Wiseguy: The Proposal

By Suzinsf

Thriller / Mystery

January 29th

"Well, it has the element of surprise, anyway," Vince observed as Lococco parked the BMW in a garage a couple of blocks from Brod and Castellano's offices. "Who was it that said the best defense is a good offense'?"

"Knute Rockney and James T. Kirk, among others," Roger replied, laughing. "Where do they hold court?"

"The top third of the Reynolds building," Vince said, turning up the collar of his greatcoat as he got out of the car.

"Pretty pricey real estate," Lococco said, impressed.

"Paid for by the pisans in Brooklyn," Vince could not keep the bitterness out of his voice.

"Yeah, well it's a case of Darwinism in action," Roger agreed, not liking it any better than Vince did.

"And us on the endangered species list, too." Terranova's quip was cynical.

"We'll have to see what we can do about that," Lococco answered. "Whadda ya say, Buckwheat, shall we go be offensive?" he grinned as Vinnie laughed in spite of himself.

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

"We got the latest numbers delivery from Shipley. He's a full five points short on this one," Michael Brod informed his cousin with barely controlled anger. He ran a hand through prematurely graying hair and pinched the bridge of his nose to regain control of his temper.

"This is the second time this year. Do I detect the beginnings of a trend here?" Brandon Castellano leaned back in his leather desk chair and laid down the platinum fountain pen he'd held.

"You want me to send Joe and Costanzo over to pay him a visit?" Michael suggested.

Brandon nodded. "And while they're at it, have them explain our little arrangement to him again. And have them break his legs, in case he still isn't perfectly clear on what's involved."

Brod grinned wolfishly and reached for the phone on Castellano's desk. Before he could place the call, the distinct sounds of an altercation could be heard from the reception area outside the office. He was on his feet, heading for the door to investigate when the mahogany door gave way before the onslaught. He had not expected to see Vincent Terranova, vertical, again. In fact, it had been his intention to see that this particular headache was confined to a body bag as soon as possible. He reached for the pistol in his shoulder holster instinctively, the opportunity too good to miss.

"I wouldn't," came the simple command as a lean, sandy-haired man entered the office on Terranova's heels. Brod didn't recognize the hired muscle, but he certainly recognized the business end of the Heckler & Koche automatic that hung two feet from his chest. And he recognized the eyes of a stone killer when he saw them. He froze where he stood, letting Terranova, a big pistol coming into his hand, advance on Castellano's desk.

"Sorry for interrupting this little business meeting, boys, but I have a small problem. Rumor on the street is that you're looking to hit me 'n Rudy. Now, you know how I feel about family. Your guys go anywhere near the old man, and I'll send whoever it is home in a bodybag. And a friendly reminder? Capuzi gave me till noon on Tuesday to bring him Greco. You jump the gun on this, I turn up in a ditch before then, and there's a real interesting little package that'll be delivered to Capuzi, with CC's to the boys in Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Miami. I'd like to see how long you last when they find out you've been stiffing Rudy for the last few years. We clear on this?"

"Crystal," Castellano said through gritted teeth, the venom in his voice unmistakable. "You have just made yourself a couple of very bad enemies."

"You've never exactly been in my corner, Brandon, so I don't consider it much of a loss," Vince replied. "Oh, and the guys you had staking out Greco are in serious need of some legal triage – ‘cept for the guy in the morgue," he added as an after-thought. "Stay away from me and mine, or things will get very, very messy for you." Meeting Castellano's frigid gaze for a long moment, Vince backed out of the office, finger still on the trigger of the .357.

~*~

Lococco covered his retreat, relieving both Brod and Castellano of their weapons before departing himself. He caught up with Vinnie at the elevators, gun still in hand, with a feral grin at the rapidly advancing wiseguys who had either heard the ruckus or been summoned. The elevator doors closed between them and the scrambling muscle before Roger reholstered his automatic.

"You enjoyed that, didn't you?" Vince asked, glancing at him.

"Who, me?" Lococco asked innocently, belying the glitter in his eyes.

~*~

"We missed em, boss," one wiseguy, braver — or more foolish — than the others confessed upon their return to Castellano's office.

"Shit," Brandon slammed a hand onto his desk in a fury. "What the hell are we paying you for? You all standin' around in the stairwell doin' a circle jerk while that asshole and his ape roust us?!" he shouted at his hapless employee. "Get Pauli to go after them. Let them get outta the building, then carve our friend Terranova a new bellybutton!" With a nod, the hireling pelted out of the office.

Brod turned to face his cousin. "What if he can do like he says?"

"Who, Terranova? Are you nuts? He's a cop. He's got nothin' on us. And as for Rudy, the break just comes a little earlier than we'd planned. It doesn't matter, Mike. We're ready."

"What if he's not a cop, though? What if he spills whatever he's got to the other families before we've got everything wrapped up nice and tight? We're gonna get bloody if they think we scammed the old man, then hit him," Brod argued.

"He's got nothing, Michael! We are clean!" Castellano shouted. "He's bluffing!"

Brod bit back an equally sharp rejoinder. "You'd better be right, Bran, or we are digging ourselves a very deep hole, and that bastard may just plant us in it."

Vince and Roger brazened their way out of the building as though they owned it, encountering no resistance whatsoever. "I'd say we caught them by surprise," Lococco observed, satisfied with the encounter.

"Yeah, maybe for about thirty seconds or so. Whatever they're planning just got its timetable pushed up, and if you think we're home free, you are wrong, Spanky. They'll be looking to burn us as soon as possible."

"Your constant cries of doom are starting to depress me," Roger frowned at him.

"These guys may not be on your intellectual level, but they make up for it in plain meanness." Vinnie knew this was an argument that was unresolvable except by bitter personal experience on Roger's part.

"Meanness I can handle," Lococco said, no lessening in his aura of satisfaction.

Vince rolled his eyes and Roger laughed.

They moved down the sidewalk with the prevailing pedestrian stream towards the garage in which they had left the car. They came to a corner, halted by the street light and the dense Manhattan motor traffic. Vinnie tried unsuccessfully to suppress the shiver that traveled down his spine. The crowd gathering at the corner around him made him unaccountably uneasy. He felt exposed. Vulnerable.

Roger, on the other hand, had settled into his element — chaos. He detoured for a soft pretzel vendor just as the light turned green. "Wait a sec, Vince," he said, reaching into his pockets for change. "I'm hungry."

Vince shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Common, Rog. We're behind enemy lines, here. Can't it wait?"

Lococco raised a mocking eyebrow. "Unlike someone I could name, I didn't get a liquid breakfast," he commented acidly.

Terranova's jitters made waiting impossible. "I'll meet you at the car," he offered, touching Lococco on the sleeve.

Roger handed the keys to him, along with the parking stub, just as the vendor handed him his pretzel. In the awkward moment of juggling food, money and surrendering the keys, Vince stepped into the street just as the ‘Don't Walk' sign began to flash and loped across the street.

"Dammit, Vince! Wait for me," he shouted, knowing that he would never be heard over the din of traffic. He stepped off the curb, prepared to make a run for it, and was nearly flattened by a checker cab that came careening around the corner. He leaped back onto the curb, swearing. "Shit!" He watched Vinnie's retreating back as Terranova disappeared into the sea of hurrying humanity. He didn't waste any more breath in trying to get his attention, knowing it was futile. He hovered, waiting for an opening in the steady stream of vehicles. Somewhere, a jam-up created a slow-down, and he dodged his way among the creeping cars, ignoring the outraged honking of horns. Reaching the opposite side of the street, he scanned the lunch-time crowds, searching for some sign of Terranova. He had vanished, and Roger began jogging toward the garage, his pace increasing as anxiety threaded it's way along his nerves, pushing his way through the crowds of slower New Yorkers. He made it to the garage lobby as the doors of one of the elevators closed, and he swore violently, slamming a fist against the stainless steel doors as he hit the call button, his heart beginning to race.

He lingered a split second in the hope that the car could be recalled, then headed for the stairwell. Half way there, he heard the chime of the second elevator, and turned and ran into it even as the doors were still opening, punching his floor and the ‘Close' button with urgency.


Vinnie played with the car keys in his greatcoat pocket as he walked down the rows of parked cars gleaming in the florescent lights of the garage, scanning them for the little gunmetal gray BMW Z3. His footsteps reverberated hollowly in the cavernous space and he did a little mental trigonometry, calculating the distances from the bounce-back of the echo. It was the faint blurring of that echo that gave him his only warning that he was no longer alone. It was just enough time to let the keys drop back into his pocket and start to reach for the .357, before he felt a hand grip the back of his collar and the familiar press of honed steel against his kidneys.

"Hand it over, asshole," came the command. "Real slow-like."

Doing as he was told, Vince carefully reached into his coat and drew his gun, handing it to his stalker, butt-first.

"Alright, big-shot, Mr. Castellano has a message for you -"

Vince rammed his elbow back into the man's abdomen and wrenched free, whirling to face his attacker. The .357 went spinning out of the man's hands, sliding across the oil-stained concrete like a hockey puck. Vince started to run after it as the knifeman recovered and threw himself at Terranova like a predator after prey. Vince made a grab for his knife hand and caught it by a jacket cuff, deflecting it enough to dodge the first slash. His grip was not good enough to survive the man's other fist smashing into his mouth and he lost it, staggering. The knife flashed upward toward his belly and he sprang back, only to be brought to bay against the back of a minivan.

Strangely, there was no pain. Just a moment of intense, almost unbearable pressure under his ribs and abruptly, he couldn't breathe. The pain began as the hitter withdrew the seven inch blade and slammed it upward under his ribs again, aiming for his heart. He had just enough presence of mind to jerk sideways, throwing off the thrust.

"You sonovabitch, you get the point? You don't party-crash Castellano!" came the hissed warning as the knife was once again wrenched free and Vinnie bent forward over the fire that lashed through his chest, praying for the idiot to finish the job cleanly. Blackness roared over him and the solid concrete rippled underfoot as he began to pass out. The last thing he knew before the ground rushed up to meet him was the excruciatingly loud explosion of gunfire in the enclosed space. Roger.

~*~

The elevator doors parted. It might have been in slow motion, for all Lococco could tell, and it was far, far too late as he launched himself through an opening barely big enough to accommodate him. He fired into the air, anything to distract the assassin from his target, and sprinted towards the two figures locked in lethal embrace. "Vincent!" he bellowed as rage and adrenaline hit his bloodstream like a burst of amphetamines.

He fired wide again, not daring to aim at the assassin for fear of hitting Terranova. This time, it achieved something of the results he'd wanted. The man dove down the narrow space between the van and the car beside it, vanishing into the dimly lit garage and its sea of automobiles. Lococco sprinted towards Vince as he watched him slide slowly down the back panel of the van, a hand pressed against his side. The hand fell away as Terranova slumped to the oily cement floor, his head lolling.

Roger skidded to a stop, catching hold of the back quarter panel of the car beside the van to kill his momentum, every sense straining for some clue as to the location of the hitman. There was nothing. No sound, no flicker of movement. Cursing himself for a fool, he holstered his gun and crouched beside Vince, feeling for a carotid pulse. It was there, and he released the breath he hadn't known he held, flipping open the greatcoat. The deep Prussian blue of Vince's Italian suit was stained an odd violet with the blood that soaked his left side. Carefully, Lococco unbuttoned the suit jacket, opening it, then repeated the process with the silk shirt. The knife wounds were deep, expert thrusts up under the rib cage. It was clear that Vinnie had put up a struggle, from the looks of the split lip and the location of the wounds. They were to the left of where he would have expected them, left of the sternum, as if Vince had managed to move enough to prevent the fatal thrust to the heart. An inch closer to the center of his chest, and he would have been dead instantly. There were fair odds that he might still wind up that way, judging from the whistling rasp of Terranova's breathing and the bloody froth that foamed at the wounds. He had clearly sustained a punctured lung. He felt Vince move under his hands and heard the low moan.

The agent opened eyes dark with shock. "Roger" came the barely audible whisper.

"Shhh. Can you move?" Lococco asked, fearing the answer.

Vince fought to focus on the question. "Yeah," he muttered and struggled to do so. Roger helped him to sit up and held him when the effort nearly cost him his hold on consciousness. He panted, short, shallow gasps that didn't satisfy the instinct to breathe.

Roger propped him against the rear bumper of the van. "Where are the keys?" he asked with gentle urgency.

"Overcoat pocket," Vince managed.

Lococco dug through both of them before coming up with the keys and the parking stub. "I'll be right back," he assured Terranova, and sprang to his feet in a dead run, heading for the little convertible a dozen cars away. The speed with which he backed the car out of its space and reversed it to where Vinnie sat slumped against the van left the stench of burned rubber in the air. Roger scrambled back out of the car and crouched beside Terranova. "We've got to get the hell out of here," he said needlessly. "Stay with me, Vince. I can't do this by myself. You out-weigh me by thirty pounds."

"’T's solid muscle," Vince murmured, the faintest hint of a smile ghosting around his mouth.

"Yeah, including all that space between your ears, goddammit! Why the hell didn't you wait for me?" Roger retorted sharply.

"Stupid," Vince whispered, then braced himself with his feet to assist Roger's attempt to get him upright as Lococco pulled Vinnie's right arm over his shoulder. Roger heard the wheeze of air forced back out of Vinnie’s lungs, and a good bit more of his weight was supported by Roger's shoulders and the arm at his back. He gripped the back of Roger’s neck, stumbling as he made his way around the hood of the car.

Roger slammed the car into gear and gunned it towards the exit, throwing a forearm across Vince’s chest as he slumped towards the center console. He braked sharply as the exit sign’s green glow flashed by, forcing him to back up to make the turn.

He had to force himself to defy every instinct that screamed hurry, coasting up to the electronic pay station slowly enough to twitch the greatcoat closed over the bloody mess of Vinnie's chest. He fed the parking stub into the correct slot and made the sports car leap through the gate before it had opened completely, virtually no room to spare. The effort of will that it took to maintain any semblance of self-control frightened him. He fought back the berserker rage that shrieked through him, focusing desperately on the complexities of Manhattan traffic.

He glanced frequently across at Terranova, who had toppled against the car door, eyes glazed, breath coming in sharp pants that sent more tendrils of fear through Roger's bloodstream. He gritted his teeth against it, forcing himself to conduct an inventory of the situation. Vince was hurt badly. Potentially even fatally. He needed help, and it had to be quiet help. Vince was as good as dead if he sought conventional medical assistance. Brod and Castellano would no doubt be watching both the hospitals and the morgue to ensure that Terranova was out of the picture.

"Vince," he began, "we need to get you to a doctor. Can you raise McPike? Is he programmed into your cell phone?"

"No. It's an eight hundred number," Vince said raggedly, reciting it from memory. "I don't program numbers on a secure phone," he pointed out. "Too easy to blow my own cover if it gets stolen."

"Stop talking and start breathing," he admonished at the gray cast that had fallen over Terranova's features, fumbling his own cell phone out of a pocket and dialing the number Vinnie had rattled off. He cursed as the voicemail system picked up on the third ring and he left a minimal and edgy message, with his own cell number. "Looks like he's incommunicado, Buckwheat. What about the Lifeguard?"

Vinnie managed to mumble that number as Roger dialed it, standing on the brakes sharply to avoid hitting the car in front of him. The call was answered midway through the second ring. He gave his name to the gravely-voiced man on the other end of the line and related the bare minimum of information. "He needs a doctor," Roger concluded. "And I can't take him to a hospital. I'm bringing him back to the hotel, now."

"Shit," was the emphatic epithet that met this news. "I'll get someone there ASAP. Which one you staying at?"

"The Waldorf Astoria, suite twenty seven-forty two. You got a twenty on a pharmaceutical source? If there's gonna be a wait, he's gonna need pain-killers."

"Okay, where are you now?" came the Lifeguard's grim response. The rattle of a computer keyboard was audible over the line.

"Corner of East Twenty Fifth and Madison Avenue." Roger told him, glancing at the nearest street sign.

There was a long pause, accompanied by more keyboarding, then Lifeguard spoke up. "I've got a call in to a hospital pharmacy about three miles from you." He quoted an address. "What do you need?"

"Demerol, injectable morphine, speed, needles, bandaging. And Pentathol." Lococco cataloged his requirements.

"What do you need with the speed? And Sodium Pentathol, for god sake!?" Lifeguard demanded.

"I'm operating on about four hours sleep out of the last forty-eight," Roger snapped back, "and it's not looking good for a nap anytime in the near future! I have a partner with holes in him and a cockroach to interrogate tonight. So back off and get me the damned stuff!"

"Your wish is my command, asshole!" Lifeguard retorted with equal heat. "You were supposed to be keeping my nephew healthy! Maybe you aren't the hot shit you think you are. If you're asking for scheduled drugs like the poppy juice, Vince needs a hospital, not a house-call!"

"No argument there, man. You are talking to one washed-up C.I.A. hitman. But Vince was stupid. He slipped me and got himself a knife in the ribs for his efforts!" Roger took a deep breath, trying to rally his temper. "I'm all he's got, and I'll do what I can to keep him alive. If they nail him again, it'll be over my dead body. But I can't keep him safe if he's in a hospital, and neither can the cops. Brod and Castellano are gonna know that their guy cut him, and they're gonna want to know how bad," he finished with barely maintained calm.

There was a pause before Lifeguard replied. The anger had drained from his voice. "Just take better care of him from now on, man," he requested. "I don't want to lose him. We been through too much together."

"You and me both," Roger muttered. "I promise I'll take better care of my toys, Uncle Mike'," was his sarcastic response as he disconnected. He spared a glance at Vince, who leaned against the car door, eyes closed, panting shallowly.

"Mike give you a hard time?" Terranova asked in a bare whisper, without opening his eyes.

"Yeah, you could say that," Roger agreed softly. "You're the only Fed I know with a cheerleading squad."

~*~

Vinnie forced himself to breathe as regularly as he could manage, short sharp gasps that dried his mouth and did nothing to quench his craving for oxygen. Roger had been gone for an eternity of subjective time, time that had nothing to do with clocks.

When the driver's door opened and Lococco slid behind the wheel, Terranova looked more dead than alive. "You still with me?" he asked, digging into the bag that held his acquisitions. He found the Demerol bottle and shook out a pill. "Swallow this," he commanded, popping the pill into Vince's mouth between pants. "I'm starting you on fifty milligrams with another fifty as a chaser in twenty minutes and fifty more an hour after that, unless the Doc has seen you by then. You'll either be sick as a dog, or you'll feel like Superman."

"I'd settle for Clark Kent," Vinnie answered, swallowing painfully.

"Right now, so would I, Buckwheat," Roger agreed, starting the car. "You gonna make it as far as the hotel?"

"I got any choice?" Vince asked rhetorically.

"The hospital. You've got to be straight with me, Vince. You probably have at least one collapsed lung, and if you're bleeding inside, you could drown in your own blood. If it feels like it's bad, we're going to have to take a chance on a hospital. But it's your call. I don't have enough experience with battlefield medicine to be able to tell unless it's too late to do much about it. Try to stay awake, and try to let me know if anything's getting worse. You pass out on me and we're going in."

"Deal," Vince whispered, closing his eyes. "Keep talking to me, Rog," he added.

Not generally given to loquacity, Roger rambled on the rest of the way to the Waldorf, some forty minutes away through heavy traffic. He had given Vince a second pill, and its effects had started to compound that of the first. The test would be the walk through the Waldorf's grand lobby. He got out and fished the hospital gear out of the back, hanging the bag over one arm as he walked around the car to Vinnie's side.

"I don't think the management is gonna like me bleeding all over their hotel room," Vince said with an attempt at a grin as Roger helped him out of the passenger seat.

Lococco gripped him hard by the biceps until he was sure that Vince was going to remain vertical. "For twelve hundred bucks a night, you can bleed anywhere you want," he remarked, tossing the car keys to the startled valet. He took Vince firmly by the elbow and marched with slow deliberation into the hotel.

For Vince, it assumed the character of a nightmare. The effort it took to walk unbent through the luxurious lobby and past guests and hotel employees with only Lococco's hand under his elbow was as close to hell as he cared to get. Even with the bizarre distancing effect of the painkillers, every step made a cold sweat stand on his skin. The world retreated to the few feet of carpet directly under his feet and the strength of Roger's grip on him. Only a few of the people they passed noticed the ashen pallor of his face and the bloody lip with its accompanying darkening bruise on his left cheek.

Roger maneuvered him onto the elevator, propping him against the side wall and braced him with his own body, ignoring the curious glances from various fellow passengers. The attempt to force their way out of the elevator through the small crowd at the twenty seventh floor was very nearly the end of Vince's endurance. A careless elbow in the kidney forced a nearly voiceless moan of purest agony out between the agent's clenched teeth, eliciting stares from the passengers as Roger hustled Vinnie off and got him moving down the deserted hall.

Vince kept his feet by sheer force of will alone, the last hundred feet to their suite door Roger taking more of his weight with every step. Roger held him with one arm around his waist as he struggled with the keycard. Finally he got the door open and dragged a rapidly fading Terranova inside, kicking the door shut after them.

~*~

It was not until then that the dark-haired man's stamina gave out completely and his eyes rolled back in his head as he crumpled into Roger's arms. Roger grunted under the impact of two hundred and twenty pounds of solid bone and muscle, managing to get him onto the Edwardian settee. With deliberate haste, he unbuttoned the black wool greatcoat, his hands coming away bloody from the fabric. He thanked the gods the coat was black and the gore had not shown. He pushed the heavy fabric off Vinnie's shoulders, realizing then that blood stained Terranova's left side from pectorals to nearly his knees. He felt fear grip his chest, constricting his own breathing. He fought to focus on some kind of constructive action. Any action.

He headed first for the room's thermostat and set it for a tropical eighty degrees, then stripped Vinnie's bed of its blanket and its Egyptian cotton top sheet. A detour through the bathroom for wet towels brought him back to the sitting room. Rolling Vinnie's limp body onto his uninjured side, he removed the greatcoat, suit coat and shirt then slipped the roughly folded sheet under him to offer at least some protection to the hotel's furniture, laying him down again. He needed to get the man's clothing off, and Vince's state of unconsciousness precluded his being of any help. Lococco unfastened the trousers, tugging them and the briefs down Vinnie's legs, and dropped them onto the heap of other blood-soaked clothing.

Blood, drying now, smeared the whole left side of his body. The flow from the wounds had slowed to a trickle, though the blood there still had a foamy quality that Lococco didn't like in the least. He threw the blanket over Terranova's naked body and found the bag with the hospital supplies, selecting a syringe, needle, and an ampoule of morphine, and slid Vinnie's belt free of the pants. Perching on the edge of the settee, he fastened the belt around Vince's right arm at the arm pit and tightened it down, tourniquet-like. He uncapped and filled the syringe with the morphine dose and found a sizeable vein in the crook of Terranova's elbow, sliding the needle in, drawing back on the plunger to ensure he had hit the vein, and then injected the drug into Vinnie's bloodstream.

Recapping the syringe, he tossed it and the empty ampoule into an ashtray and picked up the wet towels. Carefully, he flipped back the blanket and began wiping the worst of the blood from Vince's extremities, returning to the bathroom to rinse the towels clean and wring them out repeatedly. The scars that marred Vince's skin spoke of years of dangerous work. He recognized the now-pale twin shoulder wounds Vince had sustained in Mel Profitt's employ. There was an array of other trace violence, but it was the long-healed knife-wound that tore up through the heavy muscle at the inside of his right thigh, slashing through the dark pubic hair at his groin, that made Roger shudder, mentally.

There was a clamminess to Vince's skin that signaled incipient shock by the time he had finished, and he taped a thick gauze pad in place over the wounds and tossed the blanket back over Vince's body, going in search of additional covers. A soft moan from the settee brought him loping back into the sitting room. Lococco pried open one of Terranova's eyes and was rewarded by the agent's attempt to free himself from the hold Roger had on his chin. "Come on, sleeping beauty, snap out of it. Help Dr. Lococco out, here," he muttered to himself.

"Some Prince Charming," came Vinnie's whispered sarcasm. "Your bedside manner stinks, Rog."

"Yeah, well, you aren't exactly Miss Congeniality, yourself, Buckwheat," was Roger's response. "You scared the hell outta me!"

"Oh, god, I think I'm gonna be sick," Vince groaned, sweat prickling on his skin.

"That's the morphine I just pumped you full of," Roger told him. "You're going to be airborne in about five minutes."

"You tryin' to turn me into a hype?" Was Vinnie's hoarse accusation.

"You might be more fun at parties if I did," Lococco replied snidely. "What the hell is taking the damn doctor so long?" he added to himself, rubbing the heels of his hands into his aching eye sockets. He was brought up short as his cell phone began a muffled ringing from his overcoat pocket where it lay on the floor. He rose and retrieved it, answering it on the fourth ring. It was McPike. He held the phone away from his ear as a vitriolic diatribe burned the line. Roger made his reply into a pause. "Nice to hear from you, too, Frank. Ask him yourself," he offered and handed the phone to Vince.

"Frank, shut up," Terranova whispered hoarsely. "I got stupid, and I got hurt," he stated bluntly, panting at the exertion of speaking. There was a long silence on Vince's part as McPike made some reply to this, then he sighed shallowly. "Just come, and bring a doctor with you." He handed the phone back to Lococco, teeth beginning to chatter with the chill of shock, even that small effort taxing him to the limits of his strength.

The morphine was taking hold, and Roger watched his pupils dilate, overtaking the blue of his irises. He took the phone from Vince’s weak grip and resumed the conversation with Frank. "Look, he's hurt bad enough that under any other circumstances, I'd have hauled him straight into a hospital. But with Brod and Castellano looking to plant him, it was too big a risk. How long till you can get here with help?" The answer was not long in coming. "Good. We're not going anywhere." He disconnected the call and tossed the phone to the floor on top of his coat. He stalked to the room phone and dialed the concierge's desk. "Yeah, I need someone to bring up a bunch of heating pads or hot water bottles — whatever you've got. About six." He replaced the receiver in the cradle none too gently, and returned to the bag of hospital supplies, fishing out a prescription bottle and shaking out a pill. He swallowed the amphetamine dry, grimacing at the bitterness it left in his mouth. "McPike and some Army field surgeon are on the way. They should be here inside twenty minutes."

Vince closed his eyes, fists gripping handfuls of blanket against the morphine-induced vertigo. "Good," he managed.


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