Read Killers Online

Authors: Howie Carr

Killers

 

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To all my daughters

 

1

“DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”

I got the word about Sally Curto's nephew around 5:45 a.m. when he woke me with a telephone call to my apartment on Sparhawk Street in Brighton. I don't spend a lot of nights there, but some habits are hard to break, and one of those habits is never getting into habits, like sleeping in the same place every night.

“My nephew Tony,” Sally said, in a whisper that was more like a croak. “He got shot this morning. Killed. On Parmenter Street. He was working the door at the barbooth game. Three guys with masks. I can't fuckin' believe it. Work my ass off all these years and this is the respect I get. It's all over the TV.”

In the background I could hear a long, anguished female wail.

“I gotta see you,” he said.

“Usual place?” I said. Then I heard another lengthy, mournful sound, followed by two toots on a car horn. Sally's ride had arrived.

“Usual place,” he said. “I gotta get the fuck outta here.”

*   *   *

Sally's real first name was Salvatore, as in Salvatore Matteo Curto. But as far as I know, nobody had ever called him anything but “Sally,” except maybe his parole officer or his sainted mother, God rest her soul.

Sally lived in Nahant, but at that time of the morning, it doesn't take any time to get to Castle Island in South Boston. We both liked Southie for meetings, because neither of us is from there. Otherwise, it's a very overrated community in my opinion, and Sally's too. And spare me any nonsense about how brilliant Whitey Bulger was. The main reason he was able to take over the rackets in Southie was the brainpower, or lack thereof, of the competition. Sally and I have a joke about Southie hoods:

Q. What do you a call a Southie guy who moves from C Street to D Street?

A. A fugitive.

Anyway, I got to Southie first, and was sitting on the hood of my BMW when Sally arrived. He has two drivers, the older one they call George Graft; I don't know his real name, never asked. It's not considered good form. George Graft is supposed to look like some ham actor who played in a lot of old gangster movies. George Graft is also Sally's so-called bodyguard, which tells you a lot about how peaceful it's been around here for years now. George Graft couldn't punch his way out of a paper bag, and he has a license to carry, meaning he's never done time.

Sally's other driver is from East Boston, younger, fatter, at least 280 pounds, and I know he's done time, because he's got that con habit of always putting his hand to his mouth when he talks to you, in case somebody in the yard or in the sentry tower was watching him and trying to read his lips.

Sally called him Cheech.

Even though he was a lot younger than George Graft, Cheech was more old school. He always wore a raincoat, even in the summer when it was ninety degrees, and underneath it he carried a sawed-off shotgun. As far as I knew, he'd never used it, or been rousted with it, even though the cops had to know he was a felon in possession of a firearm, an illegal firearm at that. I don't trust guys who get passes from the law unless I know for a fact they're paying off the cops. If you're a wiseguy, it's not healthy to have other wiseguys thinking cops are taking care of you just because they like you, because the only reason they like you if you're not paying them off with money is because you're paying them off with something else, and snitchin' is the coin of the realm.

On the other hand, maybe Cheech was just riding his older brother's coattails. Hole in the Head was a genuine hard-bar, about the last one Sally had working for him. There was a story around that when they were kids, Cheech used to bring a pistol to the dinner table, because he knew Hole in the Head was likewise packing and was capable of going out of control at any moment, even at the dinner table, especially if Mama was out in the kitchen ladling out some more marinara sauce for her beloved bambinos. I figured Hole in the Head would be in the mix before nightfall.

Sally rolled up in a sleek Lincoln Town Car. Cheech was driving, which was a sign of how seriously Sally was taking this. He parked two spaces away from my BMW, and then got out of the car. I could see the outlines of the shotgun under his raincoat, on the right side. Cheech looked around menacingly to make sure nobody was coming at his boss—totally unnecessary at this time of the morning, but maybe he was trying to impress Sally, or overcompensating for having a tougher brother. Then Cheech walked back to the Lincoln and opened the front passenger door for Sally.

When Sally climbed out, Cheech nodded to him somberly, as if to indicate that he had reconnoitered the perimeter and found nothing amiss. Theatrical is what it was. Nobody I'd ever run into had ever mentioned Cheech capping anybody. If he was capable, he was keeping it a pretty good secret.

Sally was about five-eight, 260 pounds, sixty-seven years old. He too was wearing a raincoat, only his was over his pajamas, and on his feet were bedroom slippers. He'd left Nahant in a hurry. He shook my hand, then took a pack of Marlboro Lights from his raincoat pocket, shook one out and lit up.

“You heard the details yet?” he said.

“Just what was on the radio, pretty sketchy.”

This was the first time in a couple of years that the first words out of his mouth when I'd met him somewhere he'd driven to hadn't been a string of obscenities about how he'd had to look for a parking space on account of the bleepity-bleep-bleep
Herald.
Some broad reporter had caught him using a handicapped placard he'd paid a hack at the Registry $500 for. They'd plastered his fat-ass picture all over the front page for a couple of days and made him look like a real asshole. Now Sally, or his driver, had to look for a parking space like everybody else. Sally'd never gotten over it, or at least he hadn't until now.

“My nephew,” he said. “You met him, right? At Tina's wedding last summer?”

“A good kid,” I said noncommittally. If I had met him, he'd left no impression on me.

“He wanted to make some extra money, said he needed it for college.”

College? Sally had a college boy working the door at one of his cash games. Sally ran at least one Las Vegas night per week for churches or charities. That's how he was breaking in his own son, Jason, or trying to. Inside a church seemed like a better place to start out a college boy than an after-hours barbooth game, although I would bet there wasn't a lot of cash in Sally's game anymore. These days the old-timers, which was all you'd have playing barbooth, tend to blow their Social Security on $20 or $30 scratch tickets, or maybe a trip to Foxwoods the first of the month, after the eagle shits. A stick-up guy could get a bigger haul knocking over the bingo game Wednesday night at Marion Manor, the old folks' rest home in Southie.

Sally took a drag on his cigarette and flicked it away, toward the seawall.

“I know what you're thinking, these kids ain't like us, they're soft. He's from Lynnfield—not Lynn, Lynnfield. Trees and shit, Lexuses, soccer, blond fucking cheerleaders. But what am I gonna do? He ain't really my nephew, you know. He's my wife's. If I don't use him she'll let me have it 'cause her sister's letting her have it. And now, I give 'em what they want and he's dead, and I ain't never gonna hear the end of it.”

“I didn't even know you were still running a barbooth game.”

“If I didn't, them old farts'd be bitchin' and moanin' all week at me at the social club down Salem Street. They oughta be home praying for a happy death, but instead they're on my ass, 'cause they got nothing better to do.”

I thought to myself, this is a guy who's on the national La Cosa Nostra organizational charts that the Department of Justice shows off at press conferences in Washington. He's right under Rubber Lips in the New England Mafia. He's the “underboss,” so-called, but when he's not taking a raft of shit at home he's taking it down the North End at his club. Mario Puzo must be rolling over in his grave.

“Sally,” I said, “why didn't you have the kid doing something he couldn't get into trouble doing, running numbers or something?”

“Running numbers? How many guys you got running numbers, Bench? Numbers is deader'n dog racing. Or horse racing, for that matter. Besides, when was the last time somebody heisted one of our games? Gotta be at least ten years.”

I knew what he wanted me to do. But he wanted me to volunteer. He'd lose face if he had to ask me. Not with anybody else In Town, as everyone in the Mob still called the North End, because he was “In Town,” just like I was “the Somerville mob.” But personally he'd feel embarrassed having to ask a younger, Irish guy for help, even a guy he's known his whole life basically, since I was a kid doing my first state bit.

But Sally didn't have many capable guys left. Just Hole in the Head.

“The reason I come to you, Bench, is because we're in this together now, I thought you ought to be the first to know. I mean, these assholes get away with this, nobody's safe. You still got that card game in Andrew Square?”

I did, with two guys running it named Salt and Peppa. If some junkie threw down on Salt, Peppa would shoot him in the back. Or vice versa. Nobody would figure it, a black guy on the same crew with an white guy. Peppa was a question mark. Stick-up guys don't like question marks. They find somebody else to rob, most likely a coke dealer.

But this was Sally's problem, not mine. I got my own headaches to deal with, guys stealing, guys getting sick, guys on drugs, guys beating up girlfriends, guys ratting each other out, the usual shit.

“I'm sure you got some people on this already,” I said. “I don't want to step on anybody's toes.”

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