Wiseguy: The Proposal

By Suzinsf

Thriller / Mystery

January 25th

Tracy huddled in the back of the limousine, swallowing convulsively, trying to ease the dryness in her mouth. They had been driving for hours, the interstate from D.C. to New York unwinding in a steady stream outside the windows. The two men in the front seat, aside from the occasional inquiry as to her physical comfort, ignored her completely.

When they had pulled up along the curb outside Georgetown University’s campus and hustled her inside, she had felt a degree of fear unknown since her adolescence. It was clear that she had come to the attention of one of her family's former associates. What they wanted with her, she had no idea. She prayed Vince was at the other end of this journey waiting for her, but suspected it was a virtual impossibility. He had been as good as his word. She had seen and heard nothing from him since the single night they had shared, barring three or four carefully worded e-mails. The obvious conclusion was that someone else had discovered that Vinnie had reentered her life, and wanted to know what exactly he was doing there.

No explanation had been given, no information of any sort forthcoming. She had been left to speculate on the who and the why of her abduction and the most benign conclusion she had arrived at was that Don Aiuppo was behind it. Why remained a mystery. The possibility that it was someone other than the old Don was the source of the steady beat of adrenaline through her bloodstream.

They entered the city of New York at close to midnight, but it was nearly another hour before the big car pulled to a stop in a pleasant old neighborhood in front of a large Craftsman house. Her escorts handed her out of the car and walked her up the path to the front door, one of them retaining a polite but firm grip on her elbow, discouraging any attempt to bolt. She took a deep breath and stiffened her spine, determined to gift her abductor with a tongue-lashing.

One of the men opened the front door and spoke softly to the bodyguard in the foyer. She was unable to hear more than the low murmur of their voices, but the door opened wider and she was taken inside.

They brought her to a dimly lit library. The old man who sat in one of the leather wingbacks before the fading fire looked up at their entrance.

"We brought her, Rudy," one of them supplied needlessly.

Aiuppo nodded. "Thank you, Luigi. Please wait outside."

Tracy remained standing where she was as the wiseguys backed out of the room, shutting the door behind them. As it clicked shut, she turned to face the old Don. "What the hell is going on?" she demanded in a hiss.

Rudolpho rose and moved toward a tray of decanters that occupied one corner of a massive desk without replying. He poured a generous two-finger measure of something colorless into a tumbler and brought it to her. "Here. You probably need this." He handed her the glass. "Please, sit." He waved her into the second wingback and returned to his own, picking up the glass on the small table between the two chairs.

Reluctantly, she did as she was told, slowly sinking into the burnished leather. "I don't know what the hell this is all about, but your goons scared me half to death this afternoon. And God knows what the students thought!" She had been removed from the sidewalk in front of Georgetown University law school in D.C. where she had begun teaching part time at the beginning of the winter quarter in full view of a startled student body.

"There was no time for pleasantries," Aiuppo replied. "Do you remember one of Sonny's wiseguys - one by the name Tony Greco?"

Tracy suppressed a shudder. "I remember him."

"He testified in front of a Federal Grand Jury this afternoon. He has blown Vince's cover."

Reflexively, Tracy took a deep draught of the contents of her glass, half choking on the alcohol burn.

"Vinnie's superiors at the OCB told me as soon as they'd heard. They asked me to find him. To tell him to come in." He turned his head to look at the woman next to him. "I hoped you would know where he was."

She gripped her glass in both hands and rested her forehead on its cold edge, unable to think clearly. The gravity of this revelation made her blood run cold. "I haven't seen him in almost eight weeks," she told him, then turned to face him. "Who else knows about this?"

"I do not know. But by Monday morning, it will likely be common knowledge. Vincenzo will be a dead man," Aiuppo answered. "Unless we can find a way to discredit Greco." He met her eyes. "Do you love my stepson?"

Tracy didn't hesitate. "Yes."

"Will you marry him?"

"When I'm free to. And if he asks me again."

"Are you willing to marry him, even if he remains undercover?"

She stared at him, unable to gain traction on the conversation.

Aiuppo continued. "As Don, I can grant him time. Not much, but perhaps enough to allow him to prove Greco was stealing Sonny blind. My men will fight me on this, Tracy. They have been laying the groundwork for a break from me, thinking I no longer have the teeth to stop them from destroying everything I have built."

"How does my willingness to marry Vince fit into anything?" she asked, dazed.

"You are a Steelgrave. If you choose to stand with him, you may be able to help convince the families that it is Greco, not Vinnie, who is the true enemy."

"Any influence the Steelgrave name had died with my uncle," she said, strangled by sudden tears.

"No. There are many who honor your name. Your family was greatly respected."

"Greatly feared, you mean." A lifetime of bitterness filled her voice.

"Fear and respect are like this," he replied impatiently, crossing the first two fingers of his left hand. "They cannot be separated." He leaned forward in his chair. "Help me to help Vincenzo, Tracy. Together, we may be able to buy him the time to clear his name."

"No. I don't know what your game is, Rudy, but Vince is likely to be much safer in witness protection than he is taking his chances with you. I don't know what you want from him, but whatever it is may very well kill him." Her instincts as a trial attorney shouted of deception, treachery.

"You would choose this for him, knowing that you would never see him again?" Aiuppo asked, voice tinged with sadness and something else she could not identify.

"His life is more important than what I want or don't want," she stated. "Enough people have died."

The old man sipped contemplatively from his glass. "You are very much like his mother," he observed. The wistfulness was clear to her, even in her current state of mind. "He told you I had offered to help him in his work."

"A gift horse if I ever saw one," she retorted, welcoming the anger that began a steady glow in the pit of her stomach. "It's not his work you wanted to help, is it? You wanted to find a way to bring him into your world. Make him your man. Make him protect your empire." Intuition had given it to her in one guess. She knew she was right, seeing it in the sudden veiling of his expression. "You are very much mistaken if you think I will stand by and watch — or worse, aid and abet — your attempt to corrupt an honorable man!"

He was silent for a long time. "You have so little faith in the strength of his convictions that you think anything I could offer him would tempt him? Then you do not know him very well. It is the strength of his convictions I want, Tracy. I want him to return those convictions to us, as family. He has something we have lost through greed and lack of vision. He has the vision. And the strength to make it others' vision as well."

He glanced at her. "He has worked undercover for ten years. In all that time do you not think he has been tempted by what we offer? Yet his private life remains simple. He has taken no bribes, stolen nothing, compromised nothing."

"What you want him to do is against the law, Rudy! To pull off what you have in mind will mean that he will have to compromise the very vision you say you value!"

Aiuppo sighed. "You say you love him. Yet you know nothing about him. Do you think he will walk into witness protection without you? He has chosen you, my dear. He will not leave without you. And you will not be free to go with him until your mother has passed. This means you have two choices. Would you rather see him dead, or with us? If he stays to be with you, then he must maintain his cover. To do that he will have to face - and defeat - my lieutenants. If he fails in this, they will kill him. If he succeeds, he will control my territory. And he will have the chance to end the degeneration of years." His gaze was pitiless. "Your willingness to stand beside him may be all that stands between him and a bullet in the brain."

She stared back at him, head aching with the certainty he was right. "You bastard, you don't care who gets hurt, as long as you get what you want."

"You are wrong, my dear. I care. But I cannot let it stop me from doing what I must. I am Don. My family is larger than just my blood. Men have sworn oaths to me. And I to them. I betrayed those vows once. I will not do it again. And keeping Vincenzo alive and in place is the best, and perhaps only way of honoring those oaths."

"Even if it means selling his soul to the devil?"

He reached out and placed a hand on her arm. "Stand with him, Tracy. Keep the devil at bay."


Aiuppo had Luigi escort her upstairs and lock her into one of the several bedrooms. He had every confidence in the young man's ability to prevent her unscheduled departure without having her presence pose any temptation to him. Even if his tastes had run to women, he had been well-raised enough not to grope the female guests of a Mafia Don.

He brooded on the hand the fates had dealt him. Tracy Steelgrave had surprised him. Her intelligence he had already factored in, but her insight, spirit and morality had been unknowns. She was indeed a good match for Vince. Together, their strengths reinforced each other. He had no doubt that together they could hold anything they chose to grasp.

Unlike most men of his generation, Rudy Aiuppo had never been prone to underestimating the strength and intelligence of women. When he had married his first wife, it had been for those traits. He had wanted a partner, not merely an ornament. And he had remained faithful to her all her life despite her inability to bear him more than a single son, something nearly unheard of in his world. But she had been more than half the brains of the marriage. He had learned from her the subtle use of power to sway, to influence without appearing to exert any pressure. It had also been at her suggestion that he had begun to place himself in a paternal role among his closest hirelings, benefiting from the personal loyalty that flowed from this strategy.

Tracy Steelgrave had her intelligence and Carlotta's will. She would be more than decorative in Vince's life. She was a queen on Aiuppo's gameboard. One he held in check until the moment came to unleash her on the rest of the players. He was willing to bet everything he had created in his life that she and Vince would be able to beat anything they came up against. If she could be made to see reason. His reason

"You would have liked her, Carlotta," he told his dead second wife fondly, sure in his heart she heard him. "She is very much like you. She will bear him strong sons and beautiful daughters." He smiled suddenly, the impishness in his eyes lending him youth. "Or perhaps beautiful sons and strong daughters."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lifeguard swung his wheelchair around and headed back the way he had just come. His version of pacing was considerably higher energy than most, giving him an upper body workout that did more to relieve stress than the type of pacing the two-legs did. And he was in dire need of stress relief. The news just kept getting worse. Not only had Vince completely disappeared, but Tracy Steelgrave had been hustled into a dark-windowed limo in front of Georgetown University in broad daylight less than three hours after news of Greco's testimony had reached the OCB. Despite the presence of dozens of students, no one had managed to get a license plate number, or even a description of the men who'd made the snatch.

He had done everything he could think of to try and contact Terranova. All he could do now was wait and pray that Vince would check in on his regular schedule. He had half a dozen escape hatches open for the boy, should Vince need them, though Dan had little faith that he would be willing to avail himself of them. He would never agree to vanish with Tracy's whereabouts unknown. The kid had a stubborn streak a mile wide and after ten years of intimate acquaintance, the Lifeguard had become very good at predicting how Terranova would react in most circumstances. He knew Vince was in love, or thought he was. Objectivity would not be his long suit right now. No, hot-headed impulsiveness was a far greater likelihood than rational action. He prayed Vince would hear about Greco's testimony before some mob goon squad came gunning for him.

"Come on, kid, reach out and touch someone," he prayed aloud, turning to begin another circuit.


Lococco was still at the computer when Vince stumbled back downstairs at daybreak, feeling slightly - though only slightly - less haggard than when he'd gone up them six hours previously.

"Rog?"

"In here, Vince," Lococco answered the query from what looked to be his office.

Vince poked his head in the door. "You been here all night?"

Roger didn't deign to reply.

Vince entered the office, eyeballing the sparsely furnished room curiously. It was vintage Lococco. Computer esoterica occupied the scant available surfaces, wires and cables conspicuously absent. It was higher than hi-tech.

He peered over Roger's shoulder at the biggest thin screen monitor he'd ever seen. It was some sort of internet banking site, he realized quickly. Then the size of the numbers he was seeing began to register. "Roger?"

Lococco raised a hand from his keyboarding peremptorily, discouraging interruption.

Vince watched the numbers, none of them smaller than six digits, scrolling down the screen.

"Welcome to the Lococco empire, Vince." Roger said, catching Terranova's shocked expression.

"I thought you walked away with a hundred million of Mel's money. There's a hellova lot more here than that."

"The rudiments of high finance seem to have escaped you, my friend. When you start out with a hundred million, you have to be a complete moron - or make a concerted effort - to lose it all. All those dead presidents breed in the dark."

The minus signs in front of many of the numbers began to impinge on Terranova's brain. "So what's with all the negative numbers?" he asked.

"I'm liquidating a few assets," Lococco replied flippantly.

The numbers accumulating on the screen were unreal to Vince. "How much are you worth?" he asked, not believing what he was seeing.

"Last time I bothered to check, just shy of a cool billion. And that was just the liquid assets. Add the hard ones and it's probably closer to two."

"Two billion?" Vince's consternation was evident in his voice, and Lococco shot him a look, unable to restrain a grin at the expression on Terranova's face.

"Why do you think I've been e-mailing you account numbers every coupla years?" he asked. "There's more here than I could spend in six lifetimes, Buckwheat." He grew serious, then. "Stay here, Vince. They won't find you. And if they do, they'll be up against a whole lot more than some paunchy ex-wiseguy."

He got a rise out of Vince, as he'd intended. "Whaddaya mean paunchy, you washed-up C.I.A. has-been-"

"God, you're easy," Lococco teased.

Vince raised a fist, half serious about landing it. "I don't want your money, Rog."

"Too bad. Just so we're all on the same page, here, if I fall off the planet tomorrow, you'll be getting a call from a guy named McCormick with the bad news that you've just become one very rich son of a bitch."

Terranova stared at Lococco, at a loss.

"Hey, what you do with it is up to you. Give it to Frank." Roger grinned. "I'd like to see him explain it to Beckstead."

Vince couldn't quite keep the grin off his face. "That'd bring on a coronary for sure." He dragged a second chair to the desk. "So what's with the ready cash?"

Lococco didn't reply immediately. "I'm not letting you go back without backup."

"No. You're not coming with me. There are still people out there trying to kill you, Roger!"

Lococco cocked a sardonic eyebrow at his friend. "I'm not the only one sitting here with that particular problem, Buckwheat."

"No one's gunning for me, Roger. Not yet, anyway." Vince argued. "I'm not letting you get involved in this."

"I'd like to see you stop me," Lococco was uncompromising. "Have you filed an itinerary with McPike yet?"

"No. I don't exactly like to advertise your whereabouts, Spanky." Vince massaged the back of his neck. "I should probably let the Lifeguard know I'm okay, though. Can you connect this thing up with the D.O.J. e-mail drop?"

"What's wrong with the phone?" Lococco asked.

"I don't want to hear the lecture," Vince admitted.

Lococco grinned. "You didn't even give them a clue where you are, did you." It was a statement, not a question.

"Nope."

Lococco set about bringing up the classified and highly secure Department of Justice mail server, something he should not, by rights, have been able to do. That Vince had simply assumed it was possible spoke to how well Terranova knew him and his capabilities. Having waded through multiple layers of encryption, he was rewarded by the D.O.J. seal and the flashing of the password field. "It's all yours," he said, rolling his Aeron desk chair out of the way to let Vince access the keyboard. "Knock yourself out."

Vince typed in his password. Then confirmed it, and was dropped neatly into the secure mail host.

"I'm going for a swim," Roger told him, rising and heading out the office door, leaving Vinnie to compose his missive in peace.

Vince pondered just how little he could actually get away with revealing about where he was and who he was with, then began typing. A terse paragraph later, he clicked ‘send' and it was on its electronic way to the Lifeguard. He considered checking his own address for messages then decided he wasn't any happier about the prospect of being lectured in print than he had been about a verbal chewing out. Without a second thought, he logged off and shut down the computer, amused that Lococco, contrary to the core, had chosen a Mac O.S. rather than the ubiquitous P.C. platform. He left the office and headed toward the back of the house. Various items of Lococco's clothing had simply been discarded along a path leading to the French doors that opened to the pool. Obviously, Roger had not bothered with trunks.

Vince watched Roger's rapid progress up and down the pool as he bent to collect the scattered clothing. Lococco had clearly been a bachelor all his life, Vince thought, wryly. The blithe disregard for the mess he left in his wake implied the assumption that it would be taken care of by someone else. It was the attitude of a man with a maid, not a wife or lover. It was the only area of Roger's life that was not subject to the careful attention to detail that characterized everything else about him.

He draped Roger's clothes over the back of a big leather club chair near the French doors and added a towel from the nearest bathroom for good measure. Satisfied, he went in search of coffee. It took several minutes to discover where the appliances were hidden in the butler's pantry and several more before he found the coffee beans.


Lococco swam hard, pushing muscles stiff with fatigue. The rain, threatening all night, now began in earnest, a chilly contrast to the 76° pool. He had always liked swimming in the rain and six hours in front of the computer had him feeling every one of his forty seven years. He worked his tired body hard enough to feel a sweat break, then cooled down. By the time he climbed out of the water and returned to the house to claim the towel Vince had left for him, he could smell the coffee. He wandered into the kitchen, dripping all over the hardwood floors, towel-drying his hair. "Thanks," he acknowledged as he wrapped the towel around his waist and took the steaming mug Vince handed him.

"Lucy must have taken you on as a mission of mercy," Terranova observed, eyeing the trail of puddles. "You've obviously never lived with a woman."

"Not since my folks sent me to boarding school when I was six," Roger agreed with a certain asperity. "My life doesn't lend itself to permanent attachments, Buckwheat."

"Not many of them, anyway," Vince replied.

"Yeah, well, there are always exceptions," Lococco smiled ironically, sipping his coffee.

Vince hooked an ankle around a chair leg and dragged it out from under the table, sitting down and resting his elbows on the pine planks, mug held in both hands. "You ever thought about marriage?"

Lococco laughed. "Are you kidding? I sleep with them. I don't have relationships with them. Besides, what woman in her right mind would take on a paranoid ex-special forces ex-C.I.A. assassin?"

Vince raised his eyebrows. "How do you know if you never ask?"

"I don't need to ask, Buckwheat. This neck of the woods is crawling with rich, bored, married women looking for love in all the wrong places. I just show up in those places when I'm in the mood and everybody goes home happy."

Vince shook his head, smiling. "Someday someone is going to get past that asshole attitude of yours. I just hope I'm there to see it."

"Not in this lifetime," Lococco assured him emphatically.

Vince smiled into his mug. "Never say never, Rog. It usually comes back to bite you in the butt."


Lifeguard cursed as his e-mail alert sounded, and brought up the mail host on his screen. "Sonovabitch!" he swore, seeing Terranova's name on the flagged message. He opened it, reading the four sentence note as he picked up the phone and dialed McPike's direct number.

McPike answered on the second ring. "Frank, I just got an e-mail from Vince. He says he's with a friend and is planning on staying awhile." He heard McPike's exhalation of relief.

"Where is he?"

"He's real careful not to say, Frank. And from the sound of it, he hasn't checked his messages. He would have been on the first plane back if he had any idea that Tracy is missing."

"Can you figure out where the message was sent from?" McPike asked.

"Already on it," the Lifeguard said as he finished activating the trace programs. He hit a brick wall after the third server address. "Shit. Wherever he is, it's got some bad-ass firewalls. This is gonna take some time, Frank."

"We haven't got time, Uncle!" Frank said, struggling not to shout his frustration.

"Then get off the line and let me work on this," Dan snapped back. "I'll find him."


Roger, having showered, shaved and otherwise done what he could to make himself feel semi-human, returned to the office and turned the computer back on. Out of habit, he checked the system's electronic security measures, not expecting to find anything. And was unpleasantly surprised to discover that Vinnie's Lifeguard had managed to route a message to Lococco's heavily secured mail address. He opened it, read it, then swore softly. "Vince! Vinnie, get in here!" he shouted over his shoulder as he hit the ‘print' button. He heard Terranova clattering across the hardwood at a run.

"What?" Vince asked, slowing his headlong rush with a grab at the door jamb.

Lococco snatched the printout from the maw of the printer and thrust it towards Terranova. "You have got some big time shit hitting the fan," he warned. "Your Lifeguard got this to me through pretty heavy security. He shouldn't have been able to trace the source of the message."

"You don't know Uncle Mike," Vince said distractedly, grabbing the paper from Lococco. The message was brief. Vince read it once, then again as he reached for the phone on Roger's desk. "Shit," he swore under his breath, waiting for the call to go through. "Mike?" he demanded when the line connected.

Lifeguard's reply was rife with relief. "Vince, thank god! Where the hell are you? McPike has been outta his mind. We've been calling everyone we could think of, trying to locate you."

"California," came the angry reply. "What the hell is going on out there? Who blew my cover? And where the hell is Tracy?"

"Tony Greco testified in front of a Federal Grand Jury yesterday afternoon about the money we planted in his bank to discredit him with the Steelgraves. We're working on finding the girl, but no one's been able to I.D. the guys who took her."

"She was snatched? From where?" Vince's rage was palpable even across three thousand miles.

"In front of Georgetown University. She started teaching there part time this quarter."

"You're telling me that a woman was yanked off the street in front of a campus full of kids and no one can make a fucking I.D.? I'm on the first flight outta here, Mike."

There's nothing you can do to help that isn't going to put you in jeopardy. I need you to stay clear. Find some hole to hide in and don't even breathe loud till we can find a way to clean up this mess."

"I'm on my way back, Mike," came Terranova's reply. "I'm not laying low with an innocent woman's life on the line."

"We don't know that she's in any danger, Vinnie, but we sure as hell know you are!" It was a losing battle but Dan was determined to go on record with his opposition. "Stay clear of this!"

"Like hell! I am not going to assume that she's not at risk just because you don't know who took her or where the hell she is!"

"Vinnie, it's Saturday afternoon. By tomorrow night there's going to be a price on your head and every mobster on the east coast is going to be gunning for you. You can't do anything except get yourself killed!"

"It's not open to discussion. I'm on my way."

Lifeguard swore as the phone hit the cradle on the other end of the line, effectively ending the argument. He dialed McPike.

Lococco had collected his cell phone and was occupied with locating his pilot when Vince slammed down the phone and, cursing, loped out of the office and up the stairs.

Roger found him cramming his shaving kit and clothing into his bags and wrenching the zippers shut. "Rog, get me to the nearest airport."

Lococco grabbed Vince hard by the bicep, halting the agent's frenetic motion. "I've been on the phone with the airlines. The next flight to New York or D.C. leaves in two hours. We'll never make it to SFO or Oakland in that amount of time. My pilot can meet us at the airfield in three with the jet fueled up and ready to go. You'll get to D.C. an hour earlier than any commercial flight, with no hold-up at the other end. So calm down and tell me what the hell is going on."

Terranova met Roger's eyes, knowing that argument was pointless. Lococco had chosen to involve himself in the mess Vince's life had become, and the knowledge that he would not be completely on his own was disconcertingly reassuring. If anyone could help him find Tracy, it would be Lococco. "You heard most of it."

"The princess has been kidnapped and someone's blown your cover in a big way. That's about all I got out of the shouting match with the Lifeguard."

"They took her in front of Georgetown University in broad daylight with an army of eyewitnesses and no one can I.D. the bastards!" Terranova's distress was unmistakable, and Lococco’s expression said he’d begun to believe that Vince was really as far gone for this woman as he said he was.

"Who rolled over on you?" Loccoco asked.

"Tony Greco. He was one of Sonny's main wiseguys and a major asshole. He was skimming from the dock operations and when I figured it out, he tried to frame me for icing a weapons dealer that he'd let use the piers to smuggle guns. The whole thing went to hell and Dave Steelgrave wound up dead in this dive motel room and Sonny ended up in the hospital with that snake, Greco, telling him I was the one who'd blown the deal. I fingered Greco for stealing from Sonny, then had the OCB plant money in his accounts to back it up. He just testified to it in front of a Grand Jury."

Lococco's brows rose. "When your cover springs a leak, it's a big one, Buckwheat. So what's the plan?"

"Find Tracy. Take her back," was the bitter response. "And hopefully kill the bastards who took her."

"Some plan." Roger seized one of Vinnie's bags and headed for the top of the stairs. "You're gonna have to do better than that if you expect to stay alive long enough to profess your undying devotion to the woman."

Vince grabbed the other one and followed Lococco downstairs. "Alright, genius, let's hear your version," he called after Roger's departing back.

Lococco dumped the bag at the front door and took the second one from Terranova, dropping it next to the first. "First of all, start by asking yourself who knew you were seeing the Steelgrave babe. Then ask yourself what they have to gain by taking her." Roger suggested, heading for the kitchen. Vince followed him, considering the questions.

"No one should have known I'd even run into her, much less that she was important to me."

"Wrong. Someone knows or she wouldn't be missing. I know, you know, she knows — and that's just for starters. I figure it's safe to rule myself out, since she disappeared before you ever told me about her. So who did she tell? Who did you tell?"

Roger headed for the wet bar at one end of the diningroom and poured several ounces of whiskey into each of a pair of highball glasses, handing one to Vince.

"Lifeguard. McPike. Beckstead" he sipped from the glass and then looked up at Lococco. "Rudy. He was there when I told Frank and Beckstead," he said softly, the color draining from his face as he set down the glass.

"Bingo. So we've got the ‘who'. Now what about the ‘why'?"

Vince rose and began to pace the length of the diningroom, drink forgotten on the table. "We don't know for sure he's the one who's behind this."

Lococco snorted derisively. "Yeah, right. It's a river in Egypt."

"Huh?" Vince rounded on him, bewildered.

"Denial. Wake up and smell the coffee, Vinnie! Rudy Aiuppo has got you by the short hairs. He is playing you like a fucking orchestra! He tried being nice and the OCB wouldn't bite. So now he's putting you in a position where he can manipulate you into doing what he wants by threatening the love of your life. He's making you an offer he knows you can't refuse."

Vince felt his stomach rebel against the scotch he's just swallowed, nausea making his mouth water. Lococco was right. He knew it on an intuitive level. The sense of betrayal opened in his belly like the gates of Hell, and the hard-won return of affection and trust he'd had for his stepfather withered in the face of it. Light-headed, he sat down slowly in one of the chairs at the table.

Lococco’s voice betrayed his concern. "So. How does this change things? Will he hurt her?"

Vince didn't reply, and Roger pushed the scotch toward Vinnie's elbow. "You'd better drink this. You don't look so hot."

Ignoring the glass, Vince shook his head. "I don't know. Five minutes ago, I would have bet my life on the answer being no. But now…" He stared into Lococco's face as if seeking the answer there. "Do you think he had something to do with Greco showing up in front of the Grand Jury?"

Lococco began pacing where Vince had left off. "Not likely. But I'm willing to bet he was bright enough to take advantage of the opportunity it presented. The question is, how did he find out, and who else in the mob knows about it? How much time do we have to find Cinderella and get out without getting turned into pumpkins?"

Terranova tried to focus on the questions, his mind spiraling around Rudy's betrayal like a planet in orbit around a black hole. "Lifeguard said they'd tried reaching me every place they knew I go. I'd be willing to bet they contacted him to get him to tell me to come in if he saw me. So if that's how he found out, we may have a little time."

"We won't know till we get there. So how do you want to handle it?"

Vince dropped his head onto arms folded on the table. "Geezus, Rog. He loved my mother. Why would he do this to me?" he asked rhetorically. He felt the brief warmth of Roger's hand at the back of his neck, a physical gesture of comfort that surprised Vince to the depths of his soul.

"I don't think this is about you, Vinnie," Roger said, resuming his pacing. I think he's jammed up and he sees you as being the best shot he has at solving the problem."

"What problem?" Vince asked into the planks of the table.

"I don't know, but we'd better find out," Roger downed the rest of the liquor in his glass in a single swallow, "because he's making it ours."


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