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The Big Seal
About the Author: Andrew McAleer is the author of numerous books including the 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, A Miscellany of Murder (co-author) and Fatal Deeds. He also co-edits with Shamus winner Paul D. Marks the Coast to Coast mystery anthology series. Mr. McAleer teaches at Boston College and serves as a full-time police officer. As a Sergeant he served in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army Historian.


Nearly five short decades ago, with my father and grandfather by my side, I raised my right hand and took the oath of office as a Notary Public. Then I signed the mammoth ledger located in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Secretary of State’s Office. Then I was in the thick of it—big league. And I’ve been in the fray ever since.

My name is Francis Xavier Sullivan and I’m a third-generation notary public from Southie. That’s South Boston to those of you chowderheads who don’t know your ankle from your elbow. I’m a hardboiled, hard sealing, hard-nosed notary. My duty as a notary public is to authenticate signatures on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Make sure things are done on the up-and-up and on the level. That documents are signed by folks who are of sound mind and by their own free act and deed not under undue influence—making sure the little guy gets an even strain. At a statutory cap of a buck-fifty a whack, it’s a tough living, but it’s duty to my fellow man more so than a greed for greenbacks that keeps me spreading shoeleather in the big city and punching docs with my notarial seal. That’s right—like my father and his father before him, I pack a heavy-metal, alloy seal—I don’t use no stinking pre-inked stamp like a couple of two-bit chiselers I’ll tell you about later.

When I look back now, I get quite a chuckle thinking about how the Steve Harsh case I handled happened to fall on November 7th. I’m sure you’ll see the irony here since November 7th is Notary Public Day in Massachusetts. The good Lord must have his little jokes on us poor mortals. Anyway, bad weather wasn’t just around the corner, it had already arrived. Two inches of gravy-colored snow had already clobbered the city by morning rush hour. 

What did appear around the corner though was the deeply contested race for Suffolk County DA and I was reading all about the sordid details in the morning edition of The Boston Constitution. The incumbent, Steve Harsh, got himself in a pickle by threatening to throw the book at three Irish immigrants accused of cleaning out, from the back of a van, the sanding equipment of a Jamaica Plain floor sander and then selling the booty to a Charlestown fence. Despite the lack of evidence, Harsh made it clear to the good voters of Suffolk County that he was prosecuting the matter to the full extent of the law—not for politically motivated reasons, but on behalf of the little guy out there trying to make an honest buck.   You bet I also got quite a chuckle out of that mealy-mouthed sound bite. If I had nickel for every time Harsh said he was, “Doing it for the right reasons” I’d be fat with payola.

Maise Meyer, Harsh’s opposition in the race for DA, saw otherwise, and thought, based on rumors, that there was a witness who could clear the Irish lads. The newspaper, however, didn’t give her much press on the matter, preferring to sway in favor of fake news. With the printer’s union backing Harsh, that was no real surprise.

The American Society of Notaries was walking the fence on this race, but if the fence was leaning, I would say the Society was also backing Harsh. As for myself, I was Meyer all the way straight down the line, and every pol on Beacon Hill, every attorney bucking for office space on the Hill and every notary in the know, knew my position on the matter.

So there I was reading the paper when I got the call. Actually, I had already finished the paper when the telephone rang. It interrupted me while I tried out my grandfather’s seal on an old, unpaid tailoring bill. Down to my uppers, I’d take any notarization ceremony flushed down the pipeline. Even this suspicious offer from this unsuspected caller.

Before scooping the receiver, I held my grandfather’s seal impression up to the twenty-five-watt light bulb hanging from the cracked horsehair plaster ceiling in my office down at the South Station junction. I admired my grandfather’s impression for a bit. It was the last seal he owned before he got punched by that big seal in the sky and is the same seal he used on a probate instrument in which famed Boston Mayor James Michael Curley was an affiant. By law in Massachusetts, a notary is not required to use a seal when authenticating a signature in all matters, but, in my book, a notary without a seal is about as useless as a slide ruler in the hands of a busted clock. As I gazed at the seal impression, I recalled my grandfather’s words, “Take care of your seal, boyo, and your seal will take care of you.”



This story appears in our MAR 2020 Issue
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