Wiseguy: The Proposal

January 21st, 1998

The Proposal

McPike closed the report cover slowly, not at all happy with what it said. He had been praying for a reason — any reason — to let this die a quiet death. The mental and physical exams had shown a man fit and in his prime, perhaps understandably depressed over the death of his last remaining family member, but otherwise stable. Despite every instinct that shouted of the risk, McPike had no choice but to take it up the ladder. He picked up his phone. "Melody, get me Director Beckstead," he requested.

The call was put through and Beckstead answered with gratifying speed. "Frank, what's up?"

"We have a situation, Paul. An agent has been approached about ranking placement with the Brooklyn mob."

"Which agent? Who's recruiting?" came the terse inquiry.

McPike pursed his lips, hesitating long enough to generate a prompt from Beckstead.


"Terranova." McPike said at last. "His stepfather has offered to put him into Brod and Castellano's territory as a... Trojan Horse."

Beckstead didn't miss the implication. "You mean Aiuppo knows Vince is an agent?"

Frank could hear the flatness in Beckstead's voice, knowing it portended an explosion of massive proportions. "Yes, sir. He has apparently known for over eight years."

"Jesus Christ!" came the epithet. "Is there anyone who doesn't know who Vince is?"

"As far as I know, the only ones who do are you, me, Vinnie's lifeguard and the old don." Frank was grimly matter-of-fact. "And if the old man has kept it quiet this long, I don't think he's likely to start spreading it around. I've had Vince set a meet with the old geezer. I think we'd both better be there to hear what he has to say."

"When and where?" was the brusque response.

Christmas, and then New Year's, had long since come and gone before the battery of physical and psychological tests had been competed to McPike's satisfaction. Now, finally, Frank had agreed to the meeting with Aiuppo. The last of Vinnie's bridges was burning behind him, and he felt nothing except a dull sort of relief that something was actually happening at last.

Vince had not seen Tracy since the night he had spent with her, nor had he spoken with her. His only contact with her had been a bare handful of e-mails The memory of her was a sharp ache under his sternum, a pain that wouldn't ease. He could not bring himself to tell McPike that yet another person was privy to the secret of his identity. The arguments it would generate were more than he could face. He had persuaded Lifeguard that Tracy was no threat, that no one was aware they had even met. He prayed that that would end the matter.

He held the door of the Lincoln open for Rudy, helping the old man into the limo. Getting Aiuppo's regular driver to relinquish the wheel for the afternoon had taken considerable persuasion on Rudy's part. Only the argument that a private family conference was in order between Vince and Aiuppo had made any impact on the burly muscle. Vince admired the personal loyalty Aiuppo seemed able to generate in his retainers. He had watched the old Don's careful politicking, the family meals that included the most lowly of hirelings, the familiarity with which Rudy spoke to them, the small gestures that reinforced his leadership. If things went as he expected, these were skills he would need himself.

Rudy leaned back into the leather upholstery. "What is wrong, Vincenzo?" he asked into the silence.

"Nothing," Vince said shortly.

"So that is why you have hardly said two words to me in a month," Aiuppo observed with a hint of cynicism.

"It doesn't matter, Rudy."

"Hmm. It does to me. I don't like to see you miserable."

"I'll get over it," Terranova answered.

"I certainly hope so. You are acting like a love-sick teenager."

The old man's perception startled Vince enough to make him laugh involuntarily.

"I thought it must be a woman," Aiuppo said, satisfaction at the success of his guess clear in his voice. "Who is she?"

"Let's not get into that, okay? She has family obligations that don't include me. And the last thing I need right now is to get involved with someone I won't be able to see if this little plan of yours pans out."

"If she had been free to choose, would she have picked you?" Aiuppo pressed the issue.

"Yeah. If she'd been free, we'd've been fighting over who takes out the trash in a nice anonymous suburb somewhere by now."

The Don watched the rigid set of Terranova's shoulders as he drove. "I'm sorry, Vinnie." He looked out the windows at the signs of civilization that were gradually giving way to fields and stands of woodland. "I have pushed you into this despite your wish to leave the life. If you truly do not wish for the chance to change things, to try to undo the damage I have caused, I will understand."

"Oh, you played me like a violin, Rudy. You know me well enough to be able to push all the right buttons to get me to do what you want. The problem is, it's not just the guilt trip. It's the only thing that makes sense."

Aiuppo nodded to himself. "Yes it is."

A half-hour later, Vince pulled the big Lincoln onto the dirt road that led to an abandoned airstrip. McPike and Beckstead were waiting, pacing the icy ground impatiently.

"Sorry, Frank. Traffic was heavier than I figured." Vince said as he got out of the car and opened the back door for Aiuppo. Helping the old man out, he made the introductions. "Rudy Aiuppo - my boss, Frank McPike, and the Director of the OCB, Paul Beckstead.

McPike eyed the diminutive old Don, vaguely amazed that it was an eye-to-eye experience. Somehow, they always seemed larger through the telephoto lenses he had been accustomed to seeing them through.

"Mr. McPike," Rudy extended a gloved hand, "it is... interesting to meet you in person. Your reputation is formidable. I thought you would be taller."

McPike stifled the irritation he felt at having his own thought aimed back at him by the elderly mobster.

Rudy turned to Beckstead. "You, Mr. Director, I know very little about."

"Good." Beckstead snapped. "That means someone in my department's internal security division is doing their job. Now explain to me how it is that a Mafia Don finds himself with an agent of the FBI as a stepson — and why I should believe anything you tell me." He caught Terranova's frown of disapproval, and turned to Vince. "And you can stay the hell out of the conversation."

Aiuppo met the Director's anger calmly. "I married his mother, Mr. Beckstead. She would only have me on the condition that I attempt to make right some of the harm I have caused in my life."

"You'll excuse me if I'm skeptical," Beckstead said cynically.

"Of course. I would be in your position," Aiuppo conceded gracefully. "I have known of Vincenzo's involvement in the OCB from the night of my wedding. I know he was in some way responsible for bringing down Patrice, Mahoney and Steelgrave, though I have not asked him for details. I know he was involved with the arms dealer, Mel Profitt, and that he had something to do with the garment trade, as well as bootleg music, all presumably under your auspices. His more recent work I do not know as much about. It has happened outside my sphere of influence. The exception to this would be your work to bring down the Commission after the attempt was made on my life, eight years ago. I have taken my retirement seriously, as I did the promise I made to Vinnie's mother that I would not involve myself in that life. But there is no longer any choice."

Vince stared at the old man in surprise. "You been checking up on me," he said darkly.

"The fact that you are aware of as much of his activity as you are is not exactly improving my mood," Beckstead snapped. "What I want to know is, what is your motive? You've offered Vince a position in your organization that is going to pin a target on his chest, and your lieutenants, among a multitude of others, are going to be spending a lot of energy trying to hit him. If he comes in at a level to actually be able to have any influence over trying to bring all the independents out there into line, he is going to be at considerable risk. Frankly, I doubt the OCB's ability to keep him alive under those conditions. And my primary goal here is to make sure that Vince is not going to come out of this in a coffin."

"There would be great risk," Aiuppo agreed. "But the rewards would also be great. I can offer him some protection, though it is largely his own wits he will need to rely on. He will not know a moment when he can be sure he is not under observation. It will be hard, dangerous work and you are right. He may not survive. But it is the right thing to do. And I am to old too do it alone."

Beckstead shook his head forcefully. "No. There's something else on your agenda. You may think that everyone in civil service has an I.Q. that fits in a shoebox, Mr. Aiuppo. The fact that you're my best field agent's stepfather does absolutely nothing for your argument. You've been mixed up in criminal activity since you got off the goddamned boat! So don't expect me to take your word for the purity of your motives. Until I know exactly what they are, I am not putting one of the best agents I've ever had in that kind of jeopardy." He turned to face Terranova. "This isn't going to fly, Vince. If I can't talk you into the Pacific R.D. position, I'm going to have Frank process your resignation and you are outta here. You'll be relocated somewhere where they've never heard of a Vince Terranova."

Terranova stood, arms crossed defensively, expressionless through all this. "No. Process the resignation, but I'm not letting you drop me down any rabbit holes. Not yet. I have some unfinished business to take care of first."

McPike glared at Vince, then turned to Beckstead. "Paul, are you sure? Because this is an opportunity you're not going to get again. If we can stabilize the situation in New York"

Beckstead was resolute. "Frank, I can't take this any farther with what we've got, and I'm not interested in adding another name to the memorial for fallen agents."

"And you! What unfinished business?" McPike turned back to Vinnie, jabbing a forefinger into his chest.

Vince considered his reply. If he said nothing, it would undoubtedly come back to haunt him, but he wasn't looking forward to the eruption he was about to precipitate. "I met someone, Frank."

"Oh Christ, don't tell me your hormones are kicking in again. This isn't a good time to start thinking with other portions of your anatomy, Vince."

Beckstead was clearly confused. "What are we talking about, here?" he asked in a bid for clarification.

McPike closed his eyes for a split second. "Vinnie's love life."

"More like the lack of it," Vince said with unconcealed bitterness.

"All right, you met someone," McPike repeated. "Who is this paragon? Where did you meet her? And why the hell am I hearing about it now for the first time?!"

"Because I wasn't sure there was any future in it, Frank." Vince went for the last question, knowing he was simply delaying the inevitable. "Until I had a decision from Paul, I didn't know if I had a future. Since it looks like the OCB won't back Rudy's offer, I think I can consider myself free to pursue other things."

"Why am I so sure there's more to this?" McPike eyed him suspiciously. "How long have you been seeing her?"

Vince wasn't quite sure how to answer this. "Strictly speaking, I haven't been. I wasn't going to risk involving her in this. She walked away from it all ten years ago and the last thing I want is to drag her back in. But if I've got my walking papers, who and what she is doesn't matter. Not to the OCB"

"Whoa, there. Nice try, buckaroo. Now I know there's more to this. I want the whole story, Vince. I want it now."

"Is it really any of your business?"

"As long as you're a field agent, it is," Beckstead spoke up, backing McPike. "Vince, your love life is your own business. But when you imply the relationship has mob connections, it becomes my business."

"I ran into her outside the Justice Department seven weeks ago, just before Christmas. I hadn't seen her in ten years." Vince let his arms drop to his sides and began a slow pacing through the slush on the gravel road beside the car. "She recognized me."

"And?" McPike pushed, impatiently, "who is this mystery woman?"

The silence was long, the attention of all three of the older men fixed on Terranova as he paced.

Finally, he paused, looking McPike in the face. His focus was intent, and excluded the other two men completely. "Have you ever had a feeling about someone - a feeling they were meant to be in your life somehow?"

McPike waited. Then realized an answer was required. "Yes. Though not generally the minute I lay eyes on them. You'd better not be talking love at first sight, Vince. Look where it got me and my first wife."

"No, or not exactly. I mean there's the physical thing, sure. But it's more than that. I can imagine a life with her. Something that doesn't involve guns, or badges or visits from the goon squad."

"Her name, Vincent." Beckstead had not lost track of the unanswered question.

Vince sighed and resigned himself to the reaction he was about to get. "Tracy. Tracy Steelgrave."

McPike stood rooted to the spot in utter shock. He was stunned to his nerve endings. He could do nothing but gape at his friend as though Vince had suddenly grown a second head.

"Dave Steelgrave's daughter?" Beckstead inquired, more to refresh his memory than in doubt what the answer would be.

Terranova nodded once.

"She would be a good match for you, Vinnie," Aiuppo commented. "She has the intelligence to keep you interested. And the looks - or she did ten years ago."

"Steelgrave?" McPike half choked. "STEELGRAVE?" his hands clenched into fists as he faced down Terranova. "You don't need to be relocated — you need to be COMMITTED!"

Beckstead quickly grasped the fact that McPike was beyond any cogent argument. "All right, Vince, I think you'd better start at the beginning. You said you ran into her outside the D.O.J.?"

Terranova nodded and began his pacing again. "She stopped me on the street. She knew who I was."

"And?" Beckstead prompted.

"I bought her a cup of coffee - "

"And from this, you decide you have a future with the woman?" McPike interjected, white with rage.

"Frank." Beckstead's warning was sharp. "What was she doing at the D.O.J.?" he asked Vinnie.

"Interviewing for a job," Vince said to Beckstead, then continued, his focus on McPike. "She's been working for the Seattle office of the Washington State Attorney General for the past five years. As a prosecutor. Check the records, Frank. She's one of us."

"She's a Steelgrave, Vince!" McPike roared. "She's nothing like us!"

Vince took a reflexive step forward he took, fist clenching. Only Aiuppo's hand on his arm stopped him from slugging McPike. "You arrogant little bastard, for you the world is so cut and dried, she's poison simply by virtue of her name. She was born with it, Frank. She didn't choose it! What she chose is the law. Like you. Like me. Check her convictions, Frank. She's put away a half dozen high-level connected guys, among others. You are wrong about her. Totally and completely wrong. But you? Question your knee-jerk preconceptions? Not you. Frank McPike is never wrong." Terranova twisted away from Rudy's grasp, his pacing resumed. "You've never even met the woman, Frank. You have no right to judge her."

McPike glared back at Vince, fuming.

Beckstead rubbed the back of his neck. “Do you think she'll go with you?"

"Not yet," Vince admitted reluctantly. "Her mother is dying. She can't leave."

"So in the meantime, while you hang around in the slender hope of making a life with her, you are still being seen in close proximity to a ranking mob boss, whose heirs are going to start to get anxious about the time you spend with him." Beckstead's voice betrayed his concern. "Vince, every day you remain in your stepfather's vicinity, the more likely someone in the city is going to start feeling threatened by you. There's already a bad enough case of nerves in Brooklyn."

McPike, with the certainty of long friendship, knew what Vinnie had yet to confess. "You blew your cover to her. Didn't you?" he could hear the resignation in his voice as he met Terranova's angry blue gaze. "You'd never get involved with a civilian who didn't know who you really were. You can't live with the lie."

"No. I can't. And neither could she. I couldn't ask a woman who'd walked away from everything in her life in order to start over again to walk back into the mob." Vince took a deep breath. "She'd never accept me as a wiseguy. As a cop, she might."

Aiuppo nodded to himself. "You are a wise man, Vinnie. Family, love, these are more important to you than power. I was too foolish to make that choice when I was young. It cost me forty years I could have spent with the woman I loved. Your Director is right. You can't be seen with me any longer."

Beckstead narrowed his eyes, reassessing the old Don.

"We must appear to have argued again. If you can't help me, you must leave New York before my men take matters into their own hands." Aiuppo's tone left no room for argument. "Either you must accept the role of my chosen heir and face them, or you must flee. Since your FBI will not let you face them, you must flee."

Vinnie looked at him askance, distrust flashing over his face.

McPike was in silent agreement: This was new, and warning bells were being tripped all over his nervous system. They were all the more urgent because he could see the weakening of Beckstead's distrust of the old man. Aiuppo's game was deeper than he had even begun to suspect.

Beckstead nodded reluctantly. "He's right, Vince," he agreed. "You have to distance yourself from the situation if you're going to stop ramping up the blood pressure of every hood left in the city. Especially if you aren't going to walk away."

"You're not leaving the life if you aren't leaving, Vinnie." McPike's voice was unutterably weary. "You can resign from the Bureau, but the only way out of the mob is either dead, or in witness protection. And make no mistake, my friend, you are in the mob."

"Thank you for the news flash, Frank," Vinnie's reply dripped sarcasm.

"Look," McPike said dully, "as long as you refuse witness protection, I'm not putting through your resignation. You are not going to be running around in my territory without whatever protection the OCB can give you. And I can't use Bureau resources to cover you if you aren't on the payroll."

Vince cast a long look at McPike. Slowly, some of the stiffness in his bearing softened. "Thanks, Frank," he said.

Beckstead shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Vincent, I want you out of New York, at least. We can always hope that out of sight means out of mind with these people."

Aiuppo's snort of disagreement focused attention on him. "I am afraid the opposite is more likely, Mr. Beckstead. If Vinnie disappears suddenly, it will raise more questions than it will provide answers. You must let us handle this. We will begin to disagree publicly and within a matter of a few weeks, Vinnie will be able to leave the city without raising an eyebrow."

"Alright, we'll give this little soap opera of yours two weeks, tops. I want you out of New York by then, Vince. Period. End of discussion." Beckstead spoke with the air of a man who had made a decision that didn't particularly agree with him. "And I want the details on Ms. Steelgrave on my desk by tonight, Frank," he added to McPike.

Frank's shoulders rose toward his ears with a shiver. "They'll be there."

Vinnie watched the old man in the Lincoln’s rearview mirror. "Beckstead was right," he said at last. "You've got something on your plate that you aren't sharing with the rest of us." He pulled onto the highway heading back towards the city.

Aiuppo met his stepson's eyes for a long moment. "I have gained credibility in Beckstead's eyes only to lose it in yours?" he asked with irony.

"Talk to me, Rudy," Vince's impatience was unmistakable.

"My reasons are as I have told you. I betrayed one family to save another, and now an entire city stands at the edge of chaos. I sworn oaths that I have broken. I must do what I can before I die to make it right, Vinnie."

"That's not the only thing on your agenda, or you'd have done something about it before now," Vince shook his head slightly in negation.

"I made a promise to your mother, Vincenzo, to protect you. To help you in your work. And I did that. I should have known that nothing is ever simple; that an action always has consequences you cannot foresee. And now, in some ways, the problems are worse than they were before I betrayed the Commission. This was the only way I could see to try to keep my promise to her, and to redeem my oath to la famiglia." The old man leaned wearily back against the seat, glancing out of the darkened window at the approaching city. "And I am too old to keep either of those promises by myself, Vinnie. I need your help."

Vinnie's reply was skeptical. "Maybe so, Rudy, but whatever it is you're not telling me is something you're not sure she would have let you get away with."

Aiuppo's grin was wry. "You are every bit as bright as your mother," he replied, looking out the window at the passing scenery without seeing any of it. "Carlotta believed that a family was among the most important things in life, Vincenzo. So do I. But my family was once larger than just you"

Vinnie's eyes narrowed speculatively. "You mean the mob."

"Yes. I don't expect you to understand this, Vince, it wasn't the way you were brought up. But these men, all of them, are like brothers to me. Sons. It was my hope that by helping you, I could find a way to help them. Rebuild what has been eroded by greed and shortsightedness and lack of leadership. You are a man with enough vision — and enough strength — to return them to what we originally stood for. It was never simply about the money. It was about protecting our families. When we immigrated here, we were treated as second class citizens. I see it happening with the new immigrants, too, Vinnie. The Hispanics, the Asians, the Russians, all are falling into the same trap we did. We chose the way of the knife because it was fast. Easy. It ensured that our families would be left in peace."

"Yeah, and you've all spent the last sixty or seventy years killing each other, you and your so-called brothers, over who gets the biggest place at the table." Vince retorted. "What the hell sort of vision does that take? How does that help your families?"

"It doesn't." Aiuppo agreed, then continued. "We are both pragmatists, Vinnie. The presence of wolves is a given. There will always be those who prey on the weak. The trick is, finding someone stronger than them to keep them in check. To limit the damage they can do. That is the role I hoped to place you in. You don't see it. You haven't yet been tested. But you could lead these men, Vincenzo. I am as certain of this as I have ever been of anything."

"What exactly did you think I'd be doing? Giving them the keys to the city?"

"No. It was my hope that you would choose from among the ones who would come to you a cadre of new blood. That you would teach them that limits have their place. That you would leash the worst of our violent impulses."

Vince's laugh was cynical. "A messiah for a kinder, gentler Mafia," he mocked.

"You would have to accept that by leaving them in place part of your work as a policeman would be left undone. But the greater work, that of protecting the people from the real wolves, would be done. And with the FBI placed throughout the mob, it would protect us from the wolves within our own organization."

Vinnie felt a cold shiver trickle down his back. "It sounds like standard U.S. foreign policy to me. Set up a petty dictator we can control so that someone else's resources fall into our laps," he remarked, the cynicism still coloring his voice. He had never expected to encounter a situation that reminded him so strongly of the one he had found himself on the fringes of during the collapse of a coup on a small island nation in the Caribbean basin.

This, he realized, must have been akin to what Roger Lococco felt when he realized his skills as a soldier would have been used not to win freedom for an oppressed populace, but to win them greater exploitation. "Thanks but no thanks, Rudy. I'm not your man."

"No, not now. Not yet. But I suspect you would have become him. There are things you would have discovered about yourself; sometimes, a small sin prevents a greater one."

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