Wiseguy: The Proposal

Requiem - Dec. 8th-19th, 1997

December 8th-19th 1997

Frank McPike straightened out of his slouch against the sooty corrugated tin wall. "You're late," he snapped at the figure approaching from the shadows at the other end of the alley.

"Gee, how are you, Frank? It's nice to see you, too," came the wry reply as Vincent Terranova materialized from the gloom. "Next time, maybe you could arrange it so's the beltway's clear by noon."

McPike settled his raincoat over his shoulders with a twitch. "I thought we'd stopped meeting like this two years ago," he observed dryly.

"That's the problem with the world today, Frank. No romance. I take you to all the best places, and all you can do is complain," Vinnie grinned, giving his former field supervisor a hug. "How you been? How're Lillah and the girls?"

A smile flickered on Frank's mouth. "Good to see you, Vince. They're fine. Lillah is going to skin me alive when she hears you were in town and didn't stop by State to say hi." McPike did not look forward to telling her she'd missed one of Vince's D.C. fly-bys yet again. She had taken a proprietary interest in Terranova since the Mel Profitt investigation some ten years before. Indirectly, Vinnie was the reason they'd met, and eventually married.

"Drake's due to graduate next spring, isn't he?" Terranova asked.

"Yeah — as valedictorian. Some day you and I are going to have a conversation about where that scholarship conveniently appeared from," McPike shot him a disapproving look from under one eyebrow. His son by his first marriage had applied to the six most prestigious universities on the East Coast, and been accepted to all of them. Naturally, the one he'd wanted to attend would have required second and third mortgages on the little craftsman bungalow in Virginia Frank shared with his second wife and their twin daughters. MIT did not come cheaply, even on an R.D.'s salary. Therefore when the university had contacted him and informed him that Drake had been awarded a full scholarship — without yet having applied for any — alarm bells had gone off.

"What scholarship?" Vince asked innocently. His tone had the air of a comfortable and long-standing argument. McPike knew that what was left of the stash of Mel Profitt's ready cash Lococco had given Vince years before held no interest for him except for the opportunity it gave him to help out friends in financial trouble. McPike was one of his favorite charities. Frank wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or annoyed at Vinnie’s largess.

McPike narrowed his eyes and growled in mock menace. "So why are we here?" he asked, finally.

In answer, Vince pulled an envelope from inside his decaying leather motorcycle jacket, handing it to McPike. "There wasn't much point in giving it to my new field supervisor. He'd just have sent it on to you, anyway," he said.

McPike tore open the envelope, glancing quickly at the contents. "Oh, not again with the resignation -" he groaned with an exasperated roll of his head. "You pull this like clockwork every two or three years! What is it this time — the supervisor pissing you off?"

"I don't know, Frank. I haven't heard from him in over three weeks. Maybe if I saw him more than once every few months, he might." Terranova said sarcastically, cramming his hands in his jacket pockets as he hunched his shoulders against the raw December chill. "Let's walk."

McPike turned up his raincoat collar and slid his hands into his own pockets, following Vince down the alleyway toward the piers along the Potomac. "What's wrong, Vince?" he asked quietly after a quarter mile of silence.

"I'm a dinosaur, Frank," came the dry observation. "My field supervisor is some young snot-nose who hasn't got a clue what to do with a middle-aged wiseguy with a reputation."

McPike glanced at Vinnie out of the corner of his eye, not liking what he was hearing. Terranova was in his prime at thirty nine, hair still thick, dark as shadows. Granted, the last ten years had left their mark in the lines around his eyes as well as in the sometimes grim ones around his mouth, and the pretty-boy good looks had hardened to a different sort of handsome, but his tall, stocky body was as well muscled as it had been since his release from the Newark State Penitentiary over a decade before.

"You're a dinosaur?" he snorted with irony. "What does that make your favorite R.D., Frank McPike?"

Vince glanced over at the diminutive Regional Director of the OCB. Frank knew what he saw: the glasses were thicker, the hair was a distant memory, but the energy in McPike's wiry frame was that of a much younger man.

"I'm not just talking age, Frank," he sighed. "The game isn't the same. New York is a war zone — the mob has let the gangs move in on the neighborhoods and they're bleeding them dry. The protection they claim to be selling people is non-existent. They poach each other's territories and the people getting hurt are the civilians."

"Tell me something I don't already know," McPike retorted. "The whole crop of baby agents in the last 2 years has been aimed at the gangs. There are a couple of infiltrations, but it's a whole different thing when the players are 16 and 18 years old. None of them make it to 25. Getting an agent close to a gang is just about impossible."

"That's the point, Frank. The gangs are not where I have my connections. The only mob territory that's still got something recognizable as a hierarchy is Brooklyn, and Brod and Castellano are not gonna let me anywhere near their operation. There is no ‘organized’ in organized crime in New York anymore."

"Yeah, well whose fault is it that the mob MBAs took a dislike to you?" McPike inquired caustically.

"They were the ones who went after my mother," Vince snapped back. "I'm not going to apologize for breaking Castellano's face ten years ago."

McPike hesitated, then sighed. "I'm sorry about your mother, Vince. I heard last week. I should have called"

Terranova heaved a deep breath, staring up into the leaden sky. "Yeah, well it was quick," he murmured.

"How's the old man taking it?" McPike inquired after an awkward pause.

"Rudy? About like you'd expect. He's pretty broken up about it."

"What about you?" McPike's question was gentle. "How're you handling it?"

"How do you think, Frank? She was all the family I had left. I have no life! And the job's not what it used to be, either. I haven't had anything to do since last spring after the Silicon Valley gig closed down." Terranova informed him bitterly. He had spent an intense nine months under the jurisdiction of one of the West Coast R.D.s, following up on and closing down an international technology smuggling operation he had stumbled into while working a Jersey mob connection.

"So why not?" McPike asked, puzzled. "What about the Jersey thing?"

Vinnie shook his head. "Strictly small time, Frank," he replied dismissively.

"What, you're too good for the action all of a sudden?" McPike retorted with his usual sarcasm.

"There is no action! At least none that Sonny Steelgrave's former crown prince would be interested in," Vince lashed back defensively. "My reputation is a liability, Frank. The small timers think I'm angling to move in on their turf and the only big boys left in the game that I have any connections with are Brod and Castellano."

McPike pondered this, moodily. He had to admit there was a certain amount of truth in what the man said. "What about Aiuppo? Can he get you into Brod and Castellano's organization somewhere?"

The silence dragged on long enough that McPike finally turned to face Terranova suspiciously. He eyed his friend, watching as Vince chewed on the inside of his cheek, apparently not sure quite how to begin. "All right, spit it out. What aren't you telling me?"

"We need to talk about Rudy, Frank," Vince said at last. "I wouldn't count on him providing letters of introduction for me, if I were you. Rudy knows who I am. What I do," Vince admitted reluctantly.

McPike went white, then red — and off like fireworks on the fourth of July. "WHAT?!" he rounded on Terranova. "How long? How long has he known?" he hissed, "and when did you find out?"

Vince hesitated, looking away, clearly not wanting to answer that particular question. "He told me he knew after you busted the Commission," he admitted finally.

"That was over eight years ago!" McPike shouted. "What the hell were you doing sitting on that little news flash for eight fucking years?! How long has he known?" Frank demanded.

"Apparently since the day he married my mother," Vince said, chagrined. "When she made him promise to leave the life, she told him I was an undercover agent for the OCB."

"Your mother blew your cover to one of the oldest ranking Mafia dons left on the eastern seaboard?" McPike was incredulous.

"It was her wedding day, Frank," Vince defended his deceased mother's actions. "She didn't believe in secrets between people — especially not man and wife."

"Even if her son's life was on the line?" McPike roared.

"Well I'm still here, aren't I?" Vince shouted back. "He's lived with it for over eight years, Frank. I haven't wound up in the Jersey River, yet!"

McPike exhaled noisily, stunned disbelief making every muscle rigid. "I can't believe this!" He said, more to himself than to Vince. He gripped the sides of his head, feeling as though it was about to explode. "Geezus, Vince!" He dropped his hands and looked at Terranova worriedly. "I guess you'd better tell me the whole story," he suggested.

Vince sighed. "You know things haven't been good between Rudy and me since we took down the Commission eight years ago, right? Only, it's not for the reasons you think. Didn't you ever wonder, when the whole bunch of them paraded into that packing plant like lambs to the slaughter, just how much of that had to do with luck?"

McPike frowned, uncertain what the point was. "There are actually moments in my life when I've believed in divine intervention. That was one of them."

Vince shook his head slightly. "That was about as far from divine as it gets, Frank. Rudy played us like the old pro he is. He used me to manipulate you into a position where you could disable the whole commission in one shot."

"Well remind me to thank him, sometime," was McPike's cutting rejoinder. "Why are you worrying about it, Vinnie? It all came out alright, didn't it? We put most of those bastards away on trafficking and RICO statute violations for long enough that they're gonna go straight into the old-folks home when they see daylight! Even Albert Cerrico doesn't get out for another two years, pretty good considering we couldn't nail him for murder one!"

"You're not getting it, Frank. Rudy set the whole thing up! He basically told Albert what he'd found out about Grosset killing his father-in-law, Zapho, and told him he'd back Albert with the Commission, knowing he was sending him out there to whack Joey Grosset, and knowing you and your people would be all over him like a cheap suit. Then he gives me the same information and tells me that Cerrico worked things out so's Joey's wife could broker the deal that'd cut the Commission in on the billion in heroin Albert'd been floating around on that goddamned garbage barge all over the east coast for weeks. So there they are, all our ducks lined up in a row, ready for hunting season, just waiting for us to swoop in and pick them off. All Rudy needed to do was put a ribbon on ‘em, and anyone'd think Christmas had come early."

McPike stared at his field agent, forehead furrowed. "You're right, Vince. I'm not getting it. What's the beef? We shut down the Commission, got Cerrico on second degree murder, and Rudy and your mom lived happily ever after."

Vince stared back in disbelief. "Frank, the man betrayed the only code of conduct he ever professed to believe in! He betrayed the family!"

His outrage brought a snort of laughter from McPike. "No he didn't," he contradicted bluntly. "He did what he did to protect the family he cared the most about. You and your mom didn't have to spend the last ten years looking over your shoulders waiting for them to drag you into their business. He stood up and took it like a man, Vince. He got Alatorre to back off on exposing you as his heir, and by getting the Commission shut down, he did the right thing by his promise to your mother to quit the business. It was brilliant. It got you on the list as a connected guy, reliable to do business with, but no threat. Everything you've done since is a direct result of the way he put that plan together. Maybe the OCB should recruit him."

Vince stared speechlessly at McPike, whose guiding philosophy in all the time he'd know him had been that mobsters were nothing more than the lowest of life forms, deserving of no consideration.

McPike eyed Terranova, the concern back in his face. "You've been in the game way too long if the line is starting to blur that badly for you, Vinnie. Since when did your mother's safety take a back seat to some supposed Mafia code of ethics — and I use that word loosely! It's an oxymoron, Vince!"

Clearly taken aback at this perspective on an action that had driven a gaping chasm between himself and his stepfather, he looked past McPike without really seeing him, mind clearly flashing back on his long and contentious history with Aiuppo. He blinked rapidly then focused again on Frank, who stood watching him expectantly. "So why didn't I ever see that?" he asked rhetorically.

"Because you were so busy being self-righteous about his lack of mob honor, you couldn't possibly have seen it. Do you communicate with him at all?"

"Not really. Only at the funeral, since mom died," Vince admitted. "I tried to steer a pretty wide circle around him for the last few years. Maybe a Sunday dinner a few times a year to keep my mother happy." He shuffled his feet in the slush, shivering. "I guess I owe him."

"Yeah, I'd say so," Frank agreed dryly.

Terranova bit back any comment as he walked on. McPike follow after a moment.

"I figured it was time to quit the life, anyway. This thing is just the icing on the cake," Terranova said. He heard McPike sigh behind him.

"Vince." Frank caught him by the elbow and turned Vince to face him. "Do you have any idea how good you are?" he searched Terranova's blue eyes.

"You just pointed out how little I've had to do with it. It's more luck than being good, Frank," he said self-mockingly.

"No, Vince. You're good. You're a good cop, and a better man." McPike turned and stared out over the icy Potomac.

Vinnie's brow furrowed.

Sentiment was not something that came out of McPike's mouth often, and it obviously made Vince nervous. "Maybe you're right, Vince Maybe it is time for you to move on. Let me put you in for the Pacific R.D. position. Hafner is retiring in June"

"Frank, I haven't even made Field Supervisor. Besides — I'm not the desk jockey type." Vince pointed out.

"It wasn't my idea. Beckstead asked me if I thought you'd go for it. I told him it would be a cold day in hell." McPike's gaze never left the gray shimmer of the river, dotted with chunks of ice.

"Beckstead wanted me?" Vince asked in disbelief. Paul Beckstead, the Director of the OCB, had once been Vinnie's regional director, and his promotion to the head of the OCB had resulted in Frank's elevation into the R.D. position for the northeastern region. There had always been mutual respect between them, but Vince appeared disconcerted to realize that his actions as a field agent had the knowledge — and approval — of the Director himself.

"Is that so hard to believe?" McPike inquired quietly. "You're a big picture man, Vince. The details matter, but you never lose sight of the plan."

Vince laughed without humor. "That's not what you used to think, Frank," the irony of McPike's statement not lost on him.

"I didn't say that you didn't lose perspective, didn't lose objectivity!" Frank snapped. "But you never lost sight of the overall goal."

"Thanks, Frank, but I don't think so. I never was much good at standing back and letting someone else do the work. I don't think I’m the supervisor type." Vinnie stated with a trace of humor in his eyes.

McPike nodded once sharply, mouth a grim line. "What about Vegas?"

Terranova snorted. "That pit?"

"The mob is up to its eyeballs in every casino out there. You know the business, you have the East Coast connections, the name, the connection to the Atlantic City gambling action…"

"No. For one thing, I am not working under anyone but you. You brought me up, you know how I work. I'm too old to break in another R.D." Terranova was adamant. "For another, I hate the desert." He met McPike's gaze. "I'm not looking for options, Frank. I'm looking to get out. I want a life. One that doesn't include late-night visits from gun-wielding thugs or over-zealous cops."

McPike bowed his head. He truly could not fault the reasons, he thought unhappily. He liked Vinnie enough, and knew him well enough, to empathize with the loneliness the agent must be feeling. "All right," he said, turning to face Terranova. "I'll hold your resignation for two weeks. If you haven't changed your mind, I'll put it through. I don't want to lose you, Vince But I'd like to see you happy."

Vince rested a hand on McPike's shoulder companionably. "Thanks, Frank."

Vince braced himself at the bottom of the stairs to the front porch, then took a deep breath and stalked up the wooden steps, rapping at the front door sharply.

"Hiya, Vinnie," came the startled greeting from Poochy, Aiuppo's long-time bodyguard, as he opened the front door to stare at Vince. "Been a while. Whatchoo want?"

The subtly suspicious tone to the question was not lost on Vince, who stood patiently as Poochy patted him down with somewhat more thoroughness than family members usually received. He stood quietly, unarmed, waiting for that fact to be confirmed. "The Don in?"

The beefy man shrugged. "Where else? He's in the greenhouse."

"Thanks," Vince acknowledged, and headed for the glass greenhouse in the back yard of the spacious but unpretentious six-bedroom arts-and-crafts house.

He poked his head into the steamy heat. "Hey, Rudy?"

"Vincenzo!" his stepfather greeted him with unconcealed pleasure. "I was just going to visit your mother." The old man put down the slender Japanese pruning sheers with which he had been attending his collection of orchids.

"I had some business to take care of in the neighborhood, and I thought I'd stop in and see how you're doing" Vinnie said, knowing the old man would see through the flimsy excuse. He gave Rudolpho Aiuppo a cautious hug, mindful of the fragility of his eighty-year-old bones — and the fragility of their relationship in the last years. When Aiuppo hugged him back he sighed. "You have a minute? There're some things I need to say to you."

"I was going to the cemetery. Come with me. We can talk in the car on the way," Rudy offered, taking Vinnie's arm at the nod of acceptance.

Forty five minutes later found them at the small cemetery in the heart of the parish that had once belonged to Vinnie's older brother, Father Peter Terranova, before his death. Carlotta Terranova had insisted to Rudy upon their wedding that she would be buried in the plot next to her first husband and eldest son. Reluctantly, Aiuppo had adhered to her wishes and now returned to the old neighborhood to visit the grave of his beloved second wife.

The earth was still raw, unhealed ten days after her burial. Vince's heart felt essentially the same way. Gently, he lay the single spray of orchids Aiuppo handed him across the simple marker. The orchids joined a collection of other arrangements suffering from various of degrees of frostbite, ranging from the absurdly elaborate to ones as simple as a nosegay of garden flowers. All bore mute testimony to the loss shared by old friends, known and unknown.

"I was in Washington this morning," Vince told the old man quietly.

Aiuppo glanced up at his stepson warily, waiting.

"I'm leaving the Bureau. I gave the Regional Director my resignation," he confessed to Aiuppo.

"Why, Vincenzo?" The old Don's voice was laden with regret. "Your mother was proud of your work, even though it was dangerous. She would not have wanted this."

"I've done my bit to take care of my family," Vince said, weariness in every syllable. He was silent for a moment, then turned to look at the old Don. "I owe you an apology," he said at last.

"For what, Vincenzo? Harsh words spoken in anger over something you did not see the same way I did? We are men, Vincenzo. Men sometimes have differences of opinion." He shrugged, dismissing years of pain at his stepson's loss of respect for him. He turned away, gazing out over the bleakness of the midwinter lawns, tombstones standing like broken teeth in the misty air. "You have never wished to speak of this, Vinnie. Why come to me now?"

"Because it's taken me this long to figure out that I was a total fool," Vince said sharply. "I lost faith in you. In your honor. And I was wrong, Rudy. What you did when you helped McPike and me bring down the Commission was the only way you could be sure that you could keep your promise to my mother. Your promise to leave the life, and to make sure I wasn't going to be dragged in so deep I'd never get out. I accused you of betraying la famiglia. Of betraying everything you said you believed in. I was wrong. You were just trying to protect my mother, and me. Family. Only, now there's no one left to protect."

"Then it is time to start a new family, Vinnie," the Don said sternly. "You must have sons to carry your name! A wife to share your bed."

Vince shook his head in exasperation. "Let's not start this again," he begged. "I got enough of it from mom."

"Without family, Vincenzo, a man has no focus," Aiuppo stated forcefully. "Without family, life is meaningless. Do you have any idea of what it has been like to know I have destroyed one family and lost the respect of the last member of the other?"

The don's lingering Italian accent had thickened with emotion. He was among the last of the mob of Sicilian immigrants who had come to America prior to World War II with nothing but the will to carve a life in the New World. They had shed blood to make their place in the country they had adopted. He and his contemporaries had forged a criminal empire that spanned the nation. All in the name of ‘Family'.

"Vinnie," Aiuppo said firmly, "you are an honorable man. You have spent your life protecting your family and friends. And you have done so within the law. You have not spilled innocent blood. You have not killed in anger, but only in self-defense, or in the defense of others."

Vince met the old man's stern gaze, wondering what was coming next.

"Now you are going to walk away from people who need you?" Aiuppo gestured broadly across the cemetery with one arm. "These neighborhoods - and others like them all over the city - are being besieged! Criminals roam the streets in broad daylight! Gangs shoot into crowds! Young people are dying for no reason! Vicious as we were, Vincenzo, there were limits to how far we would go. Never was a woman or child injured if we could help it. These new gangs - they respect no one. Nothing. They are without limits. Men without limits are not men - they are animals!"

Vinnie drew a deep breath. His own misgivings about whether he had in fact actually accomplished anything worthwhile in his career were deep enough without having a Mafia Don telling him that by dismantling the mob's power structure, he had in fact paved the way for something even worse. "Don Aiuppo," he began.

"No. I am Rudy to you. Always. You are as precious to me as the son I lost. I could not have been more proud of you if you had been my own." The old man interrupted forcefully. "And if you had been my own, you, and not those bastardi, would be running Brooklyn. Perhaps all of New York. What a Don you would have made, Vinnie." The wistfulness in Aiuppo's voice was genuine.

Vince stared sightlessly out over the snow-dusted gravestones, not wanting to hear this. "Rudy, I wouldn't be the man I am if I'd been your son."

"Do you think I do not know this, Vincenzo? Do you think I do not regret that I was never man enough to raise a son like you?" Aiuppo met Vince's blue gaze unflinchingly. "I only pray I live long enough to hold your child in my arms and tell him is father is a man to be proud of." He slapped his palms against his arms trying to warm them as his breath hung in the air. "Come to dinner. We have much to discuss."

Vince had spent a long evening listening to Rudy catalog all the reasons to stay. To fight. To protect the people in the neighborhoods. But it was the parting conversation that was making his night sleepless, his head pounding with alcohol and exhaustion:

"Your mother refused me when we were young, Vincenzo, because I was not an honorable man. Yes, I cared for my blood, but I took the blood of others for no other reason than to be thought a man worthy of respect." Aiuppo handed Vince a tumbler of grappa and sat down in the leather armchair opposite Terranova with his own glass. "And by doing this, I lost the respect of the one who mattered to me most of all" Aiuppo's tone left no doubt of his appreciation for the ironies of life. "When I asked your mother to marry me the second time, I promised that the blood of others would not be spilt in defense of my own. That I would live within the law I had disobeyed. And that I would never betray her son. That I would help him uphold the law, if he asked me." He locked eyes with his stepson, ensuring he had the younger man's attention. "Now you are leaving, your job only half done." He was silent a minute, then continued, staring into the fire that crackled on the hearth. "When your mother told me about your work, I found myself in a strange position, Vincenzo. I had to decide where my loyalty lay. To which family my honor belonged. I chose you and your mother."

He paused again. "Do not think it was an easy choice," he said eventually. "The men I betrayed were closer to me than brothers. Men I had sworn to protect. We had shared oaths, shared history. I have paid the price for that betrayal, Vincenzo. I have watched everything we built crumble. With no one strong enough to lead, no one follows. There is no direction. Nothing but chaos in the streets. The other criminals sensed our weakness and moved in to tear out our throat. Vincenzo, whether the OCB realizes it or not, there has been civil war among the families since the Commission was destroyed. It has been every man for himself." He leaned back in his chair, picking up his grappa and staring into the clear depths in silence for a minute before going on.

"I think the OCB has paid a price, also. There is nowhere for them to focus their energy. With the loss of centralized power, all that is left is a loosely associated collection of street thugs and low-level wiseguys. And because there is no one with the power to truly lead la Cosa Nostra, there is no one for the FBI to target. And the violence on the streets just gets worse as the immigrants fight us for a share of something that is rapidly eroding away to nothing! I have lain awake many nights, wondering if I made the right choice when I helped you eliminate the Commission" he glanced up and met Vinnie's eyes again, and Vince could see his regrets, his sorrow, his guilt. Since it so closely echoed what Vinnie himself had felt when he realized he had unwittingly helped Aiuppo betray the men Rudy had ruled for so long, he felt a certain amount of sympathy.

Rudy continued. "Every day, the newspapers are full of stories about the increasing crime rate, the gangs that overrun the neighborhoods, driving out families and businesses, depriving the city of taxes, depriving people of livelihoods When la famiglia ran the streets, the protection money we collected was simply another tax. Now, there are no businesses left to collect from in some places! No one left to live in the houses and tenements we once collected rents for. Vincenzo, this cannot continue. Power vacuums will eventually be filled. But you have no way of knowing who will step into that breach. I wish to make a proposal to you." He waited until Vince picked up his own glass, taking a sip to cover the dread building in his gut. Tension coiled up out of his belly, settling at the base of his skull with a dull throb as he waited for Rudy to continue.

"I would like to suggest a partnership. Between the FBI and la famiglia."

Vince stared at Aiuppo over the rim of his glass, his mouth dry. "What are you saying, Rudy?" he asked quietly, his heart beginning a slow pounding in his ears.

"I am telling you that if you wish it, I will set you over Brod and Castellano. I will use my name, my reputation, to place you in a position of power." Aiuppo leaned back in his chair, cupping his grappa with both hands, watching Vince intently.

Only the merest dilation of Vince's pupils could have given Rudy any indication of what he was thinking, but the old Don smiled approvingly as Vinnie slowly set the glass on the table in front of him and leaned back in his chair.

"I can make you Don," Aiuppo said simply.

Vinnie swallowed once. Hard. "In return for what?" he asked softly.

"You will return the protection of the family to the streets. You will use the Cosa Nostra to remove the gangs, or to contain them like rabid dogs." Aiuppo took a sip of the water-clear liquor in his glass. "And you will use the FBI to leash the Cosa Nostra. Your laws will be bent though perhaps not broken. You will make that compromise, knowing that to work outside the law is the only way to uphold it." He paused, eyeing his stepson sadly. "Your mother is beyond our ability to hurt her, now. I must find a way to undo what I have done." He leaned forward intently, all his attention focused on Vince, who sat staring at him in amazement. "But I cannot do it alone, Vincenzo. I need your help to help the family."

"You're telling me that you'll help me infiltrate your own operation? Let me place undercover agents throughout the mob in return for reorganizing the organization'?" Disbelief colored Vinne’s voice. Aiuppo didn't respond immediately, and the long silence gave the younger man time weigh the immense complexity of the offer that had just been made. Vince pondered, thinking it through, considering possibilities, consequences.

"The OCB will never go for it," Vinnie said eventually, still evaluating the implications of the extraordinary proposal.

"Then find a way to convince them," Aiuppo leaned forward in his chair, eyes glinting.

"I can't exactly break legs, Rudy. This is a decision I can't influence."

"No, there you are wrong, Vincenzo. "You are the only one who can. You must convince them that you are equal to the challenge. That you will not succumb to temptation — because there will be great temptation — that you will find a way to do what neither the family or the FBI can do without you."

Vince exhaled noisily. "I think you're over-estimating my charm, Rudy."

Aiuppo shook his head. "No, I do not think so, my boy. Those blue eyes of yours would convince a stone."

Vince sank his chin onto his chest and stared at the fire that crackled on the hearth for a long twenty minutes, thoughts chasing around inside his skull like rabbits pursued by dogs. "I'll take it to McPike," he said finally, draining his grappa in one swallow and getting to his feet.

Rudy sank back into his armchair with a nod.

Now, some four hours later, he was no closer to sleep than he had been, and well on his way to being drunk. He had no idea how to approach McPike with something of this magnitude. Something in his belly trembled with nerves, and he recognized the adrenaline rush that accompanied a new assignment. The sheer magnitude of the offer Aiuppo had made staggered the imagination. His brain felt numb, trapped in a deep freeze, somehow stunned into a short circuit. And yet…

"Are you out of your mind?!" McPike asked, consternated. "Or maybe more to the point, is HE?"

"He didn't look crazy to me, " Vince said, struggling to smother a grin. "Stop hyperventilating, Frank."

McPike made a mighty effort to slow his breathing, trying to hear through the shrieking in his brain. "I would much, much rather accept your resignation," he managed.

"To be honest, I'm not sure I wouldn't rather you did," Vinnie smiled. "But this is way over my head. I figured you and Beckstead would probably have to take it up the ladder for some kind of decision."

McPike slumped bonelessly into his chair, clutching at the edge of his desk for suddenly needed support. "I think this comes under the heading of be careful what you wish for'," McPike said finally. "My instinct says this will never work. You make a deal with the devil, and you're the one who's likely to get burned. In a very messy and very public way. Do you have any idea what would happen if the media gets wind of the fact that the OCB has gone into business with the mob?"

Vince nodded. "I have a pretty good idea of the risks involved," he replied evenly. "But I think it might just be ballsy enough that it could work." His expression was grave. "It would go a long way to putting the law in control of the city again."

"Oh, yeah, it's sure as hell ballsy enough, but the only place it's likely to put you is in an early grave — along with anyone you place in the organization!" McPike exclaimed.

"Only if I get caught," Vince pointed out.

McPike leaned slowly back in his chair and stared across the desk at his favorite field agent. "I want you to report for a full psych evaluation, Vince," he said grimly.

Terranova's response was annoyed. "Why? There's nothing wrong with me."

"And I want to be sure of that all the way to the soles of my feet before I take this any further. If this is some sort of suicide bid, then it stops here. I file your resignation and send you into debriefing, and maybe check you into a nice mental ward somewhere."

Terranova cocked his head, glaring at his supervisor. "And what if I come up with a clean bill of health, huh, Frank?" he asked cynically.

"Then I take this to Beckstead and let him try to wrap his brain around the idea of placing a Federal Agent into the mob as king of New York!"

The two men glowered at each other across the desk for a long moment. "Vince, what would you think if you were sitting here and your best agent walks into your office and tells you he's figured out a way to take over the New York City mob?" McPike asked, at last.

"Okay, I'd think he was nuts. But this is me, Frank. You've worked with me for over ten years." Vince conceded.

"Tell me something, Vinnie — and I want you to think real hard about this before you open your mouth. What's in it for Aiuppo? He's not doing this outta the goodness of his heart," McPike pointed out.

"Not completely," Vince agreed slowly. "But I think he's changed, Frank. He sees what's happening on the streets, and I think he feels guilty -"

McPike snorted in disbelief. "Oh, I'll bet he does," he said snidely. "Vinnie, you are a hopeless romantic! These old geezers do not — I repeat — NOT — change."

"And I think you're wrong. I think Rudy is looking at a life spent outside the law and he sees what taking the Commission apart did to crime in New York. He wants to do something to make it right. He's an old man, Frank. He's looking at ten years, tops, to make his peace with the way he's lived his life. I think this is a kind of atonement."

McPike narrowed his eyes. It was not the first time Vince had ascribed purer motives to a hardened criminal. And it would not be the first time he had been right. If, in fact, Aiuppo's proposal was genuine. It was also not the first time that McPike was aware of Terranova's questioning of his own contribution to law enforcement. "And what about you, Vince? What are you looking to atone for?"

Terranova glanced at him sharply, startled, a trace of hangdog in his expression.

"You're right, Vince. I've worked with you for over ten years. I have a pretty good idea how that Catholic guilt trip of yours works. So what is your agenda in bringing this to me? Particularly since you were convinced the old guy was the archangel Lucifer himself just two days ago!"

"I've spent my career busting people who break the law. Sometimes I think maybe I've done some good. Most of the time I doubt it. The problem with taking these people down, Frank, is that there're always a few high-pressure zones rushing in to fill the vacuum. And it's a pretty sure bet that whoever they are, they're gonna be worse than whoever we just put away."

This, McPike realized with a moment of blinding clarity, was the real issue, the source of Terranova's gradual disillusionment.

Vince continued into the small silence that fell between them. "When we dismembered the Commission, we left the door wide open for every punk gang in the city to set up their own little fiefdoms. So what if we can round them up and move ‘em out -?"

"Yee-haw, rawhide," McPike interjected sarcastically. "This is the federal government, bub, not the wild west!"

Vince glared at him. "That's where you're wrong, Frank. It may not be the west, but it's as wild out on those streets as it ever was in Tombstone. You said it yourself: the OCB has been beating its head against a brick wall with the gangs. If we can find a way to get them under control, anyone's control, all of a sudden we have a shot at cleaning up the mess out there. Aiuppo's offering us a chance to get in on the ground floor. He's still got enough juice left to make what's left of the families straighten up, as long as we back him."

"You mean as long as you back him!" Frank was increasingly alarmed at the direction this was going. "I wish to hell I'd kept my mouth shut the other day! I should never have sent you back to that old reptile to kiss and make up! He is using you again, Vince, and you're walking into it with your eyes wide open! What the hell's the matter with you?" Frank slammed a fist onto his desk in frustration.

Terranova sat soundlessly across from Frank, refusing to rise to the bait.

Frank glowered at his agent. "Vinnie. I know how close to the edge you walk every time you cross orbits with the mob You grew up with these people, in a neighborhood where the mob was part of everyday life. You don't see it, but it's warped the way you see things. We're cops, Vinnie. We're supposed to stop those people, not make it easier for them to do business!"

"Let me ask you something, Frank. Do you see us ever winning the war on crime? Is there ever going to be a day when everyone out there has enough of whatever they think they need so that they won't go looking for something else? Something more? There are always going to be people out there ready to provide what people want, whatever it is, especially if people like you and me are out there telling ‘em they can't have it because we don't think it's good for them. The mob got fat on prohibition, then on the drug trade. Make it illegal, and you make it profitable. As long as there're laws, there'll be crime. It's the law of nature. Or maybe it's just human nature. Either way, it's a fact. If we accept that fact, that means we're fighting a holding position, not a war. War implies there's a way to win it, and we can't. This is about damage control, Frank. The greatest good for the greatest number. Aiuppo is offering us a chance to establish a cohesive front line in this war. We may not be able to win it, but what if this time, we have a shot at controlling who takes over, and how much damage they can do?" Vince met Frank's unconvinced look earnestly. "Do you really want me to believe that you think it's not a chance worth taking?"

The hell of it was, McPike realized bitterly, was that he was right. The chance was worth nearly any risk.

He felt the rigid set of his shoulders relax abruptly, and grimaced as Vince sat back in his chair, clearly knowing he’d made his point. McPike picked up his phone. "Melody, I want you to make an appointment for a full mental and physical work-up for one of my field agents. Now." He snapped at his assistant and let the receiver drop back into the cradle. He met Vinnie's cerulean gaze. "I want a meet with the old man. I see him or this isn't happening."

Vinnie nodded slowly. "I'll see what I can do," he promised.

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