Tommy “The Rat” Callahan was a small-time Irish hood from South Boston. He was known as “The Rat” because of his rather long, pinched nose and his beady eyes that were set too close together. In short, Tommy looked like a rat. And the fact that he was not above ratting out a comrade to advance his own position added to the mystique of “The Rat.” He had no family except his sister, who he idolized.
Tommy was on to the caper of all capers, if only he did not fuck it up as he usually did. Tommy had learned, quite by accident of course, where there was one hundred large—one hundred thousand dollars to the rest of us—kept in a safe. He had cased the joint, and it looked like a breeze. All he needed was a cracksman to handle the safe. Once again, to us law-abiding citizens, a cracksman is a safe cracker, one who opens safes without a combination, and without the owner’s permission for that matter. For this job, he thought he would use Scooter O’Malley. Scooter was the best in the business, but he did not come cheap. Tommy thought Scooter might take it on spec, but then he’d be in for a piece of the action, Scores of this sort don’t happen everyday. No, Tommy would figure a way to get into that goddamn safe without paying an arm and a leg to do so.
However, before he could worry about that, Tommy had to see his sister. Not a day went by that Tommy did not stop in to check up on Joanie. She was the only family he had. And in this rough and tumble world you can’t be too careful. Tommy considered Joanie’s well being the most important thing in the world. He’d even turned down being in on big scores because it would have involved him being out of town for a few days. It didn’t matter that on each of the three occasions when he had turned down the invitation to participate, the crews were busted. And the individuals involved were now doing hard time in Norfolk, the state’s maximum-security prison. As Tommy entered Joanie’s apartment, he heard the usual greeting his dear sister reserved just for him. “Not you again, fuck wad. Don’t ya’ ever knock?”
“Come on, Joanie. Why ya gotta be like that?”
“Why do I gotta be like that? Why do I gotta be like that? You fuckin’ dumb mick you. You beat the shit outta Billy Doyle last night for just holdin’ my hand. And he was about the last guy in South Boston who would even speak to me.”
“Yeah, but, sis … you don’t know what these guys are after.”
“What they’re after! Listen, Tommy Callahan, and listen good. I wanna get laid! You got it? I wanna get laid!”
“Come on, Joanie, don’t talk like that. What if Ma could hear you?”
“Sheesh, Tommy, you’re too fuckin’ much!”
And so the Callahan siblings continued the same discussion they’ve had daily for quite some time. You see, Tommy had appointed himself Joanie’s protector when their mother died. They never knew their father. He had run off with a burlesque dancer a year after Joanie was born. But Tommy was not subtle about protecting his sister’s honor. If Tommy saw his sister with a guy, he would assume the guy was up to no good; and most of the time, he was right. So, as a result of many pummelings, word got around not to mess with Tommy Callahan’s sister if you didn’t want to get your face rearranged. Which left poor little Joanie Callahan without a boyfriend—something she greatly desired.
Tommy thought to himself, I don’t have time for this crap, not today. I’ve got things to do. So he approached his sister and tried to give her a good-bye kiss. She ducked his attempt at brotherly love and said, “Sit down for a moment; I got something I want to tell you.”
This can’t be good, thought Tommy. And to his way of thinking, it was not.
“Tommy,” said Joanie, “if you don’t let me have a life of my own, I’m moving to California.”
“What! You can’t do that. Who’d protect you?”
“That’s just it, Tommy, I don’t need no protecting. You got this mixed-up notion in that fucked up head of yours that I’m still eight years old. I’m a woman of twenty-two, and I have a woman’s needs. I want to love and I want to be loved.”
“But, Joanie, I love ya.”
“Don’t interrupt, Tommy. This is the way it’s gonna to be. I’m dating whoever I please, whenever I please. And the first sign of trouble from you, I’m outta here.”
“I told ya to keep ya yap shut. You’ve got nothin’ to say in the matter. It’s my life.”
Tommy did not like what he was hearing. No, not one bit did he like what he was hearing. However, he knew Joanie well enough to take her advice—for once—and keep his yap shut.
“Okay, sis, we’ll play it your way. But don’t come cryin’ to me if some asshole breaks your heart.”
To which his sister replied, “Don’t you worry about me, I’m the heartbreaker in this family, ya dumb mick.” With that, Tommy took his leave, and this time his sister did allow a brotherly peck on the cheek.
To Tommy, there was nothing more important than Joanie, and he would have to figure a way around her ultimatum, but that could wait. Right now, he had to scare up a plan to get into that damn safe with the hundred large in it. So, for the next two weeks, Tommy looked at it from every angle as to what he could do to effect his score without bringing someone else in on it. But try as he might, no way presented itself. Of course, he could open it; there were explosives. But he wanted to open the safe and not get caught. An explosion would bring every cop within miles of the damn place before he could get a block away. And besides, with the luck he’s been having lately, he’d probably blow himself up instead of the safe. He was so busy trying to figure something out, he thought this would be a great time to let Joanie think she got her way. That’s why he stayed away for those two weeks.
But not seeing Joanie for so long left an emptiness in Tommy. So on the fifteenth day since he last spoke with her, he thought, The hell with it, I’m goin’ over there. She’s had her little tantrum and she’s had two weeks to think she’s got her way. I know she hasn’t been seeing anyone or someone would have blabbed it to me by now.
Upon arriving at his sister’s place, Tommy tried to enter in his usual way, bursting in without knocking. However, his ingress was hindered by the fact that the door was locked. He took a step back and stared at the door for a moment, as if he had never seen one before. Then he stepped up to the door to do battle with it. He started pounding on it as though it had wronged him in some great fashion, all the while yelling, “Sis, sis, ya all right in there?” Within seconds, the door flew inward, and there stood Joanie, hands on her hips and a scowl on her face.
“What are ya trying to do, break down my door?”
Tommy let out a sigh of relief when he saw that Joanie was unharmed … and her usual lovable self. “I thought somethin’ might have happened to you. Jeesh. I haven’t seen you for two weeks, anything coulda happened.”
Removing her hands from her hips, his sister said, “Well, come inside. Ya want the neighbors to know all my business?”
With this congenial invite, Tommy stepped into the apartment, and without missing a beat, he said, “So, I’ve been leaving ya alone. Ya got that crazy idea outta ya head about moving?”
Joanie shook her head in disgust before saying, “Tommy, it was not about ya leaving me alone. I—and only God knows why—love you, you’re my brother. No, Tommy, it’s about me seeing who I want, when I want, and with no interference from you.”
“So who’s the lucky guy?”
“You know I haven’t been seein’ anybody from around here. Your Southie rat-fink friends woulda ratted me out, and you woulda got your goddamn mick ass over here a long time ago. So don’t give me none of your mick bullshit.”
There was not much Tommy could say to that. Joanie was right. She knew it, and he knew it. However, he did try a bluff anyway, “But I stayed away like you wanted.” To which Joanie just shook her head before walking back into the kitchen where she had been when Tommy started his Tom-Tom exercises on her door. Tommy stayed where he was, looking like the big goof that he was.
From the kitchen, his sister called to him, “Tommy, will ya come into the kitchen for a minute?”
Tommy stopped looking like a goof long enough to walk into the kitchen. When he entered, he exclaimed, “Holy shit, Joanie. Whatcha doin’?”
“What does it look like I’m doin’ … I’m cookin’ dinner.”
“How’d ya know I was comin’ over?”
“It’s not for you, you dumb asshole. It’s for me and a friend.”
Tommy looked a little hurt, not because Joanie had called him an asshole, but because she had not invited him to dinner also.
Then Tommy thought to himself, Well, this is good; sis has a girlfriend she’s hangin’ with. Maybe it’ll get her mind off of running around with guys. Now all I gotta do is find a way into that goddamn safe.
It was at this juncture that Joanie hit Tommy—SMACK—right between the eyes. Figuratively speaking, that is. Joanie was quite capable of physically hitting him smack, right between the eyes, but this time she only wanted to speak with him.
Joanie said to Tommy, “Go over to the table and sit down. I got somethin’ I wanna tell ya.” Tommy dutifully obeyed and sat himself down, awaiting the pronouncement from on high, which was not long in coming. Joanie started by saying, “My friend will be here soon, and even if I threw your ass outta here right now, you’d know what’s goin’ on sooner or later. So I’m tellin’ ya now, so it can be done and over with.”
As his sister was speaking, Tommy was thinking, All this shit just because a girlfriend is comin’ over. Does she think that I’m some kind of asshole who doesn’t want her to have any friends? Sheesh!
“Tommy, are you listening to me?”
“Yeah … sure, sis. I heard every word ya said. And I’m glad ya got a girlfriend comin’ over for dinner.”
“It’s not a girlfriend that’s coming, it’s …” Joanie faltered. She was having trouble getting out what she wanted to say. But after a few seconds, she took a deep breath and said, “He’s a guy.” That was it … just three little words.
At first, Joanie thought, Tommy looks like he’s taking it well. However, that was not the case. As with most things of a new or complex nature, Tommy’s cognitive thinking took a while to kick in. So, while Joanie was thinking, This might not be so bad, Tommy was thinking, What’d she just say? A guy, what guy? What’s she talkin’ about?
Eventually the message hit home. And by the slow change of expression on Tommy’s face, Joanie knew there was trouble ahead unless she cut it off at the pass, so to speak. She took the initiative by saying, “Just one cotton-pickin’ minute. Don’t start no shit and there won’t be no shit. Got it? I’ve been seein’ a guy and his name is Paul. He’s in town for his sister’s wedding. We met over at Tina Ruggerio’s house, and he’s a very nice boy. Polite, has manners, and most important of all, he likes me. And you, Tommy Callahan, ain’t gonna screw this up for me. Got it?”
By now, Tommy had regained all his faculties—speech, thought, the whole nine yards. His first thought was, No way. And the first words out his mouth were also “No way.”
“Stop right there, Tommy Callahan. I told you before, one peep outta ya mouth and I’m California bound. Got it? Don’t answer because I don’t care if ya got it or not. So what’s it to be? When Paul gets here, are you gonna act decent or do I go into my bedroom and start packin’?”
So what’s a guy to do in a situation like this? Tommy had been around the block more than once. And he knew his sister well enough to decide that now was not the right time to start a war. He did not think these exact words, but his thoughts were along similar lines. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Okay, sis, you win. When does the paragon get here?”
“He’ll be here soon. I’ll introduce you, and when I give the high sign, you split. And no fuckin’ bad language when he’s here, I don’t wanna give him the wrong idea about our fuckin’ family. Got it?” Joanie didn’t wait for an answer; she turned her back to Tommy and resumed her domestic duties. And Tommy? Well, he just slumped back down in his chair, a defeated man.
Tommy may have been defeated, but he thought it only a temporary defeat. He was one mick from Southie who knew the score, who could roll with the punches. Oh no, not by a long shot is this over, thought Tommy. Just then, there was a knock at the door. And the hip mick who could roll with the punches was startled into jumping two inches off the chair upon which he was sitting.
Joanie hurried to the door and opened it to show a handsome young man, dressed in a suit and tie, holding flowers. “Please come in, Paul,” intoned Joanie.
Tommy, who was still sitting in the kitchen, heard the reception Joanie had given her guest and thought, This I gotta see. So Tommy walked out of the kitchen and into the living room and he could not believe his eyes. He’s wearing a suit, a fuckin’ suit. Ya gotta be kiddin’ me, thought Tommy. He did not say that aloud. The look he was getting from Joanie had withered men stronger than he.
Turning back to Paul, Joanie said, “Paul, I would like you to meet my brother, Tommy. And Tommy, this is Paul Puglisie.” Tommy was standing about three feet from Paul and hesitantly extended his hand. In turn, Paul grabbed it, and with a firm grip said, “A pleasure to meet you, sir.” Tommy said nothing. Nothing, that is, until he received a surreptitious kick to his shin from Joanie; then he said, “Glad to meet ya.” But thought, You’re not foolin’ me, buddy, with your fancy suit and your fancy manners. No, not one bit are ya foolin’ me with those manners. I invented manners. Of course, Tommy had not invented manners. In fact, he barely knew what the word meant.
Once the formalities were out of the way, Joanie said, “Why don’t you boys get acquainted. I’ve got somethin’ to do in the kitchen. And I’ll put these beautiful flowers in some water, thank you so much, Paul.”
To which Paul remarked, “May I help with anything?”
“No, Paul. You and Tommy get to know one another. Dinner’s almost ready, and Tommy’s got a business meeting he has got to go to; don’t you, Tommy?”
“Huh? Oh yeah, down to the Union Hall. Me and the boys got a meetin’ planned.” Tommy was quite proud of himself for coming up with a lie like that on the spur of the moment.
After Joanie had left for the kitchen, Paul said, “Why don’t we make ourselves comfortable.”
Why not, thought Tommy. He grabbed a chair and turned it around, then straddled it. He sat with his arms folded on the back of the chair and stared at Paul. Paul sat on the couch and smiled at Tommy.
At this point, Tommy started thinking, which for Tommy was always a herculean affair. I know this guy from somewhere, but fuckin’ where?” Aloud he said, “Joanie tells me you’re in town for your sister’s wedding. I wish Joanie would get married so that I can stop worrying about her. But hey, that’s no hint, I’m just sayin’.”
“I know what you mean, no sweat.”
Tommy was thinking hard. I know this wop from somewhere. “Ya ever live in Boston?”
“Why yes. I just moved out to Chicago three years ago.”
The fact that Tommy was sure he knew the cat just gnawed at his soul, until he exclaimed, “I’ve got it! You were with that dago outfit that did all those Back Bay heists. Smooth work, that was. Too bad you guys had to take a fall. When your crew went down, is that when you hightailed it out to Chi Town?”
Paul was nonplussed for a moment before regaining his composure and saying, “I’m sorry, Mr. Callahan, but you must have me confused with someone else.”
“Don’t give me that shit. I used to see you wops around Lorenzo’s Pub. I remember you because you were pointed out to me as the best cracksman in all of Boston, north or south. They said you were even better than Scooter O’Malley, and that’s sayin’ somethin’.”
Paul swallowed hard and whispered, “Please, Mr. Callahan, do not let your sister know.”
“Don’t worry, Paul, no need to worry at all. Mind if I call you Paul?”
“Not at all. May I call you Tommy?”
“Sure, pal, sure.”
This guy Paul was the answer to Tommy’s prayers. A guy who opens safes like the rest of us open our medicine cabinet door each morning. And I’ll get him to do it for love. It won’t cost me a cent, went through Tommy’s mind as he smiled his Cheshire cat smile at Paul. I just need a few minutes alone with this guy without fuckin’ Joanie bein’ there to throw a monkey wrench into the works. Then he had it! He called to his sister in the kitchen, “Hey, sis, me and Paul’s gonna go down to the packy to get a bottle of wine.”
With her sweetest, most feminine voice, Joanie purred, “Tommy, could you come in here for a moment?”
When he entered the kitchen, he was accosted by Joanie, who grabbed him by the collar and shoved him up against the refrigerator, whispering in a not-so-feminine voice, “Whatcha up to, asshole?”
“Nothin’, sis. Paul just wanted to get you a bottle of wine to go with dinner. He asked me where the closest packy was, and I told him I’d show him, it would be easier. Don’t sweat it, sis. This is the type of guy I been hopin’ ya’d hook up with; not like the bums down here in Southie. I mean, what’s not to like? He’s got manners, and not too bad lookin’, huh, sis? Too bad he’s a wop, but ya can’t have everything.”
“Mind your own fuckin’ business, Tommy Callahan. Okay, get the wine, but then ya leavin’. Got it?”
“Yeah, sure, sis.”
Tommy left the kitchen with a big smile on his face, and said to Paul, “Let’s go. Joanie wants some wine with dinner.”
Tommy did not wait long before he started his play. On the way down, while still on the stairs, he said, “So what happened with the Back Bay thing? Why wasn’t you hauled in with those other wo… I mean guys?”
Paul sighed and said, “Listen, you seem to know the score, so I’ll tell you. But, you’ve got to promise not to tell Joanie any of this. I like her, I like her a lot.”
“Sure, sure. I’m just interested, that’s all.”
“Well, my job was to open the safes. I seem to have a talent in that direction. I was never part of the crew; they would hire me on a per job basis. They would find the score, get to know the layout and do their homework. They were really professional about it. I would be called in only if there was a safe involved. But when they started doing houses in the Back Bay … well, all those houses had safes. The way it would work is, the night of the heist, I’d wait in my car about two or three blocks away from the action. The crew would have already cased the joint, they knew if there were dogs, guards, or whatever. Once they had secured the premises and overcame all obstacles, I would get a call over the radio, just one word, ‘clear.’ With that, I would walk to the house, enter, open the safe, and then walk back to my car and leave. I wouldn’t even open the door to the safe. It was none of my business what was inside.
Tommy was spellbound. He had never heard of an organization so well run. He thought, No wonder our guys are always takin’ falls.
“Why didn’t they haul you in with the rest?”
“Because I was just an employee, not part of the crew. And those guys don’t squeal. They’d rather take the max than talk.”
Again, Tommy thought, Ya gotta hand it to those wops, even if they are dago scum. Aloud he said, “So ya that good with safes?”
“I just have a talent, that’s all. However, I got the fear of God put in me three years ago and I’ve gone straight ever since.”
That, Tommy did not want to hear. Just then, they reached the package store and entered. “Joanie say what kind of wine she wanted?” asked Paul.
“Naw, just get somethin’ cheap, she won’t know the difference.”
Paul paid no mind to what Tommy had said and continued down the wine aisle, inspecting the array of wines. Tommy, on the other hand, had planted himself by the magazine rack, and was paging through a copy of Playboy. Paul finally selected a wine, paid for it, and together he and Tommy left the store for the return trip to Joanie’s apartment. But Tommy wanted to slow things down a bit; he had not finished pumping Paul. As they approached a bus bench, Tommy said, “Let’s sit here for a minute and let Joanie finish fixin’ dinner. And besides, there’s somethin’ I gotta tell ya.”
After they had seated themselves and got as comfortable as one can get on a bus bench, Tommy said, “First of all, when do you plan on goin’ back to Chi Town?”
Paul hesitated before answering, “I had planned on going back last week, right after my sister’s wedding, but then I met Joanie, and well … you know.”
“Sure I do, sure I do. Amor in the spring. Only it’s not spring it’s summer.” Tommy thought that was a hoot, and thinking he had a brilliant sense of humor, could not stop from laughing.
After his fit of laughter subsided, he said, “Paul, I’ve got to tell you somethin’ about Joanie, but you can’t mention it to her, or she’d die of embarrassment. You promise not to say anything?”
“Sure, Tommy, what is it?”
“Sis has got to have an operation.”
This revelation took the wind out of Paul’s sails. He had grown very fond of Joanie, and anything that affected her, affected him. As those thoughts coursed through his mind, he came to the realization that he was in love with her, and he smiled inwardly. Then he said, “Is it serious?”
To which Tommy replied, “Well, yes, and no. She could stay healthy and maybe live another ten years, but …” That was Tommy’s specialty, letting his mark think the worst.
When Tommy saw the look on Paul’s face, he knew with a certainty that he had him … hook, line and sinker. So he continued, “Yeah, the operation is expensive and we don’t have the money. Hey, don’t think I’m askin’, ’cause I ain’t. I’m just sayin’. Anyway, I know where I can get the money, but I’m gonna need a little help. And I was thinkin’ you might be just the guy I need to help me save Joanie’s life.” Tommy thought to himself, If that doesn’t get the poor sap, nothin’ will.
Tommy decided he had laid enough groundwork for the night. He figured, and rightly so for a change, that the slow move would work the best. He stood up and said, “Come on, Joanie’s probably throwin’ a fit, we’ve been gone so long. Tell ya what, if you’re interested in helpin’, why don’t we get together tomorrow and talk this thing through?” Tommy was going to say, If you’re interested in saving Joanie’s life, but thought better of it at the last moment. Even Tommy knew that was laying it on a bit thick.
“Of course, I want to help. Let me give you my card, I’m in the insurance business now. Here, I’ll write my mother’s phone number on the back. I’m staying with her. I left my phone in Chicago; this was supposed to be a vacation, and I didn’t want to be bothered with a lot of phone calls.”
As Tommy put the card in his shirt pocket, he was thinking of all the things he could buy with one hundred thousand dollars.
When they reached Joanie’s, Tommy escorted Paul to her front door and said, “I’ve gotta go to that meetin’. You two lovebirds don’t want me around anyway. I’ll call ya tomorrow morning, and remember, not a word to Joanie. She’d rather die than accept help from someone outside the family. Good night, brother-in-law … hey, you never know.”
With that inappropriate quip and a nudge to Paul’s ribs, Tommy left the young lovers to their own devices, at least for that particular evening. For the first time ever, Tommy did not fear leaving his sister alone with a man. He thought he was a good judge of character, which he was not, and he felt Paul would behave himself. In this observation, he was correct. And as he descended the steps, he thought, Paul’s the one I should be worrying about. I hope Joanie takes it easy on him. Tommy would not have used his sister for all the money in the world. He believed Paul was a safe bet for a few days, then once the safe was opened and he got his hands on the loot, he’d run that wop right outta the city and back to Chi Town where he belongs.
The next morning saw Tommy up bright and early. He had not gotten much sleep for thinking of his soon-to-be wealth, and the man of means he would become. However, he did have to call Paul before any of his dreams could come to fruition. He wondered if 7:00 am was too early to call, but then thought, No, I’ll play it cool. He did not want to seem too eager, so he would wait till nine, but having to wait those additional two hours would just about kill him.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Joanie and Paul had had a lovely dinner and spent a lovely evening together. When you are in love, everything is lovely. Because of Paul’s belief in Joanie’s vulnerability and because he was already on the precipice, he fell madly in love with Joanie that evening. And as far as Joanie was concerned, she had never met a boy like Paul before, plus he was so handsome. But most importantly, Joanie had looked into his soul in the way only a woman can, and saw the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with; Joanie also fell head over heels in love that night.
Meanwhile, back at the other ranch, Tommy was chomping at the bit to call Paul. He wanted to get the caper going as soon as possible and get it into full swing. That little beauty of a Corvette he had already picked out called to him. And he sure as hell was not going to let her call go unanswered by leaving her on the display room floor of the dealership. He had to get his hands on that money no matter who he had to step on.
At precisely 9:01 am, Tommy dialed the number Paul had given him. The person who answered the phone seemed to think there was some mistake. Tommy was advised that, “Mr. Paul was still in repose, and if you would care to leave a number by which you may be reached, I am sure Mr. Paul would be more than happy to return the call when he awakens.”
Tommy simply said, “Nuts, I’ll call back,” and hung up the phone. What the hell was that all about? What’s this Mr. Paul crap?
As it turned out, Paul was from a very wealthy family of Beacon Hill stock. Who knew? It had been the old family retainer that Tommy had spoken with, and as with all old family retainers everywhere, he was loathe to awaken the young master.
It killed Tommy to wait, but wait he did—until noon that is, and then he tried again. If that goddamn wop ain’t up yet, I’ll kill him, but only after he opens the safe, thought Tommy as he redialed the number. To his surprise and delight, the phone was answered by the young master himself. How democratic of him.
“Hey, Paul, that you?” was Tommy’s way of saying hello.
“Yes. Hello Tommy. This is Paul.”
“Finally! You guys sleep all day?” And by “you guys,” Tommy meant Italian-Americans, though those particular words were not in his lexicon of phrases.
Not being aware of Tommy’s previous call, Paul was perplexed at Tommy’s initial statement. However, after speaking with him last night, Paul had decided to ignore Tommy’s non-sequiturs and get right down to business. Paul informed Tommy that his parents were having a lawn party at their Back Bay estate, though Paul used the word “home” rather than estate. Still, “a rose by any other name,” etc. He also told Tommy that he had invited Joanie and was sending a car for her. He concluded by saying, “Why not come out with Joanie and we can talk at some point this afternoon. The car will be at Joanie’s at 2:00 p.m.; the party is informal, just wear a sports jacket and slacks.”
“Okay, I’ll be there,” said Tommy.
“Fine. I’ll see you guys about three o’clock,” concluded Paul.
Just slacks and a sports jacket, what crap, thought Tommy as he hung up the phone. Well, I’ll only have to put up with the wop bastard a little while longer, but how am I gonna explain to Joanie the invite?
Tommy did not have much time, so he rushed home and got his single dress jacket. He did not know if it was a “sports” jacket or not, but it would have to do. He dressed quickly, slicked back his hair, and made a beeline for Joanie’s.
On the way there, he rehearsed his spiel until he had it down pat. His sister would not trip him up this time with her incessant questioning. He arrived at Joanie’s about 1:30. Good, he thought, this gives Joanie time enough to get all the shit out of her system before the car gets here. It would not do for the help to hear us bickering. Tommy just could not believe how his sense of humor had improved recently. Of course, it had not, but for Tommy to quip as much as he had in the previous twenty-four hours was quite an improvement … for him. He tried to enter the apartment in his usual manner, but to no avail; the door was locked, but this time he did not panic. In fact, he was quite the gentleman. He politely knocked upon the door and awaited a response. And he prayed that it would not be a typical Joanie response.
He need not have worried. The voice from within was as sedate as any that he had ever heard. “Yes, who is it, please?”
“Who the fuck you think it is? Open the damn door, sis.” Which she did immediately thereafter.
“What the hell are you doin’ here? Is it Halloween? What are you made up for?”
Tommy stepped into the apartment—uninvited—and simply said, “Tut-tut, sis, one question at a time, please.”
Without going into the gory details, the upshot of the siblings’ “discussion” was that Tommy did his usual lying and told Joanie that he and Paul had hit it off so well the night before that they had exchanged phone numbers. And that Paul had called him with an invitation to the party, suggesting that they both ride out together. Joanie knew Tommy was not to be believed one hundred percent. Hell, you were lucky if twenty percent of what came out of his mouth was the truth. But it was plausible, and besides, she did not have the time to beat the truth out of him. She figured she could either confront Tommy, or finish making herself beautiful for Paul. She chose the latter of her two options.
A few minutes later, there was a polite rapping at the door. “It must be the car,” said Tommy.
“No shit, Sherlock,” was Joanie’s only reply. The brother-sister team left the apartment and got into the Lincoln Town Car that Paul had sent for Joanie. They were off to their first Back Bay party—actually it was their first Back Bay anything. The ride out to the Back Bay was uneventful; each of them looked out their own window, deep within their own thoughts of the future, and spoke not a word.
There is no need to chronicle the events of that afternoon. There were only two developments, which are germane to our story. One was the meeting between Tommy and Paul, the other is what Tommy observed while mingling with the upper crust.
The former first:
Upon arriving at the Puglisie home, Paul took Tommy and Joanie up to the roof garden and introduced them to various people. After a few such introductions, Paul said, “Tommy, can you manage for a while? I want to introduce Joanie to my parents. Help yourself to the refreshments, and get to know some people. See you in a little bit.”
Tommy said to Paul, “Yeah, sure, go knock yourself out.”
Until Paul came for him an hour later, Tommy sat by himself at a table with a large umbrella, and seethed. Tommy was just wishing Paul dead for the umpteenth time as Paul walked up and said, “You picked out a good location; we won’t be disturbed over here. Joanie and my parents hit it off, I couldn’t drag her away. So, let’s get our talk out of the way while we can.” He then pulled up a chair and sat down as Tommy thought, About fuckin’ time, asshole.
“So, what’s up, Tommy? What do you need me to do?”
Tommy thought, Well, he does get right to the point. That’ll make things a lot easier. Then he said, “Okay, Paul, I’ll cut to the chase. I got a safe I need ya to open. There’s enough cash in it for Joanie’s operation.”
“I thought it was something like that. Have you cased the job thoroughly?”
“Yeah sure, got it all scoped out.”
“Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“No, ask away.”
“First of all, where is this score?”
“It’s in an office building downtown.”
“How do you plan on getting into the building? I assume you want to hit the safe after business hours.”
“Wait a minute, let me finish. How many guards are there at night, if any? What are the shifts? What kind of safe is it? When was the last time you were in the building? Tommy, there are many things to know before you go into any place, let alone an office building in downtown Boston. Did you think any of this through?”
“I didn’t think so. During my time with my former employers, I picked up a little knowledge of how a job should go down. Now I’m sure you don’t want to take a fall, and I sure as hell don’t, so if you don’t mind, how about letting me plan this caper?”
“Sure, Paul there’s no ego involved. We’re doin’ this for Joanie.” But he was thinking, You’re damn lucky I need you, you fuckin’ wop.
Paul continued, “I’ll take you down to the library where you can write down all you know. The building name, the address, what floor the safe is on, name of the business in which the safe is located. In short, write down everything you know from your own research. I’ll go there tomorrow to check things out. You stay away. There are cameras everywhere nowadays, and even if you don’t see them, you have to assume they are there. The first thing the police will do after the heist is review the video. Have you been back there in the last ten days?”
“Good. Most machines can only hold seven to ten days’ worth of video before deleting it to make room for the new stuff. I’ll disguise myself somehow so when they do review the video, I won’t be recognizable. Your job will be to monitor the comings and goings of the security staff. You won’t have any trouble picking them out. After hours, they’re all in uniform. Take as much time as you need. If you see nothing at one entrance, say the front door for instance, move to another location to observe what’s going on, like the back, or side door. But stay at one vantage point for at least five hours. The guards, and we don’t know if there are any, that we are interested in will most likely come on duty sometime between four o’clock and eight o’clock. Do not go from entrance to entrance on the same day, you may miss something. And stick at it no matter how boring it gets. Try not to be conspicuous, wear a hat and sunglasses, carry a newspaper, and pretend to read it while keeping your eyes on the entrance. And stay with it until you know if there are guards, and if there are, the times of the shift change. Do you think you can handle that?”
“Yeah sure, but is all that really necessary? Can’t we just walk in some night, catch an elevator, and bust into the office? You’re supposed to be so good, we could be out of there in minutes.”
“No, Tommy. The safe may have an alarm, there may be guards in the building, any number of things, big and small, could land us in Norfolk for ten years or more. And how do you plan on getting into the building to begin with? Have you thought of that? They’re not going to leave the place unlocked just to make it easy for us. So let’s do it my way, okay?”
“Okay, Paul, you’re the boss,” said Tommy while thinking, Just wait till I get my hands on that hundred large.
As they got up and started for the house, Tommy said, “Let me ask you one thing, Paul.”
“Sure, Tommy, what is it?”
“With all this,” and as he said it, he moved his arm in an expansive gesture to encompass the house, “how did you ever get into safe cracking?”
“My best friend when I was growing up used to stay overnight sometimes when we were kids, and I would amuse him by opening the family safes … we have two. He would blindfold me and I would do it strictly by touch, with a little hearing thrown in for good measure. Later, when he hooked up with his crew, he told them about me. They eventually approached me and wanted to see what I could do. I agreed. I was kind of a show-off in those days. They took me to a number of stores in their neighborhood and asked the proprietors if they would allow the “kid” to try to open their safes. All agreed, and all thought there wasn’t a chance in hell I could do it. But I opened every one of them. I think there were six in all. A short while after that I received a call, asking if I would like to work for them on a piecemeal basis. I jumped at the chance. I was only twenty, and looking for adventure.”
Now on to the second occurrence of the afternoon that has anything to do with our story: It is what Tommy perceived concerning his sister and, to a lesser extent, Paul. Whenever they were together, Joanie was positively radiant. There was a glow about her, and Tommy had never seen his sister look more beautiful. The way she adoringly watched Paul’s every move, her eyes never left him for a moment. And Paul seemed to be as smitten with her as she was with him. Much against his will, Tommy thought that they did indeed make a nice couple. This observation of Tommy’s is brought up for one reason, and one reason only; it was the defining moment of our story, as we shall shortly see.
The next day, Tommy was on the job, complete with Sox cap, sunglasses, and newspaper. It is not certain that Tommy could read a newspaper, but he had one nevertheless. That first day, he sat across the street from the “objective,” Tommy’s new word for the building in which sat the object of his desire—the safe with the hundred large in it.
His base of operation was a small park, and on that first day of observation, Tommy was sustained by his enthusiasm. He was 007 on the case, but halfway through day two of the stakeout, he faltered. He thought to himself, I’ve been watching that goddamn door for a total of six hours, and it seems like six weeks, and I haven’t seen one fuckin’ uniform to save my fuckin’ life. Fuck this, I’m gonna get me a beer. And with those thoughts, the career of Tommy 007 came to an end. He lifted himself from the bench upon which he was sitting and walked two blocks to an Irish pub. It was in this pub that Tommy performed the remainder of his stakeout duties—not only for that day, but for the rest of the week.
Paul had said it would be better if they had no contact while they did their “homework.” They would meet up at the end of the week, compare notes, and come up with a final plan. On the sixth day, Paul called Tommy to set up a meet. “You got a favorite pub?” inquired Paul.
“Yeah,” answered Tommy, “Sully’s on Broadway and …”
“Never mind, I know where it is,” said Paul. “Let’s meet there at four this afternoon.”
“Alright, I’ll be there,” was Tommy’s comeback before hanging up.
Tommy got to the meeting place early; he had been sitting in a pub all week, aching for action. Paul? Well, he had been working all week to ensure everything went smoothly and that they did not end up in jail.
Paul arrived a few minutes after four, saw Tommy, approached him, and sat down. Before Tommy could utter a word, Paul said, “What about the guards?”
“No sweat, no guards,” answered Tommy.
“Okay, then we’re ready. We’ll do it tomorrow night.”
About fuckin’ time, thought Tommy.
Paul continued, “Here’s the set up. Number one, we meet here tomorrow night at ten thirty. Wear two layers of clothes, one light and one dark. Have the dark clothes on top. No jackets. The reason is that if there is a problem and a call goes out to the cops, we’ll be described as two guys wearing dark clothes. But what we’ll do is remove the outer layer as soon as we’re out of eyesight, and then split up. So the cops will be looking for two guys wearing dark clothes, and we’ll be single individuals in light clothing. Next, we’ll park half a mile from the building. If there is a problem and we do have to split up, we’ll rendezvous at the car.”
Paul handed Tommy a small package saying, “These are disposable latex gloves, you’ve got three pair. Tomorrow night just before entering the building, put on one pair. They may rip; if so, do not take off the ripped glove—put another on right over it. Your hands will sweat in those and DNA can be taken from sweat. Although I think it unlikely they would do a DNA test just for a simple robbery. But why take the chance? Once outside, after the job is done, take the gloves off. It wouldn’t do to be walking down the street wearing them. But keep them with you until we can dispose of them down a storm drain.
“The lock to the door in which we’re going to gain access to the building is a Schlage. I went to an associate from my old days, and he made me a master key for that door, and for the door to the office in which the safe is located. As to the safe, it’s a Humboldt 850, a piece of cake. I’ll have her opened within two minutes. Also, I could detect no wires leading up to it, so there’s probably no alarm. But even if there were, seeing as there are no guards, we can still be out of there before any cops arrive. The only drawback is the elevator; we’ll probably spend as much time in it as we will in opening the safe. That reminds me … there’s a camera in the elevator on the left side, up in the corner. From the time we enter the elevator until we exit, keep your back to that location. When we have done what we set out to do and leave the building, the first thing to do is, as I’ve said, take off the gloves. Then we will walk away slowly, like two guys on their way to the Red Line. Okay, Tommy?”
“Man-o-man, you sure did your homework. I don’t usually say this to the guys I do business with, but it’s a pleasure to do business with you,” said Tommy, a wide grin upon his puss.
D-Day finally arrived for Tommy. He could not wait to meet Paul, so he got to the meeting place two hours early. When Paul arrived, he was in a somber mood and simply said, “Let’s go.” Tommy shrugged his shoulders, what did he care? He was feeling exuberant; finally, after running around looking for an angle, not finding one, coming across Paul, and then scheming to involve him, he was probably not more than an hour away from the score of a lifetime.
Paul had rented a car when he first hit Boston and they decided to use it for the caper instead of Tommy’s. They drove in silence into downtown Boston, each lost in his own thoughts, Tommy thinking of the easy life that lay ahead for him, Paul thinking of Joanie. They parked a few blocks from the objective, as both men had come to refer to the caper’s location.
Still nothing was said as they exited the car. The two men, one of whom would never be the same again after this night, walked to the locale, which housed the aspirations of each man, though the aspiration of each was quite different. When they arrived at the utility door located at the back of the building that was to be the locus of their entrance, Paul said not a word; he put on his gloves and looked to make sure Tommy did the same. He then removed a key from his right pants pocket and unlocked the door. Before opening the door, he turned to Tommy and whispered, “Just follow me and do what I say.” By this time, Tommy had stopped thinking his wise-ass retorts to everything Paul said. His contempt for the guy had turned to awe.
They entered the building. Paul knew there must be cleaning crews around somewhere. His plan was to avoid them if possible, and if not, he and Tommy would play the part of tenants working late. Of course, the rubber gloves might arouse some suspicion. However, it was Paul’s experience that those who work overnight cleaning office buildings avoid looking directly at any tenants they may encounter. For the most part, they desired no trouble, and just wanted to finish their work and go home.
They made their way to the elevators. After pushing the call button, Paul softly said, “Remember, from the time we enter the elevator until we leave, keep your face pointed to the back right-hand corner. You will be facing backwards so it will be on your left. And back out when we get to where we are going.”
When they got into the elevator, and again when they reached the desired floor, Tommy did everything he had been told, letter perfect. Which made two accomplishments for Tommy: He had finally listened to someone who knew more than he did, and he finally did something letter perfect.
Upon leaving the elevator, they headed for the office in which sat the safe that had caused these two—who could not have been more dissimilar if they had been born on different planets—to come together. When they reached their goal, Paul took a single key from his left pants pocket and unlocked the door. He then put the key back into its original resting place.
There was nothing left for them to do but enter and claim their prize. Paul entered first, with Tommy a close second. Paul turned on the lights and Tommy exclaimed, “What the hell are ya doin’?”
To which Paul replied, “If someone were to walk by while we were in here and saw a flashlight bobbing around, what do you think would happen? Those doors are not opaque. Sure, the glass is frosted, but light passes through them. If the overhead lights are on, anyone passing by will think that the tenant inadvertently left them on, or perhaps someone is working late.”
Paul turned his back to Tommy, walked over to the safe, and knelt down in front of it. From his back pocket, he extracted a well-folded, seemingly small cloth bag. But when unfolded, the dimensions measured twenty-four inches deep and eighteen inches wide; it had a drawstring at the opening. Paul handed the bag to Tommy and said, “Hold this and put the money into it as I hand it to you. Now just stand there.” Paul was not in the mood for any of Tommy’s shenanigans, and Tommy for his part was happy to oblige Paul in any way possible.
Then Paul got to work opening the safe. After about a minute, Tommy heard, “Damn” coming from the general vicinity of Paul. Tommy immediately issued this prayer, Shit; not now. God, please, we’re so close. Just let me have this one score and I promise I’ll go to mass every Sunday for the rest of my life. Tommy need not have worried; by the time he had finished his prayer to the Almighty, the safe was wide open.
“Tommy, hold the damn bag over here where I can reach it,” complained Paul. Tommy made a mental note not to pray during capers in the future, it ruins one’s concentration. Paul reached into the safe and brought out stacks of currency, all one hundred dollar bills. He proceeded to dump the stacks of money into the bag as fast as he could. To Paul, there seemed like there was a lot more than one hundred thousand dollars, but he was not about to stop to count it now.
Once the safe was empty of cash, Paul told Tommy to draw the bag closed. He then stood up and Tommy noticed that Paul had been sweating profusely. “Anything wrong, Paul?’ questioned Tommy.
“No, I always get like this when I’m stealing from people. Now get to the elevator and hold it, we want to get the fuck out of here as fast as we can.” Tommy did a double take, thinking, The poor son-of-a-bitch must be nervous, I’ve never heard him cuss before. Aloud he said, “Why, aren’t ya coming with me?”
“I’ll be two steps behind you. I want to make sure we leave the place clean. We don’t want to make it too easy for the cops.”
Tommy started for the door saying, “Hurry up, I wanna’ get outta here.” Paul said nothing. Tommy walked down the hall and turned the corner, heading for the bank of elevators. Just as he rounded the corner, he heard something that didn’t sound right. It was a jingling sound, sort of like the sound keys make when hanging from a person’s belt. Tommy’s first thought was, Naw, that can’t be right. But, just to be safe, he flattened himself against the wall and peered around the corner. What he saw froze his heart; it was a uniformed security guard. A goddamn fuckin’ rent-a-cop!
Tommy’s first instinct was to run. Why not? He had the money. But something held him in place momentarily. He chanced another glance around the corner at the approaching security guard. The man was standing in front of the door Tommy had just exited. He was looking at the still opened door. He hesitated for a moment, and then walked through it. When Tommy saw that, he turned and ran for the elevator, entered, and pressed the button for the ground floor. In spite of his fear, he had the presence of mind to keep his face averted while in the elevator. When the doors opened on the ground floor, Tommy made a beeline for the door he and Paul had entered through just moments before. He reached the door and went through it, leaving it ajar, and found himself in the alleyway before he knew it. He took three steps toward the street and was stopped in his tracks by an invisible force. Try as he might, Tommy could not put one foot in front of the other. The force had a sure grip on him. His feet were rooted to the cement upon which he stood.
The force not only held him in place, it entered his mind. Tommy started to think of his sister, Joanie, and how happy she had looked in the late afternoon sunlight, standing by the pool the day of the party. He also thought of Paul, how the man had trusted him to ascertain if there were guards or not; and how he had given up after only one day, and sat in a bar for the rest of the week. Paul believed in him, had trusted him. With these thoughts of Paul and Joanie swirling in his head, Tommy did something he had never done before in his life; he felt real responsibility for another human being. Not the phony responsibility of being Joanie’s protector, that was more about him then it ever was about her; but real, honest to God, if-I-don’t-do-something-that-person-will-come-to-harm responsibility.
Paul is up there in deep shit because of my fuck-up, and Joanie would be miserable without him, were his thoughts as he looked down at the moneybag he still gripped tightly in his right hand. Suddenly, the bag started to heat up … it was scorching his hand; he had to fling it to the ground to avoid serious injury. The moment the moneybag hit the ground, Tommy was released from the force that held him. He was now free to move, and move he did—right back through the utility door for the third time that night. As he reentered the building, Tommy took off running for the elevator. When he entered the elevator, more out of habit then anything else—it was surely not by conscious effort—Tommy kept his eyes on that right-hand, rear corner. Because what Tommy had in mind, it would not matter if his face did end up on the video.
Tommy left the elevator at a run, but slowed as he approached the still open door to the caper office. Once again, he peered around a wall. This time he saw that the guard had a firm grip of Paul’s left bicep, and was trying to dial a phone with one hand, while keeping a wary eye on Paul. Paul for his part was very passive, his thinking being, If there is one guard, then there must be others. Why even try to make a run for it? All this guy has to do is pick up the phone and call his buddies and the whole damn building will be sealed off.
Tommy, not knowing what was going through Paul’s mind, thought, You stupid motherfucker, just run! Then he concluded that if any positive action were to take place, he would have to do it. He instantly came up with a plan, which for Tommy was rather remarkable. However, much like Tommy, the plan was simple; but in this particular situation, the simpler the plan, the more chance of its success. As just stated, the plan was simplicity in and of itself: Tommy would exchange himself for Paul. Without further thought, Tommy catapulted himself into the room and took a flying leap, tackling the guard at waist level.
As the guard and Tommy tumbled over a desk, Paul stood transfixed, staring at the brawl taking place before him. From somewhere within the din he heard, “Get outta here you stupid fuck! I’ve got this under control.” The words stopped at that point, as Tommy tried to wrestle the guard under control. Then the words continued, “Go, get outta here! I’ll meet you at you-know-where.” Tommy had suddenly become a thinking machine, he did not use Paul’s or Joanie’s names. Tommy was protecting them. Which the Tommy Callahan of one half hour ago would not have even entertained, much less have thought of doing. He had no plans to meet anyone anywhere, except maybe the police. He wanted Paul safe for Joanie. Paul finally got the message. He figured the physical stuff was Tommy’s forte, so as a man of perspicacity, he left the situation in the hands of an expert and departed the premises.
After Paul had left, Tommy continued to struggle with the guard until he had the man on his back and himself sitting astride his chest. Once relatively settled, Tommy said, “Calm down, ya fuckin’ bastard. Ya still get to be a hero, only now ya got me instead of the other guy.” Still the man fought, and the more he fought, the less charitable the “new” Tommy felt until he could take it no longer. He let fly a haymaker right to the man’s chin. Well, that put a stop to the commotion right then and there. At this point, Tommy found himself sitting on top of an unconscious man. It took but a moment for him to realize that there was no earthly reason keeping him in that accursed room any longer.
As Tommy walked out of the office, he thought to himself, Fuck the goddamn elevator, I’m takin’ the stairs. In minutes, he was down the stairs and through the utility door for the fourth time that night. The only thing on his mind was to get to the Red Line and to the safety of Joanie’s apartment. He was three blocks away before he remembered the money. When it slowly dawned on him that he had left it in the alley, he momentarily considered going back for it. However, the new Tommy won the debate with the old Tommy. He shrugged his shoulders and proceeded to the train.
Within forty-five minutes, he was standing outside Joanie’s door, and this time he gently knocked upon it. The door flew open immediately and Joanie rushed to embrace him, and there were tears in her eyes. She said nothing, just tugged him into the apartment with a firm grip on his arm. The first thing Tommy saw upon entering the apartment was Paul sitting on the couch with a big smile on his face. Paul greeted Tommy by saying, “Hey, buddy, that was some pretty heroic stuff you pulled back there.” Tommy was too spent to respond; he flopped down on the nearest chair and sighed.
As Joanie dried the tears from her eyes and slowly recovered her composure, she started to get angry, as only she could, until there was a full-blown hurricane by the name of Joanie raging within that small apartment. The winds started to blow when she bellowed, “You goddamn motherfucker! What do you mean, pulling my Paul into one of your sorry-ass capers? I’m gonna fuckin’ kill ya, Tommy Patrick Callahan.” The eye of the hurricane was passing as she finished those words, so there was a momentary calm. However, as with all hurricanes, the eye passes quickly and Joanie resumed her rant. “Do you know ya could have gotten yourself and Paul killed? Or at the very least have me goin’ to Norfolk once a month to visit ya two assholes.”
Joanie was about to continue when Tommy held up his hand in the universal sign for stop. He affirmed everything she had said by saying, “Sis, ya absolutely right. I learned my lesson tonight. Tomorrow I go out and get a fuckin’ job. My caper days are over. And, Paul, I’ve gotta tell ya somethin’. That was crap about Joanie needing an operation.”
“I know, Tommy. It took less than an hour for me to reach that conclusion. I knew almost right away you were conning me. But by then I had decided to marry your sister. So I thought I would go along with you to keep you out of trouble. I did not want my brother-in-law doing hard time. But the funny thing is, it was you who saved my bacon.”
Tommy looked sheepish as he declared, “Well, it was my fuck-up that led you to believe that there were no guards on duty.”
“There is always that,” opined Paul, “but everything worked out for the best.”
Tommy nodded his head in agreement, but could not help saying, “Yeah, but we woulda been able to walk away with the money if not for me.”
Paul looked at Joanie and they both smiled. Tommy, seeing the smile that took place between the two, said, “Okay, I’m a lousy crook. All the trouble I went through to set up the score, and for what? For squat, that’s what. Go ahead, rub it in. I deserve it.”
Paul asserted, “We’re not rubbing anything in; we’ve got the money. It’s here behind the couch, but it’s not one hundred thousand dollars.”
Tommy found it hard to get too excited about Paul’s news. “Even if it’s only fifty thousand, half of it is yours.”
“No, it’s not fifty thousand either. Joanie and I counted it while we waited for you. There is two hundred thirty-seven thousand dollars in that bag behind the couch. And it’s all yours. Joanie and I have no need of it.”
Tommy’s mouth fell open and his eyes grew wide before he said, “But, Paul, ya a working stiff, ya gotta buy nice things for Joanie. Please take at least half of it.”
“Listen, Tommy, the insurance company I work for is owned by my family. Joanie and I will do all right.”
“Well, no fancy cars for me. I’m takin’ that money and buying into a pub.”
With that declaration, Joanie threw her arms around her brother saying, “You know Paul and I will be living in Chicago?”
“I’ll come out and visit you as often as ya let me, but one thing I don’t understand. How’d you end up with the money, Paul?”
“As I came out of the building and into the alleyway, there it was, just lying on the ground. So I picked it up and brought it here.”
“I’ll be a goddamn son-of-a-bitch!” said Tommy.
Note: As to the mysterious force that held Tommy in the alley, that was Love; some call it Agape, the plutonic, unselfish love that asks nothing in return. Tommy “The Rat” Callahan had indeed finally found Love—and so had his sister.
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