"I have this recurring dream all the time. I see him in New York. I see him
walking down the street. And I pull him aside into a doorway. And I ask him,
‘Why? Why would you be an informant? Why would you do that? Something you've always
preached against?' And then, that's when I snap his neck."
That's John "Red" Shea, five years ago, describing what he'd do if he
ever happened to bump into his former boss and mentor, Whitey Bulger, on the
As it happens, he perhaps
came closer than he'd realized to actually having that encounter.
On Wednesday night, as he was getting ready for bed, the
Southie native got a text message from a friend: "They finally got the
He couldn't believe it - not least because of where they
"I was like, 'Holy shit,' " says Shea.
"Because where he was caught, in Santa
Monica, I was just out there with my friend at his
house, working on the screenplay for Rat
Bastards, and it was only three blocks away from there. It's fuckin' ... it's
The screenplay he's writing is based on his memoir, Rat Bastards: The Life and Times of South
Boston's Most Honorable Irish Mobster (William Morrow, 2006). In it, the
one-time drug runner for Bulger, Inc., writes about his complicated
relationship with the man who once served, he says, as a surrogate father.
"I was in awe," he told me back when his book
first came out. "He was the legend. He was the king. Who wouldn't want to
be like Whitey?"
As Bulger enlisted the teen, first to run errands, and,
later, to run trunkfuls of cocaine between Key West and Southie, he imparted paternal
lessons. "Don't drink too much. Watch how you drive. Don't drive fancy
cars. Keep yourself clean-cut. Don't lose your temper like that.' I appreciated
all that," said Shea. "He was always saying, ‘Read a book, John. Read a book.
Make sure you read a book, John. Reading's
really good for ya.' Those things stay with a guy who's never had a father."
Another ostensibly unshakeable code? In Southie, a rat is
the lowest form of life.
And so when he was arrested, in 1990, Shea refused to turn.
He did his time. "I walked in a man, and I'll walk out a man," he wrote.
"I would rather die than become a rat. I would show Whitey he was right.
He could count on me."
Shea was in prison when he found out Bulger had been
colluding with the FBI for years.
"It was one of the hardest pills I've ever taken in my
life," he told me in 2006. "I could have given him up in a heartbeat
and done no time. I could have. But I didn't. I defended him. To the very end."
Today, Shea seems almost nonplussed by the news.
He always figured he'd see Whitey's name splashed across the
papers again someday, but that "it would be in death, not with him getting
caught alive - and by death, I mean natural causes."
Asked how he thinks Bulger pulled it off, these 16 long
years on the lam, Shea says, "He definitely had help. And those are the
people who have to worry."
After all, Bulger has proven he has no compunction about
selling out his associates. And if not him, then "his girlfriend. If she
has that information, she might use that to get herself out of trouble."
Shea, himself? Nowadays, he sleeps the sleep of the just, he
says. "My life has changed. I took the right course, being the man that I
was and not opening my mouth, and I'm happy about that.
"Now I'm a full-fledged author. I just wrote this young
adult book, A Kid From Southie [WestSide Books], that's loosely based on my
life, and having a guy like Whitey draw me in, and getting involved with
organized crime, and having to make some choices, and trying to get out.
"It's a raw story," he says. "It's a tough
story. But it's a real story. Kids that are growing up in urban areas and are
faced with these issues, hopefully, they can get ahold of this book."
As for the movie adaptation of Rat Bastards, "we're working on it now. We're lining up
investors. The investors had started stepping up recently - and now I'm sure
they're going to step up even quicker. Hopefully we can start something in the
I ask Shea about that dream he had. If he could see his
erstwhile father figure today - 81 years old, reportedly in poor health, in
shackles - would he still have the same violent retributive impulse?
"To be honest with you, I don't wanna say exactly how
I'd react, because people are going to take it for what it is," he says.
"But it probably wouldn't be nice. Let's just put it that way. It wouldn't
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