Jan. 301st-Feb. 1st
Rudolpho Aiuppo was lingering over a second cup of coffee when his private number rang. He answered immediately, expression lightening when he heard Vince's terse greeting. "Vincenzo, are you alright?" he asked, concerned. "There are rumors that Castellano's blade man got to you."
"Yeah, well for once the rumors are true. I've been holed up, getting stitched back together. Capuzi wanted proof that your boys were going behind his back. I'd say a knife in the ribs qualifies." Vince's voice was rough, and Rudy did not like the sound of the cough that interrupted his statement halfway through. "I need you to contact him and set up a meet. Neutral territory. I'm not coming alone."
"Who are you bringing with you?" Rudy inquired warily.
"Lococco and one of Castellano's accountants. He's got a line on a second set of books that would put a whole different light on your current Brooklyn management," Vince replied. "I'm not walking into this without protection, this time. One shot at me is all I'm willing to give your guys, so clear it with Capuzi. And tell him I've got Greco's off-shore account number. I'm still working on getting the details, though."
"I heard Tony ran out of luck last night. Was that your doing?"
"No. Castellano's guy did the honors. We just extracted the pertinent information." Vince denied.
"Very well, my boy. I will talk to Chero. Where do I reach you when I have his answer?"
"Use the cell number. I'll leave it on."
Vince tossed the cell phone to Roger. "Rudy'll call us when he knows when and where," he told Lococco, then coughed raggedly. He ran hands through his sweat-matted hair with a grimace. "If we're gonna be paying social calls, I'd better get cleaned up."
Roger frowned. "You sure you're up to a shower?" he asked doubtfully.
"Get me on my feet. I'll be alright," Vince said, and proceeded to try to stand. Roger helped him to his feet, steadying him.
"So let's see you walk, Buckwheat," he said grimly.
Vince managed less than a dozen steps before his knees began to buckle. Roger caught him before he fell and slung Vinnie's arm over his shoulder once again. "Come on, let's get you hosed off. I can change your dressing when we're through," he said, helping Terranova into the bathroom. He sat him on the john while he turned on the water and stripped. He caught the odd look on Vince's face as he realized that Roger had every intention of getting into the shower with him. "There's too many opportunities for you to knock yourself silly on the plumbing," he said evenly.
"I was six and I had the chicken pox the last time somebody gave me a bath," Vince said unhappily.
"Come on, tough guy. I promise not to get soap in your eyes," Roger said, hauling him to his feet and steering him under the hot water. He leaned Terranova against the tile wall and moved the shower head to direct the flow over Vinnie's head and body.
"This is humiliating," Vince muttered, water dripping off his aquiline nose and slicking his heavy, dark hair to his head.
"Maybe so, Buckwheat, but think how humiliating it would be to show up smelling like you just went eight rounds with a water buffalo and covered in yesterday's dried blood," was Roger's reply as he soaped Vince down and rinsed him off. "You're gonna have to work on your sense of style. There are some things considered unacceptable in polite company."
"So fresh blood's okay?" Vince inquired archly, amused in spite of himself, letting Lococco work shampoo into his hair.
"Not with me, it's not," Roger retorted. "You're gonna run outta suits if you keep bleeding all over them. If I have to keep shelling out for clothes for you at this rate, I may just make a dent in my ready cash a whole lot faster than I'd planned."
"Cheapskate," Vince accused, and began coughing again. This time the spasm was longer and he let Lococco steady him. It was several seconds before he could straighten. Roger didn’t hide his concern.
"I'm alright," Vince said, harshly.
"Yeah, right," Roger snapped back, not buying it. "If we weren't holding a pat hand, I'd be seriously considering knocking you out, putting you on the Lear and heading for a nice little hospital somewhere Castellano's boys would never find you."
They stood, glaring at each other, for long seconds, neither of them willing to back down. Finally, Roger broke the stalemate, his smile reaching his eyes. "You are the stubbornnest damned bastard," he told Vince, and knocked the shower spray so that it fell full-force over Vinnie's head.
Vince sputtered and closed his eyes to keep the soap out of them.
When Lococco was satisfied with his handiwork, he turned off the water and got Vince out of the shower, toweling him off as gently as he could before tackling his own dripping body and wrapping towels around both their waists.
He helped Terranova back into the bedroom and sat him on the edge of the bed, then went to retrieve the bandaging supplies DeSilva had left for him. He laid out what he would need, ensuring that the gauze pads were well-coated with ointment, and tore off lengths of bandage tape, sticking them to the footboard of the bed. Carefully, he removed the sodden bandages from Vince's chest, dumping the blood-stained gauze to the floor. He removed the pads covering the wounds and the needle aspiration site one at the time, quickly replacing them with the fresh dressings, then taped them into place.
"You'd better not lie back down," he told Vince. "You're gonna have to be mobile in a few hours." He collected briefs and Vinnie's sweats, handing them to him. "Let's see if you can handle getting some clothes on," he suggested. He watched, ready to intervene if necessary, letting Terranova discover for himself what range of motion was comfortable. Roger let him struggle with dressing, knowing his help was not likely to be appreciated.
Finally, Vince stood beside his bed, in sweats, bare-chested and barefoot, swaying slightly with the effort, but remaining upright. "You'll do," Lococco nodded. "Com'mon, let's get you into the other room," he added, letting Vince take hold of his shoulder and walking him out to the sitting room. "I'm gonna give you one of DeSilva's jump-starters," Roger told him. "You're gonna need the energy. Limping into that meeting is not gonna be the sort of entrance that's gonna gain you any respect."
Vince's wryly quirked eyebrow spoke of his agreement with Lococco's terse assessment of his unpromising condition. "Just make sure you time it so's I'm not coming down off the stuff till after we're done," he made Roger promise.
Roger nodded, glancing at the VCR clock. It was nearly eight a.m. He retrieved Vinnie's cell phone from the bedroom and handed it to him. "I'm gonna get cleaned up myself," he told Terranova. "You got everything you need?"
Vince nodded, waving the TV remote with a flourish. "Think I'll see if Greco made the morning news," he said to Lococco's retreating back, and turned on the TV.
Roger, having finished his own grooming, opened Terranova's closet and considered the two suits hanging there. He decided on the conservatively elegant silk one. Its price tag would be obvious to everyone at the meeting that morning, declaring Vince a man of independent means. He rounded up all the sundry accessories necessary to a successful businessman and lay them out on Vinnie's bed. He walked into the sitting room with one of the amphetamines, the antibiotics and a glass of water, handing them to Vince. "If you react to this stuff like I did, it'll kick in in about twenty minutes, and you'll be flying till at least three this afternoon."
Vince swallowed the pills obediently, downing the entire glass of water. "Thanks. That should be long enough," he told Roger. "Rudy called. Capuzi's not too happy about the extra guests at his little party, but he went along when Aiuppo told him who was coming and why. The meet's set for one thirty, at this old packing plant Capuzi's got on the East side."
"Aiuppo's lieutenants gonna be there?" Roger asked, his tone making it clear that if they did make an appearance, they would not likely be leaving under their own power.
"Dunno," Vince's reply was unconcerned. "If they do show up, though, they're not gonna leave happy."
"Not if I have anything to say about it, anyway," Roger confirmed. "It's quarter after ten, now. Let me know when you start feeling the rush, and I'll help you get dressed."
"And let's try to keep the bleeding to a minimum, okay?" Roger said, as he snugged the burgundy silk tie around Terranova's neck. "Ready to go impress the riff-raff?" he asked, stepping back. Vince was definitely looking better. The drugs had returned something near normal color to his face and his eyes were clear, though pain was etched in the lines around them. He was even standing and moving on his own with more assurance than he had two hours before. It was clear that discomfort road the broad shoulders, but he did not have the look of a man incapacitated by his injuries. Considering the way he'd looked less than twenty hours ago, it was nothing short of miraculous.
"I'm gonna start wondering about your homophobic act if you don't stop looking at me like that," Vince teased him, flushing under Lococco's appraising gaze. He was rewarded, unexpectedly, by Roger's laugh.
"You're just not my type, sweetheart. Not enough X chromosomes." Roger replied.
Vince answered this with a laugh of his own. "Just so's you aren't suddenly confused by which end of the gene pool you're swimming in, Buckwheat," he told his friend, pleased that Roger could laugh at something that would have sent him into a surly retreat ten years before.
"Let's go meet McPike," Roger said, handing Vince a new dark silvery-gray camelhair greatcoat.
Vince nodded, and to Roger's satisfaction, took the coat and walked slowly but steadily for the door of the suite. He paused at the door, looking back at Lococco, who was checking the contents of his own coat pockets.
"Gimme a sec," Lococco said and disappeared into his room for a moment, returning, donning his gloves as he joined Vince at the door. He glanced back at the suite, shaking his head. "I think I'm gonna be hearing from the management about the mess," he told Vince, ruefully.
"Just leave a few hundreds in an ash tray, Rog. Housekeeping isn't gonna make trouble for a heavy tipper, no matter how big the mess is. I didn't work Sonny's hotel and casino for nothing. You got money - use it." Vince reminded him ironically.
Roger cocked an amused eyebrow and fished out his money clip, peeling off an uncounted wad of hundreds and returned to the sitting room only long enough to place the cash under the ashtray on the coffee table. "I knew there was a reason I kept you around. You are showing signs of becoming very helpful," Roger said, quoting himself from a point early in their acquaintance as Mel Profitt's toadies.
Vince caught the allusion and grinned. "Gee, thanks, Roger,'" he answered as he had ten years before, though humor colored the cynicism in his voice, now.
Companionably, they departed the hotel and headed for their first meeting of the morning, with Frank McPike and Mario Carlucci.
up with McPike an hour later, in a deserted office on the seventh floor of a
condemned building. The man with him, a soft-bodied and prematurely balding
number-cruncher of about thirty five, eyed the pair of expensively clad,
dangerous-looking men who emerged from the dilapidated elevator with wary
curiosity. So this is what the OCB's most successful operative looked like, he
thought to himself.
Frank performed the introductions, his presentation of Lococco as Vinnie's partner raising an eyebrow. "I didn't know the Bureau assigned agents in pairs," Mario Carlucci said in surprise.
McPike grimaced. "Technically, they don't," he admitted. "But we have an unprecedented situation here. Aiuppo and Capuzi are looking to recruit Vince for a management role in Brooklyn, if he can give them enough on Brod and Castellano. If he's under that deep, I want a safety net in place. That's Roger's job."
Carlucci's eyes widened in shock. "No wonder you wanted to shore up his cover!" he swallowed hard. The paper trails he spent his days following were far, indeed, from the violence these men had - and would - face in their careers. "You know," he told Terranova, "they used the technique you developed to penetrate Steelgrave's operation as a training exercise when I was coming up."
Vince was startled. "I didn't develop anything. I used a mutual interest to give myself a point of contact ‘cuz I didn't want to do it the long way, working my way up from the bottom -" he jerked his head at Frank "- and my field supervisor made it pretty clear what he thought about that at the time," he stated bluntly. "I was in too big a hurry and only the fact that I was one lucky son of a bitch kept me from getting myself killed."
Carlucci grinned suddenly. It was clear Terranova had no idea that his anonymous exploits had become Bureau legend. In Terranova's position, he'd probably rather not know, either. "Have it your way," he replied, catching the amusement crinkling the corners of Lococco's eyes.
"Gentlemen," McPike interrupted impatiently. "We have an act to get together, and damned quick. You have an appointment to keep in slightly over an hour."
"Alright, alright, Frank. What did you get on Greco's account?" Vince asked.
In answer, McPike handed over the sheaf of papers he held. "Looks like the Winfield deal was not the only one he cut himself in on," Frank said. "There's almost half a million in that account. I put all the stuff you could reasonably be expected to get access to in the folder on top. The rest of that you'd better keep to yourself. It has federal weight stamped all over it."
Vince nodded, and handed the papers to Lococco. "What about the Brooklyn books?" he turned to Carlucci.
"No hard copy, but I was able to hack into Brandon's pet accountant's computer. He's definitely keeping an extra set of books. I couldn't access them without tripping alarms and blowing my cover. But I can show Don Aiuppo's number-guy how to get to the records. That do you any good?"
"Maybe," Vince said slowly. "I won't know until I have a feel for how much Rudy and Capuzi already know, and how badly they want to rein the punks in."
Carlucci nodded. "Just so the guns stay holstered," he muttered to himself.
"You don't have to get involved," McPike told him, firmly.
"It's just been a while since I went through the weapons training course," he admitted. "About the most physical action I see in my cover is the ‘percussive maintenance' I practice on the piece-of-shit computer I work on."
Terranova stifled a grin. "We'll try to keep it civilized," he assured the accountant. "You carrying?"
"Are you nuts? My cover is as a desk-jockey, not a soldier. I show up for a tete á tete with a coupla goombas who don't know me from the corner grocer carrying heat and I'll wind up as a paper-weight." Carlucci said emphatically.
Vince nodded, approvingly. "Leave the violence to the professionals," he said dryly. "If it gets ugly, find yourself some cover and stay there."
"Happily," Carlucci agreed.
men piled into the black Cadillac sedan Roger had rented for the expedition,
Roger at the wheel. Carlucci noticed the stiffness with which Terranova got
into the car, and cast a glance of inquiry at the dark-haired agent.
"Castellano got in a lucky shot twenty four hours ago. I took a knife in the ribs."
Carlucci blinked. "You've been stabbed? Why aren't you in a hospital?"
"Cause Brod and Castellano probably have them all staked out, waiting for me to turn up so they could move me from a room to the morgue," Vince replied, grimly. "It's thanks to Rog and some little white pills I'm on my feet at all," he elaborated, giving credit where credit was due.
"You play hardball, Terranova," Carlucci exhaled noisily.
"They don't call ‘em the major leagues for nothing," Vinnie agreed, leaning slowly back against the leather upholstery, coughing as he pressed an arm hard against his ribs.
Roger slowed the Caddy to a crawl, doing a preliminary drive-by of the warehouse Vince had given him directions to. Three large sedans and a limousine were visible in and around the wide-open freight doors. Lococco circled the block and pulled into the loading dock, ensuring that the car was not likely to be blocked into its parking space, should they need to leave in a hurry. He got out and opened the back door for Terranova, subtly assisting him out of the vehicle.
The three of them made their way to the freight doors, halted a step inside by two of Capuzi's personal guard.
"Where's Don Capuzi?" Vince asked with cool disinterest, casting a glance around the warehouse. Meat hooks on their sliding track looped back and forth across the interior space, forming an odd sort of visual curtain. At least they were empty, Vince thought. The absence of carcasses lent a false sense of security, but the visual symbolism of the bloody remains of slaughtered animals was something he could do without.
"Waitin' on you, wiseguy," the hired muscle snapped. "Search ‘em," he directed his assistant, and was instantly obeyed.
Roger had worn the H&K in its shoulder holster, as unconcealed as a concealed weapon was likely to get. The stiletto in its wrist sheath, the snub-nosed revolver in its ankle holster and several handfuls of ball bearings distributed through various pockets that would hopefully be overlooked in favor of the obvious. He was relieved of the pistol in short order, and the three-quarter inch bearings in his trouser pockets prompted a more familiar contact than he had counted on as the searcher thrust a hand into the pocket and seized a handful. Roger tensed at the touch, eyes flashing.
"What the hell?" The lackey muttered, examining the steel orbs in bemusement. "Ball bearings?" he shot a look at the muscle covering Vince.
Vince shrugged. "Once a mechanic, always a mechanic"
The man whose machine pistol hovered a bare two feet from Vinnie's chest snorted. "You can take the grease off the monkey but he's still an ape," he said disparagingly to Lococco's expressionless face.
"Your tailor must love you," the second thug commented, moving on to Carlucci.
"Who's he?" the gun-wielding one asked Vince of Carlucci.
"My accountant," Vince answered in the same surly tone in which the question had been asked.
"Your accountant. You just don't got any idea how deep the shit you're in is, do you, smart-mouth?"
Vince glared at him, unblinkingly, not bothering with a reply.
"Give the monkey back his balls," the man told his associate, dismissively.
Roger took the bearings, letting them roll in his palm before dropping them back into an overcoat pocket. He met Vinnie's eyes, and Vince quickly suppressed shiver at the expression he saw in Lococco's gaze. Roger fell into step on Vince's heels, both hands in his coat pockets as they followed the second thug into the plant through the maze of hooks and chains.
Capuzi and three of his household guard were waiting in a clear area near the meat lockers. The pair of rusting forklifts parked randomly at the edges of the space gave it a look of tired abandonment. The Don looked up at Vince's entrance, glancing appraisingly at his companions. "Where is your stepfather?" he asked.
Vince frowned. "He's not here?"
"No," Capuzi answered. "I thought he would be coming with you."
Vince shook his head, negatively. "When I talked to him this morning, he said he'd see me here." He didn't bother to conceal his worry as he pulled his phone out of his greatcoat pocket and dialed Aiuppo's number. It rang, unanswered, for long minutes. Vinnie caught Roger's eye, seeing the furrowed brow and the narrowed eyes that signified Lococco's awareness of trouble. "I don't like this," he said, finally hanging up and shoving the phone back in a pocket. He turned to Capuzi. "With respect, Don Capuzi, I think Rudy may be in trouble. Brod and Castellano have been planning a coup - that's what Carlucci is here to prove - and they may be gunning for him. I need to find him. Now. Before they can get to him, if it's not already too late."
Capuzi scowled. "You're sure of this?" he asked, anger coloring his voice.
"Oh, yeah," Vince assured him. "About as sure as a knife in the ribs can make me. They're gunning for both of us, and have been since Sunday when you gave me seventy two hours to get the goods on Greco. Well, I've got what you wanted, and Greco is in the morgue courtesy of Castellano's prima facci. I don't want Rudy to end up being his slab-mate."
Capuzi turned to his lieutenant. "Take Richie and Al and go with Vincenzo to Don Aiuppo's. Find him. Bring him to me. And if you find Brandon or Michael, bring them, too." He faced Vince again. "You say you have proof Tony was a thief?"
Vince reached into his overcoat, slowly withdrawing the sheaf of papers McPike had given him. He handed it to the Don's lieutenant, who reached for it, and eased the pinkie ring off his finger. "The account number is engraved on the inside of the band," he told them, tossing it to Capuzi, who caught it cleanly out of the air, eyeing Terranova speculatively. "There's over a half million in that account," he said. "The Winfield deal wasn't the first one he'd skimmed."
Capuzi slid the ring onto his own finger after checking it quickly for the number there. He nodded at Vince. "Go. Find Rudy. Join me at my home. It seems you, your stepfather and I have business to discuss."
Vince nodded sharply and turned to Carlucci. "Mario, stay with Don Capuzi. Show his numbers man what you showed me," he ordered, ignoring the flash of panic in the man's eyes. Vinnie glanced at Capuzi, continuing. "Mario thinks he's tracked down a second set of books Castellano's guy's been keeping on the extra take they've been hauling outta Brooklyn. If you're planning on shutting them down, you're gonna want proof, or some of the other families may start screaming."
Capuzi nodded, beckoning to Carlucci, who gulped and stepped to the Don's side. Capuzi's lieutenant strode toward the front of the warehouse, Vince and Lococco right behind him. With a sharp command, the man called two more of Capuzi's men to heel, and the small group swept out of the packing plant, heading for the cars as Capuzi's man made cursory introductions. "I'm Cal McLean and these two bozos are Richie Donatello and Al Toscano." He handed Roger back his H&K.
"Vince Terranova, and my partner, Roger Lococco," Vince said, shaking the offered hands as they hurried toward the cars. "You know where Rudy's house is?"
McLean nodded, getting into the driver's seat of the Lincoln parked beside Roger's Cadillac. Vince got into the passenger seat as Roger climbed behind the wheel.
"You think the Bobbsey twins got to Rudy?" Roger asked grimly as he put the car in gear and roared out into traffic, heading for the main cross-town artery that would take them back to Brooklyn, McLean and the rest of Capuzi's boys on their bumper.
"If they did, and if they got into my laptop, they may know about Tracy. They make Rudy give her up and they've got leverage on me, and they'll know that. They aren't gonna be shy about using her, either," Vince replied, equally grimly.
They screeched to a stop at the curb in front of Aiuppo's house and clambered out of the vehicles, drawing guns and stalking up to the front door. It stood ajar, that simple fact sending a frission of fear down Vinnie's spine as Roger took point, sticking his head rapidly inside the door and glancing around.
A body lay sprawled on the foyer floor, blood pooled around it on the parquet marble. Lococco, gun at the ready, slipped inside, peering sharply into the rooms that opened off the entry hall. Empty. He waved the rest of the men in behind him, and they entered, cautiously, slipping along walls, poised on the balls of their feet. He felt Vince at his back, the .357 held muzzle-up as Terranova scanned the front of the house for signs of life. Every instinct he had told Roger that whatever had happened, it was over, the perpetrators long since gone. Still, he was beginning to realize that it paid to play it safe when dealing with a pair of loose cannons like Castellano and Brod. Lococco waved Cal and his men up the stairs and he and Vince made their way toward Rudy's library.
The library seemed to be the epicenter of whatever had happened. The big wingbacks had been over-turned and the massive library desk had been swept clear of its burdens, the crystal decanters splintered on the hardwood. It was Roger who saw him first. "Vince!" he said sharply, getting Terranova's attention. Vinnie joined him, kneeling beside the man who lay panting on the floor between the fallen chairs.
"Lou!" he exclaimed, recognizing Louis Falcone, his stepfather's favorite young wiseguy. "What the hell happened here?"
"Vinnie, they took the Don," the voice was a bare whisper, and blood began a slow trickle from the corner of his mouth as he peered up at Vince. "They musta had a guy on me, ‘cuz I spotted the tail on my way here from the hotel," he continued haltingly. "I'm sorry, man, I led ‘em right to her."
"Roger, get an ambulance," Vince ordered, eyes never leaving Lou's face. "You mean Brod and Castellano?" he asked, knowing the answer.
The younger man nodded feebly. "Some of their guys. They left me here to tell you where to find ‘em."
Vince fought the urge to shake the man. "Where the hell did you and the old man stash Tracy?" he demanded, biting back his fear. His pulse a dull roaring in his ears, he had to strain for Lou's reply.
"The Wessex Hotel, downtown," came the barely audible answer. “Suite nineteen thirty two."
"Alright, hang in there, kid," he said, straightening the sprawled limbs and propping Falcone's head on the backrest of the chair that had fallen beside him. Vince tugged open Lou's suit coat and shirt, looking for the source of the blood that slicked his chest. The man had taken a round point-blank to the upper abdomen and Vince knew a bad wound when he saw it. "How long ago'd they hit you? How much of a lead do they have?"
"Fifteen, maybe twenty minutes," Falcone whispered. He stared up into Vince's eyes. "I'm sorry, Vince. She's a lady."
"That she is," Vince agreed. Behind him, he could hear Lococco's urgent tones as he spoke to the emergency operator. "I expect you to apologize to her when this is over."
"You got it, Vinnie," Falcone sighed, eyes drooping closed.
Vince felt for a pulse. It was there, though weak. He closed his own eyes for a split second, then rose to his feet painfully. "Roger, we've got a twenty minute lead to cut down," he told Lococco as Roger finished up his conversation with the emergency operator. "Rudy's been snatched and Castellano's guys are taking him downtown to the hotel where he's got Tracy."
Roger digested this unhappily. "Midday traffic is bad enough, but we're coming up on the beginning of rush hour," he observed, checking his watch. "We're never gonna catch them."
"Not with you driving," Vince agreed grimly. "You don't know the city well enough."
"You're not up to it, so don't even think about it," Roger rebuked him. "We can get one of Capuzi's guys to chauffeur us." Without waiting for Vinnie's response, Lococco headed back to the staircase, calling for McLean.
It was Donatello, by the ready consensus of his fellows, who drove them. Roger braced both himself and Terranova as they went rocketing through traffic at a breakneck pace, barely avoiding multiple collisions and pedestrians. McLean and Toscano, in the second car, clung, limpet-like to their bumper as they streaked across town. Even Donatello could not circumvent the increasingly heavy traffic of the heart of the city, however. Their progress was slowed to a crawl by the congestion.
Vince struggled to keep from fidgeting, from uttering aloud the stream of invective that ran through his brain. He felt Lococco watching him and it was all he could do not to take his mood out on him. Anxiety had given way to out-and-out fear by now, and the inability to take any sort of action only amplified it.