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06 December 2012 @ 10:05 pm
Holding the Light - Chapter Six  

Chapter Six

It was after eleven when John came back down the stairs in his hotel, gun at his back beneath his suit jacket, and decided to go to the bar on 51st where Caparelli's men drank.

The air was a little too cold for just his jacket to be comfortable, but it was nothing he couldn’t put out of his thoughts as he emerged from the hotel. He turned the opposite direction from Rogers' apartment, to try to avoid any SHIELD surveillance on Rogers.

In the next half-block, a figure detached itself from a dark window alcove and John had a hand on his gun before a familiar voice said, "I thought you might go this way."

A tall, leather-jacket clad form came into the light from the streetlamp at the corner and he was looking right at John, as if he'd been expecting John the whole time. Damn, he hadn't bought it. Stomach tight, John went to meet him. "Nice night for a stroll," John said.

"I knew you were going to go out."

"Going to the bar."

"Really? I'll go with you," Rogers bounded next to him and gave him a smile, but his face was intent and he seemed to know exactly what was really happening.

"I don't need your tail tailing me." Nor, in fact, did he need Rogers hanging around, but that seemed inevitable at the moment.

"I went out the window, up the side, across to the next building and down the back," Steve said. "No one tailed me."

"Impressive." It was a good use of his skills. John favored a frontal assault because it was brazen enough it often worked, but in his career, there had been times he'd come in through the basement or the roof. Certainly in the city he should make better use of the rest of the buildings.

"So what's the plan?" Rogers walked beside him, hands tucked in his jacket pockets.

"I find out where Caparelli is."

"And they're just going to tell you?"

"I expect them to resist at first, then they tell me. That's how it usually goes."

"Then it's a good thing I'm along. Keep you from getting carried away," Rogers said with a smile and a stare that warned of lines John shouldn't cross.

It was annoying. John eyed Rogers and said, "I don't know about this. If you get hurt, I'm probably fired. This is… personal."

"I don't like bullies either, you know," Rogers pointed out. "And some action would be welcome. I've been cooped up in that apartment or the training room in the basement since they let me leave the hospital." His smile widened. "I won't cramp your style too much, I promise."

"All right. Since you won't leave anyway."

Rogers laughed at his grumpy irritation and clapped him on the shoulder. "C'mon. You said you'd show me the city."

John showed him the interior of McKinnnons, first. John scanned the crowd as soon as he stepped inside - mostly half-drunk workers, a few people on dates, and two bartenders. None of them were the people he wanted. Then his eyes lit on the two men at the end of the bar - they were young, wearing expensive leather jackets, one with a prison gang tat on the back of his neck, and one snarled arrogantly at a drunk who smashed into him on the way to the bar, showing off that he was packing a Glock.

"Those two at the end," John murmured to Steve. "Keep them from leaving."

Please let them do the sideways gun draw, that's always funny, John thought as he walked toward the pair. Rogers bracketed them on the other side while John maneuvered around and leaned up against the end of the bar. "Hey fellas."

"Get lost," the nearer one snarled.

"Just looking for information," John said mildly. "You two know Caparelli? Work for him?" They both reacted perfectly. "Ah, you know him. You know where I might find him?"

"We don't know nothing. Piss off." Half-drunk and hostile already.

"You a cop?" The other one asked, a little more reasonably, looking at John in his suit. Not drunk, but not too bright either. Caparelli needed better help.

"Nope," John answered. "Not a cop at all. I just want a chat with him. Where is he tonight?"

The less drunk one frowned at him. "You with Moretti?"

"No. I have a business idea," John said. "I want Caparelli's backing for it."

"Oh, all right then. Delmonicos. He's there tonight, far as we know."

His friend nearly shoved him off the stool. "Joey, you asshole, why'd you go and say something? Boss said we don't tell nobody."

"Dude just wants to talk. No harm, no foul," Joey shrugged.

"Thank you, gentlemen. Good night." John was tempted to provoke a fight to take their weapons, but decided quietly slipping out was better. And less likely to prompt one of them to call Caparelli and warn him.

"Look at that, you didn't even have to hit them," Rogers observed dryly, when they were on the sidewalk. "But a 'business idea'? What, your idea is he stop running a protection racket?"

"It's going to be bad business for him if he doesn't stop."

He felt Rogers' look. "Most guys, that's empty bravado for show. It's not with you. You mean it. You'll take down a mob boss if you want to. That's… impressive."

John shook his head. "You fought Red Skull, that's impressive. I fight local thugs."

Rogers might have wanted to argue the point but decided to drop it. "Sometimes it amazes me how little things have changed. Like Delmonico's. That place was a mob hangout when I was a kid - is it still in on 49th?"

John nodded, and they set off at a good clip to the restaurant. They ran into a snag when they found the restaurant was closed, and its outside lights were off. Inside the lights were still on, which suggested Joey was right, and Caparelli was inside, doing business.

"Looks almost the same," Steve murmured, gazing at the façade. "Strange. I think I like it when things are different, like the skyscrapers, not things like this that linger but aren't right."

"It's not nice to see something familiar?"

"I guess. But it's distorted. The glass used to be smoky and the door was solid, and the lights were different." Rogers shook himself. "How do you want to play this?" He went up to the large window and peeked inside above the little curtains over the lower part. "One guy cleaning the floor. Lights on, some movement in the back area. We could go in the back. Or split up."

"You go in the back. I'll wait two minutes." He offered his backup weapon, and Steve took it, demonstrating he could use it as he checked the safety, even if he didn't look all that happy about it.

John waited until Steve had hurried around the corner and then he tried the door. It was open so he walked in.

The young man glanced at him. "We're closed."

"Business." John nodded toward the back and kept walking. The cleaner left his mop leaning against the table and approached him.

"You got an appointment?"

John reached out, grabbed his wrist to yank him closer, kneed him in the nuts, turned him so the wrist he had was now up the guy's back, and stomped the back of his knee so the guy was gasping in pain and trying to collapse but the grip on his wrist prevented him. "No, I don't."

He dropped the guy and kept walking toward the large archway that divided the seating area from the back. More guards came out then hearing the small commotion.

"I'm here to talk to Mister Caparelli." John raised both hands, empty, and kept walking. "Just to talk."

They put hands on their weapons but didn't draw, as they moved shoulder to shoulder to block the doorway. Idiots, that just put them closer together.

"I asked politely," John said. He glanced past them into an alcove area with a large booth, seeing that not only was Caparelli there, with an older man who was likely some sort of money guy, and two other low level enforcers. Caparelli wasn't much older than John, with a full head of slicked dark hair and a bit of a jowl line, but still pretty fit looking for a man who spent his days eating Italian and ordering people's deaths. He wasn't paying attention to the commotion at the door.

"Mister Caparelli is busy," one of the muscle guys sneered. "Make an appointment."

"Okay," John said and started to turn, as if he was going to walk away. That put the near one straight in the path of his backhand block to his face, jab to the throat, two punches, and one strike to make the quicker one drop his gun. Then he had his own gun in hand from under his jacket, as the rest of the room finally woke up.

The two minions started to draw, and even the old man was protecting Caparelli, by standing half in front of him. But John made them all freeze by targeting Caparelli in the head. "Nobody be stupid," John warned. "I'm just here to talk."

"Your talking needs work." Caparelli glared.

"I did ask first." John kicked the gun on the floor out of reach of anybody who might want it, and moved forward two paces.

"Who are you?" Caparelli demanded. "Who sent you?"

"Not important," John dismissed. "What's important is what I want: you stop running protection rackets in Hell's Kitchen."

"And why should I do that?" Caparelli demanded. "So someone else moves in? Like Moretti? Like that boss building power in the Russian quarter? I'm not giving up my territory. And not for some two bit thug in a cheap suit comes to threaten me for some boss he won't say."

John filed all that away for later investigation, but smiled a bit at the "two-bit thug in a cheap suit" crack. He needed a better tailor. "I don't work for anyone, Caparelli. I'm here for my friends who own shops in Hell's Kitchen, and I want it to stop."

Caparelli smiled. "Ah, a do gooder. Well, that isn't how it works, Mister…?"

John ignored the invitation to provide his name. "That is exactly how it works. You end it, or I end you."

"You stupid?" Caparelli demanded. "You're threatening me? In my own place? Go against me and you will lose, and I'll destroy you and your family and everyone you know."

There was some hollow thumping noises coming up behind him - Rogers had arrived through the back. Which was good for the backup; though not good because it closed his window of getting rid of Caparelli.

"All I want is an end to the protection racket. It's pennies for you," John warned him in a low voice. "But if you don't, I will burn your organization to the ground."

"You and what army, do-gooder?" Caparelli asked with a sneer.

Just as Rogers came around the wall, holding two men by their jackets, limply dangling above the ground in each hand. "I know a cue when I hear it." He let the two go and shot a look at John. "That wasn't two minutes."

"Sorry. I got bored." John gave a little shrug, weapon not wavering. "Make a choice, Caparelli."

"Do I really have one?" Caparelli asked. "At gunpoint?"

"Same choice you give your victims."

Caparelli glanced at the older man and then back to John, with a grimace and spat, "Fine. Done. I withdraw my protection. But you should know, do-gooder, that won't stop anyone else from doing it."

John gave a little smile. "Actually you're going to stop them, too. Or I'll still take it out on you." Caparelli looked appalled by this turnaround and opened his mouth to complain, but John interrupted, "We'll see ourselves out."

He began to back out of the room. One of the guys he'd put down started to get up and Rogers backhanded him to the floor, clearing the way to the front door as John watched their backs.

Outside, John put his gun back in his waistband and they started back, making a circuitous path so they could see if they were followed. "You think he's really gonna do it?" Rogers asked.

"We'll see. I hope so." He did, too.

On the way back, they passed the Lema's store, closed and shuttered, and John cast an eye up there, curious when he saw something small and pale on the fire escape railing. It was an apple: not the two he had said to ask for help, but definitely one, and up close he saw there was something with it, too. "Huh, what did he leave?"

Rogers leaped up, catching the low edge of the floor and swung himself up and over the rail. He first threw down the apple, which John caught. Then Rogers jumped down, carrying something he handed to John, with a note rubber-banded to them: 'My father said these are for you. Thank you for trying to help us.'

They were a pair of eskrima sticks - about two feet long made of charred and smoothed ebony the grips roughened by an ornate scroll pattern.

"Those are beautiful weapons," Rogers observed. "They have a good feel in the hand, too."

John twirled them once in each hand, and they did feel nice in his hands - more defensive than a gun, less lethal, but still intimidating in the right context.

"I don't know how much good they'd do against firearms though," Rogers continued.

"This from someone who threw a big plate for a primary weapon?" John asked dryly, glancing at him.

Rogers gave a little laugh of rueful acknowledgment but protested, "It was a shield, and it was bulletproof. So that helped."

"It was bulletproof? I always thought that was an exaggeration." John tucked the sticks under his jacket. It was clumsy and obvious - he'd need a better way to carry them on the street. Cops tended to notice and disapprove of obvious weapons, even sticks.

He smiled to himself, wondering what Natasha would think of his new acquisition.

Dropping Steve at his building, John went to the corner shop, his feet bringing him inside automatically to the counter. The clerk yawned. "yeah, buddy? What'cha want?"

John's eyes roamed the wall full of liquor bottles. Now that he had money it seemed like infinite choice, and being unable to choose, he realized he shouldn't be choosing at all.

Dreams. He could dream, or he could get drunk enough not to dream.

"Mister?" the clerk prompted. "You okay?"

The unexpected concern in the stranger's voice snapped John out of it. Instead of the Stoli he really wanted, he grabbed a jar of peanuts and bottle of ginger ale and found his room at the hotel. He watched the television until his eyes were gritty and reruns became infomercials. He kept his gun on the bedside table and the batons tucked between the mattresses, and eventually fell into restless dreams about Caparelli's endless thugs gunning down the Lemas, who turned into the other people he knew. Natasha watched it all with a cold, disapproving look that he wasn't doing anything to stop it.

Chapter Seven