Wiseguy: The Proposal

By Suzinsf

Thriller / Mystery

Janauary 26th

Rudolpho Aiuppo finished the wine in his glass and pushed away from the dining room table, replete. He had secured Tracy in a hotel suite downtown under a false name and set Luigi to ensuring that she stayed there. Now, he waited. He wasn't sure whether the first call would come from one of his cohorts or from Terranova, though it would be easier if he heard from Vince first. In either event, it would precipitate the next level of the game. He contemplated the damage he had done to his newly reestablished relationship with his stepson unhappily. It was unlikely that Vince would ever trust him as he had. He regretted that casualty even as he acknowledged its necessity. He needed Vince as autonomous as possible. A man with too great an allegiance to someone else's vision could not pursue his own.

It was nearly nine in the evening when the imperative pounding on his front door rang through the house. He waited in the library, knowing his bodyguard would bring whoever it was to him there. He was unprepared, however, for the door to his sanctuary to be slammed into the wall with enough force to drive the door knob into the plaster. He looked up, masking his surprise, as Vince stormed into the room, another man on his heels. "Vincenzo. What is wrong?" he asked calmly.

"Where is she, Rudy? What have you done with her?" The ice in his voice matched that in his eyes.

Aiuppo tented his fingers, eyeing the fury in Vince's face, unruffled, stalling. He had not anticipated that Terranova would have puzzled out his connection to Tracy's disappearance quite so quickly. "She is perfectly safe. I intend to make sure she remains that way. And that she remains here. You will not vanish into your witness protection program without her. As long as I need you, she will be my guarantee that you will remain." Rudy knew that the time for equivocation was past. The truth would serve him better, now.

Rudy would not have thought it possible for Vince's expression to convey any greater anger that it had, but the rage that crackled there now was incandescent. His voice was steady. Even. "When this is over, I may just kill you."

"And if he doesn't, I will."

The interjection brought Aiuppo's attention to Vinnie's companion. There was something familiar about the man, Aiuppo realized, rummaging in his memory for a name.

"You worked for Mel Profitt," he said, placing the grim, gray-eyed man, knowing he looked into the face of a killer. "Mr. Lococco?"

The sandy head dipped in acknowledgement, eye-contact never wavering. Rudy was under no misapprehension that he was anything less than serious in his threat. "We will leave that discussion until the more immediate problem of restoring Vincenzo's cover has been dealt with. I do not know in what capacity you are here, but I assume it is similar to your function in Mr. Profitt's organization. You intend to keep my stepson alive?"

"I intend to slit you open from balls to brains if you don't give him back the girl," Lococco replied. "Now."

Aiuppo suppressed a smile. "He will get her back. When it is safe for them to be together. Not before. In the meantime, I suggest you spend your energy in keeping Vincenzo alive long enough to prove that Tony Greco did, in fact, skim from Sonny Steelgrave's dock revenues."

Vince's eyes narrowed. "What's that supposed to accomplish?"

"Greco apparently has yet to admit his theft. In my opinion, he testified in the hopes of gaining some sort of early release. Once out of prison, he can disappear with the money he stole, and you are left with no way to prove he took it." Aiuppo speculated.

"It doesn't matter a goddamn whether Greco took the money or not. As soon as the Dons hear he blew me in, I'm dead." Vince answered icily.

"As far as I know, they do not yet know Greco has resurfaced. I called a meeting for tomorrow morning. Come with me. Stand before them and tell them what you know about Greco, about his accusations regarding your identity. I can buy you perhaps three days grace to prove he took the money. If you can salvage your cover, you can remain in New York until Ms. Steelgrave is free to go with you."

Lococco snorted in cynical amusement. "Come with you and get himself shot, you mean."

"If he comes in on his own, they will listen to him. They will give him a chance to prove Greco is a liar and a thief. If not, when they learn of Tony's testimony, they will bring in out-of-town talent to kill Vinnie," Aiuppo said to Lococco.

"They'll try," Lococco corrected. "I wouldn't bet on them succeeding."

"If you intercede for me with them, you're going to tip Brod and Castellano that you're not happy with the current management," Vinnie pointed out.

"Yes. I expect they will fight me on this, Vincenzo. I wish to discover who among the Dons supports them, and how far they are willing to go."

"You want to use me as a stalking horse," Terranova realized, a piece of the puzzle falling into place.

Aiuppo did not deny it. "Will you come?"

Terranova fixed icy blue eyes on the old man. "You haven't left me a lot of choices, Rudy."

"I did not intend to leave you any."


"You're walking right into this like a lamb to the slaughter," Lococco pointed out, not for the first time. "At least take me with you."

"I can't. They'd kill you before you got to the front door. No one who isn't a made man is welcome anywhere near a full council of war. And that's what this'll be. If they believe Greco and think I'm a cop, the only thing left to fight over is who'll get to gut me where I stand," Vinnie answered tiredly.

"You're not making a compelling argument for walking in there," Roger pointed out grimly. "Does the old man still have enough juice to get you your hearing? To buy you a grace? ‘Cuz if not, you're basically a suicide waiting to happen."

"That's the risk I'm gonna have to take." Vince ran fingers through his hair, massaging the back of his neck. "Rudy has been out of the eye of the council since he married my mother, but he's kept a pretty close watch on who the players are and where the alliances are. They all know who he is. Even the new blood has heard of Rudy. In some ways, maybe it's a good thing he's been out of the spotlight for eight years. No one else will have any clear idea just how much control he still has. They're gonna be real careful around him until they can get a feel for his power base. Killing me on the spot is not gonna go down well with him, so odds are, they'll give him what he asks for. His cappos are gonna be the biggest problem."

"Yeah, I gathered that from what the old man said. The question is, Buckwheat, just how big a problem?" Lococco mused, pulling off his boots. "Get some sleep, Vince. This may be the last chance you have."

"Yeah," was Terranova's weary reply. "G'night, Rog." He rose from the guest bed he'd been sitting on and made for the door. "In case I forget to say it later, thanks. You shouldn't be here, but I appreciate the help. Just do me a favor, and try not to get yourself killed?"

"I'm not the one the mob is about to put out a contract on, Vince," Roger observed dryly.

"Yeah, you're the one the C.I.A. has been trying to kill for ten years." Vinnie's response was grim.

"’Trying' being the operative word," Roger snapped. "I'm not at risk here, pal. You are. I don't have so many friends left that I can afford to lose one. Besides, the C.I.A. is not going to be looking for me in New York, so stop worrying about it."

Vince paused in the doorway, considering a reply, then apparently thought better of it, shaking his head. "Thanks, Rog," he reiterated finally and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Lococco pulled his black T-shirt over his head and lay on the bed, staring up at the ceiling moodily. "You're welcome, Buckwheat."


Vinnie left Lococco waiting with the limo a block from Capuzi's huge house, looking every inch the expensive hired muscle. He walked Aiuppo toward the front door of the mansion wordlessly, letting Rudy make the introductions to the bodyguard at the massive oak portal.

Rudy took Vince's arm, the prerogative of an old man, making his affection for his stepson clear to everyone in the room as they entered the dining room. He nodded pleasantly at the half-dozen of his contemporaries in attendance, exchanging small talk, ignoring the buzz of speculation that hovered in the air like a swarm of insects. He steered Vince toward the host of the gathering where he held court at the head of the massive walnut dining table. "Chero," he greeted the Don. "I believe you have met my stepson?"

Chero Capuzi eyed Terranova coolly before responding. "It has been a long time, Vincenzo," he said at last.

"Don Capuzi," Vince inclined his head with the correct degree of respect. This was one of the most powerful of the remaining old guard dons, the man having stepped back out of retirement with the arrest of the Commission. He was also the Don who had presided over the ceremony that had indoctrinated Vinnie into the mob a decade ago. Vince had had very few encounters with the man outside ‘family' gatherings, but the Don's reputation was for a degree of ruthless self-interest. He had been running territories for longer than Vince had been alive. This was the man he had to convince of his veracity.

Aiuppo led Vince to a pair of chairs four or five down on Capuzi's left and sat, having chosen a carefully neutral location that said nothing of his alliances or grievances with anyone else at the table. Imperiously, he sent Vince to procure a couple of cups of coffee from the sideboard. Vinnie brought them back to the table and sat down beside Aiuppo. He sipped from his own, using the action to inconspicuously survey the room. Brod and Castellano had not yet put in appearance. He suspected that when they did, all pretense at politeness would disappear. It would be then that the currents of power in the room would become plain.

There was a brief flurry of activity while a few late-comers helped themselves to refreshments and found seats at the table. When the hubbub had died down, Capuzi addressed them, commencing the meeting, then yielded the floor to open discussion. The principle area of concern was the increasing unruliness of the street gangs that rampaged through the city. There wasn't a single Don who had not lost men to them. It was shaping up to a major turf war as the gangs pushed at the confines of what the mob allowed them.

Some ten minutes into what was looking to become a protracted argument over a border dispute, Aiuppo stood. The silence that fell was that of surprise, all ears turned to him. "Gentlemen, we have a bigger problem than territories. I received word last night that Tony Greco appeared before a Federal Grand Jury here in New York on Friday afternoon."

This was met with equal parts anger and confusion as the older Dons brought the newest members of the fraternity into the picture

Aiuppo allowed the conversation to continue for a moment longer, then banged his coffee cup into the saucer in a sharp staccato. "The accusations he has made are serious. He claims that my stepson is an undercover Federal agent -" The uproar was instantaneous. Capuzi's imperative signal trained the full attention - and weaponry - of his household guard on the back of Vinnie's head.

Terranova affected obliviousness, nothing of his racing pulse visible in his actions. This was it. The next few minutes would decide whether he left on his feet, or in a box.

Aiuppo, rising to stand beside Vinnie, shoved the closest gun barrel up at the ceiling. "Enough! Do you think I would bring him here if I thought there was any truth in the accusation?" The old man glared at Capuzi, then met the eye of everyone in the room in turn. "Vincenzo is famiglia, one of us! And Anthony Greco was imprisoned ten years ago, after David Steelgrave was killed. Who do you think is the liar?"

"Why would Greco lie?" came the inquiry from the doorway as Michael Brod and Brandon Castellano strode into the room.

"Why wouldn't he?" Vince spoke up, voice laced with contempt. "He hated my guts and was lookin' for an excuse to whack me from the minute Sonny offered me a job. The fact that he was skimming Sonny's dock operations gives him a pretty clear motive. He testifies that I'm a cop, gets himself a get-out-of-jail-free card from the Justice department and gets payback all in one shot. Pretty slick. And I'm screwed, any way you look at it. If I coulda proved he took the money ten years ago, I wouldn't have had to rig his accounts to make him look dirty in the first place."

"You admit framing him? You have got to have some of the biggest, hairiest, cahónes on the planet," Castellano remarked in amazed outrage.

"What are you, deaf?" Vince glared at him, "Didn't I just finish saying I put the money in his bank? It was him or me, and I made sure I was the last one standing when the lights came up."

"How did you plant the money?" Capuzi asked coldly, not willing to accept such a thing on faith. "Getting access to bank records doesn't come easy — or cheap."

"You're telling me? I held paper on the bank manager. He fixed the records in exchange for the debt. It cost me over a hundred and fifty grand to set it up, but I figure it was one of the best investments I ever made. It proved my loyalty to Sonny, and fucked the Judas who got Dave killed at the same time."

"This is all very touching, but Dave and Sonny are ten years in the grave. Trusting you got them killed. Trusting you may get everyone in this room killed!" Castellano snarled at Vince, then turned to meet Capuzi's eyes. "I say we scrag the bastard where he stands."

Aiuppo faced his lieutenants. "What you say is without meaning. This is a council decision, not one for a stronzagegginetti who cares more for the filling of his pockets than for his own blood." He turned to Capuzi. "My stepson is no fool, Chero. If he were what Greco says, would he be here? Give him time to prove what he says is the truth. If he can produce Greco, or the proof that Tony took the money, then the matter rests."

"Like hell it does!" Brod interjected. "Even if Greco did rob Sonny blind, proving it doesn't mean squat. Terranova could still be a cop!"

"Yeah, and I could also be the second coming. It's about as likely," Vince retorted. "With respect, Don Capuzi," he began, turning to the head of the table, "let's stop wasting everyone's time, here. If you're going to kill me, then do it here. Now. At least have the guts to look in my face when you do it."

It was a dare Castellano didn’t refuse. Lightning fast, he drew the sleekly lethal automatic from under his suit coat, thumbing off the safety as he did so. The room erupted in chaos as mobsters scrambled out of the way and Capuzi's bodyguards threw themselves at Castellano.

Terranova never stirred, never flinched. He maintained eye contact with Capuzi, not blinking, waiting, completely still.

Capuzi ignored the tumult around them, all his attention focused on the dark-haired man before him. He weighed his decision, musing on Terranova's unperturbed calm.

Vince watched the Don weigh the options. He knew his life hung in the balance but he betrayed no anxiety, hoping that the calm acceptance would be interpreted as respect and faith in Mafia policy.

"Convince me that Greco was a thief," Capuzi said to Vince, then raised his eyes to the room, fixing Castellano - now pinioned by the bodyguards - with a gaze that burned with anger. "And you. If you ever draw a weapon in my presence again, I will kill you where you stand." He turned to his bodyguard. "Take him outside."

Castellano was hauled unceremoniously out of the room by the hired muscle, looking death at Terranova all the way. Aiuppo released his hold on the gun barrel he had held, returning to his seat. Vince stood quietly as the room settled.

"How do you know Greco betrayed the Steelgraves?" came the question from one of the mobsters on Capuzi's right, directly opposite Vince.

Vince held eye contact with Capuzi a split second longer, then turned to face his questioner. "Greco staged a little torture scene for my benefit when we were supposed to be questioning Winfield. I was supposed to hear the questions, but not Winfield's answers. He kept banging on the poor jerk about the hundred grand. Winfield kept sayin' he'd given Greco the grease. So why hadn't Sonny ever seen his cut? Maybe I'm not a rocket scientist, but I'm not a total idiot, either."

"Are you going to listen to this bullshit?" Michael Brod interrupted. "He planted phony bank records and set up Sonny's main man. It takes more than some nickel-and-dime bank employee to pull off that kind of frame. Something more like a Federal badge!"

"What Sonny needed, I made it my business to get - whether it was women or information. I bought notes on anyone I figured to be a decent source from any of Sonny's wiseguys who wanted a return on dead paper. The bank manager was in to me for damn near fifty thousand. That'll buy a hellova frame."

~*~

Capuzi's interest sharpened. It was standard practice among wiseguys who loan sharked to hold delinquent accounts on customers who might be able to trade information for credit, but it was the first time he was aware of one of them going out of his way to collect deadbeats in order to assemble an information network. This illustrated a level of intelligence and resourcefulness that intrigued him.

"Very well," he began, "you have seventy two hours to get to Greco and to prove he stole the money." There was a stir in the room as this clemency was digested and waited for the other shoe to drop. "But if you are not standing before me within that time with the proof, you will be hunted down like an animal."

Vince acknowledged the grace with the slight inclination of his head. "I'll be here, one way or the other." He returned to his seat, and Aiuppo's approval of the situation hung like a haze in the air around him.

Terranova met Brod's furious gaze across the table calmly. Capuzo wondered if he knew he had made a serious enemy. With Aiuppo’s public support of him against his lieutenants, there would be little doubt in Brod and Castellano's minds that the balance of power was on the verge of shifting, and that when it did, it would not be in their favor.

Brod, not willing to let the matter die, turned to Capuzi. "You trust that bastard and you're likely to end up as dead as the Steelgraves," he pointed out, voice surly. "Steelgrave's pretty-boy managed to walk away from the Feds without so much as an indictment when they busted the wedding. Sonny may have been stupid enough to trust him, but I'm not gonna make the same mistake."

Terranova rose from his chair again slowly, putting his hands flat on the table and leaning over the glossy wood toward Brod. "You pop off about Sonny one more time and mine is not the only body that's gonna be washing up on the Jersey shore in the next few days."

Brod took a step forward, only to be brought up short against the stiff arm of Capuzi's guard. "Did you push him into that transformer?" he snarled "Did he know you were his Iscariot when he died?"

Capuzi didn’t betray his keen interest in Vinnie’s reaction to this accusation, watching as Terranova straightened, hands clenched in reflexive fists. Aiuppo's hand on his sleeve was the only thing that stopped him from launching himself at Brod.

"When the Feds told him they had him on Patrice's murder, he walked into that transformer before I could stop him," Vince said through clenched teeth. "They had the murder on video tape! It was a capital crime. He was gonna get lethal injection." He shook off Aiuppo's hand and straightened slowly.

Capuzi’s insticts told him that the old, and still deep, pain of Sonny's death showing in his face was genuine. "I killed for him. I woulda died for him. But I couldn't take the rap for him. No, he hadda do Patrice himself, god dammit. It was fucking stupid!" he slammed the flat of his palm against the polished walnut, causing several at the table to start.

"If he'd let me deal with Patrice, he'd be here now. I was the crown prince of Atlantic City. You think I had anything to gain by watching him smoke? Look at me now I'm just some wiseguy with no protection, no future, no family'. None of you would touch me after Sonny." He met eyes around the table, calling them on nearly a decade of snubs and freeze-outs. "I got independent action, now. Legitimate businesses to run. None of you have anything I need. Or want. I'll get you Greco. Then I'm getting the hell outta New York. If you'll excuse me, I got a rat to catch."

He squared his shoulders and tugged at the sleeves of his jacket, then stalked toward the door with feline menace, sparing a contemptuous glance at Brod as he passed. Brod moved as though to strike him, halted again by Capuzi's guard.


Vince felt Aiuppo's stare between his shoulder blades like the point of a knife. He knew he had caught the old man by surprise, declaring his independence as he had. But he was damned if he was going to let Aiuppo have his way without a fight. And it was just barely possible that his expression of disinterest in his mob connections would serve to allay the fears of Brod and Castellano that he was after their action.

"I doubt it," was Roger's assessment of that theory as he drove the BMW aggressively through the Brooklyn traffic. "They are not the forgiving type. While Rudy backs you, you're a major threat to them. And Rudy isn't likely to step away from you till he's got what he wants."

Vinnie sighed. "Yeah, but it was the only thing I could think of at the time."

"Hey, for whatever it's worth, it may buy you some breathing room once we've got Greco," Lococco conceded. "If Aiuppo manages to persuade them that you are the one to run Brooklyn, you're already on record as an independent." Roger shifted the BMW Z3 into a lower gear as he rounded a corner at speed. "In the meantime, Buckwheat, we need to find out where they're holding Greco. Without him, you are toast."

Vinnie directed Roger to the tiny single story house that had been his mother's, and that was now his. "I'd better check in with the Lifeguard," he said as they walked up the front steps.

"Think McPike will help us locate the weasel?" Roger asked as Vince unlocked the front door. They stepped over the threshold - into wholesale destruction. Wordlessly, they drew their guns. Roger motioned Vince to the side and took point, creeping room by room through the little house, Terranova on his heels, ensuring that whoever had turned the place over was long gone.

"Shit," Vinnie muttered under his breath as he kicked his way through drifts of furniture and papers. "They went through here with a fine tooth comb."

"What's missing?" Lococco asked, surveying the damage.

"Not much. I'm not dumb enough to keep anything here that'd connect me to the OCB. The only thing I'm sure they took is my laptop," Vinnie replied.

"That gonna be a problem?" Roger wanted to know. "They'll be able to pick its brain like a cheap lock if they've got anyone under twenty with a halfway decent I.Q. on the payroll."

"Everything was password-protected, and I didn't store anything on it anyway. I accessed the DOJ mail drop through a front account on AOL There's no way they can trace my activity past the ISP. I'm not real worried about it. I wipe my received messages as soon as I've read them and I never keep copies of the sent mail," Vinnie said. "I guess if they really want to, they can reconstruct the last couple of messages, but it won't tell them much. They were to Trace, and she's not at risk from whoever did this, not as long as Rudy has her."

"Maybe not, but you'd still better give the old man a heads-up that an unfriendly may be able to link you to the Steelgrave woman."

"Her name is Tracy," Vinnie made no effort to conceal his annoyance at the dismissal in Lococco's voice.

"Yeah. So you've said," Roger's cynical opinion of love was crystal clear.

Vince debated the merits of arguing about it and elected to let it drop with a final shot. "You haven't even met her."

"Let's just say I don't have a lotta confidence in your choice of lovers. You have dangerous tastes," Roger pointed out. "Grab some clothes. We're getting outta here."

Vince rummaged through the debris of his bedroom and collected a change of clothes, sparing the time to change out of his suit and into faded black jeans and a T-shirt. "Where we going?" he asked Lococco.

"To buy ourselves some artillery, then to a hotel. There's no point in letting yourself be a sitting duck for a repeat visit from your decorators," he swept a hand through the air, indicating the mess. "Bring your cell phone. You can call Lifeguard from the car."

Vince finished cramming a scant handful of personal possessions into a gym bag and followed Lococco out to the car. He tossed the bag into the back of the convertible and climbed into the passenger seat. "What kind of hardware are you looking for?" he asked as Roger pulled away from the curb.

"Something with a little more range than my H&K," Lococco informed him. "If I need to do a little hunting, I'm gonna need more firepower."

"We need Greco alive, Rog. He's no use to me in a body bag."

"If he's in lockup, we'll need to be able to get at him. A long range sniper shot to some extremity will get him outta jail and into the secure wing of the county hospital. Breaking into a hospital is a lot easier than breaking into jail," Roger pointed out.

"As long as he doesn't wind up in the county morgue instead of the hospital," Vinnie muttered under his breath.

"I heard that," Roger said. "You're forgetting who you're talking to, Buckwheat. You never lose the eye. Not when you've spent decades perfecting it. It's kinda like riding a bike."

Vinnie's expression was skeptical as he pulled his cell phone off his belt and dialed Lifeguard. Dan answered on the second ring.

"Mike Terranova, that you, Vince?"

"Good guess," Vinnie answered, smiling faintly.

"Where the hell are you?" Came the imperative question.

"Brooklyn," Vince said flatly. "I need to know where they've got Greco stashed."

"McPike is working on it, but getting the information on a weekend is a major hassle. We still haven't found Tracy," Lifeguard added reluctantly.

"Rudy's got her stashed somewhere," Vince informed him shortly. "He's using her as leverage to get me to play ball."

"What?!" The disbelief was unmistakable. "What's he up to?"

"He brought me to a council meeting this morning. Capuzi's given me three days to find out where Greco hid the money he skimmed from Sonny before he sends the hitters after me."

"Geezus, Vince! You walked into a council meeting and you're still standing? Rudy must have been outta his fucking mind! You coulda been killed! You stupid sonovabitch, why the hell did you go along with him?"

"Rudy's got Tracy. I don't have a lotta choices, here, Uncle Mike. If he decides to connect her name with mine to the rest of the outfit, she's dead unless I maintain my cover."

"The old guy loves you like a son, Vinnie. Why the hell would he put you - or her - in that kind of jeopardy?" Lifeguard's consternation was eloquent.

"He's playing hardball. He wants to put me into his operation as cappo. He'll do whatever he has to to get his way, Mike."

"Shit! You know how to pick 'em, kid. You couldn't fall for some nice neighborhood girl, no. You have to pick a Steelgrave. McPike is gonna freak. What's your twenty?"

"We're mobile. I don't know where we'll hole up yet."

"We?" Dan demanded.

"I brought help," Vince admitted, glancing at Roger's profile as the older man drove.

"It had better be an army," Lifeguard snapped, completely serious.

"Almost." Terranova paused, then came clean. "Tell Frank Roger's with me."

"Lococco? He's supposed to be dead!"

"Yeah, well the rumors were greatly exaggerated," Vince said cynically. "I've been in touch with him since he disappeared."

"Frank's gonna flip."

"He knows. Roger shortstopped him in Lynchboro seven years ago, when I went section eight."

"And neither of you told me? You assholes." Anger, mingled with discernable hurt crackled over the phone.

"It was Roger's call, Mike. The C.I.A. still has assassins after him. He's not exactly hiding out, but he's not broadcasting his whereabouts, either. The deal Lococco made with Frank when I called him in was that he couldn't tell anyone who was helping him. He couldn't lie about it if they asked, either. Rog won't disappear for anyone again, not ever. Not for any reason. He's outta the shadows." Vince attempted to soften the blow.

There was momentary silence as this was digested. "Okay. So where do I tell McPike to find you?"

"You don't. We'll contact him when we can. But I gotta get to Greco. I need proof. A half hour frame job isn't gonna fool them — they are going to pull it apart this time. I told Capuzi that I held notes on the bank manager, so you'd better put together a paper trail to back me up. And I want transcripts of Greco's testimony. I need to know exactly what he told the Grand Jury."

"Will do. I'll e-mail ‘em to you."

"My place got turned over today. Probably by one of Castellano's guys. They got word before the council today about Tony's solo performance in court and they're looking for anything they can find to corroborate his story. They took my laptop."

"Okay." Lifeguard took a deep breath. "I'll get a replacement and the transcripts to Frank. When you have a location, he can bring it to you."

"Thanks, man." Vinnie let his genuine gratitude show in his voice.

"You're welcome. And Vince," Dan hesitated a moment, "tell Lococco I'm glad they didn't get him ten years ago."

"I'll tell him." Vince disconnected and folded the mouthpiece back against the little phone's body, hanging it back on his belt. "Uncle Mike says welcome back to the land of the living," he told Roger.

Lococco grinned and shot a humor-laden glance at his passenger.

~*~

The passage of a short fifteen minutes found them in a dingy neighborhood, parking in front of a watering hole with the unlikely name of Gabriel's Horn.

"A gunrunner I know keeps informal office hours upstairs. He doesn't put too fine a point on the waiting period for handguns," Lococco announced to the skepticism on Terranova's face.

Vince, holding the locked metal suitcase that held Roger's ready cash, followed him into the bar, waiting as Lococco bribed a down-on-his-luck patron to keep an eye on the convertible outside, then climbed the greasy stairwell on his heels.

Roger conducted his purchases with rapid professionalism, refusing to be tempted by the glittering array of the newest and deadliest paramilitary weaponry the dealer insisted on showing him. He selected a silenced sniper's rifle and the latest in night-vision, laser-targeted telescopic sights to go with it, followed in short order by two machine pistols, a semiautomatic rifle that looked like Vietnam era surplus ordinance, another Heckler & Koche automatic, a .357 Magnum revolver, a wrist mounted knife sheath with a four inch blade, an ankle holster and the four-shot snub-nosed revolver that went with it, and a pair of switchblades. He followed this with ammunition for all the weapons and a ten thousand dollar bonus to get it delivered. "The Waldorf Astoria," he told the man with a feral grin.

"You joking me? I can't bring this stuff to a hotel!"

"For this kind of bread, you can bring it anywhere I want it," Lococco corrected him. There was no mistaking the unyielding will in his pack-ice eyes as he met and held the man's gaze.

Terranova eyed the heaped weapons warily. "Don't you think this is overkill, Rog? If you were planning re-staging Escape From New York', you're gonna need an army. If you're just gunning for Greco, you don't need all this stuff."

"I like having options, Buckwheat. You never know what opportunity will present itself. And chance favors the prepared mind, or in this case, triggerman." Lococco removed his suit coat and strapped on the knife sheath, then stooped to fasten the ankle holster on before he re-donned his jacket. "We're outta here. I expect this stuff at the hotel before midnight," he added to the dealer.

They exited through the bar, Roger snagging a newly opened long necked beer bottle from in front of one of the patrons and flicking a twenty onto the wet bar top on his way past. He handed the beer and a hundred dollar bill to the battered looking young man who had been leaning on the hood of the BMW "Thanks, man," Lococco dismissed him.

"Any time, brother," came the reply as the hundred disappeared into a pocket in his denim jacket and the beer disappeared down his throat.

~*~

The desk clerk at the Waldorf Astoria didn't so much as bat an eye at the oddly matched pair who stood before him as he checked them into a twelve-hundred-dollar-a-night back corner suite near the top floor. The carefully blank expression told them that as far as he was concerned, anyone wearing a three thousand dollar suit and paying for a week's lodgings - in cash - in advance, was entitled to as many thugs in his entourage as he cared to have.

Both Vince and Roger struggled to suppress grins at the desk clerk's studious efforts to ignore Terranova's scruffy attire and the canvas bag slung over one shoulder. "I'm going to be having some things delivered to the hotel sometime this evening," Roger informed him. "Make sure it gets to me without any hitches." He tucked another hundred into the clerks' breast pocket. Taking their key cards and picking up the metal suitcase he had been schlepping all afternoon, he and Vince headed for the elevators. "Heel," Roger deadpanned.

In typical paranoid fashion, Lococco inspected all three rooms of the suite carefully, checking windows and doors for security. Satisfied, he picked up the phone and dialed the front desk. "Yeah, this is suite Twenty seven-forty two. I need someone in your men's shop to bring up a couple of suits, shirts, shoes, the whole nine yards. Forty four long and size eleven. The best you got." He listened for a moment. "Twenty minutes is fine," he said and hung up.

"What's with the clothes?" Vince asked warily.

"I know you swore off custom tailoring, Vinnie, and I hate to be the one to break it to you, but clothes make the man. At least in the places you're likely to wind up in the next few days. If you're gonna walk away from a potential mob business partnership with the excuse that you've got your own interests to look after, then it had better be damn clear that those interests are more lucrative than any carrot they're holding up." He met Vinnie's reluctant look firmly. "And it's not like I can't afford it."

Forty five minutes later, Vince stood in sartorial splendor as Lococco shelled out for the wardrobe upgrade. "It's is a little steep, Rog," he observed as the wad of hundreds changed hands.

"Now is not the time to be going cheap, Vince." He turned to the shop clerk. "I want the other two ready by tomorrow, noon," he added.

"Certainly, sir. I don't imagine that it should be any later than ten a.m." He took the three rejected suits and the two that had been fitted for alteration, four pairs of shoes and the various remaining miscellany back to the bell cart, loading it up. "It's been a pleasure, sir."

Roger opened the door for him, then closed it after him. "I love New York," he grinned at Vince. "You can get virtually anything you want, any time of the day or night, any day of the week. Delivered." He returned to the sitting area, walking around Terranova, evaluating the suit he wore. "Not bad. Beats the off-the-rack look, anyway." The midnight blue Italian wool single breasted jacket fell from Vinnie's broad shoulders as though it had been fitted for him. The trousers, with their knife-edged creases, broke over the instep of the seven-hundred dollar kidskin loafers two inches above the hem. The whole thing could not have fit better if it had been made for him.

He recognized the discomfort in the way Vince shifted restlessly under his scrutiny. "So what's the problem?" he inquired, able to guess.

"You shouldn't be bankrolling this, Roger." Vince tugged at the knot of the striped silk tie, loosening it and unbuttoning the suit coat.

"So who else is gonna? The OCB? I don't seem to remember you having a problem with Susan stocking your closet."

"That was different," Terranova retorted.

"How?" Lococco crossed his arms over his chest, cocking his head, feeling his temper rising. "Cause I'm not asking you to sleep with me?" he asked, feigning calm.

Vince caught the edge in his voice and met it with anger of his own. "Fuck you, Roger."

"Is that what the difference is? You can accept gifts from someone you sleep with but not a friend? There's a word for that, Buckwheat." Roger didn't pull the punch.

Vinnie was brought up short by the observation. He looked at Lococco for a long moment, then took a deep breath.

Roger saw him hesitate, watched the anger fade out of the remarkable blue eyes. "Stop being a jerk, Vince." He straightened, slapping Terranova on the arm. "And get used to it. I'm not leaving until you're clear of both the outfit and the OCB If that means I bankroll the takeover of New York, then I bankroll the takeover of New York."

"You are a nut case," Vince said with a ghost of a smile.

"If you think I won't spend every dime I've got keeping you alive, you're wrong," Lococco told him, perfectly serious. He didn't break eye contact with Vince until the younger man looked away, embarrassed. "Call McPike," he told Vince.


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