Wiseguy: The Proposal

February 1st-2nd

When they finally reached the Wessex, with its view of Central Park, Vince was crawling out of his skin. There was no way of knowing whether any of Donatello's racetrack moves had bought them any time, he acknowledged as Richie roared into the basement parking garage of the hotel, radials screaming on the concrete of the ramps, all three of them scanning the floors for any movement.

Unbelievably, on the fourth level down, they spotted Brod, Castellano and the half-dozen or so wiseguys that clustered about the elevators, Rudy Aiuppo in their midst. Donatello wrenched the Cadillac out of the curving arc of the ramp and gunned the big car down the aisle straight at them, fishtailing the vehicle so that it swung broadside across the roadway thirty feet from the now madly scrambling hoods, driver's side facing away from the thugs. He and Lococco were out of the vehicle in nanoseconds, guns drawn, elbows steadied on the roof of the car. Behind them, they could hear the shriek of McLean's car as it followed them down the ramps.

Vince, more slowly, got out on the passenger side, not bothering to arm himself. He strode forward, locking eyes with Castellano, who stood calmly, his gun muzzle held firmly against Aiuppo's temple. Beside him, Brod, smiling, held his automatic aimed straight at Vince. "Let the old man go," Vinnie said flatly.

"In your dreams, Terranova," Brod laughed. "Look around you. You are definitely out-gunned." He waved his free hand casually at the six men flanking them, all with weapons in hand, all of them trained on Vince and his small party.

Vince began to speak and was silenced by the earsplitting squeal of McLean's car breaking to a smoking halt beside their Caddy. McLean and Toscano were out, guns in hand, before the air had cleared. "I wouldn't," Calvin McLean said, cocking his gun, the noise loud in the cavernous space. "Not unless you're looking for war with Capuzi," he informed them. "My orders were fairly explicit."

Brod and Castellano exchanged the briefest of glances. "This has nothing to do with Queens. It's an internal matter," Brod stated.

"Not anymore," McLean replied. "When you start ripping off your own Don, your business partners are gonna start wondering whether your hands are in their pockets, too. Cherry has some questions he'd like to ask the two of you."

Michael Brod's expression was carefully neutral "We have business to finish with Rudy and Terranova. If Don Capuzi wants to see us, he can make an appointment."

McLean laughed. "You really want to play it this way?"

"It's over," Vince told the pair. "It's up to you whether you want to walk away — or get carried."

Castellano eyed Vince coldly. "Tell me, what's it like to fuck the Steelgraves? First you screwed Sonny and Dave, and now you've got Dave's daughter doin' a lap dance with you. I'd be real interested in knowing how good she is. She a screamer?"

Vince snarled, reaching for his pistol, faintly aware of Lococco's soft expletive behind him. The knowledge that he was being played didn’t slow him for even half a heartbeat, and he leveled his pistol at Castellano, finger tight on the trigger. The tension in the air, already high, went stratospheric. "The way I see it, you've got two choices. I can shoot you now, or I can let Capuzi do the honors. But either way, you are dead. Now let Rudy go."

"I don't think so," Castellano said as the elevator behind him chimed and the steel doors slid open. Together, he and Brod stepped backward into the car, taking Rudy with them, their respective guns never wavering from their targets. "Kill the bastard," he commanded his men as the doors closed between him and Vince.

Vince didn't hesitate, swinging his gun toward the nearest of Castellano's wiseguys and firing as he advanced on the elevators, slamming a hand into the call button in furious haste. He ignored Lococco's shouted command to hit the deck, instead, turning the gun on a new target, oblivious to the cement chips that whined off the wall behind him. The berserker rage that swept him left no thought for his own safety. The imperative to get to Tracy overwhelmed everything else.

Roger cursed, turning to Donatello. "Cover me!" he shouted, leaping out from behind the Cadillac, dodging gunfire as he sprinted the ten yards to the elevators. He caught Vince by one arm and hurled him to the ground, going down in front of him, shielding him, firing at the source of the shots that howled past them. Behind him, he heard Vinnie's hammer fall on empty chambers and he ejected his virtually empty clip, shoving a fresh one into place, and tossed the H&K to Terranova as he reached into his coat pockets for the ball bearings there. He surged to his knees, keeping himself between Vince and the shooters, and let fly, the bearings smashing through car windows and into their human targets, nearly as effective as his gun at short range. Almost inaudible in the din of gunfire, the elevators chimed again, and a pair of steel doors opened with majestic slowness behind him. "McLean — can you handle them?" he shouted to Capuzi's lieutenant, getting back an affirmative. "I'm going after Aiuppo," he told him, scrambling upright and making a grab for Vince, hauling him to his feet and thrusting him bodily into the elevator as the doors began to close. He slipped inside himself as three layers of steel shut out the gun battle.

He turned to face Terranova, who stood, leaning heavily against the wall, face gray and his breath coming in the shallow gasps that immediately told Lococco that his lung had collapsed again, probably as a result of being thrown none-too-gently to the ground. "What the hell did you think you were doing back there, you stupid shit?!" he demanded, advancing on Terranova with outrage in every muscle. He pulled open Vince's coat and suit with one hand as he fished in his pocket with the other. He ripped open the silk shirt, and without further preparation, uncapped the seven inch needle, flicking off the sterile end piece, and threaded it with barely restrained fury most of the way into Vince's chest from under the left side of the rib cage. He pulled the short length of bandaging tape off the cap, tossing the plastic to the floor, and fastened the needle down against the skin of Terranova's upper abdomen. Blood began a steady, frothy drip from the exposed end of the needle as the air trapped in Vinnie's chest slowly escaped. "That stunt could have gotten us both killed!" The elevator doors opened onto the main floor of the hotel, and Roger whirled to face the startled crowd that waited there, the little knife dropping from its sheath into his hand, point weaving with the lethal grace of a snake about to strike. "Get the next one," he snarled, hitting the ‘close' button.

Vince, breathing still labored, managed an order barely disguised as a plea. "Roger, don't let them get to her. Kill them if you have to," he said harshly. His muscles were beginning to quiver as the last of the amphetamines were burned out of his system. He doubted his ability to keep his feet much longer and turned Roger's automatic in his grasp and handed it to Lococco butt-first. "Just don't let them get near her."

Roger took the gun, handing Vince the snub-nosed revolver from his ankle holster in dark silence. He could see Terranova's hold on strength and consciousness slipping and cursed the necessity that had caused him to knock Vince down hard enough to re-injure him. "I'll do my best, Buckwheat, but Rudy may get damaged some," he said as the elevator doors opened onto the nineteenth floor. He pulled the emergency stop button and stuck his head out of the elevator for a rapid glance down the hall in each direction, spotting Brod, Castellano, and Aiuppo turning a corner at the far end of the corridor. Without another word, he sprinted down the hall after them, footfalls astonishingly silent on the plush carpeting. He reached the turn in the hall and took a quick look. The threesome had stopped at a suite door and were pounding on it.

"Tell them to open up, old man," Castellano told Aiuppo, finger tightening on the trigger of his gun as he pressed it harder against Rudy's temple.

Aiuppo shot him a contemptuous look and said something cutting in Italian, spitting in Castellano's face, and turning to the door, he shouted a warning to the occupants of the room, again in Italian.

Castellano, in a fit of temper, smashed the butt of his gun against the old man's temple, knocking him to the floor, dazed, and wiped the spittle from his face. He leveled the automatic at the fallen Don, preparing to fire. "Say goodnight, Gracie," he hissed.

Lococco knew he wouldn't get a better opportunity, and he leveled the H&K at the gun in Castellano's hand, firing. The automatic went flying and Castellano collapsed, shrieking in agony as the next round hit him in the knee. Brod spun around and opened fire on Lococco's position.

Roger ducked back behind the corner as plaster dust exploded from the wall at face level. He knew he needed to make short work of the man. It would be only a matter of minutes before the police would be summoned, if they had not already been called. He was distracted from his quarry by Terranova's halting arrival.

Vince half-staggered into the open, presenting himself as a target to Brod, trying to draw his fire, allowing Roger to finish him off. He ignored Lococco's shouted epithets and aimed the snub-nosed revolver at Brod, pulling the trigger. He clearly wasn’t likely to hit anything, but as a ruse, it worked admirably. Brod's attention — and his gun — were instantly fixed on Vince. In that instant, Roger fired, and Brod pitched over backward in a boneless sprawl and lay motionless on the burgundy carpeting. Vince, at the end of his strength, sagged heavily against the wall and slid slowly down to the floor, panting as Roger loped down the hall to check on the bodies.

Lococco checked Brod for a pulse and found none, moving on to Castellano who lay whimpering and clutching his knee. Roger kicked his gun down the hall in Vinnie's direction, seeing Vince stop its slide with a quick grab. He moved on to Aiuppo, giving the old man a hand as he struggled to his feet, checking the rapidly swelling lump on the Don's temple.

Aiuppo brushed him off. "I am fine," he snapped at Roger, raising a fist to rap sharply at the door in what was clearly a code. It opened instantly, an armed wiseguy peering through the slitted opening. The door opened the rest of the way as he confirmed it was Aiuppo on the other side. "Take the woman and get her to my home," he commanded. "Now!" he added when his man hesitated a split second in the doorway. This time he was obeyed immediately.

Lococco headed back down the hall to Vince, who sat limply propped against the wall, breathing shallowly. He knelt beside Terranova as he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket, dialing 911. Behind him, he heard Aiuppo's man yank an unwilling Tracy Steelgrave into the hall.

"Get your hands off me, you ape," she demanded, her anger unmistakable.

"Tracy, you must leave, immediately," Aiuppo interrupted. "The police will be here any moment."

"So what? I'm not the one who's going to have a problem with them," she snapped at the old man.

Roger glanced back over his shoulder at the little scene as he spoke to the emergency operator for the second time in as many hours. He could see very little of the woman, Aiuppo and her two bodyguards blocking his vision. Her temper, however, was unmistakable. Disinterested, he returned his attention to Vince, watching what fading consciousness Terranova had focus on the woman's voice, a faint smile playing over his mouth as he caught the argument.Vince watched her, what he could see of her, like a man presented with visions of eternal paradise.

As though she could feel the weight of his gaze on her, she glanced his way. Roger saw her instant of horrified realization and heard her scream Vinnie’s name before Aiuppo's men seized her and hauled her spitting and fighting down the hall in the opposite direction toward the far elevators. Beside him, Vince sighed and surrendered to unconsciousness.

Tracy looked up at Aiuppo's entrance, her eyes cold. "How are they?"

The old Don sank wearily into the now-righted leather chair, not replying immediately. He was relieved to see that someone had taken the time to straighten up the destruction Brod and Castellano's men had wrecked upon his home. He had been dreading returning to the ruins. He sighed. "Vincenzo is in Intensive Care," he told her, eventually. "Luigi is still in surgery. The doctors do not seem to think he will survive."

"What about Vince? When can I see him?" she asked flatly.

"Not until he regains consciousness," Rudy said tiredly, leaning his aching head against the backrest and closing his eyes. He saw no reason to tell her that Lococco had categorically refused to leave Vince's side, and was even now standing guard over Terranova. He had no doubt that if she knew, Tracy would insist on joining him in that vigil.

She looked away, staring unseeingly at the cold hearth. "Was it everything you hoped for?" she asked him bitterly. "Are you satisfied? Vince is hurt — I don't know how badly. You've manipulated Capuzi into supporting your bid to put him into Brooklyn, Brod is dead, Castellano is disgraced and under house arrest, and you've managed to link my name to Vinnie's, publicly, ending any chance we had to make a life together outside the mob and your little game." She turned to meet his rheumy eyes. "Tell me something, Rudy," she inquired. "Was it you who arranged for Tony Greco to testify?"

Rudy met her anger calmly. "You over-estimate my abilities, my dear. No, I had nothing to do with Greco appearing before the Grand Jury. But I was certainly capable of making use of the opportunity. I do not expect either you or Vince to forgive me for what I have done. But I do expect that, slowly, you may both come to understand why I did it. Will you remain here?"

She didn't reply right away. "I've arranged for a substitute instructor for my classes for the rest of this week. It'll be a miracle if Georgetown asks me back next semester," she said. "I'll stay through the weekend."

"I would prefer that you stay with me, in that case. I owe it to Vinnie to ensure your safety." Aiuppo closed his eyes, leaning his head back again.

"I've had just about enough of your hospitality'," she retorted, "but I get the feeling that that wasn't a request. Just another of your politely phrased orders."

Rudy smiled without opening his eyes. "Thank you for indulging an old man's whims," he said. He was more impressed than ever by this woman. He allowed himself to wonder what her and Vinnie's children would look like. He hoped they had her spirit. And he hoped he lived long enough to see them into the world. He sighed. "Have Leo show you to your room," he told her.

Tracy knew a dismissal when she heard it and rose, leaving the battered and suddenly frail-seeming old man alone in his library. Silently, she walked up the stairs to the room she had first tenanted upon her arrival, Leo, her assigned goon, following at a respectful distance. She shut the door on him and slowly got undressed, putting on the silk nightgown the Don had had waiting at the Wessex for her, and had apparently arranged to have brought here, along with the rest of the small but complete wardrobe he had procured for her. Wrapping a throw blanket around her shoulders, she settled herself on the window seat of her room, resting her forehead against the cold glass and stared out into the night. It had begun to snow, and she let her breath slowly fog the view out of the window. Soundlessly, she began to cry.

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