The Devil from You – Max Thrax
August 21, 2021
I stood in Burke’s room at the Y. He shifted in his chair, swigged his gin. “Where’d you say the job?”
“He can drive.”
“So can my granddaughter,” Burke said, “but I don’t rob armored cars with her. Pick another signaler. I’m too old.”
“You can’t just sit in the Buick?”
“I’m stiff,” he said. “Downstairs they got me boxing, almost tore my arm off. Besides, bank’s in a bad spot. You want it on a corner, two-way street, so you can drive on the right and park on the left.”
“We cased it. The guards keep their straps buckled. Ride in prompt at nine-thirty.”
“Why you need this money, Stevie?”
“Moved in with Dad, right? Yesterday I stood in front of the fucking sign for Brighton Gardens when Joe Mac rolled past.”
“Works for Madigan.” Burke took a long sip. “Heard a thing about you and Mads.”
“If a lie is a thing, maybe.”
“Tell him yourself.”
“Hey, want this job or not?”
“No.” He coughed into his armpit. “I have another one for you.”
I lived with my father at Brighton Gardens, on the west end of town past Market Street. He smashed his ankle working the Big Dig and lived on a union pension. The heat was always ticking off, so he was happy for me to deal with Housing Authority. Otherwise he didn’t know I was there.
“Be gone a few days.”
He kept reading his paper.
“If the furnace dies, grab a crutch.”
He folded up the paper, crossed his legs at the table. “Bruins winning tomorrow?”
“Spoke to Burke.”
“Some job in Sharon.”
“Mind yourself, Stevie. You miss prison?”
“He’s in debt,” I said. “That’s why I called him. I can’t plan for shit, but Burke . . .”
The old man rose from the chair. “Wherever you go,” he said, “I’ll be there to separate the devil from you. If it comes off, I want a carton of Winstons and an eight ball.”
When I first met Madigan, I drove trucks with Ricky for Northern Products. We’d hit the warehouse at four in the morning, load up, and roam across New Hampshire and Vermont. That morning I pulled into the lot and saw Ricky talking to a man in a blue trench coat. His thinning hair was bright red. To accentuate it he wore amber sunglasses.
“Hey Steve,” Ricky said, “a friend of my cousin’s. Wants to meet you.”
“Yeah? For what?”
“You drive a truck,” Madigan said. “Don’t you, Mr. McNamara?”
“Take off those glasses.”
To my surprise, he did.
“I work in transportation,” he said. “Meaning I transport cargo between Boston and Montreal. I pay the right money for the right work.”
Both Ricky and I started making deliveries for Madigan, mostly at the Quebec border or in southern New Hampshire. The first year everything went fine. But someone must have tipped off the staties, because we got clipped transporting two crates of automatics. I spent the next five years in Danbury.
Burke’s man was Carlo and he owned a pizzeria on Route 138. Ricky stayed in the car. I trusted him, but when he got excited his Irish whisper was worse than mine.
The place was empty. Carlo and I sat in a booth while the register girl pecked at her phone.
“How long you cased it?”
“Four months,” he said. “We got video, we know the guys. Patrol gets coffee on the other side of town. Three routes out. All clear.”
“Who grabs the boilers?”
“Giuseppe. Emerson.” Carlo waved his hand and two men walked out from the kitchen. “They’re from Brazil. Get this, they used to drive armored cars, then started robbing them. Ripped it all over Espirito Santo.”
“You said they were Italian.”
“They’re Italian Brazilians. Napolitanos.”
“They speak English?”
“Speak a little,” Giuseppe said, sizing me up.
“They know how to charge,” Carlo said. “They can steer, too, and no one burns out a boiler like them.”
“Where’d they burn them?”
“Brazil. Delaware. Connecticut. First time we hit close to home.”
Suddenly Emerson began crying. He turned his face to the counter.
“His brother,” Giuseppe said, “was just killed in a robbery. Very sad.”
“Forget it,” Carlo said. He spoke to them in Portuguese and they returned to the kitchen. “All right, come see the garage.” In an empty freezer Carlo had a modified semiautomatic Uzi, a sawed-off Remington .223, a MAC-10 with a silencer, a Smith and Wesson 9-millimeter, a .357 magnum, and a semiauto Tech 9.
Before I left, we watched a video of the drop. The guards were in their fifties, relaxed, untroubled. “If I can pull the right string,” Carlos said, “another of our guys will be messenger. It’s a handover.”
Carlos turned off the screen.
Ricky dropped me off in Southie, at a warehouse below Fort Point. I’d worked there as a mover and the lock was easily picked. I could sleep and lie low for a few days.
“When’s the job?” he asked.
“Maybe tomorrow,” I said. “Maybe next month.”
That night I dreamed I was in Madigan’s basement, tied to a chair. He and Joe Mac stood by the door and spoke in a language I couldn’t understand. The more I struggled, the closer they came. Madigan took a thick rope, tied it around and across my neck, and began to pull. I fainted and spewed on the floor. After a few more tries he gave up, and for the first time I understood Joe Mac: “Want one in the head, kid?”
On an armored car job, I’m lead charger. I startle the driver as he leaves the truck, force him inside, and keep a gun on him. Rear chargers handle the messenger. They push him back until the doors close and it’s safe to drive away. Time it wrong and you shoot a guard or he shoots you.
We all brought ski masks and duct-taped the gloves to our inner sleeves. Our jackets would be tossed once the robbery was over.
Our boilers—the escape cars stolen for the job—were parked on both sides of the bank. We sat in a green Suburban, its rear facing a small park that was mostly trees. The .357 was in my lap. I ran a finger up and down my nose, trying not to tap the steering wheel. At first I thought the wind turned up, but as the sound grew louder I realized it was Emerson crying again.
“Will you keep him quiet?”
“Very sad. I will try.”
Where was Carlo? He was supposed to be parked on the southern corner with a walkie-talkie. Why hadn’t he signaled? Why hadn’t the armored car arrived? Carlo said they’d cased the spot for months. The guards came at nine-thirty. They all knew it. I knew it. I’d seen the video…
“Fuck this.” I tucked the walkie-talkie under my jacket and stepped out of the van.
To my left two uniformed police officers emerged from the woods.
“Hands up. Fingers spread. Right now, on the ground.”
Giuseppe and Emerson crawled out from the Suburban, knelt in the dirt. Two shots.
“How’s it going, Stevie?”
“I didn’t do shit.”
“Well, Mads wants a word.”
On my knees, I smelled his sweat as he squatted to cuff me. I threw back my head and butted him right in his teeth. After getting up, I threw a hard right and knocked him off balance. Had to give Madigan credit: Joe Mac was dressed as a cop down to the badge. I banged the pistol against his skull until he fell over. Then I took his silenced Walther 9mm and shot him twice in the head, twice in the chest.
His man didn’t hear it, or assumed Joe Mac was the shooter, because he was going through Giuseppe’s and Emerson’s pockets.
I stood next to the bumper with a clear line of sight.
I never bothered ringing Carlo: I knew where to find him. After spending an hour in Brockton trying to buy drugs, I drove to the city.
Outside Burke’s room, I heard them talking: “Sitting there like they were praying. Holes in their heads, holes everywhere.”
“Where was the money?”
“Our driver took a detour.”
I gripped the Walther and swung open the door. Burke sat on a stool swigging gin. Carlo had a cigarette behind his ear. I plugged them before they could open their mouths, and plugged them until they stopped twitching. The bag next to Burke had twenty grand.
Walking down North Beacon Street, I could have been popped at any time. With each block crossed I felt a little more at ease. Finally, at a clear intersection, I ran across Market Street past the storage building and the Pig n’ Whistle until I turned the lock and was safe in my father’s apartment.
The clock said it was eleven. I flicked on the ceiling light and left a pipe, a lighter, a carton of Winstons, and an eight ball I’d bought near the Fens.
Without much thought I called a car to the airport. A flight to Las Vegas left in a couple of hours; I bought a duffle bag and lots of souvenir shirts. Vegas was a blackout. I tried reaching Ricky but stopped after a few days.
Back at Brighton Gardens I trudged up the stairs, peeking over my shoulder. In the living room I saw my dad dead on the sofa with the pipe in his hands.
The cops had been waiting. They were polite, even when they slammed my forehead against the parking barrier.
Turned out Ricky thought the job went over, drove one of the boilers to Roslindale, and set it on fire. But it didn’t completely burn. Forensics found masks, gloves, duct tape, a MAC-10, and Ricky’s fingerprints all over the steering wheel.
When the state trial finished, the Feds started on me. Ricky had been squealing: not just talking, but accusing me of robberies in Florida, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Hampshire . . . Behind it was Madigan. He’d paid off the cops, the judge, the reporters. Inside it would be worse.
The judge read the sentence and I got tunnel vision. I could hear the words as she spoke them, but I couldn’t see her and my legs began to shake. My head wobbled, neck flopped. My lawyer said I started screaming and the bailiffs carried me out.
If Madigan could get me in the courtroom, he could get me in prison. It wouldn’t need to be him—any crook, any screw, any visitor.
In the blocks I kept a low profile. They bunked me with a catatonic, which gave me the freedom to make my own connections. One of the guards was Irish and we started talking in the halls. He asked if I bunked with Sherman. Sherman wasn’t just catatonic, I said. He had a heart condition and could barely breathe enough to sit. More than once, I told the CO, Sherman figured a rope might do the trick. If it failed to come off, the prison would get sued and we’d muscle the payments from him.
Soon as I got a rope, I tied a noose and swung it over the stairs below the gym. The banister was steel and wouldn’t bend or buckle with my weight pulling down on it.
Hanging there, I felt my bowels drop and my vision got blurry. A door slammed and two figures ran toward me, speaking a language I couldn’t understand. The tall one grabbed my heels. One in the head, I tried to scream. Just give me one in the head.