Inside the FBI Connolly and Morris were stuffing the bureau's files with confidential reports about how down-and-out Bulger and Flemmi were in the wake of Howie Winter's fall, but out on the street the two gangsters hardly appeared to be suffering. In addition to coordinating their affairs with the Mafia, the two were busy launching their new tactic of extorting tribute, or rent, from already established rackets. The bookmaker Chico Krantz was now stopping by to drop off his monthly payments, at one point plunking down an extra $5,000 -- an additional fee Bulger had demanded for settling a dispute Krantz had had with another bookie. Krantz was only one of many bookies now paying such tributes.
There was one hardship, a personal one. On New Year's Day of 1980 Bulger's mother had died at Massachusetts General Hospital after a long illness. She was 73. Whitey Bulger had stayed on in the family apartment on O'Callaghan Way in the South Boston housing project where he, his brother Billy and John Connolly had all grown up. It was where Flemmi often picked him up in the late morning in the black Chevy to start their business day.
Bulger did have two women in his life to comfort him. One was his longtime girlfriend, Theresa Stanley, who lived in South Boston. He'd met Stanley in the late 1960s, when she was 25 and aimless, already a single mother of four children. He taught her how to organize her life, to have dinner ready for him each night at the same time, and she was always grateful for his presence in her life. He was strict with her children and he wanted everyone to sit at the dinner table together. But these days if he played father to Theresa's four kids, Bulger often ended his day in the arms of a much younger woman, a dental hygienist named Catherine Greig, who lived in North Quincy.
Despite the loss of their mother at the start of the year, 1980 was a time when both Bulgers were consolidating their power and fast approaching the top of their games. Elected as president of the state Senate in 1978, Billy Bulger established himself as a charming orator and cunning powerbroker. Conservative on social issues -- opposing abortion rights and supporting the death penalty -- Bulger was an outspoken defender of the working class. He remained, however, impatient if not intolerant of dissent. In words that could have been ascribed to his gangster brother, politicians described having worked with "two Billy Bulgers."
"If you are going to be just his friend, he's very polite, very proper, a very nice person, a good host, all that," George Keverian, the House Speaker, said about dealings with his counterpart in the state Senate. But, he added, if you opposed Bulger you faced a different and darker side: "He gets steely-eyed, he gets cold."
In a number of highly-publicized disputes Billy Bulger's reputation as vindictive autocrat was cemented. In one, Billy became enraged when a Housing Court judge in Boston refused to fill a clerkship with his hand-picked choice. The judge lashed out against Bulger's raw patronage move by calling Bulger a "corrupt midget." Payback came through legislation that cut the judge's pay, reduced the size of his staff and ended the court's independent status by having it folded into another branch of the judiciary. Both Bulgers were used to having the last word.
Indeed, the Bulger brothers -- each in his own way -- seemed determined to make a struggling city theirs. It was a period of economic unrest, of high inflation, with an aging ex-movie actor, Ronald Reagan, on his way to ousting the unpopular incumbent president, Jimmy Carter. It was the dawn of what would soon become known as the high-flying 80s, the "Me-Decade," featuring Yuppies, skinny ties, designer food and leg warmers, an era of Wall Street greed and corporate takeovers led by mega-financiers like Carl Icahn and Michael Milken. Strutting into the Lancaster Street Garage each day were Bulger and Flemmi to take care of their own mergers and acquisitions. And Jane Fonda wasn't the only one exercising hard. Both Whitey and Stevie worked out and lifted weights and stayed fit. Bulger, even at 50, took his appearance seriously, and he showed up at the garage to flex his underworld power wearing the body-fitting shirts that were in style. There wasn't a mirror or a windshield he didn't like. He'd pause, catch his reflection, secure in the feeling that no one -- at least not the Boston FBI -- was watching what he was really up to.
Copyright 2000, Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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