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Phyllis Karas, with Ross A. Muscato

Steerforth Press, 241 pages, $22.95

After the amazement, the revulsion, maybe the little vicarious thrill, of reading a crime memoir, we respond, basically, in the manner of select lines of “Gee, Officer Krupke.” If the confessor is sympathetic, we sing, “There is good, there is good/There is untapped good.” If he comes across as a badly wired psychopath, “He’s psychologic’ly disturbed!” If his childhood’s to blame, then it’s, “Society’s played him a terrible trick/And sociologic’ly he’s sick!” If he’s just plain evil, “Deep down inside him, he’s no good!”

Regardless, as the baddie’s story, spelled out at book length, becomes cliché, so, with our predictable knee-jerk reactions, do we. Give credit to Edward J. MacKenzie Jr. in that, real flesh and blood that he is, he defies at least some of our moralistic pigeonholing and B-movie assumptions. All the “Krupke” verses apply to MacKenzie’s memoir, Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Irish Mob. There is certainly untapped good in Eddie Mac, as he’s known. A former enforcer and drug dealer for James “Whitey” Bulger and the South Boston Irish mob, MacKenzie now spends his days—when he’s not engaging in phone collection scams—raising the youngest two of five daughters. (There’s also a son, whom authorities forced him to give up.) A hard-core sadist among whose addictions are hearing bones break at the end of his fist, foot, or bat, chewing off some ear or finger in a fight, or scalding a victim’s face, Eddie’s no doubt psychologically disturbed. Abandoned by his parents, beaten and sexually abused in foster care, and later sodomized by an Army recruiter, he’s been the victim of a whole arsenal of society’s tricks. It’s clear that he has only the faintest inkling of the harm he’s done and the hurt he’s caused—he recounts the worst of it with undisguised, boastful glee—so the good in him appears to be facing an uphill battle.

To complicate the picture further, he is obviously disciplined. Not only did he, as all good pushers should, shun the coke he dealt out of Connolly’s Corner Café, he was an exceptional athlete, winning New England kickboxing and Golden Glove boxing championships. He was fearless and usually smart in carrying out Bulger’s orders, as well as, when the time came, in handing a substantial Medellín Cartel operation to the Feds in a dazzling feat of self-preservation that turned him into a “rat,” but not—and to him, the distinction is key—against his former Southie comrades. Moreover, he earned his GED and graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston. (Fudging his age, he even got onto the football team in his mid-30s. “Mac, if I tell you to kill the quarterback,” the coach explained, “I only mean for you to tackle him.”) His major was pre-law.

MacKenzie was born in 1958. He and his four siblings were committed to foster care in 1963. First stop for Eddie, and his brothers Ronnie and Bobby, was “a home in Revere where we lived with a witch of a woman and her husband, who was usually drunk….We hadn’t been in that place more than ten minutes when the two of them smacked Bobby around because he shit in his diaper….[T]he old lady hadn’t even started in with her belt yet.”

A short time later, Bobby was placed elsewhere—”We came home one day and there was no Bobby.” Eddie and Ronnie were moved to a home in Ashland, west of the city. There, a Mrs. Fazio had them sleep on a mattress she pulled from under her bed in the master bedroom. “We were never allowed to sit on the furniture. She had plastic on the couches and chairs, and we spent 90 percent of the time on the floor. We weren’t even allowed to eat with her and her daughters. We ate only after they finished.” The boys were sometimes sent “down to the cellar, alone, in the pitch blackness, often for the night.” They never knew what would trigger a beating—”looking at her wrong, sitting on her furniture, taking a piece of bread from the counter. She’d whack us with wooden spoons and belts.” Eddie, 6, and Ronnie, 7, started to steal extra food from the fridge and cash from her purse. Within a couple of years, they were finally removed after Mrs. Fazio went after Eddie so hard with a broomstick that she broke his arm.

In a group home in Jamaica Plain, things were looking up under the supervision of the kindly Mom and Pops Cossitt, who ran things Friday through Sunday nights. But a hippie couple who supervised other times brought in a “tutor” who fondled, then eventually raped, Eddie. “I must have known that I couldn’t get away because I remember that I stopped fighting….The pain was like nothing I’d ever experienced before.” When it was done, “he told me to pull up my pants because it was time to get an ice cream.” Eddie stayed at the home another three years, he reports, “but nothing was ever the same for me after that day….Something awful had happened and no food or game or story could make it better. I was only nine, but I felt old and sad and frightened and angry.”

Then, when he was 11, a 21-year-old female baby sitter got Eddie and a girl in the home high and orchestrated their sexual intercourse. Soon after came his first brush with the cops, when Ronnie brought around a stolen Chevy and Eddie took it on a joy ride ending in a crash. When the group home closed, Eddie and Ronnie started staying with friends “who came from homes that were only slightly dysfunctional,” or outside on a porch, or in a cellar, taking clothes and linens from clotheslines. They shoplifted and committed burglaries. During the latter, Eddie would leave excrement under the victims’ pillows.

With his best friend Frankie “the Tank” MacDonald, he shot up black housing projects in the mid-’70s, during the worst of the busing tensions, just for fun. He became South Boston’s Southie Day Boxing Champ, then shouted at a shocked crowd into a microphone, “I want to thank all the niggers in Boston for keeping me in shape!” Another romp for Eddie and his pals was beating up gays in the park—until, that is, he took on a group of serious gay martial-arts enthusiasts, for whom he acknowledges a grudging appreciation.

After spells in prison and the Army, the 22-year-old Eddie came to know Whitey Bulger over, of all things, $10,000 worth of Hummel figurines stolen from the wrong home. Whitey, the already legendary Southie mob boss, was impressed that Eddie didn’t rat out his fellow thief. In the pages of the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, as well as on the likes of 60 Minutes, Whitey’s South Boston and Eddie Mac’s part in it as a “street soldier” have been carefully detailed, enough so that MacKenzie lost a previous book contract for spilling too much of his story too soon. Still, pulled together here, the portrait of Bulger is remarkable. If Eddie is a Quentin Tarantino mobster, Whitey is a gangland character as conceived by David Lynch, complete with bisexual pedophilia and cross-dressing. Whitey casually put an ice pick in a guy’s chest for looking at Whitey’s Catholic-school daughter the wrong way, MacKenzie tells us. But MacKenzie also watched the mob boss commit statutory rape with a girl about the same age, after “spreading different colors of paint all over her body.” (Whitey and the girl were in the shower/Jacuzzi area of the boxing gym Eddie owned—a site that had been set up to be viewed through a two-way mirror by masturbating peeping Toms in what Mac and his friends called “the Dog Room.”) Whitey’s murders are believed to number around 30. And Eddie claims that Bulger engaged in beatings and torture sessions—a pre-execution tooth-pulling, for instance, that made even one of his own “player” lieutenants sick to his stomach.

For all their history together, Eddie’s work for Whitey was really quite simple. During a typical mission, his victim, a dealer invading Whitey’s turf,

never even screamed, just opened his mouth and whimpered as I beat him with the bat. To make sure I didn’t kill him, but simply inflicted enduring agony, I aimed at his arms and legs. You should have heard the cracks, the pitiful whimpers. After he crumbled on the front step, rolling around in a fetal position, I delivered my trademark punt to the ribs. Whoomp! That prick was in a world of hurt. But he lived. I left, thinking, What a great night. Even with the pouring rain. I didn’t think it could get any better.

Actually, for Eddie, it could, and it did.

MacKenzie claims never to have committed murder himself, though he was about to once when the cops pulled over his car for a broken taillight and the poor sap in the trunk, warned by Eddie of his family’s vulnerability, told the cops it was all part of a harmless war game.

The coke dealing came naturally enough. Essentially, it was the next step on the corporate ladder of Bulger & Co.—GoodFellas, Southie-style. But the beginning of the end for MacKenzie came with his arrest, along with dozens of other Southie dealers, in 1990. In the Danbury Federal Penitentiary, he found that it was Bulger who’d been playing both sides for years, with the help of a dirty FBI agent, John Connolly. While his minions were swept up, Whitey faded into oblivion. He is now on a Most Wanted list near you.

We come away from this astonishing case study—lawyered to within an inch of its life and shaped with the aid of a People magazine contributor and a communications consultant—having spent some quality time with a genuine badass but unable to draw the slightest lesson from that communion. We’re sure that Eddie Mac is playing and cowing us, from a distance, as he did an untold number of unfortunates up close. Having served only a modicum of jail time after turning state’s witness, he’ll get the book and, likely, movie royalties, and probably end up hosting some fugitives show on Fox. Pathologically averse to birth control, by his own bewildered, self-studying admission, he recently said on a Court TV online chat that he’s “still searching for that special girl.” A middle-aged man bouncing off the ropes of his old neighborhood and the childhood specters that reside there, he has gained a little perspective on the predator he was but has yet to discover the man he’d rather be. As the Jets put it in “Officer Krupke”: “The trouble is he’s growing/The trouble is he’s grown.” CP