BOSTON — His hands on his hips in a you-want-a-piece-of-me stance, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi glared at James "Whitey" Bulger in the courtroom, and the two men snarled what sounded like obscenities at each other.
Bulger and his once-loyal comrade came face to face Thursday for the first time in nearly two decades as Flemmi testified against the reputed Boston crime boss at Bulger's racketeering trial.
In his brief 15 minutes or so on the stand before court recessed for the day, Flemmi, a ruthless underworld executioner, told how he and Bulger were secret FBI informants for 15 years while they ran the Winter Hill Gang, the city's murderous Irish mob.
Flemmi said he was with Bulger and heard him give information to FBI agent John Connolly "hundreds of times" over 15 years.
That comment seemed to rankle Bulger, who insists that he was never an informant and told people that being a "rat" was the worst thing anyone could do, according to testimony.
Flemmi is expected to return to the stand on Friday for what could be a combustible session. Both men have hair-trigger tempers. And one thing that has really set Bulger off in court is being called a rat.
Before Flemmi took the stand, word spread through the courtroom that a former Boston liquor store owner who had hoped to testify against Bulger and openly despised him had been found dead. Authorities said a jogger discovered the body of 59-year-old Stephen "Stippo" Rakes in the woods along a street Wednesday in Lincoln, Mass.
The medical examiner's office said an autopsy Thursday found no signs of trauma. Investigators trying to establish the cause of death were awaiting the results of toxicology tests.
In court, Bulger shot Flemmi a look just after he described the extent of Bulger's informant activities.