Title: Prince of Thieves.
Author: Chuck Hogan.
Genre: Fiction, crime, suspense, romance.
Publication Date: 2004.
Summary: Four masked men—thieves, rivals, and friends from the tough streets of Charlestown—take on a Boston bank at gunpoint. Holding bank manager Claire Keesey hostage and cleaning out the vault was simple. But career criminal Doug MacRay didn't plan on one thing: falling in love with Claire. With a tenacious FBI agent following his every move, not to mention becoming a rival for Claire's heart, Doug imagines a life away from his gritty, dangerous work. A life centered around Claire and peace. But for Doug, that new life is just one final, perfect job away...
My rating: 7.5/10.
How great the darkness.
♥ First, a toast. Raise a glass. Solemn now:
To the Town.
To Charlestown, our one square mile of brick and cobblestone. Neighborhood of Boston, yet lopped off every map of the city like a bastard cropped out of a happy family portrait.
This is the heart of the "Old Eleventh," the district that first sent the Kennedy kid to congress. The one square mile of America that shipped more boys off to World War II than any other. Site of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the blood of revolution sprinkled like holy water over our soil and our souls. Turf and Tribe and Townie Pride—our sacred trinity.
But now look at these outsiders snapping up our brownstones and triple-deckers. Pricing us out of our own mothers' houses. Yuppies with their Volvos and their Asian cuisine, their disposable incomes and contempt for the church—succeeding where the British army failed, driving us off our land.
But sure, we don't go away so easy. "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!"—that was us, remember. This carnation here may be a bit brown at the edges—bit see it still pinned to the tweed lapel over my beating Townie heart.
Be a hero now, reach me that jar. We'll have a hardboiled egg with this last one, see how she goes down. It's caps off, gents. Here's to that towering spike on a hill, the granite battle monument that'll outlast us all: the biggest feckin' middle finger in the world, aimed right at good brother Boston and the twenty-first century beyond.
To the Town. Here's how.
♥ Doug had lost his buzz—the action, fear, and momentum that was the cocktail of banditry. Get in, get the money, get out. His father talking, but fuck it, on this subject the old crook was right.
♥ The trend in "community banking" was to feature the branch manager's office up front, prominent behind glass walls, playing up accessibility and putting a friendly, local face on a corporation that charges you fees for the privilege of handing you back your own money.
♥ "Marathon runs right by here?"
"Holy shit, Frawl, I forgot. Look at you. Twenty-six point two miles and you're up and around like nothing happened."
Frawley returned his beeper to the front of his belt. "Broke three and a half hours," he said. "I'm happy with that."
"Well, congratulations, you loose screw. That is one lonely sport you got there. What is it you think about the whole time?"
"Finishing," Frawley said..
♥ Frawley needed the vault. The vault was his vic. Not the corporation that owned the bank, not the federal government that insured it and employed him. The vault: emptied and plaintive and violated. He needed the vault in the same way that homicide detectives generate sympathy for the corpse to fuel their hunt.
...He wished that the vault could beg him for justice. That it was someone whose hand he could take in a gesture of reassurance, offering a covenant, cop to vic. Then he wouldn't have to bring so much to these empty repositories himself.
♥ Doug went to use the head, and on his way back he saw what the other diners saw sitting there at the side booth: Gloansy and Dez playing goalposts with a packet of butter, Jem draining another longneck and staring out the window, bobbing his head to some interior tune. The glamorous life of the outlaw; the majesty of being the prince of these thieves.
♥ Afterward, as she dressed in the seat next to him, Doug felt shitty and alone. Even a guy without a girlfriend had to admit that patronizing a strip club was like cheating on womankind in general, and with this vague sense of guilt came a philandering husband's determination to repair and repent. She relieved him of his $20 wad with a wink and a smile, then paused, giving his face a pursed-lipped look of concern. She reached out and explored, gently, the sliver of skin where Doug's left eyebrow was split, planting a soft kiss on the old scar there before walking off in search of the next dance.
The free kiss threw him. Twenty doughnuts for tits and friction, and then a gratis moment of actual intimacy? She could have saved the dance and charged him twenty just for the compassion.
♥ "And as to the others listening to you—hey, so they're not asking you for a ride back to the T. They respect the work. You're doing it. Coming up on two years? That's getting it done. I'd take respect over back pats, any day."
♥ "You choose your friends, right? But not your family? Well, my friends—they are my family. I'm stuck with them, they're stuck with me."
"People grow up and leave their families, guy. They move on."
"Yeah, but the thing with that is—they actually keep me sober. That's how it works. By their example. Seeing them fuck up over and over—that works for me."
♥ "This uncle of mine, right? His wife died, he's getting ready to go to a nursing home, and I'm helping get him set up there. Decent attitude, all things considered. Month or so ago, we're sitting in Friendly's over grilled cheeses. All-around good guy, telling me how now he looked back over his life and thinks, Hey, if only I knew then what I know now. Not regrets necessarily, just as his perspective now, you know? That whole, Youth is wasted on the young thing. And I was polite and all, sucking my Fribble through a straw. But I'm looking at him, this uncle of mine, struggling to get that flat yellow sandwich into his mouth, and I'm thinking—no way. He'd do things exactly the same way he did them before, even knowing what he knows now. Drop him back into his life at twenty-one, twenty-five? He'd slip right back into the moment, make all those same mistakes. Because it's who he is."
♥ "You don't seem to realize that you are your friends. That's who you are—the people you attract, who you keep around you. Now, I'm a part of you, right? Just a little taste, maybe—lucky dog, you. A bigger part is this goddamn cancer tumor part, I'km talking about your knucklehead friends. Seeing them tonight?"
"Okay. Do this for me. Take a good long look around. Because those faces you see staring back—that's you."
♥ A room full of pleated pants and necklace-twiddlers and roving, impatient eyes. Kids with drinks in their hands, aping their parents, trying to outshine one another. Guys pretending they cared, girls pretending they didn't. The big charade.
♥ He remembered the bait bills and dye packs left behind, untouched. Pro bank bandits, like practitioners of any arcane craft, were a superstitious bunch. Frawley hadn't touched them either, being superstitious in his own way, himself the student of a dying art. He was the last in the long line of bank detectives. The bloodline traced directly from the first stagecoach Pinkertons to himself. If he couldn't be there at the beginning, he figured the second-best place to be was right where he was, at the tail end. Credit cards, debit cards, smart cards, the Internet: the dawn of the cashless society meant the twilight of the modern bank bandit, and the coming of a new breed. Identity theft and electronic embezzlement were the future of financial crime. The next Adam Frawley would be a pale, deskbound Net-head hunting cyber-thieves with a mouse and a keyboard instead of an Olympus Pearlcorder and a blue Form FD-430. Adam Frawley would soon become obsolete. The techniques, the tradecraft, everything he knew about banks and vaults and the men who robbed them, and all he had yet to learn—it would die with him, the last bank robbery agent.
♥ Who is Doug MacRay? These are the questions sober people ask themselves over bowls of cereal at three in the morning.
♥ "Okay, you see now—I could not imagine living in my parents' same town. There's just no way. So what is it about this place that keeps such a tight hold on people?"
"Comfort-level thing, probably. Knowing what's around every corner."
"Okay. But even when what's around that next corner maybe isn't all that... good?""
"I'm giving you how it was more than how it is, because honestly, I can't say for certain how it is right now. I feel sort of apart from it, these past couple of years. But growing up, yeah, it was easy. You were known. You had a role in the Town and you played it."
"Like a big family."
"And families can be good or bad. Good and bad. Me, my role around Town, I was Mac's kid. Mac was what they called my father. Everywhere I went, every corner I passed, everybody knew me. There goes Mac's kid—like father, like son. And you wear that around long enough, it becomes part of you. But now things are getting different. Everybody's not related to everybody else anymore. New faces on the corner, strangers, people who can't recite your entire family history, generation by generation. And there's freedom in that, at least there is for me. What you give up in comfort, in familiarity—for me it's nice not to be reminded on every block, 'This is who I am, I'm Mac's kid.'"
♥ Most of all, it was the belonging: the intensity of the crew during the Watertown heist, their brotherhood, like rocking in a great band. Friendship was by nature a thing that could never be consummated—could never rise to an ultimate point of perfection—but pulling these jobs together, that was when it came closest. That was the high he kept chasing. The rest if the time, he never felt as right with them as they seemed to be with each other.
♥ She stuck her legs out as she spun, flexing her smooth calves, and Doug imagined that every flight of stairs she had ever climbed was mere training for that moment in that light, in his eyes.
♥ "I need to know there's water in the pool. Even if—okay, fine, even if I've already jumped, I still want to know whether or not there's water in the pool... I'm not looking for a guarantee. Just good faith."
♥ Claire was better by the time the food came, and the meal passed as the best ones do, offering few great revelations but constant little connections, two people dining on each other's character, curious and gentle as nibbling fish.
♥ The security and liquidity of the world's leading economy rides on these trucks, tens of thousands of them out on the streets at any hour, billions of dollars in notes and coin perpetually in transit. You know and accept that there is no practical way to compromise the hulk of an armored bank vehicle without also destroying its contents. The can is only vulnerable through its human operators.
♥ He was certain she had a look for him as she started away, but Doug wouldn't give her the satisfaction of a glance. This was what happened when people break up but don't leave each other, he thought. Scars itch and get picked at. Scabs form but never heal.
♥ "Wisdom? I got nothing for you, buddy. I'm fresh out here. Billy T., he was a royal pain in the ass at meeting—but the guy did good work. He was dry some twelve fucking years. I can't get my mind around this thing."
"What, that he—"
"That with all the work he did, twelve long years—every single day of it he was just marking time until he could take a drink again. Waiting for that day. Like someday he'd hit all nines on the odometer and it would roll over to zero again and he'd get to start fresh. A life with no restrictions on it. And what I want to know is—is that all of us? Just marking time here, waiting? Thinking someday, some miracle's gonna happen, and we're going to be free again?"
Doug nodded. "Maybe, yeah."
"Christ, don't agree with me, Doug. I'm fighting for my life here. What was he thinking, what? That heaven is an open bar? Jesus wiping out pint glasses, setting out a coaster, What'll you have? That's what we're being good for here?"
"The guy was dying, Frank."
♥ At the corner of Trenton and Bunker Hill, another new dry cleaner's. Yuppies passing him unaware. In a purging fire the dry cleaners with their chemicals would be the first to go up. Then back across the bride would go the yuppies, ants fleeing a burning log. On paper, they owned the properties, but Jem still owned the streets. In the way that animals own the forest, he owned the Town."
♥ On the fucked-up clock face of the Town—as off-kilter as Fergie's—Pearl Street ticked up toward midnight. The witching hour was where Jem was born, lived, and would die. He was proud of the house's disrepair, the way it taunted the refurbished triples up ad down the street, houses that had gone condo like whores transformed into virgins. All the sellouts who bailed: the Kenneys, Hayeses, Phalons, O'Briens. If it had been firstborns the yuppies were paying top dollar for, these traitorous fucks would have placed their kids' school portraits in the classified section of The Charlestown Patriot. Moving out ain't moving up—it's giving up, it's pussy.
♥ He picked the daffodil up off his lap again and Gloansy wondered how his touch along hadn't shriveled the thing already. "This flower. Who owns it? Me, right? No. I don't own it. It's not mine, I didn't create it. Somebody somewhere, who knows who, pulled it outta the ground. Those who take. Versus who can't hold. Someone tries to take this flower from me without payment, they're gonna get the ultimate lesson in this. 'Cause I will catch them and take something from them instead. A hand. A foot. Your hand, your foot—you think it belongs to you, think you own it? Your life?" He waited, though they all knew better than to answer. "Not if I can take it away. Not if you can't hold on to it." He twirled the flower in his fingers, then tossed it to the floor between them. "I'm a taker, that's my thing. Why else you come to me, right? Not cause I'm so pretty. You boys need to figure this out. Are you wanters or are you takers?"
♥ A convict's personal possessions—few in number, weighted with significance—took on a totemic quality...
♥ But sometimes fate had to be tempted. Sometimes you had to walk right back up to the edge of that cliff, just to remind yourself what it had felt like lying at the bottom.
♥ "In your garden." He spoke in hoarse bursts. "That last time. I wanted you... to tell me not to do it. I wanted you... to stop me."
She shook her head in horror.
"I wanted you... to give me a reason..."
"But nothing I could have said..."
She still didn't get him. "I would have done... anything for you. Even save myself."
She slipped to her knees, sitting on her heels t his outstretched feet, mystified. "Why? Why leave that to me?"
And there, in her bewilderment, he recognized his grave mistake. He had surrendered himself to Claire, just as Krista had to him. When you give someone the power to save you, you give them the power to destroy you as well. That was what Frank G. had been all about—not relinquishing that grip on yourself.
♥ Frawley wanted to feeling nothing for the crook, but to be in a room with a dying man is to die a little yourself.
♥ Even if a thing is doomed—there is that moment of absurd hope that is worth the fall, that is worth everything.
♥ Why had he come to her to die? Dragging himself into her kitchen, just as he had dragged himself into her life. She despised him for the mess he had made, the blood on her floor like the stain on her soul. And yet. And yet as she looked at him now, she could not help but feel for the motherless boy inside. For Adam Frawley too, the vengeful one whispering into the telephone—these two lovesick sons she had gotten caught between. But for the men they had become, she had only scorn.
♥ Walk to the water until you can feel it on your toes. Then take off the blindfold.
She felt the same sensation of passing as she had watching her young brother die: of something coming to nothing, but at the same time, a conferring of responsibility, a covenant passed from the dead to the living.
Claire was taking off the blindfold now. She looked deep into Doug's dimming eyes, reminded of hearth fires and how, even after the flames died, the flowing cinders were slow to cool. She wondered what it was that Doug MacRay saw as the flow of his life faded. She wondered what died last in the heart of a thief.
♥ They went on with their bickering for a few more precious preheist minutes, and Doug took a step back and realized that this was the part of the job he liked best. The intervals of downtime when they were all just kids again, four messed-up boys from the Town, so good at being so bad. He realized he never felt more secure, more at peace, more protected, than he did then, cooping inside a bank they were about to rob. Nobody could touch them there. Nobody could hurt them except each other.