I was floating in a sticky sea of drying blood. My own. It had a faint metallic smell, which was underlaid by the salty aroma of lymph and pus, as when you change a dirty gauze bandage. I smelled a lot of blood every day. But I didn’t like smelling a lot of my own on a tile floor. And I didn’t like the dark rivulets and puddles that spread out on the tile a few inches from my face, either. I had opened and closed my eyes quite a few times, I thought. I had awakened and gone to sleep four or five times. When I was finally able to move, I drew my hand up to my throat to feel the deep fissure where it had been slit.
For I was a hog on a slaughterhouse floor.
But try as I might, I could find no evidence of the slit throat. And I was glad. The cause of all the bloodletting, I finally remembered, was the gash on my forehead. What reminded me of this was the throbbing in that location. My hand felt a puffy swelling and a huge sticky crust forming on it. Head cuts bleed like Niagara Falls anyway because the human head is laced with, blood vessels. When you’re pumped up, as in a football game, a boxing match, or a less orthodox fight, your blood pressure soars and makes even a scratch on the head bleed like there’s no tomorrow. I had a deep gash up above my eye- perhaps even a skull fracture too, and I had indeed bled like a stuck pig. I sat up on the tile floor. It felt cold beneath me. I was cold. I was freezing. The place was dark now. I saw the dark, chocolate-colored stains everywhere, especially on my clothes.
I staggered to my feet and turned on the light. I looked at myself and wished I hadn’t. I washed the dried blood from my face and neck but left the wound to clot over. All the time I stood at the sink my stomach churned and my knees trembled. Then I felt sick and scared. I was scared at what had happened- at how close I had come to dying. I was afraid the police would find me in the house and throw me in the slammer. I tried to check my watch but it wasn’t there. They had taken it, perhaps to make the thing look like robbery. Then I realized that my belt buckle was unfastened and my fly was unzipped. Why? Had they molested me? Were these guys fags as well as crooks? But then I noticed my shoes and socks were off and my pockets turned inside out. No. They had searched me, and thoroughly too, to see if I had recovered the item.
I crept dizzily along the hallway, leaning on the wall and breathing hard as I went. The couch seemed a mile away. I sat down on it and almost threw up.
I’m as hard as nails, I am.
I sat there for some time, moving my head back and forth, up and down; and rubbing the back of my neck. I patted my feet against the floor to stop the pins and needles. Then I staggered back to the john and took three long drinks of cold water. It almost made up for the blood l’d lost. They had taken not only my watch but my car keys and wallet. The phone in the apartment had been disconnected. The only way out was to trek over to the Lucky Seven and call Mary.
But before I could get started I heard steps on the porch below.
Adams, this just isn’t your day.
I heard the door at the foot of the stairs open. Then once again came the scraping tread on the stairway. We just had this tape, I told myself. Why are we playing it again? Well, I could barely stand; I was certainly in no condition to fight. As the steps grew louder I panicked. How did I know it wasn’t the two men returning to finish me off? Perhaps their boss had told them to go back and do the job right
I searched around the dim living room with my eyes; my body was too slow and sore. I unplugged a lamp with a turned wooden base, wrapped the cord around it, removed the shade, and held it like a billy club. With this I snuggled against the wall near the door so I’d be out of sight when it opened. It did, and in the near-darkness I saw a stocky, menacing profile stalk into the hall. His deep, noisy breathing was almost a growl and made him more ominous. He was wearing a narrow-brim tweed hat and a droopy coat. Lord only knew what was in that coat- maybe an antiaircraft gun. I was taking no more chances; I had gotten the drop on this hood and he was going to pay. After dimming his lights I was going to get his gun and go outside, putting a hole into anybody who blocked my way.
The shadow half-turned and came right into range, and I swung the club down on the hat… hard. The man fell without a sound. lt was only after he rolled over and his hat slid off that I had the sickening feeling I knew him. Getting to my knees and peering down into the face confirmed it. I
“Oh sweet Jesus,” I moaned. “I’m awful sorry, Brian.”
I had our chief of police propped up on a low pillow with his feet raised. Suspecting at the last instant that I might be doing a damn fool thing- which I do often enough to realize I’m prone to it- I had eased off on the blow in the last millisecond before its delivery. Also, the thick tweed hat helped cushion the blow a little. Still, knowing Brian Hannon well, I predicted he would not regain consciousness in a very sociable mood. It so happened that this was the one thing I was right about that afternoon. When he finally managed to open his eyes, stare at me, and speak, his words were not encouraging.
“Listen, butt-wipe,” he growled, “do you have any idea of the kind of trouble you’re in?”
“Don’t worry; I can explain everything,” I replied, placing a soaking cold towel on his head. He ripped it off and threw it at my face. Brian was going to be okay. He struggled to a sitting position and sat against the wall, glaring at me. Then he called me more bad names. I finally helped him to his feet, and he seemed to see my injury for the first time.
“You look like shit warmed over, Doc. Know that?”
“Yes I know that. And I obviously didn’t mean to clip you; I thought you were the bad guys come back to finish me.”
“I’m not the bad guys, Doc. Know who I am? I am the law. You have assaulted a law officer. You’re going-“
“All right, Brian, all right. Pipe down. You’ve been watching those Broderick Crawford reruns again. Let’s get out of here.”
He took a pair of handcuffs from his hip pocket and told me to put them on; I told him to shove it and walked him down the stairs. He grumbled and cussed all the way down, and together we limped over to his cruiser. I said I’d drive, and put him in the front seat beside me.
“Know how I happened to come up here?”
“Mary called me. Didn’t know where you were. Know how much trouble you’re in with her?”
“I can guess.”
“Well, we got your assistant to spill the beans on where you’d a gone. You’re just lucky I’m not going to fill out a report.”
“No. Not my jurisdiction here, dummy. Although as an off duty policeman I’d be well within line if I did.”
“It surprises me that you’re not.”
“Yeah, well I figure that after Mary gets through with you, you’ll wish you were in Walpole instead.”
I thought of what awaited me back home. It made my forehead ache, so I must have been wincing to myself.
“Can I spend the night in the Concord jail?”
“No. You may not.”
We drove on into Concord, and I noticed that Brian seemed to doze off and on. I didn’t like this, or his slurred speech. I pulled into the emergency parking lot at Emerson Hospital, where we dragged ourselves out of the car, across the lot, and into the waiting room. We were a couple of tough guys, all right. We were right out of a Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood flick.
“You poor, poor old men,” purred the young nurse who examined us.
“We’re not old,” snarled Brian.
“Aaaannything you say, sweetie,” she said, patting him on his stubbly cheek. Then she went to get us booked for the CAT scan. The very fact that they thought we should have the scans disturbed me. When the attending physician said he thought everything appeared normal I felt better, but Brian was diagnosed as having a mid-sized concussion. Needless to say, I didn’t feel good about this, and neither did he. They laid him down in a bed with his head between sandbags, and he was to remain in situ for at least twenty-four hours.
“I’m going to get you for this, Doc. Count on it. Sooner or later you’re gonna pay. And I’m in this case now too. I’ve got my damaged skull invested in it. I’m going to be hanging around like a wind chime.”
A dark hand shot in front of me and swept gently over Brian’s forehead. He smiled at its owner..
“Hi Mary. See what your husband did?”
She bent down and kissed him and murmured kind words. He reached up and squeezed her arm. It was a touching scene.
“That’s nice of you, honey,” I said. “I’m sure that-“
“You be quiet!” she snapped without turning around. “The car’s outside waiting. We’re going home and you’re going to stay there. You’re grounded.”
“You can’t do that to me.”
“Hell I can’t.” She turned around and looked at me for the first time. “So you’d better get- Charlie! Your head!”
She stared at me for a few seconds and then started crying and swearing at me. I was glad she was letting off the steam, anyway. But closer examination of my head convinced her that I needed stitches. It was good to be with her; it almost made me forget the pain.
They had to drain the swelling first, since enough time had elapsed for the lump to grow and spread the cut wide apart. They were able to use butterfly bandages instead of sutures. Scarring would then be absent or minimal, and my forehead would not look like something Dr. Frankenstein put together.
After it was over they had me wait in the recovery room. It was a sit-up recovery room and had a TV. After all I’d been through I sat rather mesmerized, watching a special report on the upcoming gubernatorial race. Apparently the reporters expected a close race, with Joseph Critchfield III having announced his I candidacy a week before.
Mary sat with me, her gaze leaving the television now and then to glare in my direction. At quarter to ten we were finally ready to leave. We went in and said goodnight to Brian. He was not in a particularly good mood. Neither was Mary, considering other minor matters like my stolen wallet and car keys. I sat in front on the way home in Mary’s Audi. We got settled on the couch and she wanted to hear all about what happened in the little gray house up in Lowell, and I told her. She listened intently, and I felt confident she’d approve of the way I attacked old Four-Eyes, since he had whopped her with his loaded coat as well. But she just sat there holding the bridge of her nose and squinting. She was repeating a word over and over, mumbling it. I listened close and heard it: “dumb… dumb.. . dumb.”
But little by little she began to calm as we sat and visited. Some music, some beer (I was still terribly thirsty), and some rock lobster tails and we were as good as new. Except that during dinner I realized that my left rib cage had been aching. I pulled up my shirt to reveal a mass of dark bruises there. The sumbitches had kicked me when I was down. I swore inwardly to get even with them. But I didn’t tell Mary. We had hot raspberry tarts and vanilla ice cream for dessert, and Irish coffee. I had talked myself into believing I really wasn’t beat up and weak. But halfway through the laced coffee I felt the room shift a bit, as though we were dining in a stateroom on the Cunard Line. I began to nod, and Mary helped me into the bedroom and into the sack.
When I woke up I realized how seriously I’d been hurt. My left side had stiffened up badly, and I had a permanent headache from the blow to the head and a forehead that itched and stung from the dressing. I sat up in bed and drained the ice water waiting for me on the bed table. Under the big frosty tumbler was a note: Dear Charlie:
I meant what I said: you’re grounded. I will be out till four. I had Susan cancel all your appointments. Stay in bed. If you get up, don’t leave the house. Joe’s coming for dinner.
Well of all the nerve, I thought as I drew on my clothes. I’d show her who ran things; I was going to hop in the car and go in to Louis’s and buy a sport coat, then go over to the Rod and Gun Club for some silhouette shooting. Grounded my ass. But as I was eating breakfast it occurred to me that I had no car; it I was sitting up in Lowell on a side street. I had no car keys, and Mary had taken the other car. I looked at the key rack and noticed she had also taken my motorcycle keys. That made me angry.
But I had a spare set hidden away in the garage. I put on my jacket, grabbed my helmet and the extra keys, straddled the big BMW, and started it. Those big transverse cylinders thumped and purred with about as much fuss as a Singer. I would show her who was grounded. Then I tried to put on my helmet and almost fell off the bike from the pain. There was no way that that snug Simpson full-face brain bucket was going to fit around my swollen and bandaged head. And also, I considered as I hefted the big machine back onto its stand, riding a bike when you’re not 1oo percent fit is just dumb. I switched it off, dismounted, and went back inside.
Well, she was right. Two hours were spent calling emergency credit-card numbers to report my lost cards. I wanted to run but knew it was unwise. So I took my ten-speed out and rode over to the hospital to see Brian, who was due to be released that evening. His mood had not improved, and in fact he had reported the incident to Joe, who was none too pleased either. As I left the hospital I was considering joining the Foreign Legion, except I doubted they’d take me.
It was only half a block to the Concord Professional Building, so I went to the office and did some paperwork and went over some castings. A gaunt, shaggy head poked in through the doorway.
“Well well well, if it isn’t da cat burgIar,” said Moe. “I saw Mary earlier when she was chewing out Susan for letting you sneak off like dat. Wow! Some clout, eh? Did they knock any sense into your thick skull?”
“No. I’m still the same.”
“Where’s Lolly? I need to be cheered up; the sight of her prancing around bare-assed does me a world of good.”
He frowned and tsk-tsked at me.
“Loretta is a problem. She’s too old for a foster home and I can’t have her staying wid me. It’s just… well, it’s not right. So she’s both too old and too young. I’m putting her up for now in a rental room with an older couple; it seems to be working.”
“Uhh. No. But there’s nothing gI can do right now.”
“Listen: if you want to help somebody, call the Dedham jail and help spring a guy named Amos Railford who’s being held there on the most tenuous grounds? I told him the story of the big Jamaican, which I knew would touch his soft heart. “It’s the least we can do in memory of Nick and Bart, Moe.” He agreed.
I pedaled back home and saw a New England Telephone van parked in the driveway. I eyed it warily, considering the untoward events of late. But it appeared to be a genuine phone company truck. As I passed it I heard a loud psssssst.”
A large and heavy-set lineman sat smoking a cigarette and listening on a phone in the van’s driver’s seat. He was sitting sideways on the seat with the door open and had his hard hat on, which was a white helmet with a blue telephone-company symbol in front. He annoyed me, sitting casually and uninvited in my drive. I heard a thumping sound and the van rocked slightly. The smoker had friends in the back. I liked the whole scene less and less, but considering the shape I was in, I sure didn’t feel like getting tough. The man nodded, said good-bye, and put the phone back. He looked up at me.
“Hiya Doc,” said Joe. “Where’s Mare?”
I approached him and saw Kevin O’Hearn, also dressed as a lineman, peer around the corner.
“Hi Doc,” he said. “Hey kid, you’re in trouble.”
“Oh really, what else is new?” I said, leaning the bicycle on its kickstand and moving over to the door. “What’s all this for anyway?” ‘
“We’re going to go and get Carmen DeLucca in about half an hour, that’s what,” said O’Hearn.
“We know he’s holed up in Lynn, right above a sub shop,” said Joe. “Been watching the place two days. Way he’s moving lately, we figure it’s time to make the tag. I’m just waiting here to get the word to start up there; Don’t want too many of us, converging on the place at once. But Kev’s right, you know. You are in trouble. You wanna take a fall for B and E?”
“Of course not.”
“Then stay out of it, Doc. Really. You’re either going to get yourself killed or get me canned.”
“Can’t I just go up to Lynn and watch you nail DeLucca?”
“Naw,” said O’Hearn. “It might get rough. DeLucca’s no pussycat.”
“What you could do, though,” said Joe, “is to drive up to Lynn so I can get a ride back here for supper.”
“I don’t have a car. I’m grounded.”
“Oh. Well look, I’ll do you a favor. If you promise to stay out of this thing, I’ll write a little note to Sis saying you’re riding up with us. You can watch all the preparations too. But when the hammer’s about to fall I want you safe in the back of this vehicle, on the floor. Deal?”
“Okay with you, Kev? After all, we’re only the communications 5 team. The SWAT boys will pull the dirty stuff. Remember, Doc: mum’s the word.”
So I parked my bike and climbed in. The inside of the van was crowded but comfortable. A phone-company van was perfect cover; it allowed the fuzz to plant stakeouts just about anywhere and stay as long as they liked without attracting attention. Most important, the cops wore headsets or talked into phones as they waited around the van or up on poles. Thus they could stay in close touch without attracting the least suspicion- and they could tap into common phone lines to do it, which meant their messages weren’t subject to radio surveillance.
I sat amidst a sea of props, most of them functional. There were orange traffic cones, Mm Working signs, yellow blinkers… The van was equipped for protracted engagements too. There was a chemical toilet and a tiny gas cylinder stove for making coffee. The cops had added all these touches after they purchased the vehicle from Ma Bell.
We bounced and swerved along Route 2, then around the rotary at Fresh Pond and on to 16, which is called Alewife Brook Parkway there and soon becomes Revere Beach Parkway. I sat hunched on a carton right behind the two men in front. Before long the view opened up a bit, revealing distant smokestacks and fuel storage tanks, factories and warehouses.
“Where’s my wop lighter?” asked Joe, frisking himself. He found it and lit a Benson amp; Hedges and Kevin’s Kent. The smoke in the tiny van was awful, and I scooted back to open the plastic rooftop vent with a steel crank. It worked; the smoke got sucked out the tiny hole faster than the two smokers could put it in. I liked the cozy van, which reminded me slightly of the cabin in our little cat-sloop, the Ella Hatton.
“You really love that lighter don’t you?” said Kevin.
“Yeah, and I know you do too. Listen, Doc, we got the lead on this place from a snitch in the sub shop. But anyway, it was the hospital where DeLucca got sewed up that helped us focus in on the North Shore. Then up comes this little snitch, see, who’s a two-time loser under suspicion for a string of robberies which he knows- he knows, seewe’re gonna pin on him. So what does he do but comes forward last Thursday with a nice leak for us if he can work out some kind of deal when we go to sock the rap to him.”
“And it sounded too good to be true, so at first we doubted it,” said Kevin.
“I still do a little; I’m not convinced it’s him. But if it is.. . we’ll get him sucked in and sealed up so goddamn tight a mosquito can’t get out.”
Joe gripped the wheel so hard his knuckles were white. Kevin glanced at him out of the corner of his eye with a worried look. It was not like Joe to be so worked up. We were passing through Everett now, toward Revere. There was the Teddy peanut-butter factory on our left, with its steamy stack and a smell like a candy bar, and a small GE plant. As we passed into Revere the scenery got positively bleak, and I knew it would get worse. Shallow pools of standing water lay on both sides of the roadway in places, and tired gulls circled overhead. Smoke and smells drifted across the sky. We went through Revere, and I could see the big red-and-white-checked watertank that marks the Veteran’s Hospital in Chelsea. Strobe lights winked from tall stacks that spewed white steam clouds. All around was that grayish, dusky coloration of industrialization. We turned onto highway 1A and headed north toward Lynn.
Lynn is filled with nice working people, but it is not a pretty city. In Lynn, even the dogs are ugly. They have mangy coats, bloated bellies, and spindly legs. They have a black spot around one eye and bobbed tails that wag too fast.
We swung along 1A, which was now called the Lynnway and which took a straight shot over bleak marshy meadow after crossing the Saugus River and headed back toward factories, railway yards, and oil tanks. Joe was chain-smoking; Kevin drummed his fingers fast on the dash. I stretched my legs out hard one at a time to relieve the cramping. To our left loomed the General Electric River Works plant, the largest factory in New England. It was here that America’s first jet engine was built during the Second World War. Just opposite Lynn Gas and Electric on the harbor, we eased left off the Lynnway, went three and a half blocks, and came to a stop along a low and dirty curb. Joe turned to me.
“Put on a helmet, Doc, and one of those jumpsuits.”
“I can’t; it hurts my head too much.”
But we could find no alternative, and so I slipped on the biggest hard hat there was in the van. After a few seconds I forgot the ache. With my lineman’s jumpsuit and dark glasses was one of the crew. We opened the rear doors of the van and Joe set out a few orange traffic cones and blinker lights. Hell, it even fooled me.
In accordance with state law, a cop was present at the site to help direct traffic. Our cop was really a detective in a local Lynn uniform. He ambled up and chatted with us and filled Joe in on the other teams. There were three of them: another phone van up the street and around the corner, an unmarked car a block up on our street, and a milk truck in the alleyway opposite the unmarked car.
“Don’t turn around fast,” said Joe to me, “but when you get a chance, look at that sub shop down the street, just opposite the unmarked car. DeLucca’s been holing up right over it in rented rooms. The snitch is working in the shop; in a few minutes we’re going to go see him. Give me those cables, Kev; here comes Powers.”
O’Hearn uncoiled some wire in the back of the van and fed it out to us. A lineman was walking up the street toward us smoking a cigarette with a big coil over his left shoulder. It could have fooled me. Frank Powers nodded hello to us and spoke under his breath as he puffed on his smoke.
“We expect him just after four. It’s the time he’s been showing up. I doubt if he’s got a steady gig going, but Rizzo says he’s been showing up every day almost like clockwork. Joe, can you call the rig? I’m about ready. Excuse me.”
He stepped forward and hooked the big cable over his shoulder to the ones Kev had snaked out of the little van. Almost as soon as he was finished a big phone truck with a cherry-picker hoist slid around the corner. Powers got into the crow’s-nest and soon was up above us all, hooking the big cable to the pole. In the van Joe and Kevin put on earphones and I listened in on a phone extension fastened with clip wires. Pretty soon both phone trucks could communicate clearly and talk to the men in the unmarked car as well, since they had a remote device. Powers swung down from the treetops and said good-bye, adding that he’d station the hoist truck two blocks away and keep the platform up so he could keep an eye on everything and advise all parties what was happening from his vantage point.
“That guy seems like a real pro,” I told Joe as Powers jumped into the truck.
“He is. He’s a real phone person we borrow when the need arises. And that big cherry-picker rig is a real phone truck too. Now come on. I hope you’re hungry because we’re going to go and buy a sub from Johnny Rizzo, the snitch who’s responsible for this whole setup, bless his heart.”
We left Kevin at the van, diligently twiddling with wires and cable and looking very professional, while we ambled up the street to the sub shop.
“This snitch- this Rizzo guy- he’s in a bind, isn’t he?”
“Oh yeah, it’s death if DeLucca ever finds out. But what choice does the poor stupid bastard have? He’s got those robberies hanging over him that are worth the rest of his life in the joint. We dropped in on him three weeks ago and he knows we’re on to him. The fact that he subsequently came forward with this tip all but proves he’s in on the robberies. Now if we get DeLucca, Rizzo can cop a plea and get off light. It’s not a perfect system, Doc. In fact, sometimes it downright stinks, but it’s all we’ve got that’s workable right now. Most of the busts we make are crooks ratting on other crooks.”
“Hmmm. And Kev once told me you’ve got to screw up several times before they even hand you a jail term. It’s pathetic. It’s as if these clowns can’t stay out of the slammer.”
“You’re right. They can’t stay out. And know what? A lot of them don’t want to. They like it inside.”
“That I don’t believe. I’ve been with you on enough visits to Concord, Walpole, and Deer Island to know that isn’t true. Nobody could like it in there.”
“They do. They get used to it and they get to like it. Know why? Because basically they’re too screwed up to make it outside. And that’s the truth. Come on.”
As we passed the beat-up car on the opposite side of the street facing us, the driver gave Joe a quick nod. Both men in the car were dressed shabbily in old, greasy work clothes. They looked like two factory workers getting off work. The car was no treat either. It was an ancient Plymouth, dented and scarred, with a cracked side window. It was a dull, dirty brown color with patches of gray primer paint. All in all, I thought it fitted into Lynn quite well.
“Are you sure those guys are cops?” ·
“Look at the tires,” he said. I did, and was surprised. The tires looked new, and wide.
“Those are racing slicks. Last week that car was used in Fall River in a high-speed chase. We caught a drug dealer. On the interstate that crate hit a hundred forty. That’s Keller at the wheel. Underneath those grimy clothes he’s wearing a Kevlar vest. So’s his partner. And they’ve got a couple of pump guns on the floor. Here we are.”
We went in. The skinny, pockmarked man behind the counter was dressed in old khakis and a clean undershirt with a white apron around his waist. He was quick and nervous, like a ferret. His hair was thin and greasy, his skin pale and shiny. He looked indeed like a jailhouse punk. Joe glided over to the counter and laid his big palms on it. He spoke softly, even though there was nobody else in the shop.
“Hiya Johnny. How things?”
The man’s eyes didn’t meet ours. He looked nervously down at the counter and wiped it back and forth, back and forth, with a damp rag.
“Who’s he?” Johnny finally asked, not looking up at me.
“A friend. Don’t sweat it. Now look, when he gets here and goes up the stairs, we just want you to come outside and fool with the awning crank, okay? just give it a couple of spins, then back inside to get the two-wheeler.”
He nodded and began kneading the rag on the countertop as if it were a hunk of pizza dough.
“If he finds out, I’m cooked. I think he knows, Joe.”
“Nah. No way. And in an hour we’ll have him put away. just put those empty bottles on the two-wheeler and march them outside and around the side of the building. Stack ’em up like you always do there, then just keep walking around the building and down the alley. Simple.”
“He knows. I know he knows,” said Rizzo in a thin, reedy voice. He looked like a cornered animal. He smelled of fear. I saw the look of death about his eyes. He gave me the creeps. “You got no idea what’ll happen to me if you don’t get him. You got no idea-“
“Shut up, Johnny. Be cool. I gotta good idea of what’s gonna happen to you when we put the wrap on this string of armed robberies.”
“Look, I got nothin’-“
“Yeah sure, Johnny, you got nothing to do with ’em. You’re just being a good citizen.”
“I don’t care no more. I’ll go back to the joint. I don’t give a shit.”
“That’s your problem, Rizzo. It’s your problem and all those punks like you. You just don’t give a shit. Wash your hands and get us two large Italians. And two coffee regulars.”
Johnny made the sandwiches with the same quick and jumpy movements, and kept twitching his shiny pale head around to look out the front window to the street. The old battered car with the racing slicks was still there. Joe asked Johnny what he was going to do when DeLucca showed. He wanted to be sure Johnny had it right. Rizzo repeated the plan and shoved our sandwiches at us. I took the coffee and sipped but let the sandwich stay on the paper plate. Johnny looked up past us and his eyes widened.
“Jesus Christ! It was him,” he wailed.
“Who?” said Joe, turning around with one elbow resting on the counter.
“DeLucca. I swear to Christ it’s him in that cab.” Rizzo was past trembling now, and there was a line of dampness on his brow and above his lip. I smelled again the sweet, sickly odor of fear and decay about him. I wasn’t going to touch my sub; I was sure of it. Joe looked at the departing cab as it vanished up the street, and turned languidly back to his meal. He shook his big head slowly.
“For Chrissake, Johnny, you’re scared shitless. Willya calm down, eh? You got any booze back there? Take a shot and have a smoke. Settle down; it’l1 be over before you know it.”
Joe had finished his sandwich. He can demolish a sub faster than anyone I know. He drained his coffee and winked at me under his New England Telephone hard hat.
“Let’s go, Doc.”
On our way out a girl came into the shop and called for a pizza. Johnny skittered back around the corner and we saw him pull open the big Blodgett oven and take out the pizza and pan with a flat wooden paddle. Engaged in serving the customer, he seemed a bit more relaxed. But as he was making change he glanced quickly up at us again, and he seemed to come apart.
“Don’t leave. Don’t leave me, please.”
“Take it easy. Remember what I said and take it easy.”
We got out of there, followed by the girl. Joe looked at his watch, swore, and kicked little stones as we walked down the street. We weren’t heading to our van, but in the other direction.
“Stupid little shit; he’ll blow the whole thing.”
“Where are we going?”
“Just to check the other teams. I guess I better warn everyone that Rizzo’s clutched. Look over there; there’s Powers up in his crow’s-nest.”
I was sure he saw us. From up alongside the high pole he could see everything. But he never seemed to take his eyes from the box on the pole that he was fiddling with. Around the corner was another van just like ours. We stopped by and hefted cables for a minute, talking to the men all the time and warning them about the snitch’s mental state. It was twenty past three, and Joe and I ambled back toward our van, taking an alley route.
“There’s the milk truck,” said Joe. It was backed up to a convenience store. The driver, dressed in a blue cotton uniform, lounged on the loading dock with a cup of coffee. We walked over near him. He spoke to us softly, scarcely moving his mouth.
“Anything?” he said.
“Nah. About forty minutes more. How are the little toddlers? They behaving themselves?” Joe walked closer to the milk truck and glanced in the partially opened rear door. I was right behind him and looked over his shoulder. Inside, sitting on two benches reading skin magazines, were four of the meanest-looking dudes I’d ever seen. The SWAT team. They were wearing flak vests, funny-looking headgear, and blackface. Neatly laid out on the floor of the truck were shotguns, tommy guns, and sniper rifles. They didn’t even look up at us.
“just be ready when we holler,” said Joe, and we walked on.
“Hope we don’t have to use the goon squad,” he added as we drew within sight of our van. “It’d mess up this nice neighborhood.”
We found Kevin fiddling with some bogus Ma Bell equipment and talking softly into his headset, looking very professional. We told him he should get coffee now because there wouldn’t be time later.
“Mainly I want you to let Rizzo know we’re still here, Kev. Calm him down a little. If he sees me again he’s going to come all unglued.”
So Kevin went and returned shortly with a steaming cup of java, shaking his head sadly.
“Says DeLucca’s gonna hit him, Joe. Says DeLucca ain’t coming at four. Says he was riding in a cab and saw you two in the shop with him. He wants to go back to Deer Island where it’s safe. What about this guy inna cab, anyway?”. ‘
“Aw, bullshit. He’s just spooked. I just hope he doesn’t screw up the drill and get some bystander killed. Now Doc, listen: we want you to get in the back there. If I yell, you’re to fall flat on your face. Nothing should happen- our van is really just a lookout. But we’ve got to be ready to pull out and block the street if he’s got friends with a car. If that happens, Mary would- never forgive me for bringing you along. But I really expect it’ll go smoothly. And if, God forbid, any rough stuff starts, we’ve got the gorillas in the milk truck.”
I was not in a jolly mood. While I dearly hoped Carmen DeLucca the mad-dog killer would be snagged, I had seen a lot in the past hour that had me down. The town depressed me, with its grimy, crowded streets, dilapidated buildings, and ragged, worn-out people. Of course they were the victims, not the culprits, but it was depressing nonetheless. The goon squad in the milk wagon depressed me. Most of all, Johnny Rizzo the jailhouse punk depressed me. He was a sad case, and frankly I didn’t see much future for him no matter what happened.
Kevin sat at the wheel. Joe sat in back just behind me, with his legs stretched out on the floor and his headset on. Now and then I listened to my phone receiver and heard the conversations. There was none of the static crackle and buzz of the radio. Code words like over weren’t needed either. It was a conference call of four parties, clear, subdued, conversational. And unlike talk on the police radio, it was private.
At four DeLucca still hadn’t shown. At four-thirty I was surprised to see Rizzo leave the shop, fiddle with the awning crank, and disappear. I heard Powers alert all of us from his lookout. Right according to plan, Rizzo reappeared a second later, pushing the two-wheeled cart loaded with empties.
“Did you see him?” Joe asked Powers via his headset. “He must’ve come in the back way. Bill, get your guys ready. Keller, you guys see anything inside from where you’re sitting?”
The answer was no. We waited, and pretty soon Bill said that the milk truck had seen no sign of Johnny, who was supposed to saunter down the alley in their direction after he stacked the- bottles. Then a disgusted voice from van number two told us the answer.
“Hey Joe, your prize snitch is here. The little asshole is pounding on our van. You believe it?”
I hadn’t seen Joe so mad in a long time. We unhitched the line cables, started up, and tore up the block and around the corner in less than half a minute. There he was, complete in undershirt and white apron, whining and dancing around the telephone crew of van number two and yelling that he wanted to go back to the Big House. Talk about blowing the stakeout. I thought Joe was going to kill him. The other guys thought so too, because they kept between the two men. Finally we had a plainclothesman march Rizzo back to the shop and we went back to our stations. But it wasn’t any good; we all knew it wouldn’t work after that.
We waited till five-thirty, then decided that it really looked fake to see all these workmen putting in overtime doing nothing. To continue the stakeout now would only wreck our cover for any future ones. Joe arranged to have a heavy surveillance of the place and neighborhood for the next twenty-four hours and we all went home. Kevin was to drive the van back to headquarters at Ten-Ten Comm. Ave., where he and Joe would pick up their cars.
Joe and Kevin were irritable and glum. Joe’s mood was so dark it was dangerous. I went and bought them a pint of Johnny Walker, some soda and ice, and some plastic glasses. I said I’d drive the van for them, which I did. They sat stretched out in back and grumbled, swore, and drank. I heard Joe say more than once that he hoped DeLucca did catch up with Johnny Rizzo.
We stopped on the way for Joe to make a call to Mary, and then I got on the line too. She was mad all right, but it could have been worse. Joe promised to buy a big leg of lamb in the North End before we started home.
“No, Joey. That means we won’t eat until midnight. Get loin chops. And hurry up, it’s past six!”
We promised to be home by eight, and continued on our way. At headquarters Joe didn’t even go into his office; we got into his car and headed over to Storrow Drive. In fifteen minutes we were in the North End and, miraculously, parked right off Salem I Street. We walked two blocks and then turned onto a little side street. I mentioned that this wasn’t the way to Toscana’s, and Joe nodded. He had a desperate look on his face. He said he had a little errand before we bought the meat.
“But it’s important, Doc. That’s why I thought of telling Mary we were going to Toscana’s; there’s something I just have to do here. It won’t take long.”