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Bag Men

Bag Men

by John Flood
A priest lies dead on the tarmac of Logan Airport. Hours later, first assistant DA Ray Dunn is standing in the well-appointed living room of his boss, sipping a Bushmills under photographs of the Cardinal, the governor, and Ted Williams, getting the shaft from a man he has been protecting for years.

Ray Dunn is a keeper of secrets. It's an art he learned


A priest lies dead on the tarmac of Logan Airport. Hours later, first assistant DA Ray Dunn is standing in the well-appointed living room of his boss, sipping a Bushmills under photographs of the Cardinal, the governor, and Ted Williams, getting the shaft from a man he has been protecting for years.

Ray Dunn is a keeper of secrets. It's an art he learned in the Irish neighborhoods of Boston in the fifties, when all men were cops or priests, and when Dunn's father took the fall in a police corruption scandal. Now it's 1965: there are beatniks in Harvard Square, a little war in Vietnam, and Latin is still in the Church. And everything Ray Dunn has ever believed, everything he ever tried to be, is collapsing all around him.

Cut loose by his DA boss, Dunn is watching his career veer into crisis, while the best cop he knows is going off on a rogue operation, searching for the source of a new drug that's killing junkies on the streets. And as the priest's murder case and the drug war come together, they do so with a crash, as Dunn is plunged into a hunt for a madman whose killing spree has only just begun.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Spare writing and a roster of flawed, struggling characters highlight this terse, engrossing debut, which earns high marks for its original setting and plot. It's 1965 in Boston, just before the first English-language mass in America is to be celebrated by Cardinal Cushing. George Sedgewick, the priest who is delivering communion wafers personally blessed by the pope, is murdered at Logan Airport, and the hosts are stolen. In charge of the case is Ray Dunn, the ADA who fixes things for DA Johnny Cahill and cleans up after Johnny's playboy son, Eddie. Meanwhile, narcotics detective Manny Manning, searching for the supplier of a killer strain of heroin, hears about the imminent street presence of a new drug that's about to be declared illegal in the U.S., a drug called LSD. The two searches converge when the past of the dead priest points to electroshock therapy and secret experiments conducted at the naval base at Portsmouth. It's a bleak tale told with no frills-and no nobility either. In the world that Flood-a Boston federal prosecutor writing under a pseudonym-has created, no one is untainted: Ray Dunn is haunted by the arrest of his father in a police corruption scandal and is compromised by his clean-up activities for the DA; Manny Manning was an informant gathering evidence against his fellow cops for the feds; and even the Monsignor who knows Sedgewick lies. In Flood's 1965 Boston, there are no easy answers and no clear victors-except perhaps the pseudonymous Flood himself, a natural storyteller, who, with this accomplished first novel, has claimed his own piece of turf in the city of George Higgins and Robert Parker. (Jan.)
Library Journal
John Flood is the pseudonym of a Boston federal prosecutor with something to say. When the body of Father George Sedgewick is found on a Logan Airport runway on New Year's Day 1965, the 4000 Pontiff-blessed communion hosts he was escorting from Rome turn up missing. As young assistant district attorney Ray Dunn struggles with an absence of leads, wife Mary Pat and his young boys drift further and further away from him. Meanwhile, Manny Manning, a contemporary of Ray's crooked-cop father, finds himself chasing deadly concoctions of heroin laced with laxatives through the projects and contending with a new arrival on the scene called acid. The seemingly unrelated cases begin to intersect eerily. This portrait of 1960s Boston is faintly reminiscent of James Ellroy's writing, full of scenes that ring true. Recommended.-Susan A. Zappia, Maricopa Cty. Lib. Dist., Phoenix, Ariz.
Kirkus Reviews
The beating death of a Catholic priest on a Logan Airport runway on New Year's Eve is only the beginning of this gritty first novel's magical mystery tour of 1965 Boston.

Everybody says Father George Sedgewick was a saintly man. But to Ray Dunn, the Suffolk County D.A.'s Mr. Fixit, the brutal beating the priest took and the older, self-inflicted wounds of scapular and scourge point to some unspeakable sin his assailant was avenging. Unable to figure out why the killer stole the 4,000 consecrated hosts Sedgewick was bringing back from Rome for the historic first US English Mass, Ray concentrates on keeping his brother Biff, a rookie cop, out of trouble. It's not exactly a congenial assignment for Ray, whose life, irretrievably tainted by the shadow of his late bagman father, Patrolman Tim Dunn, and the years of dirty errands Ray himself has run for D.A. Johnny Cahill, has left him with "no feel for honesty." But even if Ray were his brother's perfect keeper, it wouldn't matter, because Joe Mears, the scary druggie who killed Sedgewick, is on a collision course with Biff, though neither of them knows it. As Sgt. Manny Manning, Tim's unindicted partner who's anchoring Narcotics, follows a trail of lethally powerful new synthetic heroin through a maze of dead junkies to their know-nothing dealers, he's leaning more and more on Biff for help, sending him undercover to psych out the Dealer of Dealers—who'll turn out, of course, to be Mears, his brain addled by the secret electroshock therapy that erased his old identity without giving him anything new but a burning desire for revenge on everybody and everything that made him the zombie he is, and a network of drug contacts that put him in the perfect position to dish it out to everyone, from Biff Dunn to Cardinal Cushing.

Gorgeously and audaciously plotted, with a trio of starring roles that would make a casting director salivate, even if he weren't being tested for drugs.

Product Details

Dell Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.28(w) x 8.03(h) x 0.72(d)

Read an Excerpt

Ray Dunn parked his car behind the morgue truck, locked the doors, and trudged through flying snow. He counted three Buicks from Homicide, six blue-and-whites from the airport police, and Crime Scene's unmarked van.

A small man huddled by the chain-link fence, steering an umbrella into the wind. He wore a blue belted ski parka, orange mittens, a hat with flaps, and buckle-across galoshes.

"You Pringle?" Ray asked him.

Pringle nodded glumly, as if stuck with it. "You the DA?"

"Assistant DA. What seems to be the problem?"

"The problem? The problem is the dead man lying on my runway." Pringle's glasses fogged as he talked.

"What about him?"

"Look around you," Pringle said. "What do you see?"

Visibility was nil. "Not much," Ray said.

"Snow is what you see--a foot on the ground and more on the way. Up north and inland, it's even worse. We're the only civilian airport open above New Haven."

Ray was a diplomat. "Really?"

"Really. Airliners land into the wind, friend, which is presently fifteen knots, north-northeast, at the tower"--Pringle pointed over his shoulder--"but shifting to the south." Blinded by eyeglass fog, he shot a mittened hand southward, straight out. Ray ducked.

"If the wind keeps shifting, Five South-A will be the only usable runway at the only open airport in this part of the United States. There are twenty-one flights, a few thousand souls, waiting to land over our heads. They're running out of fuel at eight thousand feet."

"So land them," Ray said. "No one's stopping you."

"He's stopping me!" A knot of gawkers a few car lengths upstared at Pringle, who was windmilling with his free hand and bouncing the umbrella for emphasis.

Ray tried not to get poked in the eye. "He who?"

"The dead man!"

"Move him then," Ray said, stepping back from the dangerous Pringle.

"I tried. Some men from the morgue--not nice men, either--say nobody but them can move a corpse. A union thing."

"Teamsters," Ray sighed. "Let them move him."

"They won't, and I tried everything, including bribery. They took my money and laughed at me. I wrote their names down." He patted his pockets. "Something should be done about them."

"Why won't the morgue guys move the corpse?"

"They say the police have to sign for it first."

"Why won't the police sign for it?"

"They will, they all will, that's the problem. The Boston police and the airport cops started arguing about whose body it was. That was two hours ago."

Finally, Ray understood: BPD Homicide owned all murders in the city limits, but Massport Police was sovereign on Port property, Boston or not, and both departments claimed the case.

Ray walked to the gap in the fence, Pringle at his heels. Stringers from the Globe and Record-American waited by a trash can for anything that smacked of news. They passed a bottle back and forth, grumpy and uncomfortable. A detective guarded a hole in the fence, keeping them at bay.

Ray waved hello. "Happy New Year."

"Well, if it isn't the henchman, Mr. Dunn. About fucking time," the guy from the Record-American cracked.

"Any truth to the rumor that your narcs roughed up those three Negro kids outside the Sheraton on Christmas Eve?" the Globe asked, passing the bottle.

"Yeah," the Record-American said. "You ever gonna investigate what happened to those kids?"

Ray waved goodbye. He stepped through the slit in the fence, gathering the tails of his gray overcoat so as not to catch them on the clipped chain-link. As he did, his fedora was brushed off his head. The Record-American snatched it up and held it hostage.

"Give us a quote on the corpse at least," he said. "We're a pair of starving birds over here."

The detective seized the hat from the reporter's hands, knocking it to the snow again. Pringle, jostled, stepped on it.

The detective picked the hat up and passed it to Ray through the hole in the fence. Ray punched the galosh print out of the crown.

"You want a quote?" he asked the stringers, fitting the misshapen hat on his head with dignity.

"And a picture," the Globe said.

"You can get a picture when we come down the hill with the body. Here's your quote." Ray's voice went suddenly sonorous. "Just after dawn, officers of the Massachusetts Port Authority Police found the body of a male." This was the civil service speaking.

The stringers' pencils raced across their pads.

"While the identity of the decedent is not yet established--"

"Murder?" the Record-American asked.

"What color?" the Globe added, pencil in the air.

Their editors would need to know. Slain Caucasians went on page two. Everything else was space-as-available.

"Likely murder," Ray said. "Definitely white. Where the hell was I?"

"'Identity...decedent...not yet established,'" the Record-American cribbed from his pad.

"--however,') Ray continued in his other voice, "detectives from Massport and the Boston Police Department are cooperating in a joint investigation-"

As he said this, a Massport lieutenant pushed the Homicide lieutenant into the snow up the hill, shouting, "That corpse is yours over my dead body!"

The Record-American stringer whistled. "Christ, what a quote."

Ray said, "Use that and I'll yank your creds." He could make good on the threat, and the stringers knew it. Ray was the DA's Mr. Fixit. He leaked lurid scoops to the helpful tabloids and sent pesky columnists to a colder place than this. It was one of many hats Ray wore under his fedora.

Ray left Pringle skulking at the fence with the Globe and Record-American. He hiked up a small rise to where the corpse lay. One runway over, a silver-bottomed jet dropped from the fog, appearing all at once, ghostly and majestic, its sound catching up to it a moment later. The jet sledded in for a rough landing, vanishing down the runway, throttling turboprops muffled in the snow.

Two teamsters from the morgue stood together, hands in armpits, watching the cops lock horns.

"Happy New Year, Guvinah," the teamsters sassed.

"The guy from the airport wants your heads," Ray said.

"Who, Pringle? He's our pal," one of the teamsters said.

"He likes to hand out money," the other said.

"And we just met him," the first man observed. "Nice hat, by the way."

"The corpse is mine," the Homicide lieutenant shouted, brushing snow off his ass, jaw to jaw with his Massport counterpart. The cops were about to brawl, eight or nine guys from Boston Homicide, all in plainclothes, versus a dozen blue uniforms from Massport.

Ray ignored them. Crime Scene technicians snapped pictures from fifty different angles of what was a fairly simple thing: one dead man in a fur-lined raincoat, name unknown. Port patrolmen walked grids, looking for clues, like in the movies. The black asphalt runway, thirty yards across, was quickly snowing over.

The corpse lay under an Army-green tarp in the middle of a large circle of trampled slush, bloody in the middle, muddy toward the perimeter. The slush was littered with cigarette butts, canisters of film, gum foils, and crushed Styrofoam cups.

Ray dropped to his haunches and folded the tarp back. The corpse wore suede desert boots and tan corduroy pants. The left hand lay palm-up in pink snow. The right hand was across the corpse's chest. Blood from fist-sized head wounds had soaked the raincoat and frozen it stiff. The dead man looked like a professor of anthropology at a small college in Vermont, except for his face, which could have been anything.

"I'm thinking robbery-gone-wrong," a hovering Massport patrolman said to Ray, as if asked. "Prolly a hooker."

"Hooker?" Ray said. "Where do you get that?"

The patrolman squatted next to Ray and parted the stiff raincoat, revealing a gray crew-neck sweater and white turtleneck, which the Crime Scene men had scissored down the front. Under the turtleneck was a wraparound linen vest, also cut open by the cops. The patrolman peeled the vest away. Inside, where the vest met the skin, were a dozen rows of rough steel studs. The chest of the dead man was dotted with scars--new, old, and ancient--in the pattern of the studs.

"He was some kind of sex freak," the patrolman conjectured. "Pain is pleasure, pseudo-masochism, that type. Hires a gal for some kink, but the fun gets out of hand. She pulls a knife. They struggle and she cuts him. She panics, brains him, and clips his wallet and watch as an afterthought. Seen enough?"

"What knife? What cuts?"

The patrolman let the vest fall closed and pushed the corpse's sleeve up, exposing hashmark slashes on the inside of the forearm. One looked recent. The rest didn't. Another plane boomed in next door, gear down.

Ray cadged a thermos top of coffee from one of the morgue drivers and tried to put everything he knew together in his head: professor arrives with one of last night's flights, or is here to meet a passenger, or to catch a plane himself, or none of the above. There was no blood leading back to the slit in the fence, so the beating happened here. Signs of robbery were present: the missing wallet, watch, and suitcase. But one big thing didn't fit: rob-murders were generally businesslike; whoever killed the professor lingered here to beat his face off. Whoever killed him hated him.

Ray called the cops into a huddle. "Enough's enough," he said. "I want a canvas of the whole airport. Massport, handle that. Talk to everybody--and check the trash cans between here and the front gate. See if whoever took this guy's wallet threw it away. I need to report to the DA tonight, so get back to me by dark. I'll follow the body to the autopsy. Call me there with something good."

Ray buttonholed the teamsters and snatched their paperwork, scrawling a big R.D. across the bottom. The two morguemen tucked the tarp around the corpse. Each grabbed an end and struggled toward the hole in the fence. Ray led the way, coattails dramatic in the wind, looking like a general at Stalingrad. The stringers, snapping pictures, were in heaven.

The duty ME for January 1 was Herr Doktor Gunther Lubash. Big and ruddy, pushing eighty, Lubash was basically deaf. He played Strauss waltzes ultraloud as he sectioned corpses. If the mood was right--and when wasn't it?--he hummed along.

An assistant stripped the airport man, removing the strange studded vest last of all. As the corpse was prepared, Lubash donned a vinyl apron, put a record on a battered phonograph, and turned the volume up.

"Called 'Danube Maidens,'" Lubash shouted. "Nice, ya?"

Ray gave the deaf coroner a thumbs-up and said, "Dreadful." He leaned against the cold tile wall, cracked his neck, and popped in a stick of gum.

Lubash stepped up with two gloved hands in the air, maestro-like. He inspected the corpse, top to bottom, humming all the way. Nothing between any of the toes, soles of the feet normal. He traced the muscles of each leg to the base of the scrotum, and pushed aside the testicles for a peek at the anus. The assistant fed a hose down the dead man's throat and pumped his stomach into a jar. Ray thought he saw cashew bits swirling in the clouds of bile. Next up, "The Blue Danube."

Ray said, "Check out the defensive wounds on the forearm."

Lubash gave a cheery nod, no idea what Ray said.

"Defensives," Ray shouted, making slicing motions up the inside of his own arm.

Lubash examined the fresh and healed incisions on the inner arm, then ran his glove tips over the dotlike scars patterning the chest. He made Ray and the assistant flip the corpse on its stomach, uncovering another lattice of scars across the back. Lubash spent a long time on the dead man's back, from the top of the buttocks to what was left of the skull. The assistant rolled the corpse over. Lubash went at the chest with a surgical saw.

The Strauss, the saw, and the off-key crooning drove Ray to a pay phone in the corridor. He dialed the Massport Police and got an update.

The airport cops had found a few good witnesses. An International Arrivals skycap had seen a white man in a tan raincoat rushing through the terminal at about nine o'clock the night before. The man stumbled over a miniature Christmas tree, nearly broke his neck, but kept right on going out the last door on the southern end of the terminal, a hundred yards from the stretch of runway where the body was later found. Others saw a second man go out the door just after the man in the raincoat. Ray jotted the pursuer's description on an index card: male white, stocky, young, in a black knit cap and a blue peacoat.

Ray chomped gum. "What else?"

A wallet had been found by the side of an access road on the outskirts of Logan. The wallet was empty except for a driver's license in the name of George D. Sedgewick, 48 Montvale Ave., Stoneham. TWA said a G. Sedgewick had landed the night before with the seven-thirty from Roma via London. The blizzard had stacked planes halfway to Halifax, so the Rome-London-Logan had come in an hour late. Add fifteen minutes for passport control and five for luggage, and George Sedgewick would be in the terminal more or less when witnesses saw the man in the raincoat.

There was more. Boston Homicide had sent a unit out to Stoneham to see if George Sedgewick had made it home from Rome the night before. 48 Montvale was otherwise known as the Church of Mary Queen of Angels, Roman Catholic.

The cops spoke to the housekeeper who answered the door at the rectory, a Mrs. Zimquist. The housekeeper confirmed that George Sedgewick owned a tan raincoat, desert boots, and a gray crew-neck sweater, and hadn't arrived from the airport the night before. Mrs. Zimquist also told them something else: George Sedgewick was a priest.

"Who else knows the dead man's a priest?" Ray asked the Port lieutenant.

"Just me and my guys and the BPD. That's it, I think. "

"Make sure," Ray said. "No leaks, you get me? It's important."

Ray hung up as Lubash stepped out of the autopsy theater. Lubash pulled a flask from his back pants pocket and took a drink.

"I'm going to see the DA," Ray yelled. "What do I tell him?"

Lubash smacked his lips, exhaling schnapps fumes. "Cause of death is massive blunt trauma. Manner of death is multiple blows to the cranium."

"We're thinking he's a sex freak," Ray said. "What with that S&M undershirt and all."

The assistant pushed the gurney past them, wheels squeaking all the way to cold storage.

Lubash laughed and took another swig. "The 'sex freak undershirt,' the thing with studs? Is called scapular. I have not seen one since I was a young doctor working countryside in Austria, but I am sure. Scapular is worn by religious people who have sins. The pain from the studs"--Lubash laced his fingers across his own barrel chest--"is supposed to purify. Every time you move, it cuts. Every time it cuts, you remember the bad thing you did. The 'defensive wounds' on forearm? These have almost no serration."



Meet the Author

John Flood is a pseudonym for a native of Boston who works as a federal prosecutor.

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