Wiseguy | Study Guide

Nicholas Pileggi

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Wiseguy | Chapter 16 | Summary

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Summary

Two months after Hill's release from prison, he hears about a possible heist for Lufthansa Airlines on a tip from a cargo supervisor who owes a gambling debt to his friend Marty Krugman. The supervisor has even worked out all the details. Hill can't believe the great timing of it all—Jimmy Burke and Tommy DeSimone are due to be released from prison soon. Hill thinks they can beat their Air France heist by a long shot. The only issue is Burke does not get along with Krugman because of an old dispute. When Hill arranges a meeting between the men, he notices Burke seems much more cautious than his old, usual self. Burke puts a crew together, and Hill doesn't ask many questions because "knowing what's not necessary is only trouble."

During the early morning heist, Burke's crew rounds up the employees, whom the gunmen all seem to know by name. They tell one of the employees to call the night supervisor on the intercom to gain access to the right keys and combinations to open the vault. The supervisor opens the vault, and the gunmen take the parcels full of money. They leave the employees bound and gagged on the cafeteria floor, but one of the gunmen takes his ski mask off and they catch a glimpse of his face. In all they steal $5 million in cash and $875,000 in jewelry—the most successful cash robbery in United States history.

Analysis

Pileggi's unfolding of Hill's life after prison allows his risk-taking to ramp up in such a way his eventual downfall seems inevitable. Both Pileggi and Hill have foreshadowed how the FBI has begun to pay closer attention to the mob's dealings, and how the golden days of pulling off robberies left and right at the airport are gone. It's telling even from inside prison, men like Burke and DeSimone are merely biding their time before they can get released and commit new, larger heists. Pileggi depicts them as men so embedded in a vicious cycle of risk and reward they wouldn't know how to get out even if they wanted to. For the wiseguys, it's not just a business; it's a lifestyle and community, with its own cultures, customs, and codes of conduct. To leave the "business" would be to leave an entire community and culture behind. If anything, the wiseguys want to become bolder, better, richer, and more powerful at every turn, no matter the risk.

In a way the Lufthansa heist is certainly impressive for its coordination of logistics and impeccable timing. Pileggi is careful to highlight how smoothly the actual robbery goes in order to make it seem too good to be true. Yet, the reader is tipped off to a fatal mistake that will likely return to haunt the wiseguys when one of the men removes his ski mask, making it easy to identify him. By putting the reader in the role of a witness or a detective, Pileggi drops other hints the reader knows will be noticed, such as the fact the robbers knew every employee's name—something that would hint at an inside job or connection. Hill observes in hindsight how "when you've got something like Lufthansa coming up, you don't ask questions and you don't talk about it," yet there are many people at play in the robbery who know a great number of details. But for Burke and his crew, there's much to celebrate in the fact they have pulled off the biggest heist in U.S. history. They haven't seemed to stop and consider this kind of heist is certain to be investigated at a level beyond what they are used to, since they seem to still view the airport as a reliable place to pull off heists without getting too much attention paid to it. Yet, a sense of foreboding paranoia seems to have already descended on Burke even before the robbery, given how many people are in on it and have access to the details. Knowing Burke's unpredictable, violent history, Pileggi foreshadows his temperament is not to be counted on.

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