Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin’s feet were placed in a tub of cement. Twelve gunmen stood waiting until they got far enough out to sea to throw him overboard, while Joe listened to the engine chug and watched the water churn white at the stern. And it occurred to him that almost everything of note that had ever happened in his life—good or bad—had been set in motion the morning he first crossed paths with Emma Gould.
They met shortly after dawn in 1926, when Joe and the Bartolo brothers robbed the gaming room at the back of an Albert White speakeasy in South Boston. Before they entered it, Joe and the Bartolos had no idea the speakeasy belonged to Albert White. If they had, they would have beat a retreat in three separate directions to make the trail all the harder to follow.
They came down the back stairs smoothly enough. They passed through the empty bar area without incident. The bar and casino took up the rear of a furniture warehouse along the waterfront that Joe’s boss, Tim Hickey, had assured him was owned by some harmless Greeks recently arrived from Maryland. But when they walked into the back room, they found a poker game in full swing, the five players drinking amber Canadian from heavy crystal glasses, a gray carpet of cigarette smoke hanging overhead. A pile of money rose from the center of the table.
Not one of the men looked Greek. Or harmless. They had hung their suit jackets over the backs of their chairs, which left the guns on their hips exposed. When Joe, Dion, and Paolo walked in with pistols extended, none of the men went for the guns, but Joe could tell a couple were thinking about it.
A woman had been serving drinks to the table. She put the tray aside, lifted her cigarette out of an ashtray and took a drag, looked about to yawn with three guns pointed at her. Like she might ask to see something more impressive for an encore.
Joe and the Bartolos wore hats pulled down over their eyes, and black handkerchiefs covered the lower halves of their faces. Which was a good thing because if anyone in this crowd recognized them, they’d have about half a day left to live.
A walk in the park, Tim Hickey had said. Hit them at dawn when the only people left in the place would be a couple of mokes in the counting room.
As opposed to five gun thugs playing poker.
One of the players said, “You know whose place this is?”
Joe didn’t recognize the guy, but he knew the guy next to him—Brenny Loomis, ex-boxer and a member of the Albert White Mob, Tim Hickey’s biggest rival in the bootlegging business. Lately, Albert was rumored to be stockpiling Thompson machine guns for an impending war. The word was out—choose a side or choose a headstone.
Joe said, “Everyone does as they’re told, no one gets so much as a scratch.”
The guy beside Loomis ran his mouth again. “I asked you know whose game this was, you fucking dunce.”
Dion Bartolo hit him in the mouth with his pistol. Hit him hard enough to knock him out of his chair and draw some blood. Got everyone else thinking how much better it was to be the one who wasn’t getting pistol-whipped than the one who was.
Joe said, “Everyone but the girl, get on your knees. Put your hands behind your head and lace the fingers.”
Brenny Loomis locked eyes with Joe. “I’ll call your mother when this is over, boy. Suggest a nice dark suit for your coffin.”
On a bright, unseasonably warm afternoon in early December, Brandon Trescott walked out of the spa at the Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod and got into a taxi. A pesky series of DUIs had cost him the right to operate a motor vehicle in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the next thirty-three months, so Brandon always took cabs. The twenty-five-year-old trust-fund baby of a superior court judge mother and a local media mogul father, Brandon wasn’t your run-of-the-mill rich kid asshole. He worked double shifts at it. By the time the state finally suspended his license, he was on his fourth DUI. The first two had been pled down to reckless driving, the third had brought him a stern warning, but the fourth had resulted in injury to someone besides Brandon, who escaped without a scratch.
This winter afternoon, with the temperature hanging just below forty degrees, Brandon wore a manufacturer-stained, manufacturer-faded hoodie that retailed for around $900 over a white silk T with a collar dragged down by a pair of $600 shades. His baggy shorts also had little rips in them, compliments of whichever nine-year-old Indonesian had been poorly paid to put them there. He wore flip-flops in December, and he sported an insouciant mop of blond surfer’s hair with an adorable habit of drooping helplessly over his eyes.
After drinking his weight in Crown Royal one night, he’d flipped his Dodge Viper coming back from Foxwoods with his girlfriend riding shotgun. She’d only been his girlfriend two weeks, but it was unlikely she’d be anyone’s girlfriend ever again. Her name was Ashten Mayles and she’d been in a persistent vegetative state ever since the top of the car compacted against the top of her skull. One of the last acts she’d attempted to perform while she’d still had use of her arms and legs was to try and take Brandon’s keys from him in the casino parking lot. According to witnesses, Brandon had rewarded her concern by flicking a lit cigarette at her.
In possibly the first brush with actual consequence that Brandon had ever known, Ashten’s parents, not wealthy but politically connected, had decided to do everything in their power to ensure that Brandon paid for his mistakes. Hence the Suffolk County DA’s prosecution on DUI and reckless endangerment. Brandon spent the entire trial looking shocked and morally outraged that anyone could get away with expecting personal responsibility of him. In the end, he was convicted and served four months’ house arrest. In a really nice house.
During the subsequent civil trial, it was revealed that the trust-fund baby had no trust fund. He had no car, had no house. As far as anyone could tell, he didn’t own so much as an iPod. Nothing was in his name. Things had once been in his name, but he’d fortuitously signed them all over to his parents one day before the car accident.
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