5 Ways Vinnie Terranova Never Fell




5 Ways Vinnie Terranova Never Fell

-1-Tiny Little Fractures

It's not the dick-measuring that gets to him, ultimately. It's not even the "Buckwheat," although, if things had turned out differently, it's more than likely that before the day was out he would have given some serious consideration to wrapping that word up in his fist and using it to shatter Roger's teeth. It's not the coke or the rocking of the boat or Sue's dress that looks like an invitation to lose a hand at the wrist. It's not the sharp, almost hysterical edge on the laughter that slices out like the swipe of a blade under the stateroom door, or the way it stops way too suddenly. It's not the thug in the room who stares at him with eyes like dead flashlight lenses, or the percussion of the chopper's blades as it carries Vinnie and Roger over quicksilver waves at sunrise on the way to "rescuing" some dumb-ass dealer named Svenko from the Mounties for the purposes of teaching him the consequences of his own fatal stupidity.

All of that stuff stutters against his skin like shrapnel, keen, slivered evidence of some nearby calamity, something explosive and incisive and deliberate and deadly. He doesn't flinch at its touch or close his eyes. That's the job.

So that's not it.

He becomes Vinnie Terranova again so easily it's like sliding in mud, practically accidental. Sonny's Vinnie Terranova, wolf's teeth and just enough Brooklyn marbles in his accent to make him stand out in the crowd on Profitt's yacht, a made man unmoored in the sloshing of all those refined voices slurred with arrogance and too much fine scotch, or staccato with too much blow. Later, after the encounter with the Mounties goes spectacularly wrong--or spectacularly right--when Roger's peering blearily at him through a painkiller haze, Vinnie puts a twist on his mouth and tells him he finished the job. "I took him in the bushes and whacked him." The cadences of it still fit his tongue like the Italian he learned in the crib and still thinks in sometimes, in his mother's voice. The suits still fit. The suits don't smell like Sonny anymore, but the Profitts can smell him on Vinnie, anyway, blood and money, and loyalty and gunsmoke. Vinnie's an Atlantic City wiseguy, Sonny's man, left behind.

It's so easy.

And that's what does it, the ease of it, when, at the end of the day, Roger's out cold and Svenko is singing in his cage, and there's already a corpse on a plane coming to do a command performance, playing understudy for Svenko, a guy Vinnie was supposed to wipe off the planet and leave faceless, no headstone, no ladies in veils to wail in Czech or Yugoslavian or whatever. Proof that Vinnie Terranova is the man he says he is.

That's what does it, then, when Frank finally finishes his report to the RD and mutters something unintelligible at the cradled phone, carefully tugs at his rumpled jacket sleeves in a mostly conscious parody of a sharp-dressed man, turns into the angled light so his glasses go blank and calls him "Vince."

The name takes Vinnie out at the knees.

Frank says, "Whoa," lunges for him but gets there too late, and Vinnie's got thirty pounds on him at least, so they both go down, Vinnie like he's praying, Frank crouching, a hand crumpling Vinnie's t-shirt at the neck.

"It's okay," Vinnie says, wiping his mouth on his wrist.

"It's not," Frank says flatly. "It's too soon. I was wrong." He rocks back on his heels, that "go ahead and fuck us again, world" curve to his mouth. "But that doesn't matter, now, 'cause you're already in." There's a silence while Frank doesn't do anything but wait. Then he lets go of Vinnie's shirt and calls him "Vince" again instead.

^^^

-2-Grazed Knees

Frank should have been the first one through the door. Or the second. It shouldn't have been the greenest cop on the detail.

Sonny shouldn't have been there, in front of the door. Sonny shouldn't have been shouting. He shouldn't have raised his hand to point out of the dim light of the theatre at the green cop in the doorway. He shouldn't have turned his head to look at Vinnie and snarl, "Here's the mob."

Vinnie should have let him fall. Let him go down like he deserved, shouting and sparking and daring the universe to try, just try to take him.

But Vinnie's body is already moving before the green cop has the rifle leveled at the gun-shadow of Sonny's pointing finger.

"I'd die for you," Vinnie said once, in the back of a limo. He'd been lying, but his body doesn't seem to know that.

Frank is third through the door, and by then Vinnie's staring up past Sonny's face at the ceiling and he feels like he's falling and falling and falling even though Sonny's hands are on either side of Vinnie's head and Sonny's spitting, "You sons of bitches. You fuckingsonsofbitches. It was supposed to be me," and that should be enough to get a grip with, what Sonny's saying, and the pressure of his hands shifting against Vinnie's skin as Sonny tries to hold on. But Vinnie's in a hole; there's a hole in Vinnie, and he's fallen into it and Sonny's voice is far away and small and his hands are cold and all Vinnie can feel is the cold of Sonny's hands.

Then Sonny is gone and it's Frank there, looking down at him. Vinnie thinks it's weird that Frank is wearing those dark gloves, except that when Frank lifts his fingers to his glasses he leaves smears of red on the lenses and then Vinnie knows it's not gloves that cover his hands. Pain comes with that realization, like someone's turned the volume up all the way all at once, and Frank's weight is on Vinnie's chest, trying to hold everything in. Frank's face is blank, but his teeth are clenched when he says, "It was supposed to be him, Vince, you idiot."

"Shut up, Frank," Vinnie says, although he's not sure he says it out loud. Because those seem like pretty lame last words, he tries to think of something better. But everything is spilling down the hole now, blood and words and Frank and Sonny and the theatre, so all he says is, "Shut up, Frank," again.

Frank laughs, bitter, his eyes closing as he does it and opening again to watch the hole close over Vinnie's head.

^^^

-3-Somewhere a Clock is Ticking

It's not like it looks in pictures. Vinnie expected everything to be peach-coloured, an entire state in rose-coloured glasses. But for all its pastels and slightly desperate, saturated blue and the sun ricocheting off of sand and cement and glass, Miami is dark.

Vinnie's heart goes thump-thunk-smack in time with the ball—hard-packed dirt, car door, Sonny's palm—thump-thunk-smack, a rhythm one beat too long.

The receiver of the phone behind the dust-dimmed glass of the booth hangs motionless at the end of its cord. In the pink sky, just above the shaggy heads of palm trees, there's a speck. Vinnie closes his eyes against the tiny sliver of light.

"Agent 4587. Miami Herald. Style Section. Birth, ankle, forget."

Watching him, Sonny looks casual, slumped down in the chair by the window in his crumpled linen suit, legs splayed, index finger tracing the trigger guard on the .22 where the gun lies in the crease of his groin. Vinnie can't take his eyes off of it, Sonny's finger. Its slow, deliberate motion makes his own dick heavy. He reminds himself that the .22 is the piece of choice because it scrambles the brains but makes no exit wound.


Vinnie's hand shoots out and catches the ball before it hits the car door again. In his palm, it feels gritty and hot and clammy with Sonny's sweat. At Vinnie's back, the car ticks, expanding in the heat as the air conditioned coolness gives in, leaks out. Equalizing. He rolls the ball between his hands while Sonny bores holes in him with his eyes.

Over Sonny's shoulder, the speck is bigger now and there's a wasp-hum, too.

Over Vinnie's shoulder, there's a plume of dust drawn out along the horizon, drifting sideways, and the thin, barely-there rise-and-fall of sirens.

The side of his mouth quirking up, Sonny says, "If one train leaves Brooklyn at 3:00 going 80 miles an hour and another leaves Miami at five going 100 miles an hour."

The world narrows.

Vinnie tosses Sonny the ball. "We suck at math."

"Tell McPike I'm okay," Vinnie says into the phone as Sonny leans forward with his elbow on his knee and the .22 aimed at Vinnie's forehead. "Miami, obviously. Yeah, courtesy of Nicky and Carmine. No, I don't know." Vinnie leans back against the headboard, giving himself another foot of space. "I said I don't know." He closes his eyes and rubs his palm on the bedspread. "I can't." It's tidy in the motel room. Bed made with clean, starched sheets. New suitcases, two of them, side by side next to the door. "Because he's looking at me right now."

When he opens his eyes, Sonny's smile is crooked, but the gun is still pointing at Vinnie's brain. There are still three bullets in the pistol. Of the others, one is embedded in the panel of the driver's side door of the Caddy. One made its hole through the sleeve of Vinnie's tux and left its mark across the back of Vinnie's forearm. The third went straight up, chased by Sonny's howl of anger and betrayal and frustration, and came down somewhere in an orange grove.

Sonny's close enough right now not to miss. But he was close enough before. It's unclear who is the hostage here.

"Give the fed my love," Sonny says.


It's not exactly luxury transportation. The plane is chugging down the dusty airstrip, props turning from discs to blurs to blades as it slows and uses the last of the momentum to turn and line up again for the take-off. The door opens and bangs back against the fuselage but the pilot doesn't get out.

The ball makes one last wild bounce off the Caddy's door panel and is lost in the four o'clock sun for a moment before its silhouette resolves again and Vinnie lunges for it, fumbles, and traps it between his chest and his wrist. He gets it settled in his hand, ready to toss back, but Sonny shakes his head.

The sirens are loud enough now that Vinnie can distinguish between the sheriff and the unmarked feds, like an orchestra tuning up, playing different variations on the same tune.

He leans to the side and tosses his sunglasses onto the driver's seat.

"So," Sonny says.

"So," Vinnie says.

As some last act of supremacy in Miami, Sonny decides to undo the maid's good work, and in less than a minute the room is trashed, and half an hour later Vinnie's naked on his back in the rubble, his feet tangled in the sheets, the .22 within arm's reach on the bedside table.

Sonny's back in the chair, sliced horizontally by the glare through the angled blinds, eyes in shadow, mouth in the light. He didn't forget about the gun. It's not an oversight. Vinnie can go for it now and Sonny probably wouldn't make it out of the chair in time.

Vinnie scratches at the hair on his groin and presses the back of his hand to the split in his lip.

When Sonny tilts his head like he's appraising a new act for the Diamond, the light slides into his eyes and Vinnie can see something else there, something that he heard in the gently broken syllables of his own name when Sonny said them against the back of Vinnie's neck. Sonny's mouth tightens, as if he can see Vinnie remembering, and it feels suddenly like that moment in the banquet hall when Sonny pointed at him, just before he said, "You're a cop," and this whole, long, wild ride began. Jersey to Miami, half conscious, unconscious, wide awake. This moment is frozen like that one was, at the highest point of the arc, all potential energy and a slave to the law of gravity. Sonny opens his mouth.

Dodging, Vinnie drawls, more than a little snidely, "So, was it good for you?" He's not sure why he's letting Sonny off the hook, considering the broken lamp and the split lip and the three bullets still in the .22, but there it is.

It seems to take a second for Sonny to decide whether to take him up on it, and the words he was going to say—something about what he wanted once, what he'd give up, what he'd offer—hang in the crisp conditioned air like neon light. But then Sonny snorts. "I'm pretty sure you're not as tight as my Theresa would've been." He drags out "Theresa" so it sounds a bit like longing and regret.

Vinnie snorts, too, sits up in the bed, untangles his feet and gets them flat on the floor. "Yeah, sure, Sonny. You tell yourself that."

"You impugning the virginity of my bride?" It's the old Sonny bluster, clenched teeth and voice low. And it's a right-cross instead of a kiss, deflected energy. The shattered room is all about that. Vinnie's split lip, Sonny's black eye. But Vinnie heard Sonny say his name and everything else is plausible deniability.

"Whatever." Vinnie gets up and heads for the john. In the mirror he can see Sonny in the chair, linen pants on now, chest bare, a thin, gold chain around his neck. The .22 is beyond him on the table beside the remains of the lamp and the
Gideon with its back cover torn off, pages of "Revelations" scattered.

Vinnie shaves carefully to avoid opening up the lip again. Craning his neck over his shoulder, Sonny watches from the chair. When Vinnie's almost done, Sonny turns away and says, like he's asking whether Vinnie likes calamari or mussels, "So, Vinnie. You ever do that, before?"

Deliberate and casual, Vinnie rinses the razor under the tap, shakes it, wipes a towel over his face. "In prison."

"That's different."

He looks at the back of Sonny's head in the mirror. "Is it?"


After popping the trunk, Vinnie comes around and lifts Sonny's bag out, sets it down next to Sonny's feet.

Sonny waits, staring at the other suitcase still in the trunk, his knee bouncing with unspent energy. He snaps his fingers a few times and then gives the same intent attention to Vinnie's face. His mouth is hard, but it's there again in his eyes, that naked look. "So that's it." He points over Vinnie's shoulder where six cars seem to hover over the dry grass, liquid with heat shimmer, getting bigger. "You said you'd let time tell." Then he hooks his thumb over his own shoulder at the plane. "My ride beat the clock."

Vinnie says nothing. The bag stays in the trunk.

Sonny looks at the swath of ocean to the left, the broad, bending leaves of palm trees on the right. There's more grey at his temples than Vinnie thought. Lines fan out from the corners of his eyes as he squints into the sun, works his jaw. Finally, Sonny nods. "Okay." He angles Vinnie a narrow glare. "Okay, fine. Sure."

Vinnie picks up the bag and hands it to him. "I think this is where you say we'll always have Paris."

"Yeah, except I ain't Ingrid Bergman."

At that, Vinnie chuckles. "No kiddin'."

The props on the plane go from blades to blurs to discs as the six cars fishtail off the dirt road onto the dusty air strip.

They get to the strip at 3 o'clock. There's no one in the shed or in what looks like it once pretended to be a restaurant. The freezer offers "Ice Cold Coke" and delivers sawdust and one dead rat on its back at the bottom, tiny pink fingers curled into fists.

Sonny throws pebbles at a seagull, and then, when the bird flaps away, at the phone booth while Vinnie dials. The small stones crack against the glass next to Vinnie's head.

Vinnie has to clear his throat twice before he can say, "Uncle Mike, time to come get me," and lets the receiver swing, the line open. The Lifeguard does the trace while Sonny counts the time on his Rolex, then steps up, reaches in and breaks the connection.

In the tight space of the booth, Sonny's face is close to Vinnie's. They're both sweating in the greenhouse heat--Vinnie more so since, in his dark suit, he's dressed for New York--and Vinnie's tongue is treacherous enough to remember the taste of him. He can't swallow the memory away. Suddenly he craves tequila. Lots of it. They stand for a long time while the clouds pile up over the ocean.

"Coney Island," Sonny says, lifting his chin toward them. "Cotton candy." It's hard to tell if his soft grunt is nostalgic or derisive. "Miami's candy-flavoured." His gaze returns to Vinnie's mouth. "Sicily's golden, Vinnie. Everything." Then he laughs out loud and shrugs at his own provincialism. "So they say."

"Send me a postcard."

"My plane gets here first you can send the feds one from the both of us."

Vinnie pushes him out of the way and goes to lean against the Caddy, one eye on the dirt road, one on the sky. The air strip is an hour outside of Miami's city limits. The plane over the ocean is about that far. Sonny must think it's closer. Which is maybe why he let Vinnie make the call, why he follows Vinnie to the car, willing to let this bizarre game of velocity and distance and converging trajectories decide who Vinnie Terranova is going to be. Maybe he believes in fate. More likely he's calculated the odds, and the odds are with the house, and Sonny still believes the house is his.

"A coin toss would be easier," he says as he opens the Caddy door.

"All I got is hundreds," Vinnie answers.

The clouds mount higher as Sonny rummages noisily in the glove box and comes up with a ball.


"They're gonna be pretty pissed at me," Vinnie shouts over the climbing roar of the props and the screaming sirens, grinning more than he should be. The split lip opens again and he tastes blood.

As Sonny steps back and pulls the .22 out to aim it straight-armed at Vinnie's head, his laugh is wild, like it's whipped by the wind and the dust. "No worries, Vinnie. I got your back." He winks and shifts his aim just a tiny bit. Just enough. Plausible deniability. "We'll always have Paris," he says and pulls the trigger.

The shot deafens Vinnie. The heat of it knocks him backward, staggering, a hand to his temple. When he falls something in his pocket jams against his ribs.

By the time he opens his eyes again the cavalry has arrived and the dust churned up by running feet drifts across his vision. Beyond that, Sonny's plane is a white cross against candy-coloured clouds.

Then someone's holding a handkerchief against Vinnie's temple. Vinnie pushes the officer aside and levers himself up onto his elbow, manages to get to his knees. The world is silent except for roaring echoes, so he can't hear his own brief laughter when he feels around the bruise on his ribs, then in his jacket pocket, his fumbling fingers closing around the hard rubber of the handball. He's deaf for the moment, so he doesn't have to answer any questions as he watches the plane head out to sea.

^^^
-4-Whatever's Left

Probably roast beef. Tuesday, so probably roast beef. Or, god help him, sausage and sauerkraut. Detective Joe Mulcayhe has an ulcer. Actually he has two. One, he comes by legitimately from drinking too much precinct coffee and spending too much on-the-job time in the company of crooks and hoods and button men. The other one, well, it's not from playing the ponies. It's from what happens when the nags run with clogs, which is: off-duty time with crooks and hoods and button men. He pulls on the waistband of his pants, gets one arm into his coat, and is three steps away from his desk before he comes back and rummages in the bottom drawer for the Maalox. Both the ulcers are less-than-happy around Irene's sausage and sauerkraut. But Irene smiles a lot and folds her hands on her lap and watches him with this bright look in her eyes so he eats the food. And has seconds.

Standing beside the desk, blocking foot traffic, he downs half the bottle and then tosses it back in the drawer. If he were at all poetical, he'd say something about how love tastes like mint-flavoured chalk. But luckily he's not poetical, 'cause nothing very pleasant rhymes with "chalk."

So, he's thinking about the ulcers when he leaves the 7/11 on the corner with a cherry Big Gulp and three rolls of Tums, which is why he misses the two dark coats that slither away from the corner of the building and shadow him down the alley to where he parked his car. He catches them out of the corner of his eye, though, in time to ruin one high-priced suit with the Big Gulp before the knee to the groin sets off the Big Bang behind his eyes and he hits the pavement gasping. The guy is cursing in Italian and the toe of his hand-stitched shoe is sharp where it connects in the same spot twice more to prove some point about superior workmanship and aim, so Mulcayhe jerks and rolls over to protect his jewels. If he were a hundred pounds lighter he could shimmy under the Pontiac, but he was never a hundred pounds lighter and these guys got real long arms, anyway.

The other guy has a thin laugh like a violin string, and his breath smells like toothpaste when he leans close and says, "Time to go to school, Joe."

Mulcayhe knows them. He knows one of them for real--Rico, who wears Aramis and chews with his mouth open--and the other he knows because Mulcayhe's been a cop for two decades and playing the ponies for half that time and he's seen the guy with a hundred faces over the years. Cugine, the wops call em, cocky and unsure and twitchy, willing to write their own ticket in the blood of welshers like Mulcayhe, make a good impression on the bosses, float to the top like all the primo crap. This one has eyes like black beads, no soul in there at all. Rico calls him Maury, as in, "Maury, take it easy. He's no good to us with his lights out."

"School" is the back room of a bicycle shop in Queens where students are taught economics under the tutelage of people like Rico and Maury.

Mulcayhe twists his wrists in the duct tape and tries to remember what happened to his Tums. "I'll make good," he promises. "I just need a little time." A little time, maybe a crystal ball, because what he really needs is some kind of long-shot miracle to cover this shortfall, some from-the-back-of-the-pack streak of lightning that pays twenty-to-one.

He squints into the shadows where Maury has his hands on his hips and his head tipped back, looking at the peg board on the wall. Maury reaches up a wiry arm and pulls the chain on the light over the workbench. The pegboard has lots of hooks on it for holding tools. Socket wrenches, pliers and vice grips.

"I always make good. I never didn't." Mulcayhe puts a growl into it to cover up that thinness in his voice, the pleading sound.

Rico finishes his corned beef on wheat and tosses the crumpled wrapper into the trash can.

"Two points," Maury says without looking. Now he's lifting the trays out of a steel tool box. "Huh," he says, musingly.

"Look," Rico puts his foot up on the arm of the chair next to Mulcayhe's elbow. "Your credit rating means nothing here, Joe. And Mr. Castellano don't extend balance protection. You want that shit, go to a bank. Right here, it's simple. Cash." He wipes his mouth delicately with his thumb. "That's it."

Maury turns around. "What do you think?" In one hand he's got a ball-peen hammer, in the other a rubber mallet. Because this is about education, a friendly refresher course--practically a social visit--Rico tilts his head, opting for the mallet.

Things get kinda sparky-blurry for awhile after that.

Someplace on the bookshelf in Mulcayhe's den is an anatomy book his kid left behind when she went off to San Francisco to be a doctor. All kinds of useful stuff in there, like how many bones there are in the human hand. Mulcayhe thinks about that book, tries to climb backward out of his body and into that book where things are flat and labeled and colour-coded and cross-referenced. He tries to think of his hands as paper. Nerveless.

That doesn't work as well as he'd like.

"Feeling smarter, Joe?" Rico asks, in a voice like half-congealed blood.

Maury's panting. He's got his sleeves rolled up. The cherry Big Gulp left a real nice stain on his shirt so he looks like he's taken a round to the gut. Mulcayhe grins at him.

Not such a good idea. Maury has no sense of humour at all.

Mulcayhe starts to think of the story he's going to tell Irene when he gets home. Something about dropping a filing cabinet on his hand. And on his face.

"I'll make good," is what he says. What else can he say?

"When?"

"Soon."

"When, Joe?"

"I don't know. I don't know. Soon."

"Maybe you need a little motivation."

It takes him a second to figure out what Rico is holding under his nose. Black and white, glossy. Irene in the parking lot of the school. Her hair is blowing, and one hand holds it back as she looks quizzically toward the camera.

"How'd a troll like you get a woman like her, huh?" Rico asks. "It sure ain't your money."

Maury looks over Rico's shoulder at the photo and grins like a shark.

"I like 'em young, myself, but Maury here, he has a thing for the Mrs. Robinson type."

The chair jolts across the concrete floor when Mulcayhe lunges against the tape on his arms. Rico steps back and laughs.

Inside his head, Mulcayhe's rampaging. If he had actual files in there, he'd be tearing them out of their drawers, ripping off manila covers. No long-shot nag is gonna do it. Something. Something. . . something.

"Trade," he blurts.

Maury and Rico exchange glances. "Trade what?" they say together.

"You clear me with Castellano, I'll give him something."

After hitching up his pant legs, Rico settles down on the edge of the workbench and looks bored. "What."

"A rat. A great big rat." The ulcers are burning two holes right through Mulcayhe and he'd puke if he didn't have to talk. Hail Mary mother of God blessed among women... he thinks, setting the whole litany into motion. His heart is pounding loud enough to almost drown out the act of contrition. "But you got to stay away from Irene."

"Spill it, Joe, and we'll see."

Mulcayhe's hand won't make a fist so he grinds his teeth together instead. "Promise me. Irene," he demands. When Rico offers the smallest of shrugs, he goes on in a rush before the magnanimity can evaporate. "The rat is close. Real close. He had the ear of top guys. I mean real top guys. He's connected. I had to spring him on another case last year. Worked for a gun-runner, Mel Profitt." As if it were possible, his heart starts to hammer even harder when the name makes Rico sit up a little straighter. It just figures that after all these years it would be hope that would give Mulcayhe a fucking heart attack. "Castellano will probably give you a medal or a ring or whatever you hoodlums get for good works." Rico stares at him through narrow eyes. Maury bounces the mallet against his palm and Mulcayhe's own hand throbs in time. "You stay off Irene. And you can break the rest of my fingers after for fun if you want to."

"Yeah, we can," Maury says.

Mulcayhe's on his third Hail Mary by the time Rico nods.

"Okay, Joe. You spill it, and we'll take your offer to Mr. Castellano."

The bile rising in Mulcayhe's throat is choking. Irene dangles from Rico's hand, glossy and oblivious.

"He's OCB. Steelgrave's trigger man. Vinnie Terranova."

^^^

-5-Ways and Means


"Tell him, no more, Zack. I mean it. Not one more cent until he shows some respect." Vinnie presses a highball glass to his temple and wishes the ice were inside his skull instead.

Zack nods. The lights from the dance floor reflect off his shiny bald head. When Zack swipes a huge dark hand across it, Vinnie almost expects the light to come away like paint. "He's--"

"Pushing me." Vinnie crushes an ice cube between his teeth, feeling splinters of cold behind his eyeballs. "That's a bad idea." He catches Rudy's eye and lifts his chin. Rudy nods and heads for the door to bring the car around. "And he can forget the babysitters. Nobody's gonna look over my shoulder. Nobody."

"He's not going to like it."

"I don't give a fuck what he likes." And Vinnie doesn't have to, not anymore. He scans the club, picking out six of Cecil's one-time trigger men. They raise their glasses or offer him a nod. They understand the new order and not one of them is dumb enough to swim against the tide. Too bad Patrice isn't so smart. Losing face is the least of the Cat's problems these days. "Paulie wanted to have a say, he should've taken Sonny down himself."

+++

The shed rattles as the roller coaster barrels down the slope and whips around the curve, setting the dangling light fixture swinging. Shadows slither up the plank walls and down again, like they tried to go over the top and then gave up. The dust that drifts down from the ceiling settles in the stains on the floor. Vinnie tells himself the stains are engine grease.

After three more passes, the coaster goes silent. The park won't take long to empty and in five minutes the girls will be shoving their stuffed bears onto the floor to make room in back seats to show their appreciation to their carnival heroes. Denny's will fill up with the guys who didn't have a good enough arm to topple the bottles and win themselves a heavy petting session. Then everyone will go home to bed. Neighbourhood sweethearts tucked in before curfew, asleep wearing chaste smiles, hickeys under their nighties.

Vinnie finishes two more cigarettes, grinds the butts into the stains. He's contemplating a third when there's a sharp rap on the door and Rudy pokes his head in.

"He's out here. You want 'im now?"

"Naw, Rudy, I just want to keep the ambiance of this place all to myself." Vinnie watches Rudy try to decide whether to smile or look chastened. Since that kind of deep thinking could take Rudy all night, Vinnie rolls his eyes and says, "Bring him in. And wait in the car."

"You never call. You never write. Your mother and I are worried you're taking the marijuana," Frank drawls after he recovers from Rudy's shove. Watching Rudy back out and close the door, he settles his trenchcoat and smoothes his tie, then takes in the room. "So this is where the fingers get broken, huh? I liked it better when we met outside under the stars."

"Can't see the stars these days."

"Not from where we're standing." Frank gives him the once-over. "You look like shit dressed up in a twelve-hundred-dollar suit. When was the last time you slept?"

The question is like permission to sit down, so Vinnie does. There's just one chair in the middle of the room under the lightbulb, and Vinnie straddles it, an arm across the back, his forehead resting on his sleeve. He could fall asleep right there, if he could figure out how to get his eyes to close. Instead, he finds a piece of duct tape on one of the chair's spindles. He's picked it almost off before he realizes why it's there, and curls his fingers away from it like they've been burned. "I never could figure out where Sonny got it," he says.

"What?"

"All that energy."

"Maybe he was sampling the merchandise."

Vinnie rolls his head on his arm and then sits up. His eyes feel like they're made of broken glass. "No. Not Sonny." He drums his fingers and taps his heels on the floor. "Adrenaline. No wonder he went grey so young." He waits for Frank to say something glib. He doesn't. Vinnie grinds a thumb and finger into his eyes. "This sucks, Frank."

"I know."

"I got no mobility. I can't take a leak without three guys standing outside the door—"

"You've also got the best position we've ever had—"

"—and I have to kidnap you to make a report—"

"—and pretty soon we'll get what we need—"

"—and I'm supposed to be busting the mob, not fucking running it." Vinnie means that to come out as a shout, a scream, but training is in the bones so the grand gesture is tamped down to a whisper instead. It doesn't matter. He can't conjure the energy, anyway.

"Ends and means. Better you than Nicky."

Blinking sparks out of his eyes, Vinnie watches Frank prowl around the edges of the light, hands in the pockets of his trenchcoat, eyes on the big picture. "Yeah, well, it's not gonna be long before Nicky decides he wants his piece, and it's my flesh he's going to weigh it in. If Patrice doesn't get me first."

"Come on, Vince," Frank says wearily. A hand falls heavily on Vinnie's shoulder, squeezes and goes away. "Between your guys and our guys you're better protected than the Queen." There's not a hell of a lot of conviction in it. Frank sounds like he's reciting lines from a script. Vinnie looks up to see the guilt play across Frank's face. For a second, the hand comes back, a tentative pat that's all Frank this time. "Patrice is close. He's on the ledge with one foot dangling."

"And after Patrice? Then what? Nicky? Carmine? How long, Frank?"

Like he'll find the answer there, Frank hitches up his sleeve and checks his watch. With a frustrated flick of his fingers against the watchface, Frank angles his head and takes a good look in Vinnie's eyes. "You want out, we'll get you out, somehow. We'll find a way." He doesn't say a word about Patrice or Nicky or the war that's brewing, or the bodies that are waiting to be dead if it comes to that. He waits. Time keeps going forward, dragging them along.

"Fuck," Vinnie breathes into his clasped hands, rubs at the grit in his eyes again, and pushes himself up from the chair. "What's the news on Sonny?"

The wince Frank doesn't bother suppressing tells him the news isn't good. "We got a couple leads."

Vinnie snorts in disgust, walks a few tight circles around the chair.

"Look, a guy doesn't just walk away from protective custody unless somebody holds open the door," Frank says, turning on his heel to follow Vinnie's movements. "That's where we're looking. We find who sprung him, we'll know where to look for him."

At that, Vinnie stops and throws his head back, lifts his hands to God in a "Do you believe this?" gesture. "He's gonna be real easy to find, Frank. He'll be the guy holding a gun to my head."

"We'll find him before that."

"You'd better, because I don't want to have to be the one to kill him. Again."

All Frank can do is nod and say, "Okay, okay. We're on it." Then he thins his lips in his determined-to-be-brave face and holds his hands out at his sides. "So, what's it gonna be, Vince, black eye or fat lip?"

Vinnie looks him over like he's choosing a cut of beef, but really he's picturing Frank ten years ago, out in the field, deep under, scrapping like a terrier, and he can't help the admiring grin that sneaks onto his face.

"Yeah, yeah, the highpoint of your day," Frank says dryly, pretending he misunderstands. "A million guys out there would love to get paid to punch their bosses in the mouth."

On the theory that it hurts less if you don't brace for it, Vinnie swings before Frank's even got all the words out, catches him on the jaw with a right and then on the backswing with an open hand on the other side. Frank stumbles sideways and lands splay-legged on the chair.

"Ow," he says.

Massaging his hand, Vinnie winces now, himself. "Sorry, Frank. But I don't think you should take anymore hits to the eyes, y'know?"

Frank lets Vinnie pull him to his feet and takes a moment to lean on his arm until he's steady enough to stand on his own. "I love my job," he mutters, and keeps muttering it until they're at the door.

Outside, Rudy's leaning on the hood of the limo playing gin with Gerome. Frank's car is pulled up behind them, the door open and the stereo playing.

"Aw, come on, you guys. That's bad for the battery," Frank complains as Gerome grabs him by the sleeve and drags him to his car. He gets into the driver's side and waits while Gerome goes around and takes the passenger seat. The 9mm in Gerome's hand makes a simple silhouette against the glow from the remaining carnival lights.

"Gerome," Vinnie calls and waits while he rolls down the window and sticks his head out. "He's my pigeon. No ringing his bell for kicks or you'll be singing in the boys' choir, got it?"

Gerome nods and Frank puts the car in gear.

While Rudy gathers up his deck of cards, Vinnie looks up and tries to see the stars.

+++

"Hey, Uncle."

"Brother, you sound like someone just strangled your dog."

"Something like that." Frank shifts the phone to the other ear and pins it to his shoulder while he shakes the powdered creamer container over the black sludge in his cup. Nothing comes out until it does, all in one congealed lump that splashes coffee onto his sleeve. "Crap." He looks at the lump and the oil slick around it, then drops the whole thing, mug and all, into the trash.

"Vinnie, huh?"

"He's looking pretty frayed around the edges, Uncle."

"Maybe it's time to pull him."

The chair squeaks as Frank leans back and presses a bag of ice to his jaw. "The RD won't go for it. Won't lose the asset. It's his stairway to a corner office."

There's a pause while the Lifeguard thinks, or swears silently, or says some kind of calming mantra. Hard to tell with him. His voice is as level as ever when he speaks. "We're gonna lose the asset one way or another. Better to do it while it's in our control."

"So I said. No dice with Elias. The man is positively gleeful. When I told him Vince sealed the alliance with the Rastas in Ducktown I swear he did jig in his office." Another pause Frank uses to apply the ice to the bruise on his cheek. He reminds himself to ask Vinnie to at least take the ring off next time.

"So, what are you gonna do?"

"I think I'll arrest him. Vince, I mean."

"Vacation at Club Fed?"

"Yeah." Frank slides his glasses up onto his forehead and screws a fist into his eye.

"He's been under two years plus. Our boy needs more than a few days in the tank to get him right again." There's the faint whistle of a kettle on the Lifeguard's end, and Frank thinks wistfully of real coffee, freshly brewed, with real cream in it. "An arrest now might get the bad guys thinking he's ripe for a take-down," the Lifeguard continues. "Not to mention how the RD's gonna chew you a new one for taking Vince out of the game, even for a week."

Frank looks over his shoulder at Elias's closed office door before saying quietly, "The RD can pucker up and smooch my shiny, Irish ass."

+++

Mina's there when Vinnie steps off the elevator into his penthouse at the Royal Diamond. She's in the chair by the window, slouched low with her legs akimbo in stilettos. She's all pale angles and shadows and spiky blue-black hair, the brief glow of a cigarette flaring at her lips. "Prodigal son," she says, blowing the words out with the smoke.

Vinnie drops his jacket on a bar stool and plucks the cigarette from between her fingers to steal a drag. The smoke is sharp enough to clear his head a little. "Why're you sitting in the dark?"

He can't really see her shrug, but he can hear the faint rustle of beads as they slide over her skin. She's wearing that fuck-me-fuck-off dress, strings of black beads arranged artfully to offer the hope of skin. When he turns on the light behind the chair, she swings her knees wider so that the strands slither over her thighs and between her legs, revealing and concealing, promising everything and nothing. He'd like to break one, to see if she'd come unstrung completely.

Instead, he puts the cigarette back in her hand, fills a glass at the bar, icewater, and drains it with his back to her. He feels a prickle between his shoulder blades where she's watching him. Again, he can hear her moving as she gets up and crosses the carpet toward him. He doesn't expect her to climb up the barstool, shoes on his jacket, to settle down on the bar beside him, but there she is, taller than he is on her perch, mascara smudged around her wide, colourless eyes, a grin on her red-painted mouth that says she's got a secret.

"You smell like Patrice," he says. He starts to turn away but she loops her legs around his waist, crosses her ankles, and he's caught.

She presses her skinny body to his back and nuzzles his neck. "Yes, I do." One stiletto heel presses into his groin, dangerously close to the merchandise. Gooseflesh rises on his legs and up along his spine. Digging in a little harder, she laughs low and dirty in his ear as her hands work at his tie. "I smell like him all over. Pat the Cat, everywhere."

While she slips the tie loose and winds it around her hand, he undoes the buckle around her ankle, removes the shoe and tosses it toward the bedroom. The other goes the same way, and now it's her bare foot threatening and promising as it caresses his leg.

"I get anything out of the deal?" he asks. He feels his eyes closing, his head falling back against her shoulder, but he's awake again when her hands stop fiddling with his shirt buttons. A moment later, she's shaking a micro-cassette in its plastic case under his nose. He huffs a laugh. "I don't even want to know where you hide a tape recorder in that dress, do I?"

"Nuh-uh," she answers, holding the cassette up above his reach. He stretches for it and there's a little tug-of-war before she lets it go. "Trade secret."

He's got a tape player around here somewhere, but not the motivation to go find it, certainly not with Mina kissing the side of his neck and her foot doing things that should be illegal if not impossible. Still, though, not much is going on down below. He can't tell anymore if it's because he's too wired or too tired. It's all starting to feel the same these days, a sizzle like a low grade fever in his blood. He figures that this is what the rat feels like in owl territory, and again it's Sonny he thinks of, the way he was always in motion even when he was sitting still. Even in the safe-house when he wouldn't look Vinnie in the face, wouldn't touch him—"Eyes everywhere, Vinnie. That's the I' in FBI"—he managed somehow to pass it on, that sizzle in the blood, like some kind of plague. Sonny's curse. In the deeper recesses of Vinnie's memory where he keeps high school and college, there's a character in a play, someone who sleepwalks and obsesses about blood.

"Who is it who kills a king and then wanders around talking in his sleep?" he asks Mina while he walks the tape over his knuckles like a coin.

"Her sleep," Mina corrects him, her voice a purr in his ear. "Lady Macbeth. Her guilty conscience makes her crazy." She recites in a cheesy English accent, "Out, out, damn spot! Who knew the old man to have such blood in him!" With that, she bites his neck, just at the shoulder. "I bet your blood would burn my tongue."

"You're a strange girl."

"Mmm-hmm," she agrees.

"You want to give me the Reader's Digest version of this?" He rattles the tape.

Sitting back, Mina unfurls his tie from around her fist and winds the loose end around her other one, snaps it a couple of times between her hands in the air in front of his face. "On that tape is one Paulie Pat the Cat Patrice planning to clip someone."

"Anyone I know?"

"Not as well as you should." She pulls the make-shift garrote against his throat, and when he makes no move, leans back a little more, and then a little more until finally he reaches up with his free hand, works his fingers in under the tie and yanks her forward again. Her laugh is like black water over stones. "You, darling Vinnie. Paulie thinks it's time you took your place in the choir celestial."

Even Vinnie is surprised when he finds himself laughing, mostly because it feels so much like relief, and not about finally getting something on Paulie, either. "Well, I guess the guy grew some when we weren't looking."

He puts the tape between his teeth so he can use both hands to get the tie away from Mina. It's a bit of a scuffle that winds up with her on the floor on her back and him straddling her with her elbows pinned under his knees. Her eyes look bruised in the oblique light from the only lamp, and her lip curls upward in a snarl that shows sharp little teeth. He can't tell if she's turned on or pissed off, or turned on because she's pissed off. He takes the tape out of his mouth and tucks it in his shirt pocket.

"So, any chance he's on this tape naming the trigger man?" When she squirms under him, he rocks back to release her arms and then catches her wrists in his hands, pins them above her head.

"Someone who can get close to you." She laughs and bucks hard enough to almost tip him off of her. But not quite. He's got her when it comes to brute force. But she's never been about that; she's more like water freezing in the crevices, cracking mountains open, which is why Vinnie finds her useful. She'd make a good agent if she weren't at least borderline psychotic. Or because she's at least borderline psychotic. "It's someone you trust." The glitter in her eyes is predatory. "Someone you trust enough to fuck, anyway."

"Someone like you?"

"Someone a lot like me."

Vinnie lets her go and shuffles backward until he's sitting with his back against the bar. The weird flutter of relief settles into a bleak sort of satisfaction, like a circle's finally been completed.

Mina sits up, cross-legged, and rests her elbow on her knee, her chin in her hand. They look at each other for a long time. Finally, she says, "You know who my mom named me after?"

"No." He's not sure he cares, but Mina has a tendency to come at things from odd angles, so he pays attention.

"Mina Harker. She's the chick in that book, Dracula. Dracula feeds on her every night until she dies and becomes the undead. Her own fiancé —or is he her husband? I don't remember. Anyway, he has to vanquish her. Drives a stake through her heart or something."

"Your mom was pretty fucked."

Her smile is too bright to be anything but ironic. "She had high hopes for me." There's a muted clatter of beads as she crawls over to him and kisses first the corner of one eye and then the other before sitting back on her heels to study his face. "Poor Vinnie. Don't look so tragic," she says with a little, sympathetic pout. "The thing is, you and Patrice aren't the only players in this game."

Vinnie thinks of Frank, and for a panicked instant he's sure she's looking right through him, seeing everything. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means, Vincenzo, that I'm not your executioner. Not today, anyway." She leans forward and presses her cheek to his, and her whisper smells of expensive cologne and smoke. "But I know all about the undead. Some of them are friends of mine."

If Vinnie were someone who could sleep, her low, dark laugh would follow him into his dreams.

+++

Two days after Vinnie clocked him in the shed at the carnival, Frank's standing on the pier. He's wearing his dress shoes with no socks and he has his pajamas on under his trenchcoat.

The Lifeguard took the call from the RD and passed the news along to Frank, who lurched out of a dream to knock the phone off the bedside table before managing to get coordinated enough to reel the receiver up by the cord to his ear. Then, ten seconds later, he was out of bed and heading for the door. He tripped over the edge of the rug and hit his forehead on the doorjamb and he never noticed he was bleeding until he was halfway to the pier, heading toward the orange glow. He pulled his sleeve down and pressed it to the cut with the heel of his hand, growled, Goddammit. Goddammit all to hell, and ran stoplights while in his head the Lifeguard was saying, It was a carbomb, Frank. Lit up half the waterfront. Jesus, Frank. Jesus lord God.

Now Frank's standing on the pier with his fists in his pockets. The fire's mostly out, and there's something Dali-esque, melted and twisted and almost recognizable as a limo, steaming next to the loading dock. Above it, the Terranova Marine sign is mostly unreadable behind a layer of soot. Oily runoff from the fire hoses slithers across the cracked asphalt and pools around Frank's feet, black reflecting black.

Over to the left, Rudy Figliano is sitting in the open door of the RD's sedan. He's got close-set eyes and a squashed-crooked nose and a build like a linebacker, and right now he's snuffling a little and saying, "I checked. I checked like I always do and it was clean. I swear it was clean. I went inside to get Mr. Terranova's briefcase because he forgot it when we was here before dinner and then I'm coming up the loading dock and KA-BOOM!" His enormous, meaty hands leap up to mime the explosion. "There's fire and stuff on fire falling outta the sky and it's like fucking fiery Argammemanon."

"Armageddon," Frank says to himself. "Fucking Armageddon."

The briefcase is in a sealed, extra-large evidence bag on the roof of the car. Frank has an unreasonable urge to grab it and run.

Like he can smell insubordination while it's still only a thought crime, the RD notices him, leaves Rudy with an agent and steps carefully around the puddles to where Frank's standing next to his own car. They watch the firemen checking for hotspots and the fire investigators moving in to do their thing. Elias is wearing a tuxedo.

"Frank."

"Was he in there? You're sure?"

"His driver says he was. Says he saw him in the car just before it went up. With all the water, it's going to be a bitch forensically when it comes to corroborating his statement. But, yeah. It looks bad."

Frank feels like he's leaning into a strong wind, braced with everything he's got against something invisible. It takes a few seconds to get his teeth to unclench. "He should've been out of here weeks ago."

"Hindsight is twenty-twenty, Frank."

"And clichés are good for campaign posters and Diner's Club speeches but they do no goddamn good here. Sir."

The RD nods and purses his lips. Then he cocks an eye at Frank. "You think this is a run-of-the-mill mob hit, or did he blow his cover?"

Frank gapes at him. "Run-of-the-mill? His cover?"

"It would be optimal if he went out with his cover intact."

The implications of that roar through Frank's head like a dirty wave. He squares himself in front of Elias and stabs the air between them with his finger, not quite connecting with the RD's silk shirt. "Vince is not going to have a mobster's funeral. No goddamn way."

Elias slumps a little and closes his eyes in frustration. Then, like he's reciting the rules of the playground to the slow kid, he says, "He goes down as a fed and every crimelord out there's going to go over his guys with a microscope."

"Vince gave his life in service to his country, and he deserves to be buried under its flag."

Elias shakes his head. "There are other agents to consider, Frank, other people with their asses on the line who can't stand the heat. It's not about Vince." The guy actually has the nerve to put a sympathetic hand on Frank's shoulder and give him a brotherly shake before walking away.

Frank is so angry he's blind. He's locked in place like someone's welded his joints and the only way he'll move again is if something breaks. In his head the Lifeguard is saying, Jesus, Frank, over and over again in time with the air forcing its way into and out of Frank's chest.

It's the sound of a door slamming that reconnects him to the world. He leans in the window of his car and finds a manila envelope on the passenger seat. He goes around to that side, opens the door and crouches down to peer at it in the strobing lights of the pump truck and the EMT van. His name is written in block letters on the front of the envelope. When he recognizes the handwriting the world rocks under his feet so he has to grip the doorframe to keep from tipping over.

Standing, he looks around, but there's nobody near his car except a paramedic checking her kit in the back of the truck. He turns and scans the crowd behind the police tape and catches sight of a face he knows from surveillance photos. Her eyes are practically raccooned with black eyeliner and her hair is all wild black spikes. She raises a hand mostly hidden in the long sleeve of her oversized bomber jacket and waggles her fingers at him. Then she's gone.

By the time he crosses the distance to the police line, ducks under the tape and muscles his way through the crowd of rubberneckers, the pier beyond is empty. He flags a uniform and gives a brief description, then lets the officer take charge of setting up a search. How far can the girl run in those heels, anyway?

He's looking for Elias, but the sight of the envelope on the car seat—Vinnie's handwriting—stops him dead, and instead of dutifully reporting to his superior, he sits in the driver's side and carefully drags the envelope onto his lap with his sleeve pulled over his fingers. It's addressed to him, after all. He leans over and tugs a pair of latex gloves out of the box in the glove compartment and snaps them on.

Inside he finds, first, a paper folded in three and closed on the ends with paperclips. In an unfamiliar, looping hand is written: From a concerned citizen. He puts the clips in the cupholder and unfolds the paper. Nothing written inside, but there's a micro-cassette tied with a yellow ribbon and bearing a sparkly tag. For Frank, the tag says in the same hand on the front. On the back: Pat the Cat.

He puts the tape and the paper carefully on the passenger seat and reaches back into the envelope, this time pulling out another sealed, letter-sized one. It's addressed to Carlotta Terranova and the handwriting is Vinnie's. This one goes into the breast pocket of his trenchcoat.

He reaches in for a last time and retrieves another folded paper with Vinnie's OCB ident card clipped to the front and Frank, again in Vinnie's hand, neatly written below it. He holds it in his lap and stares out the windshield at the wreckage of the limo, the firemen reeling in their hoses, the warehouses dark and featureless against the paling sky. He stares for a long time while it all goes blurry. Then he pushes his glasses up to swipe the back of his wrist across his eyes.

"Okay, Vinnie," he sighs and opens the letter.

It says:

Frank,

Please deliver the enclosed envelope to my mother. Do it yourself right away. I'll trust you not to open it.

The other thing is for you. I know you'll make good on it. Paulie's a slippery son of a bitch, so be careful.

You've been a great friend, Frank, and you're still a dink, but I can see why your mom thinks you're adorable. Take care of yourself.

Give my love to Uncle Mike, and the same goes for him, too, except the part about being a dink.

This message will self-destruct in thirty seconds. If you can eat it.

Vince.


When Elias pauses as he's getting into his car and looks over Frank's way, Frank waves and doggedly keeps chewing.

+++

It's impossible to tell what time it is. He's not used to the light here yet, so the yellow shaft that angles sharply through the overhead hatch could mean morning or evening. If it's evening, that would mean he's slept about fourteen hours. It feels like forty. The sheets are sweaty and tangled around him. His body is stiff when he stretches, palms flat on the ceiling, feet against the wall of the v-shaped berth. He relaxes again and rubs his fingers over the stubble on his chin, wincing as they trace the edges of the bruise on his jaw.

"Now we're even."

He squints into the dimness at the shadow in the narrow doorway. Beyond it, there's stairs and a square of daylight, alternately filled with stripes of pink cloud and a swath of blue water as the boat rises and falls on the waves.

"You figure?" Vinnie asks, pretty sure they'll be keeping score for a long time to come.

Sonny's laugh is a low, smug rasp as he stops bracing himself against the swells and cuts through the light to drop onto the other half of the v-berth. "Yeah," he says. "You kill me. I kill you. You fuck me over. . . ."

The grin on his face is smug, too, just like it was last night the second before he knocked Vinnie to the deck with a vicious uppercut by way of hello. In Vinnie's head there's just a jumble of confused images that cascade somehow from fighting to fucking, although it's hard to tell which is which. Now Sonny's hands hang between his knees, and there are bruises on his knuckles. Vinnie has matching ones. He hesitates a second, then reaches across the space and lifts Sonny's hand into the light, sweeps his thumb over his fingers and then lets him go.

The boat rides the waves. In the square of the hatch, a bird is circling, wings angled like boomerangs.

Sonny's feet drum against the drawer under the bed.

"Do you ever stop moving?" Vinnie grasps at a wisp of memory, Sonny asleep beside him, his hand curled on Vinnie's chest, but that might be a dream.

Before Sonny can answer, a newspaper drops to the deck through the hatch, and a second later, Mina's hanging over the edge. Upside-down, her hair looks the same as it does when she's rightside-up, only now, it's peroxide blond instead of black. "Prodigal son," she says.

"When'd you get here?" Vinnie asks.

"I come by night on a dark ship. Slack sails. Captain lashed to the wheel."

Sonny rolls his eyes. "You are one fruitcake short of Christmas, sister."

Mina sticks her tongue out at him and then she's gone. They can hear her footsteps as she heads for the bow and then the stern. Ropes hum against cleats as she casts off from the dock.

"I think we might have to toss her in the Pacific," Sonny says. It's hard to tell if he's joking.

"What do you mean, we'? She's your mole."

"True." Again, the smug grin. Vinnie contemplates a few different ways to wipe it off Sonny's face. "And she's pretty good, you gotta admit. Cept anybody that good at playing both sides makes me kinda twitchy."

"Three sides," Vinnie corrects, then frowns at him. "Only three sides, right?"

Mina's voice drifts down the hatch. "Wouldn't you like to know."

"Better put two anchors on her ankles, in case she's made a deal with the dolphins," Sonny says.

Now it's really hard to tell if he's joking, so Vinnie leans over the edge of the bed and retrieves the paper. Mina's folded it back to the appropriate page and has scribbled in her looping, oddly girlish and innocent hand, You're famous, in the narrow margin. Vinnie scans the story quickly. "Pat the Cat's taken his fall," he informs Sonny as he flips the paper over to look at the inset photo of Patrice being led out of the courthouse to the wagon.

Sonny's feet go still. "About time the smarmy bastard got his. I bet he'll cry like a little girl when they stick the needle in."

Vinnie shakes his head. "Sorry to disappoint you, pal. He made a deal. No lethal injection."

"Then he better enjoy solitude."

"Yeah," Vinnie says vaguely. He's not thinking about Patrice anymore. He's angling the paper into the light so he can make sure he's reading it right. It's just a sidebar. A story about a murdered mobster recently revealed to have been an OCB agent who spent over two years deep undercover inside la familia. In the grainy photo, there's a small gathering of people at a memorial service. Vinnie's mother sits in a chair in front, a folded flag on her lap. At the very back of the little crowd, almost out of focus, is Frank. He's looking straight out of the picture at Vinnie and there's an odd, wry smile on his face.

As he brushes them over the faces in the photo, Vinnie's fingers are shaking a little, and they come away dusted with ink. "Thank you, Frank," he says as the sailboat tacks close to the wind, leaving the land behind.

--the end--


Notes:  Many thanks to destina for comments all throughout the writing process, and to astolat for encouraging words. Any errors in canon or execution are mine, mine, all mine. Section titles are taken from Snow Patrol's Final Straw.

Feedback welcomed at troyswann@yahoo.ca.

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