Dinner went great. Vinnie had been scared shitless, going in; he trusted Mama, he trusted Pete, but they weren't trained agents, and Sonny was too good at smelling fear. But it went fine. Mama was a little stiff and Pete didn't talk much, but they just came across as formal. Sonny put on his best choir-boy manners and talked about Italy; he ate three helpings of veal and four cannoli and insisted on doing the dishes with Vinnie, sleeves rolled up over his elbows, tie tossed over his shoulder, thousand-dollar-jacket over the back of a chair.
Vinnie stepped out for a cigarette after; he'd been craving since they sat down, but Mama didn't like them in the house. Sonny was talking to Mama while the 11-o'clock news played, and Pete stepped outside onto the porch and gently closed the door behind him, muffling the sound. "We'll probably head out in a minute," Vinnie said, smiling at him, sharing the relief. "Everything went fine. Thanks."
Pete nodded silently, but he didn't smile, and after a moment he said, "Vinnie, is everything all right?"
Sonny was framed in the window, sitting in the living room leaning forward, lit up with the glow from the TV and the cream-shaded lamps; talking with his hands, his shoulders, his easy smile that curled up at the corner.
"Yeah," Vinnie said, turning away; he blew out a long stream of smoke. "Yeah. It's fine, Pete."
"What do you want me to say?" Vinnie said. "He's still one of the bad guys, Pete."
"Yes," Pete said. "And if you were trying to convince him to repent, I would be the first to support you. But the road you're on isn't going to end well for either of you."
"Don't," Vinnie said, because they'd had this conversation before, or at least as much of it as he could handle right now. He ground out the cigarette on the sole of his shoe and went back inside.
Sonny looked up at him. "You ready to head out?"
"Yeah, we should get going," Vinnie said, and kissed Mama and hugged Pete and pretended he didn't see the worry in Pete's face.
Sonny kissed Mama too, and said, "Signora Terranova, I haven't eaten like this since my own mother passed, rest her soul," and from the door, too late, Vinnie saw it coming; not that it would've made any difference if he'd had a month's worth of warning, no matter what Mama felt about gangsters or how many times Vinnie had told her Sonny was dangerous; you couldn't wave a red flag to a bull and expect it not to say—
"You must come again next week," as she handed him a box of leftover cannoli.
"Hey, try this," Sonny said, giving him a glass of Chianti at the casino bar Saturday night while they went through the books, the cleanup crew working on the floor. "I know a guy has a place in Tuscany. What do you think?"
"Yeah, it's nice," Vinnie said. "You want to serve this stuff here? Kind of a waste."
"Nah, I figured I'd bring a couple bottles tomorrow for your ma," Sonny said, killing dead Vinnie's already-faint hope that maybe he hadn't taken the second invitation for real.
But it was all right, it was even easier than last time. Mama had family in Greve, maybe ten miles from the vineyard, so they had the wine to talk about, and that went down easy, too. So easy that over dessert Sonny and Pete got into politics, which was the one risky topic Vinnie knew he didn't have to worry about. Actually he got to sit back and enjoy himself; Pete looked so damn bewildered when he figured out Sonny was a Democrat and agreeing with him.
"Trust me," Sonny said, "you don't want to know what those—" he stumbled, remembering Mama, and landed weakly on "—guys get up to, any of them, but at least Democrats—" and then he trailed off again, looking a little sheepishly at Vinnie, who'd heard the line before: at least Democrats were cheaper to buy.
Vinnie grinned at him and rescued him by pouring another round; the bottles were empty before they cleared the table. They took dish duty together again, and both of them got soaked when the inevitable sponge battle broke out; when Mama came in to find out what all the noise was and saw the swimming countertop, she sailed into both of them without even thinking about it. Sonny took the lecture right next to him, head bent, both of them carefully not looking at each other and trying not to crack up.
The limo pulled up to the curb at the flick of Sonny's hand, and inside they made pillows out of their jackets, kicked off their shoes onto the floor and sprawled out the long way over the leather seat with their legs tangled up. Lights streaked by outside the smoked windows as the limo climbed out of the streets onto the BQE, the endless traffic muffled to a steady white noise and the Yankees versus the Angels on the radio. Sonny passed him a glass full of good brandy and lit a cigar, smoke rich and sweet.
"Hey, give," Vinnie said.
"You want another?" Sonny said.
"Nah, just a drag," Vinnie said, and Sonny handed him the cigar; they swapped it back and forth a couple of times.
"Man, I could go for a blowjob," Sonny said.
"Don't look at me." Vinnie had his head tipped back against the seat, eyes shut. Sonny's shoulder was warm.
"What's the matter, Vinnie, you're not that kind of girl?" Sonny said.
"Not on the first date, man," Vinnie said.
"Hey, come on, it's the second date. Under the supervision of your family and everything," Sonny said, and they cracked up, grinning at each other, and while they were both still laughing Vinnie leaned over and kissed him. He didn't plan on doing it, just somehow he was sliding both hands around Sonny's head, tilting him up for it, and he hadn't even known how bad he wanted this until he had it, Sonny's mouth hot and smoky and open under his. Vinnie didn't let him get a breath; he didn't want to know if Sonny was trying to stop him, and then Sonny was shoving him back and saying, "Jesus, Terranova, you always go for the caveman technique?" but Vinnie didn't give a fuck, because Sonny was yanking his tie loose.
They were wrecked when they got back to the hotel, hauling each other out of the limo and into the elevator, jackets and ties and shoes left behind, Sonny clutching the bottle of brandy and both of them laughing so hard they fell against the wall of the elevator and pushed seven buttons at once and turned it into a local. They laughed even more at each stop, kissing recklessly with the doors open, until they missed the penthouse completely and came out on the empty roof instead, into the furious whistling wind that whipped Vinnie's eyes into tearing up, blurred all the city lights.
Sonny tossed the bottle aside to smash on the concrete and pulled Vinnie's head down, hand sliding up the back of his shirt, and Vinnie wanted him, wanted him now; he was fucking doomed and he didn't care. "Come on, do me here," he said, "yeah, right here," fumbling at his own pants, and Sonny was yelling, "You're fucking crazy, Terranova; I love it," and they were rolling around on the helicopter pad, which was, shit, goddamn cold and hard, but it was too late; Sonny was already shoving into him, so Vinnie just braced his arms and held them up while Sonny fucked him blind and stupid and crazy enough to forget about the gravel digging into his hands.
Vinnie's pants ended up in the trash, ripped at the knees, and the two of them ended up in Vinnie's bed. In the dark, Sonny's eyes got soft and his hands turned gentle and he broke Vinnie apart with Italian and kisses, caro mio and brandy on his breath, and Vinnie buried his face against Sonny's neck and slid his thigh between Sonny's legs and told himself in the morning it would all be over.
Except in the morning Sonny only shoved Vinnie off long enough to stretch out on his stomach. "What, you think I'd give it to you if I can't take it?" Sonny said, except Vinnie knew he was the one who couldn't take it; but it was too late for that, too, so he shut his eyes and pushed in, slicked up and slow, Sonny cursing furiously and urging him on, the soft hair curling damply against his neck, moving so wildly Vinnie couldn't get a rhythm going, and before he thought about it, Vinnie had pinned Sonny's wrists down against the sheets and was fucking him harder. "Jesus fuck yes, you goddamn bastard," Sonny said, nearly bucking him off, and Vinnie said, "Christ, Sonny," and came.
They slept for another hour, then Sonny yawned, stretched, said, "Call down for some breakfast, will you? Man, I'm starving," and got up and walked naked to the bathroom, golden skin, boxer's muscle roped along his shoulders. Vinnie watched him all the way, kept staring after him until the shower came on, and then he fell back to the mattress and put a pillow over his face and yelled into it.
They didn't talk about it all week, but Sonny brought more wine next Sunday, and a box of blackberries flown in from Monte San Michele, so ripe the smell of them filled the house. Mama only let them eat a few before she slapped their hands away, saying they would thank her next week. Sonny managed to steal another handful on their way out, so Vinnie still had the taste of them, of summer, sweet and bursting in his mouth while he necked with Sonny in the back of the limo all the way home.
Friday night, Joey Romanowski pulled his little song and dance in Sonny's office, begging to be let out of his contract, and thanks to that argument, Sonny was still giving Vinnie a dignified cold shoulder by Sunday afternoon. It was the perfect chance to break the pattern, all Vinnie had to do was go on his own; except when he got in the elevator, he punched the floor for the office instead of going straight down.
Sonny looked up from his desk and Vinnie said, "What, you're going to work all weekend? Come on, you know Mama's got something special planned."
"Yeah, all right, all right," Sonny said. In the limo, his leg jittered all the way to the Verrazano, and then abruptly he broke the silence. "Look, this thing with Joey—"
"Sonny, you're the guy who has to call the shots," Vinnie said, interrupting him. "It's a lot easier to sit on the sidelines and criticize. You think I don't know that? But you asked me my opinion and I gave it to you."
"Yeah," Sonny said. "And a man who'll do that, that's worth more than gold to me, you got that?" He snorted. "Even if I get a little stiff about cracks like that last one. You telling me power's changed me?"
"Nah, I was blowing steam, come on," Vinnie said.
Sonny didn't say anything for a while, until they pulled off the highway and Brooklyn was starting to crowd around them. "I don't want to end like Patrice," Sonny said softly, not looking at Vinnie; he was watching the streets, the crammed old townhouses, the bodegas under the dental offices, hole-in-the-wall five-dollar shops with racks of cheap clothes out in front. "That guy, he's forgotten where he came from, you know? He's got nothing he cares about, nobody. He's hollow inside." He paused, and then he said, "You ever wonder what all this adds up to, anyway?"
"Sometimes, I guess," Vinnie said. He was watching Sonny, the strobe light of the sun coming between the buildings playing on his face.
The house was full of the buttery smell of pastry and blackberries: Mama had made a crostata. All three of them wolfed their way through dinner to get to it quicker, despite her disapproving eye, then stuffed themselves full and lingered over coffee and brandy in a comfortably sleepy haze, arguing about Fatal Attraction and agreeing about Steinbrenner. Pete had carefully avoided talking about the parish the last few weeks, but tonight he slipped up and mentioned they'd be putting the new roof on the parish house next Saturday. Sonny promptly volunteered them both before Vinnie had woken up enough to head it off. "What, you're too good to do a little honest work?" Sonny demanded, smacking Vinnie lightly in the stomach. "You need to work off some of your mama's cooking anyway."
"Oh, I need to," Vinnie said, and that nearly ended up outside, but while Vinnie was digging his old beat-up gloves out of the top of his closet, he knocked down the basketball, and they went out and shot hoops in the driveway by streetlamp-light instead, Mama sitting on the porch watching them, a couple of her friends out for a walk stopping in to join her for coffee. A few guys Vinnie knew from high school came by and they got a little three-on-three going, spilling out into the street.
"Okay, come on, we're splitting up Kareem and Magic here," Pauly Giordano said after five one-sided minutes, and Sonny grinned at Vinnie and switched to the other team for the rest of the game.
"Fuck, I want you," Vinnie said in the limo, kissing his way down Sonny's neck, shiny with sweat and still hot to the touch.
"What the hell, our clothes are shot anyway," Sonny said, throwing his jacket down to cover the seat.
"Okay, okay," Sonny said afterwards, panting, still gripping Vinnie's hair. "He can have his goddamn concert tour. Jesus."
The first words out of McPike's mouth at the next meeting were, "Are you out of your mind?" and for one heart-stopping moment, Vinnie thought Frank knew, and then Frank was going on. "Now Sonny Steelgrave's a regular for Sunday dinner at your mother's place? Are you suicidal or just stupid?"
"Hey, what am I supposed to do, tell him he's not welcome?" Vinnie said.
The meet didn't last all that long; Vinnie didn't have a lot to share. He hadn't been spending all that much time collecting evidence the last week, and Sonny hadn't been making much. Jersey hadn't had a sodomy law on the books for years.
They drove out Saturday morning in jeans and t-shirts and found an argument going on instead of the roof: half the tiles in the boxes were cracked, and the company that had delivered them was refusing to take them back. "Hang on a second," Sonny said, and tapped the driver on the shoulder and took him around the other side of the building for a very short conversation; half an hour later, a truck rolled in with the first ten boxes of replacement tiles, upgraded to the top-of-the-line.
"We're bringing them as fast as we can pack them," the driver said apologetically, looking sideways at Sonny, who had his sunglasses on and was standing with his arms folded, leaning against the wall of the parish building. Pete looked irresolute; the monsignor had no such problems, and immediately got everyone started putting the tile up. Vinnie got stuck with box-carrying duty and wasn't able to keep close enough to stop Pete from talking to Sonny, only close enough to overhear and get anxious.
Sonny put his hand on Pete's arm and said, "Come on, Father, it's nothing. I told him I'd make it good, that's all."
"It's not nothing," Pete said. "A roof isn't worth a soul."
"What, you think I threatened the guy's life or something?" Sonny said.
"I didn't mean his soul," Pete said, looking Sonny squarely in the face.
"Well, mine's on discount this week," Sonny said, joking, uncomfortably.
Pete's eyes narrowed; Vinnie hurriedly yelled, "Hey, Sonny, give me a hand with this thing," and Sonny came so fast it was like he was on fire.
"Your brother's goddamned dangerous," Sonny said to him, in an undertone, and grabbed the other end of the box. "How the hell did you end up crossing the tracks with him on your back?"
"Natural talent," Vinnie said. He tried to pantomime at Pete to back off when Sonny wasn't looking, but Pete pretended like he hadn't seen.
It was actually a little funny—well, aside from the goddamn heart attack it kept giving him—to watch Pete try to corner Sonny again. Sonny was avoiding him like Pete actually had lightning to call down on his head, skittering away along the walls and hunching over the picnic tables at lunch like a kid cutting class in Catholic school. Sonny noticed Vinnie trying not to laugh and glared. "You think this is funny?"
"Me? Nah," Vinnie said, not hiding the grin.
Sonny leaned in and said pointedly, "He's trying to talk me into letting him take my confession. You still think it's funny?" He sat back and smirked at Vinnie's expression.
"Great," Vinnie muttered, and drank more Coke.
Afterwards a dozen or so of them went down to the Irish bar down the block to have some beers and watch the Mets game. Vinnie came back from the men's room and found Sonny missing from the table; he and Pete were sitting in a booth at the back of the place, talking quietly. "Are you trying to get me killed?" Vinnie hissed, pulling Pete outside the first chance he got.
"Vinnie," Pete said quietly, "look at me. Do you want to tell me this man's not worth saving?"
Vinnie stared back at him, his heart pounding. "Pete—"
"Do you want to tell me he can't be saved?" Pete said. "Do you want to tell me that you would rather send him to prison than try?"
"It's my job," Vinnie said, half-hearted reflex that even he barely believed.
"This is mine," Pete answered, and went back inside. Vinnie didn't try to stop him.
"Your brother's got a real calling," Sonny said that night, out of the dark, a few minutes after they'd finally turned off the lights; he was on the other side of the room in Pete's old bed.
"He smells blood in the water," Vinnie said, rolling onto his side to look at Sonny, a silhouette in the pale window-square of light. "Are you okay?"
"I don't know," Sonny said. "You figure this is a midlife crisis or something? I always thought that was some bullshit that WASP types used to dump their wives."
He was quiet for a while. Vinnie was starting to think he'd fallen asleep, and then Sonny said softly, "I got Atlantic City in my pocket and three years from now, if I'm not dead, I'll have New York too, and all I keep thinking is, what's the point? My family's gone. Tracy, she's all I've got left, and she's better where she is, you know? She's at some bigshot West Coast firm, she's making six figures and dating a doctor, what the hell does she need this life for?"
He stopped and said, "Ah, never mind. I don't even know what I'm saying."
"Every once in a while they'll express remorse," the instructors at Quantico had said. "They'll talk about retiring or quitting, getting out of the life. Don't respond, don't encourage them. You're not going to reform them. They'll backslide in a day, and anything you said will be remembered suspiciously."
Vinnie climbed out of bed, ducked under the shelf full of old trophies and academic awards, crossed the room and sat down on the floor next to Sonny's bed. Sonny pushed himself up on one elbow and looked down at him. "Your family, they don't approve, do they?"
Vinnie swallowed, his mouth dry. This was how you blew your cover right off, giving up too much of the truth. "No."
Sonny nodded. "Your ma put on a good show at the hospital. But who wants this for their kid? My mother, she couldn't say a word against it, it would've been like saying something against my dad. But she wanted me to go away to college. Italian mother, wants her son to leave home." He smiled briefly, a twitch of his mouth.
"Where'd you go?" Vinnie said.
"I didn't," Sonny said. "I got into, where was it, St. Edwards? Fucking Texas, for Christ's sake. But then the Ricci family hit Mahoney's dad—this was back in the old days, back in the Bronx—and what was I going to do, sit on the sidelines, watch my brother get whacked?" He shrugged with one shoulder. "So how'd you end up in this thing of ours? Honor society certificate over your bed, why didn't you go to school, get yourself a nice cushy desk job?"
"Yeah, right," Vinnie said. "I don't even know, man. You grow up in this neighborhood, you know how it is—half the guys at school are connected. There's always some action going on."
"Yeah. And your brother was the good kid, right?" Sonny said. "Never got into trouble, always made your mother proud—a little hard to live up to. So you mess up a few times, the school doors get closed, you can't get a job where you get treated with respect. People start looking at you like you're a lowlife, like you're nothing. Your own family, they don't want you around—"
Vinnie's shoulders tightened up. "Something like that," he said, and that wasn't a lie, because it didn't make all that much difference that you were building a cover when your mother threw you out of the house and meant it, when your cousins didn't look at you in the street, when the girls from school wouldn't give you the time of day.
"Yeah," Sonny said. "You're not the kind of guy who could take that." He put out his hand, and Vinnie shut his eyes and turned his face into it, let Sonny's palm cup his rough, jagged breath.
"Vinnie," Sonny said, "listen to me; you want out?" Vinnie jerked his head up, staring. "I've got a dozen operations I could use you on, legit top to bottom. Hell, more than that. I'm not talking something like the marina, the casino; those are too close. I mean stuff people don't even know is connected."
"Come on, Sonny," Vinnie said, trying to look away, except Sonny held on to him.
"I'm not kidding," Sonny said. "You want out, I'll get you a door. A real one, not some bullshit where you can go straight as long as you're willing to spend the rest of your life doing shit work and getting stepped on—"
They were in his mother's house, Mama two doors down the hall, and Vinnie was kissing Sonny desperately in the narrow, twin-size bed, Sonny's hands on his back all warm and scraped-up from the day's work, sliding down into his shorts and cupping his ass, the loose bolt in the headboard squeaking softly as they rocked together, and Vinnie wanted out more than anything in the whole goddamned fucking world.
"Give me a couple of weeks," Sonny said afterwards, his hand in Vinnie's hair. "I'll find something."
Vinnie shut his eyes and listened to Sonny's heartbeat and said, "I'm not going anywhere without you," and meant it.
"I still say we should do one last hit for old time's sake," Sonny said, throwing himself into a chair. "Come on, it'd be a public service to get rid of that weasel."
"I think you're missing the point of repentance," Vinnie said, sorting through suits in the closet. "Sid'll get his eventually."
"No, he won't," Sonny said, grumbling. "He'll probably retire with ten times as much money as the rest of us and shack up in Florida with a stable of blondes."
"Yeah, but he'll still be an asshole," Vinnie said.
"You've got a point," Sonny said. "Anyway, maybe Pat will put him on ice for me when he finds out I gave my action to Mahoney and Sidney missed the whole turnover. Here, leave that one, I don't like that one."
Vinnie tossed the blue suit aside onto the unmade bed. "Maybe I should leave all of them. Do we even need suits for Tuscany?"
"What are you going to do, throw them away? Bring 'em, bring the tux. We get bored in the country, we'll swing up to Monte Carlo, try the high life for a while," Sonny said. "What do you think?"
"Sure, I'll do the James Bond thing," Vinnie said. "You all set?"
"Yeah, everything's packed. We'll take the Cadillac in the morning, leave it at the airport," Sonny said. "Pete's bringing your ma?"
"Yeah," Vinnie said. "How long you figure we need to stay out there?"
"A year, maybe two. Mack still thinks I'm off my nut, it's going to take him that long to believe I'm really not getting back in the game. Hell, it's going to take me that long to believe it." Sonny was drumming his fingers uneasily on the chair. "Hey, c'mere."
Vinnie walked over and leaned down, bracing himself on the arms of the chair. Sonny slid his hands into Vinnie's hair and kissed him slow and deep, possessively, stroking his thumbs along the lines of Vinnie's cheekbones. "Yeah," Sonny said, finally, letting him go. "I got good people running all the legit things, it'll be okay."
"Yeah," Vinnie said softly. He couldn't stop grinning, even though he probably looked like an idiot.
"All right, all right, finish up already," Sonny said, giving him a little shove away, but he was smiling too.
= End =
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