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Authors: Howard Shrier

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective

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BOOK: Boston Cream
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The fourth place, the three-bedroom condo on the top floor of Williams Wharf, was his sanctuary, the place he came to do his white-collar work, where no one got bloodied. Here he received guests of a certain stature, representing the many snaking arms of Boston’s public services. Here he could think and plan in quiet, or as quiet as his head ever got.

The views of the harbour were breathtaking in almost every room. Ask anyone who had been there. His office, kitchen and bedroom all faced east. And out on the balcony, where he stood now, it was fucking panoramic. He had his leather jacket on and an Irish whiskey rocks in his hand, easing the spring night chill. Facing north, hip against the balcony wall, he could see the Bunker Hill Monument, the soaring stone rose-coloured in the footlights. He had grown up a few blocks from there on Russell Street, but hadn’t lived there in years. After his dad died, his mother had sold the place to a yuppie couple with one kid, early gentrifiers, and she hosed them but good on the price. Got three times what she would have got a couple of years before. Charlestown, once a tough old neighbourhood. There were more dry cleaners than bars now—what did that tell you about a place? The old crowd in Charlestown never needed dry cleaners. They had wives for that.

One of his bedrooms at Williams Wharf had been set up as a workout room, which he used often. Sean was past thirty-five but not yet forty, and kept himself hard and quick. Five-ten and 175: all he’d ever needed with his anger, his speed.

The third bedroom was a guest room made up if he ever needed to sleep downtown. But not with other women. Sean had been faithful to Bev since the day he fell for her at fifteen, felt lucky that she returned his love the way she did, loved the kids they were bringing up. They had survived their one bad crisis with Michael, had come through it strong, and he still found her so beautiful he would never even think of cheating, couldn’t imagine tasting another woman’s mouth or body. The
Italians he did business with—the local concern being the remnants of the Patriarca family—Jesus, they ran around like crabs on a beach. Cunt hounds every one of them, sleazing from one lay or blow job to the next, all while the wives cooked and banged out kids and combed their hair on Sundays and took them to church.

Not Sean. He didn’t need all that drama. This place was a man’s place, one big den, in the very north end of Boston, smack among the Italians; how do you like that for balls?

Sean’s father had been a Charlestown classic, Michael James Daggett, a.k.a. Mad Mickey or the Mad Mick. One of Whitey’s boys: Whitey Bulger, who ran the Boston Irish Mob for close to thirty years while his brother Billy ran the State House just as long. All through his climb and his long time at the top, Whitey instilled in his men the one, the only, absolute rule of the trade: Never rat. Never tell a cop a thing. Never look a fed in the eye, other than to spit in it. Never say a word. Do your time like a man, we’ll look after the missus. Above all, never rat.

All while singing like a diva to the FBI. For years.

An epic Wagnerian song cycle, performed by Whitey and his partner Steve Flemmi. They informed on rivals and friends alike to keep their own trade humming, killing prodigiously all the while. Stevie especially. Even killing killers who killed for them. Killing girls. The details on some of the girls, when that all came out, were sickening, even to Sean. But even as the warrants were being issued, Whitey’s pals in the FBI warned him off and he stayed free another fifteen years.

Mad Mickey had been dumb enough or strong enough to believe in the Charlestown code and went to prison rather than deal with the feds. The feds got pissed enough to send him to Milan, Michigan, a rathole if ever there was one, a snake pit like Bedlam, only Bedlam wasn’t eighty per cent black. Mickey kept his mouth shut from the time he was swept up, never said a
word in any interrogation room, courtroom or pretrial cell. Kept his idea of honour and did his time like an all-star, wouldn’t back down from a Panzer division, until he got into a fight where he brought fists and the brother had a knife, stabbed him deep through his ribs into the lungs, and the life whistled out of the slick bubbling hole in minutes. His father had stuck to the Town code and it got rubbed in his face like road rash. So excuse Sean if he didn’t feel sentimental about Charlestown. He got a kick out of seeing it from his balcony and never having to live there again. Once a square mile of mayhem and thievery and now a pocket of real estate deals.

Whitey’s treachery, his hypocrisy, his shattering of so many hearts had decimated the Irish Mob. It had never quite recovered. When Sean came out of prison last year, a lot of people thought he might make a move—he had the genes and savage temper for it—but he had stayed quiet. Not because he lacked anything for balls. His were big as Mickey’s and no less brass. It was because he was going to bust in the back door when he was good and ready.

Sean had a secret. One that meant he could stay clear of his old ways, anything that could take him back to Cedar Junction. His four-year bit there had cured him of any desire to get strip-searched and hosed down again. To miss his family and the other things that mattered. Now clear of probation, he was building something so new, so far under anyone’s radar, that not one of the many agencies that had pursued him over the years had a clue he was back in business. All because of Michael. A gift brought to his doorstep by his own beloved boy. His opening was coming. Out of the ashes of Whitey’s great deception, he was rebuilding. Gathering steam fast, with loads of cash coming in, untraceable. Soon he’d have enough to make his mark on the town. To carry a big enough stick that he could speak softly as a prayer.

CHAPTER 8

I
f there was anywhere in America you had to fall sick, you would want it to be on Francis Street. Every building fronting on either side was a hospital, specialist centre or office building housing doctors. So was every other building for eight blocks. This was the place to be if your heart seized up, your legs gave out, an organ failed or a stroke left you needing a bedpan and a bib for meals. Or a woman with a barbell gave your head a whack.

I walked past a group of smokers all facing south so the wind was at their backs, pursing their cheeks as they sucked the last gasp of smoke they were going to have until their appointments or visits were over. I ducked between idling taxis waiting for people to ease out of wheelchairs and into back seats. Once I was inside Sinai Hospital, the first smell that hit me was not the usual mix of disinfectant, body fluids and anesthetics, the anxious odours and stale breath of the sick—it was coffee. Fresh coffee. Sold out of a cafeteria in a bright two-floor atrium. I lined up for a cup of dark roast and took it with me as I went in search of the east-wing elevators. I went down a hallway where both walls were lined with portraits of prominent Bostonians who had contributed to medicine through science, medical practice, philanthropy and other means. Near the end
on the left was a beatific shot of the very man I was going to see, E. Charles Stayner, fingers steepled under his backlit chin as he gazed out at something only a man of his vision and talent could see.

On the sixth floor, I passed through a set of glass doors and found the Transplant Clinic on the left. Gave my name to the receptionist inside. “Right,” she said, “I spoke to your assistant. You’re here about poor David.”

My assistant. I hoped she hadn’t called Jenn that on the phone. We’d have to add phone repair to our hotel bill.

“Dr. Stayner had to take a call but it shouldn’t be too long. Just have a seat and I’ll call you.”

There were eight other people in the waiting room. Two were clearly on their own and neither looked healthy. Their skin was the colour of lard, their eyes a waxy yellow. The other six were in pairs: a sick one accompanied by a well one. Two older couples and a woman with what had to be her grown daughter. Some stared at a flat-screen monitor that had CNN with the sound off, which is the best way to watch CNN. Others read newspapers or did Sudoku or crosswords. Everyone spoke quietly if they spoke at all, leaning in close to murmur to each other.

There were three padded chairs in a nook by a window. I sat on the far left, where there was a table stacked with the hospital newsletter. I sipped my coffee and scanned stories about Sinai’s recent accomplishments and initiatives, and there were plenty, of course. New research findings, breakthroughs in clinical practice, expansions of service, acquisitions of clinics and smaller hospitals.

A burly man in his sixties filled the doorway, a Lee J. Cobb type who must have been powerful in his day. He paused there, panting a little, one hand on the jamb, then boomed out, “What is this, a waiting room or a morgue? Good morning, everybody.”

He stood there looking around until everyone muttered, “Good morning, Al,” or some variation back at him. He took in the three-seater I was in, ambled over and sank into the cushion on my right with a great exhalation. He looked at me, nodded, then looked over the magazines on the table in front of us and picked up a
Sports Illustrated
with last year’s basketball playoffs on the cover. He read; I read. Then he stood up and took off his coat and hung it on a hook on the wall and sat down again. His arms were furred with white hair and he had a thick gold watch on his left wrist. Between his right elbow and wrist were four large red lumps rising out of the skin like volcanoes in a diorama.

“They don’t hurt,” he said in a deep voice that sounded like it had rumbled through a lot of late, smoky nights.

He had caught me staring. “Sorry,” I said.

“Don’t worry about it. They look painful but the doctors actually grow them on purpose, to make dialysis easier. Everything flows a little faster and you don’t get so many infections. They’re called fistulas.”

“I see.”

“You here with one of your parents?”

“No. Just visiting Dr. Stayner.”

“But not for yourself. You’re way too healthy to be one of us. Trust me, by the time you see Stayner, you look like shit. Like me.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just smiled at him.

“I don’t suppose you’re a donor,” he said. His grin showed he kept his teeth nicely whitened.

“Me?”

“You can live on one kidney, you know. Why we have two is a mystery, I’m told. And a healthy donor bounces back in two, three weeks. Everything’s done laparoscopically. You can wear a bathing suit in a month. You swim?”

“Not much.”

“Too bad. You know I’m just pulling your leg here. Mostly. But the average wait for a donor in this state is five years. Now ask me how long the average patient lasts on dialysis.”

“Okay.”

“Four years. Ba dum-bum. And I’ve been on two years plus already, so my meter’s running. However you do the math, it’s depressing. Now if you have money, then you have options.”

“Like what?”

He leaned in close, like we were co-conspirators, and muttered, “China. They execute a lot of prisoners there, and every single organ is harvested. I even heard they execute people in that sect, what are they called—”

“Falun Gong.”

“Yeah. But it’s a few hundred grand I don’t have. I don’t suppose you’re rich. If you won’t give me a kidney, maybe you’ll lend me three hundred Gs? You make that kind of money?”

“Every five years,” I said.

There were fifteen diplomas on the wall of Dr. E. Charles Stayner’s office, none of them from matchbooks. Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Harvard again. According to his online biography, he was head of transplant medicine, a distinguished professor at Harvard Medical School and chair of Sinai’s bioethics committee. His CV ran fifty-four pages, or fifty-three and a half longer than mine.

Stayner himself was about five-ten, with a lean runner’s body. He looked to be in his early fifties, which meant he probably had time to earn another degree or two if he applied himself. His eyes were grey-blue, not unlike the sky outside his windows, and he wore stylish rimless glasses.

He came around from behind his desk to shake hands. The desktop was neat and dust-free. There was a framed photo of him with a teenaged boy who looked a lot like him with a mop of blond curls, and a nice-looking woman with
dark hair down to her shoulders.

“Chuck Stayner,” he said. His grip was strong, of course. And quick. One grasp and on to business. “I’m running behind,” he said, leaning back against the desk, “so please tell me how I can help you.”

“I’ll try to keep it short. How long have you known David?”

“Since he began his fellowship, which was a year ago July. Call it a year and a half.”

“Would you say you know him well?”

“I know his work well. I know the part of himself that he applies to the work. The professional self, as it were. And I have to say, this disappearing act of his is unlike anything else he’s ever done. I’m not trying to seem self-absorbed here, but his absence has created significant problems for me.”

“How so?”

“He assists in most of my transplants, supervises much of the research, takes on any task he can find that no one else is doing. You don’t just replace a talent like David, any more than you replace a star athlete who gets hurt. It’s left me scrambling at times.”

That did seem self-absorbed, despite his efforts.

“Did he seem different in any way prior to his disappearance? Worried, preoccupied?”

“Not to me. David is very even-keeled as a rule. Which is part of his talent. He has the mind, the hands and the temperament to be a world-class surgeon. He needs rounding out in a few areas, like immunology, but that will come in time. I didn’t do my post-doc work in immunology until I was thirty-four.”

The slouch. “He never confided anything in you?”

“No. And I told all this to the police, by the way. Should I assume they have no leads?”

“None. Was he ever depressed?”

“Are you asking me whether I think he could have taken his own life? No. In addition to everything else, I believe his religious
beliefs proscribe that rather severely.” He glanced at a slim silver watch around his wrist, reminding me my audience was limited.

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