Suppose on a rainy night you are walking near a street corner lit only by a single streetlamp. You notice a large hole near one of the drains by the curb. As you approach, you hear water dripping somewhere deep down in the sewer. Out of the corner of your eye, you spot a large, wet, brown, furry creature scurrying along the curb dragging its tail in the gutter. The animal turns and disappears down into the hole.
Instinctively, you know it was a rat, a large rat. In your mind, you try to imagine what you’d find if you were small enough to crawl down into that hole. For sure you would find other rats and of course their numerous feces. You shudder to think of the awful conditions you might find down there. Because of their voracious appetites, you can image battles raging between rats clawing and biting one another for a better piece of food.
Ernie Lijoi and Larry Matthews book, Street Business, will take you into human rat holes where the fetid conditions described above for rats apply to human beings caught up in the underworld of drugs, stolen goods, and illegal weapons.
At the beginning of their tale, Ernie Lajoi is a police officer who works for the force in Quincy Massachusetts. A large, muscular fellow, Lijoi has an imposing presence in his uniform adorned with the badge for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. He spends his day riding public buses and trains, watching for pickpockets, gropers, gangs, and riffraff.
Somewhat bored, Lijoi gets off the subway at one North Quincy station, climbs the steps toward the street exit and buys a cup of coffee. As he stands scanning the crowd of moving bodies, he sees a young man jump a turnstile without paying. The kid dashes down the steps toward a station platform. Instinctively, Lijoi chases the vagabond and cuts him off.
At first, he scolds the youth ordering him to pay up; but when the lad gives him bad mouth, officer Lijoi expertly cuffs him and calls for a patrol car to pick him up. While patting him down for any concealed weapon, Lijoi finds a bag of blue pills. The kid has no prescription so the officer now considers this a narcotics case.
Not long after this incident, Street Business tells how Lijoi is asked by his superiors if he would consider working undercover, trying to help bust the drug trafficking in the area. He knows the job will be hazardous – - possibly life threatening. But having grown up in an area where fists, guns, and street smarts were necessary to survive, after talking over the job with his wife, Lijoi takes on the narcotics trade.
Police give him a new identity: a flashy convertible, money for deals, a red phone in his home which has been wire-tapped for automatic tape recording. Lijoi’s wife and children are never to answer that phone. It will be Lijoi’s connection with the rat hole, underworld empire.
Because he has a lot of connections having grown up in a tough neighborhood, Lijoi begins infiltrating the drug world. In pool halls where his expertise at the game brings him into contact with petty dope peddlers and thieves, he bets and wins; he bets and loses. He begins to earn respect as a pool shark. He always wins just enough to hustle some of the best shooters to keep them coming back for rematches.
As Street Business evolves, Lijoi’s wife becomes more and more fearful her husband's cover will be blown. She worries not only for his safety, but for the safety of their boys and her own life as well. Secretly, she listens to some of the taped red phone messages and begins to doubt her husband’s faithfulness and innocence. She worries he’ll get so caught up with the lucrative drug trade that he might just cross the line. She seeks psychiatric counseling.
What happens to Lijoi, his wife, and his children, because of his resolution to undermine and bring down the Quincy drug trade is a downright, out and out, nerve-wracking story. One cannot help but fear for this courageous man and his secret identity each time a drug deal goes down. Although his spouse understands the strain on her husband, will she be able to keep safe and hold herself and their marriage together through this exciting book?
I would highly recommend Street Business to readers seeking an exciting story where they will get more than a glimpse into the rat hole of the drug business. Lijoi has been there. The time he spent as a deep undercover investigator is reality. The rat-like characters he describes in the book, the disturbing lives they lead, the language they use, the killing they do, are all believable.