Lococco checked Vinnie's pulse at the throat, then picked up one of the syringes DeSilva had left for him, uncapped it and drew up the next dosage of morphine.
"Don't give me any more of that stuff," Vince said hoarsely, awaked by Lococco's presence at his side. "It makes me sick."
"Doctors orders, Buckwheat," Roger told him. "There are junkies in alleyways all over New York who'd kill for a taste of this stuff. So take your medicine like a good boy."
"Next time, give it to them," Vince gritted his teeth against the sting of the drug as it entered his vein. It took less than ninety seconds before he could feel its blurring effects on his thoughts, as well as on the dully throbbing pain under his ribs. He fought the vertigo that swept him, choking back the accompanying nausea. "What did McPike come up with on the funny-business in Brooklyn? Anything we can use?"
Roger paused in his examination of the I.V. bags to peer at Vince with an odd expression. "We've been a little preoccupied," he confessed. "I forgot to ask him, and he forgot to say."
Vince's forehead furrowed. "Well it's kind of important, Rog," he pointed out.
"Which should give you an idea how preoccupied we were. Don't sweat it, Vince. I'll talk to him in a minute," Roger reassured him, finishing up his quick examination of the I.V. hook-ups.
"He's still here?" Vince could not conceal his surprise.
"Yeah. Someone has to keep an eye on you while I go out tonight and try to bag our weasel," Roger reminded him. "Want me to send him in?"
Vince nodded woozily. "Yeah. I'll ask him myself."
"Well, alright, be that way," Roger grinned at him, as he turned on his heel.
Vince could hear his: "Frank, he's awake and wanting to know what you were able to dig up on Brod and Castellano today," Lococco announced as he walked into the sittingroom.
McPike replied with audible annoyance: "I have a mind like a sieve," he snapped. "Come on, you'd better hear this, too," he told Roger. A second later, both men appeared in the doorway, Frank pushing ahead to stand beside Vinnie’s bed. Roger followed him in.
"Hey, Frank," Vince smiled faintly at them. "So what did you come up with?"
"Well, there's good news and bad news," McPike began.
"Start with the bad," Lococco told him, impatiently, propping a hip against the night stand and crossing his arms over his chest.
"My field agent inside has no hard evidence. At least none that he can lay hands on."
"What's the good news?" Vince inquired, groggily.
"It's starting to look like there may be a paper trail. He's caught wind of a second set of books that Castellano's chief accountant has stashed somewhere," Frank told them.
"Rumors we've already got," Lococco reminded McPike, cynically. "This isn't going to be much help with Capuzi tomorrow."
"I'm not finished," McPike snapped back at him, and returned his attention to Vince. "Carlucci is willing to go into the meeting with you, as your informant inside Brooklyn. I've got Lifeguard setting up enough documentation of bad debt, held by you, to make it plausible. He's put together a nice little dossier on the bank manager you supposedly paid off to frame Greco, too. It'll hold up even in court. He's been real careful to make it as seamless as possible."
"This guy, Carlucci, is willing to risk his cover to back me up?" Vince asked, startled. "You sure he knows how big a risk it is?"
"He knows. It was his suggestion. When he found out that the famous Vinnie Terranova, Sonny Steelgrave's former right hand, was actually an agent, he was falling all over himself to help."
"You blew my cover?" Vince asked incredulously.
"He'd already guessed," McPike defended himself. "Rumors about Greco's testimony are pretty widespread. So when Beckstead told him he had the chance to help a ten-year veteran field agent maintain the OCB's most productive cover on record, he put the pieces together, and put your name on them."
Vince sighed. "Maybe I should just take out an ad in the Times," he said resignedly. "Vince Terranova, Federal Agent."
"Then there won't have been much point to having DeSilva patch you up," Lococco teased. "Your reputation apparently precedes you, Buckwheat."
Roger had filled two spare syringes, one with morphine, the other with the Pentathol, and wrapped a piece of bandaging tape around the one with the morphine. He capped them and took them with him, leaving Frank to watch over the patient, and had gone to bed to get whatever sleep he could before he embarked on his attempt to reach Greco. When he woke, it was to the sound of a soft knock on his door. "Yeah," he called.
McPike stuck his head in. "It's after midnight," he told Lococco. You wanted me to wake you up if you weren't up by now," he reminded the former assassin.
"Thanks," Roger replied, feeling as though he had been hit by a bus. He lay in the dark for several minutes before rising, then stripped and headed for the shower, ignoring McPike's worried frown as he left his room.
He stood under the scalding spray until some semblance of normality penetrated the fog of exhaustion. Much as he disliked admitting it, he was starting to feel his age. There had been a time when he had been known to go three days without sleep and then complete one of Mel's wet assignments and go on to make love to the first convenient and willing female. At the moment, he doubted his ability to rise to any of those occasions. He was going to have to resort to one of DeSilva's feel-goodies, or he wasn't going to make it downstairs, much less across town.
Rinsing off the last of the soap, he got out and dried himself off, wrapping the towel around his waist, and returned to the sitting room. McPike was nowhere to be seen, so he stuck his head into Vinnie's room.
McPike looked up as Roger appeared in the doorway. "You still look like hell," he said bluntly to the weariness that lined Lococco's face.
"Thanks. I still feel like it, too. Toss me the speed DeSilva left," he requested, and caught the little ziplock bag out of the air, opening it and swallowing one of the little tablets dry. "How's our patient?" he asked.
"Asleep again," McPike replied.
"You up to giving him his antibiotics?" Roger inquired. "He's gonna need more morphine in about an hour, too."
Frank nodded. "I was in the room when DeSilva showed you what to do," he answered, the usual cynicism clear in his voice.
"Glad to hear it," Roger shuddered. "I've never been big on needles." He turned and headed back to his room to dress in the jeans and T-shirt he'd worn the night previously. By the time he was ready to leave, the amphetamines were starting to kick in. DeSilva had been right. They were considerably stronger than the ones he'd taken the day before, though he wasn't sure he didn't prefer the irritability induced by old ones to the euphoria the new ones triggered. If he wasn't very careful, he would find himself cutting corners and taking risks without even being aware of it. He checked his weaponry, ensuring that the wrist sheath was working properly, then wrapped a garrote around the other arm, putting on his raincoat. The pistol stayed where it was, hung in its holster over the back of a chair, and the two capped syringes went into a coat pocket. For this job, he would have to rely on cunning, not force of arms. He stuck his head back into Terranova's room. "See you around, Frank. Don't let him pull anything stupid."
"Watch yourself, Lococco," McPike replied. "You have my number?"
Roger nodded. "Yeah."
"Use it if you get into a jam," Frank told him.
Lococco nodded and headed for the door to the hallway, pondering the circumstances that had turned McPike from enemy to ally. Before tonight, he would never have imagined that the OCB Regional Director would have been doing anything but cheering on anyone who looked able to put Roger on ice permanently. No love had ever been lost between them. If he wasn't careful, Roger thought, he was at serious risk of developing a soft spot for the irascible little FBI agent.
Roger eyed the sleeping mobster coldly, noting that the fire alarms wailing in the background hadn’t disturbed the man’s medicated sleep. So this was what weasel looked like, up close and personal. The sight was far from impressive. Tony Greco lay on his back, upper legs swathed in heavy gauze dressings, the left one immobilized by a steel armature that appeared to be holding surgical steel pins in place along a six inch length of the upper thigh. Lococco could not muster much regret that his shot had shattered bone. It wouldn't matter in the long run. Or even the short one. Tony Greco had reached the end of the line. Any hesitation he felt in killing the man was readily overcome at the memory of Terranova's bloody body in his arms that afternoon.
Roger found the injection port in Greco's I.V. line and began injecting the Pentathol into it. Nice trick, he thought. He would have to thank DeSilva for that little tip. Greco stirred as the drug hit his system, and Roger turned on the bedside lamp. The gangster's eyes opened and Lococco could already see the wooziness in them. "Evening, Mr. Greco. I believe you have some information a friend of mine needs. Are you up to discussing it?"
"Fuck you," came the slurred response, and Roger eased a little more of the Pentathol into the I.V. line.
"Sorry you feel that way. You are going to discuss it, though. Tell me where you stashed the money from Steelgrave's dock operations." Roger's voice had gone cold.
"Fuck you," was the reiteration. "Tell Terranova he can go to hell."
"Well in that case, he'll be seeing you there, Buckwheat." Roger pushed another three cc's into the line and waited. He had used this drug before, in Mel's employ. It was generally reliable, though individual tolerance to it varied. Greco appeared to have a greater than normal head for the stuff. "What's your name?" he asked.
He watched Greco grit his teeth against the drugged loquacity that the Pentathol produced. A little more of the drug followed. "Your name."
"Greco," was the reply. Lococco could see that he was still fighting it, but the drug was finally overcoming conscious will.
"Where is the money?"
"The Caymans." Greco surrendered at last.
"Which bank?" It was obvious Roger was going to have to ask every question explicitly. Greco was resisting the drug enough not to volunteer anything.
"Cayman National Bank."
"What's the account number?"
"Ring," came the obtuse response.
"What?" Roger muttered to himself. This was by far the most idiosyncratic reaction to Pentathol he'd encountered. "Ring? What does that mean?"
"In the ring. Account number's in the ring."
Lococco hesitated over this for a split second, brow furrowed. Then his amphetamine-spiked system caught the sound of a hand at the door of Greco's room. With the speed of a striking snake, he had the light shut off, the syringe withdrawn and was wedged behind the open bathroom door in the darkness, listening to the stealthy opening of the door of the hospital room. The bedside light came on again and Roger peered through the crack between the doorjamb and the door, trying to catch a glimpse of what was going on.
He could see Greco from the knees down, his torso obscured by the man who stood at his bedside. Greco, drugged, was incapable of mounting an effective resistance as a pillow was placed over his nose and mouth, and held there through the wild thrashings of his death throes. It was during Greco's last fitful movements that Lococco realized what the man had meant by ring'. The gold and diamond pinky ring on his right hand flashed in the light and Roger grinned.
Lococco bided his time while the assassin made sure he'd finished the job and finally crept back out of the room as quietly as he'd entered it. The fire Roger had set on the floor below had apparently provided an opportunity for more than just himself, he thought, removing the ring from the lifeless hand and slipping it onto his own finger, pausing just long enough to confirm the numbers engraved along the inside of the band. He peered cautiously through the door he'd cracked open and slipped out, hands sliding into the lab coat he'd appropriated from the hospital laundry, thankful that he'd swiped a set of scrubs while he was at it. The night staff, abuzz with the unaccustomed excitement, were returning to their posts, and he slipped among them, feeling a bit like a salmon swimming upriver as he moved downstairs, counter to their flow up the stair well. The police officer he'd drugged with the morphine would undoubtedly be found within minutes and he increased his pace, exiting the stairwell three floors down and making for the elevator, his grin never wavering.
It was nearly three a.m. when he got back to the suite, wired out of his mind and not especially minding the amphetamine-induced euphoria, now that he had completed his mission. McPike was dozing in a chair beside Vinnie's bed. Lococco nudged him gently, pushing Greco's ring off his pinky with his thumb. "Hey, Buckwheat, I've got something for you," he said softly as Frank stirred and sat up straight in the chair, rubbing his eyes blearily.
"What time is it?" McPike asked, peering up at Lococco.
"Three on a lovely Tuesday morning," Roger grinned at him, tossing the ring into the air. Reflexively, McPike caught it, turning it in his fingers as he gave it a cursory glance.
"Not exactly my style," he said sarcastically. "Does this mean we're engaged?"
"Look inside the band," Roger prompted.
McPike did as he'd been told, squinting at the engraving. Its significance sank in and he looked up at Roger. "This what I think it is?" he asked, interest clearly piqued.
"Tony Greco's account number at the Cayman National Bank, Grand Cayman Island," Roger confirmed.
"You really are as good as you think you are," Frank said, obviously impressed. "What about Greco?"
"Dead," Roger replied, glancing at McPike to see how that piece of news went down. At the gathering thunder clouds on McPike's face, he held up his hands, placatingly. "Not my doing, Frank. One of Castellano's guys did the honors. The only bodily injury I committed was drugging the poor uniform outside Greco's door and stashing him in a utility closet."
"You didn't stop them, either. That makes you an accessory, Lococco," McPike glowered.
"Stop with the crocodile tears, Frank. Greco was a loose end that needed tying off. I'd have killed him if I'd had to. Vince might not have survived Tony's next performance in front of the Grand Jury. And given the choice between Vince and Greco, I shouldn't have to tell you where my loyalties lie. Look me in the face and tell me you'd have stopped the guy who suffocated Greco, knowing it could mean Vinnie's next ‘family' get-together might be his last." Roger's edgy temper flared at the accusatory look in McPike's eyes.
McPike scowled and looked away, watching the slow rise and fall of Terranova's chest. Roger knew instinctively he would not have intervened in the murder of Tony Greco under the circumstances, either. "The man was a scum-bag," Frank conceded.
"My point, exactly," Roger answered, the grin back, full force. "And you have some digging to do, my friend," he told McPike as he pulled Frank out of his chair and walked him out of Vince's room.
"Where am I going?" McPike asked irritably.
"To put together as much information as possible on that account. Bring anything you get with you when you and Carlucci connect up with us before the council meeting," was Lococco's imperious command. "And we'll need the ring back. It's a beautiful little piece of stage-dressing, don't you think?"
McPike glowered as Roger snatched up the raincoat Frank had arrived with and escorted him to the door.
"Sleep well, sweetheart," Lococco said, stroking the top of Frank's bald head familiarly.
Frank departed the hotel, annoyed enough at the bum's rush he'd just been given to be seriously reconsidering any slack he'd been inclined to cut Lococco, and knowing it had been the drugs in the man's system that had amplified the worst of his annoying habits, condescension. He twisted the gaudy pinky ring around the finger he'd put it on and closed his hand in a fist. Stepping out onto the Waldorf's portico, he hailed the cab that was parked there, getting in. "La Guardia airport," he said. "And make it snappy."
Vinnie woke out of opium dreams, rising to consciousness as might a swimmer surfacing from a dive, with weary effort. The painkillers had worn off, he knew, from the aching stiffness in every muscle, and from the relative clarity of his thoughts. Breathing was distinctly uncomfortable, the drawing of a lung-full of air straining intercostal muscles as though his ribs had been bound. Out of nowhere, a deep, hacking cough rose from his diaphragm and he rolled onto his side, curling around the tearing pain of the knife wounds as the sutures were stretched.
The coughing subsided, leaving him sucking air through clenched teeth as he waited for the agony to ease. As his focus widened from the pain in his chest, he became aware of Lococco slumped in a chair beside the bed, deeply asleep. Even in the dim light from the sitting room, Vince could see the exhaustion in Roger's face, lines and hollows more pronounced than before. The tousled hair and the dark sweep of lashes against his cheek gave him the look of a tired child. There was a disarming defenselessness in the limp sprawl of his body and in the astonishing innocence of his expression in relaxation that made Vince suddenly aware of the absence of the patina of long emotional pain Lococco wore in waking. He wondered what it would take to wipe that pain from his friend's features permanently, wondered if it were even possible.
Roger sighed softly and shifted, losing his blanket in the process. Vince watched him for a moment, but he showed no signs of waking. Vinnie sat up with painful slowness, stifling the cough that came with movement. Left arm pressed tightly against his side, he dropped his feet to the floor and reached down for the blanket. Retrieving it, he draped it back over Lococco one-handed, as gently as he could manage, knowing that Roger would never accept anything resembling tenderness in waking. The scars on his mind and heart were far too deep for the possibility of physical demonstrations of affection. Any attempt would simply trigger his reflexive homophobia. Vince respected those limitations on their friendship, even though it went against his own demonstrative nature. He had come to love this brilliant, irritating, damaged man as he had loved his brother. Unthinkingly. Unquestioningly. Without reservation, despite the horrors of his past deeds. Vince knew how fine the line separating them was. It would have taken very little for him to fall into the same darkness in which Roger had lost his way for so long.
Having discovered that breathing was easier in an upright position, he methodically stacked the pillows against the headboard and leaned against them, resting his head against the wall. He sat in the darkness, breathing carefully, simply watching Lococco sleep. Gradually, he relaxed into a light doze.
Roger could not have said what jarred him out of the state of total unconsciousness he had slipped into, but he came awake with every sense, every nerve engaged, sitting bolt upright in his chair with his heart pounding like a jackhammer. His abrupt movement woke Terranova and the two men stared at each other in the dimness.
"Rog?" Vince asked, "You okay?"
Lococco shivered, leaning back in the chair. "Night terrors," he replied, then straightened again. "You're sitting up."
"It's easier to breathe this way," Vince answered simply.
"So how come I didn't hear you moving?" Lococco's voice was edgy, stressed.
"You were asleep, Rog," Vince said, aware of Roger's distress but unable to understand the reason for it.
Roger rested his forehead on bunched fists. "Hellova bodyguard I turned out to be," he said, self-mockery dripping from every word. "Nothing should move in here that I don't know about!" his voice was fierce as he glared across at Vince.
Vince frowned at Lococco's agitation. "You were sleeping, Roger. That's not a crime. You've been awake most of the past four days, ever since I dumped this load of crap in your lap."
"I wasn't just asleep, Vince, I was fucking unconscious!" Roger rose, pacing the length of Vinnie's bed like some wild animal in a trap. "Don't you get it? Anyone could have walked in here and finished what Castellano started and I wouldn't have noticed a thing until I woke up to find you in a pool of blood with your heart cut out!"
Vince stared at him in worried consternation. "Calm down, Roger. You were exhausted, you were in here with me, you trust me enough to shut your eyes on me and you fell asleep! I know you, Rog. If there was anything or anyone that didn't belong here, you'd have been on your feet with a gun in your hand faster than most people could even sit up."
Roger paused, staring down at Terranova, seeing the worry in his face. He took a deep breath and forced himself to relax. Forced the irrational rush of adrenaline back down, forced himself to think instead of react. "It's gotta be the speed," he muttered. "DeSilva said it would be rocky, coming off." He shivered involuntarily, resuming his pacing, though without its previous agitation. Lococco made the Herculean effort to pull himself together, using the task of checking the I.V. line to focus himself.
Cautiously, Vince put a light hand on Roger's forearm. "You okay, man?" and Lococco froze under his fingers.
Roger exhaled, quelling the urge to jerk away from the touch on his skin. He held still a long moment, making it clear that it was a matter of trust over reflex that held him that way, then nodded sharply, moving away from the comfort of that touch, unable to help himself. He took up the vial of antibiotics and filled a syringe, injecting the medication into the I.V. port. The second bag was nearing empty, he noted, and checked his watch. 5:30 a.m.. Far too late for any morphine administered now to wear off in time for Vince to be at his limited best in time to meet with Capuzi. He swore softly under his breath, thankful that at least he hadn't slept long enough for the bag to empty, sucking a lethal air bubble into Vinnie's veins. "You're going to have to make do with Demerol from here on out. There's no way you'll be coherent in time if I use the morphine now."
Vince did not bother to conceal his relief. "Good. I hate the stuff. I'd rather hurt than feel like my stomach was trying to tie itself in knots around my throat." He shifted his position slightly, and began to cough. "Think I could get up?" he asked, ignoring the anxious furrow in Roger's brow. "I've been on my back for fifteen hours. I need to use the bathroom and I want something to drink."
"Okay, Buckwheat, then I'm going to take the I.V. out. Too much hassle trying to get you and it moving in the same direction at the same time." Roger let himself focus on the task at hand as he untaped the I.V. line from its points of attachment along the inside of Vinnie's right elbow. He found a gauze pad and held it ready over the catheter site, and removed the I.V. cautiously. The single drop of blood was easily handled by the gauze and Roger taped the pad in place. "Put some pressure on that," he told Terranova as he disposed of the bags and lines.
Vince did as ordered, waiting for Roger to help him to his feet.
Roger heaved him upright and Vince stood, swaying as the blood drained out of his skull, leaving him lightheaded. He clutched at Lococco's shoulder, holding it hard, waiting for his vision to clear.
"Just give it a minute," Lococco told him, waiting patiently for Vince to gather his strength. Another bout of coughing wracked Terranova and Roger swore quietly. "DeSilva said you'd be coming down with pneumonia," he said, concerned, pulling Vinnie's arm over his shoulder to better support him. "I guess he was right. Come on, let's get you to the john before you break potty training." The sting of his words was salved by the gentleness he used in guiding Vince across the room and into the bathroom.
Basic needs taken care of, Roger put Vince back to bed and brought him a glass of water and the Demerol, standing by and watching to ensure he took the drug. "You up to anything more solid than pain pills?" he asked.
"You mean food?" Vince inquired. "Yeah, I guess Now that the morphine is wearing off, I'm more hungry than queasy."
"Let's see what we can do about that," Roger replied and picked up the room phone. "Hello, Room Service?"
Twenty minutes later, a vaguely exotic assortment of selections from the Waldorf's kitchens was delivered to their rooms. Roger wheeled the cart into Vinnie's room. "So what'll it be? We have steak and eggs, we have a mushroom omelet, we have fruit salad, juice, coffee — we even have the ubiquitous donut or two."
"Whatever's sweet," was Vince's reply.
"Spoken like a true junkie," Roger ribbed him, then relented at the clouding of Vince's expression. "Kidding, Vince. Kidding," he reassured him.
"Sometimes, I wonder. It'd be real easy, you know, Rog?" Vince looked up at Roger, eyes dark with some old shadow. "To need what the pushers sell."
"Not you, my friend. You don't usually go looking for the easy way out. And I don't see you starting anytime soon." Lococco dismissed this worry out of hand. "Besides, who needs junk? Your current drug of choice is love, Buckwheat." His exaggerated drawl brought a smile flickering around Vince's mouth and Roger grinned. "They tell me it beats the pharmaceutical highs all to hell."
"I'd have to agree with that," Vince smiled, a full wattage grin that lightened his eyes. "Maybe you should give it a try sometime."
"Spoken like a true believer," Roger teased. "I don't think so. I've had enough complications for one lifetime."
Vince's quirked eyebrow spoke volumes as he took the fruit salad that Lococco handed him.
Roger had given Vince first choice from among the dishes he had ordered, and had then proceeded to polish off everything Terranova had rejected. Having gone without food since before Vince's stabbing, he had no qualms about making up for the meals he had missed. The metabolic jumpstart the amphetamines had given him would ensure the calories would be burned off.
"So how'd it go with Greco last night," Vince inquired, having eaten as much as he could handle. He coughed, grimacing at the pull on his stitches.
"Like clockwork," Roger said, letting a certain smugness color his voice. "I got the account number and the name of the bank outta the little weasel and then let one of Castellano's guys fit him for wings. I'd say you've seen the last of Tony Greco, Buckwheat." He stretched like a cat, with a feline aura of self-satisfaction. "I McPike the info and he's gonna pull together everything he can find out about the account and bring it with, when he and Carlucci show up." He checked his watch. "Think you're up to calling Aiuppo and getting him to set up the meet with Capuzi?"
Vince nodded and swallowed the last mouthful of coffee in his cup. "Hand me the cell phone," he requested.