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Three Litttle Words

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Vinnie woke up, aware of Sonny in his room, not saying anything, just prowling around in the dark. It made Vinnie nervous, but it always made Vinnie nervous when Sonny did this, and he did it pretty regularly.

"Sonny? What do you want?" Usually when he asked this, Sonny said nothing—said the word, "Nothing," and then sat down on the edge of Vinnie's bed and talked to him for an hour or two.

When he didn't do that, he told Vinnie to get up, they were going out, and instead of a good night's sleep, Vinnie went out someplace with Sonny. Sometimes with girls, but sometimes just the two of them, bowling or shooting pool, or whatever Sonny wanted.

Vinnie didn't know why Sonny didn't just wake him up if he wanted him awake, but if he'd been forced to try to explain, it seemed like some kind of adult version of throwing pebbles against the window to get attention. And if the circumstances had been different, Sonny might've tossed pebbles—except that Vinnie's window was a little too high for him to reach.

This time Sonny didn't do either of those things, and when Vinnie asked him again, Sonny said, "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Why didn't I tell you what? What time is it?" Vinnie sat up, checked out the bedside clock: five forty-seven. It was practically morning.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Sonny repeated. "Why?" He was, Vinnie noticed, still wearing the suit he'd put on last night, though his tie was gone and he was looking sort of rumpled.

"Sonny, what're you talking about?" Vinnie was wide awake now and fully worried.

"Aren't you gonna ask me how the party was?" Sonny asked.

Yeah, that was the first thing on Vinnie's mind, how was the party Sonny had gone to with Theresa? Even more confused, Vinnie said, "Yeah, sure, I'll play. How was the party?"

"The party was fine," as though the answer was self-evident and the question stupid. "Good food, met the relatives, Theresa looked beautiful. Afterwards I had a long talk with Aldo." Sonny waited, as though some part of that had a deeper meaning.

Finally Vinnie said, "That talk with Aldo must have been real stimulating if it kept you up all night like this." He was fumbling in the dark—literally and figuratively—with no idea what they were talking about. Mostly he was trying to get a laugh out of Sonny.

But Sonny didn't laugh. He stopped his pacing to look at Vinnie. "It's not the first one I've had with him," Sonny said.

There seemed to something behind those words, but Vinnie didn't know what it was, so he ignored it. He couldn't play subtext when he didn't even understand the text. "I wouldn't think so, you've known him how long?"

"About you," Sonny said. "We talked about you." He was still just standing there, still just staring at Vinnie in the dark. The sort of dark.

Left to its own devices, Vinnie's room never got all that dark. Those twenty-four hour neon lights outside required black-out curtains to bring the room to a healthy shade of dark, the kind Vinnie needed for sleeping. The kind he usually needed, anyway; last night he'd fallen asleep reading, and at some point he'd woke up and turned out the light, but he hadn't gotten up pull the curtains.

So what his room was was twilighty, and now with Sonny standing there, staring at him in it, the darkness seemed deliberate: too dark to get his bearings, not dark enough to hide in.

"What're you talking to Aldo about me for?" Vinnie asked. "I barely know him."

"Yeah, but he knows you." Still just standing there, still staring at Vinnie.

"Aldo knows me," Vinnie repeated flatly, trying to figure out what that meant. No luck. "Sonny. What are you talking about?"

"Why didn't you tell me?" Sonny asked again.

"Tell you what? C'm'on, gimme a clue here." Vinnie stood up, putting himself face to face with Sonny.

"That you'd thrown in with Patrice."

That made no sense at all, which was kind of good. Whatever Sonny suspected, it wasn't something he'd done, so his defense should be simple. "Me throwing in with Patrice was your plan, remember? He'd approach me, I'd pretend to go over to his side. How much'a this do I need to remind you of?"

"Yeah, I remember my plan. What I don't remember is the part where you were gonna help Patrice whack me at my bachelor party. That part of the plan slipped my mind, Vinnie, why don't you remind me?"

Oh, crap.

"Why do I have to hear this from Aldo, huh? He told me about it days ago, but I figured maybe he got it wrong, but then you don't say anything, and I know Patrice's planning something." Sonny went back to pacing, anyway, thank God. It was better than having him stand there, staring at Vinnie, seeing who-knew-what. "So I talk to Aldo again, and he was real specific, and he wasn't wrong because every word he said, I could hear it coming out of Patrice's mouth. So tell me Vinnie, why didn't you tell me?"

What could he say? I was gonna tell you? Don't worry, I got it all worked out? Nobody was going to kill you, we were just going to arrest you?

Sonny took his silence as response. He walked over to the window and stood staring out. "Yeah. That's what I thought."

And of course it was at that moment that Vinnie noticed the twenty-two Sonny was holding in his hand. Vinnie sat down on the bed. Sitting was better when your knees felt wobbly.

"Sonny, what're you doing?"

"You're gonna tell me the truth, Vinnie," Sonny said to the view. "Whatever the fuck that is, you're gonna tell me. ‘Cause there's something hinkey here, and I got the feeling you're the only one who knows what it is." Sonny came over and sat down across from him. "Start talking."

Vinnie didn't want to die. That was pretty much what it came down to: Vinnie didn't want to die. He was pretty sure Sonny didn't really want to kill him either, but he might do it in the heat of the moment. Even if he regretted it later, that wouldn't do Vinnie any good.

And the thing was, Vinnie being dead wouldn't help Sonny, either. If Sonny was going to get out of this, he needed Vinnie, but he was only going to find that out if Vinnie told him everything. Vinnie was going to have to tell him everything, and if he was lucky, Sonny wouldn't kill him. Then, later, when he found out what Vinnie had done, Frank would kill him.

The whole ‘don't shoot cops' rule was great when you were clear-headed—or even when you were furiously angry, but the cop in question wasn't sitting right across from you and you didn't happen to have a gun conveniently located in your hand. Sonny could blast him before he ever had a chance to realize it was a bad idea.

Vinnie swallowed, trying not to show how scared he was. "Get rid of the gun," he said.

"What?" Sonny was sort of smiling at him, a not very pleasant smile. "You giving the orders now, Vinnie?" Sonny always had liked his initiative, but he didn't seem too crazy about it now.

"I'm not giving you an order. But you're already so pissed at me that you're sitting there with a gun in your hand. If the next three words out of my mouth piss you off even more, they could be the last three words out of my mouth, and I'll never be able to tell you the whole story."

"You got a story for me?" Sonny asked.

"Yeah, I got a story for you, but you gotta get rid of the gun."

Sonny didn't seem inclined to do so.

"Look, I'm not going anywhere. There's a piece in my bedside table, take that too, get rid of ‘em both. That way if anything that comes out of my mouth is something you want to kill me for, I'll have a fighting chance to stop you."

Sonny thought about that, shrugged, then got Vinnie's gun out. He twirled the cylinder of his twenty-two, letting gravity take the bullets, then he removed and emptied the clip of Vinnie's thirty-eight, scattering more bullet on the floor. Even if one of them got a gun and wanted to reload it, first they'd have to find the right bullets. Sonny put the guns on the balcony, and closed and locked the door.

"OK," Sonny said, resuming his chair. "Tell me your story, Vinnie. Better make it good."

"One more thing," Vinnie said. "Promise me you'll let me finish."

Sonny just stared at him.

"C'm'on. You know you hate it when you don't know how a story ends."

Sonny gave an involuntary laugh. "Yeah, OK, I promise."

"I'm not working for Patrice." Vinnie said. "The reason I didn't tell you about the hit was, my boss told me not to."

"Your boss told you not to?" Sonny asked. "That's funny, I thought I was the one paying your salary. Who's your boss, Vinnie? I could'a sworn it was me."

Those three words: I'm a cop, Vinnie didn't have to say them. Sonny tweaked to the answer the second he'd finished asking the question. Vinnie could see him going from disbelief to agitation to fury in a matter of seconds. He went to stand, but Vinnie was up first, pushing him back into the chair and leaning over him, hands on the arms of the chair, to keep him there.

"Listen to me!"

Sonny tried to push him away, but Vinnie wouldn't budge.

"You gave me your word!"

"You're a cop!" Sonny tried to punch him in the face, but he had noplace to swing from.

"You gave me your word you'd let me finish! Vinnie said again.

"You think there's more? You're a cop!" Sonny asked, and this time he hit Vinnie in the solar plexus, which was very effective, it stole Vinnie's air. But Vinnie had been expecting it, and he didn't back down.

"You gave me your word," Vinnie said quietly, staring Sonny down.

"Finish, then," Sonny spat. "Hurry it up."

Vinnie didn't know how to start. Or how to end. He didn't even know how to middle. What was he supposed to say? Bringing Dave into it would be a mistake, so he said the only thing he could think of. "You're a criminal!" And then he started to laugh the most completely inappropriate laugh of his life.

"That's it? That's what you got?" Sonny asked. "That's a story?"

"This is what happens!" Vinnie said. "You gonna tell me it's not true, that you haven't been breaking laws? I know you've been breaking laws, I've seen you. And this is what happens when you break laws: they send cops. I just happened to be the one they sent."

Sonny was muttering under his breath, but all he was saying was, "You're a cop!" over and over again, in a tone of outraged betrayal. He hit Vinnie again, but Vinnie still wouldn't back away.

"Look. Patrice told me his plan and I told my boss—"

"Who's your boss?" Sonny asked.

"What difference does it make?"

"C'm'on, I wanna know. It's part of the story, right? Who've you been reporting to?"

"Frank McPike."

"Oh, my God." But Sonny didn't hit him again.

"I wasn't supposed to tell you, you weren't supposed to know anything about this. My guys were going to come in before Scullisi ever got a chance to—" And then an idea struck him. "You got something planned, don't you? You and Aldo, you were gonna preempt Patrice's hit."

Sonny didn't say anything, but he didn't have to. Vinnie knew. He could see it just by looking at Sonny, whose face had closed down.

"You can't do it," Vinnie said, and he sat back down away from Sonny. "You can't."

"Why, is it better for your case if Patrice kills me?"

"Patrice isn't going to kill you! I told you, we've got it all worked out."

"Great, I feel so much better. You're from the government and you're here to help."

"The way it is right now, we got Patrice and Mahoney on conspiracy charges—"

"You got what?" Sonny asked like Vinnie was talking gibberish.

"Patrice and Mahoney, we've got them for conspiring against you," Vinnie said. Sonny was shaking his head.

"You don't know what you got, but you don't got Mahoney. And if you think you've got Patrice conspiring with him, you got nothing."

And then Vinnie got it. "This isn't Patrice and Mahoney conspiring against you, this is you and Mahoney—oh, shit!"

"Yeah." Sonny seemed pleased that his plan had been so clever, Vinnie hadn't caught on.

"An' I been all worried about, what if they changed the time of the hit, how would I stop it—because I would'a stopped it, whatever it took. You gotta believe that."

"Why do I gotta believe that?" Sonny asked. "Just because I believed your other lies don't mean I gotta keep believing ‘em."

Vinnie only had one reason.

After Vinnie was done kissing him, Sonny stared at him, wide-eyed. "What the hell was that?" he demanded, stood up, and socked Vinnie in the mouth.

Vinnie tried to say something, but Sonny hit him again, and so Vinnie figured there was no point trying to talk if all Sonny was going to do was hit, so he hit Sonny back, and pretty soon they were really fighting.

Vinnie wasn't sure why they were doing it, whether it was because Vinnie had kissed him, or because Vinnie had betrayed him. Or maybe it was both, maybe Sonny was pissed because he'd been kissed by a cop.

When they'd broken up a bunch of the furniture, and bruised and contused each other pretty good, Sonny got up from where Vinnie had knocked him and demanded, "Who the hell are you?"

That was a legitimate question, after all. His right hand was really a cop, and by the way, he's a fag, too. Vinnie wondered what he could do for a hat trick—maybe tell Sonny he was a cross-dresser, or a communist.

"You know who I am. Listen, I've been stringing my boss along, trying to keep you from doing hard time, telling him I could get him bigger fish. You don't like I'm a cop, I can't help that, but I've been doing my best, I've been looking out for you."

Sonny was shaking his head. "Not that, not that, this—" He made an indefinite motion with his hands that was definite enough to indicate he meant Vinnie's kiss. "You couldn't'a said something about this a little sooner? I'm getting married in three days here!"

"What's that supposed to mean? I know you're not saying you'd'a chose me over Theresa, so what? You'd'a squeezed me in between the show girls and the contortionists?"

Sonny laughed, and he sounded a little hysterical, but he didn't deny what Vinnie'd said. "What'm I gonna do with you?" And then, as though to remind himself, "You're a cop." Like that made any kind of difference.

"Well, one thing you're not gonna do is, you're not gonna shoot me. You don't got a gun," Vinnie said. "And we've already done the knock-down, drag-out. So, what?"

Sonny started laughing again, and the next thing Vinnie knew, Sonny was kissing him.

Sonny was kissing him.

It took longer to get Sonny out of his suit than it did to get Vinnie out of his shorts and T-shirt, but tearing stuff made it go a lot faster, and pretty soon they were both naked and on Vinnie's bed, though that took a couple of tries—the first time they ended up on the floor. Sonny's hands were everywhere, and everywhere they were was exactly where Vinnie wanted them, especially when at least one of them was between Vinnie's legs.

And Vinnie couldn't stop kissing him, didn't want to stop kissing him, could have gone on kissing him forever. This wasn't going to last because it couldn't last, but Vinnie was going to take all he could while he could get it.

Sex with Sonny was a wrestling match with a lot of "inappropriate" touching, wrestling the way it would be if your opponent suddenly decided he was going to have his way with you. And Sonny was still pissed at him, but he channeled that anger into a passion even Vinnie couldn't have imagined he possessed. Vinnie wondered if he'd ever be able to go back to the more traditional way of making love, where the other person didn't seem like an opponent as well as a partner.

 

Sonny was licking his neck. "Too much salt in your diet," he murmured. "Did you know you could tell that by how salty somebody tastes?"

"You're a lunatic," Vinnie muttered.

"I read it in Newsweek," Sonny said. "Sweet's not good, either, it means you got too much sugar. But you're not sweet."

"Fuck, and here I was thinking you wanted to have sex with me. Now I find out you're just worried about my diet." Sonny laughed. "Anyway, I don't think it counts if the person you're licking's been—uh, doing what we've been doing. I got sweat dripping off me, it's supposed to be salty."

Sonny licked him again. "Maybe so. I'll try it again, after you shower."

 

The licking somehow led to more wrestling, which somehow led to Sonny's dick in his mouth as Vinnie gave him what had to be the world's clumsiest blow-job. He was really not good at this, but it wasn't a skill he'd tried to master.

Not that Sonny was complaining any; he seemed to be focused on taste-testing parts of Vinnie's body south of the equator, which eventually led to a competition for who was really worst at cocksucking. Sonny won, but Vinnie didn't care.

 

"There's no way we can make this work," Sonny said.

"No kidding," Vinnie said, and he kissed Sonny again, just below his right ear.

And Sonny laughed. Sonny had started laughing when Vinnie kissed him, and who knew what that meant. "Not on any level. Not even if you were who you said you were, not even— Jesus, the feds and Joey Baggs. Oh, and Patrice—I'm dead three times over. And I don't even wanna think about what Theresa—" He started laughing that hysterical laugh again. "What're we gonna do?"

Vinnie shook his head. He had no idea what they should do, what they could do. He didn't say that there wasn't even really a "them" to do anything, there was him and there was Sonny. They weren't them anymore.

"I dunno," Sonny said. "I dunno, I dunno. I guess I could kill you."

Vinnie knew he was serious, but he still laughed at the incongruity of the words. "Yeah, but then you'd have to worry about Frank coming after you—"

"I could get rid of your body clean, he'd never prove a thing," Sonny said with great casualness. He was stroking Vinnie's thigh like he was thinking of doing something else.

"OK, I'm not going to help you plan this out because I'm not seeing an upside in it for me," Vinnie said, and they both laughed. "Besides, if you killed me, it would be in all the papers that I'm a fed, and that wouldn't be good for you."

"Yeah, you're right. Good. I really didn't want to kill you."

"Yeah, I really didn't want you to, either," Vinnie agreed. There was something really wrong with this whole conversation.

"I don't wanna think about any of this right now," Sonny said, and he showed Vinnie his reason for wanting to think of other things. "I figure we can wait 'til morning. You think of something."

But Vinnie had the exact same reason for turning his attention elsewhere, so no thinking got done.

And afterwards they fell asleep.

 

"Hey, I know. We could blow up the church."

Vinnie opened his eyes. It wasn't dark in his room anymore, not even the halfway dark it had been a few hours ago. Now it was broad daylight looking at him and Sonny, naked in each other's arms. It felt a lot dirtier that way.

"What?" Vinnie asked. He was pretty sure he'd heard Sonny wrong, or maybe dreamed it.

"I know where I could get my hands on some dynamite," Sonny said, very casually.

"I don't see how that would help," Vinnie said.

"I wouldn't have to worry about Patrice, or the Baglia family coming after me for dumping Theresa."

"You're not even getting married in a church, so what you'd have to blow up is that big field out there. And it'd be one more thing I'd have to arrest you for."

"Wait a minute—after everything we just did, you're still planning on arresting me?" Before Vinnie could answer, Sonny said, "Besides, they're a whole lot scarier than your guys are. You just wanna lock me up. You still wanna lock me up?" Sonny was lying on his side, propped up on one elbow, looking at Vinnie.

"Sonny, you're still a criminal." Vinnie had thought this was self-evident.

"Yeah, well, I was a criminal when you had my dick in your mouth, not to mention when you were talking about what're we're gonna do. You need to make up your mind what side you're on."

"I swore an oath," Vinnie said. It sounded lame even to him.

"You swore a couple of ‘em," Sonny pointed out. "Seriously, man, you better make up your mind right now. What're you doing? Because if you're planning on arresting me, I think I got a right to know so I can make my plans accordingly—without your input. And you ought'a quit kissing me."

"I don't want to arrest you," Vinnie said. "I just don't know what else I can do."

"Well, we can't stay around here. Besides the fact that your guys wanna lock me up, my guys aren't gonna look too favorably on all this, either. I gotta take off."

"Maybe you know something," Vinnie said.

Sonny gave him a nasty look, then turned over and got off the bed. "Of course I know things," he said. "What's that supposed to—"

"I mean something we want. You give us the right information, I could maybe get you witness—" Sonny was pacing around now, shaking his head, but Vinnie kept talking. "—protection, look, I know you don't wanna do this, but it's a way out, you might only have to do short time—"

Sonny turned around, looked at Vinnie. "Oh, only short time, why didn't you say so? I start talking to your guys, a short time's all I'd have left to live!"

"You'd have the federal government protecting you—"

"Yeah, do I get to pick who does the protecting? Because I got the feeling McPike would be happy to look the other way while somebody shivved me."

"No, he wouldn't. Frank's got a lot of integrity, he takes his job seriously."

"That makes me feel a lot better."

Vinnie watched him pace the room, wishing he'd either come back over or put some of his clothes back on. "Look, if you run, you run forever. Somebody's always gonna be looking for you. And if I go with you, Frank'll be looking for me forever, and I really don't want that. If you—what if you—" Vinnie's mind had shifted into overdrive, ideas spinning around. He didn't know enough about witness protection to say anything he could have any confidence in.

"Besides, I swore an oath of my own, you know," Sonny said. "You think that doesn't matter?"

"I know, I know—" Vinnie wished he'd shut up.

"You think—you got no idea what I owe Mack—"

"I know—"

"I'm no rat!" Sonny yelled at him. He was working himself into a state of high dudgeon, and he was distracting Vinnie, both with his yelling and his very—distracting nakedness. "You really think you can buy me with—"

"Will you shut up!" Vinnie out-yelled him. "I'm trying to think here!"

Sonny looked surprised, and he did shut up, and Vinnie quit looking at him so he could think about something besides all that naked skin.

"You know other stuff," Vinnie said.

"Yeah, I can name all the state capitals," Sonny said. "And the gross national product of—"

"Judges," Vinnie said. "How many of 'em are on your payroll? You told me yourself you had a D.A. How many cops you got?"

Sonny was staring at him, looking bewildered. "Racking up more charges?" he asked. "You don't got enough to pin on me?"

Vinnie got up, nearly wrapping the sheet around him, then wondering what he was being modest about. Sonny had already licked everything he'd be covering up.

He grabbed Sonny by the shoulders. "Federal judges. State judges. Cops. District attorneys. I know you lost your Customs guy. Who else? Who else who's supposed to be on the straight and narrow have you been paying off? Think about it, dummy, those are guys we'd like to know about."

Sonny was nodding. "Yeah. Yeah."

"You didn't swear any oath about them. And if you were dead, nobody'd be looking for you."

"If I'm dead, I don't see an upside for me," Sonny said.

"Not really dead, but what if you got shivved in a holding cell? You get snuck out, we get you a new life, set you up someplace new—"

"And what're you going to be doing?" Sonny asked, "While I'm dying and coming back to life as somebody new?"

Yeah, what was he going to be doing? Was he going to hand Sonny—along with his great idea—over to the higher ups, hope everything worked out OK, and move on to his next case? Or was he going to throw over his whole life, go with Sonny, make sure he stayed safe?

Sonny looked at Vinnie's left hand where it still rested on his right shoulder, then he smiled at Vinnie, and Vinnie knew that smile. "They'll send me to some godforsaken place like—Kansas," Sonny said. "You ever seen Kansas, Vinnie?" Somehow he made it sound both plaintive and enticing.

"Nah, I've never been that far west," Vinnie said.

Sonny moved a little closer, just close enough to touch his tongue to Vinnie's collarbone without straining. "You wanna see—Kansas, Vinnie?"

What else could he say? "Yeah, Sonny, I really wanna see Kansas."