Sonny was still heated up from the bathhouse, a thin film of sweat shining bright on his cheekbones and his forehead. He was staring out the car window at nothing, eyes narrowed, leaning against his hand. There was a drop sliding down his neck, straight for the softening white collar. Vinnie jerked his head away. He couldn't do this. He couldn't fucking do this. Blow the whole goddamn investigation, not to mention get himself whacked like a piņata, Sonny caught him even looking, for Christ's sake.
His dick didn't seem to care; it had decided Sonny was the hottest thing on the market three weeks after they'd met, the night he'd watched Sonny slide a gun across the table into Patrice's hand and look the muzzle in the face. After that they'd gone to Chickie's party and ended up side by side on a couch getting their dicks sucked, Sonny's hand stretched out across the top of the couch, Vinnie's head tipped back against it, the band of Sonny's pinky ring getting warm between them. Slick hot tight mouth around his dick and Sonny's fingers curling up against his skin, and if he'd had to choose he'd have stuck with the second.
He'd put a lid on it, except right now it felt like it was flying right off, along with everything else. Frank climbing all over his back, trying to tell him the goddamn investigation was anything to care about with Danny on a slab in the morgue, Uncle Dominic looking at him like he was some kind of street scum, like he was responsible, and the fucking cops having themselves a laugh over it, as if Danny had ever been anything but a good kid, the best.
He jerked and looked up; Sonny's hand was on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry I had to pull you in on this," Sonny said. "I know you're having a rough time. This Zhoratso thing couldn't wait, but I promise you, what happened to your cousin, it isn't going to slide. I have a lot of ears out there. We're going to find out who did this."
Vinnie swallowed. "Thanks," he said, and what did that mean, when the only guy who gave a fuck was the one he was trying to bring down.
Sonny was studying his face like he was going to read Vinnie's thoughts right off it. "You need to cut loose a little," he said, and leaned over to the intercom. "Angelo, give Carlo a call, tell him I want some company back at the hotel."
"Sonny, it's the middle of the night," Vinnie said, but half an hour later he was flat on his back on the king-size in Sonny's suite, down to nothing but his shirt, open all the way. A girl was busy riding his dick, and Sonny was next to him on top of another one, working, murmuring, "Yeah, sweetheart, that's it, that's it," while he fucked little hiccuping gasps out of her, right where Vinnie could hear.
Vinnie had his hands on the girl's hips, rocking with her. His eyes were shut and Sonny was panting hard, moving over him, talking low and dirty into his ear, "Come on, come for me, baby, you're almost there, you're right there," and he was, he was there and gone, gasping. Sonny groaned and went still and put his head down against the pillow, his breath hot on Vinnie's skin.
Sonny sent the girls away and came back into the bedroom with a bottle of grappa and two glasses. They drank to Danny and to Dave, and after that they just kept drinking. About halfway down the bottle, Sonny brushed the back of his hand over Vinnie's cheek, and Vinnie only then noticed his face was wet. "I'm sorry," Vinnie said. "Sonny, I'm sorry," and Sonny said, "You've got nothing to be sorry for," and either Sonny started it or he did, but they were kissing.
They didn't fuck, not after the girls and the liquor, but they got as close as they could, dicks right up against each other. Then Sonny pushed him over on his back and slid a couple of fingers into him. Vinnie hadn't known he had sounds like that in his throat. He even came again a little, Sonny driving him like a wrecked train.
Sonny lay down next to him and kissed him again on the cheek, held him close and said quietly, "It's gonna be all right. We're going to find them, and we're going to obliterate them. I'm giving you my word."
Vinnie fell asleep believing him and woke up to Frank telling him it wasn't going to happen, that he had to let Kiki Vanno walk away right into cushy witness protection. Vinnie had to watch Danny's funeral from a quarter-mile away. Lying day in and day out, putting a knife in the back of a guy who loved him, letting everyone believe he was a criminal, and maybe if he could stand here under the trees and promise Danny vengeance it would be okay, but how the fuck was any of this worth doing if he couldn't even put the worst dregs of criminal slime away?
He didn't know what he was going to do when Vanno showed up at the bust. The Zhoratsos would be right there, ready to go off like dynamite, but he wasn't going to get a chance to lay a hand on the scumbag afterwards, that was for sure. Frank would disappear Vanno like a rabbit into a hat; he wasn't going to let Vinnie get anywhere near. Vinnie didn't think he could take it, knowing that: he didn't think he could look at that oily smirk for a second before he slammed his fist into the guy's face, and fuck Frank anyway, fuck the bust, he could get the Zhoratsos some other way, make some other guy give up his dead, because Vinnie wasn't doing it.
Except he didn't get the chance to decide, because Vanno didn't even show up. Frank gave him some bullshit, but Vinnie bet that they'd put it out too soon that Vanno was an informer, that was the only reason the guy would have slipped the traces and run. Frank wasn't going to make a mistake like that; he'd done it on fucking purpose, to make sure Vanno wasn't there.
"Congratulations," Frank said, coming into the holding room. "Steelgrave came to spring you personally. We've put the word out about Vanno. Let him know you overheard some guys talking about it."
"Yeah, thanks for nothing," Vinnie said, and took his jacket off the back of the chair as he walked out. His thirtieth birthday: what did he have to show for it but a house of cards and a St. Christopher medal, and why Danny had gotten him one he didn't really know, except maybe it was a sign he was in the wrong place.
Sonny had a car waiting out front, not the red Caddy but a plain black Lincoln. "You want me to drive?" Vinnie asked.
"Nah, get in, let's hit the road," Sonny said, so smug about losing the Zhoratos and keeping the money that he started singing a little under his breath as he drove, "Ain't no sunshine when she's gone, and she's always gone too long, anytime she goes away."
"This isn't the way to Jersey. Did you miss a turnoff or something?" Vinnie said.
Sonny gave him a sly, slanted grin. "Nah, just wanted to give you your birthday present in private," and pulled off on the sign for a place called Chestnut Ridge Park, taking the Caddy past a bunch of paved parking lots and onto the dirt road up to the hiking trails, deserted late on a weekday out of season. There was only one other car, another Lincoln, but nobody in sight.
"What, you buried it in the woods?" Vinnie said.
Sonny just did a three-point turn on the gravel and backed the car up to the far edge of the lot. "C'mon," he said, climbing out, and Vinnie went around to the back of the car with him. Sonny said, "Happy birthday, Vinnie," and popped the trunk.
The smell of piss blew out. Kiki Vanno's shiny grey pants were stained dark, and his face behind the duct tape was bug-eye scared, his nostrils wide and straining for breath. He was taped up at ankles and knees and wrists-to-elbows, arms behind his back, shiny red bow stuck to his forehead.
Vinnie stared and looked up at Sonny. "He's the one," Sonny said. "He's been dealing to the amateurs, giving them the stuff cheap, getting them hooked. That's how he was fixing the fights. Your cousin found out and tried to chase him."
He reached into the trunk. Vanno whimpered behind his duct-tape gag and cringed away, but Sonny just grabbed out a small black case and snapped it open for Vinnie, a syringe and a bottle inside on black padding. "What—what is this?" Vinnie said, trying to make his voice work right.
"Poetic justice," Sonny said. "Come on, you think this fucking coward could take on your cousin mano a mano? I got a copy of the coroner's report. The slimeball shot him up full of the junk, left him in his car to OD."
Danny in that car, burning up, dying slow and sick and knowing Angie was going to see him like that, knowing everyone was going to think he was a junkie, even his father—Vinnie took the syringe and drew it full. Sonny reached in and hauled Vanno out onto the dirt, knelt down with a knife and sliced the tape off his arms and legs, ripped it off his mouth.
"You got it wrong," Vanno said, trying to crawl away, whining. "Sonny, Vinnie, you guys got it wrong, you got it all wrong, I swear to God, please, Jesus, don't," and it was like a TV going to static in Vinnie's head. He kicked Vanno over onto his back, dropped down in the dirt next to him and slammed his head down hard with a hand over his face, red ribbon coming apart and dragging in the dust.
"If Danny begged like you, would you've let him off?" Vinnie said, and jammed the syringe into his neck and shoved the plunger down.
He got up off Vanno and watched his eyes go watery and his hands start clawing at the air. "No, please, I need—" Vanno said. "I need—Jesus, please, no, no," his voice going high and thin and crazy as he started writhing on the ground, his mouth frothing up around the corners, and Vinnie turned away and threw up into the bushes.
Two shots behind him, and Vanno stopped making noise. Sonny's hands were warm and strong on his shoulders. "Come on," Sonny said. "Let's go. He's history."
Vinnie stumbled up onto his feet and let Sonny put him into the other Lincoln. A couple minutes out on the road, Sonny picked up the car phone. "Yeah, there's a mess at Chestnut Ridge Park needs cleaning up. Have it taken care of." He hung up. "Don't worry about it. No one's ever going to find him."
"I know," Vinnie said. His mouth tasted like metal and bile. He wondered how often Sonny had done this, killed people. He was racking up a list himself, wasn't he—a couple of guys off Cecil Demont's crew in that shootout, Tony San Martano, now Kiki. Maybe—maybe—"Do you get used to it?"
And he knew you weren't supposed to ask that kind of question, you weren't supposed to ask about hits, never, not even a little. Sonny didn't say anything. Vinnie shut his eyes and leaned back against the seat.
Sixty miles of silence, then out of nowhere Sonny said, "Some guys like it." Vinnie opened his eyes and looked over. It was dark outside; Sonny's face was dim in the dashboard light, facing out on the road. "They get off on it, the power, whatever. I never do. It's just what you have to do sometimes. People in this life, people who choose this, that's the ante you put up."
"Right," Vinnie said, looking out the window. It was the usual generic excuse Mafia guys always trotted out. Two hundred eighty-one miles to New Jersey, a sign said, drifting by.
Sonny paused, then he shrugged one hand off the wheel and went on, "And look, yeah, I'll admit it, people like Vanno—guys who go after civilians, after women and children, rats like that—no, I don't mind taking them out. I don't do it just for the hell of it, because it's bad for business, you get a bad reputation that way, but one of those people gives me cause? Truth is it feels good, like you're making the world a little cleaner. Protecting your own against someone like that? Yeah. I'll sleep fine tonight." He nodded, almost to himself. "I'll sleep fine."
Vinnie stared at the white lines on the highway blurring towards them and put Vanno and San Martano up on a mental bulletin board, looked into their leering faces, put up other ones next to them: Gina, Danny. The people the law couldn't protect, couldn't avenge. His neck unknotted, slow but steady.
"It's getting late," Sonny said. "We'll stop somewhere for the night." His thumb slid slow and easy along Vinnie's neck, right behind his ear. "You hungry? They feed you in the can?"
"I could eat," Vinnie said.
= End =
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