Mickey Finn was 27 in the mugshot I held. Among the charges typed below his glassy-eyed visage was possession of dynamite. I looked at him sideways. He shrugged. “I have a skeptical background.” He was one of dozens of underworld figures—active and retired—I interviewed for my upcoming book about Joe McDonald of Winter Hill, and one of the few who no longer imbibes (a tough break for me; sobriety shores up the code of silence). He cracked the blinds a little, just enough for me to peek into his past.
A member of one of the nomad crews proliferating during Boston’s bad old days, Mickey was usually found in the Tunnel, a bar in South Boston: drinking, waiting for word on a potential score, drinking more. He was usually seeing double by noon. “We’re doing some moving,” said Skippy Miller one morning. “Wanna come with us?” Mickey climbed into a box truck. As it pulled up behind the Jordan Marsh annex downtown, he was handed a blue smock and told to put it on. “It’s cold out!” he said. That was when he knew—the smock was stolen, the truck was stolen, and they were about to steal a lot more. They carried heaps of London Fog coats and topcoats out to the truck.
The sales manager hurried over. “Hey! Where are you going with those?” “Didn’t they tell you?” said Skippy. “These are going to the Framingham store. Don’t take a coffee break, we’ll be right back with the paperwork.”
There was no paperwork, and the truck didn’t go to Framingham. It went to a bar in Southie where a line was already forming. Mickey saw a police car parked out front and panicked. “Keep goin’! ”
“Mickey—they’re waiting for coats, too.”
Sometimes the word on a potential score was off, and sometimes the cops did worse than buy hot coats cheap. Mickey was besotted by visions of vast sums when he and two others burglarized a laundry on Dorchester Avenue. On their way to an all-night diner they were surrounded and squinting in blue lights. “The police knew we did it. Especially me. They had my picture on the wall.” After a bad breakfast in Charles Street Jail, they were hauled into court. Mickey, hung over, pled not guilty. Then he heard a sergeant tell the judge that they had found his fingerprints in the laundry. Mickey, fuming, called out from the dock. “Judge! Judge!”
“Mr. Finn,” said the judge. “You’ll have your turn.” “But he’s lying!” Mickey said. The judge looked at him. The sergeant looked at him. “I was wearing gloves.”
BANG went the gavel. “Case dismissed!”
It wasn’t always funny. One day, police barged into his perpetually distressed mother’s house and found him in the closet. They put a .38 to his forehead and cocked it. “He’s too dangerous,” they said, escorting him away in cuffs. In 1970, he was driving by a bank that was being held up by revolutionary coeds. There was a wild shootout outside. Mickey drove his truck into the line of fire to protect a fallen officer. His picture was in the next day’s Boston Herald.
A hero? “A drunk,” Mickey admits today. “The things I did and saw, had I been sober, I’d have flooded the street with my urine.”
By then, his mother’s distress had become a cross too heavy to bear. Mickey finally lifted it off her. It was January 27, 1973. She was milling around in the kitchen when he went to the cupboard and took out a pint of Ron Virgin Rum. “Are you watching, Ma?” He poured a double shot and downed it.
“Why? Why would you do that in front of me, your mother?”
“Because I wanted you to be the one to see me take my last drink.”
And it was.
“Those were some lively days,” he said. I leaned in. “Do you miss them?”
He looked at me sideways. And closed the blinds.