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He told Sonny he'd made his peace; ten years later, lying on his back in an alley in Jersey City, old puddles soaking in through his shirt while the blood soaked out, fever and cocaine simmering under his skin, it was still a lie. "You look like shit, Terranova," Sonny said, kneeling down next to him. Sonny looked almost young to him now, eyes bright, cocky tilt to his mouth, sharp grey suit that didn't belong in this shithole behind the Lucky Strike strip joint. He patted Vinnie's cheek. "How did you end up here?"
"I killed you," Vinnie said. Good enough as a shorthand answer, anyway.
"Yeah," Sonny said. "You want to try that again?"
The world went white.
He was in the Rialto; his back was throbbing, his mouth wet and sticky, and Sonny was slumped at the base of the jukebox with a bottle in his hand. Vinnie stared at him. Sonny lifted his head, purple and swollen and cut up and alive. "What?" Sonny said. "You made it, you can look at it."
"You have to get out of here," Vinnie said, and dropped the bottle and went for the emergency exit, sinking down on his knees to work on the padlock with his pocket knife.
"What the hell are you doing?" Sonny said, suspiciously, even while Vinnie got the door open.
"Shut up, shut the fuck up, there's videotape," Vinnie said, his hands shaking while he pulled the chains loose, but it was too late: he could hear the sirens in the distance, coming, and Sonny was saying, "I'm not going to die strapped down to a table with a needle in my veins," and Vinnie didn't want to go through this again, he couldn't watch this again, except there was no way out but through, and he opened his eyes in the alleyway again, wet and cold and shivering.
Sonny shook his head. "Well, that worked out great." He started to get up.
"No," Vinnie said, fingers just barely catching at Sonny's pants leg. "Wait. I shouldn't have told you."
He was in a bare concrete room, sitting across from Sonny with a pane of glass between them, phone receiver to his ear; Sonny was in washed-out blue coveralls, clean-shaven and brittle and dull-eyed, his hair mostly gone grey, heavy lines in his face. "I want you there," Sonny said. "You owe me that much."
The room changed a little; now on the other side Sonny was flat on a narrow hospital bed, two guards fastening leather straps across his arms and legs and chest. They put the needle in his arm and pressed the button, and Vinnie was standing up against the glass, pounding on it until the guards pulled him back, yelling, watching Sonny's eyes blink, slow, and close—
"It's not enough time," Vinnie said, taking deep gulps of the alleyway air, stinking with sewage and urine and still cleaner than the smell of that concrete room. "I need more time."
"How far back you wanna go, Vinnie?" Sonny said. "You knew where this was going right from the start. It only went where you took it."
"You took it right there with me, you know you did, goddamn you," Vinnie said. "You trusted me for no good reason, you bought a million stupid lies—"
"So what did you want from me?" Sonny said. "If I'd stopped believing you, I'd've had to kill you. I didn't want to. Simple as that."
"I didn't want to kill you, either," Vinnie said. "If you'd told me what you were planning for Patrice—"
Police were spilling into the bachelor party instead of the girls, Patrice and Mahoney and Baglia were all up against the wall, and Sonny was turning to stare at him, his face open and unguarded, stunned. Then they were in a holding room downtown, Sonny's tuxedo shirt open and loose, tie and half the studs missing. "Mr. Steelgrave, if you cooperate with us, you'll be granted witness protection," Frank was saying.
Sonny's face was closed down. Now he looked calm and distant, composed, like he was already lying in his coffin. "I have nothing to say to you."
"Do I really need to tell you what happens if we cut you loose and you go back out there?" Frank said.
Sonny flicked him a cool, uninterested glance. "Don't you have Sid Royce down the hall? Go try that routine on a snake instead of a man, maybe you'll get somewhere."
"Sonny, please—" Vinnie said, desperate, his voice breaking.
Sonny looked at him, and something showed through the death mask, real hurt. "What have I ever done that you should insult me like this?" he said softly, like he was already speaking from beyond. "You really think I'd sell my honor to buy my life?"
"I don't believe it, Vinnie. You knew me better than that." Sonny's voice was a whisper in his ear, breath cold on Vinnie's wet skin. "You knew. You knew you were killing me. You knew all along."
He stopped and waited, and Vinnie shivered all over, his skin scraping against the broken concrete. "I thought it mattered," he whispered. "I thought it was for something."
Sonny patted Vinnie's cheek lightly and stood up.
"Don't go," Vinnie said. "Stay with me."
"I can't," Sonny said. In the distance, sirens were coming. "That's my cue."
"I loved you too," Vinnie said.
"Not enough," Sonny said, flash of bitterness like a burst of heat, blooming red underneath the drowned blue cold of his skin. He turned away. Vinnie tried to catch him again, to hold him, but Sonny slipped out of his loosening grasp, and his footsteps were echoing faintly away on the wet concrete.
"I did." Vinnie struggled to push himself up. It was like pushing on a door with a thousand pounds of concrete on the other side. His ribcage was straining outwards with the effort, like the bones were going to break out through the skin. "Sonny, I did."
Sonny stopped walking. Then he sighed and said softly, "Yeah. I know you did."
"Sonny," Vinnie said. "Sonny, please." He tried again to get up. The sirens were getting closer.
Sonny turned back and knelt down next to him and put his cold hand on Vinnie's face. "You sure about this?"
"Just tell me something," Vinnie said, swallowing. "Was there any other way?"
"No," Sonny said. He leaned over and pressed a kiss to Vinnie's lips that burned like vodka chilled down to ice, spirit fumes filling his mouth, and Vinnie breathed them in before he could taste them. The cold sank into him, traveling down his throat and into his chest, until it stopped feeling like cold, like anything at all, and he held on to Sonny tight, all the way down.
= End =