William Shea was a South Boston cocaine dealer. He made his money. He paid tribute to the neighborhood's accused mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger and in 1986 he wanted out.
There was one problem, Shea testified at Bulger's trial today. Bulger didn't want to let him out, he said.
Shea was the latest confessed hitman, bookie or drug dealer to testify at Bulger's trial. The aging alleged mob boss is accused if 32 crimes, including 19 murders. Shea's testimony appeared to be intended to bolster the prosecutor's contention that Bulger was feared because of his reputation for ruthlessness.
"I told him I'm not looking for a pension plan,'' Shea told the court. "I put my a**, my butt, on that street for six or seven years. It was time for me to cash in."
Bulger said no, Shea recalled on the stand.
"He said it wouldn't run without you, Bill,'' Shea told the court.
But Shea was wiling to take his chances, he said. He went to Florida and didn't plan on coming back, until he got a call from Bulger.
"I angered him,'' Shea told the court. "He called me. He said, 'If you don't come up, I'll come down there."'
"Was he coming down there to vacation with you?" Kelly asked.
"No,'' Shea answered. "I came back."
When he came back he saw a side of his longtime friend "Jim" that he had heard about, but had never seen face-to-face. Shea told the court Bulger had "tell signs that he was getting aggravated" and those signs were showing.
"He makes it very, very clear I cannot leave,'' Shea told the court. "Now I'm back, I listen to the riot act."
It has been 30 years since Shea last saw Bulger and he still glanced at his old boss nervously in court today. Sometimes when Kelly asked a question, Shea answered it by addressing "Jim."
And when asked to point to Bulger in the court, Shea smiled and said: "He's that young fella right there in the green shirt."
That brought a laugh from Bulger, the second time in as many days the 83-year-old alleged mobster chuckled at testimony from his old South Boston cronies. It was also the second time in as many days jurors heard about Bulger's drug dealing, smashing the long-held belief that the accused mobster had "kept the drugs out of Southie."
Shea was an earner, which is why Bulger wanted him to stay in South Boston, Shea testified. So Shea was summoned to a sit-down at Triple O's, Bulger's Southie hangout, he said. Shea said when he sat down Bulger asked him a question – and for the first time he felt threatened.
"He said, 'Remember what happened to Bucky Barrett?''' Shea told the court, speaking of a South Boston man who had vanished and was believed to have been murdered by Bulger.
"I took it as Bucky Barrett is among the missing. I took it as a threat. It was the first time he ever did it and it changed my perception of Jim just like that,'' Shea told the court. He then looked at Bulger and said: "I don't know if you remember it, but I do."
Kelly asked Shea why he felt threatened.
"He's threatening me like you'll do as I say or I'll whack you,'' Shea answered.
That day, Shea told the court, changed his relationship with Bulger. The next time Shea saw Bulger he was armed.
And when Bulger asked him to go for a ride, Shea recalled on the stand, he wasn't taking any chances.
"I know the car routine,'' Shea told the court, adding that he made sure he sat in the back seat.
The car pulled over in the D Street projects, which, Shea testified, were being renovated. It was abandoned. Boarded-up doors and windows and empty of people. Bulger led him to the cellar, and Shea thought he was a dead man.
"In housing projects, the cellar steps are like a coffin,'' Shea told the court. "That got me very very paranoid. Not a soul around."
Then Shea looked directly at Bulger and continued.
"If Jim may recall…I got in front of him and turned so my back was at the cement wall,'' Shea told the court.
Shea described watching Bulger's hands for his trademark switchblade and the stairway in case Bulger's alleged partner Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi showed up.
"I'm thinking that he took me down there to frighten me or whack me,'' Shea testified. "I always feared him a little bit because I knew he was smart and clever."
He looked directly at Bulger again and described what he was thinking in that cellar: That if he was going to die, so was Bulger.
"That's what I was thinking, Jim,'' Shea told the court holding Bulger's stare. "You're going with me."
Shea said Bulger rambled on in the cellar about "trust" until Shea reminded Bulger that he had previously gone to jail and didn't rat anyone out. That, Shea said, calmed Bulger and they left together. Bulger offered him a ride home. "I said no thanks," Shea said.
Court was adjourned for the July 4 holiday until Monday.