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Vinnie's mouth was dry as dust. Behind him, Aldo was packing up the icebox with Patrice's body. He trundled it out of the room and the door slammed shut behind him. Sonny still hadn't moved, hadn't looked away. Vinnie tried not to look at the gun, the one Aldo had put into Sonny's hand. What he really wanted to do was look at his watch again. Six-fifteen, the last time he'd looked. What was that, ten minutes ago? Twenty? How long had it taken Aldo to get Patrice out? He couldn't even guess. Every breath seemed to be taking a long time, except his heart was racing like crazy and he was getting a little lightheaded, hyperventilating.

It couldn't be that much longer. All he had to do was stall. All he had to do was give Sonny some stupid fucking pasta-strainer of an excuse, enough to keep him talking; it only had to hold water for fifteen minutes. Except all he could do was stare at the small black .22 in Sonny's hand.

"Look familiar?" Sonny held up the gun and turned it in the light, back and forth. "Aldo took it off Scullisi. It's the one that was going to kill me." He lowered the gun. "The one you planted."

It had been warm back there, behind the icebox, hot air blowing out the vents. Vinnie's hands had been shaking like crazy while he'd slid the gun under the coiled-up power cord. If Pat had gotten antsy, if Scullisi had thought he saw an opening early—Vinnie hadn't had much of a fucking contingency plan, just a kind of blind, desperate determination that if this went south, he wasn't going to stand there and watch Sonny die.

Yeah. He'd avoided that one. Temporarily, anyway.

"What's the matter, Vinnie?" Sonny came closer. Vinnie had to lock his knees to keep from backing off. "No more excuses?" Sonny was almost right up to him. Maybe he could make a jump for it, try and get his hands on the gun—but Sonny was turning away, stalking down the room, like he couldn't hold still. "What did I do to deserve this from you? What did he offer you I couldn't give you? I was going to give you Brooklyn, you know that?"

"Brooklyn?" Vinnie said, his voice rising; he took a step after Sonny, hands knotting, and it wasn't to distract him. "You wouldn't give me the fucking truth, what the fuck do I want with Brooklyn?"

Sonny whirled and came at him, fast and furious, took him up to the wall with the gun shoved cold and hard up under his jaw, Sonny's other hand spread against his chest. "You're trying to put this on me, you son of a bitch?" Sonny said. Vinnie braced his hands against the wall and stared past Sonny blindly. "Come on, Terranova," Sonny whispered, cold and glittering at him. "Come on. Give me a reason. Give me one fucking reason not to blow you away."

Vinnie strained for breath, Sonny's hand rising and falling with his chest.

"God fucking damn you, you bastard," Sonny said, pressing in harder, so Vinnie's head tilted back against the wall. "Fucking lie to me. Tell me Pat threatened your mother. Tell me you were going to put poison in his cup. Tell me it was all some big fucking mistake. Tell me—" He stopped, panting. "Tell me—"

Vinnie didn't have anything left, not even the truth. Sonny was close enough, anyway. Vinnie had betrayed him, just not for Patrice. Vinnie had set him up to die, just after five years on death row instead of with one gunshot to the head. Sonny would've taken Patrice, if he'd had a choice. Vinnie stared up at the ceiling. He could see the videocamera light blinking from behind the grille, catching his last minutes, like it had caught Patrice, like it had caught Sonny. They'd all go down together. He shut his eyes.

Sonny shuddered and jammed the gun hard into the soft underside of Vinnie's jaw and thumbed the hammer down. When Vinnie swallowed, his skin stretched over the muzzle. Sonny pulled the trigger now, the bullet would go right up and in, bounce around inside his skull. At least he'd look okay in the coffin; Mama wouldn't ever have to see—

The gun fell away.

Vinnie opened his eyes. Sonny had taken a few steps away and turned his back. He just stood there for a second, and then he walked over to the table, slow and uncertain, like someone who didn't trust the ground he was walking on. He sat down hard and put the gun flat on the table and folded his hands over it.

"Get out," he said.

Vinnie didn't move away from the wall. It didn't make sense in his head, didn't work, like reading the same word over and over until it stopped meaning anything, turned into a jumble of random letters.

"Get out," Sonny said. His head was bent down over his hands. Vinnie couldn't see his face. "Run and hide, find yourself some hole and bury yourself in it, Kentucky or South America or Japan, any fucking place in the world just as long as you don't ever let me see you again." He stopped and repeated it. "I don't ever want to see you again."

Vinnie took a couple of jerky steps towards the door, then a few more. Sonny was behind him now. The spot between Vinnie's shoulderblades itched, waiting for the gunshot that didn't come. He put his hand flat on the door to push it open. His watch, the watch Sonny had gotten him, said six-thirty-nine. The first sound of sirens was coming in the distance, like a whining engine if you didn't know what you were listening for. If he walked fast, he'd meet Frank at the front door.

Hell, he could bring Frank in, show him straight to the videotape. Wouldn't it be a kick to see Sonny's face then.

"I loved you, man," Sonny said, so softly Vinnie could barely hear him.

Vinnie turned and grabbed the end of the table and dragged it around. Sonny jerked up as the table slid out from under him. "What the fuck are—"

"Shut up," Vinnie said through his teeth. "Shut the fuck up, you stupid murderous bastard—" He threw a chair up onto the table and climbed up after it, stood it up again and climbed on, balancing. The goddamn fucking grille was just out of reach, and he could hear the sirens for real now, getting close. "The broomstick—give me the fucking broomstick!"

Sonny looked around and got it, handed it up to him. Vinnie stuck it between the slats and levered off the grille. "What the fuck is this?" Sonny said, staring up at the tape deck. "How did you know that was—" He broke off.

Vinnie jabbed frantically at the VCR deck and hooked the handle into the mouth of it. He heaved it out and fell as the chair toppled over, smashing hard into the table with his shoulder. "Fuck," he said, gasping, and struggled up; Sonny was already wrestling with the VCR. "Here, wait—" Vinnie managed to jam his fingers inside and get a grip on the tape, ripped it out with magnetic ribbon spilling out the back in a long shiny brown loop. He broke off the plastic cover and smashed the case over his knee and started pulling the tape out.

Sonny had one of the silver platters dumped out and was filling it with brandy from the decanter on the table. "You got your lighter?"

"Yeah," Vinnie said, and threw the two spools of tape into the dish, piled on the loose coils. They started shriveling up in the alcohol, even before he flicked on his lighter and tossed it into the dish and the brandy started burning blue and hot. The sirens were right outside; he heard the first doors slamming, the first yells as the officers spilled through the building, coming for them both.

"Vinnie," Sonny said, and pulled him close, hand warm and tight on the back of his neck. Vinnie shut his eyes and held on to him.

Frank burst in through the double doors with two agents and half a dozen cops, shotguns bristling. Sonny just looked down the barrels with the disdain of a conqueror, his hand still on Vinnie's neck. "All right, up against the wall, right now," Frank said, and then he saw the burning tape, the pieces of black plastic all over the table, and his face changed. He jerked his eyes to Vinnie's face. It hurt to look at him.

"It's all right," Sonny said. "I've got you. You're with me."

"Yeah," Vinnie said. "I am."

= End =






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