Hard Knocksby Howie Carr
Following the lead of Boston crime-thriller writers, New York Times bestselling author and radio sensation Howie Carr delivers Hard Knocks-a hard-hitting tale of survival, betrayal, deceit, and murder...in other words, a fictional odyssey through the last thirty years of crime in Boston.
Jack Reilly, a dodgy ex-Boston cop, is trying to make ends/i>/i>
Following the lead of Boston crime-thriller writers, New York Times bestselling author and radio sensation Howie Carr delivers Hard Knocks-a hard-hitting tale of survival, betrayal, deceit, and murder...in other words, a fictional odyssey through the last thirty years of crime in Boston.
Jack Reilly, a dodgy ex-Boston cop, is trying to make ends meet as a private investigator. When a client is killed, execution style, Reilly finds himself in a whole world of pain. Someone wants him dead-but why? To find out, Reilly must weed through thirty years of duplicity, corruption, and killing...a web of politicians dirtier than mobsters and criminals nobler than senators. He needs to uncover the dangerous truth behind the bribery, blood, and backdoor deals that define the highest levels of both organized crime and State House politics-before it's too late.
The indictments of mobster mangled Boston continue to rain down in Howie Carr's superb new true-crime book, Hitman. It's horrifying, it's deadpan shocking, it's a brilliant treatise on criminal psychopathy and a portrait of a city defined and subverted by hoodlums run amok. Read this book--it will grab you, garrotte you, and leave you gasping for breath.
It used to be Chicago that had all the brutal gangsters. Now it's Boston. Howie Carr weaves a frightening tale of unlawful conduct, and it's all true!
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Read an Excerpt
MY JAILBIRD BROTHER got me into this whole jam. It wasn’t the first time Martin T. Reilly had dragged me into something, but the difference this time was, he wasn’t even around. He was doing another bit, this one in the federal prison up in Ayer at the old Fort Devens Army base.
The feds got a “tip” from a so-called Top Echelon Criminal Informant, and a combined FBI-ATF-MSP task force bagged him down on the Connecticut line, on I-84, driving a truckload of cigarettes that did not belong to him. Marty stood up, not that he had a lot of choice in the matter. Fuckups like Marty either keep their mouths shut or they get whacked. People think everyone in the quote-unquote mob who gets arrested nowadays immediately flips and goes into the Witness Protection Program, but it’s only for guys a lot higher up in the hood hierarchy than Marty.
So my little brother was up at Devens doing federal time, which now means 85 percent of the sentence, and when he and all the rest of the wiseguys (there’s a misnomer) aren’t either working out in the weight room or trying to concoct bogus technicalities for an appeal in the law library, they’re yapping away, swapping lies, dropping names. And poor Marty, what did it say about his utter lack of stature either inside or outside the joint that the biggest name he had to drop was an ex-cop’s, namely mine?
The day I got the call that started the whole thing, I was sitting in my house, which is actually the first-floor apartment of a three-story row house in the South End. That’s where I’ve lived my entire life, except for three years in the Army and a few more in the suburbs when I was trying to do the family thing, which did not work out.
Business was slow, a not-uncommon occurrence in my current line of work, which is officially private investigations, although I’m not so much a peephole gumshoe as a—well, let’s just say the services I presently offer include almost nothing you’d want to see embossed on a business card, if you get my drift. On top of that, or maybe because of that, I was pretty much tapped out. I was sorting my unpaid bills into two piles. One stack was the bills I couldn’t afford to pay until the direct deposit of my monthly city disability-pension check, my kiss in the mail, into my checking account. The second pile included all the bills I couldn’t afford to pay, period, until business picked up, assuming it ever did. That was when the phone rang.
“Reilly Associates,” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.
“Is this Jack Reilly?”
“This is Bucky Bennett.” It didn’t ring a bell. “I know your brother.” The bell was ringing now. It was an alarm. “I knew him down in Otisville.” Another federal pen, in upstate New York, inhabited by a lot of Northeast organized-crime types, among them, at one point, my brother.
Marty’s friend spoke softly, but he might have been trying to lull me. “He told me to give you a call sometime.” That was mighty white of good old Martin T. Reilly. “I got a big, big problem, Jack.” Ex-cons often do. “Hello? Are you there?”
“Yes,” I said with a sigh. “I’m here.”
“Jack, you don’t know me, but I heard a lot about you. I heard you used to handle a lot of work for the mayor, the old one, and I know you were a cop, and now you’re on your own.”
That certainly was the CliffsNotes version of the life of Jack Reilly, a man teetering on that fine line between has-been and never-was. I sensed a pitch was imminent.
“I gotta talk to you. They’re looking for me. I gotta screw before they find me.”
A hollow chuckle. “Can I meet you somewhere?”
Some people claim they can smell money. Me, I can smell no money, and I can smell it a mile away. “Pro bono” is just Latin for “deadbeat.” I decided to try to lose the guy.
I asked him, “Have you thought about calling the police?”
Another nervous laugh. “Marty told me you were a funny guy.”
“Look,” I said, staring at the two piles of unpaid bills in front of me. “I’m kinda busy right now.”
“Please, man, I’m desperate. I know what I must sound like, but I got some stuff, I gotta make sure it gets into the hands of the right people or I’m dead. You’re on Shawmut Ave., right? How far are you from Foley’s?”
Oh great. Not only was I not going to get paid, now I was going to have to buy him a drink, in my own place on top of everything else. James Michael Curley used to say that it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. That’s excellent advice, I suppose, if you’re running for office, but who exactly was I trying to impress? Still, Bucky wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
“I like old J. J.’s,” he said. So do I, especially if someone else is buying. This, however, was not shaping up as one of those magic moments.
“Lotta cops there,” he continued, talking more to himself than to me. “Almost Southie, but not quite. No-man’s-land, nobody’s home turf, so nobody hassles anybody else. It sure ain’t the Ace of Hearts.”
The Ace of Hearts? That was a gin mill on the other side of the bridge, in South Boston, where a lot of the local bad actors hung out. The guys my brother was “associated” with, as the prosecutors sometimes put it at his sentencings. Maybe I’d underestimated Bucky, or perhaps he was still engaging in that eternal jailbird pastime—name-dropping.
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll meet you at Foley’s in a half hour.”
“I’ll need about an hour,” he said. “Marty told me you look like him, only shorter and not as good-looking.”
* * *
BUCKY BENNETT looked just about how I’d figured he would. Somewhere in his late forties, early fifties, thinning dark hair, maybe five-eight but fairly well built. They’re all in great shape when they get out of the can. At least the organized crime guys. If you split your days between the Nautilus machines and the prison’s law library, you tend to come out physically fit and well read.
Bucky had a little paunch on him, though, which by my calculation meant he’d been out at least a couple of years. I knew my brother hadn’t been in Otisville for at least two years himself. His latest home-away-from-home, Devens, was supposed to be a hospital of sorts, although I was pretty sure Marty didn’t have anything wrong with him, unless terminal stupidity has been declared a disease, in which case Marty will be eligible for SSDI the moment he hits the street.
Bucky had that furtive, darting-eye look of a guy from a tough neighborhood who’s always been on the fringes, just close enough to the action to get seriously burned on a fairly regular basis. He was wearing sweatpants—thanks for putting on your Sunday best for the occasion, Bucky. I was decked out the way I used to dress when I worked at City Hall—Oxford shirt, no tie, V-neck sweater, and a blue blazer.
The mayor always told me, and probably everybody else on his payroll, “Dress British, think Yiddish.” Five years off the city payroll, this was as close to dressing British as I could manage, but then, it was no skin off my ass if Bucky noticed the frayed collar on my shirt, or the missing button on my sport-coat sleeve. Bucky was just another con between cons looking for something on the arm.
He glanced around Foley’s bar, where everyone was standing. Let the record show that I bought the first round.
“Got enough cops in here?” Bucky Bennett said. “This is like an after-hours club.”
“That’s two doors down,” I said. “We call it For God and Country.”
At Foley’s, the cop presence keeps the local hard guys out, and the bums from the Pine Street Inn a half block away know better than to come in and panhandle. The Herald is a block north, and when you threw in the reporters and the salespeople with the cops, Foley’s was just a shade too downscale for most of the hipsters, either gay or artsy-fartsy or both, who live in the renovated lofts farther south on Harrison Avenue.
This afternoon, with the shift just changing at Area D-4, Foley’s was a cop bar, and they were packed in shoulder to shoulder at the bar, pounding them down, everyone on their feet of course, because there are no barstools at Foley’s.
Bucky Bennett stood next to me at the bar and watched an older sergeant chase a shot of blended Canadian rye with a Pickwick Ale draft.
“You see that cop over there?” he said.
“Yeah.” I told Bucky his name.
“He busted me once when I was a kid,” Bucky Bennett said. “One night, after the bars in Quincy Market closed, I was down Mondo’s with a bunch of guys, legless, and after we ate, we waited until the counterman turned his back, and then we all booked it out the door.”
“The old chew ’n’ screw,” I said, staring straight ahead at my reflection in the back bar mirror.
Why me? Why do they always attach themselves to me? Do I look like a probation officer? Bucky must have noticed my exasperation with his aimless chatter, because he looked both ways to make sure no one was listening. Then he whispered to me, “Is there somewhere we can go that’s a little more private?”
I nodded, picked up my beer without saying a word, and walked to the jukebox. Bucky followed as I turned left and kept walking until I reached the stacked-up empty beer cases at the back of what we call the Berkeley Room, on account of it’s on East Berkeley Street. When I reached the last table, I put my drink down on it, and Bucky did the same. We both pulled up wobbly chairs and then I asked him, as noncommittally as I could, why he had sought me out.
“I’m from Charlestown,” he began, and I resisted the urge to offer my condolences. “I got a problem,” he said once again, and I nodded, politely, as if he were a paying customer, which he never would be, not in this lifetime.
“Like I told you on the phone,” he said, “I was in Otisville there with your brother. Lotta other Boston guys there too, as you probably know.” So far, no surprises. “Anyway, you know how it is inside. Guys say, when you get out, give me a call, maybe we can do some business, blah-blah-blah.”
“What were you in for?” I asked, just to keep up my end of the conversation.
“Armored car down in Holbrook, Jazzbo Mangan’s gang.”
I remembered Jazzbo’s little crew. They had a nice run there, but their last time out the FBI had been waiting for them at the bank, just like they’d been laying for my brother down on the Connecticut line. The general suspicion was that Jazzbo or maybe some of the other guys with him were getting a little too big for their britches over in Southie and that the guys who hung out at the Ace of Hearts had arranged for all of them to take a nice long vacation.
I said, “I thought you guys all got thirty years on and after for that machine gun.”
“Hey, you got a good memory there,” he said. “Come to find out, that machine gun they give us wasn’t even a working piece. It took me a while, but I finally realized, the two guys sent it over to fuck us.”
Is there no honor among thieves? Say it ain’t so, Bucky.
“But that’s what saved our asses in the end. They were too cute by half. It’s just like them two guys, they give you a gun that don’t work and they hope you pull it on the feds. You do that and the best thing that can happen to you is you get thirty years on and after, and the worst thing that can happen is you get your head blown off trying to fire a piece that don’t work, which this one didn’t. No firing pin, wasn’t that thoughtful of our friends from South Boston? But the way I look at it now is, if it’d been a real gun, I’d still be in there, like your brother, no offense.”
“So we go up on appeal,” said Bucky, “and the judge says he can’t hand anybody, not even a so-called career criminal like me, thirty years on and after for pointing a toy gun at a fed. Not yet anyway.”
He took a long sip of his beer as he pondered the troubling implications of the continuing erosion of the Bill of Rights.
“So I get out,” he said, “and I’ve got a phone number that turns out to ring in the Ace of Hearts. I go over there, just checking in, you might say. Paying my respects to the two guys there. Maybe pass on a message or two, like from your brother.”
“The two guys have anything for you?”
He smiled. “That’s not their style, you know that. Their style is, have you got anything for them?”
I was getting antsy. Enough with the teases, Bucky.
“One thing I should tell you,” he said, “even though I was along for the ride on that last thing with Jazzbo down there in Holbrook, I wasn’t in on all their other jobs.” He again looked both ways and then leaned across the table, lowering his voice. “What I am basically is a burglar. I’m real good with locks.”
I began silently counting and recounting the empty Bud Light beer cases stacked up against the walls. I sighed deeply.
“I know, you got other places to be,” Bucky said. “I’m getting to it. Long story short, you ever hear of Cooperative Trust?”
“Bank in Medford. Got burgled on a holiday weekend. They grabbed millions out of the safety-deposit boxes. Turned out a lot of them had been rented under phony names.”
“You do have a good memory. It was Memorial Day, two years ago.”
“The two guys at the Ace of Hearts did that?”
“Oh God, no. Like I told you, the only thing them two do is provide ‘protection,’ if you know what I mean. That, and maybe kill you, if you don’t buy what they’re selling, which is protection for anything you want to do in their territory, which by their definition is anywhere they can get to before the ginzos.”
I nodded. I was beginning to get the picture.
“So you pulled off this big bank burglary,” I said, “right after you’d been in to see the two guys.”
“Not right after. Six months maybe, which I guess was close enough so that they could claim I was holding out on them, by not cutting them in.”
“They come looking for you?”
“Did they ever. And when they come lookin’ for you, they generally find you. The way they figure it, if they know you, they own you. So as far as they’re concerned, they had first dibs on me and my friends from the Cooperative Trust job.”
When the two guys figure they got dibs on you, and you disagree, that’s usually when you get a rocket in your pocket.
“Once they figured out who was in with me on the job,” Bucky continued, “they went out and picked off the weakest link. He was a Townie like me, a junkie, been on dust ever since he was a kid—then Ecstasy, Oxys, whatever. He meant no harm, basically, just another project rat looking for his next fix. They snatch him right off’n the street, take him down to some basement somewhere, in Southie or Quincy’d be my guess. Then they strap him into a dentist’s chair and they pull out his teeth one by one with a rusty pair of pliers until he tells ’em where we got everything stashed, which they then go pick up.”
He paused. “Long story short,” he said, repeating that annoying phrase, “I don’t get a dime off my own job.”
“Even if he was in on the job,” I said, “why would you ever tell a junkie where you stashed your loot?”
“Good question,” he said. “But it didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time. It’s a little nothing bank, we thought we’d maybe grabbed two hundred large, tops. You think we’d have even done the job if we knew every goombah in the city had a box there?”
Yeah, Cooperative Trust was very popular with In Town, which is what the indigenous wiseguys call the local Mafia. I was still thinking about the two guys’ dental work. It sounded like an urban myth.
“How do you know all this?” I asked. “About the teeth and the pliers, I mean. This guy that got snatched, I’m assuming he won’t be down for breakfast.”
“That’s a good assumption all right. But I know. You hear things.”
“Wasn’t there some story going around at the time,” I said, “about how the two guys sold In Town on letting them take you guys off the board as some kind of public service to all wiseguys everywhere.”
“More’n likely that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “’Cause we had all kinds of jewels and stolen bonds and negotiable securities and shit that the wops had stolen off’n other wops. We had it stashed in a garage in Everett. The two guys got it all—every damn thing there was. Stole a truck and backed it up to the garage and took everything. Some of the loot I guess they gave back to In Town, but knowing them guys, I’d bet they kept most of it.”
I asked Bucky, “How come they didn’t grab you too?”
“No need to, once they had everything. I took it like a man, you know. What could I do?”
“You could try to shake them down. You didn’t get any bright ideas like that, did you, Bucky?”
“I ain’t that crazy. But there was a lotta other stuff in those boxes, papers and shit, that we just threw into the canvas bags along with everything else. Figured we’d sort through it all later. Remember, we had all weekend—a three-day weekend—to go through them boxes. And the two guys didn’t come looking for us for maybe a month—they had to have all these sit-downs with the guineas so nobody loses any face. Mafia protocol and all that horseshit. So I had plenty of time to go through a lot of the papers we took out of the bank, looking for bonds and shit. Most of it was just routine legal stuff, deeds and wills and shit like that. But some of it—it was hot. Some of that shit I made copies of, kept the originals and put the copies back. Don’t ask me why.”
“I’m getting the drift,” I said. “Some of this stuff was so hot it was burning a hole in your pocket.”
“Couldn’t have been that warm if I’ve been sitting on it for close to two years,” he said. “But yeah, it had started smoldering, you might say. I mean, I set up the whole score—”
“All by yourself, Bucky? You set the whole thing up, is that what you’re telling me?”
He grimaced. “Okay, maybe I had a little inside help, but the thing is, it was my job, biggest one around here in years. And I got nothing to show for it. I’m still humping every morning outta the day-labor pool over to Local 25. At my age, still worrying about shaping up every morning at six. But what am I gonna do, I got alimony and child support and tuition and—”
“Welcome to the club,” I said.
He again leaned across the table, looked first to his left and then to his right, a bit theatrically considering we were alone in the room. He paused, then whispered:
“So I wrote a letter to a certain party and I told him what I had on him and I told him I needed some money, a lot of money, and I needed it fast.”
“Blackmail,” I said. “And that is when you heard from the two guys whose names we’re not supposed to mention.” I got up, walked over to the bar, and returned with two more beers. It was now two rounds for me, none for Bucky. I sat back down, pushed his beer across the table, and shook my head.
I didn’t even want to know who Bucky was trying to shake down. I also didn’t want to know what dirt he had on whoever it was he wanted to blackmail. All I needed to know was that the two guys believed they had a proprietary right to whatever Bucky had. If I knew what Bucky knew, then I would be joining him on what my father used to call the Lucky Strike Hit Parade.
“Bucky,” I said, “you got the kind of problems you need the cops for. I’m thinking Witness Protection Program.”
He smiled weakly and shook his head. “Being a cop, I figured you’d know about the FBI. Guys like me call the FBI about those two guys, they end up getting grabbed off the street, by the two guys, like my friend there in the dentist’s chair. I could give you names. The feds set up a meeting somewhere, and it ends up it’s one of the two guys that shows up. You line up a score and forget to cut them in and either they come looking for you themselves, like they did with us, or the feds are waiting for you on the next job. Like Jazzbo, for instance. Why do you think your brother got lugged down on I-84? Guy he was driving for forgot to cut the two guys in. Them guys got a direct line into the feds, and they use it. They rat you out, and then, just before you’re getting sentenced, they buy you a drink and they say, Tough luck Bucky, or Marty, or whoever, come see us when ya get out. Don’t you ever talk to your brother about any of this shit?”
I hesitated, not wanting to give him a confirmation which he might take as encouragement that we were both in this together. We most certainly were not. Bucky looked at his watch. I looked at his teeth.
“You know what they say about your brother over there at the Ace of Hearts, don’t you?”
I shook my head. We were approaching the too-much-information threshold.
“They say Marty does good time.”
“He should,” I said. “He’s done enough of it.”
We sat in uncomfortable silence for a few moments.
“I messed up big time with this play,” Bucky finally said. “They’re after me, so I’m outta here.”
“So I guess you won’t be needing me, then?”
“You guessed wrong. You’re in it.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I think so.” He smiled and showed me some Bureau of Prisons dental work. “I’m going to get you the shit that I was going to use to shake down this other guy. If you don’t hear from me, you’ll hear from someone else how to get the stuff. If they get me, I want you to get them, all of them. You’re going to be my insurance policy.”
“Insurance policy?” I shook my head. “If I try to go after these guys, I’ll be in the same boat as you. That’s not an insurance policy, my friend, it’s a suicide pact. You’re not thinking straight. Why not go to the Staties? They’re clean. I still know some of ’em, I’ll make the call for you.”
I reached into my coat pocket for my cell phone.
“Too late,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m dealing myself out. The stuff is already out of my hands. You should have it in the next couple days, and then you can figure out what you want to do with it. Me, I think you’re on to something with that Staties angle there. Maybe you should hand it off to them.”
“Don’t be an asshole, Bucky. Look, maybe my brother didn’t quite explain to you what I do. I’m not like some private detective on TV, you follow me? I’m not a muscle guy, I work for politicians and I, I—”
“I know what you do,” he said. “Your brother didn’t pull no punches. He told me pols hire you to dig up shit on guys who are running against them and then blow them up with it. He says at least half the crooked hacks that get taken out by the papers, you did it, at least the ones from City Hall and the State House.”
I shrugged. Half seemed a bit high, though. Maybe a third.
“What you need right now is muscle,” I said. “You got staying-alive problems. What that means is, you need somebody other than me. You need a staying-alive guy, not a digging-up-shit guy.”
He smiled, ever so slightly.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” he said.
I shook my head. “I don’t accept the job,” I said. “You send me something, I’m throwing it away.”
“It’s not going straight to you,” he said. “You think I’d send something directly through the mail? They got guys down the Postal Annex, just like they got guys in Walpole and at the State House and City Hall and every other damn place.”
“Whatever you got,” I said, “it’s not worth me getting killed over. If the two guys ask me for it, I’m giving it to them.”
“I don’t think so.” He smiled. “You talk a good game, but this is too good, this shit you’re getting. I remember Marty telling me that sometimes when you were at City Hall you were known to take guys off the board just for shits ’n’ giggles. That right?”
“Not lately,” I said. “Everything I do now I get paid for, if you see what I’m getting at.”
He saw what I was getting at all right. But as I suspected, he wasn’t biting, because he couldn’t. Bucky was broke, or he never would have dug this deep a hole for himself.
“Once you see this stuff,” he finally said, “I’m pretty sure you’ll do the right thing.”
“By settling an old score for you?” I said. “How is that the right thing for me?”
“Sorry, man,” he said, standing up, “but I need someone to back me up, and you drew the short straw.”
He reached into his pocket, came up with a crumpled twenty-dollar bill, tossed it underhand onto the table. I shook my head.
“Beer’s on me, Bucky. This is my place.”
“It ain’t for the beer,” he said, looking down at me. “It’s a retainer. You want to get paid, I’m paying you. Consider yourself hired.”
“For a double sawbuck? You’re a little light.”
“It’s the thought that counts,” he said. “See you around the campus, Jack.”
Then he turned on his heel and walked out the door. The last light of the early-March afternoon was fading, and he was leaving a roomful of armed cops and heading out into the darkness, less than a half mile from the Ace of Hearts.
* * *
SO THERE I was sitting by myself in Foley’s, nursing the dregs of my second beer. My back was turned to the main bar so I didn’t see him come in, but when I suddenly heard Bing Crosby crooning “Far Away Places” on the jukebox, I knew that City Councilor-at-large Delbert Raymond “Slip” Crowley was in the house. It was his theme song, at least in Foley’s.
He figured that every time he punched it up, as soon as they heard Bing Crosby, everyone in the barroom would think of him. Cheaper than thirty-second spots on the radio, he always said. I didn’t even bother to turn around because I knew what was coming next. A cold longneck landed in front of me on the table, and Slip pulled up the chair Bucky had just vacated.
“Who was that maggot you were sitting with?” he said. “He reeked of the lockup.”
Slip took a sip of his mixed drink—he had to be the last guy in America who drank 7&7s. “Haven’t seen you around much lately,” he said. “How’s business?”
“How’s business?” I said. “You saw who I was just talking to. How do you think business is?”
“That bad?” he said, and let the subject drop.
Slip pulled out a pack of Kools and lit up. In the twelve-to-one vote in the City Council to ban smoking in all public buildings in Boston, Slip was the one. After a good long puff, he extracted his glasses from his breast pocket. Then he removed a sheet of paper from the same pocket, unfolded it slowly, and perused it with great deliberation. It was the list of wakes he would be attending this evening.
“Slow night on the circuit,” he finally said, looking up over his bifocals. “Gotta go to Southie for a pair of my old-timers, and then over to Langone’s for a paisan.”
“Nothing in the southern tier?”
“Nothing that ain’t Haitian,” he said. Sixty-seven years old, and still going strong. He could have stood to drop about fifty pounds, but the extra weight wasn’t as noticeable since he’d traded in his belt for a pair of suspenders. He looked like a caricature of an old-time Boston pol—red nose, busted capillaries everywhere on his face, and a full head of white hair combed straight back.
His yard signs still described him as a “veteran,” and he had to be the only pol left in Massachusetts outside Bristol County who still routinely carried a gun—a .38 caliber Police Special.
Both newspapers had permanent contracts out on him—when endorsing his opponents every other year, even the Herald would routinely dismiss him as “pistol-packing,” as if that was a jab that cost him votes he’d have otherwise gotten in the chi-chi wards. The Globe once described him in an editorial as a “reprobate,” and after Slip looked it up in the dictionary, it had become one of his favorite words. The definition of reprobate, Slip always said, was “asshole.”
Behind Bing Crosby, thirty wakes a week, the police and fire unions, and a sixty-five-year-old girlfriend from West Roxbury named Helen, Slip was still good for forty thousand votes every two years—half as many as he used to get, but that didn’t much matter, because only a third as many people voted now in city elections as twenty years ago, when he was first elected to the Council. Slip’s base was white, native, nongay Catholic Boston—nowadays fewer than 90 of the 251 precincts in the city, and shrinking every year. It wouldn’t be enough much longer, but then Slip only cared about the next election—the one coming up in November.
“Don’t suppose you’d be interested in hitting the trail tonight?” he said, and I shook my head.
“I get it,” he said. “You’ve got some gash lined up.”
“Gash?” I said. “That’s a little retro even for you, isn’t it, Slip?”
“I was not aware,” he said, “that I was addressing a meeting of the Beacon Hill Civic Association.”
We batted the breeze for another couple of minutes or so, mainly to ascertain if we still agreed on certain major issues of the day. We did. Property taxes were too high. Harvard buying up Allston sucked. Harvard losing twenty billion dollars from its endowment definitely did not suck. Rich people moving into the neighborhoods sucked. Illegal aliens moving into the old neighborhoods sucked worse. The projects ruined Roslindale, but thank God the Greeks had moved in. Then I remembered that I had a problem by the name of Bucky Bennett.
“Are you up on the FBI?” I asked.
“Wouldn’t trust ’em as far as I could throw them,” he said. “You know that reprobate from South Boston, Finnerty—the one with the red hair. Ask the cops about him. They call him Agent Orange.”
“He’s the one pinched my brother on that last hijacking beef.”
“Exactly. On orders from a certain bucket of blood in South Boston would be my bet, for reasons I am not privy to, and I’d like to keep it that way, thank you very much. Lemme tell you a little story about Agent Orange. I’m down in West Palm two weekends ago, you know my Helen’s just retired from Boston Gas, or whatever they call it now, and she bought a condo down there and—”
Suddenly we heard a loud commotion outside. They always say gunshots sound like a car backfiring, but when was the last time you heard a car “backfire”? This outburst sounded like the police firing range at Deer Island. Bang-bang-bang.
Slip instantaneously went for his shoulder holster and came up with his .38. He’d be telling a greatly embellished version of this story on the floor of the Council for months to come—a cautionary tale on the eternal need to uphold and venerate the Second Amendment. But neither Slip nor any of the armed cops who had just finished the day shift had the opportunity to make like Dirty Harry, because almost as soon as the gunfire ended, we could see blue lights all over the place.
All the cops at the bar ran outside, badges in one hand and service revolvers in the other. The civilians inside the bar settled for crowding around the front door. It was dusk, and the streetlight was out, so the only illumination, inadequate as it was, came from the ancient flickering beer sign in Foley’s front window.
Schaefer … Schaefer … Schaefer …
I ended up just outside the front door, on the tiles between the East Berkeley Street sidewalk and the front door that opened into Foley’s. I had a pretty good hunch who had just bought the farm, but as close as Foley’s is to the MS-13 gangbangers in the Cathedral projects and beyond that Roxbury, there was a faint chance this was a Third World hit. But I doubted it.
Now the cops had surrounded a body lying in the gutter, shining their flashlights on it, talking into their shoulder radios, calling for EMTs who would have only one duty here—to remove a corpse to what they used to call the Southern Mortuary down on Albany Street.
Slip was standing directly above the body, so I sidled up behind him and looked down.
It was Bucky Bennett, all right, and he was lying faceup, mouth wide open with blood trickling out. I counted two exit wounds—he’d obviously been shot in the back of the head, from the backseat no doubt. One bullet had exited through his mouth, shattering most of his front teeth. The other gaping exit wound was in his forehead, the coup de grâce. It was an old-fashioned mob hit. Two in the hat.
Slip turned around and I instantly knew what he was about to do, but there was no way to stop him. Without even thinking about it, Slip was going to deal me in.
“Hey Jack,” he said, “ain’t this the shitbird you was just sitting with?”
Now all cop eyes turned toward me, and I knew the free-associating that was going on in their minds. Cops are like anybody else—they believe everything they read in the newspapers. Most of the cops knew who I was, or thought they did. I was not going to get any benefit of the doubt from this crew.
One of the uniforms stepped between me and Bucky’s body.
“You’re Jack Reilly, aren’t you?”
I nodded but said nothing. I was keeping my own counsel. I was dummying up.
“Do you know who this guy is?” the cop asked.
“I believe he said his name was Bennett.”
“Then you were talking to him.” This guy was good. He was bucking for detective.
“I’ll ask you again,” he said. “Were you talking to him?”
“I was.” Deposition mode is what I was in. Several cops had already gone back to shining their flashlights around the street. Rousting me would be a chore for the plainclothesmen. The uniforms’ job was to wait for the TV crews to arrive so they could gather behind the yellow crime-scene tape for some heavy-duty milling around.
“What was he doing at Foley’s?” the uniform asked me.
“I believe he was having a Bud Light.”
The cop smiled and nodded. “Okay, I get it. Wise guy. I heard plenty about you at the academy. You’re the one the feds got on a wire down at Doyle’s. Then you went out on a disability pension. Yeah, I know you. You’re Jack Reilly.”
* * *
SLIP CROWLEY vouched for me, so the cops let me go back inside Foley’s until the detectives arrived. I abandoned my table for the bar, switched to club soda, and tried to organize a rousing game of liars’ poker, but everyone seemed to be shunning me as they awaited the arrival of the meat wagon. Tough crowd, Foley’s.
Conveniently for local TV, Bucky had expired just in time to provide a live shot for the top of the early newscasts. As the news crews arrived, and were filled in on the sketchy details by the cops, they quickly began poking their heads inside the front door and eyeballing me, the Last Person to Talk to the Victim.
I retreated from the front of the bar toward the back, far enough away so that the TV people couldn’t videotape me through the front window. But the way they were staring at me, I realized they were committing my matinee-idol profile to memory just in case I decided to duck out the back door, which is exactly what I would have done if the cops hadn’t ordered me to stay put.
Slowly, the cops were piecing together what had happened, and inside, we were getting it secondhand, hearsay as it were. When Bucky had walked out of Foley’s, he took a left and started toward the Back Bay. He was hardly beyond Washington Street, less than half a block from Foley’s, when a nondescript car pulled up beside him and a white guy with a gun, wearing a Red Sox cap and a Bruins jacket, jumped out of the passenger side and made him get in. That information was still a little sketchy; so far every eyewitness to the snatch that the cops had turned up had been either a Mandarin or Cantonese speaker. Chinatown is seeping not so slowly southward.
With Bucky now inside their car, the hoods had apparently doubled back around on Tremont, and then turned right again on Herald Street. The plan was probably to get him over to the Lower End somewhere for a root canal. At the corner of Herald Street and Harrison Avenue, Bucky must have noticed a Transit Police cruiser in the rearview mirror, because he made a lunge for the door. He got it open, but the hoods dragged him back in, at which point the T cops behind them astounded everyone by observing a crime in progress that they themselves weren’t committing.
They turned on the blue lights.
With the T cops on their tail, the thugs sped up as they turned right onto Harrison and they made the obvious call. They capped Bucky right then and there, in the car, after which they cut right onto East Berkeley. Personally, I would have continued south on Harrison into Roxbury, where there’s less traffic and not that many working streetlights. You can drive faster and it’s very dark, in more ways than one.
But fewer and fewer white people know the ’Bury, which meant the killers were probably young, relatively speaking anyway. These days a “young” mobster is anyone under fifty.
After they clipped poor Bucky, his killers pushed the body out of the car in front of Foley’s. The two guys at the Ace of Hearts would not be pleased—they like clean hits, preferably the mysterious disappearance that inevitably “baffles” the police. But it’s hard to get good help. After Bucky’s body was pushed out the door, the T Police cruiser slowed down just long enough to give the hoods a chance to vanish. The murder car, no doubt recently reported stolen in some nearby blue-collar suburb like Malden or Revere, would soon turn up in some housing project parking lot, wiped clean of fingerprints.
Now that I had the bare-bones story, I treated myself to another club soda with a twist and returned to solitary confinement in the Berkeley Room. About five minutes later, the detectives arrived. I could see that the one walking toward me was a guy I knew as “Plain View”—Detective Mike Evans, a classmate of mine at the academy way back when. Back then he’d had brown hair. Now it was mostly gray, what little of it that was left, and he combed the few wisps back.
Plain View probably had it figured down to the hour how long he had to go until he could retire and start collecting his 80 percent pension. He’d been known to bend rules now and again—hence the nickname. But all in all, he wasn’t a bad shit. For a shit.
Plain View was wearing a blazer and a tie, something you didn’t see too much of anymore in the police department, or anywhere else.
He nodded at me, pulled up a chair, and sat down heavily across the table from me. Apparently due to the circumstances of my departure from the job, I didn’t rate a handshake. A heavyset crew-cut female officer with a steno pad planted herself in a chair to his right. I had already made up my mind how I was going to handle this initial inquiry. Mum’s the word. Loose lips sink ships.
“This is going to be your official statement, Jack,” he said. “We’ll do it here because I know how much you like to speak on the record in bars.”
Another needle about that small embarrassment of mine from long ago.
“Now that we’ve dispensed with the small talk,” he said, “let’s get down to business. What were you discussing with the late Mr. Bucky Bennett?”
“The National Register of Historic Places. He thought Foley’s was long overdue for inclusion.”
He paused to let that sink in, then shook his head.
“Same old fucking Jack,” he finally said. “All these years off the job, and you still think your shit don’t stink.” He quickly looked over at the stenographer. “That’s off the record.” He turned back to me. “Let’s start over. I repeat, what were you and the late Mr. Bennett talking about?”
“He told me he and Jazzbo Mangan were framed on that armored car heist down in Holbrook. He wanted to find the guys who were really robbing those armored cars. He suspected they might be Colombian drug dealers and he was wondering if I had OJ’s prison address in Carson City.”
Plain View sighed heavily. “I don’t get it. I try to give you a break. I’m letting bygones be bygones here and you’re busting my balls.” He looked over at the female stenographer, made a chopping motion with his hand, and she nodded, put down the pad, and primly folded her hands.
Plain View said, “You ain’t got the juice now, pal. You ain’t the mayor’s Mr. Fixit no more—notice I ain’t calling you a bagman, I’m being as polite as I can. But the fact is that you got no clout, either at City Hall or anywhere else. All you are, Jack, is a broken-down crooked ex-cop pretending to be a private fucking eye, and this is a murder investigation, and you’ve got a license issued by the state—”
“Are we at the point now where you tell me we can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way?”
“No, we’re at the point where I tell you to fuckin’ wise up, because we got a pretty good idea who whacked this fine upstanding citizen, and so do you I bet, and there ain’t nothing to be gained by playing footsy with these guys, as you should know as well as anyone except maybe your brother.” He leaned back in his chair and yelled over his shoulder toward the bar. “Am I right, Councilor Crowley?”
“I never inject myself into disputes between two of my loyal constituents,” Slip said, his back still turned to us as he stood at the bar. “You lose two votes that way.”
I hadn’t noticed that Slip had drifted back inside, but it couldn’t hurt to have someone standing within earshot who was at least somewhat on my side, whatever my side was at this moment.
Plain View turned back toward me and tried to look benevolent. “Did he do time with your brother?”
I pondered that one for a moment. “You know, I believe he did mention Otisville.”
He waited for me to continue, but I’d said my piece. I sat there and prepared for him to start yelling at me again. It didn’t take long.
“You got the same piss-poor attitude you always had,” he said. “Even when you was in that photo finish with the grand jury—”
“A photo finish that I won, by the way.” I caught the stenographer’s eye and said to her, “And that is on the record.”
“Your problem,” Plain View said, “is that you’ve always been a freelancer, on the job or off. Which is fine, especially now that you ain’t on the job no more, and don’t have to abide by the, the—” He winced as he struggled to come up with the right phrase.
“The code?” I suggested. “The code of ethics, so-called.”
“How ’bout we just call ’em the rules and leave it at that? Now that you’re not on the job, you don’t have to abide by our rules, and once they took away your badge I could not care less what you are or are not doing, believe me.”
So why was he pointing a finger at me and yelling if he didn’t care?
“But what I don’t appreciate is that right now you might be able to assist us in a murder investigation, and yet you still got this hard-on after all these years. I got every right to be asking you these questions, and you damn well know I do, but even now you wouldn’t tell me if my coat was on fire. You got a big chip on your shoulder, I understand that, but it’s a free country and you got every right to have a chip on your shoulder. What you don’t have is the right to withhold evidence.”
He was wrong about the bitterness. I’ve moved on, as they say. My monthly check provides me with all the “closure” I’ll ever need. Plain View may get 80 percent when he goes out, but I get mine right now, 72 percent, tax-free, and it goes up with every new union contract.
“The only possible conclusion I can draw here,” Plain View said, “considering your somewhat checkered past—and checkered is a charitable way of putting it—is that you, Jack Reilly, must figure there’s a score in here somewhere for you, and I’m just telling you, if that’s your play, then you’re fucking with the wrong guys, and I don’t mean the BPD.”
“Thank you for your concern, Detective,” I said.
“You’re fighting above your weight class here,” he said.
“Ten-four, good buddy.”
“Okay,” he said, standing up. “I got other things to worry about tonight, but I’m gonna come looking for you in the morning, and you sure as hell better have a better line of bullshit ready than what you’ve been handing me tonight.”
* * *
FOR ONCE in my life, I wanted to escape Foley’s. But I also didn’t want the cops to think I was spooked. It would be bad for business, assuming I ever got any. So I figured I had to hang in for at least another half hour or so. I was about to treat myself to some more of what made Milwaukee famous when Slip came over with a fresh longneck for me and another mixed drink for himself. He sat down across from me.
“May I offer a helpful suggestion?” he said.
“Do I have a choice?”
“No,” he said. “You know, you could have handled that a little more smoothly. A little blarney might have gone a long way there.”
“Yeah, but what’s the point?”
“The point,” he said, “is that sometimes you gotta duck. I shouldn’t have to be telling you this stuff. You should have learned it long ago, at City Hall.”
I took a long sip of beer and considered reminding Slip whose big mouth had brought me to Plain View’s attention in the first place. But if it hadn’t been him, somebody else would have ratted me out. It’s one of the downsides to drinking in a cop bar. I stared at Slip’s 7&7 and mulled switching over to the high octane myself. I like rye and that’s no lie.
Slip shook his head slowly. “Now you’re pissed at me. I knew I should have kept my mouth shut. No good deed goes unpunished.”
I smiled and said, “Can I quote you on that?”
Gerry Foley came over with two more drinks that we hadn’t ordered, and from the dismal look on his face I knew again that sorrows always arrive in battalions, or something like that.
“The press requests the pleasure of your company, Jack,” he said, gesturing with his head to the bored collection of cameramen and reporters at the front of the bar. “I gotta let ’em in. They drink here too. But if you want me to, I’ll hold ’em off while you screw out the back.”
I looked over at Slip. He sparred with these people every day. I asked him if I should take it on the lam. Slip shook his head.
“Might as well do a gang bang,” he said. “Otherwise they’ll just be chasing you all over town tonight, and my guess is you got other people you need to be worrying about chasing you all over town tonight.”
No doubt about that. I asked Gerry if he wanted me to deal with them outside, but he said they could do it inside as long as they confined themselves to the Berkeley Room and didn’t shoot tape of any of the other patrons whose wives might be under the impression that they were at the Arch Street Shrine making the stations of the cross. I told Gerry to send them right down. I stood up and watched as they approached. Four cameras and a half-dozen or so reporters, which meant one from each TV station, plus the two papers, and the all-news radio station.
“No NPR?” I whispered to Slip.
“They only come over from Cambridge for the hate crimes,” Slip said out of the side of his mouth.
They all got their mikes in front of me, and then a tall, dark, and vacant 42-long TV airhead asked: “Why do you think Bucky Bennett was murdered?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” I said. And that was about as good as it got—stupid questions from them, even lamer answers from me. It occurred to me that all I was doing was providing up-to-date video that would make it a lot easier for certain parties to recognize me on the street. I was just about to wrap it up when, off to the left side of the pack, I heard a female voice:
“Did Bucky ever do time with your brother?”
A decent question, finally. I looked over at the reporter, and dimly saw that she was in her early thirties, nice round face, light brown hair, wearing a suit coat over a short skirt, and the high black boots of the type favored by first-team female anchors on the Fox News Channel. My gaze naturally drifted to her left hand—no ring.
“Who are you?” I said.
“Katy Bemis, Herald,” she replied. “Did your brother do time with the deceased, and is your brother still incarcerated?”
The other reporters were glancing over at her. She would be asking most of the questions from now on.
I said, “My brother, Martin, yes, he is still in custody of the BOP, and I believe Mr. Bennett did serve part of his sentence with Martin.”
I glanced over at Slip. He frowned and shook his head.
“Are you aware that Mr. Bennett was a suspect in an unsolved bank burglary in Medford a few years back, and that at least one and perhaps two members of his gang have since vanished?”
“I just met Mr. Bennett this afternoon,” I said. “We didn’t discuss his life story.”
“Are you aware of the rumors that there was an underworld contract out on Mr. Bennett’s life?”
Slip stepped in front of me. “Thank you very much, Mr. Reilly,” he said. “That will be all the questions he takes here tonight.”
“Why don’t you let him answer his own questions, Slip?” Katy Bemis said. “Are you his PR man? I thought you were a full-time city councilor.”
“Don’t push me, sister,” Slip snapped at her, before turning to me and saying out of the side of his mouth, but loud enough for everyone to hear, which was the whole point, “I know this broad from City Hall. She’s no damn good.”
I turned back to catch Katy Bemis’s reaction, and saw a bemused expression cross her face. Slip had made her day.
“Can’t he answer for himself, Councilor?” she said. “You handled tougher questions than this in front of the grand jury, didn’t you, Mr. Reilly?”
“Call me Jack,” I said. “But really, uh—what was the question again?”
“There was a contract out on him. Did he mention that to you?”
“No,” I said. Well, he didn’t, not in those exact words anyway. Besides, I wasn’t under oath. Since when was it against the law to lie to a reporter?
With his head, Slip motioned toward the back door, and I said thank you very much. He put his arm around me and turned me around toward the back door. He got me outside and then lit up a Kool as we started walking toward his car, the cameras recording our flight.
“Goddamn broad,” he said. “I know her type in my bones. Thinks her ass is ice cream and you’ve got to lick it.”
I’d heard this rap from Slip before. Many times, in fact. The perfidy of the Yankee—a hardy perennial of a topic in Slip’s social circles, and in my late father’s too, for that matter. The cheap bastards, the statewide Know-Nothing landslide of 1844, the burning of the Ursuline Convent, and don’t forget the Licensing Board and the Boston Finance Commission.…
“You know something,” I said to Slip. “I’ll bet she goes—”
“To a wooden church. Fucking right she does. Eats cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off. And she’d rather put out for a big—”
“How do you know who I put out for?” Katy Bemis yelled, leaning out the back door of Foley’s, a smirk on her face.
“Fuck you,” he yelled back, “and the polo pony you rode in on.”
* * *
IT WAS a business decision to clam up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I live by some ancient Sam Spade private-eye code or anything like it. But ratting out a client, even one of the twenty-dollar variety, would be bad for all private eyes, as Mr. S. Spade once observed. Especially for one PI in particular—me.
Ratting out anybody, even a dead ex-con, was the kind of thing that would always be used against you. In a couple of days, everyone in the world would have forgotten Bucky Bennett. Everyone, that is, except the people who had an ax to grind against me. People like that never forget, and they make sure everyone else always remembers it. Reilly? they would say, whenever I got a shot at some decent money. Yeah, you could use Reilly, but remember how he spilled everything to the cops when Bucky Bennett got hit?
Eventually what little I did know would come out in the wash—it always does. That’s why Plain View hadn’t really pushed me at Foley’s, because he figured that in a few hours, if there was anything to spill, somebody would spill it.
Besides, as my old man always used to say, Never sell yourself short. Why throw in a hand before you’ve even taken a peek at the cards? What if it turned out there was something in those papers or whatever it was that Bucky was sending my way?
I was glad to get away from the reporters, but home held no particular appeal. So we got in Slip’s car and rounded the block a couple of times until the reporters dispersed, then we parked the Slipmobile on Washington Street, hoofed it back down East Berkeley, and re-entered Foley’s through the side door. Just in case any scribes were still loitering at the bar, I ducked into the Berkeley Room after handing Slip Bucky’s double sawbuck and telling him it was my turn to play whip-out.
He returned a minute or so later, laid down Bucky’s twenty-dollar bill and set the beer on top of it. I protested mildly but he wouldn’t hear of it. I stared straight ahead and considered my next move. Slip lit another cigarette and started talking.
“So as I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted,” Slip began, as if nothing had happened, “I’m down in West Palm two weeks ago, and it’s Monday morning and I’m flying back—”
I wasn’t in the mood to pay much attention to what Slip was saying, but Slip’s the kind of guy who doesn’t really care. He figures as long as he can hear the sound of his own voice somebody else must be listening too, which means he’s banking votes for the next election.
“—and I’m flying coach, of course, because otherwise people would talk, and as I’m boarding, guess who I see is already hoisting a glass of bubbly up in first class with a bimbo whose hair is even redder than his own. None other than FBI Special Agent John Finnerty. Also known as Agent Orange.”
“No shit?” I said, and now I was paying attention.
“My question is,” Slip said, “where the fuck does Special Agent Finnerty get the money to fly first class? Inheritance? I don’t think so. And why exactly is he still in the Boston FBI office after all these years? I always thought the standard operating procedure in the FBI was never to rotate anybody through their hometowns. It leads to trouble, it has led to trouble.”
A few years back at the State House, a crooked state rep had been tipped that the “lobbyist” he was taking bribes from was actually an undercover G-man who turned out to be from Dorchester. The rep instantly returned the cash (with different serial numbers), and ended up beating the attempted-extortion rap, after which he was subsequently elevated to the state Senate by his grateful constituency. The last I’d heard, he was chairman of the Ethics Committee.
So yeah, now that Slip mentioned it, there was something rather fishy about Finnerty’s permanent posting in his hometown. Too bad I hadn’t been listening more attentively to Bucky. I asked Slip if Finnerty had recognized him on the flight.
“He most certainly did,” Slip said. “Not only does he recognize me, he offers to get me upgraded to first class.”
“Maybe he wanted someone to talk to.”
Slip shook his head. “No way. He only had eyes for the bimbo. They looked like twins, I shit you not. I get back to the hall, I’m curious, I make a couple of calls, come to find out his secretary’s got red hair too. Also, he’s out of the house, slipped the surly bonds of matrimony, you might say. He’s living with this selfsame flame-haired spitfire from the steno pool. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”
“Costs money, doesn’t it?”
“My point exactly. Where’s it coming from? My guess is, if you hang at, say, the Ace of Hearts, it would be nice sometimes to have information before the competition does.”
I took a long gulp of my beer. “Competition whose last names end in vowels.”
“In Town or anyone else,” Slip said. “But it gets worse. You heard how the mayor’s about to appoint the new police commissioner—guess who’s getting a big-time push for the job? Hint: he has red hair.”
“You’re shitting me,” I said.
“The heat’s coming down big-time from the State House,” he said. “They say the Speaker wants this one, bad. He’s got the full-court press on.”
I took an even longer guzzle. “How come you never told me this?”
“How come?” Slip said. “You never write, you never call. Until tonight, I haven’t seen you since Christmas maybe. Sometimes I think you’re giving me the swerve.”
“I heard you were running for president of the Council,” I said.
He snorted. “President of the City Council? That’s like being admiral of the Swiss Navy.”
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