one getting low. And a word of warning, here. If this bag runs dry, you'll be sucking air straight into his veins. It will kill him. I'll set the bag up so all you have to do is open up the venoset between the old one and the new one. Just don't get any air into the line! If you wind up with an air bubble any bigger than an inch long, just remove the whole I.V. and tape him up. It's safer than guessing."

Roger nodded, clearly unhappy in his role as nurse. He watched as DeSilva removed a second bag of fluids from its plastic wrappings, filled a syringe with some clear liquid, and injected it into the bag, rocking it to mix the two. Efficiently, the doctor inserted a new line into the bag, filled it with fluids and linked it to the first one after ensuring that the sliding crimp was tight and there would be no premature leakage. "See this thing, here?" the doctor asked Lococco, fingering the crimp wheel as he hung the bag beside the first one.

Roger nodded again, grimly.

"Just roll this little wheel up the line until the drops are coming out of the bag at a rate of about twenty to twenty five per minute, then leave well enough alone. Check the flow rate every hour or so. If it slows down dramatically, the line has probably infiltrated. Just check with the patient. If there's swelling or tenderness at the I.V. site, remove the whole thing."

Lococco sighed softly. "Anything else I should know?"

"Yes," the doctor grinned at him, no sympathy for Roger's squeamishness to be seen. "You'll need to change the dressings in about twelve hours. Use the coated gauze pads. The ointment acts like a patch on a leaky tire — it'll keep the negative chest pressure intact. And he'll need more painkillers in about three hours. Stick with the morphine as long as the I.V. holds up. You can inject it straight into the line and save yourself the trouble of trying to hit a vein. Just kink the line above the injection port -" DeSilva pointed at the little v-shaped insert in the line near the end connected to Vinnie's arm and bent the line over on itself like a cheap garden hose "- like this, and let it go when the drug is in. You can do the same with the antibiotics. Morphine every four hours or so, and antibiotics every six," he added, then looked at Lococco more closely. "What about you? You alright?"

"Nothing wrong with me that about eighteen hours sleep wouldn't fix," was the caustic reply.

"Well that won't be happening, not with you taking on nursing duty. What are you on?"

Lococco retrieved the bottle of amphetamines and tossed it underhand to DeSilva, who took one look and shook his head. "Nasty stuff. No wonder you're in such a foul mood. I've got some stuff that'll work better, without the irritability. It's a lot stronger, so don't double the dose!" he warned. "And don't take it for more than two days. When you crash, it'll be hard," he cautioned. "Plan on spending some down-time working it out of your system."

"If we make it through the next twenty four hours, I'll consider a trip to the Bahamas," Roger retorted sarcastically.

"Love you, too," was DeSilva's laughing reply, as he gathered his possessions. Leaving a vial of morphine on Vince's night stand, as well as one of liquid antibiotics, he tossed the replacement amphetamines to Lococco along with a packet of antibiotic capsules. "Start him on the orals when you pull the I.V.," he directed. "The first bag should finish up in about six hours or so. The second one will take about eight. He should be encumbrance-free by six tomorrow morning, if you don't count the morphine hangover." He hefted his equipment and headed back out into the sitting room, McPike on his heels.

"Doc, I'm sending you back alone. I think I'd better stay here and spell Lococco. He has a commitment tonight," Frank told him quietly as he walked him to the door.

"Just don't pick a fight with him," DeSilva warned. "He's gonna be ornery as all hell until the crap he took wears off."

"So what else is new?" McPike mumbled long-sufferingly. "I'm not seeing much difference from his usual charming personality."

DeSilva grinned as he let himself out of the suite. "Have a pleasant evening," was his parting witticism.

Frank sighed, squared his shoulders, and returned to the sitting room to find Lococco slouched in the wingback chair, head back, eyes closed. He looked truly drained, McPike realized, worriedly. "You alright?" he asked, knowing he should probably just keep his mouth shut. He watched Roger's jaw clench and unclench, some smart remark being choked back. It was more courtesy than Frank had expected. He could see the nervous energy in Lococco's involuntary muscle twitches, and began to walk away, heading for Vinnie's room.

"Frank." Roger's voice was as weary as his face.

McPike turned to face him. "Yeah?" he inquired warily.

"Thanks for getting the Doc here. Our boy scared me half to death this afternoon."

"Welcome to the club," McPike sighed, returning to the sitting area and taking a seat on the couch across from Lococco's chair. "He has a real knack for that," Frank agreed. "You mind if I ask you why you came back with him?"

Lococco sighed, then laughed without humor. "Some bright idea about keeping him alive," he stated. "So far, I've done a bang-up job." He opened eyes more gray than green and met McPike's worried frown, waiting expectantly for some sharp rejoinder. None was forthcoming. "What?" he asked, "I really look that bad?"

"Yeah," came the affirmative. "And for the record? I'm glad you're here." McPike watched as the surprise in Lococco's face was quickly masked. "It wasn't your fault he got cut," Frank added.

"You're wrong, there, Buckwheat," Roger corrected, eyes closing again, face settling into lines of exhaustion and guilt. "I got cocky. Vince keeps trying to tell me the mob isn't a joke, only I can't seem to get past the clichés"

"They're definitely no joke, Roger," McPike said grimly. "I've lost a lot of friends to them in the last twenty years" he paused, then continued. "I don't want to lose any more. I don't want to end up burying either of you tomorrow night."

Lococco opened his eyes to stare at McPike, clearly startled by McPike’s unexpected olive branch. There was no love lost between them, but Frank had developed considerable respect for the former CIA agent. Roger had done stand-in duty for Vince on one particularly bizarre case, simply coming when Vince had called, no questions asked, so Loccoco’s loyalty was unquestionable.

McPike met Roger's gaze for a long moment, making sure Lococco knew that peace had been declared, then rose. "I'll take the next watch," he said. "You look like hell. Try and get some rest." He turned and headed for Vinnie's bedroom.

~*~

Lococco watched him walk away in bemusement, wondering at the sudden lightening of the tension that knotted muscles and made his head throb. He was exhausted, but the amphetamines in his system would prevent anything even remotely resembling sleep. He needed to work off the drugs, he knew, and forced himself to get to his feet. He stuck his head in the door of Vince's room. "I'm jumping out of my skin," he told McPike softly. "I'm going down to the gym. You okay alone with him for an hour?"

McPike nodded, silently.

"You need me, have the concierge page me," he added and went to change into sweats and a T-shirt, adding his bloody clothes to the pile on the sitting room floor and collecting the lot in an untidy arm-load, taking them and the bloody sheet with him.

He returned an hour later, sweaty, tired, but with the wretched twitching in his muscles gone. A vigorous pick-up game of basketball with a handful of dot-com executives barely half his age had sweated the worst of it off. He had held his own among the younger men, but he was sure having to work harder at it than he once had.

McPike was on the couch in the sitting room, idly channel-surfing. He looked up as Lococco entered. "You look better," he observed, vaguely surprised.

Roger nodded an acknowledgement. "How's Vince?"

"Asleep," Frank informed him. "Which is what you should be. Are you still going after Greco tonight?"

"It's now or never, Frank. Since our love-sick friend won't let this drop, it'll have to be now."

"I take it he's talked to you about the Steelgrave woman," Frank said hesitantly.

"Only in general terms," Lococco replied. "What's in her jacket?"

McPike hesitated a long moment. "She's in D.C., teaching at Georgetown University Law School this semester. She's here because her mother is dying of pancreatic cancer. From what I've been able to determine, the doctors don't give her more than another five or six months at the outside."

"A few months too long, huh?" Roger observed, as he sank into the wingback. "A case of piss-poor timing. So what about the girl?"

"Graduated in the top three percent in her class from UCLA Law School in ‘89, worked for the L.A D.A.'s office for two years, then moved to Seattle. She worked for the Washington State Attorney General as a prosecutor until her leave of absence this fall. All the high-powered corporate law firms in Seattle have been trying to recruit her for three years. She has one hell of a conviction rate. Made quite a name for herself, according to her supervisors. She put away a lot of connected guys. It seems like she's making it her personal mission to wipe out the mob on the west coast."

Roger's eyes narrowed in interest. "Atonement."

"Or something," McPike agreed. "She's a white hat," he added reluctantly, "much as the thought pains me."

Roger flashed a grin at him. "Not much fun to have your preconceived ideas knocked to hell, huh?" he jibed, watching the wry twitch of McPike's mouth.

"Vince had a flirtation going with her ten years ago when he first went under in Steelgrave's organization. Needless to say, Sonny and her father were none too happy about it. When her father was killed, she took her mom with her to California. This is the first time she's been back east, even though her mother moved back almost six years ago. As far as I know, December was the first time she and Vince laid eyes on each other since she left."

"I'd say eyes were not the only things laid," Roger remarked.

McPike grimaced. "Well she's certainly pretty enough, but she's no Susan Profitt."

"Frank. Susan Profitt isn't even Susan Profitt anymore. There ain't nobody home in that pretty head of hers. I don't know about you, but I like to see the lights on when I look into a woman's eyes," Roger informed him.

McPike's interest sharpened. "You keeping track of her?"

Roger shrugged. "Loosely," he admitted. "I don't turn my back on an enemy. Even one in an orbit as far out as hers."

"I guess scoring a hundred million of the Profitt dollars isn't likely to endear you to her," McPike agreed. He didn't know what to make of the pain that suddenly haunted the edges of Lococco's celadon-gray eyes.

"Money is the least of what I stole from her, Frank," Roger said grimly. "There's plenty left in the Profitt coffers. Hell, it was less than what Mel would have paid for a coupla Sidewinders. The rest of what I took, she ain't never getting back."

Frank stared at Lococco. "You killed Mel" the answer to that question coming into focus after ten years.

Roger shook his head. "No. But I pushed him over the edge. And then I pushed her after him." He was silent, staring into space for a long while. "Not one of my finest moments, Frank." He met McPike’s eyes bleakly.

McPike brooded on this a moment. "Maybe not, but they had to be stopped. Whatever planet Susan is on, it's probably better than prison."

"That's a palliative, Frank," Roger snapped. "Save it for someone whose soul isn't already damned to hell."

McPike rose and went to the bar, helping himself to a shot of what was left in Vince's whiskey bottle, sipping slowly, letting Lococco regroup. "If it weren't for her family, I'd say Tracy Steelgrave is the all-American girl of Vinnie's dreams," he said, changing the subject, and felt Lococco brush past him, reaching for a glass of his own.

"Sounds like," Roger agreed. "Too bad the course of true love never runs smooth." He splashed half of what remained in the bottle into his glass and returned to the chair. "You know this isn't over even if we pull it off and Vince walks out of that meeting tomorrow alive."

McPike reseated himself, running a hand over the crown of his bald head in barely concealed anxiety. "I wish I knew what the hell to do about it," he confessed into his glass.

"That makes two of us. He's not gonna leave without her. I know that look he gets in his eyes when you try and talk him into doing the smart thing. It's the same look he gave me when I tried to talk him out of testifying in front of the Senate hearings ten years ago. He shouldn't have wasted his breath. They were looking for blood, and Getzloff wasn't gonna be happy till she saw the color of mine."

"Was that why you staged your death?" McPike asked.

"Partly, but mostly it was to get the C.I.A. off my back for a while." Lococco shifted in his chair. "It bought me some time."

They sat quietly for several minutes, each thinking their private thoughts. It was Roger who broke the silence. "I already told Vince. Now I'm telling you. I'm not leaving him on his own until he's clear of both the OCB and the mob. Or until one or both of us is in box."

McPike put down his glass slowly, glaring at Lococco. "If he stays, it'll be undercover. He doesn't need anyone jogging his elbow!"

"Frank, you and I both know that if he stays, and keeps his cover, Aiuppo's gonna have him running Brooklyn inside six months. He goes under that deep, and you may never get him back out. And if you do, it may not be the Vince Terranova we both know and love," Roger said sharply. "Believe me. I know what it's like to be under so deep you forget how to breathe. So deep you lose yourself. If I'm there with him, he's gonna remember that every time he looks at me. Maybe it'll keep him out of the dark."

McPike leaned back in the sofa, staring at the man across from him as though he'd never laid eyes on him before.

"You think you have the lock on friendship, Frank? Vince gave me back something I didn't even know I'd lost. I owe it to him to keep him from making the same mistakes I did." Roger's voice was bitter with the memory of his total isolation as a covert operative under the aegis of his former Special Forces commander-turned spook, Herb Ketcher. That Ketcher had suicided at the conclusion of the Senate investigation into the Isle Pavot debacle did not ease the betrayal of a man who had once, briefly, been like a father to him. He took a swallow from his glass and set it on the armrest of his chair. "If he does this," Roger began, "Vince is gonna need heavy funding."

McPike's eyes narrowed speculatively. "Tell me about it. It's going to have to come out of a special Senate Appropriations budget. I just can't see how the OCB or even the FBI is going to be able to finance it otherwise."

Roger leaned back in his chair, resting his skull on the edge of the backrest and stared at the ceiling. "I put a hundred million in an escrow account three days ago, when Vince first told me the whole story. I figure, the C.I.A. was planning on using Mel's millions to overthrow the sovereign government of a foreign nation, so the FBI can use them to take back the government of the sovereign state of New York from the scum who've suborned it." He lifted his head to gauge McPike's response.

Frank's blank look revealed the level of his shock. "How many millions do you have?" he asked finally, dazed.

"Billions, Frank," Roger corrected. "Conservatively, over two, if you calculate my net worth. Over a billion of it is reasonably liquid, and the rest can become liquid in a pinch." He watched the diminutive Regional Director go white.

"How do you get from a hundred million to two billion?" Frank asked disbelievingly.

"It's a lot easier than it sounds," Roger said, humor crinkling his eyes. "Anyone with half a brain and enough seed capital can do the same. There's a fair amount of truth in the old adage, it takes money to make money'," he added.

McPike blinked, and Roger correctly interpreted the stunned expression as surprised respect.

"I have advisors I trust," Lococco said into the silence. "They can set up an off-shore corporation we can use to finance the operation."

"No. The only way the Department of Justice is likely to go for something like this is if we treat it as confiscated evidence left over from the Profitt investigation that finally turned up. I don't want it linked to you directly. It'll focus a spotlight on you we'd do better to avoid, especially if the Company is still looking to ‘dephysicalize' you," McPike said. "It will look like one hell of a coincidence, but that's still better than a private citizen putting together the funding for an undercover operation of this magnitude." He met Lococco's gaze, seeing the surprise and the gratitude there. "The trick is going to be to get Beckstead onboard. He is not going to like this in the least."

"That's something I'll leave to you," Roger told him. "I don't tend to make a good first impression. Especially with authority figures," he pointed out dryly.

McPike snorted, nodding. "That's for sure," he agreed.

Lococco looked at his watch. "I'm gonna check on Vince," he said and rose to his feet.

~*~

McPike pondered the bizarre turn of events that had conspired to put Vince Terranova within a hairsbreadth of a dominant position in the New York Mob. Despite everything McPike and others had done to stave this off, the fates were conspiring against them. Now, suddenly, a guardian angel in the unlikely guise of Roger Lococco had materialized with handfuls of cash and enough of both common and uncommon sense to act as advisor, friend, protector and emotional touchstone to Terranova. Lococco's presence shifted the balance from the impossible to the possible.

He was under no illusions concerning how intensely dangerous the operation would be if they went forward with it, but it was no longer a suicide mission. In some part of his mind, he acknowledged that Lococco was growing on him. Reflexive dislike, and even, initially, fear, had given way slowly over the years. First to tolerance, now to something close to friendship. If the mission went forward, Lococco would become the first line of communication with Vince. Terranova's profile would be far too high to risk a face to face meeting with anyone identifiable with law enforcement. Clearly, he would have to have a partner who had the freedom of movement to come and go without worrying about constant surveillance. The biggest unknown at this point was Tracy Steelgrave. How - or even if - she fit into the picture had yet to be determined.


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