The Golden Go-Between


Mary Beth Mullaney never doubted for a moment that a hex—the Harry Agganis hex she called it—accounted for the misfortunes and setbacks that her husband, Chet, had experienced throughout his business career. The Harry Agganis she was referring to was a popular college athlete in the early l950's, an All-American quarterback at Boston University and a first baseman talented enough to attract the interest of major league scouts. He happened also to be the youngest son in a Greek immigrant family and because he was handsome, personable and blessed with a classic v-shaped torso, sports writers, in that era when they still used ethnic labels for star athletes, called him The Golden Greek.


Chet Mullaney was two years younger than Harry Agganis, and like him, he was a two-sport athlete of renown, at least in Boston. Not only was he the captain and leading goal scorer on the Harvard hockey team, but as a catcher, both in high school and at Harvard, he, too, had been scouted by major league teams. The parallels didn’t end there. He had the same dark, wavy hair as Harry Agganis, an engaging smile, and his parents had emigrated from Ireland, all of which made him, at least in the eyes of an editor at the Hearst paper in Boston, an athlete on par with Harry Agganis. Well aware that Boston was more Irish than Greek, the Hearst editor then decreed that, in his paper at least, Chet Mullaney would always be referred to as The Golden Gael.


Hearst sportswriters, on cue, then began turning out columns and feature stories in which they predicted that the Boston Red Sox would become a championship dynasty once these two local boys, Harry Agganis and Chet Mullaney, became team mates. The sports cartoonist at the Hearst paper once celebrated this possible pairing with a full-page drawing in which he depicted both of them standing on either side of home plate at Fenway Park, Harry Agganis in his football uniform but with a bat in his hand, ready to swing at a pitch from the left side of the plate, and Chet Mullaney, in his hockey uniform, also with a bat in his hand, on the right side of the plate.


Alas, this Hearstian fantasy never came to fruition, which wasn’t surprising since year after year some unforeseen event, a base-running blunder or inept managerial move, always seemed to come between the Red Sox and a championship banner. But none of the quirks of fate that were so costly to the Red Sox ever equaled the sad tale of Harry Agganis. A year after he finished college, he became the regular first baseman for the Red Sox, but midway through the next season, well on his way to stardom, he came down with pneumonia. Six weeks later, at age 25, he died of a pulmonary embolism.


Chet Mullaney’s athletic career had an ending less tragic than that, but it was not without an element of heartbreak. After his junior year—Mary Beth and he were engaged by then—he went off to play semipro baseball in Canada, and there, on a dismal, godforsaken diamond in Nova Scotia, he fractured his right shoulder in a collision at home plate. The Red Sox, having already expressed an interest in signing him to a contract, waited patiently for his shoulder to heal, but they eventually decided they couldn’t depend on a catcher who ended up throwing a ball with all the authority of a l0-year-old girl. The Red Sox informed Chet of their decision a week before Harry Agganis died.


And so, when all of New England was grieving for Harry Agganis, Mary Beth, for the first time, claimed that Chet, too, was a victim of the mysterious force that robbed the Red Sox of pennants and struck down young athletes in their prime. Mary Beth was undoubtedly influenced by those Boston sportswriters who, in their endless coverage of Harry Agganis’s death, invariably included mention of Chet’s shoulder injury as one more example of the hard luck that afflicted the Red Sox.


The first time Mary Beth blamed one of Chet’s business reverses on the Harry Agganis hex, it came out sounding like a nervous laugh, almost as though she knew how silly she sounded. Soon enough, though, Mary Beth, was not at all hesitant in claiming that a connection existed between the problems Chet encountered, post Harvard, and the tribulations that bedeviled the Red Sox.


Mary Beth had a thin, boyish figure, and with her horn-rimmed glasses, she was often taken for a college sophomore until her hair became more gray than blonde. Her voice, however, was deep and gravelly, so much so that everything she said sounded slightly offbeat, almost as though it was part of a comic routine. Mary Beth was enamored—there is no other word for it—with the smiles and goodwill evoked by this imbalance between her voice and her overall appearance. She was extremely intelligent, a gifted teacher of high school English, but she could come out with remarks that made no sense whatsoever (hexes included) if there was the slightest chance that such tomfoolery would make someone, including herself, feel better.


Mary Beth’s method for raising the spirits of everyone around her depended in great part on her knack for staring directly at some calamity and failing to notice that anything was amiss. Even when Chet tried to correct her—which he did whenever she stretched the parallel between him and Harry Agganis—Mary Beth would pause for a second and perhaps clear her throat, but she would then proceed, unimpeded, to repeat herself.


As Chet’s setbacks mounted, and his culpability in each instance was harder and harder to deny, there was a slight difference in the way Mary Beth invoked the name of Harry Agganis. She still believed in the power of that hex, but her voice when she mentioned it was softer, almost wistful. It was as though she wanted it noted, simply for the record, that this other-worldly force should not be discounted as an underlying cause for the reverses Chet had suffered.


Chet would have liked nothing better than to blame his troubles on a hex, but it was his abysmal timing, he maintained, that accounted for his lackluster career. He was on the wrong side of the boom/bust cycle when he worked for a large mutual fund company, and after that, when he was sales manager for a developer of suburban office parks. He seemed a visionary of sorts with his next venture, solar panels, but glitches in the technology and the prevalence of cloudy days in greater Boston proved to be more of a problem than he or his backers ever anticipated. He then became the distributor for a line of high-priced German appliances, but that business, iffy from the start, collapsed completely when a recession destroyed the limited market that existed for such items.


He also had a propensity for associating with people whose luck was even worse than his. For a brief period—between solar panels and the German appliances—he was part owner of a steak house that appeared to be quite successful since it was always filled with diners, but it was his misfortune to have a business partner who was dipping into the restaurant’s receipts to finance his heavy betting on professional sports.


Salvation seemed to have arrived for him when he was taken on as an account executive at the ad agency owned by John Houlihan, his oldest boyhood friend. Houlihan, modest and self-effacing, was the rare business owner who felt that the success of his firm was due in large part to the hard work of his employees. So firmly did Houlihan hold to this principal that he routinely handed out pay raises and generous bonuses in that decade or so when Houlihan and Associates was Boston’s dominant ad agency.


Ah, the Houlihan years, a time when the Mullaneys no longer worried about whether their checks would bounce and Mary Beth could forego the tricks she sometimes used, answering the phone with a Japanese accent, for instance, to keep creditors at bay. That’s when Chet and Mary Beth bought a weekend cottage on Cape Cod and carried out extensive renovations on their roomy house in Brookline. They even had the satisfaction of seeing their only child, Kate, graduate from Pine Hill, the same private school where Chet’s father had earned his living by tending to steam boilers in winter and mowing lawns in summer.


Then came that terrible day when Houlihan and Chet were walking back to their offices after lunch. It was one of the first warm days of spring and Houlihan, an avid gardener, lagged behind Chet because he stopped to look at a display stand of seeds outside a garden store on Massachusetts Avenue, near Symphony Hall. Chet had waited for a moment, but then walked on, assuming that Houlihan would soon catch up with him since they needed to get back for a presentation to one of the firm’s most important clients. But when Chet looked back and saw that he was now almost a block ahead of Houlihan, he beckoned to him, waving with his right arm.


Chet always felt there was something comical (and eerie) in his gesture. Here he was, the undisputed champ of long lunches, encouraging Houlihan, who often ate lunch at his desk, to get back to the office. Houlihan by then was on the verge of entering the store to purchase some seeds, but seeing Chet signal to him, he changed his mind and put the packets of seeds he had in his hand back in the display rack.


Always, in Chet’s memory of that day, there was that gesture from him, the waving of his right arm, and each time, he hoped that the seeds for a new variety of carrots would catch Houlihan’s eye and hold him in place for another moment or so. But no, Houlihan was moving in Chet’s direction just as a car, tires squealing, engine racing, a drunken wretch at the wheel, hurtled through an intersection, jumped the curb and headed straight at Houlihan. He tried to flee, almost succeeded in evading the car, but he was a scant second too late.


Soon after Houlihan's death, his ad agency was acquired by a rival, and overnight the Houlihan people were out of favor. Within weeks the agency lost its two largest accounts, giving the new owner the reason he needed to get rid of anyone who had ever been hired by Houlihan.



section break



Mary Beth, either out of consideration for Chet, or because she was so grief-stricken herself, avoided any allusions to the Harry Agganis hex after Houlihan’s tragic death. But that was the first time Chet himself began to feel—without ever admitting it to Mary Beth—that he was, in fact, jinxed. To him, there was no better evidence of that than the circumstances leading to Houlihan’s death. Each time he thought about that day—and he thought about it constantly—he saw himself as the culprit who urged Houlihan to take the fateful steps that brought him into the path of the runaway car. That led him to wonder, in all seriousness, if the hex hadn’t become contagious, affecting not only him, but anyone who was unfortunate enough to come in contact with him.


There were problems, too, that he encountered in finding another job. Until then, the goodwill available to former captains of Harvard athletic teams had always helped him find some new opportunity, but now his phone calls were returned slowly, if at all. Luncheon engagements he made were canceled at the last minute, and even when they were rescheduled, the new date was set weeks into the future. Though Chet didn’t want to admit it, he began to feel that people he knew didn’t really mean it when they said they would call him if they heard of an opening that was suitable for him.


Chet was having lunch (one that had not been rescheduled) with a Harvard classmate, Ray Harrold, when he found himself for the first time openly admitting that Mary Beth may have been right all these years with her talk about the Harry Agganis hex. He went on to say that Mary Beth probably had a point when she said recently that their luck might never change unless they left Boston. New location, new karma was how Mary Beth put it, he told Harrold.


Mary Beth, Chet then explained, was echoing a notion promoted by their daughter, Kate. She had attended college in Colorado and then went to work for an organization there that was dedicated to the preservation of wilderness areas. Kate felt she was doing her parents a favor in trying to rescue them from a crowded city in the northeast.


Harrold, an attorney of some distinction, dressed as always in an impeccably tailored pinstriped suit, was too well mannered to laugh out loud at Chet’s mention of the hex and how he might escape its influence only by moving to Colorado. Instead, he said that it didn’t make any sense for Mary Beth and Chet to move away from a place where both of them were well liked and well thought of.


Harrold then provided Chet, at no cost, the kind of service that earned him enormous fees from his clients. While Harrold was the head of his own law firm, and employed a number of attorneys who handled conventional legal work, he himself functioned as a behind-the-scenes fixer whose skill at raising funds for political candidates gave him as much influence as most elected officials. He was the confidante—and co-conspirator, some would say—of leading legislators, which made it possible for him to block (or advance) bills that might affect the fortunes of his corporate clients. Because he was on a first name basis with judges and court clerks and district attorneys, he could also be helpful to a client whose teenage son had been arrested for drunken driving,


During the lunch, Harrold suggested to Chet that he contact someone named Eddie Lally. Chet didn’t recognize the name, but Harrold, while writing Eddie Lally’s phone number on the back of a business card, quickly explained to Chet who Eddie was and why he might be of help to him.


"Eddie's a very bright guy, much brighter than most people think," Harrold said. "A lot of people worked for Jerry Scanlon, the guy who started the company that supplies concrete to most of the contractors around here. But only Eddie, starting out as a truck driver for Jerry Scanlon, had enough brains to notice that Jerry’s daughter, who could never be mistaken for a beauty queen, happened to be an only child. I’ll skip to the end of the story. Jerry Scanlon loved his daughter. He came to feel the same way about son-in-law Eddie, and so all those trucks you see with the Scanlon name on them now belong to Eddie and his lovely bride. Eddie’s a bit rough around the edges, but he should be able to line something up for you. When you call him, make sure to tell him I’m a close friend of yours. And whatever you do, forget all that crap about greener pastures in Colorado."


The next morning Chet reached Eddie Lally and listened patiently while Eddie talked at length about how much he admired Ray Harrold. It was obvious that Harrold at some point had been of immense help to Eddie, and that Eddie, in turn, was more than willing to reciprocate by doing whatever he could do for anyone who was an old friend of Harrold’s. After asking Chet only a few questions about his background, Eddie arranged for him to meet Leo Brisbane, the owner of a company that leased out scaffolding and heavy construction equipment. Brisbane, Eddie said, was in the process of expanding his sales force.


Two days later, after a brief interview and then a lunch at which Brisbane drank four martinis—and complained endlessly about his daughter, who had married a rock and roll musician—Chet was launched on yet another career, one that turned out to be extremely lucrative.


Chet could never get over how Eddie seemed to have adopted him. He called Chet constantly to find out how he was doing in his new job and regularly passed on information that helped Chet bring more business into Brisbane’s firm. At the same time, Eddie was extremely secretive. He would never leave a message if Chet was out of the office, and even when he provided Chet with "leads," he warned him not to tell anyone, not even Brisbane.


Only once did Chet persuade Eddie to have lunch with him, and even then, Eddie looked as if he was ready at any second to dive under the table if someone he knew had entered the restaurant. Eddie was even more ill at ease when Mary Beth called and invited him and his wife to dinner. Eddie’s reply to Mary Beth—that he had a strict policy of keeping his social life separate from his business affairs—was so gruffly delivered that Mary Beth told Chet she didn’t care if she ever got to meet the mysterious Eddie Lally.


"This is a funny business I'm in" was the only explanation Eddie ever gave Chet for his need to be so circumspect. Chet had no idea what was so "funny" about the concrete business, but about a year after Chet went to work for Brisbane, Eddie called him one morning and asked him to drop by his office. An hour later, Chet was in the trailer that served as Eddie’s office, drinking a lukewarm cup of coffee, when Eddie asked him to run an errand for him. But before explaining what the errand entailed, Eddie suddenly remarked on how Chet looked like a man who could use a new briefcase. As he did so, Eddie, with just the trace of a smile on his face, reached under his desk for a briefcase that had a combination locking device next to its latch.


When Chet hesitated at reaching out for the briefcase. Eddie, somewhat insistently, thrust it at him, and said, "Here. You got something against someone giving you a nice new briefcase?"


Chet had no choice but to accept the briefcase, placing it on his lap while Eddie, obviously enjoying the puzzlement he had caused, took a moment to take a sip from his coffee. Eddie was Chet’s age, but he looked older because his hair, and even his eye brows, were completely white. He had also been quite heavy at one time, but a strict diet, imposed on him by his doctor, had caused him to lose so much weight that there was a noticeable gap between his shirt collar and his neck.


Finally, leaning forward in his chair, and also lowering his voice a notch, Eddie elaborated on the reason for the briefcase.


"What I’m looking for is something really simple. In fact, all you have to do is stop in for a drink on your way home from the office. When you do, you see someone you know, an old friend. You join him and you have a drink together, but when you leave, you mistakenly pick up your friend's briefcase and you leave behind the one I’ve given you. That's it."


"I don't get it," Chet said. "Or maybe I do, which makes me think this is more than an innocent mistake."


Eddie, ignoring what Chet had said, said the person he wanted Chet to bring the briefcase to was a member of the state senate.


"A friend of mine has some information he wants to pass on to the senator, some research," he said. That, too, brought a smile to Eddie’s face.


"I have a feeling this research is spelled, c-a-s-h," Chet said. "Who's it coming from and why am I supposed to bring it?" Chet also tried just then to open the briefcase, but just as he suspected, it was locked.


Without ever answering Chet directly, Eddie told him he should learn to relax.


"All I'm asking you to do is to deliver that thing I gave you," he said. "Never mind what’s inside. The way I see it, you’re perfect for this job. In a thousand years nobody would expect this from someone like you. It's like the CIA hiring all those bright kids from Ivy League schools to be spies."


"I guess I should take that as a compliment of sorts," Chet said, "but I can’t say—"


"Look," Eddie said, cutting him off, "when you needed a boost, I put in a good word for you with Brisbane. Now, it's your turn to do me a favor. Besides, the kind of thing I’m asking you to do could work wonders for a guy in your business. You get the picture yet or do you want me to draw it for you?"


Before Chet ever had a chance to say yes or no to Eddie’s request, Eddie said he had arranged for him to meet the senator at 6:30 that night, in the cocktail lounge of a motor inn in a suburb north of Boston.


"The senator’s bald and fat and likes to hear himself talk," Eddie said. "You’ll know who he is the minute you walk into the lounge."


At that very moment, Chet realized how right Harrold had been when he had told him what a smart guy Eddie was. Eddie, for instance, seemed to understand quite well that a man who was once again going through a period of prosperity is unlikely to reject a benefactor who asks him to run an errand.



section break



Chet swapped briefcases for the first time in a dimly-lit cocktail lounge that had a glass tank filled with brightly colored fish. At a table, just to the right of the glass tank, sat Senator Round-face. As soon as Chet introduced himself to the senator—acting, as Eddie suggested, as if he had run into an old friend—he stooped down and slid the briefcase Eddie had given him under the table. When he did so, he saw that the senator’s briefcase was already there.


The moment Chet had reached over to shake the senator’s hand, the senator, grinning broadly, said, "Well, I’ll be—the original, the one and only Golden Gael. You know, Chet, guys I grew up with still talk of what might have been if things had gone differently for you with the Red Sox."


Chet wanted nothing more just then than to take the briefcase that wasn’t his and flee. He had convinced himself that the briefcase swap would be a cut and dried affair, as much a chance encounter as Eddie said it would be. But now, with the senator recounting the time he saw Chet, still in high school, hit a home run that traveled 400 feet on the fly, he began to wonder why he had given in so easily to Eddie. He could even feel driblets of sweat trickling down his back when he tried to imagine what he would say if someone he knew—a real old friend, say—happened to enter the cocktail lounge.


A few moments later, however, when Chet’s eyes had adjusted to the dark, he saw that the cocktail lounge was empty, except for a young couple in the far corner who seemed to be wholly absorbed in each other. That made him feel a bit more confident with Eddie’s ability to pick meeting places that guaranteed a certain level of privacy. All he had to contend with then was Senator Round-face’s forced camaraderie and the obnoxious odor of his cologne.


Having recalled Chet’s association with Harry Agganis, the senator turned to the subject of heroes who had died young and then to his account of how he had worked, starting as a boy, in all of John F. Kennedy's political campaigns. Chet listened politely at first, but in ten minutes or so, having heard quite enough from the senator of how he had helped put John F. Kennedy in the White House, he finished off his drink and said he had to leave. He was on his way to meet his wife for dinner, he said, in explaining his hasty departure.


As Chet began to get up from his chair, the senator, who was still yapping about his affection for the Kennedy family, slowly shifted his weight so that he turned away from the table. Then—still chattering on about the Kennedys—the senator used the toe of his shoe to push forward the briefcase he had brought with him. When Chet reached down to take the senator’s briefcase, he saw that it was an exact replica of the one he was leaving behind.


As soon as Chet got back to his car, he could tell from the feel of it that it was empty. Eddie hadn’t said what he was supposed to do with the briefcase, but he thought it best, given the circumstances under which he received it, to dispose of it as soon as possible. That night, he hid it behind the golf clubs in the trunk of his car, but early the next day he tossed it into a dumpster in the alley behind his office.


The day after he delivered the briefcase, Eddie called to congratulate Chet on how well he had done in carrying out his assignment. Three months later, Eddie once again summoned Chet to his office and handed him another briefcase. This time he sent Chet to the cocktail lounge of a hotel in Cambridge, where he was to meet with a senior engineer in the state highway department.


The exchange of briefcases with the engineer was more business-like, but a bit more awkward than Chet’s encounter with the state senator. The entire transaction took less than ten minutes and about half of that time was taken up with the engineer going to the men’s room. The engineer, obviously quite nervous, had no intention of chatting with Chet. As soon as he came out of the men’s room, he downed his drink in one swallow, and then grabbing the briefcase Chet had brought him, he abruptly left the lounge. The next day, when Eddie called Chet, he said, "On time, on target, good job."


Chet soon became accustomed to the calls from Eddie, the visits to his office, and then the instructions from him about the person he was supposed to meet and where. With each assignment—twelve in five years—he became more adept at seeming as if he had indeed run into an old friend. Each time, after completing the briefcase swap, he tossed the briefcase he had mistakenly taken into that same dumpster.


Aside from the state senator, the men Chet met, all of whom were involved in overseeing the construction of highways or public buildings, seemed not to know or care who he was. Chet and his new-found friends did manage, mostly for appearance sake, to engage in brief conversations, but these consisted mostly of small talk about the weather or maybe some chatter about the Celtics or Red Sox until the moment Chet excused himself, leaving behind the briefcase he had brought with him.


Once, a man he brought the briefcase to was accompanied by two burly associates who made a point of sitting on either side of Chet and pinning him in so that he couldn't move. Their companion then took the briefcase Chet had delivered and went into the men's room. When he came back, he nodded to both of his friends who then moved aside so that Chet could leave.


Eddie never admitted outright that Chet was delivering cash payments, but he talked constantly of how contractors who were friends of his encountered problems on certain public works projects. Payments due to them were held up, or construction, for the faintest of reasons, was brought to a halt. Contractors, according to Eddie, learned to tell which of these delays were legitimate and which were discreet (and sometimes not so discreet) requests for a payoff.


Even discounting for some Eddie’s hyperbole, it sounded to Chet as if a good deal of construction in the state was always in imminent danger of coming to a halt if Eddie’s contractor friends failed to provide these public officials with bribes. One day, when Eddie was in the middle of a tirade about corrupt politicians, and the demands they made on people in the construction business, he laughingly admitted that he himself had devised a system for facilitating payments contractors were required to make.


"The trick," Eddie said, "is to put some insulation between the guy with his hand out and the guy who’s expected to put something into that hand."


"So that’s me," Chet said, "the insulation."


"You’re only part of it," Eddie said, with a chuckle.


Chet didn’t press Eddie just then to expand on what he had said, but a few weeks later, he asked him if he was absolutely certain that the system he had come up with was foolproof.


"Of course it is," Eddie said, somewhat defensively. "You see, there’s no record anywhere of anything going from the guy who’s being held up to the son of a bitch on the receiving end. I handle the whole thing right from here. Then it’s just a matter of reimbursing myself by adding a little surcharge to the cost of concrete."


That allayed any concerns Chet had about his vulnerability to serving as the go-between for Eddie and his contractor friends. He also convinced himself that it was not the errands he ran for Eddie that enabled him to bring so much new business into Brisbane’s firm. To Chet, it was obvious that for once his timing was perfect. He had got into the construction business just as Boston was going through an unprecedented development boom. Each year, he exceeded his sales from the previous year, and Brisbane, delighted at the results, first gave Chet a series of raises and then promoted him to sales manager.


Gone forever, it seemed, was any talk of the Harry Agganis hex, at least as it applied to Chet Mullaney. Oh, the Red Sox themselves still tormented their followers, even coming within one out and one strike of winning a world championship only to lose the game when a routine ground ball bounced between the legs of their first baseman.


Chet didn’t even feel as if he, or Eddie Lally, were at risk when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts embarked on one of its periodic campaigns to purge itself of political corruption. This is a ritual that usually begins with the governor appointing a special commission to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by public officials. Inevitably, a retired Episcopal bishop or a former university president is chosen to head the commission, but it is the commission's attorneys, with the power to subpoena witnesses, who take testimony in private and then proceed to take legal action if such steps are warranted.


Chet did notice that the delivery of briefcases seemed to tail off once the commission—unofficially referred to as the "crime commission"—opened its investigation, but when he mentioned that to Eddie, he heatedly denied it.


"What are you talking about?" Eddie said. "This is a commission that’s going after criminals, crooks. What’s that got to do with you and me?"


Chet became more concerned when the commission's investigation led to the indictment, on unrelated charges, of two people who had received briefcases from him. Again, however, Eddie assured Chet that he had nothing to fear.


"I told you before. You're not part of this," Eddie said. "There's no record that you gave anything to anyone. There's no record that you and these people even know each other. Please—nobody has less to worry about than you."


Eddie sounded convincing enough, until the bright Indian summer afternoon—six months into the life of the commission—when Harrold called Chet with some disturbing news. One of his partners, Harrold said, had just heard that Chet was going to be subpoenaed by the commission. Harrold immediately assured Chet that a subpoena didn’t necessarily mean he was in any legal jeopardy. Then, while Chet was still trying to absorb the news, Harrold offered to call the commission to see what he could learn.


Fifteen minutes later, Harrold called back to inform Chet that it was official: He was being subpoenaed to testify before the commission in three days. The subpoena would not be served until the next day, Harrold said, but word about it had already leaked to the press.


"You need to respond," Harrold said, "insisting that you’ve got nothing to hide. And it’s best if it comes from someone like me."


"Does this mean you’re willing to represent me on this?" Chet said.


"Why not," Harrold said. "There’s nothing I like better than taking a case when my client is irrefutably innocent. Now, here’s my first piece of advice. You don’t say a word to anyone. My statement takes care of that. You don’t take phone calls. You don’t call anyone. You just sit still for the time being. Also, it's a good idea if you get home and let Mary Beth know what’s going on. She needs to keep quiet, too."


Chet agreed to abide by Harrold’s wishes, but first he left word with Brisbane's secretary about the news he had received from Harrold. Then, he put in a call to Eddie, who reacted to the news of the subpoena by telling Chet once again that he had nothing to worry about.


"The most important thing you’ve already done," Eddie said, "which is to hire Harrold. Nothing bad is going to happen to you as long as Harrold’s your lawyer. But remember what I said before. There's not a sliver of proof that you did anything wrong anyway."


"So why do they want me to testify?" Chet said.


"Because they're looking everywhere, trying to prove that money changed hands," said Eddie.


"What money?" Chet said. "I never saw any money."


"Now, you're talking. You tell them you don’t know what they’re looking for. How they gonna prove otherwise?"


Before Chet hung up, Eddie told him that he would reimburse him for his legal costs, but for obvious reasons, Eddie said, Chet would first have to pay Harrold.


"I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to keep this thing a secret," Eddie said. "Nobody should ever know that I’m helping you, not even your wife, not even Harrold."


"Sure, nobody knows anything, except all those guys I brought briefcases to. Are they gonna be quiet too?"


"For chrissakes, how many times do I have to tell you? You can’t be held liable for something you didn’t even know about. Keep your mouth shut and everything’s going to be just fine."


After talking with Eddie, Chet drove home, getting there in the middle of the afternoon, just before Mary Beth usually returned from her day of teaching school. The first thing he did was to unplug the phone. Then, he busied himself with sweeping away dead leaves from the backyard patio and preparing to move tables and chairs from there into the basement for the winter. When Mary Beth arrived home, she agreed with Chet that it was too nice a day for him to have stayed in his office. Moments later, she joined him in doing some yard work. Then, at Chet’s suggestion, they went out to dinner at a restaurant near Harvard Square.


Chet thought that after a drink or two, and then a quiet dinner, it would be easier for him to talk to Mary Beth about the subpoena, but three times, just as he was about to tell her what she would be reading in the morning paper, he changed his mind. Finally, when they were home and preparing for bed, he told Mary Beth that he was being summoned to appear before the commission.


"They've made a mistake," she said, her reaction as quick and as sure as a hockey goalie who throws out his leg to kick a shot away.


Emboldened by Mary Beth's response, Chet said that the commission probably wanted to hear from him because several contractors he did business with were friendly with certain politicians. His only crime, he said, was having lunch now and then with clients of his who may have come to the attention of the commission.


Elaborating on that point, Chet said, "That’s what’s wrong with these investigations—something that looks suspicious is taken as proven fact. Then, rumors and speculation abound, and the first thing you know, people will lie and point fingers in order to save their own skin."


By the time she fell asleep, Mary Beth was so convinced of Chet’s innocence that a videotape of him handing over a cash bribe, complete with a play-by-play account of what he was doing, would not have changed her mind. Mary Beth was as steadfast even after she saw the next morning's Boston Globe with its front-page headline, "Former Harvard Star Called In Corruption Probe."


The story followed a predictable pattern, with a spokesman for the commission confirming that Chet was being called as a witness but refusing to comment on why he was being asked to testify. There was also a statement from Harold, assuring the public that not only was Chet Mullany innocent of any wrongdoing but that he looked forward to cooperating in any way he could with the commission.


The Globe reporter, however, had picked up enough information from three sources—two unnamed, and one a former legislator who seemed to be floating a theory—to suggest that Chet might be in a position to explain more fully some alleged bribes already uncovered by the commission. Mary Beth, for her part, acted as if Chet was all but exonerated since the news story lacked any mention of sworn affidavits attesting to his complicity in delivering bribes. Or that at least is what Mary Beth seemed to be saying in phone calls she made to Chet’s two sisters and three of her closest friends.


Mary Beth even tried to laugh off the idea that Chet was capable of breaking the law. Chet Mullaney guilty of anything, she would ask, feigning disbelief at the thought. Was this the same Chet she knew, the guy who refused to cross a street unless the sign said Walk, even if there was no oncoming traffic? But moments later, Mary Beth would explode in fury at the Globe reporter and the nameless, faceless people who were trying to sully Chet’s name. This was the Salem witch trials all over again, she cried, an outbreak of McCarthyism.


Somewhere Mary Beth had come across the saying, "Better to die on your feet than live on your knees," and in the next two days, she seemed to work that phrase into every conversation she had. Chet did keep Mary Beth from talking with the press, but anyone else who talked to her heard that her husband was the one man brave enough to stand up to a commission gone berserk.


Mary Beth's bravado was dampened only once, when she called Kate to tell her about the subpoena. Kate had recently been married and she and her husband had moved from Denver to Colorado Springs, where they owned a dog kennel. Her husband shared Kate’s dislike for anything that was urban and located on the east coast and both had let Chet know, much too often in his opinion, that he was complicit in the construction of condominiums and shopping malls and every other type of development they so despised.


Since Chet didn't care that evening to be lectured to by Kate, he didn't get on the phone, but he had a sense of what was going on because Mary Beth was trying very had to explain that Chet’s subpoena didn’t necessarily mean he was connected in any way to the commission’s crusade against corruption. Twice she put the receiver down and took a deep breath to calm herself.


"Oh, you know Daddy—he isn’t cut out for that sort of thing," Mary Beth said. "The man doesn’t have a devious bone in his body."


A moment later, Mary Beth tried a new tack: "This is a commission trying to justify its existence. They cast a wide net and they think every minnow they bring up is some kind of whale."


That explanation didn't seem to work any better in persuading Kate of Chet’s innocence, and so Mary Beth tried once again.


"Oh, they're just a bunch of eager-beaver little lawyers trying to throw their weight around," she said, exasperation evident in every syllable. "Targeting somebody like Daddy makes these little twerps feel important."


Seconds later, Mary Beth, without saying good-bye, abruptly hung up, slamming the phone down with some force.


For a moment she sat there, saying nothing, but then, with one word—"Wise ass"—she let Chet know what she thought of the talk she had had with Kate. A moment later, a bit more composed, she said, "Here, word for word, is what made me hang up on her. Quote, 'Did he or didn't he have anything to do with the payment of bribes? If he didn't, no problem. If he did, big problem.' Unquote."


The next day Chet called Kate. He wanted to apologize for Mary Beth hanging up on her, but Kate was still interested in getting an answer to the question she had asked Mary Beth.


"So what's the story?" she asked, "You going to give the commission what they’re looking for?"


"It's scapegoat time in Massachusetts," he replied. "And once everyone decides they need to have a lynching party, they have to find someone to string up."


Apparently that explanation made little headway since the only sound on the other end of the line was the barking he often heard in the background when talking to Kate.


"If you have a commission investigating political corruption," he continued, "you must find corruption, or something that looks like it. A lot of people are mentioning names, trying to save themselves by blaming other people. You could have met so and so for lunch and suddenly you're a co-conspirator."


The barking in the background grew louder just then and Kate excused herself because she needed to tend to the disturbance. Before hanging up, Chet told her he was sorry for bothering her when she was so busy.


As for Mary Beth, he wasn’t at all surprised with what she was saying, but he was bewildered by the way Harrold downplayed the subpoena.


Chet was in Harrold’s office the next day, discussing what he should say in his appearance before the commission when Harrold said, "My guess is that someone the commission has interviewed probably mentioned your name, and therefore the commission wants to talk with you. That’s the way these things usually go. They’ll follow any lead, no matter how vague, in the hope that they might hit pay dirt. Think of this whole thing as a minor inconvenience, something like running into a traffic jam while driving to work."


"My name doesn’t usually end up on the front page of the Globe when I get stuck in traffic," Chet said.


"No, it doesn’t, but don’t try to make this into something bigger than it is," Harrold said. "The last thing you want to do is act as if you’re guilty of something. That’s exactly what these guys are looking for."


"I don’t know what it’s like to act guilty, but it pisses me off to think that they’re putting me through this simply because my name may have come up in some conversation."


"Ah, ah, but pissed off is exactly what you don’t want to be," Harrold said. "In fact, you must go out of your way to be courteous—courteous but uncooperative. Confirm certain facts. Yes, you know so and so, but not that well. As best you can recall, you met him just once, and you can't really remember what was said. It was a brief meeting. There was a lot of noise. Apologize for being forgetful. Whatever you do, don't sound defiant. Get these two-bit lawyers upset with you and they’re likely to march into court, seeking a contempt citation. Get the wrong judge and he could decide that a few days in jail might refresh your memory."


Chet shuddered at the mention of jail, and Harrold just as quickly assured him that jail was a remote possibility. A moment later, he went back to explaining what Chet could expect from the commission.


"They’ll give you a tough time, no doubt about that," Harrold said. "Bullying witnesses is their specialty, particularly in the private sessions. They can also cozy up to you, acting as if they're on your side and making you think they'll go easy on you if you cooperate. The trick is not to let them call the shots. You're a law-abiding citizen who would like nothing more than to help them. Unfortunately, you know nothing that’s of any value to them."


"So my entire defense is to say nothing, but to do so in such a way that nobody gets mad at me."


"It may not sound terribly clever," Harrold said, "but clever doesn't always work with these people."


All along Chet had been wondering whether he should tell Harrold about the briefcases, but rather than tell him outright, he tried instead to pose a hypothetical question. What happens, Chet asked, if I walk into the hearing and, bang, they hit me with something, no matter how false, that sounds as if I’ve done something wrong?"


Harrold's office was in an office tower that provided him with a panoramic view of Boston harbor and before replying to Chet, he half turned in his chair to look out his window while apparently collecting his thoughts. A moment later, he slowly turned back so that he was again facing Chet.


"Chester, not many people, not even politicians of limited intelligence, ever confess to wrongdoing. That's why this commission is calling you in. They're stymied. They're looking for any break they can get, even if it means dragging in some poor soul who's never done anything wrong. That's their game, putting people like you on the defensive. They're hoping they’ll make you say something from which they can infer something else. Often that works for them, especially if someone's done something wrong and is looking for a deal. But with you, they've made a mistake. You haven't any reason to make a deal. So you deny, deny, deny. In between times, you tell them you can’t recall what they’re asking you about. In other words, if they’re so fucking sure of all this corruption they’re looking for, let them prove it."


For the first time Chet began to wonder if Harrold’s readiness to defend him was nothing more than his way of protecting Eddie Lally from any harm. He thought now of that day when Eddie said he was a perfect candidate for delivering the briefcases because nobody would suspect him of such a thing. Wasn’t it Harrold who recommended him to Eddie? Was it far-fetched, then, to conclude that Harrold may have recruited him to be Eddie’s bag man? And did that mean both of them were chortling now about how he had no choice, in defending himself, to defend them also?


He said none of this to Mary Beth, but he did share with her what Harrold had said about the possibility of jail if the commission got a judge to find him in contempt.


"Oh, don’t be silly," Mary Beth said. "They can't put people in jail unless they've been convicted of a crime."


"Mary Beth, please. Harrold’s a lawyer, a sharp one. He knows this stuff inside out and backwards. So I worry when he says that jail, while not likely, is a possibility if they decide I’m not telling them what they want to hear."


Chet wasn’t sure what to make of Mary Beth’s smile when he said that. Was she that convinced there was nothing he could tell the commission about political corruption in Massachusetts? Or did she rather like the idea of Chet Mullaney, resolute and brave, risking jail rather than cooperating with a commission that had no business issuing a subpoena to him in the first place?



section break



The day before Chet testified, he was home alone when Eddie called to repeat the advice he had previously given him. "


"Remember," he said, "you don’t know anything."


"Yeah, but what happens if they don’t believe me?"


"Look, you do what Harrold says. You listen to him and you won’t have any problems."


"Oh sure, no problemo," Chet said. "Let's just forget that this is sworn testimony, you know, the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, my hand resting on the bible,—"


"Fuck the bible," Eddie said. "You were an errand boy. Nothing more. For all you know this was some old Irish custom. Yeah, you happen to have these friends, Irish guys who like to send each other briefcases. You did them a favor. You were the guy who delivered the briefcases. What was in the briefcases, you don’t know. Why they did it, you have no idea. In other words, my friend, you couldn’t tell this asshole commission anything about bribes even if you wanted to."


The next day, with Harrold as their point man, Mary Beth and Chet pushed their way through the cluster of reporters and TV cameramen waiting outside the building where the commission had its offices. Their entrance into the building would have gone more smoothly, except that Mary Beth, falling a step or two behind Chet, was telling reporters how much her husband welcomed this chance to clear his name.


Harrold and Chet, neither of them saying a word, kept inching ahead, but Mary Beth came to a complete stop when a reporter asked her if Chet Mullaney was ready to testify fully about everything he knew.


"Why not?" she replied. She was midway through elaborating on that answer, explaining to the reporter what a law abiding citizen Chet Mullaney was when Harrold reached back and gently took Mary Beth by the arm. Simultaneously, while pulling Mary Beth forward, he turned himself around so that he now stood between Mary Beth and the reporters.


"I’m sorry, but we’ll have no further comment," Harrold told the reporters. At the same time, he eased Mary Beth through the door of the building.


The reporters kept up with Harrold and Chet and Mary Beth, and one television cameraman, walking backwards, managed to keep his lens focused tightly on them until they reached the elevators, but there, a security guard prevented anyone from following them any farther. Mary Beth, in the few seconds before the elevator doors closed, leaned forward so that she was staring directly into the television camera when she raised both her hands and flashed a V-for-Victory sign.


Moments later, when the three of them arrived at the commission’s office, Mary Beth was told by the guard that she would have to wait in a small anteroom off the lobby while Harrold and Chet met with attorneys from the commission. Mary Beth acknowledged the instructions from the guard, but with one arm wrapped around Chet’s waist, she continued accompanying Harrold and Chet part way down the long corridor leading towards the hearing room. As they drew closer to the hearing room, Chet stopped, and leaning over, he gave Mary Beth a quick kiss.


After the kiss, the two of them parted, but just as Chet and Harrold were about to enter the door of the hearing room, Mary Beth called out to Chet. When he looked back, he saw that Mary Beth, standing on her tiptoes, had brought both hands up to her lips. She then flung her arms out to send a kiss flying in his direction.


Chet had no choice but to return, with a graceful sweep of his right arm, her air-blown kiss, and in that moment he decided that it was time at last to be the hero Mary Beth had so long worshipped. Now, as he entered the hearing room, he imagined himself settling into the batter’s box at Fenway Park. Yes, the Golden Gael, gripping his bat tightly and flexing it back and forth, was about to hit the towering home run that would end forever the talk of hexes standing between him and the bright promise of his golden-hued youth.  End of Story