In 1973, Diane Sussman was 23 years old, just out of college, a Californian living in Boston, in Brighton. She met and fell in love with a Boston guy named Louie Lapiana.
Louie was a nice guy. When the Bruins were in town, he worked the bar at Mothers, across from Boston Garden, with his buddy Mike Milano.
One night Louie worked a shift for Mike, and Diane dropped by to hang out.
Louie didn’t have a car, so Mike gave Louie and Diane a ride home when the bar closed.
“Michael had his new car out front,” Diane recalled. “It was a Mercedes. He was very proud of it. I had the honor of sitting in the front seat.”
It was a beautiful car, but it was star-crossed, because it looked just like the car driven by Al “Indian Al” Notarangeli, who was marked for death by rival gangsters.
As the three friends drove through the North End, they had no idea they were being followed by a car full of killers led by John Martorano.
Louie Lapiana and Mike Milano were talking smack to each other about an unfinished chess game. Diane smiled at their banter.
The death car pulled alongside them at a light, and everything exploded.
Diane’s Californian instincts kicked in.
“Like when you hear an earthquake,” she said. “I ducked. That’s the only reason I’m still here.”
The death car roared off, as did a backup hit car that Whitey Bulger was driving, and Diane got out and called to Michael and knew he was dead. She went to the back seat and asked Louie if he was all right. He mouthed a no, and Diane knew it was bad. His eyes were glazed. He could barely move.
She leaned on the horn, blaring for help. Diane took off her jacket and realized she had been shot.
When the cops came, Diane fought with them because they wouldn’t let her get in the ambulance with Louie. The cops were worried that someone would try to finish Diane off.
She was in the hospital for two days; then she went to see Louie.
“They had to shave his head,” she said. “They saved his mustache.”
His face was the only part of Louie she recognized. He was paralyzed.
She would call Louie, and the nurses would hold the phone up to his ear so he could hear Diane’s warm voice.
“Louie couldn’t answer, but the nurses told me he was smiling,” she said.
Diane Sussman is now Diane Sussman de Tennen and she sat there in the witness box at federal court Thursday, 40 years after Michael Milano died and Louie Lapiana was paralyzed, and the pain she felt was still raw, still real.
She sat in the same seat that 24 hours earlier was occupied by John Martorano, the man who murdered her friend, paralyzed her boyfriend, and shot her in the arm. She sat just feet away from Whitey Bulger, who is on trial and was part of the hit team that night.
Jurors cried as Diane, a beautiful person, explained how the shooting changed her relationship with Louie. No longer a couple, they remained lifelong friends.
“I was married and my children were not Louie’s, but part of my life was Louie,” she said.
Louie moved out to the West Coast to be near her. He lived in the VA at Long Beach for 28 years. Diane learned how to clear his tubes. She learned how to run his wheelchair. She always knew how to love him. She brought her kids to see Louie, to cherish Louie.
And when Louie died, 12 years ago, a little part of Diane died, too.
Diane Sussman de Tennen left the witness box and walked right past Whitey Bulger. Whitey just doodled on his legal pad, betraying no emotion.
Her goodness, her decency, only made Whitey Bulger, a small and vile man, look even smaller and viler. Her moral compass made Whitey look lost.Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.