Like a curtain rising, the garage doors at the Lancaster Foreign Car Service flew open in the spring of 1980 on a new era in Boston's underworld order. Howie Winter had fallen, and a re-alignment was underway. It was an industry shake-out, and standing in the bays of the repair shop were Whitey Bulger and Stevie Flemmi, arms folded, ready to take center stage and exploit any and all opportunities.
The old haunt, Marshall Motors in Somerville, had been abandoned in favor of this new downtown location. Though some of the former Winter Hill gangsters were on the run, others had come along. George Kaufman, who operated Marshall Motors as a front for Howie Winter, now operated the Lancaster Street Garage for Bulger and Flemmi. In the mornings the bays might be filled with the clanging and banging of mechanics' tools, but by early afternoon the tone of the place changed markedly. Most days around 1:30, Bulger and Flemmi arrived to take over the show. Whitey pulled into an empty bay and climbed out of his shiny black 1979 Chevy Caprice. The hushed conversations, the stream of visitors -- it all revolved around Bulger and Flemmi. And accompanying them was the big and beefy Nick Femia, an enforcer with a reputation as a killer hooked on shotguns and cocaine. Femia, Kaufman and other wiseguys stood outside as look-outs as Bulger and Flemmi took up in an office inside.
The Lancaster Street site represented an upgrade, the mobster equivalent of a law firm or bank moving its base from the margins to the center of a city's business district. It was a location that came with certain frills coveted by just about any Bostonian -- a couple of blocks west and across the street stood Boston Garden. The Celtics, led by a rookie named Larry Bird, had just fallen short in their surprising run at the Eastern Conference title against Philadelphia.
More importantly, the Lancaster Street Garage was situated in close proximity to the city's Mafia heartland in the North End. In a matter of minutes you could walk from the garage and to the front door of 98 Prince Street, where Gennaro Angiulo and his four brothers oversaw the region's LCN racketeering enterprise. Finally, there were Bulger's neighbors a few blocks south. The Lancaster Street Garage stood practically in the shadow of FBI's Boston field office in Government Center, where John Connolly and John Morris were stationed.
In many ways, Bulger was on a roll. Even though their former Winter Hill gang had suffered a crippling blow from the government's wildly successful prosecution in the horse race-fixing case, Bulger and Flemmi seemingly adopted the optimistic view that in life there were no setbacks, only new opportunities. They'd heard that an unaffiliated East Boston wiseguy named Vito was running a loansharking and gambling business without either Bulger's or the Mafia's blessing. Soon the gun-toting Femia paid Vito a visit and put a pistol to his head. Then Bulger and Flemmi had their own session with Vito in the backroom of a downtown smoke shop and explained the meaning of life. Vito decided to retire and Bulger, Flemmi and Femia took control of the East Boston franchise.
No question, when the need arose, Bulger and Flemmi were hands-on. If a person was late on a loan payment, they would take the wayward client for a ride in the black Chevy. Flemmi would drive with the recalcitrant debtor seated by his side. From the backseat, Bulger would whisper in a low but unmistakably firm tone about the need to "get it up" or "face the consequences." If a second trip was necessary, Bulger and Flemmi would have someone like Femia trash the debtor's apartment while the two crime bosses talked over the problem during the ride-along.
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