For a couple of guys who hadn’t spoken since Ronald Reagan’s first term, Whitey Bulger and Johnny Martorano didn’t look very happy to see each other. They barely looked at each other in federal court.
The last time they were together Whitey talked Johnny into killing his friend. Johnny was on the lam at the time and flew up from Florida. Whitey and his partner in crime, Steve Flemmi, drove down to the Marriott at LaGuardia Airport. It was no random choice. Johnny knew somebody who could get him a Marriott discount.
So they sat in the discounted room, and Whitey talked Johnny into killing John Callahan in Florida. Johnny says he resisted, but Whitey and Stevie were his best friends and he was a sucker when it came to killing guys for his friends.
Because, you see, according to Johnny Martorano, he was no hitman. He murdered people. Many people. But he didn’t do it for money. He did it for friendship. He did it for honor. He did it for blah, blah, blah.
Seriously, I don’t know what’s more ridiculous: Whitey’s claim that he was never an informant, or Johnny Martorano’s insistence that he was never a hitman.
They are both sophists. Their conceit is they think they can use euphemisms and we’ll just see it their way.
Whitey says he was no informant because he never signed a paper or testified or put anybody in the can.
Johnny says he wasn’t a rat when he testified against Whitey’s FBI handler, John Connolly, because “you can’t rat on a rat.”
Johnny walked into the courtroom, to borrow Carly Simon’s line, like he was walking onto a yacht. Whitey glanced at him wanly.
Whitey had a slightly different reaction four years ago when, sitting in his rent-
controlled apartment in Santa Monica, he watched Johnny call him a rat on “60 Minutes.” Whitey’s head almost exploded, and he started writing his memoirs.
“I’ve been driven to this by the lies of JM and seeing his insane interview on 60 Minutes was the last straw,” Whitey wrote, saying Johnny had “pushed me to write this true account.”
But Whitey was so laid back after more than a dozen years of living like a retiree in Southern California that his anger dissipated and he wrote only about 100 pages before he gave up. Too bad. It would have been a page-turner.
In court, Whitey did not betray that Johnny was bothering him as Johnny began reciting a list of the 11 people they killed together. Johnny had to acknowledge under questioning by prosecutor Fred Wyshak that he regularly shot the wrong people.
There was the time he went to kill a guy named Herbert Smith who had given Steve Flemmi a beating. In the middle of a blizzard, Johnny climbed into Smith’s car and shot him and also killed two other people in the car, 19-year-old Elizabeth Dickson and 17-year-old Douglas Barrett.
When he realized he killed two innocent kids, Johnny said, “I wanted to shoot myself.” But he bravely, courageously somehow pulled himself out of his deep, deep grief.
And then resumed killing people.
What a guy.
Johnny named his youngest son, James Stephen, after Whitey and Stevie, men he described as “my partners in crime, my best friends, my children’s godfathers.”
Godfathers? Well said, Johnny. Well said.
This was just the first day. Johnny’s gonna be sitting on the stand so long they’ll have to charge him rent.
Whitey’s lawyers, Jay Carney and Hank Brennan, can’t wait to get a crack at Johnny. He’s a vile, venal man. The problem for them is, even if they convince the jury that Johnny is twice as bad as their client, that means Whitey is half as bad as a trigger-happy sociopath who has admitted to murdering 20 people, including a woman, some teenagers, and a good friend.
Some defense.Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.