This had NEVER happened before. I didn’t want to scare him because I knew that it was such an unusual and unheard of thing to do that his first reaction might be fear. But I had to risk it.I banged again, and again. Maybe he couldn’t hear me over the water. He finally opened the door, dripping and soapy and worried.
"What?" he said. "What on earth happened?"
"They caught Whitey Bulger," I said.
It took a minute...of dripping…for it to sink in.
“You’re kidding,” he finally said. Wet hair forgotten. “You. Are. Kidding.”
"Nope," I replied. I still smile when I think about this. “Nope, they really did.”
I’m not sure, unless you live around Boston, that you can grasp what a big deal this is. The elusive—and, allegedly, pretty horrible—Whitey Bulger, mob king pin, I mean, the most-feared, most-legendarily-hated man in Boston, and soon, one of the most wanted men in America. Accused of extortion, racketeering, gambling, and also of murdering 19 people, one, at least, a woman he strangled with his bare hands. If you believe the government’s case.
(The Jack Nicholson character in The Departed was based on him.)
They got him. After 16 years on the run with his girlfriend. He’d been working for years as an FBI informant! Gasp. And he’d been tipped off, see, by an FBI crony, once a childhood friend, who’d warned him the feds were after him.He left town, and hid for 16 years. Sixteen years! On the lam, as they say. All true!
After countless theories, and sightings, and speculation by nearly everyone that the FBI wasn’t really looking for him—had even done him in!—because of all the secrets he might reveal. But I’d interviewed several FBI agents about him—and I doubted they weren't looking. They really wanted to find him, that was my opinion.
And then, after a tip, they did. And he was back in custody. (They found $800,000 and an arsenal of weapons in the Santa Monica apartment. My step-daughter, who lives around there, is sure she’d seen him walking his dog. Had she realized that a bit sooner, she might have gotten the two million dollar reward. Sigh.)
And a weird twist, my husband and his law partner were appointed as his lawyers—can you imagine? How interesting that would have been? But then one of the two cases were dropped, and so he wasn't needed.
Anyway. All this is introduction—so you know how very fascinating Jon Land’s next few months will be. He’s writing the Whitey Bulger story with the guy who…well. Let him tell you. Here's Jon Land. And he's telling all in his brand new book:
“So you wanna a bullet in the head?”
So begins BETRAYAL (Forge, January 3, 2012), my first non-fiction book after thirty novels. The speaker is Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, addressing his soon-to-be victim John McIntyre, an informant capable of bringing him down once and for all, in 1984.
The hero of BETRAYAL is Robert Fitzpatrick, one of the most celebrated FBI agents of his time who was sent to Boston in late 1980 to “kick ass and take names.” Simply stated, the office had spiraled out of control in large part because of the degree to which agents and officials stretching all the way to Washington were beholden to Whitey Bulger.
Bulger, you see, was an informant the Bureau was relying on to give them what they wanted most : the Italian mob. Of course, since he was the titular head of the rival Irish Winter Hill gang and promised to prosper from the takedown of the mafia, he was all too happy to cooperate.
Only he didn’t. In all his years as an informant, Whitey Bulger gave the FBI nothing that helped them take down the mafia. Nothing. That’s what Bob Fitzpatrick uncovered when he got to Boston and what was pretty much confirmed during his first and only meeting with Bulger himself. Check out the following excerpt, one of my favorite scenes in the book:
“I never got your name.”
“That’s ‘cause you didn’t shake my hand. It’s Fitzpatrick.”
“You don’t understand,” he boasted. “I was in Alcatraz; I was in the toughest penitentiaries. I’m a bad guy, not somebody you wanna come out here and mess with.”
“Is that what I’m doing, Whitey, messing with you?”
“You tell me.”
“I just asked you.”
“You got any idea of the stuff I’ve done?”
“That’s why I’m here, to find out what you’ve done and what you’re doing for us. See, you wanna tell me about all the stuff you’ve done when I want to hear what you’re doing for me. Because you’re the informant.”
My last remark, a caustic taunt. “Whitey, what are you doing for the FBI?” I finally asked when he lapsed into silence, even though the answer was already written on the parts of his face I could see through the dim lighting. “What are you doing for me?”
The answer, of course, was nothing, and Fitzpatrick embarked on a twenty-year quest, both in and out of the FBI, to prove that to the world in general and Bureau in particular. Three times he developed informants prepared to give up Bulger and force the FBI to give the gangster up as an alleged informant. All three times information leaked out from within the Bureau, and all three times the informants were murdered, the last one being John McIntyre whose body was not recovered until 2000.
What attracted me to Fitzpatrick’s story, which became BETRAYAL, was that it was one of those rare nonfiction “thrillers” that had a third act. Even before Whitey Bulger was finally captured in Santa Monica in California last June, a series of trials over the past few years had already validated all of Fitzpatrick’s claims and fully vindicated his efforts. Bulger’s apprehension was just the icing on the cake.
And here’s the thing. My fictional thrillers also feature heroes defined by their ability to overcome incredible odds and survive, if not thrive, on their own. They are men and women unafraid to buck the system, to do the right thing regardless of what they must sacrifice along the way. Well, that describes Bob Fitzpatrick perfectly.
“I took on plenty of guys like you,” Bulger taunted during that now famous meeting with Fitzpatrick. “Turned out they weren’t so tough either.”
Turned out he couldn’t have been more wrong.
HANK: Whoa. Jon is writing as fast as he can, and the book will be out from FORGE Books in January! He'll be around today to answer our questions about the FBI, mobsters, and informants--and what it's like to write a non-fiction book this quickly!
(And continuing win-a-book-every-day week on Jungle Red, one lucky commenter will get Jon's book the moment it comes out! PLUS! Because we are all about instant gratification, you'll also win a signed copy of the Jungle Red book of your choice!)