Man, this place has been dead for quite some time. *gently blows the dust out of the corners*Well, just for giggles, I'm going to post a new fic here. I wrote this originally for Doomsays, but I figured others would get enjoyment out of it, too. Max/Vinnie, pre MP1, Gognitti solves a problem with Max's unwitting help. The call was what woke me up. I had been fast asleep in my baking apartment, trying to stave off heat exhaustion by removing as many layers of clothes as possible and collapsing into bed to catch a few hours of shut eye. I take it back- it was the sign and the call that woke me up. Both of them together made for a damn nasty, heart-pounding alarm. I had been half expecting to hear the raspy mystery voice echoing out of the recesses of my memory, the room bathed in my family's blood. Except a couple of seconds later, it was only the old, asthmatic rotary phone and the stark absence of the amazingly bright neon light. I had never figured out how they got it to glow that hard. I tried to coax my heart down from its goal of a heart attack while I fumbled for the source of the ringing. I passed a hand over my face, wiping free of sweat and humidity, and mumbled, " 'lo?" My undershirt clung uncomfortably to my chest and back.
"Speaking. Who else you think you'd get."
"I dunno, smart guy- maybe Mary-fuckin'-Lou Anne. Get down here, I gotta talk wit'ya."
"Aww, it's all over between me an' her Vinnie." My mouth was running on automatic. I couldn't get it to shut off. I blamed it on Gognitti- he always did manage to bring out the suicidal in me. As I spoke, I palmed sweat from my forehead. I had the shakes, couldn't figure it. I don't know if it was dehydration, lack of food, or too much painkillers. "You ain't got no cause to worry."
"Fuck you, Payne." Nothing more than the usual amount of strident pissiness. "Be down here in twen'y."
"Sure thing. Where's here." By now it was a tired ritual between us, trading this kind of banter. Suicidal became second nature.
"Bartolucci Romero's." He snapped his gum into the phone, and I leaned my head away with a brief wince.
"Okay. Hey, could you do me a favor?" A dim idea sprouted in my sluggish mind, pushing past the layers of humidity that clogged the space between my ears.
"I ain't gonna spring you fifty bucks, so don' ask."
Sounded like he'd had a busy night- I huffed a laugh despite myself, rubbing my empty stomach. "Nah. Have Maria save me a slice of pizza, would you?" There was a throaty sound of disgust one the other end, but there wasn't any real venom in Gognitti's voice when he said, "Do I look like a fuckin' waiter t'you?"
"I dunno, I can't see you, Vinnie, I'm on the phone."
"Well get offa the phone, an' get your fuckin' ass down here."
"Got it." I hung up, and the silence swallowed me. Relatively, anyway. The sounds of the city have always been part of my life, and by now I hardly notice them. There's the feel of something breaking my heart, sending the broken pieces to flutter on my ribcage. It occured to me that I'd gotten phonecalls in the night before, but the phone was always on Michelle's side of the bed.
Back in the day. Christ, what a hackneyed phrase.
I rubbed my wedding band, before standing and groping for my clothes.
The city in the night was like some bizarre, mamoth creature, restless and discontent in the heat, massive tongue lolling. As I walked, the eyes of New York peered back to me, from the tired faces of hookers who knew who I was and didn't bother to call out to me, from the eyes of rats that lurked in the alleys, beady little eyes glinting in the lights before winking out.
I almost walked past Romero's, had to do a double take and take a few steps back. It was well past closing time, or so the sign on the door said. You'd never guess it, given the group in one of the half-circle dinettes. Gognitti wasn't exactly hiding, but he sure as hell wasn't sitting by the plate glass windows. He reminded me a little of the rats that scurried under the dumpsters when they heard footsteps coming, always looking for corners to hide it.
I walked to the door, and gave the hand-bar a push, found it locked. I pecked on the glass with the knuckles of one hand tiredly. Didn't need this at this time of night. I let my forehead rest against the cool glass, while my hands patted down my pockets for my smokes. God, I hope I didn't leave them back in that slummy little apartment. Management would probably steal them.
I looked up when I heard the lock click, meeting the brown eyes of Maria, and stood up fully, rubbing the smudge that my forehead left on the door as I opened it. I gave a sheepish, lopsided grin. "Sorry 'bout that." She rolled her eyes and shrugged, telling me she was already fed up for the night, and one more wiseguy and his antics wasn't likely to put her off. "Pizza's on the counter," she told me as I headed for the huddle of Italians. I tossed an appreciative wave back over my shoulder to, pushing a cigarette between my lips with my other hand.
"Fuckin' took you long enough." Gognitti's peevish greeting sent me scrounging for my watch, which I'd dropped into a pocket without putting on. It read slightly past twenty minutes, and I scowled my brows comically at Vinnie. "Sorry, won't happen again." When one red-rimmed blue eye narrowed at me, it occured to me again how many mannerisms Vinnie shared with women. Not that he didn't have plenty that he shared with men, like the impolite sprawl he was currently engaged in. Lou Simonelli once told me he grew up in a house full of women. Must have rubbed off on him.
"Better fuckin' not." He straightened up- more like hauled himself up, considering his chin was almost level with the edge of the table, and I could see the bones in his sternum hollowed out in the harsh light, muscles straining. He flicked his thin blonde hair out of his eyes, before stabbing one skinny finger at the empty spot at the left end of the table. "Siddown."
I edged past some faceless goomba, giving him the once-over as I moved past. Probably one of the most important things, when you weren't 'in' the family, was to make the toughs realize you weren't there to play patty cakes. Even though he didn't move, I watched that brick wall behind his eyes falter when he saw my face. A couple of the guys I did know- Lou and Sal- had stood up so I could sit next to Gognitti proper.
Shit. This wasn't good. I nodded to them before I slid in next to Gognitti, who seemed vaguely impatient at the preceedings, drumming a finger on the table. The other two didn't sit back down. I bit off my comment of "Cozy," before it could pass my lips, and settled on smiling thinly at the mobster.
As Vinnie sized me up, someone's cell rang. I glanced over to watch as they ducked away from the crowd, giving a quiet, "Yello."
"Payne. Eyes here."
I redirected my attention to Vinnie, who had two fingers pointing at his own eyes in the same way a woman might if she caught a guy checking out her chest. It should have been ridiculous, but I couldn't find it in me to laugh. As he started to speak again, the phone-talker's voice came back, louder and directed at Gognitti. "Hey, Flora's comin' by."
Gognitti looked baffled. His hands twitched out into a "what gives" gesture. "I'm havin' a friggin' meet here, Tony! The fuck you invite her here for?"
I looked between the two. "Flora?" A snigger rose up from the group, and I played along, letting my lips form an almost-smile. I felt like I was the only one who hadn't gotten the punch line of the joke. Looked back to Vinnie, asking, "What?" He shushed me briefly, bringing up two fingers in a wave to cut me off, raising his head to catch Tony's eye. "Hanh?"
Tony shrugged helplessly, eyes darting. "She invited herself, you know how she's like."
"Christ, you should start freakin' hittin' her."
"She's my sister!"
"I know that!" Blue eyes wide in irritation. I could smell the breath mints he'd been scarfing to hide the garlic pasta he'd had earlier. He looked back to me, the soft, purple flesh under one eye twitching. "Change o' plans, Payne; you do exactly as I say, an' you get to keep your balls."
I drew back my head, in some surprise, but didn't say anything. The hell was this all about.
He shifted on the fake leather seats so his weight was on the hip nearest me, scootching closer. He sent me a look of mild distaste, before draping an arm around my shoulders like we were necking.
"Not that I'm not flattered, Vinnie," I started, my mouth having recovered its suicidal tendencies, before I felt the blade pressing into my thigh. I stopped short and looked down, feeling the blood draining from my face. I hadn't heard the snap of the switchblade as he'd opened it, but now I could see it glittering evilly below the table, the point pressing into where he could easily puncture my femoral artery.
There must have been a plea in my eyes, one that I didn't mean to be there, because Gognitti didn't look quite as homocidal when he searched my face. "Remember that there's half a dozen guys exactly like you in this city, an' any one o' them can take your place in a heartbeat." He briefly aimed the forefinger of the hand that was holding the knife at my face, eyes locked onto mine, impressing the warning into me. I nodded at him, not breaking the contact. He settled down, letting the arm behind my shoulders trail along the back of the padded semi-circle, and I felt the knife point dig into the fabric of my pants again.
Jesus Christ, what had I gotten into.
"Talk," Vinnie commanded, waving the languishing hand in the air sharply. "It'll sound suspicious if she gets here an' you're all standin' there like pillars o' salt." Like magic, a low hum of conversation started, a few laughs punctuating it here and there. From the back, I could hear the chatter of women greeting each other, Maria and someones else who was presumably the Flora in question.
"Keep that smart mouth o' yours shut, got it?" Vinnie's lips were almost pressed against my ear. The knife ground into my flesh, and I straightened up, stifling the reflex urge to elbow Gognitti in the chest. "Yeah," I returned, none too happy. What, was this Flora an ex-flame? It wouldn't surprise me, but if that were the case, he would have found a different tactic, otherwise I would have heard horror stories relating similar incidents as this from the guys.
As I heard heels clicking in our direction, Gognitti's mouth pulled into a frown, and I could see then how the whites of his eyes were jaundiced. The fine lines around his mouth deepened, and then it closed over mine. I blinked at the far wall, startled and not responding. I could feel the pressure of the knife point sink deeper, and then the warm trickle of blood, a clear enough message for me to move my lips in kind. He kissed like a guy, alright: mouth hard, skimming his teeth against my lower lip. He worked his body in a littler closer to mine so that I could feel the long line of his side against mine, how his skin was warm and slightly sticky beneath the thin shirt he wore. I could feel his heartbeat against my ribs, how it felt a little fast.
The footfalls were a little louder, and I heard a scandalized little squeak as they came into the open expanse of the room. Gognitti, as if startled, lifted his head and looked over his shoulder. "Flora!" He had too much sneering heartiness in his voice, tinged with a little too much malice. "Didn't know you were comin'." His hand dropped to my shoulder idly, a motion I'd seen him use on the girls.
I took a quick breath, swallowing. Sure as hell didn't see that one coming. I resisted the urge to reach up and wipe my mouth, the soggy patch of blood on my pants reason enough not to.
"Vinnie!" She sounded like she was trying to be surprised to see him there. 'Why, I didn't know you would be here!' My ass. I glanced past Vinnie, the peevishness in my eyes she probably misread as my objection to her interruption. I could see the whites around her eyes and had her pegged in a second. Catholic, married, and didn't like gays in the least. This was a bad situation bound to get worse. Thankfully, Vinnie hadn't stuck the knife in me any further, but I could see his smile getting a little sharp around the corner, his jaw muscle cording.
Tony finally stepped in. "Flora, hey." He cocked his head to the door. "C'mon." She looked like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. She looked around like she couldn't remember how she got there, her smile growing fixed, and then clicked quickly to the door, proceeding her brother. Tony held open the door for her, sent a look back to us over his shoulder, and followed her out.
The tension in the air didn't bleed out (no pun intended), until the two of them were out of sight. When Tony's broad back disappeared, Gognitti gave an audible sigh, and withdrew the blade, looking speculatively down to assess his damage.
I caved a little, slapping a hand to my thigh and pulling a face. Despite myself, I gave a little hiss as I felt the lips of the wound shift, sending Gognitti a reproachful look. "What the hell was all of that?"
Gognitti was too busy stuffing a breath mint in his face to give a reply right away, and when he did speak, it wasn't all that satisfactory. "Fuck you, Payne," he responded with a similar tone as mine. He moved away from me, aiming to get out. "Outta the bannquette, you're gonna stain it." It struck me then that Maria probably wouldn't have cared, but I did as I was told, hitching my leg up so it wouldn't smear across the seat, two guys taking hold of my elbows to help lever me out.
"Take him out back, let him mop off, take him t' the hospital." Vinnie was headed for the door, and he spoke more to the floor that he was glaring at rather than us. He straight-armed the door open, letting a rush of sweltering night air in before it sighed shut after him. His hands were jammed into the pockets of his slacks as he stalked tersely off, business with me forgotten.
I was hustled out back, in the middle of a knot of tough guys and their cologne. In the back, beside the dumpster and out of sight, one of the guys crouched to poke at the hole in my pants and the gash in my middle thigh. I was propped up against the wall, and let my head drop back against the cement blocks, staring at the hazy night sky. "What the hell was that all about," I wondered out loud.
Somebody sniggered, which got them all cackling. I looked back at them, too tired to laugh and too tired to bark at them. Finally, Berto, laughter still constricting his throat, said, "Oh, man, Payne, you just got picked in the wrong fuckin' night."
"Who's the woman?" God I needed a smoke. I felt a sharp twinge in my thigh and jerked it away, hissing a raspy, "Easy." The guy before me shrugged unapologetically.
"Flora. She's been trynna play matchmaker with Gognitti for years now. He's the only guy she ain't been able to set up with one o' her sister, or nieces, or what the fuck ever."
I brought my hand to my forehead in a light slap. "Jesus." I certainly hadn't needed to get quite so close and personal with Vinnie, that was for sure. At least he had the decency not to bite me. "Isn't a little concerned what Lupino or Punchinello might think?"
Another gale of laughter. "Naaah. They know the way Flora handles Vinnie. 'sides, I think he'd rather them be suspicious 'bout him bein' a fag than havin' Flora breathin' down his neck."
Yaaay!Maybe I should post something too.