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Actor's sharp disgusted comment stopped Garrison as he was reaching for the door handle. He sighed and opened the heavy oak door. Actor was standing at the table, first aid kit spread out on the highly polished surface. Chief was in a chair in front of him, squirming under Actor's not-so-gentle treatment of a cut over his right eye. Goniff was straightening the displaced furniture.

All three men looked at him; Goniff with a slight shrug of apology, Actor with exasperation on his handsome face and Chief with defiance in his dark eyes. In the beginning Garrison would have demanded to know who started it but after nearly two weeks of such outbreaks, he didn't have to ask.

Tossing the file on the table, he said sharply, "Where is he?"

"He ran out when I broke them apart," Actor supplied.

Garrison took his first look at Chief and was startled to see the severity of the cut and the area swelling around it. "What the hell did he hit you with?"

Silence answered him as Chief stared at the carpet. Garrison knew the cons didn't like to rat on each other but this had gone way beyond the usual fighting. Casino had come very close to seriously damaging Chief's vision.

"Chief?" he demanded.

For a long moment he didn't think the Indian would answer but with a heavy sigh, finally he said, "He pushed me. I hit the edge of the window."

"What did he think..."

"He didn't," Actor cut in.

Garrison turned without further comment and marched out. He knew where to find Casino.

The pond had become a favorite place for the team, whether to relax after a mission or to run to get away from the other men. He found Casino under a large oak that bordered the water. The safecracker was sitting at the base of the tree, his knees pulled up, arms crossed over his chest.

Fortunately for Casino, Garrison's temper had faded in the face of trying to find a logical motive for the man's fighting. When Casino looked up at him, the misery in his expression only added to Garrison's puzzlement. Garrison stared him down and finally Casino glanced away.

"All right, Casino," Garrison said calmly. "We've been putting up with this for two weeks. You could have killed Chief."

He was gratified to see the New Yorker flinch. Garrison waited, surprised at the silence. Casino was never silent when something was bothering him. His patience was starting to fray when Casino sighed, still looking away.

"Chief okay?" he asked levelly.

"He's not going to see much out of that eye for a few days," Garrison said honestly. "And I imagine he's going to have a hell of a headache."

"I didn't mean for him to..."

"It's not me you need to apologize to. It is me you need to explain to," Garrison finished firmly.

Casino reverted to form, coming to his feet with a surge of anger. "I don't have to explain any..."

Garrison stepped forward, poking him in the chest. "You nearly blinded Chief. He would be useless and helpless if we were sent on a mission right now. When you start endangering our lives and our missions, you will give me an explanation or you will find yourself out, and you know what that means."

For an instant Garrison was braced for a punch, but Casino broke eye contact, looking down, nervously rubbing his hand through his thick black hair. "I don't know how good a reason you're going to think it is."

Seeing the fear of prison in the dark eyes, some of Garrison's anger faded. "Try me."

There was another pause. "My sister Nina is getting married."

The rather bland statement increased Garrison's confusion. "I don't understand."

Casino's head came up, fire in his expression. Garrison watched the effort he put into controlling it. "My little sister, Nina, the baby of the family, is getting married and...." He took a deep breath. "And I promised when our father died ten years ago that I would give her away."

Garrison waited, sensing there was more. After a minute, Casino again met his eyes. "There's been some trouble with one of the other families. I'm worried they may try something, you know, when all the family's in one place."

Before Garrison could reply, Casino's defenses came into play. "So," he said sarcastically, "why don't you tell me how I should have thought of all this before I started cracking safes..."

"Why Chief?" Garrison demanded, ignoring the anger and statement. "I've pulled you off everyone but mostly Chief. Why?"

Casino stared at him. After a minute, he answered, "I don't know."

Garrison sighed, seeing the half-truth in the statement but knowing it was all he was going to get. "Casino," he said gently, going back to the outraged question. "You were born cracking safes."

The man stopped, then nodded with a slight smile. "Yeah, seems like."

Long minutes passed in silence as Garrison thought over the problem. He could sense Casino's waning patience. "We'd better get back. They'll think we've killed each other."

Garrison turned. Behind him Casino said, "Tell Chief..."

"You tell him."


Casino forced his hand to turn the knob, knowing the looks he would get, the angry words. He walked in, crossing his arms defiantly in front of him, waiting for the condemnations. Actor turned first, his eyes filled not with anger but with disappointment. Casino blinked, not sure he understood it. He glanced at Goniff and was met with a sad shake of the blond thief's head.

The anger he used so well in defense and offense faded into shame. Finally, he looked at Chief. A single onyx eyes met his, the other one already swollen shut. Casino took a sharp breath as he saw what he'd done. Regret and unexpected tenderness flooded his stomach.

Taking a step forward, he held his hand out in a helpless gesture. "Chief...."

The Indian rose a little shakily and brushed passed him with a cold neutrality that chilled Casino's blood. Actor followed. As he went by Casino grabbed his arm.

"Actor, you know..."

The tall con man gave him a look that would have melted steel. Normally, Casino would have taken it as a challenge; for now, his heart wasn't in fighting. He dropped the man's arm. Goniff walked out just behind Actor.

"I didn't mean..." Casino started lamely.

Goniff shook his head again. "Family, mate," was all he said.

The Brit closed the door behind him, leaving Casino alone. Spinning around, Casino slammed his palm into the wall, knocking the nearest painting to the floor. Pain shot up his arm, blending with the self-inflicted guilt over the rip he had caused between the team.

Taking several long breaths, he walked to the hidden bottle of scotch and took two long swallows. He wanted a third but stopped. Getting drunk now was the last thing he needed. Sinking down in front of the large fireplace, he let his mind drift and it turned immediately to the question Garrison had asked. Why Chief?

The answer was easy. Chief drove him crazy. Actor's superior attitude and smugness sometimes made him want to wipe the con man's face in the dirt and Goniff was an irritating itch he couldn't quite reach. But only Chief's silent treatment brought out his anger enough for him to strike out. Casino accepted that much, what he shied away from was why, the reason behind the anger, the feelings being ignored caused.

The door behind him opened, cutting off thoughts he didn't want to pursue. Garrison was standing stiffly inside. Casino grimaced at the set features.

"My office," Garrison ordered.

Knowing his limited freedom was over Casino came to his feet. He was angry again, only this time it was at himself. "You don't have to bother with the lecture, Warden. You gonna ship me back just..."

"My office," Garrison said again sharply.

The tall officer turned and went across the narrow hall, leaving both doors open for Casino to follow. For an instant, he considered staying, considered running and knew he had no place to go.

Chief was in a chair in front of the desk, holding an ice pack to the swelling along his temple and cheek. Casino leaned back against the wall, vaguely surprised and disappointed that Garrison would drag Chief in to see Casino's shameful dismissal. Garrison went around the desk and sat down. Before he could speak, Casino heard the snick of Chief's blade and watched it appear in his right hand, spinning. Casino watched the ballet of steel, deadly and beautiful, like the hands that spun it.

"Casino!" Garrison snapped.

Casino looked up, having obviously missed something Garrison had just said. "Yeah?"

Shaking his head, Garrison looked up at him and clearly announced, "I'm giving you seven days family emergency leave."

It took several minutes for the information to sink in. Still unsure of his hearing, Casino asked, "What?"

Garrison didn't repeat himself, he just shuffled some of the papers on his desk. "There are three conditions. First, Chief is going with you."

"Ain't going nowhere with him," Chief said flatly.

Garrison's green eyes switch to the Indian. "Yes, you are." He left it there and continued. "I want whatever is wrong between the two of you cleared up. That's the second condition. And third, you will come back together or I will find you and you will not like what happens when I do."

Still rattled Casino found himself nodding. "We'll be back."


Casino sighed and cleared his throat, warning Chief that he was about to break the silence he had maintained for eleven of their twelve hour flight. Chief glanced out the window, waiting.

"I wonder how many's going to be meeting us?" Casino said very conversationally.

It was a safe comment, one that Chief knew he could pick up on. Still, he thought it over for a minute before saying, "How many might?"

"I got a big family, Chief," he said with a smile, even though he continued to look at the seat in front of him. "Could be dozens."

"Soon as we're down, I'll vanish," Chief said blandly.

There was a surprised intake of breath from Casino. Chief looked up, found disappointment in Casino's chocolate eyes. "Why?" the man demanded.

Shrugging, Chief said, "Figured you didn't want me around."

Casino glanced away, but not before Chief was regret in his expression. "Chief, I..." Casino looked back at him. "Look, the wedding is in three days. How about we call a truce until then? You know, we can play tourist, enjoy the city."

Puzzled by the offer, Chief asked, "And after that?"

Nodding to himself, Casino said, "After that we'd better work on getting our shit together, baby, or the Warden will have our asses."

Chief looked away. He had hated the idea of this trip. Whatever was bothering Casino seemed to be directed at him but he had no idea of what he had done to deserve it, though he did have a suspicion.

"Sure you're family's gonna put up with having an Indian around?" The words came out harsher than he intended.

"What kind of stupid...." Casino let the words die, though Chief had heard his real surprise at the question. "Momma, is looking forward to meeting you."

That brought Chief's head around. This time Casino was smiling at him, pleased with having caught him off guard. "I told her you were coming and she got all excited about meeting one of my gang."

"'Your gang'?" Chief asked lightly.

Casino gave a small shrug. "Yeah, well, you know. Anyway, you can't disappoint her. Hell, she's probably already changed the sheets in the guest room."

Seeing that the man was serious, Chief said, "Okay, a truce. On one condition."

This time the old suspicion returned to Casino's eyes. "What?"

"No more windows until then."

"Not until you say so," Casino agreed with a smile.

The smile was typically Casino, all mischief and devilment. Chief was surprised by how much he had missed seeing it. His thoughts on the Warden's sanity took a more positive side.




Casino grabbed the small woman, picked her up and spun her around, all the while kissing her soundly on both cheeks. Holding her tight, he felt a surge of tears fill his eyes and had to blink hard to keep them in check. Pulling away, he held his mother at arms length for a moment.

"You look great! Still having to keep the men away with a stick?" he joked.

His mother was making no attempt to control her joy, tears and smiles mixing equally on her round face. "Nicky, I am so happy," she wrapped him in another hug and continued to cry.

"Hiya, Nick."

Casino stuck his hand out behind his mother's back. "Johnny," he smiled. "Whadda hear, whadda say?"

The other man smiled at the old line. As boys Casino had perfected his James Cagney impression and used it to frequently drive his younger cousin crazy. He glanced around the crowded airport, noted the two men, one big blond and the other shorter and darker, standing near the door. With a frown he waved at them before turning his attention back to his family.

"Just the two of you?" he wondered.

With a punch to the arm, his mother said, "It is two days to the wedding, Nickolas. Everyone is getting ready."

"So, who all is coming ..."

A wave of guilt hit him, instantly cutting off his statement. He spun around, found Chief standing a few feet away, staring into the space that only he could see. But his abrupt stop caught the Indian's attention, and the onyx eyes met his. Casino was amused and touched by the suddenly shy expression on the handsome face. It made Chief seem younger than his years or experience should have allowed. Taking his mother's arm, he turned her gently toward Chief.

"Momma, Johnny, I'd like you to met Chief," he said with a touch of pride. "Chief, this is my mother, Mrs. Nickolas Canata and my cousin Johnny Canata."

Chief took a hesitant step forward and extended his hand. "Hi..."

Before he could get any further, he found himself swept into a hard hug. Casino watched a nearly invisible flush darken Chief's face behind the bruise. "I am so happy to see you," Momma said firmly. "My son, he has told us all about you and the others. I feel so much better knowing he has friends to watch out for him now."

The dark eyes met Casino's and he glanced away, both in guilt and embarrassment. He had not realized in his letters home how much he had told her about the others and their building friendship. A flash of regret went through him; his friendship with Chief might not survive the trip. Looking sideways, he realized that Johnny had still not moved.

As his mother stepped away, the taller man slipped up and extended his hand. "Glad to meet you," he said stiffly.

For an instant Casino was surprised by the stiffness but before he could think on it, his mother grabbed Chief in one arm and him in the other and marched them toward the door.

"We have to get home," she laughed. She tugged lightly on Casino's arm, gestured toward Chief with a quick nod. "Your sister Anna is going to like this one."

Casino laughed as he watched Chief darken again.


"Wow," Chief whispered in spite of himself.

At the wheel, Casino shrugged with what Chief thought was a touch of embarrassment in the gesture. "Yeah," Casino said lightly. "Nano built it with the first million he made off rum."

"Nano?" Chief questioned.

"Grandfather," Casino offered in translation.

A flicker of envy, something Chief had thought he'd long ago lost, went through him. He had never known any of his grandparents. When he was young, his mother had told stories about his family but that had stopped once he had been shipped away to boarding school. As was the plan, the ties were broken then, time and distance cutting him off from family and heritage. The new car came to a halt in front of the warmly glowing house. Chief shook himself away from those memories and eased out of the car.

He took a deep breath of the clean, spring air. The scent of roses and just a hint of the Atlantic ocean rode on the breeze. The lights around the two story stone house reminded him of the English mansion they now called home, even though he could see now that the house wasn't as large as he had first thought. He went around to the back of the car and helped Casino lift their luggage out. Johnny reached around and took it from him.

"I'll take that," he said with a friendly smile. "Guests never carry their own around here."

"Hey!" Casino protested, holding up his heavy bag. "What about me?"

"You're only family," Johnny called over his shoulder.

Chief smiled at Casino's frown. As they started up the stone steps, he once more found himself with Casino's mother on his arm. Trying hard to control his blushing, he escorted her through the double doors and into the entrance hall.


Dinner was winding to a close. Chief leaned back in his chair, pushing away the empty plate. When he had sat down the table had been piled with more food than he had ever seen at one time in his life. He would have never believed ten people could finish the everything. But between Casino, his four present siblings, cousin, grandmother, mother, two bodyguards and Chief they had managed.

"Where are you from, Chief?" Anna questioned.

Chief sighed, wondering how many more questions Anna would think to ask. She had, as he'd been warned, taken a liking to him. That liking included asking a million questions since they had sat down to eat. Chief had successfully put off answering most of them, pretending to be eating or talking to Ruby on his right. He had also noted that while she had asked about his present work, his family and his heritage, not once had she asked his real name, what had happened to his face or why he had been in prison. Such questions were obviously considered rude in the Canata household.

"Anna," Casino said from across the table. "Leave him alone. Chief doesn't like to talk."

Chief flashed Casino a grateful look. The New Yorker raised his glass of wine and gave Chief a small smile. The man stood, still holding his glass of wine.

"Anybody for some poker?" he asked.

There was a general round of agreement and the men retired to the den, leaving the women, and Anna's questions in the kitchen.

Three hours later, Chief watched Casino rake in the last of the night's pots. Johnny and Tony, both complained loudly over the fact that he and Chief had been the big winners. Chief wondered about that himself. He rarely beat Casino at cards; Casino was a better cheat than he was. He didn't question too closely, merely pocketing the money and enjoying the easy chatter that Casino seemed able to keep up endlessly. As the night wore on Chief found himself watching Casino's hands, fascinated by the smooth flow of the cards. The soft voice and quick fingers caused his thoughts to start in a direction he knew was dangerous. With a quick breath that he covered with a yawn he yanked himself away from the tempting images.

He was saved by any more distractions by Momma chasing everyone out, reminding them of the hour. Most of the family headed for their own, nearby homes, leaving Johnny, Chief, Casino and Nina. Momma turned from bidding everyone good night and smiled at Chief.

"How did you like dinner?" she inquired.

Smiling, Chief said, "It's the best meal I've ever had."

That caused a huge smile to light the woman's dark face. Casino laughed, slipping an arm around his mother's shoulders. "You're going to have a friend for life if you keep that up."

"You haven't seen anything yet," Johnny added. "The wedding dinner, that will be something."

Chief froze, his smile melting. "Wedding? I didn't know I was suppose... I didn't know I was invited."

Momma shoved an elbow in to Casino's ribs. "Nicky! You didn't tell him."

"No," Casino stammered. "I mean, I didn't know we were coming until yesterday. I just figured, you know, that you'd know, since you were coming with me...." He took a step forward, gripped Chief's upper arm. "Chief, I'd really like for you to come to the wedding."

Chief dropped his gaze to the thick rug. "I can't." Glancing up he saw the disappointment in both Casino and his mother's expressions and added quickly, "I ain't got nothing to wear."

Casino's smile returned. "Is that all? Hell, baby, we can take care of that first thing in the morning."

Feeling awkward and warm at the same time, Chief nodded. "Okay."

"Bueno!" Momma said simply. "Now, to bed with all three of you. Ah, wait, what an idiot I am!" Leaving them standing she disappeared into the den then came back out with a small slip of paper. "This is for you Nicky, from Lieutenant Garrison. He is very nice. He said you should have this number in case you need him for anything."

Johnny started up the stairs first, with Casino on his heels. Chief stood for a moment, then looked at Momma Canata for help. She smiled at him.

"I put your things in spare room."

Casino motioned. "Come on, I'll show you where everything is."

Chief followed him. The room was large with a four poster bed and it's own bath. There was even a radio. There was also a feeling that seemed to come from the old wood and muted colors, a warmth that had nothing to be with just the decor. He looked over at Casino, was met with a soft smile on the normally hard face.

"Like Momma said earlier," Casino said quietly, "make yourself at home. You feel like raiding the icebox in the middle of the night, you go ahead."

He looked down at the paper in his hand. "Geez, the Warden must think we're going to kill each other or something."

Ignoring the statement, Chief asked, "You were cheating for me?"

Casino shrugged it off. "You needed spending cash and they ..."

With a snap of his wrist Chief tossed the wad of bills onto the bed next to Casino. "I don't need your charity," he said coldly.

The familiar heat rose in Casino's dark eyes. "Charity! Damnit, Chief... that wasn't it! I always have to beat those two! It's a game with us." He grabbed the money, shook it toward Chief. "I just thought I'd...."

Chief was startled to see Casino stammer to a stop. "What?" he demanded.

He could see Casino's struggle to control his anger. The safecracker wasn't completely successful, his head came up and he snapped, "I just wanted you to have a good time, okay? And it got them guys mad thinking you was outplaying them."

The last statement struck Chief as an afterthought. Seeing the truth in Casino's embarrassed anger, Chief felt a tenderness touch his throat. He took a step forward, held out his hand. Very slowly, Casino smiled, and Chief found himself smiling back. A tingle of warmth went up Chief's arm as their hands brushed lightly.

Casino turned toward the door. "Night, Chief."

As Casino started out, Chief said, "Sometimes the Warden has good ideas."

Casino didn't reply, merely closed the door behind him.


Casino whistled softly as Chief emerged from the dressing room. Chief glared at him, obviously thinking he was being kidded. Casino met his eyes and said sincerely, "You clean up real good."

He wasn't sure but he thought the handsome Indian actually blushed. "You've seen me in a monkey suit before," Chief reminded him.

Before Casino could reply, his uncle said sharply, "Ha, you should have had a monkey suit this good before."

Barely controlling his smile, Casino watched Chief fidget like a kid as Uncle Louis tugged at the pants, shifted the seam on the shoulders. The round tailor fumed none to quietly about not having time to do a proper job. This went on for almost an hour before Chief's black eyes met Casino's, pleading silently to be rescued. Taking pity on him, Casino stepped forward.

"Louis, Louis," he chided. "It's perfect. You can't improve on perfection."

It was obviously the right thing to say as Louis stepped away from his victim and regarded the tuxedo. "Perfect, no. But it will do." He waved Chief toward the dressing room. "So go."

Chief ran for the room, stripping as he went.

"Like a bambino this one." Louise complained again. "I'll pack the tux."

Ten minutes later they came out into the bright spring sunlight. It was prefect New York weather, cool, sunny touched with the smell of a dozen different foods drifting on the breeze. Casino looked over at Chief, was about to ask him where he wanted to eat, when Chief raised a hand to the Technicolor bruise. Guilt hit Casino again.

"Hey," he said gently. "You okay?"

Chief looked at him in surprise. Casino felt his defenses spring up. He hadn't meant to sound so concerned. On a mission was one thing but in the streets of New York, it was out of place. He started to snap some off-handed remark, then he saw the slight warmth that lightened Chief's eyes for an instant.

"Yeah," the Indian said with a nod.

Swallowing the echo of warmth that rose in his throat, Casino threw his arm around the other man's shoulders. "So, whatta you wanta eat?"

"Man," Chief smiled, "it's a good thing you went to prison." At Casino's startled look, he added, "Eating your mom's cooking all the time, you'd be the size of Uncle Louis by now."

Starting them down the street, Casino nodded, "Yeah, she can cook. That breakfast was something. So, whatta you want for lunch?"

They walked a few blocks in silence, enjoying the feeling of freedom. Casino snorted in amusement. Chief looked over at the sound.

"Remember when we were here last?" he asked. "One of the old gang said I'd changed. Despite the Warden's threat, we could both disappear and he'd never find us."

"Yeah," Chief said cautiously.

Casino heard the worry in the soft voice. "But we won't."

"No, we won't," Chief confirmed with a slight smile.


Casino glanced up from the plate of deli food. Chief was eating heartily, which surprised him. Usually the Indian ate very lightly. His companion was so busy eating that Casino took the chance to watch him. The man was graceful, even just eating, Casino thought. With a quick breath, he took his wandering attention back.

"What?" Chief asked, hearing his sigh.

"Full," Casino lied easily, pushing the plate away.

"Who is it that's following us?" Chief asked suddenly.

Frowning, Casino sighed. He had hoped that Chief wouldn't noticed, even though he knew that was a virtual impossibility. "Not sure," he admitted. "I think it might be some of the Russo boys."

Chief raised his wine glass, stared out the front window of the small deli. "Don't know them."

"Small timers." With a frown, he added, "Did my last job with them. They hire out. Maybe working for DeLucie."

That gained him a quick glare. "DeLucie."

Letting the statement hang, Casino realized that Chief was waiting for an explanation. For an instant Casino's old habits held him silent. A family member didn't discuss family business with outsiders. One thing made him change his mind, Chief had a right to know, in case things got rough.

"Delucie's been trying to lay claim to some of the joints in our territory," Casino explained levelly.

"He the one you worried about causing trouble?"

Casino nodded. "Yeah. I don't think he'd make trouble during the wedding but..."

"Why don't you ask him?" Chief said quietly.

Glaring up, Casino snapped, "Whatta you wanna do, just walk into his place and..."

"Yeah," Chief calmly cut off his outrage.

Casino stared at him, getting the message in the few words. "You know him?"

Chief nodded shortly. "Worked a couple of jobs for him."

Leaning back in his chair, Casino took a moment to recover from his shock. A slow smile spread across the Indian's handsome face, brought on by Casino's amazement. Chief didn't say anything else, just let him recover.

Bringing his hands down on the table, Casino asked, "Will he let you in?"



"Chief," Anthony DeLucie said firmly, not offering his hand but nodding to the man that stood before him.

Chief didn't even return the nod. Gesturing behind him, he said, "Brought someone who needs to talk to you."

By his reaction, DeLucie must have had more than a passing acquaintance with the Indian. He took the bland statement in stride, turning to Casino. The expression on the tall man's face hardened a little.

"Yes," he said smoothly, "I was told. Nickolas Canata."

The name wasn't a welcome. Casino's eyes narrowed but he said quietly, "Mr. DeLucie," affording him the title a family head deserved.

Still holding to protocol, DeLucie turned without comment and went back around the massive oak desk that filled his Fifth avenue office. Opening the heavy curtains behind the desk he offered them a panorama of the Central Park. Neither man showed any reaction. The man, taller and older than Casino was still handsome and commanding. He sat down, and regally motioned them into the two chairs in front of the desk. They sat down, Chief immediately staring off into the distance.

"So, Casino," DeLucie started. "What can I do for you?"

Still a little surprised that they had walked so easily into the man's office, Casino took a minute to figure out exactly what he had to say. When he did, there was a edge to his voice that he had to fight down.

"Rumor in the neighborhood says you want a cut of the East End bar business," Casino phrased it as a fact. When he wasn't cut off, he continued, "You want to try, that's fine. But..."

"But?" DeLucie cut him off suddenly. There was more amusement in his voice than anger. "You come into my office and tell me I'm trying to muscle your business than you say..."

"A coupa," Casino said quickly. "You don't cause trouble at the Nina's wedding."

The man came forward in his chair, anger sparking in his expression. But he didn't say anything, only regarded him coldly for a minute, then reached forward, retrieved and lit a large cigar. The hard gaze switched to Chief and Casino was startled to see Chief return the man's stare. After several long minutes, DeLucie leaned back.

"I'm going to say this only once, Canata," he said firmly. "If I wanted the East End business, I would take. I'm not interested. And never would I cause trouble at a family wedding! You should know better than to suggest that."

Casino's anger started up and he came to his feet. A strong hand on his arm, pulled him back down. He whirled to stare at Chief. His companion ignored him to stare at DeLucie.

"Someone's been putting out stories," Chief prompted.

This time it was DeLucie who that took a sharp breath, fighting down his own anger. "You find out who's been saying these things and I'll take care of 'em."

For the first time since entering the room, Casino actually believed the man. He stood up. "I'll take you up on that, Mr. DeLucie."

The interview was obviously at an end. Chief joined Casino at the door, not paying anymore attention to the crime lord behind them.

"Chief?" DeLucie called.

Casino paused with his hand on the heavy brass knob. Chief gave him a quick glance before turning partially around. It was his only response to the query.

DeLucie smiled, gestured to Casino with the smoking cigar. "Why don't you quit hanging with this loser? My offer's still good."

Chief didn't answer the man, instead the black eyes met Casino's. Chief said quietly, "Nah. I'll stick."

A flash of warmth went down Casino's chest and he found himself returning the Indian's invisible smile. Casino opened the door for his companion, motioned Chief out and turned to give one quick smile of triumph to DeLucie. He wasn't quite sure why but the simple three words meant a lot to him.

He closed the door behind them and asked a new question of his companion. "Okay, so it ain't DeLucie. I'm not sure that's any better." Chief gave him a puzzled look. "Well, it if ain't DeLucie, who the hell is it?"

A slight shrug answered him. "Next time we see them, we'll ask."

"Damn right," Casino agreed.


Chief watched the Canata family mill about the den. Dinner tonight had been even more extravagant, and even more of the family had shown up to eat it. Anna had not bothered him as much tonight, having several cousins to question instead. The conversation around him moved from the wedding, to family business, to Johnny's new racehorse. The children ran between the adults, finally being chased outside by their parents. Chief sat quietly, trying to stay out of the way without being rude. Francis moved next to Casino and offered him a quick peck on the cheek; Casino reached out and hugged his sister. Johnny put an arm around both their shoulders.

A wave of longing went through Chief. He let his eyes rove over the fine furnishings in the room, over the paintings and books, but all he could see was the family. There was a heady feeling in the room that stirred old memories of his mother and sister. But the feelings there were too long gone, were only vague shadows, like a second hand story. The longing turned to a pain of loss that he hadn't felt in half his lifetime. The room was suddenly too crowded, too noisy.

Chief came to his feet in one quick move - and Momma Canata yanked him back down. "So, Rainey," she started, not even stumbling over his real name. "Tomorrow, you will sit next to Nicky. The seat on the end." Leaning forward, she said in a conspiratorial whisper, "The opposite end from Anna. Though I am sure she will expect you to dance..."

"That's the family table," he protested.

Momma poked him in the ribs. "Of course."

Then she was gone. Chief looked up, following her course as she hurried over to discuss the seating arrangements with the rest of the family. Casino's eyes caught his and he raised the crystal wine glass to him, smiling. The tightness in the room and his chest faded at the warm light he could see in Casino's chocolate eyes.

Mrs. Canata chased everyone out earlier than they waited to go, pointing out in a not so subtle manner that the wedding would last all day, all night and most of the rest of the day. As she closed the door behind the last of the guests, Chief came to his feet and started for the stairs. Casino followed him.

"Chief," Momma called. "I've moved your things into Nicky's room. You can take Angelo's bed. I put Francisca and Lucille in the guest room."

Before Chief could say anything, Casino turned sharply around. "My room?"

His mother didn't seem to notice the outrage and what might have been fear that colored Casino's voice. Chief heard it, and guessing at it's cause, he said quickly, "I don't want to take someone's bed."

"You won't," Casino snapped. "Angelo's dead."

He watched Casino march up stiffly up the stairs, close the bedroom down behind him. Next to him, he heard Momma sigh.

"I should have told him." She touched Chief's arm lightly. "Go on. I will make it up to him tomorrow. It will be all right."

Still uncertain, Chief managed a quick smile and started up the stairs. At the top of the landing, he turned and went into the bathroom. No one knocked, so he waited twenty minutes, then opened the door quietly. Downstairs all the lights were out and he knew everyone was in bed. A quick glance to Casino's room, showed him that his companion had also retired. Moving as silently as he was able, Chief came back down the stairs, went into the den and stretched out on the long couch. For an instant he wished for a blanket, then smiled into the dark. He had slept in far, far worse places than this without a word of complaint and here he was wishing for a blanket. His last thought as he drifted off was that he was getting soft.

He heard the footsteps a long time before the hand touched his shoulder. The touch was familiar and he opened his eyes to find Momma Canata leaning over him.

"Rainey? What are you doing on the couch?"

Feeling slightly embarrassed, Chief sat up and rubbed his hand through his hair. "Casino... I don't think he wanted me in the room."

A carefully ignored wave of disappointment followed that statement. He knew it wasn't him, at least he hoped it wasn't. The woman next to him sighed.

"My fault. I should have told him." She laid a hand on Chief's thigh. "Nicky and Angelo, they were very close. No one has been in there since he died. It brings back memories."

Chief nodded, relieved to have his suspicions confirmed.

Very gently, Momma touched the greenish bruise on his face. "Nicky did this."

Glancing away, Chief didn't answer, not wanting to squeal on his companion. But Momma laughed. "You don't have to say. I know. Him and Angelo, all the time they fought. You remind him of Angelo."

Looking up, Chief asked a question he knew he shouldn't. "What happened to him?"

Sadness entered Momma's eyes and she turned to stare into the dying embers of the fireplace. "Nicky, he was too independent for the family business. But Angelo, he..." She took a deep breath. "He was quiet, like you, but different, colder. He... hired out his gun."

Chief stared at her, a little surprised by both brothers choices. It had seemed odd to him that someone from the Canata family had gone to prison. But if Casino were running on his own, the police may have picked him as a viable target, proof of the lie that they were willing to go after the families. That Angelo was a hit man was less of a surprise. Chief had been tempted toward the same thing.

"Angelo took a contract no one wanted, on another family," Momma continued. After two days of family normalcy hearing her talk so calmly of killing seemed eerily out of place. "He did the job -- and they killed him for it."

The silence was heavy and uncomfortable, making Chief again regret the question. In a very soft voice, Momma finished, "They executed him. Nick was rushing to save him but he was too late."

Chief took a sharp breath, remembering the too many times when it had been only seconds between one of the team and death; and the times when one of them had been hit. He remembered Casino going down, hitting the ground hard, blood splattering the gravel drive. He flinched away from the image, frowning as he realized it hurt more now to think about than it had then. Looking back up, he tried to think of something to say but ended up, as always letting his actions speak instead. He took her hand and gave it a quick squeeze. It earned him a warm smile that chased away the dark memories.

"Nicky loves you," she stated calmly.

Chief smiled at the absurdity of the statement, raising his hand to his face. Momma laughed, reading his thoughts. "Sometimes his temper, it gets away with him."

Before Chief could do more to rebuff the statement, there were footsteps on the hardwood floor and a blurry eyed Casino rounded the archway. He stared at them in confusion for a moment.

"What you two doing down here?" he asked with a yawn.

Momma smiled at him with a look of such love that Chief found himself caught up in it. He smiled at her, letting her decide on the answer. But the answer surprised him.

"Rainey doesn't think you want him in your room," she said bluntly. "I told him to stop with the silliness and go to sleep."

Chief waited, watching Casino's dark eyes for the flash of anger. But as so often before his anger had faded quickly, forgotten as if it had never existed. "Don't be dumb, Chief. Go upstairs."

With a shake of his head that meant he thought the Indian was crazy Casino continued on to the kitchen. Chief stood, offering his hand to Momma. As he turned toward the stairs, she gave him a quick hug.

"Being part of this family can be crazy sometimes, you know," she said with a smile. "Good night."


Casino opened the door in time to see Chief drop his pants to the floor. For one moment, sheltered behind the man's back, he let himself look. It was something he would never dare do in the mansion. While Goniff feigned unobservant, Casino knew the little thief was just as fast as anyone. And Actor was twice that. He had no doubt that they would be more than able to read the lust and longing as he watched the handsome Indian. Tearing his eyes away he began to doubt the wisdom of relenting and letting Chief into the room. He would have to be very careful. Not that it mattered much; in two days he had promised to tell Chief the truth. While he knew it would cost him the man's friendship, he hoped it wouldn't cost him his place on the team.

"Something wrong?" Chief said a little sharply, his unease still apparent in his tone.

Casino felt the blush that he couldn't control. "No."

"If you don't want me here, just say so," Chief demanded.

Seeing the storm gathering and feeling Chief's anger starting to raise his own blood, Casino held up his hands. "No," he said with forced calmness. "It's not you, honest, Chief."

The fathomless black eyes regarded him coldly for a minute. Casino stared back. It had been Chief's eyes he had noticed first. In the beginning his expression had rarely changed, but they had all realized that his eyes showed them everything. The onyx gaze could be as cold as the stone they were colored like one minute and as warm as summer night the next. Now, Casino watched hesitation and a touch of sorrow color the dark.

Chief glanced away. "Your mother told me about Angelo."

Casino felt the old pain echo through the whirlwind of other emotions. He glanced away. "Yeah. It was tough."

There wasn't anything else to say to the subject so Casino dropped his robe over the footboard and slipped into bed. He left the light on though, letting himself enjoy the nearness of the Indian while he could.

"Rainey, huh? Is that Indian?" he questioned.

Chief's head snapped up, though he didn't look at Casino. "No."

Again the answering anger flared in his blood and again he fought it away. "I didn't mean anything by it," he said quickly.

It was Chief who glanced away this time. A minute passed without a sound. Softly, Chief said, "It's Scottish."

"Oh." Silence again claimed the room. Finally, trying to understand the strange cycle they seemed to be caught in, Casino said, "I don't mean anything by it, you know." At Chief's puzzled look, he explained, "When I call you Indian and all. I don't mean it to... bother you."

Chief didn't look up, didn't answer. After a minute, Casino sighed and reached for the single lamp that was glowing softly in the room.

"Don't like to be reminded," Chief said reluctantly.

It was Casino's turn to be confused. "Reminded? That you're an Indian?"

A single nod was his only answer.

"Why not?"

That gained him a glare that would have melted German tank armor. "Why? Because Indians are slow, stupid, lazy... everyone hates them!"

The words were sharp, filled with self-contempt, the anger so out of character that for a heartbeat all Casino could do was stare. He held Chief's gaze, saw the hate and anger and old, old hurt reflected in the glittering darkness. Then it was all gone, cut off by Chief's knife-edged control.

"Who told you that bullshit?" Casino demanded quietly.

Chief gave a sharp sigh. "Teachers, priests, kids, cops... everyone."

"Goddamnit, Chief, you believed them!?" He came out of bed, moving in one stride to stand next to the other man. "Do you know how many people have said the same thing about Italians? Jesus, Chief." He ran a hand through his hair, continued nervously, "Look, I don't know nothing about Indians or what kind of life most Indians even have."

He sat down next Chief. "I do know that except for my bothers I have never trusted anyone to guard my back before. You're good. I don't care what you are and neither do any of the others." Finally, forcing the words out, he finished with, "And I'm proud to be on this team with you."

Chief stared at him, feelings flickering so fast in his eyes that Casino couldn't tell if he were about to be believed or punched. The whirlwind settled and what remained was an almost childlike wonder, as if Chief had never thought to hear someone tell him what he so obviously needed to hear. In that instant, with that look, Casino was lost. The feeling he'd been excusing as lust could no longer be denied as what it really was. The reality scared him and he nearly jumped off the bed. Chief's arm caught him.

"What?" Chief asked quickly.

"Nothing!" Casino jerked away from him.

Trying to reach the safety of his bed, he heard Chief come after him, grabbing his arm and spinning him around. The expression on the handsome face was very controlled.

"No," Chief said firmly. "Not nothing. This stops here."

Casino backed away, heat of two kinds starting in his blood. "After the wedding. That was the agreement."


The single word carried all of Chief's considerable stubbornness behind it. Casino's anger flared in answer, his fear controlling his response. He shoved Chief hard back into the bed. Chief immediately came up, starting for Casino. But something stopped him, perhaps the knowledge that he was finally going to get the truth.

"You really want to know!" Casino growled. "Well how's this for the truth -- every time I look at you I want to throw you down and fuck you through the floor! Is that what you wanted? You want to know the man guarding your back also has the hots for your ass?"

Casino closed his eyes against whatever the onyx eyes held. "I thought it would go away, you know, once we got a longer leash, a chance to see some women."

The heat faded in the cold of Chief's silence. "I didn't want you in the room because I knew I would do something or say...." He laughed harshly. "I had it all thought out, about how to tell you so it didn't sound so bad, so that maybe you could still work with me."

There was only silence. His temper threatened again. "Damnit, I'm not going to jump you. And I think now that I know the problem I'll be able to stop punching you. It was just that you made me so mad when you just sat there, not responding to anything I said or did. Just like you're doing now!"

Chief moved to stand directly in front of Casino. Casino flinched back at little but made no other move to defend himself. One look at the bruise on Chief's face told him he deserved whatever was coming. Casino stared into those dark eyes, searching for hate, disgust or anger. All he saw was confusion and questions.

Spreading his arms, he demanded, "Say something..."

Chief moved, grabbing Casino and throwing him back into his bed, straddling his hips and tangling his hands in Casino's hair. Hard, hot lips closed over his as Chief claimed his mouth, tongue demanding entry that Casino granted without thought. As the wet invader plundered his mouth, his shock faded and he realized what was happening. He wrapped his arms around the slender body, pulled Chief down, holding him. They broke apart, both breathing hard. Casino looked up into black eyes that glittered with a light he had never seen, part predator and part desperate lover. Chief moved to kiss him again, and Casino put a hand on his chest to hold him away.

"Why?" he demanded.

To his amazement, Chief smiled at him, the warm, wide smile that he usually gave only to Garrison. "Because I want you," Chief said simply.

A new tangle of thoughts hit Casino. Chief wanted him, wanted to make love with him. But what about the rest? Casino flinched away from that thought. He had only confessed the lust, had been too scared to say the other words, the words that would speak of love and care. Chief's small hands ran down his shoulders, floated over his flanks. Desire surged along Casino's nerves. Grabbing Chief again, he gave into his body's demands, kissing him hard and deep, shoving the other questions away.

They both still had their shorts on. Chief slipped sideways, still trying to kiss Casino as he reached for his shorts. Casino was trying to accomplish the same task, hands needing to feel the lean, strong body. After a second they broke apart, smiling at each other.

"Damn," Casino muttered, "you're...."

A soft knock on the door stopped them cold. "Nicky? Rainey? Are you all right?"

Chief paled, then lunged, two jumps taking him clear across the room and landing him in his bed.

"We're okay, Momma." Casino sat up, running his hand through his hair.

The door cracked open and Momma's round face peered around the corner. "I heard you shouting, Nicky." She cast a quick glance at Chief, checking for signs of damage.

"It's okay, Momma," Casino assured her. Smiling warmly across at Chief, he said, "We've got everything straightened out."

"Bueno!" She stayed for another minute, staring at them in a way that started to make Casino fidget. Finally, with a single nod, she said, "Good night."

As soon as the door closed, Chief and Casino both sagged back into their beds with a whoosh of relief. There was a moment of silence, then Casino started to laugh. "I haven't been caught by my mother since I was sixteen."

He looked over at Chief and to his delight found the Indian laughing in complete silence. Drawn to the other man, he joined him on the other bed, sitting close but not doing anything else. Heat still sparkled in Chief's eyes.

"Does the door lock?" he asked.

With a fatal shake of his head, Casino said, "No. If it did Momma would just pound until we opened it." Seeing his desire mirrored in the other man, Casino reached out and touched his hand. "Hey, no hurry, baby. There's another place, just up state on the Hudson, use to be used for contraband from overseas. After the wedding we'll tell Momma we need some peace and quiet and head up there."

As he spoke, the light in Chief's eyes changed, turned softer, warmer. One hand came up to stroke lightly along Casino's cheek. For a dangerous second he wanted to say the words again. He stopped himself, though this time it was not out of fear but out of the knowledge that if he did it tomorrow night they would have more time to enjoy each other and the confession. The touch of Chief's hand and the expression on his face, said that the words would not be one sided. Feeling bold, Casino leaned over and kissed Chief very gently.

"Tomorrow, baby," he promised.


The wine was excellent, just the thing to finish the seven coarse meal. Chief leaned back in his chair, watching as Casino danced once more with the bride. As Casino had warned, the ceremony had lasted nearly two hours. With fifteen hundred in attendance and a full mass it made for a long day. Watching Casino walk his sister to the altar had started a strange sense of pride in Chief's chest. The dance ended and Casino once again sat down next to him. Chief found himself smiling.

"You better quit smiling like that," Casino warned out of the side of his mouth. "People will think you're happy or something."

Chief looked over at the other man, admiring the handsome dark features. He didn't say anything, just met the chocolate colored eyes and let his feelings show. To his delight a slow blush started up Casino's face. Anna suddenly appeared in front of them, smiling at Chief.

"You haven't asked me to dance yet," she demanded of Chief.

Even though he had been warned, Chief felt panic start. "I'm sorry," he stammered. "I can't dance."

Anna stared at him, obviously trying to judge whether he was lying. She smiled gently at him, believing him. "Come on, I'll show...."

Casino stood up, coming to his teammates rescue. "Come on, sis, leave the man alone. I'll dance with you." Casting a sideways glance at Chief, he added, "You can get Chief to walk you to the car later. He'll look just as good on your arm then."

Breathing a sigh of relief, Chief nodded at Casino. He leaned back, sipping the wine. With a slight start he realized that, except for nights with the team, this was the first time he could remember feeling this relaxed. More than that, he was happy. He loved Casino, had for awhile, which was why the sudden turn from wrestling to serious violence had bothered him so much. Now, even though the words had not been spoken, he knew Casino felt the same for him. He had seen it last night in the dark glow of his eyes, had felt it even through the heat of lust. A tingle went through him as Casino met his eyes from across the dance floor, smiling.

He closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the unaccustomed feelings washing over him. When he opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was one of the bodyguards waving at him from the side door. Confused, he stood. With a slight incline of his head, he gestured to the floor, asking silently if he should get Casino. The man shook his head, pointed to Chief. Puzzled, Chief walked across the back of the church hall to the door.

"Yeah?" he demanded.

Sonny, with his tall blonde looks was as different from Chief as it was possible to be. He leaned down and said in a strong Brooklyn accent, "That car. It's parked at the end of the alley. Casino said you and him wanted to talk to the guys in it. You want I should arrange that?"

Chief frowned. Casino had been very serious about wanting to question the men. The fact that they were this close to the wedding also bothered Chief. He tugged at his lower lip for a moment. Finally, he nodded.

"Yeah," he agreed. "But just us, leave Casino out of it for now."

Smiling ferally, Sonny nodded. "Five minutes. You and them can have a little powwow."

Chief ignored the poor attempt at a joke. Casually, he walked back to the table, lay his glass on the end and keep going to the punch bowl, poured himself a large cup. The song came to a stop and he saw Casino glance around, then start toward him. Chief frowned, he had hoped Anna would demand another dance. To his relief just as Casino got close, a short, lovely girl with flaming red hair approached him, nodding shyly toward the crowded dance floor. With a quick smile toward Chief, Casino offered his arm and went back out. Breathing a sigh of relief, Chief scanned the crowd and spotted Momma. Maneuvering easily through the smiling family, he gained her attention.

"Casino said to tell you the next dance was yours," he told her.

A wide smile touched her face and she looked over the dance floor for her oldest son. "He is so handsome."

It was all Chief could do not to agree with her. He nodded then slipped soundlessly away. Two dances should at least buy him enough time to get some idea of what was going on. He also knew it would take Casino a while to find out where he went, which would buy him even more time. With that arranged he headed for the alley door.


Casino walked once more around the large floor. He had been dancing or talking for nearly twenty minutes before he had realized that Chief was not in the room. At first, he had merely thought he'd gone to the washroom but after another five minutes he gave up on that idea. Now, after two rounds of the room and a check out the front, he was starting to get worried. The same feeling he got when there were Nazis around was tingling along his neck. Starting toward the back door, he looked around for Sonny. There was no sign of the blonde though he could see Rico, the other guard standing by the front door.

Stepping out into the alley, Casino immediately spotted the dark blue sedan blocking the narrow passage to the street. Sonny was standing near the car, the door nearest him was open. Confused, Casino started toward the car. The ominous click of a gun being cocked sounded from behind him. He froze, raising his hands.

"Very good, Casino," a gravely voice said from behind him. "Now turn around."

With his hands still up, Casino turned. A short, gray haired man with a neatly trimmed mustache stood only a few feet from him, gun aimed at his chest. Casino took a short breath.

"Tony Russo," he said calmly.

"Long time, Casino," the man said with a cold smiled.

"What do you want?" Casino demanded.

"Our money," Russo replied shortly.

Casino stared at him. "What the hell are you talking about? What money?"

For an instant he thought the man was going to hit him with the gun but he gestured with it instead. Casino turned around in time to see Sonny jerk a body out of the car. Casino's heart dropped into his stomach. Sonny held a semi-conscious Chief up by one arm. Chief's hands were tied behind him and he'd been gagged. As Sonny dragged him closer Casino could see blood on the gag. He ground his teeth together, spinning back to Russo.

"What the hell do you want?" he demanded.

With slow moves, Russo went to stand on the other side of Chief. He stroked the gun barrel down Chief's bruised face. Chief jerked, coming more awake. Casino started forward on instinct, his hands coming down. He stopped. If there was one thing he had learned from working next to Actor it was that there was a time to wait.

"The money," Russo repeated, "from the last job."

"Are you crazy?" Casino demanded. "I was nabbed before I could even get near the safe. Whoever told you I got the money is a fucking liar!"

"Did I say you had it?" Russo said with a smile. "Sorry, I meant to say, you still owe it to us."

Chief was staring at him now, black eyes showing dangerous anger. Casino didn't spare him a glance.

"You think I owe you?" With a deep breath to calm his nerves, Casino said, "Come on, Tony, you and your bother both knew the job was a risk."

"And Tommy is still in prison for your mistake," Tony said harshly.

Without warning the man slammed the pistol into Chief's stomach, doubling him over. Casino stayed still. "Goddamnit, Russo..."

But the man was obviously losing his temper. "You're free! I don't know how you managed it but you did. Now, I need that twenty thousand to get Tommy out." He reached down and jerked Chief upright by the back of the gag. Cocking the gun, he held it to Chief's temple. "And you're going to get it for me or he dies."

Helplessness flooded Casino. "And just how do you expect me to..."

"Don't worry, Casino," the man smiled. "I have it all figured out. A nice, easy safe job."

Switching tacks, Casino let his expression become neutral. "What makes you think I'd risk going back to jail for some damn Indian?"

Russo drove his elbow into Chief's kidney, once more dropping him in pain to the dirty cement. Casino took a step forward and knew he had given himself away. With a sigh, he surrendered to the situation.

"all right," he said brokenly. "Enough. Let's see your plan."

Stepping forward the man holstered his gun and pulled out a handful of papers. As he came closer, Casino cast a quick glance at Chief. Sonny was still holding Chief but now neither of the men had their guns in a good position. His gaze connected with Chief's, trying frantically to signal him to go for Sonny. A quick nod was his only warning.

Chief came up under Sonny's chin, snapping his head back and breaking the hard grip the man had on his arm. It was all Casino got to see as he launched himself at Tony. He hit him hard with a right cross, then followed with a sharp upper cut. The man was tough, falling back but staying on his feet as he clawed for his gun. Casino grabbed his gun hand, forcing it away from his coat.

A gunshot shattered the nearly silent fight. Casino whirled in time to see Chief fall, blood shining on the black pants. Sonny cocked the gun again, aiming for the wounded man.

"No!" Casino screamed.

"No, Sonny!" Tony ordered. "Grab him."

Casino started forward, stopped as the gun lined up on Chief's suddenly pale face. There was nothing he could do to stop Sonny from throwing Chief into the car. The big engine gunned and Sonny headed the car toward him. Casino flattened against the wall. The brakes squealed and the sedan stopped next to him. The wad of papers fell to the ground.

"Tomorrow!" Russo's voice barked out of the car. "Stay near a phone."

The car screeched out of the alley, leaving Casino with a quick glimpse of Chief bleeding on the backrest.


He sat at the main table, staring out over the laughing crowd. Casino had waited, knowing the remaining bodyguard would come running. He hadn't counted on the music; no one had heard the gunshot. He came back in, sitting down, trying to think. Someone sat down next to him.

"Nicky?" Momma asked, laying a hand on his. "What's wrong?"

For a moment he thought of lying to her. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Tony Russo's grabbed Chief."

His mother's face paled and her hand on his arm tightened. "But why, Nicky?"

In a few short sentences he explained the situation. She stood up. "We will call the family. We can get him back."

"Chief isn't family," Casino said shortly. "No one will..."

"I am the one who says who is family," Momma said with startling strength.

Grabbing her hand, he said, "No, please, Momma, that will get Chief killed."

Echoing her son's earlier deep breath, she sat back down, covered his hand with hers. "What are you going to do, Nicky?

He had been thinking that question through for nearly an hour. All his life Casino had been convinced that there was nothing he couldn't handle alone. Then he'd been thrown into a war with a bunch of other cons convinced of the same thing, and a boy scout lieutenant who knew better. For an hour the stubborn independent side of Casino had been telling him he could take care of it, he could get Chief back.

Standing up, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the phone number his mother had given him two nights before. "I'm going to call for help," he admitted. "I only hope I can stall Russo until they get here."


He stayed another three hours after making the call, not wanting to worry the family. As it was everyone was surprised he was leaving so early. Anna and Johnny had asked after Chief and that had given him his out. He had explained that Chief wasn't feeling well, too much partying, and he was taking him home. Momma had quietly confirmed his story, patting him in sympathy on the arm as he started out.

The trip back to Long Island took half the time it normally did. Casino had no idea how long his two line message would take to reach Garrison or when the lieutenant would be able to answer. He wanted to be by a phone as soon as he could. He refused to think about the amount of blood he'd seen on Chief's leg. The front light beckoned him like it had two nights before, but the safety it usually offered was lost in his worry over Chief's life. For the first time, he regretted the whole trip.

Janice, the housekeeper, opened the door. Nervously, she said, "Mr. Canata, there are men here to see you. I didn't know what to do. They insisted on waiting."

Casino took a sharp breath, debating whether Russo would have the balls to come here or whether it was the police about the shooting in the alley. Smiling at Janice, he said, "It's okay. I'll take care of it."

Straightening his coat, he stepped into the den, opened his mouth to say something and found himself staring. "Warden?!"

Garrison smiled at him. "You said as soon as possible."

Casino's first response wasn't relief. He took one look at the lieutenant, then glanced once at Actor and Goniff, also sitting comfortably by the unlit fireplace. He took an angry step forward. "You son of a bitch! You've been here following us all along."

The smile leveled out, turned patient. "Relax, Casino, we've been in town but no where near you and Chief."

"Maybe we should of been," Goniff said with unexpected worry.

"Goniff," Garrison silenced him. Looking back at Casino, he said easily, "You didn't think I'd be able to let you and Chief come to New York without doing the same for these two, did you?"

"Really, Casino," Actor chided. "You should know better."

Again Casino looked between the three men, this time seeing the concern that had prompted Goniff's reaction. "Yeah, well, sorry." He flopped down on the couch next to Actor. "It's been a rough day."

Garrison leaned forward. "Okay, from the beginning."

The explanation he gave the team was much longer than the version he had given his mother. This time he spared no detail, including the sight of Chief bleeding. That brought a quick shake of his head from Goniff and Garrison took a sharp breath but otherwise they let him finish without interruption. Actor and Garrison exchanged quick looks when he stopped.

"Okay," Garrison said. "The first thing we have to do is make sure Chief is still alive."

Casino flinched away from the thought, only barely covering the sorrow that tried to surface. He looked up at Garrison. He had been worried about Actor and Goniff finding out, only now realizing that Garrison could very well have them both back into prison if he found out. Guilt washed through him. Chief could be dying, dead, and he was thinking about going back to prison. He closed his eyes, feeling queasy with worry, guilt and anger.

A hand touched his arm and he opened his eyes to find Goniff standing next to him whit a glass of whiskey in his hand. The blue eyes were filled with concern as he put the drink in Casino's hand. Nodding to the glass, Goniff said, "Go on, mate, you need it."

Garrison asked levelly, "Do they know anything about us?"

"No," Casino said. "They know I work with Chief but you know we wouldn't talk about the missions or anything."

Again that silent communication between Actor and Garrison. "Good. Then this shouldn't be too hard. When they call tomorrow, the first thing is to arrange a meeting to confirm that Chief is okay. At the meeting, we'll take them."

Casino frowned. "May not be that easy, Warden. Tony'll have more muscle than Sonny, if he lets me near them."

"Hired muscle is not a problem," Actor said with a contemptuous wave of his hand.

"Let's not get too cocky," Garrison reminded them before Casino could. "The Krauts may be worse but that doesn't mean these guys are stupid."

"So, we wait," Casino said quietly.

There was understanding in Garrison's green eyes. "There's nothing else to do, Casino." Garrison stood. "I don't want anyone in the house knowing we're involved, just in case."

Casino's head snapped up. "Just because Sonny sold us out doesn't mean that..."

"Are you willing to risk Chief's life on that?" Actor asked.

That stopped Casino, forced him into a question that he had never had to face. Did he trust his family enough to bet Chief's life on it? A year before the answer would have been easy; six months ago not so and since last night... He sighed. "Okay."

"Is there some place close where we can stay tonight?" Garrison asked.

"There's an old groundskeepers house in the back of the property. No one goes back there anymore." With a smile, he added, "After the wedding party no one will be doing much of anything by tomorrow."

"How many people will be in the house tomorrow?" Actor asked.

Casino gave a shrug. "A few. Most will try to get home by noon to sleep off the party."

"We can't risk coming in then," Garrison concluded. "You'll have to come get us after the call."

"We will need to arrive at the location at least an hour before the meeting," Actor reminded Casino.

"No kidding," Casino said sarcastically. "Soon as I know, you'll know."

"Meet us outside in ten minutes," Garrison ordered.

"I'll pack some blankets and food for you guys," Casino said quietly.

"Ta, mate," Goniff said quickly, smiling at the thought of eating.

Actor and Goniff headed for the door. Garrison paused, studying Casino for a minute. Whatever he found there, made him smile slightly and put a hand on Casino's shoulder. "We'll get him back," he assured.

"I thought I'd get Angelo back, too." Casino flinched away from the memories. Looking up, he explained quietly, "My brother. I was so close. They killed him and I was so close."

Garrison said levelly, "It won't happen this time. We'll all make sure of that."


Chief shifted, depending on the gag to stop the slight moan the move caused. He blinked up, startled to find bright light filtering in through the filthy windows of the warehouse. He'd been awake during the short ride away from the wedding but the careless toss into the flimsy cot had been more than his leg could take and darkness had taken him. When he'd awoke he discovered that they had wrapped a dirty cloth over his wound, not bothering to cut the pants away. The reason for them stopping the bleeding was obvious as was the carelessness of the effort; Casino would want proof he was alive but he didn't need to be kept healthy.

"Hey, Geronimo," Russo taunted as he came into the room. "You're awake just in time."

The man unlocked a cabinet braced near the door and pulled out a phone. Sonny and another goon came in behind him. Sonny came over and jerked him to his feet. Again the gag stopped any sound. None too gently the cloth was removed. Chief straightened, jerking free of Sonny's hold and nearly falling before he could catch his balance on one leg. Russo laughed.

"Tough one, huh?" he commented. "Yeah, you'd have to be to take up with Casino."

Pulling the phone across the room, Russo leaned in close to Chief, eyes narrowing. Chief stared over his head into the far wall. "You listen to me, Indian. We both know Casino's going to want to know you're still in one piece. So, I'm going to let you talk to him." A gun was pressed hard under his chin. "You say one thing that sounds funny and I'll blow your head off."

Casually, Chief brought his eyes to met Russo's. The other man nearly backed a step, reading Chief's hate very clearly. Just as easily, Chief went back to his view of the wall. He heard the phone dial clicking over.

"Casino," Russo said blandly. "You've checked the papers." There was a pause. "Don't worry, buddy. Your Indian's fine. Got his leg all fixed up and everything."

There was a slight pause. "Don't try that with me, Casino! It's an easy job."

This time the pause was longer and Chief almost smiled at the anger he could see appearing on Russo's face. Casino could do that to people.

"You do the job tonight, you deliver the goods tomorrow." Russo looked up at Chief and smiled. "I didn't say you couldn't talk to him."

He held the phone to Chief's ear. "Chief?" It took every bit of will power to keep staring at the wall when he heard the relief and fear in Casino's rough voice.

"Yeah," was all he said.

"You okay?"

"Nothing I can't live with," he said calmly.

"Don't worry," Casino said quickly. "We're gonna get you out of there."

Before he could reply the phone was jerked away and he was shoved back to the bed. Russo smiled again, gray eyes filled with triumph.

"Enough, Casino. Now, you do..." Chief watched a frown cross the man's face. "all right. Fourth Street subway station, uptown end, noon."

With that he slammed down the phone. For a minute he stood, leaning on the desk, then he smiled. "Casino is so predictable."

Finally, Sonny broke the silence, gesturing toward Chief, he asked, "Should I kill him now?"

"No, no," Russo answered. "Casino wants to see his buddy here, just like I knew he would. We meet tonight, just before he goes to pull the job. He also wants to see him before he hands over the money."

Chief was aware of Russo coming to stand in front of him but he refused to look up. A hard, backhanded slap snapped his head around and he glared up. Russo smiled. "That got your attention. Your buddy's smart about this. It'll keep you alive for another day."

His foot came up, kicking Chief over and pinning him to the bed. "This way you two pals can die together."

It was easy to let the remarks slide by. Chief had heard the word "we" in Casino's statement. Now it was only a matter of waiting.


It was not a good place for a meeting. He had known that when Russo had suggested it. Casino came down the wide steps, never even glancing at the tall, well dressed Italian businessman near the center of the platform. He also ignored the short blond nervously glancing up track at the incoming train. Taking up a position in the center of the long platform, he waited, hoping for one quick glance of Chief. Something metal jabbed into his ribs. He sighed; he had known how it would go. The train stopped.

"Get in."

He resisted the shove Sonny gave him but the big man was strong enough to simply push him inside. Casino cast a quick helpless glance toward Actor. The con man nodded, slipping into the same train car. Past him, Goniff stepped into the preceding car.

"What is this shit?" Casino whispered intently. "Where are we going?"

"To see your buddy," Sonny replied calmly. "Just like you wanted."

They rode in silence for twenty minutes, Sonny's gun held tight against Casino's back the entire trip. As they neared the end of the line, far out in Harlem, the crowds grew thinner, leaving Actor looking more and more out of place. Finally, with a quick sideways glance at Casino, he stepped off at the next station. A look in the next car showed Casino that Goniff had also abandoned him. A wave of distrust and disbelief washed through him, made his jaw clench. His anger flared as he realized he was not the only one they had deserted, Chief would also pay for their decision. The train slowed.

"Out!" Sonny ordered.

They emerged a minute later into the bright summer sunlight. Directly across from the station was a blue sedan with four men grouped around it. A little down the street a peddler was setting up his case for the night crowd. Casino dismissed them immediately, his eyes trying to see through the beefy guards to the man he knew was inside the car.

Jerking away from Sonny's hold, he shoved the nearest man out of the way and leaned in the drivers window. Russo smiled at him.

"How was your trip, Casino?" Russo said cheerfully.

Casino ignored him, moving to the back window, eyes meeting Chief's dark gaze. Chief was pale, with new blood showing on the poor bandage that wrapped his leg. Anger heated Casino's nerves, at Russo, at Garrison, at himself for caring.

Whirling to Russo, he snapped, "You said you took care of his leg!"

Russo shrugged, glancing over his shoulder at the bleeding wound. "Yeah, so, a little blood. He'll hold till tomorrow morning." The man's expression hardened. "By tomorrow our partnership will be at an end and you and your buddy here can disappear."

Casino gave him one quick glare then turned his attention back to Chief. Lines of exhaustion and pain marred Chief's handsome face. Swallowing his anger, Casino said levelly, "How is it, Chief?"

The onyx eyes met his, glittering with more strength than he wanted his captors to see. The steel in Chief's look made Casino feel better. He wanted to warn Chief that they were in this alone, the others having vanished, but there was no way to do that. Had he been able to he knew what Chief's reaction would be -- Garrison would be there, somehow. Casino wished he believed that. But he wasn't willing to bet Chief's life on it.

"I'm okay," Chief finally answered.

"Hang in there, baby," Casino assured him.

"Not much else I can do," Chief said dryly.

"Enough," Russo ordered. "You're breaking my heart. You do the job tonight, Casino. I'll arrange the pickup. Then you come get the Indian and everyone is happy."

Having been the one to suggest the plan, Casino nodded. "I got it. You just make sure he don't bleed to death before then."

The car engine gunned. "Dawn," Russo said quickly as his henchmen pilled in. "Corner of Euclid and Fifth. Follow the car."

"Wait..." Casino started to yell only to be cut off as they gunned the motor and pulled away.

Once more all Casino could do was look helplessly on as they shoved Chief roughly aside. There was no sound from the Indian but Casino saw the pain that flashed over his expression and it tightened his chest. As the car roared away, his hands clenched at his side, longing to punch something. For just a second he let the despair get to him, hanging his head as he thought of his supposed teammates, of how he was going to be able to get Chief out of this. Visions of his desperate flight to save Angelo filled his memory.

He whirled, desperate to get back to the house, try to find their supposed caring lieutenant and demand an explanation. A drunk staggered out of the subway tunnel, bouncing off the nearest streetlight before slamming into him, muttering. Casino started to strike out, when he felt a slim hand in his pocket and saw from under the filthy hat a flash of familiar blue eyes. Shock shot through him, followed very shortly by shame. A quick glance along the street confirmed that the street peddler looked remarkably like a certain lieutenant.

Not sure what the hell was going on, he decided to play it out. He shoved the drunk away. "Get the hell off me, you stinking..."

"Sorry, sorry," Goniff muttered, staggering away.

Without another look, Casino walked away from the corner, heading back to the subway. As he entered the dark tunnel, he glanced back. Not seeing anyone, he ducked into the shadows and pulled out the paper Goniff had slipped into his pocket. In Garrison's neat handwriting it told him they had been forced to pull back when it became clear there was no way to get near Chief. It also told him that he was being followed. That statement helped identify the itch that had been between his shoulder blades. The last line told him to go to a certain restaurant near Central Park, that they would take care of whoever was following him. Ashamed of his earlier thoughts of desertion, he leaned back against the damp wall with a sigh.

The determination in Chief's eyes had made him feel better for a minute. Now, alone in the dark he thought again of his brother. He had run down every lead, beaten information out of two gang members -- and it had not been enough. The same feelings that had haunted him through that hunt, desperation and hopelessness, were creeping up on him. He slammed his fist against the wall. He couldn't lose Chief now, not when dreams were just becoming reality. The Nazis hadn't been able to break the team, and he would be damned if some two bit New York hood would. Gripping the letter tighter he let himself take hope from it. There were three other men out there who cared, who would stop at nothing to get Chief back.


"We're not going to be able to get near him until the exchange," Garrison said flatly.

"I figured as much," Casino said quietly, taking a long swallow of his scotch.

Garrison straightened, his gaze going to Casino. "How bad do you want Chief back?"

The question stopped everyone at the table, leaving them all staring at Garrison in confusion. Casino reacted as Garrison had hoped he would. The safecracker came to his feet and demanded, "What the hell kind of question is that?!"

Garrison regarded him with the same infuriating calmness he always used when Casino got mad. Before he could say anything, Garrison reminded him quietly, "Five days ago you nearly killed him."

Casino flinched, which Garrison once again took as a good sign. The shorter man swallowed hard, ran his hand through his hair. "I... we worked things out," he said firmly.

When he looked up, Garrison was startled by the desperation in the dark eyes. Any doubts he had about his next suggestion vanished under the concern he could feel from the other man. Casino would do anything to get his friend back.

"You're going to have to break that safe," Garrison said calmly.

That gained him another sharp look. Actor stared at him, lowering his pipe. "Warden, is that such a good idea?"

"Yeah, if the coppers pick up..."

"Russo's not stupid," Garrison said sharply. "That's why the tail. We've stalled the man for a little while, but he'll pick Casino back up. Russo will know if Casino doesn't pull the job, if he tried to take an empty bag in there..."

"They'll kill Chief," Casino whispered, sitting back down.

There was a general moment of agreement. Then Garrison reminded them with a smile. "This should be a push over. There won't be any SS shooting at us."

"Actually," Casino said, "the plan ain't bad. It's a small business on the East Side. Not enough in the safe to warrant extra precautions. Just enough to net Russo twenty - thirty thousand."

"You won't be going in alone," Garrison said. "We'll treat this like any job, except that we won't be visible." Leaning forward, he pulled out a pen and started to scribble on a napkin, very conscious of the other's amused smiles. "Here's the plan."


Casino came into the house to find Johnny sitting next to his mother, sharing a glass of wine. Momma immediately came to her feet.

"Nicky, is..." His mother stopped, remembering his request for silence.

Casino came forward, kissed his mother. "Hiya, Momma. So, how much of the family is left for dinner tonight?"

Smiling gamely, she said, "Not many. Only you, Martha and her two little ones, Johnny, Lucille, Nina and me... and Rainey."

"Only," Casino quipped. "Hear that Johnny, anything less than a dozen and it's only."

Johnny stood up, stretching. "Man, I think I'm going go relax. I still haven't recovered from last night." He gave Momma a hug. "See you later, Nicky."

"Yeah, sure, Johnny," Casino agreed.

As the other man left, Casino could feel the questions his mother was fighting not to ask. She watched Johnny leave, then tugged Casino over to the fireplace, where their voices wouldn't carry as far.

"Is Rainey all right?" she demanded first.

With a sigh, Casino nodded. "He's hurting, but he's okay for now."

"You're going to do the job," she stated levelly.

Casino sighed. "It's the only way to get Chief out of this."

The danger wasn't lost on a woman who had spent her life in the midst of family matters. "Nicky, what's to keep Russo from killing you and Rainey once he has the money?"

Casino gave her a sly, confident smile. "Because I got three jokers in the deck."


Night darkened the warehouse, cooling it down enough so that Chief knew he was sweating from the wound and not the afternoon sun. He tried to sit up and sagged back as the room spun around him. That scared him, not for himself, but over the fact that if he had to help the team he wouldn't be able to move fast enough.

"Feeling a little shitty, huh, redskin?" Sonny joked from the desk where he was eating a large sandwich.

Chief ignored him as easily as he did the smell of the food. The meal he'd had the night before would carry him for awhile. When Sonny lifted the glass of liquid though Chief swallowed helplessly. He had not had any water in nearly twenty four hours. For a single instant he considered asking for some, and immediately shoved the thought hard away. He would die before he would ask for anything from the blond muscleman.

He closed his eyes and was confronted by the image of Garrison asking a German guard for food and water. Chief had been shocked. Garrison had merely shrugged, explaining that if they wanted to get away they would need all their strength. Chief blinked his eyes open, the scene from so many months ago so clear that for a moment he worried that he was getting delirious. Smiling to himself, he decided that his mind was trying to tell him the same thing that Garrison had, not to let misplaced pride get in the way of survival. With a deep breath, he struggled up.

"Hey," he said hoarsely. "How 'bout some water?"

Sonny stared at him for a moment, then with a sigh of impatience he went to the old, scarred steel sink and filled a filthy glass sitting on the corner. As he got closer he took a quick glance at the handcuff that bound Chief's right arm to the cot. Satisfied that it wasn't a trick, he handed Chief the glass and walked away. Vaguely surprised that it had been that easy, Chief sipped slowly at the tepid, dirty liquid. Smiling to himself, he once again had to admit listening to the Warden sometimes was a good idea.

"Your buddy'll be hitting that safe soon," Sonny commented. Smiling silkily at Chief, he held up a automatic pistol and checked the slide. "All be over by midnight."

Chief made sure he had finished the water before he said anything. "How much Russo paying you?"

"Why?" Sonny asked. "Think you can offer more?"

"No," Chief said blandly. "Just wondering how much you're going to die for."

Instead of the anger Chief had expected, Sonny only snorted. "Damn sure of Casino considering who's got the gun." The blond walked closer, stood over Chief. "You fucked him yet?"

Chief surged up, was stopped by a hard slap across the face even as the handcuff jerked him back down. Sonny laughed. "Didn't know Casino was a fruit, huh, Injun?"

Raising a hand to his mouth, Chief wiped the blood off, glaring back. Sonny walked away, picked up his glass and finished off whatever he'd been drinking.

"Everyone knows about Casino. Family just don't want to believe it," he said conversationally. "It's one of the reasons he went solo, to stop them finding out."

Sitting up slowly, Chief locked his gaze on the door, taking in everything the man was saying without giving the slightest hint that he was listening.

"Heard he was hot in the slam. Fucked his way through the cell block." Sonny walked over to him again. "I heard he likes 'em dark and pretty."

Chief looked up, meeting the hard blue eyes. "Turned you down, huh?"

The large hand caught him across the month again. He tensed, ready for more but the man only sneered and walked back to the desk. Pulling out a pocket bottle of whiskey, he poured himself a little and wandered out toward the stairs. Chief let himself sag back for a minute, hand going to again to the blood on his chin. The slightest rueful smile touched his lips. When he and Casino were reunited kissing would have to wait.

Thoughts on the sharp words from Sonny turned his smile sad. He knew Casino did not love him as he loved Casino. He knew whatever they shared would only last until Casino grew bored. The reality of Casino's wandering lust would not stop him from taking whatever they could share for as long as they had. Chief had learned long before to take what he could and not to worry about tomorrow.

He shook his head at that fact, acknowledging the change being on the team had caused. There seemed to be a reason to think about tomorrow now, a reason to have hope for it. Garrison had shown him there were people he could trust, even people he could love. He did love; Casino, Garrison as a best friend, Actor and Goniff as brothers. The smile returned, still touched with sadness. All the love in the world would not change Casino's nature though, which meant he would have to be content with now instead of tomorrow.


The job had gone as planned. Casino had walked in and out within ten minutes, no alarms triggered, no guards alerted. And no one tailing him as he left. Casino wasn't sure what had happened to the tail but he sighed with relief at Actor's all clear signal. Being followed always made his neck itch.

He shut off the engine, sitting quietly in the car at the intersection. Sighing, he forced himself to relax. A flash of Chief's bruised face rose into his mind, bringing both fear and a tingle of promise. It would be over soon and they would be together. Maybe they could still get a couple days here alone. If not, they would find a way.

Lights flashed in the deserted street, directly across from him. Straightening in the seat, he returned the signal. A black sedan pulled out in front of him and he hit the gas, easing in close to the bumper. The last act was starting.

Twenty minutes later the first car took a sharp right into an alley. Casino slowed, bouncing as the car took the drive. The alley's walls cut the streetlights, covering him in darkness. It was an old section of the docks, an area filled with empty warehouses and guarded ships. As he stepped out of the car, the smell of New York harbor hit him like a dead fish. He stood there for a minute, taking it slow, knowing the others would be closing quickly behind him. An chill went down his back as he looked up into the ancient, painted over windows, though the flaking paint he spotted a light on the second floor. A flash of memory hit him; Angelo had died in an open field, surrounded by spring.

The creak of a door in need of oil snapped him away from the dark thoughts. He turned to find an entrance beckoning him into the building. Unconsciously he touched the gun tucked under his coat and stepped into the gloom. He wasn't in the dark for long. There was the sound of a heavy switch and the floor was flooded with pale yellow light. The warehouse was mostly empty, only a few stray crates and some empty shelves broke up the fifty yards of cold concrete.

"Russo," Casino said casually to the man standing in front of him.

"Easy as pie," Russo taunted. "Just like I said."

Casino only shrugged. Sonny and the other man from the earlier meeting stood just behind Russo, guns in their hands but not raised. There was no sign of his missing companion. His temper flamed, fed by fear. "Where's Chief?"

"The money," Russo demanded, holding out his hand.

"Do I look stupid to you, Tony!" Casino growled. "You get the money when me and Chief are safe."

Russo's reaction was not what he expected. He smiled slyly, sending new worry through Casino's back. "We had a deal," he said silkily.

"Yeah," Casino said airily. "And I'm making sure you keep it. I stashed the loot. Me and Chief walk out of here, get in a car. A block from here I'll toss out a bag with directions to the money."

A heavy satchel landed with a thump on the dirty floor in front of Russo's feet. Casino's breath caught in his throat. It was the money bag. A light laugh sounded from behind him. Casino turned, to find Johnny standing only a few feet behind him.

Johnny smiled. "Hiya, Nicky."

Too stunned to do anything, Casino watched as Russo picked up the bag. "Nice going, Johnny. Was it where you thought it would be?"

Strolling casually passed Casino, Johnny said, "Yeah." Turning to his cousin, he said contemptuously, "Man's got no imagination. Ten years and he's still using the same hiding place we used as kids."

"Johnny? What the hell..."

The anger came in one quick wave, washing sense and caution away. Casino lunged toward the taller man. Russo's fist lashed out, catching him across the jaw as three guns came up to stop any other moves. The plan had gone to hell in a handbasket quicker than he would have thought possible. Fear rose up hard, for Chief. The others were out in the street, waiting for him and Chief, waiting until they were in the clear before they nabbed Russo and the other's with stolen goods. Casino's jaw tightened, desperate plans running through his mind. If he tried for Russo the shots might bring the others, might give them a chance to save Chief. Again, he thought of Actor and bid his time, held his temper against the urge to do something desperate.

Russo bent to retrieve the bag, unsnapped it, grin spreading. "Nice," he commented. His gun lined up on Casino and motioned toward the stairs across the wide open space. "Okay, Casino, now we can go get your Indian. I made him a promise. You two get to die together."

With a sigh, Casino started across. Johnny led, the other two fell in behind him. "What was it, Johnny?" Casino growled. "The money?"

Johnny made no attempt to disguise the hate in his eyes. "No, Nicky. Just you, baby," he sneered on the "baby." "I've always been there for the family. Always! Yet, you... you run off, go solo, you came stepping back in like you ain't never been gone and everyone falls over you!"

Johnny's expression mirrored Casino's temper. "And that damn Indian gets treated better than I do!"

"That's cause you're a weasel," Casino snapped. "You were a coward when we were kids and still are."

Johnny backhanded Casino across the mouth. Casino staggered back, letting the momentum carry him into Russo. It was the only chance he would get; he whirled and slammed his fist into Russo's face, hand grabbing for the gun.

Shots and breaking glass filled the warehouse. Casino spun, hand still locked around Russo's wrist. Near the door Garrison flew in through the shattered window, smoking gun in hand. Actor was right behind him, rolling. They both ducked into the few sparse crates as the two goons and Johnny returned fire. Using Casino's momentary distraction, Russo hit him with a sharp upper. Casino fell back, dragging Russo with him but not breaking the heavier man's grip on the gun.

"Kill that red bastard!" Russo screamed.

Johnny broke away, running for the stairs.

One of the guards screamed, going down in a spray of blood as Actor's shot caught him in the chest. But Casino and Russo blocked his fire on Johnny. Casino slammed his elbow into Russo's ribs, spun and ran after Johnny. He took three stairs in one leap - and a bullet knocked his leg out from under him in a rush of agony, spilling him back down the stairs. For a moment all he could do was fight against the darkness the pain brought. When the red haze vanished under the rush of adrenaline, he could see Actor rushing toward him with Garrison only a few feet behind. Russo and the other guard lay in sprawled heaps behind them.

Actor started to slow as he approached.

"He's gonna kill Chief!" Casino gasped, pointing up the stairs.

Actor's long legs carried him passed Casino and up the wooden stairs with dangerous speed. Garrison squatted next to Casino, hands going under his shoulders.

Casino tried to push him away. "Chief..."

The lieutenant didn't listen. Casino was suddenly on his feet, Garrison's strong shoulder under his arm and being dragged up the stairs. From the darkness above them was the sound of pounding feet. They made the second landing.


Chief jerked on the handcuff, cursing himself for not learning to pick locks from Goniff. He had heard the voices, had heard the calm confidence in Casino's voice even if he couldn't hear the words. Now shots filled the warehouse. He didn't even bother to acknowledge the danger to himself. All he could think of was Casino, down, hurt, and without him. Footsteps pounded up the stairs.

A sound behind him jerked his attention away from the approaching danger. He whirled to find Goniff smiling at him from a small crack in the old painted window. The small thief motioned to the locks and gave him a thumbs up.

The double doors were slammed in with heavy force. Chief stared, Johnny Canata stood panting in the dim light. Even with the familiar face, there was no sense of relief; Chief could see the hatred in the man's expression.

"Say good-bye, you bastard." Johnny raised the gun.

Three sounds rang at once; the smashing of glass, the creak of the cot as Chief instinctively jerked back and the fatal sound of a gunshot. Something hit him, hard and light exploded in his vision. Then there was nothing.


A single shot rang out in the man-made cavern, the sound cold and empty in the stillness.

They froze, then Casino's strength and will faded like the echo of the bullet. "No, no.... Chief, oh, shit... Chief..." His voice grew hoarse with the pain and tears.

"Not yet," Garrison said firmly. "Actor's there. We don't know...."

Casino shook his head, thinking about Angelo. Now he had lost Chief the same way. He was suddenly aware that they had been moving, were now standing outside a double swinging door. Garrison shouldered open the door -- and all Casino's nightmares rose up to claim him.

Chief was face down on the floor, one arm awkwardly raised behind him, still chained to the metal cot's railing. Blood obscured his face, had splattered the faded green cot, was spreading in an ever widening circle under him.

"Oh, God..." Casino whispered. He sagged toward the floor and Garrison let him go, even the lieutenant's strength stolen by the fatal sight.

Casino landed on his knees, unable to move, unable to think. He watched Actor kneel next to Chief, saw Johnny's body laying nearby. Goniff was climbing in through a broken window. He saw it all but none of it registered, none of it made it passed the shock and pain. All that filled his world was the sight of Chief's still body. There were no tears, the loss too great. Raising his hand he wiped slowly across his mouth, remembering the feel of Chief's lips, the sparkle in the dark eyes, the hope and promise of something more than either of them had ever known.

A hand touched his shoulder, he didn't acknowledge it; two hands then, shaking him hard. Reluctantly he looked up into Garrison's scared green eyes.

"He's alive, Casino! Do you hear me? Chief's alive."

Long, cold minutes passed as he stayed in his private hell. Slowly, the words became real. "Alive?" he questioned hoarsely.

Garrison smiled at him. "Yeah. Alive."

Casino tried to gain his feet but the blood loss and shock were setting in hard now. Garrison shoved him gently down. "Sit still. I want to..."

"Warden," Casino pleaded, not even ashamed of his tone. "Please.... I ..."

An understanding smile touched Garrison's expression. Carefully, he helped Casino to his feet and they started across the short space that only minutes before had been miles. Actor had a clean handkerchief pressed to a long, badly bleeding bullet cress across Chief's temple.

"I'll summon an ambulance," Actor said crisply, relinquishing the hasty bandage to Garrison's capable hand. He patted Casino's shoulder before handing to the stairs.

Casino watched as Goniff finished picking the handcuff lock. With gentle moves, the small thief shifted Chief just a little, laying his arm next to him. Casino found himself staring at the steady raise and fall of Chief's chest. Slowly, still unbelieving, he reached out and lay his hand on the muscled back. The reality of the warmth and easy breaths broke the last of his walls. He closed his eyes, fighting the embarrassment of tears.

"He's alive," he whispered to himself.

Goniff was rambling, a sure sign he was nervous. "Had to shoot that blond bloke through the window. He shot at the same time. Hit Chiefy. I couldn't get a quick shot. I should have..."

"You did fine, Goniff," Garrison said firmly. "It was a tricky shot."

Casino didn't have the strength to talk, so he merely looked up at his teammate and smiled.

"Lean back, Casino, let's get a look at the leg," Garrison ordered.

To dazed to do anything else, Casino sagged back against the cot, his hand staying where it was. Vaguely he was aware of Garrison cutting his pants leg, using his belt as a tourniquet just below the steadily bleeding wound in his calf. He blinked harder against the tears. A hand rubbed his shoulder. Once again he found understanding in Garrison's gaze.

"We made it," Garrison assured him.

Casino nodded. The nearness of death, the pain of the bullet and the relief of Chief's survival suddenly closed in on him. He reached out and took Chief's hand, squeezed tightly and fell into the darkness.


Chief went from dark to light in one breath. He lay still, kept his eyes closed, let his senses tell him where he was. The smell of alcohol and feel of starched sheets reached him first then the sounds of street traffic and rattle of trays confirmed he was in a hospital. Searching out his wounds he found to his surprise that he didn't hurt too badly; his leg was numb, as where the cuts on his face. Thoughts of Casino flooded his mind.

Jerking his eyes open, he tried to sit up, and discovered that he didn't feel as well as he had thought. His head was suddenly filled with blossoms of red pain and he lay back with a gasp. A hand touched his arm. Moving slowly, he looked up into dark brown eyes that mirrored his future lover's.

"So," Momma Canata said quietly, "you've decided to wake up."

"Casino..." he croaked, surprised at the hoarseness of his voice.

The touch on his arm became a pat. "Nicky is fine. A little hole, a little limp. They have all been here with you. I chased them out, told them to go eat."

Chief smiled at the image of Momma ordering Garrison out.

"You should drink something," she decided.

She reached down and raised the head of the bed, then offered him some water, holding the glass steady as he drank. It was strange, he realized, as she took the soothing water away. There was no discomfort in laying here letting her tend him. He remembered the last time he'd been shot, hurt more seriously than now, there had never been a time when he'd awakened without one of the others being there. This felt like that. It was a feeling of comfort that he barely knew.

But he wanted, needed to see Casino.

"Nicky will be back soon," Momma said with a smile.

The ease with which she knew his thoughts worried him. He remembered what Sonny had said about people knowing about Casino but the family not believing. Had he ruined that? Would the family cast him out for loving Chief?

"Rainey?" Momma called his attention to her. Her gaze held his for a long time. Finally, with a sigh, she said, "My Nicky, he is different. A mother knows." She stared thoughtfully out the window for a minute. "Some will try to make trouble if they know."

Chief took a deep breath, sighed hard, and came to a decision. "No trouble. I'll go back to England -- and stay there."

Momma turned, staring at him. He saw the strength behind the family, saw the determination that had held them together and in control after Casino's father had died. "If he is different, he is still a Canata and nothing changes that," Momma said with a touch of her son's temper. More gently, she added, "And now, so are you. You will leave when you want and not before."

With that announcement, she leaned down and kissed him on the cheek. He could feel the color rise in his cheeks. She laughed, and when he met her eyes this time there was only amusement and relief. She sat down.

"So, that tall one, Actor," she said conversationally, "he is like Nicky's father. Such a charmer he was."

Before Chief could decide to reply the door opened a crack and Casino peaked around it. "Momma..." He saw Chief and a wide smile lit his face. "You're awake!"

"Here, mate," Goniff's high voice said from behind him. "Let the rest of us have a go."

They piled into the small room, all smiling. Actor and Goniff stood at the end of the bed, Casino and Garrison closer to the head. Despite his best efforts, Chief found himself smiling back. He didn't know what to say to the obvious relief evident in each man's expression, so he fell back on the easiest thing to ask.

"What happened?"

Ten minutes, and all four versions later the rest of the team paused. Chief looked over at Goniff. "Thanks," he said quietly.

Goniff shifted, picking at the sheet. "It's okay, Chiefy, you've saved my ars...," he glanced at Momma. "...back enough."

Everyone laughed at his amended statement. Chief blinked suddenly hit with a wave of exhaustion. He didn't need to voice it. Garrison stepped away from the bed.

"Okay, guys, enough," he said gently. "Chief needs to get some rest if we're going to go home in two days."

"Two days?" Momma protested. "You've all just gotten here." She stood up, grabbed Garrison by the arm and started him toward the door. "You will all come home with me. I'll make you such a dinner you won't ever want to go back."

Garrison glanced over his shoulder at Chief, then at Casino. He stopped at the door. "Mrs. Canata, I think that's a great offer. But I think one of us should stay with Chief, at least until he's released tomorrow."

"I'll stay," Casino spoke up.

There were no other volunteers, only a fast glance of acknowledgment between two cons, one lieutenant and one mother. They all said their good-byes. Momma turned back long enough to kiss Casino and Chief on the cheek. Again Chief felt himself blush. Casino laughed.

The room grew quiet as they realized they were alone for the first time in forty eight hours. Chief tried to straighten and the room did another spin. He closed his eyes, trying to fight off the weakness and overwhelming urge to sleep.

A strong hand covered his and he once more got his eyes open. Casino smiled at him, a soft, warm smile that Chief couldn't recall seeing on the arrogant safecracker's face before. "You okay?" Chief wondered.

"Me?" Casino said in surprise. Shadows danced through the man's eyes. "I'm not the one who got shot twice and beat up once."

Chief turned his hand over, grasp Casino's hard. But when he went to speak, it was smothered by a yawn and another spin.

The back of Casino's hand trailed lightly over his unbruised cheek. "Go to sleep," Casino urged with gruff patience. "I'll be here."

Hearing the promise in the tired voice, Chief nodded. Seconds later, with Casino's callused hand resting on his throat, he drifted into peaceful sleep.


"I still can't believe we managed to get the Warden to ..."

Casino's voice drifted off as he glanced into the huge living room. Chief had dozed off on the sofa. Casino snorted, shaking his head. When Garrison had told them they could have the day on their own, his imagination had immediately taken off into very erotic territory. Now, standing in the kitchen and watching Chief sleep, he knew he wanted nothing more than to make Chief realize how much he was loved. He moved past the sleeping man with a stealth worthy of a good safeman.

Two hours later, he knew Chief was awake, even though he hadn't moved or even changed his rhythm of breathing. Casino waiting, letting Chief assure himself of his location and safety. The beautiful eyes opened and without the slightest hesitation met his.

"Welcome back, sleepy," he kidded quietly.

Chief stretched, glancing toward the windows, a bit of surprise showing on his face as he saw dusk approaching. "Didn't mean to sleep so long," he said in apology.

"Hey, no sweat," Casino said with a smile. "Docs said you should do that as much as you can. Getting your brain scrambled is no piece of cake."

Sitting up, Chief said huskily, "Had better things in mind for today."

The invitation in the single statement started tingles along Casino's skin. He pushed the feelings away. "You hungry?"

Again, the smoldering eyes connected with his. "Yeah," Chief admitted. "But not for food."

The tingles went from skin to nerves in one explosion. Casino leaned back, took a sharp breath. "Jesus, Chief," he muttered. "You're good."

Smiling, Chief gestured to the single bedroom. "Even better in there."

Casino came to his feet, moved to stand in front of soon to be lover. "You sure you're up to it?"

"Not yet," Chief said smoothly, "but give me a couple of kisses and I will be."

Bringing him to his feet, Casino laughed. "Damn, Chief, I never expected you to be the hot talking kind."

Taking his hand, Casino started them toward the bedroom. As he closed the door behind them, he turned and caught something in the Indian's dark gaze, something sad and certain. He knew what it was, Chief was scared, not of the family or Garrison or even the Germans; he was scared that what Casino believed to be love was in fact only lust; that what he wanted to be forever would end far too soon. Sighing, Casino thought of a thousand things he could say, and knew that none of them would remove the imagined future hurt. Chief distrusted words. Casino smiled, deciding there was an easy way for both of them.

He wrapped his friend in a tight embrace, kissed along his chin, over the soft lips. This time the kiss was slow and promising, warm and loving. Chief's arms tightened around his waist. With a sigh, Casino parted his lips, let the Indian claim his mouth, felt the desire heat his blood. His hand came up to tangle in Chief's hair, urging him closer, deeper. They broke apart, nearly gasping for breath.

Chief's cheeks were flushed with lust, eyes glittering with need. Casino smiled. "Damn," he whispered.

"Yeah," Chief echoed dazedly.

"Come on," Casino urged. He started unbuttoning his shirt as he walked, pulled it out of his pants as he reached the side of the bed.

Reaching for his belt, he was stopped by Chief's hands on his from behind him. Slowly he turned to face Chief. The pants fell open under the talented fingers. Casino watched in awe as Chief eased the cloth off his hips, kissing along as each exposed inch of skin. He pulled Chief up, claimed his mouth, sliding his tongue into hot welcome. Chief sucked hard on the invader, sending the heat up in Casino's blood. With a gasp Chief tore away, shoved Casino back on the bed and jerked off his pants and shorts.

Startled and fired by the commanding moves, Casino watched his full cock spring up. Trying to sit up he was pushed firmly back into the bed by Chief's strong hand on his stomach. In one swift move Chief went to knees between Casino's dangling knees and engulfed his cock in wet heat. Casino cried out in surprised lust. As quickly as Chief had pinned him he moved away, leaving Casino panting.

Chief rolled away, shed his clothes with savage moves. For an instant Casino worried at the sight of the still bandaged leg wound but it was forgotten, as was his own arm, under the adrenaline and lust as Chief straddled him. Casino grabbed the narrow waist, felt the smooth, dark skin under his hands, watched the play of Chief's muscled legs as he rocked forward over Casino's cock. One hand moved down to play with Chief's cock, to tease over the foreskin that had already rolled back as his erection grew.

"Damn you're hot," Casino said almost to himself.

"Gonna make you even hotter," Chief promised.

Reaching down, Chief stroked along Casino's considerable length with one finger. Casino tried to push up, wanting more contact but Chief's weight held him down. Wrapping one hand around Chief's cock, he used the other to urge him down into a deep kiss. When they broke apart, Casino smiled at the glitter in the dark eyes he loved. He realized there was more he wanted to see -- love and happiness -- but for now he gave into the lust and need.

"Gonna fuck you, baby," Casino whispered.

"Want you to," Chief agreed.

Grabbing Chief's arms, Casino rolled them over, tossing his tangled shirt to the floor. He rose, nearly ran to where his suitcase lay partially unpacked. He came back to the wide bed, tube of gel in hand. Chief reached for him, hand running down his chest, slow and easy. Casino took a deep breath, let himself look at his prize. Everything he had wanted and dreamed about for months was within his reach. Chief was laying back, long cock raised over his stomach, legs part, eyes half closed. Casino smiled as he realized just how much alike they were. Chief was slimmer than Casino, but not by much, muscles long and lean like his cock; his skin only a little darker. Looking down, Casino realized he actually looked darker because of the hair that covered his chest, unlike Chief who had very little.

As if his lover had picked up on that thought, Chief reached up and ran his hand through the hair that covered Casino's chest. The Indian smiled.

"You gonna stand there," he demanded, "or you gonna fuck me?"

Grabbing Chief's knees, Casino shoved him further into the bed, and spread his legs. Squeezing the gel into his hands, he leaned forward and kissed only Chief's chest, sucking hard on each nipple until he heard Chief's breathing become uneven. Chief's hands pulled at him, pressing them together. Casino moved, kneeling between Chief's long legs, he started coating his cock with the clear gel.

Chief reached up, teased at Casino's nipples, pinching hard. "How you want it, man?" he demanded. "Want to take me from behind? Watch that big cock slid into my ass? Or from the front, my legs over your shoulders, watch me play my cock while you fill me?"

It was Casino's turn to not answer. Instead, he cut off Chief's husky voice by sliding on finger deep into his ass without warning. Chief arched back with a gasp. Casino smiled, his other hand wrapping around Chief's cock, pumping it hard in time to the thrust of his finger.

"Gonna take you every way I can think of," he promised.

On the next thrust he shoved two fingers into Chief. His dark lover moaned, pressing down as Casino stroked along the smooth interior muscles. Casino smiled as Chief clamped around his hand, nearly coming at the thought of his cock sliding into the tight ass. Without breaking the rhythm, Casino shoved his shoulders under Chief's knees. On the next stroke, he pulled his fingers free and drove his cock into the willing body. Chief cried out, arching up, drawing him in deeper. The Indian's hands locked around his back, pressing him forward, begging for more.

"Damnit, Casino, harder! Come on, man, shove it in there!"

Casino laughed, easing out and shoving in hard, feeling the pulse and life that flowed from Chief. Looking down, he smiled again at the erotic picture sprawled in front of him. Chief's eyes were barely open, only a dark glimmer of pleasure shining through, his head was back, hair tangled and sweaty against the white line, a deep flush making his handsome face glow with lust. Leaning back, Casino twisted his buried shaft deeper, even as Chief moved against him. He gave into the sight, into the incredible tightness surrounding his cock, into the fire that each quiver of Chief's muscles sent along his nerves.

Pulling almost out, he shoved hard and deep back in, dragging another cry from the Indian. "Hang on, baby," he promised hoarsely, "I'm going fuck you like you ain't never been fucked."

Chief's legs drug into his shoulders as he pulled himself up, giving Casino better angle, forcing his cock even deeper. Two deep moans filled the room as Casino began to pound into Chief, harder and faster with each thrust. The wet sound of two joined bodies and the sound of pounding flesh filled the room over the sounds of their moans. Casino was panting now as the tightness gathered in his stomach and his balls. Chief was moaning continually, the cock in Casino's hand thickening, vein pulsing hard. Chief's hand joined his, adding tightness to his grip. The ice and fire met, Casino cried out, body stiffening, shaft thrusting deep, pumping hot fluid into the prefect body under him. At the same instant, Chief's cock shot white liquid over Casino's hand and his own stomach. They gasp together, the last of the spasms shuddering through them.

The locked muscles broke free, sweeping exhaustion down Casino's back and legs. He sagged down, sliding out from under Chief's limp legs. Chief lay still, breathing hard. Once more the man's beauty struck Casino. Sliding forward, he kissed the partially opened mouth slowly, lovingly. Onyx eyes opened to stare at the ceiling for an instant before switching to him. Casino smiled proudly at the dazed expression, though it made him wonder at his own looks. Chief's hand came up, touched his cheek very gently.

The fingers were warm on his skin. Casino ran his hands through Chief's dark hair, letting a new kind of heat fill his chest. He swallowed hard, the words coming out before he could even think about them.

"I love you, Chief," he whispered. Chief's gaze connected with his and he flinched at the doubt he saw there. "You don't believe me," he realized quietly.

For an instant Chief's expression turned inward, as if checking what his own heart was telling him. When he looked back at Casino, he gave a single shake of his head.

With a heavy sigh, Casino admitted. "Can't say that I blame you. I've had a lot of partners before, fucked my way up and down a couple of prisons."

He stared down at Chief, saw the pain and love again. "Chief, I've never said that to anyone before. When saw you on that cold floor I... I felt like everything had ended, like when Angelo died... worse."

Chief nodded, accepting Casino's words as the truth.

"But that's not when I knew," Casino continued.

He had Chief's attention now and was rewarded with the slightest bit of hope in the expressive eyes. Swallowing the horror of those few minutes when he'd thought Chief dead, Casino kissed him lightly.

"That night in the bedroom.... when you looked up at me, when it seemed like I had said something that made you feel better," Casino confessed. "That's why I moved off. I was scared shitless at the same time as I wanted to see you look like that again because of me."

It was a long and confused confession, he knew. But he didn't know how to make it any better, how to make Chief accept that the love he was feeling toward Casino was returned. He waiting, letting everything he wanted to give Chief fill his eyes. He watched, transfixed as Chief saw the truth. Chief took a sharp breath, his hand tightening on Casino's. But again, he had guessed wrong at Chief's reaction. He could see the see the hope, the promise Chief so badly wanted to return -- and he could see the terror all of it brought.

Casino smiled, hand stroking lightly around the new bruises. "Ain't nothing to be afraid of," he said quietly.

"Yes, there is," Chief argued.

A surge of anger again, comforting in its familiarity. It died without reaching release. Casino nodded. "Okay. There's the family, and there's the warden. But..."

It was Chief's turn to touch Casino's hand. "Can handle all that. What about the rest? What happens when I go down again? What happens when I have to watch you laying in blood?"

Casino opened his mouth to refute the possible futures. Then with a sudden shake of his head, he leaned forward and claimed Chief's mouth. The kiss was hard and needful and Chief returned it with everything he had. Slowly, all the possible pain and loss vanished under the promised of tomorrow and a love that would carry them through.

Leaning forward, Casino started to kiss him again. Chief leaned away, smiling.

"What?" Casino demanded.

Motioning toward the door, Chief said, "I was waiting for your mother to knock."

Casino laughed, and took the kiss anyway.


The crash sounded clearly from across the hall. With a barely stifled curse, Garrison came to his feet and marched across the hall. He jerked open the door in time to be nearly knocked flat by Chief. Righting the man with a hard shove, he struck his arm out to intercept Casino's fast close. Pushing Chief into a chair with one hand, Garrison knocked Casino into another one. Vaguely he noted that Goniff and Actor had made themselves scarce. Casino stared to move again but a single glare stopped him.

"Now," he demanded, "what the hell is this about this time?"

Chief jerked his hard gaze away from Casino, stared up at his warden. It was his only response. With a look of disgust, Garrison turned his attention to Casino.

"One of you is going to tell me what is going on or we will all sit here until we leave on this mission," Garrison threatened.

Long minutes stretched out, through Garrison could gradually feel the chill in the room fade. It was, surprisingly, Chief who finally sighed and said, "Man thinks he's bullet proof."

Turning to Casino, he ordered, "What?"

With a single accusing look at Chief, Casino shrugged and said, "I just said if I went in first it might be faster."

Looking from one to the other, Garrison said calmly, "You two can't spend the rest of the war trying to see who goes in first. You do that and one of you is going to get killed."

Deciding that it was time to settle a couple of things now, Garrison continued levelly, "I thought once you guys got yourselves straightened out things would get better. Don't make me doubt that. This has worked so far because we all trust each others abilities. Don't let love get in the way of that."

The reactions to his last statement was almost comically. Casino and Chief both paled, their mouths dropping open slightly. Chief then blushed, staring down at the carpet. Fire appeared in Casino's eyes.

"You know about us?" he demanded.

Garrison almost smiled. "Casino, I knew before you to did."

Softly, still not looking up, Chief asked, "It's okay with you?"

This time Garrison did smile. "Chief, I threw out the rules when I took you guys on, remember? My only regret will be if you let your feelings get in your way, because then one of us could get killed, probably one of you two."

The looks this time were an interesting mixture of relief and guilt. It was Casino who recovered first. Coming to his feet, he pulled Chief up.

"Ain't gonna happen, Warden," Casino assured him. "We're going to keep an eye on each other -- and you guys."

"Well, you better," Garrison said firmly, poking him in the chest, "because your mother will have your hide otherwise."

With that vague remark, he started out. Behind him, Casino's very worried voice asked, "My mother? What does my mother know about this?"

Garrison only smiled to himself and closed the door.