Authors: Rick Boyer
The Penny Ferry
For my brothers, John and Bruce,
and my sons, Clay and Ted
The author wishes to thank the following people for
their help with the manuscript: john Boyer, Phyllis Lang, Bill
Tapply, and Paul Tescione. Dr. Tescione, in addition to providing
technical medical information, also gave the author a name for an
entirely fictitious character in this book.
THE HOT ITEM
That lady standing out there in New York Harbor has
welcomed a lot of people to this country. Some, like my wife's
father, made out very well here. A lot of his countrymen weren't as
fortunate, and wound up working in the mills.
Two of them, a shoe trimmer who lived in Stoughton
and a fish peddler from Plymouth, got an especially raw deal. But
that was a long time ago, and nobody cared much anymore except the
Italian community. Or so we thought . . .
Then a friend of ours came to grief up in the factory
town of Lowell, and even his two attack dogs couldn't save him.
Somebody still cared about those two guys. Cared enough to kill
people. At first I just went along for the ride. But then I kept
inching my way into the mess, bit by bit, until I was right smack in
the middle of it.
Mary and I wound our way down the plush pile-carpeted
stairs of Joe's Beacon Hill apartment building. The paint and
carpeting of the dimly lighted stairwell smelled new. They were. Joe
leaned over the banister and yelled down at us.
"Have a good time at the ball, children. And
Doc, if you see Hunter Greyson there, ask him why I wasn't invited."
"Why would they think you were a Republican?"
I asked. "With a name like Brindelli?"
"Are you a Republican?"
Naw. Not much of anything. You know that."
Yeah. But your last name is Adams. See what I
Mary paused on the lower landing and looked back up
at me. "I don't think I want to go to this thing, Charlie. Hell,
it's only because Hunter and Kathleen insisted we go . . . Hey, Joey—
if it's real snooty I'm coming back here, okay?"
"Now, Sis, it wouldn't be fair to all the
Brahmins if you— "
"Shove it," she said, swinging her way
around the final newel post and down into the lobby. I heard her high
heels clicking and clacking on the terrazzo floor. I joined her in
the lobby. The wallpaper was burgundy-colored silk with thin white
stripes. The oak doors were covered with lots of brass, and the
windows were thick bevel-cut leaded glass that gave off a prismatic
effect of rainbow hues.
"Hard to believe that a cop lives here,?' I
said. And indeed it was, since the fourth-floor apartment had cost a
pretty bundle. Joe had skylights, two terraces, and a tiny rooftop
garden. This was not made possible through his salary as a state
policeman; it was possible because Joe's and Mary's late father had
done extremely well in business. And although Hunter Greyson, senior
partner in the law Firm of Greyson, Morrison, and Stands, knew we
were related and close to Joe, he had not extended him an invitation
to the Beacon Hill fund-raising party for Joseph Critchfield, the man
who was supposed to be our next governor. I wondered why.
We walked along the ancient brick sidewalk of Pinkney
Street, where Joe's fiat was, to Cedar Street and over to Mt. Vernon,
which Henry James once said was the only civilized street in America.
Typical of him. I'm partial to South State Street in Chicago myself.
Mary clicked and bounced along. Her cheeks shook a tiny bit with each
step, and her ample bosom jounced.
She's a knockout.
"What's the matter with these creeps anyway?"
she finally said. "They think every Italian's a Democrat?"
The party was being held at the Greyson home in
Louisburg Square. We entered and joined the other two hundred or so
guests. Sipping champagne, we ambled our way down the hall and up the
stairs to the formal living room, which was huge, with a
fourteen-foot molded plaster ceiling. Here there was more food and
drink, and an informal receiving line where we met "the next
governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," Mr. Joseph
Carlton Critchfield III.
He shook my hand warmly, and beamed.
Are you of the Boston Adamses?" he
inquired. I told him no, the Chicago North Shore branch. He looked
momentarily confused, then complimented Mary on her beauty. She
couldn't help smiling. He was pretty slick, and had Grade A
credentials and a flawless record of public service to go with the
poise. Joseph Critchfield III was a graduate of Choate and Harvard,
and had taken a law degree from Harvard as well. He had distinguished
himself in his own Firm and more recently in several state offices,
which he'd handled admirably. In fact, his grandfather, who was still
alive, had once been the state attorney general. And Joseph
Critchfield was only forty-six— younger than I. It was hard not to
be impressed by him.
Mary and I walked through the line and took another
champagne into the sunporch. A big hand clapped me on the shoulder
from behind, and I turned to see my hunting and fishing buddy, Brady
Coyne. Brady's an independent lawyer who specializes in sueing the
very rich. As a graduate of Yale, he's somewhat of a maverick in the
town that worships the Crimson. It was Brady who recommended me to
treat Hunter for a badly abscessed tooth several years back. Even the
very rich and successful can get abscessed teeth. And Hunter Greyson
and Joe Critchfield were classmates at Harvard and still bosom
friends. So that's how it happened that Mary and I were among the
invited to meet, and contribute to the campaign of, the candidate who
would replace the current Democratic governor. This incumbent
represented corruption, patronage, nepotism, and all the other bad
things associated with the big-city machine politics Boston is
"We need this man, Doc," said Brady. "We
need him very badly if Boston is to stay competitive with the Sun
Belt cities that are drawing away our high tech. I mean, jeeez . . .
who's going to put up with this kind of bullshit forever, huh?"
"I agree," I said. "People are sick of
paying through the nose for the privilege of getting ripped off."
We followed the flow of guests back to the big room,
where chairs were being set up. Mary looked around the room. She was
going to drool any second, I thought. She gazed covetously at the oil
paintings, antique Chinese porcelains, Persian rugs, and Hepplewhite
furniture. And we don't live in a slum, either.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said a loud voice.
"If we may have your attention for a few minutes, Joe
Critchfield would like to say a few words about his platform to save
the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."
There was applause and cheering, and the impeccably
dressed Joe Critchfield positioned himself next to the concert-grand
Steinway. Resting one hand on it, he assumed a casual yet elegant
stance and gave a brief speech, in which he thanked us for our
support and explained his program to bring our city and state back on
course. It was good. Afterward he answered questions, and did an
equally good job. Certainly, if the gubernatorial race came down to a
televised debate, Critchfield's opponent would be hard pressed.
Then came a tough question. "Joe, I'd like to
open by saying that your platform sounds terrific," said a
middle-aged lady. She was standing in the back and had on a bright
flower-print dress. "But I suppose I have one big reservation
about how you're going to implement it. How do you propose to defeat
the Catholic labor-ethnic coalition? How can a Republican break up
the Irish-Italian bloc vote?"
A murmur of assent rippled through the crowd.
Apparently the lady had hit it on the head: how indeed defeat this
vast, monolithic majority?
"That's a very good question, Anne. But I'm
going to answer by saying something that may shock some of you. I say
this: the so-called Irish-Italian Catholic voting bloc no longer
exists. Certainly the ethnic groups do. Our Irish and Italian
neighborhoods are still very strong and sharply defined. I also think
they're a tremendous asset to this city and to the Commonwealth. But
I submit to you that as a voting bloc that's impregnable— I simply
say that it's a myth. Don't forget, ten years ago we had Frank
Sargent, a Republican, in the statehouse. It's been done; it can be
done again. People are sick of the way the state's being run. I ask
you, all of you: what issue or event could occur tomorrow; that would
unite them? For example, if the Sacco and Vanzetti case were tried
today, would the law-abiding citizens of the North End support those
two radicals? I say no, and furthermore—"
"Just a minute!" came a clear voice. It cut
through the room like a tungsten ice pick. Now who would have the
nerve to interrupt Joe Critchfield in the middle of his talk?
Critchfield was staring at me, his mouth halfway open. No. He wasn't
staring at me, he was staring at the person who'd stood up next to
me. He was staring at Mary.
"Are you implying that Sacco and Vanzetti were
common criminals? And if so, that they were guilty?" she
There was another murmur that rippled through the
room. But this one was confused, chaotic, disgruntled.
"I, uh . . . no, that's not what I meant-- or
implied— I was speaking of their radical connections, that's all.
But as to their guilt or innocence, surely you cannot deny that the
evidence was overwhelming in favor of their having been connected—"
"If everyone will excuse me," cried another
female voice, "I really think it will be most constructive,
considering all we have to accomplish here, to confine the discussion
to the issues at hand rather than to history."
There was applause. Loud, steady applause, directed
at Anne, the lady with the flower-print dress in the back, who'd
gotten Joe C. III nicely off the hook. Mary sat down, folded her arms
across her chest, and glared.
After the talk was over she didn't clap. People
looking at us saw that she didn't clap. 1 clapped a little, and she
glared at me. People avoided us afterward. All except Brady, who
winked at Mary and said, "Way to go, Mare!" But we both had
the feeling he didn't really mean it. I thought we'd better thank
Hunter and Kathleen before we left, but they seemed to be nowhere
near us. Ever.
"I think it's time to fade, Toots," I said
under my breath.
"Yeah. Sorry, Charlie. It was just a reaction. A
conditioned reflex. I guess it reflects my childhood more than
anything. Hell, I don't know if they were guilty or not—"
We filed out of the house, smiling bravely. A few
people returned the smiles, but mostly everyone looked away. We
passed the small table where people were writing checks and stuffing
them into envelopes. Nobody even seemed surprised when we walked
right past it.
"I'm still voting for him," I said as we
walked back down Mt. Vernon Street. "I think he'll do a good
"I think so too. But his attitude. I just—
0h, forget it."
As we turned the corner I saw a gigantic Cadillac
limo sweep along the street at a whisper. It swung to a slow stop in
front of Louisburg Square. It was probably the original Joseph
Carlton Critchfield, the candidate's granddaddy. Purportedly, he was
backing young Joe financially. If this was true, then Joe would run
out of gold pieces about when the rocks would melt into the sea and
the lion would lie down with the lamb. It made me a little less
regretful I hadn't written a check.
So we walked back to our Joe's. He greeted us at the
door and asked Mary if she'd lost her glass slipper.
Next day I was just sitting out there in our sunporch
sipping on a silver bullet when I saw Joe's unmarked cruiser slide
into our driveway. Here to get a free Saturday dinner. He got out of
the cruiser and made a beeline for the porch steps. He moved fast and
gracefully for a big man. I had been listening to James P. Johnson
riffle the ivories in a stride number called "Old-Fashioned
Love." The sidemen were good too: Cootie Williams on cornet and
Eddie Dougherty on drums. I took another sip of ice-cold gin.