Rick Boyer

The Penny Ferry


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 mean?'

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 infamous for.

'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

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