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Lately, the lively, often unruly, and occasionally dangerous Schraft Street in Boston has become Jim Herlihy’s entire world. As he struggles to eke a meager existence from the small assets he owns—a neighborhood gym, local sports bar, and a renovated old three-decker— his challenges are compounded because the love of his life is in love with someone else, and his troubled young tenant, stripper Amy Jordan, for whom he has developed a powerful brotherly affection, is in love with...
Lately, the lively, often unruly, and occasionally dangerous Schraft Street in Boston has become Jim Herlihy’s entire world. As he struggles to eke a meager existence from the small assets he owns—a neighborhood gym, local sports bar, and a renovated old three-decker— his challenges are compounded because the love of his life is in love with someone else, and his troubled young tenant, stripper Amy Jordan, for whom he has developed a powerful brotherly affection, is in love with him.
After a few contentious run-ins with notorious local gangster Hoary Harry Annunzio—who seriously worries Jim when he drunkenly threatens to rape little Amy—his friend and local cop Carlton Carrollton jokingly suggests Jim consider a preemptive strike against Harry. And then when Harry is unexpectedly found brutally beaten to death, the cops and especially two rival gangsters very seriously want to know who did it. Wild rumors are circulating in this suddenly dangerous, self-contained little world, and Jim finds himself a suspect, despite his reputation as a sane, hardworking, and normally very good-natured businessman. Something’s gotta give—and the inside neighborhood dope does include that Jim Herlihy can be a very tough customer when absolutely necessary.
In this entertaining murder mystery, a gritty Boston neighborhood and its hardcore boss are thrust in the midst of madness as a killer waits to strike again.
Jim Herlihy hurried west on Schraft Street, hustling the few hundred yards from his renovated three-decker (featuring a three-bedroom modernized apartment on each of the three floors of the big wooden house originally built in 1920) to the neighborhood gym he owned, thoughts bouncing from how achingly cold, windy, and abjectly gray it was for early November to how crazy Big Bill had been acting lately.
Schraft Street was a long, narrow but busy East/West thoroughfare in the small Boston suburb of Bradford, population fifteen thousand, about ten miles north/northwest of the city's downtown. Lately Schraft Street had become just about Jim's entire world—albeit a somewhat chaotic and challenging one. He'd inherited the old three-decker he'd grown up in along with several hundred grand when his seventy-two-year-old father had died suddenly of a heart attack a few years ago. He'd used the inherited money and the advance from his gritty Boston 'Cops, Gangsters, and Strippers' novel to set up Herlihy's Hardcore Gym; to buy the nearby small neighborhood watering hole called Schraft Street Sports; and to fix up the old three-decker. He'd done an exceptional job on the third floor apartment he lived in himself, but had also modernized the first two floors enough to command decent rents. When he could collect them, that is. Perhaps renting the first floor to three Boston cops and then the second floor to three strippers/sometime hookers hadn't been his best business decision. It wasn't his worse either though, primarily because of all the stiff recent competition.
Lately he'd started thinking that distinction might just be allowing Big Bill Donnelly to buy a 25 percent interest in Herlihy's Hardcore. He'd met Big Bill when they were both working out mornings at Powerhouse Gym in nearby Chelsea, and, with the gym nearly empty at that time in the morning, Big Bill had asked Jim to spot him on his heavy benches. Heavy as in over 500 pounds, for reps. Plenty of reps. Big Bill wasn't really big, he was head-turningly huge even among serious lifters, at 6' 6," and 350 pounds, and back then was competing in national powerlifting competitions. Donnelly was also a most intimidating Boston Cop, who looked as mean as he lifted. Facially, Big Bill reminded Jim of Lee Marvin in his Liberty Valence days. But, Jim soon realized, Big Bill, appearances strikingly to the contrary, actually had the easygoing manner of those (at least the reasonably well-adjusted of the lot) who are so obviously bigger, stronger, and tougher than everyone else that they have absolutely nothing to prove.
Big Bill had left the Boston Police Force to manage Herlihy's Hardcore, and, nights, to bartend at Schraft Street Shenanigans, a neighborhood Strip Club not far from Schraft Street Sports, and almost right across the street from The Schraft Street Market.
Schraft Street Shenanigans was, of course, the eminent choice of employment for Jim's somewhat troublesome second floor tenants. The most notable of these was by far the youngest, Amy Jordan. Notable because she was sweetly attractive bordering on downright gorgeous, surprisingly witty and usually upbeat and good-natured, at least for a stripper/sometime hooker ... and had a 'thing' for Jim, while Big Bill had it bad for her. Bad news all around, as far as Jim was concerned.
But what was weighing on Jim's mind this particular dismal bitter Boston fall afternoon was the gym's finances, and especially his meeting with his grossly oversized partner to review those finances. Jim was a relatively serious workout guy himself, at age thirty-five and 6 feet, 210 benching slightly over 400 pounds.
The gym—like the bar and the three-decker and even his writing—had of serious financial necessity recently become strictly, intensely all business for Jim.
But for his partner and manager the gym was almost entirely a labor of love. Increasingly, Big Bill was displaying a virtually obsessive fascination with the latest fitness equipment, constantly beleaguering Jim with colorful catalogues displaying technological marvels accompanied by blisteringly painful prices. Bill was now insisting on leasing the newly available space next door to set up a special 'heavy-duty-room' just for hardcore young builders and lifters. He'd regale Jim with passionate accounts of the progress of those worthies, while—much to businessman and 75 percent owner Jim's dismay—generally ignoring the frustrating struggles of the ordinary members, who accounted for well over half of the gym's revenues.
As Jim, preoccupied and leaning into a very cold, brisk wind, approached Herlihy's Hardcore, he was dismayed to see the self-described "Famous Fat Foursome" getting out of their new Ford Expedition, all four waving wildly to him across the small parking lot. Overweight people aren't really unusually jolly, but you'd never guess that being around these four bouncing burlies. To make matters much worse, the slimmest and most attractive of the group—this of course damning with faint praise indeed—was forever telling Jim how much he resembled her strange choice for a dreamboat—relatively obscure actor Ron Eldard. This exuberant but genetically-challenged exercise enthusiast—Linda—had been enthralled by Eldard's dark portrayal of 'Westie' gangster John Reilly in the movie 'Sleepers' starring Brad Pitt and Robert DeNiro.
Linda had said to Jim, "You have the same dreamy eyes and smile and mustache and dirty-blond hair as my Ron. Plus you have just the right amount of raw-boned muscle. You can park your shoes under my bed anytime. Meanwhile, you're inspiring me to get to my perfect weight."
Jim had thought but certainly not said, "Anything remotely resembling perfect is just not in your genes, Linda. Diet and exercise are great, but they're not miraculous. Please keep joyously doing the best you can anyway."
He'd managed his usual bright, friendly smile, and just said, "That's what we're here for, Linda. The perfect weight part, I mean." Jim genuinely felt quite bad—and as gym owner even somewhat responsible—that The Famous Foursome weren't improving faster and more dramatically.
This afternoon Linda practically sprinted over to him, gave him much too enthusiastic a hug, and exclaimed, "Perfect timing! You can work out with us!" For the first time today Jim was glad he had that meeting with Big Bill.
After disengaging from Linda and the rest of the gleefully energetic Famous Foursome as diplomatically as possible, ("Wow, how absolutely off-the-walls would these amazing ladies be if they'd had the good fortune to be genetically blessed?") Jim proceeded to the gym's tiny but neat and well-equipped office, where he was very happy to see that his accountant, Lloyd Dolson—who also kept the books for Schraft Street Sports, and did Jim's taxes and provided him with investment advice, not that Jim had much money to invest beyond the gym, bar, and three-decker—was already there.
To Jim's chagrin, though, Lloyd still wasn't comfortable discussing the business's dicey finances one-on-one with uber-formidable Big Bill, so instead the two were now deep into an animated conversation regarding the relative merits of the most elite entertainers at Schraft Street Shenanigans. Lloyd was 5' 6," 130 pounds, wore thick glasses, and definitely did not share Jim's problem of unsought attention from the likes of The Famous Foursome and young stripper Amy Jordan. Lloyd also did the books for Schraft Street Shenanigans, and was a semi-regular at the bar, and no stranger to lap dances. And, Jim also knew, at times no stranger to even stronger after-hours fare from some of the moonlighting dancers.
In fact, Amy Jordan had indiscreetly confided to Jim, "You'd think Mr. Dolson would have a plain ol' little dick. Boy was 'Suela surprised."
'Suela was Consuela, one of Amy's roommates, and her best friend. Consuela was in her mid-thirties to Amy's very early twenties, and Jim was both amazed and comforted at how Amy and her 'Suela supported each other. Young Amy actually did very little and very selective hooking; Consuela, realistically nearing the end of her prime earning years, somewhat more, but Jim thought she was almost as good-hearted as Amy, and he liked her anyway.
He'd replied to young Amy's innocent indiscretion, "Oh, so poor little Lloyd has a big dick going for him, at least. Excellent!"
"No, no. It was even smaller than 'Suela expected. We're talking really tiny, maybe the smallest she'd ever seen, and she's seen some. Child-abuse small, she was fretting the whole time, even."
"Amy, please don't tell anyone else that. Don't ya think poor Lloyd has enough problems, young lady? You're supposed to be Schraft Streets' resident 'stripper with a heart of gold,' remember?"
"I'm sorry, you're right again, Boss Love Of My Life. I'll tell my sweet 'Suela to shut up about it too. By the way, 'Suela said he came really, really fast too, even though he was pretty drunk."
Jim really liked the bright and hardworking and impeccably honest little Lloyd, felt bad that he was so physically disadvantaged, and had been momentarily cheered to think that he had at least one positive physical attribute going long and strong. Then, alas, hope dashed.
Walking in today and overhearing Bill and Lloyd, Jim growled, "Alright, Mutt and Jeff Dickheads, some strippers are pretty sexy, what a surprise.
Lloyd, show me the money."
Lloyd brought up onto the computer screen:
Latest Monthly Gym Cash Flow
Members 800 Monthly Dues $25 Monthly Gross Dues Income $20,000 Avg Monthly New Members 15 Sign Up Fee $50 Total Sign Up Fees $750 Avg Mnthly Spend @ Protein Bar $5/Member Total Protein Bar Revenues $4,000 Subtotal Gross Revenues $24,750 Big Bill Discounts/Credit ($2000) Net Monthly Gym Revenues $22,750
Big Bill Monthly Salary $3500 Other Desk Clerks $3500 Maintenance/Cleaning $2500 Interest on Equipment Notes $2800 Property Taxes $1000 General Supplies $1000 Heat, Water, Utilities $1800 Protein Bar Supplies $1800 Total Monthly Gym Expenses $17,900
New Equipment/Major Repairs Fund $3,000
Net Cash to Split $1,850
75% to Jim Herlihy $1,388 25% to Bill Donnelly $ 462
Other Notes Cumulative Delinquent Accounts $15,000 Balance in New Equipment/Repairs $45,000
Invested: Jim Herlihy $550,000 Bill Donnelly $185,000 Total Investment $735,000 Annual Cash Flow $ 22,200 % Net Cash Return 3.0%
Jim said, "I need another grand a month in my pocket; and not at the expense of building up the Equipment Fund. You're the expert, Lloyd."
"Ah, ah, raise the monthly to thirty and pick up $4k right there, if you don't lose any members. Maybe sell more protein drinks and energy bars, and that type of nasty-tasting but sweetly profitable nonsense?"
Jim said, "That's a pretty big freaking if, to be recklessly bandied about by such a little fella."
Bill added, "Miniature Lloyd, that nasty nonsense might bulk you all the way up to an impressive 140 if you'd partake."
Lloyd replied, "What can I say?This business ain't all that complicated. And I'm an accountant, not a magician, sorta smart big guy and not so smart huge guy."
"Monstrous Bill, ya gotta collect the past due, and stop with the credit to the young muscleheads," said Jim, while getting up to see if he could tell what The Famous Four were laughing so hard at now; but, as usual, no way to tell from a distance. While he was up, Jim took the opportunity to mock whisper loudly right into Bill's ear, "The normal-looking members all pay on time! Ya not afraid of the puffed-up young welchers, are ya?"
"They pay what they can," Bill replied calmly, while wiping the abused big ear with his handkerchief. "I ban 'em we get nothing. It's good business to have guys and gals around the joint who look like they're actually getting something for their money and their hard work."
"Boink strippers out of ya own pocket instead of workout girls out of mine, ya oversized horndog."
Bill growled, "One babe, that was one babe. How'd I know she was gonna split for LA before I could really put the arm on her?"
Jim muttered, "Yeah, yeah, makes it a little hard to put the big arm on after you've had the little dick in."
Lloyd pulled up the 'Aged List of Monies Owed by Gym Member,' with the offender's picture next to his or her past-due balance. Jim waited while Bill perused the list. Jim could tell by the almost comically pained look on Bill's huge face that he was honestly considering the particulars of each problem case.
Then Jim said, "Lloyd, give us a damn column for target Big Bill collections over the next couple weeks, musclebound welcher by musclebound welcher. I'm broke. I need a couple grand quick, Bill, even if it's gotta come out of your end—salary included."
Bill suddenly got 350 power-lifting-pounds worth of scary looking—all the more daunting because he almost never looked at Jim that way. "Salary cut ain't happening, Little Jim."
Bill then proceeded to identify about $3k in specifically targeted delinquent collections, which Lloyd duly noted in the new column, and then Bill said in ultra-formidable quiet voice, "There ya go, Mr. Herlihy. Twenty-two-hundred bucks to you, eight-hundred to Monstrous Bill."
Bill suddenly slipped back into normal Big Teddy Bear, and began passionately regaling Jim and Lloyd with his latest plans for the special 'Heavy Duty Addition,' as if they hadn't just had a contentious discussion of the gym's financial struggles and the collection problems with the blue-collar youthful hardcore.
Jim listened as long and politely as he could bear, and then diplomatically tabled the discussion by saying that he and Lloyd had a financial meeting with Schraft Street Sports' Manager and Head Bartender Fat Frankie Leonnetti the next day, and would revisit the overall gym situation in a couple of weeks. With that $3k in past-due collections then in hand!
Jim had been planning to work out right after the meeting, but decided he'd had enough Monstrous Bill for one dismal afternoon. Plus, the bouncing burlies were still doing their level best to work out, and at their usual painful decibel level. The chances of them letting Jim lift in peace were about as good as for Big Bill actually collecting that entire three grand in the next couple weeks, as Bill had finally agreed. Jim slunk out the back door of his own gym, into an ever darker and bleaker frigid Boston November early evening.
Shivering, worrying Jim was now further dismayed to see local marginal gangster Hoary Harry Annunzio parking his aging, dented BMW in the small gym lot, right by the street.
As Harry exited his car, Jim walked towards him, calling out, "Whoa, Schraft Street's own Hoary Harry Annunzio joining Herlihy's Hardcore. Who'd a thunk that?"
"No one ever, Boss Hoss. Heading for The Diner, no easy spots over there; and I already had too many at the titty bar to be testing my parallel parking right out in the open. Need some fresh air and a short walk anyway. You wouldn't begrudge an ol' pal, now would ya?"
The lot for Herlihy's Hardcore was somewhat problematically small, and there were big signs threatening towing of non-customers; in addition, Monstrous Bill had been known to put a very deep dent or two in an interloper's car from time-to-time, and what was anyone gonna do or even say about that?
But Hoary Harry Annunzio could be quite unreasonable when he was drinking, and Jim had other things on his mind. So he wordlessly scribbled and signed a "Do Not Tow or Bludgeon" note, and stuck it under Harry's right windshield wiper.
The Diner was almost directly across the street from Jim's three-decker, so Jim had no choice but to walk with Harry, whose unsteadiness was just barely noticeable.
Bookmaking Harry said, "You a betting man today, Boss Hoss ... Celtics ... Bruins ... Pats ... me eventually nailing that gorgeous little slutsker Amy, one way or the damn other?"
Harry parking where he oughtn't was one thing. Jim stopped, grabbed Harry's thin, wiry arm, and effortlessly turned him so he'd have no choice but to look into Jim's eyes. "Best never be any 'damn other' viciousness with my sweet little Amy, Harry."
Excerpted from BLUE COLLAR BOSTON COOL by Michael A. Connelly Copyright © 2012 by Michael A. Connelly. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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