Denial was always a river that ran through Southie.
It was one of the reasons that James “Whitey” Bulger was able to make millions flooding his own neighborhood with drugs while the utterly delusional and the vaguely racist sat at bars the length of Broadway, bragging about how much better South Boston was than Roxbury.
It was a conspiracy of fools, lying not just to each other but to themselves. And no one kidded themselves more than Cathy Greig. She elevated denial to an art form. To this day, she sits in her cell, insisting that her Jimmy — she never called him Whitey — is a fine fellow, a prince of a guy, the love of her life.
He certainly was the last of those things, but he was also a venal and vile man, a murderer, a killer of bodies, souls, and entire families.
Call me soft, but I’ve always felt a little sorry for Cathy Greig. There was a lot of tragedy in her life; a father who drank himself to death, a brother who killed himself. Like most of us, she craved above all else love and acceptance. Like few of us, she sought this from a sociopath.
She was like the last kid at the playground, as the kickball sides were chosen: pick me, pick me. She spent much of her life not only as a kept woman, but as the second-string mistress. Whitey maintained a long, open relationship with a woman named Teresa Stanley, 10 years Cathy’s senior, and he treated Stanley’s kids as his own. Cathy was the afterthought, the after-hours alternative. Whitey ate dinner with Teresa and her kids. He slept over with Cathy.
Cathy was voted the prettiest girl at South Boston High School, class of 1969, but after hooking up with Whitey at 24, she used his money for plastic surgeries. She would stay up all hours, greeting her Jimmy at the door in the early morning, her hair perfect, her makeup just so. She cooked for him when he got home after a long night of crime.
For nearly 20 years, Cathy played second fiddle to Teresa Stanley. Cathy knew about Teresa but Teresa had no idea Cathy even existed before Cathy forced a confrontation and told her about the whole weird arrangement.
Whitey burst in on this soap opera confessional and if his boy Friday, Kevin Weeks, hadn’t been there, Whitey might have choked Cathy to death and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But Weeks pulled Whitey off Cathy and she lived to long for him again.
When Whitey’s corrupt FBI handler tipped him off about an impending indictment, Whitey took off with Teresa. But she didn’t want that life. He dropped her off at a Chili’s in Hingham then drove to Malibu Beach in Dorchester and picked up Cathy.
He didn’t pick her first, but he picked her last, and that was good enough for her.
There is no way Whitey Bulger would have lasted a few years, let alone 16 years, on the lam without Cathy Greig. She was his conduit to the outside world, buying the toilet paper, bringing him to the doctor, fetching his medications.
That said, it is utterly Kafkaesque that, with the 21 months she just got for refusing to testify before a grand jury, added on to the eight-year sentence she got for harboring Whitey, she will end up doing more time than Kevin Weeks, who helped Whitey murder people, and nearly as much time as John Martorano, Whitey’s favorite hit man who admitted to murdering 20 people.
But then, they testified against Whitey and she did not. That corrupt FBI agents who protected Whitey have enjoyed their pensions while she’s in prison is grating.
Still, it is slightly amusing that, even as recently as Thursday, when she stood in the courthouse named for Whitey’s old neighbor Joe Moakley, Cathy Greig’s defenders say she should be given credit for keeping Whitey crime-free those 16 years on the run.
First off, when you’re second on the FBI’s most wanted list only to Osama bin Laden, it behooves you to keep a low profile. Secondly, such sentiment ignores the arsenal of 30 guns that Whitey acquired and stashed in the wall of the apartment he and Cathy lived in a few blocks from the ocean in Santa Monica.
Cathy insists she knew nothing about the guns, or the $822,198 in cash, found in the walls when their run ended five years ago. That suggests she is deaf and blind, but not necessarily dumb.
Did she refuse to testify before a grand jury investigating who helped her and Whitey while they were on the run because she doesn’t want to hurt anyone who did, or because she might have exposed herself to a perjury rap and a much longer sentence?
She could have gone before the grand jury and used the line Whitey’s brother Bill used ad nauseam when questioned by a congressional committee: I don’t recall.
It could be, as the families of Bulger’s victims believe, Cathy Greig won’t talk because she stands to gain from Whitey’s hidden money when she gets out.
On Thursday, Cathy Greig’s lawyer, Kevin Reddington, a great attorney and a good guy, stood in federal court and pleaded for mercy, saying her only crime was falling in love with Whitey Bulger. Sitting just a few yards in back of Reddington, a group of people whose loved ones Whitey Bulger murdered held a less sympathetic view.
Judge Dennis Saylor seemed to agree with them, telling Greig, “It’s hard to imagine a less worthy object of your love and affection.”
“History will remember Bulger as a monster,” the judge added. “If she chooses to be loyal to this person, that is her affair. But I don’t need to respect that loyalty.”
If justice isn’t blind, love can be. If Cathy Greig were to accept the view of all but the most conspiratorial, she would have to accept that she enabled great evil, that the food she ate, her monthly teeth cleanings, her trips to the hair salon, the roof over her head were paid for by blood money.
She would have to accept that she lived a lie. And how many of us can do that?
When it was over the other day, as the judge left the courtroom, 65-year-old Cathy Greig, the last romantic, stood up and assumed the position. The marshals put the handcuffs on her and she walked toward the door, toward her destiny. She never looked back because she always knew where she was going.