Rat Bastards: The South Boston Irish Mobster Who Took the Rap When Everyone Else Ranby John "Red" Shea
John "Red" Shea, 40, was a top lieutenant in the South Boston Irish mob run, led by James "Whitey" Bulger. An ice–cold enforcer with a red–hot temper, Shea was a legend among his peers in the 1990s South Boston, as much as John Gotti, Bugsy Siegel, and Al Capone were in their time and place. When the actor and producer Mark Wahlberg, raised in nearby… See more details below
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John "Red" Shea, 40, was a top lieutenant in the South Boston Irish mob run, led by James "Whitey" Bulger. An ice–cold enforcer with a red–hot temper, Shea was a legend among his peers in the 1990s South Boston, as much as John Gotti, Bugsy Siegel, and Al Capone were in their time and place. When the actor and producer Mark Wahlberg, raised in nearby Dorchester, learned of a script based on Shea's life circulating in Hollywood, he immediately committed to playing the gangster on screen. A major feature film project is now in development.
From the age of thirteen, when he started robbing delivery trucks, to the age of twenty–seven, when he began serving a twelve–year federal sentence for drug trafficking, Shea was a portrait in American crime – a bantam–weight, red–headed terror, brutal with his fists and deadly with a lead pipe, a baseball bat, or a knife. At fifteen he was selling marijuana . At seventeen he was handling Bulger's cocaine. At eighteen he was loan sharking and laundering Bulger's money. At twenty, initiated into Bulger's inner circle at the point of an Uzi, he was running a multimillion–dollar narcotics operation for his mentor.
RAT BASTARDS was the first–ever, firsthand account of mob life that wasn't told by a rat. Red Shea did his crime, then did his time––and never informed, unlike Henry Hill of Wiseguy, Sammy "The Bull" Gravano of Underboss, and so many others. Holding fast to the code of his upbringing, he remained a man of honor.
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Rat BastardsThe Life and Times of South Boston's Most Honorable Irish Mobster
By John Shea
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 John Shea
All right reserved.
I walked out of federal prison on August 7, 2002, into a perfect summer day. The first thing I noticed was the air -- it was clean and warm, like fresh laundry just out of the dryer. After being in the joint for so long, where all you smell day after day is sweat and vinegar and bad food, I felt the air hit me like the most beautiful scent. And this is New Jersey we're talking about. Fort Dix, my home sweet home for nine long years. Good-fuckin'-bye.
Last time I'd been a free man, I was dressed in an Armani suit, a Calvin Klein shirt, and Bally shoes. I even had Armani underwear. That was nearly twelve years ago, when I checked in to the federal prison in Milan, Michigan. Now, one welcome transfer later, my time was up. I got sentenced to twelve and I did my twelve, technically for drug trafficking. In truth, I did my time because the feds wanted Whitey Bulger, the boss of the South Boston Irish Mafia. Because I was Red Shea, Whitey Bulger's young apprentice, I was supposed to be the weak link, the kid, the guy who would flip. They were dead fucking wrong. I was never going to be rat. I'd rather be dead. So they hit me with some heavy time for afirst bit.
An Officer Kennedy -- a nice guy, a good guy, he showed me respect: How ya doin', Shea? What's goin' on? How're your Red Sox doin'? and so forth -- led me out of the administration building and down toward the checkpoint. Dix isn't your average prison, being a former army base, with checkpoints and whatnot, not to mention softer bunks. I wasn't in Armani no more, but Levi's and new sneakers sent me by the guys.
I said to Kennedy, "Smell that?"
He said, "What's that, Shea? You like that?"
"Yes I do, Officer."
I took some deep drafts of it. Even though I was looking at a perimeter scarred by barbed wire and fences and double fences and was walking on dusty ground, I could look up: "Nothing but blue skies, motherfucker."
"Watch your language, Red," he said "And your ass. It's bumpy out there."
I shook his hand. My eyes were watering, from the smells. I had just turned thirty-seven years old, and I'd gotten my life back.
Beyond the checkpoint were some familiar faces waiting in a car: George and Michael Hogan, sons of one of the guys I'd been indicted with, and my attorney and friend, Fran Hurley. Handshakes and a quick hug all around. We were Southie Irish guys, not given to a lot of emotional stuff. But we were Irish, and the Irish have a sentimental streak for sure, going back to the Famine, I guess, and having to leave the Old Country. The old Partin' Glass and whatever. They were happy to see me, and I sure as fuck was happy to see them. I sat in the front seat. We talked about the Red Sox -- they were sucking in August, no pitching whatsoever after Pedro and Derek Lowe. I turned the radio off -- in no mood for gangsta rap, no offense. The traffic was bad, and soon the smell of paradise gave over to the smell of the turnpike and, like Springsteen says, the swamps of Jersey. We could see a waterfront with containers stacked high just like in Southie. Newark, I guess, with tall ship-container cranes soaring over everything, which prompted a discussion about work.
"There's the longshoremen," said Frannie. His dad had been a longshoreman back in the day when they did most everything by hand and guys got maimed and killed regularly. Either from the work or from the fights during and after work, with the metal hooks they all carried. Most of the longshoremen were either from Southie or from Charlestown. Frannie, as always, was trying to be helpful in his gentle way. He was suggesting I work the Boston waterfront. George mentioned all the construction going on in downtown Boston. And, also as always, the Big Dig. Work, work, work.
"Fuck you guys!" I finally had to shout. I wasn't boiling over or nothing -- but first the joint, then the fucking union hall? Give me a break. The only thing I wanted right now was a good fuckin' meal.
"You're right," said Frannie. "We've got better things to do." He popped in a CD. Van Morrison, Moondance. The guys laughed, and so did I. Frannie finally found the tunnel to Manhattan.
They'd booked a suite at the Hilton on Fifty-third Street -- living room, little kitchen, big fucking bed, and an attached bedroom. We checked in, and I was starving, so I said, "Let's go to Smith & Wollensky's," my favorite steak house in New York. Back in the day, when I was on top, I got used to the best -- in Boston, New York, Montreal, Miami Beach. I stayed in the best, ate like a king. Two-, three-hundred-dollar bottles of wine. I ordered a steak that night, rare, with baked potato and creamed spinach. We had some wine. Rothschild. We got mellow. We didn't talk about work anymore, thank God.
"How's my mother?" Frannie said she was good, doing well, she was living in an elderly apartment complex just off the expressway in Dorchester. It's only a short bus ride to her job at a Southie nursing home. My mother was getting on in years. I knew from phone calls and letters that she was as feisty as ever and hanging in there. She's a tough woman. She raised me and my three older -- much older -- sisters, with no man around, my father having been thrown out just after I was born. She did everything she could for us. She worked two, three jobs at a time. Cleaning homes, anything she could to make ends meet. But she was harsh, very harsh. I'd see her as soon as I got back.
Excerpted from Rat Bastards by John Shea Copyright © 2006 by John Shea. Excerpted by permission.
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John "Red" Shea, forty, completed his twelve-year federal prison sentence in 2002 and is now living on the right side of the law and working in Boston, Massachusetts.
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