Watching Marilyn, p.1Jack Chapman
Copyright: Jack Chapman 2012
Frank Watson is a surveillance expert. His tour in the US Embassy Havana introduced him to many shady characters. He fell for a nightclub singer and sent her to Hollywood. She died of an overdose the week she was due to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Now Frank needs to put things right.
Tommy Guppy is an ex-police detective divorced from Frank’s sister. He’s Frank’s best friend and killed the man who corrupted Frank’s girl. He drinks too much and doesn’t like Marilyn Monroe or anyone else for that matter, least of all himself.
Ronald "Dutch" Reagan spent a long time as a B-movie star but his career faded and now he hosts the General Electric Theater show on television. He endorses politicians as well - but in California the man he’s running with, ex-Vice President Richard Nixon, is even more out of public favour than Reagan is.
Marilyn Monroe is the most beautiful woman in the world. That voice and smile can make you forget just about anything. Outside Hollywood - where everyone hates her - she’s already proved she can have any man she wants, President, playwright, sports star, at least once, but that doesn’t mean she’s happy. She needs a psychiatrist and a psychic to get though the day and barbiturates to make it through the night.
Jack Scalligan claimed to be working for 20th Century Fox when he hired Frank to bug Marilyn’s house, but Richard Nixon seems to know him better than anyone at the studio. Even so Jack has the best credentials of all - he pays well and doesn’t ask for references.
Lieutenant Keats is on the LAPD homicide squad. He always suspected Tommy Guppy but never tried too hard to find evidence against a fellow cop. Now he’s quit smoking, bad tempered, and his bosses have told him to persuade Watson and Guppy to mind their own business.
Frank Sinatra always had those staring eyes. There was something missing behind them. Whatever it was couldn’t have been relevant to earning a good living but all the same it definitely wasn’t there. It was Frank who introduced Marilyn Monroe to John F. Kennedy, and Kennedy to the Mob.
Jesus Diaz seemed to be a good friend to Frank Watson when the CIA ran Batista as a puppet, but now the American warships are blockading Cuba he’s begun to take an unhealthy interest in Monroe’s secret relationship with the President.
The dress caressed my fingertips. Stung like rain in the desert. The A-bomb over Los Alamos. Like a soft breeze on a moonlit beach on a silver screen. It whispered promises when I let my fingers drift across silk that had touched her skin and into the torn seam that clung to my hand like a hungry mouth.
Tommy Guppy had stopped making noises in the roof space.
I heard him thudding down through the trapdoor, but I stayed lost in the shadows of the walk-in wardrobe. Lost until he crept up behind me and asked like he thought I'd be surprised "You need help finding her underwear, Frank?"
"Marilyn doesn't wear anything under this dress, Tommy."
"Sure. You can tell. You just need help. Period."
"They sow her into it naked."
"Hell of a job."
"You've got no soul, Tommy," I told him.
"I got underwear," Tommy sneered.
How it started, the wrong end of a steam-heat day in the frightened summer of '62.
A place, a time, anywhere but L.A. the car backfiring in the street would have decent citizens sidle to their windows to check for fresh corpses.
Here the Angelinos slumped back and assumed someone was shooting another movie.
I wiped the black weight of the handset on my pale lemon shirt. Hoped it would soak the sweat. My ear boiled. The shirt had been a good one in its early years but by then I’d lost the tie and didn’t care when the cotton had died on me. After a while I moved the phone to the other ear. The one furthest from the open furnace of the window. Not knowing then what I knew later I didn’t much mind how the noise in the street got in the way of conversation.
Maybe I should have made more noise myself.
Voice on the line, sounding like a voice wrapped on a loud cigar: "So tell me, Frank, how much you earn? A good week, your line of work?"
"I don't earn enough."
"You'd be surprised how much I hear that."
"Nowhere near. Not anywhere close enough to make this worthwhile."
"Let’s say I double it."
"You can say that."
"It's the offer."
"You say anything you want." I was estimating how much air conditioning cost, but it was still wishful thinking. "Currently we're not pursuing that particular line of activity."
"You were recommended by mutual friends, Frank."
"Yeah? Did I mention at present my firm lacks necessary permits?"
"Please, Frank, don’t bug me with details."
"Not forgetting as well as no mutual friends."
"You need an investigative licence to be a journalist for instance? All you need is an open mind. If you want, you think it would help, I can provide everything. Press card, necessary accreditation, folding money for expenses. Official as you like. Believe me, you’d be surprised how many doors a Press card opens, Frank."
"Most of those doors have an Exit sign on top of their frame. Who did you say you were?"
"Fox Publicity. You heard of Twentieth Century Fox?"
"Far as you're concerned, Frank, just think of me as a friend. The kind of good friend with a fat wallet you need right now."
"All I'm thinking is, it sounds illegal."
"What?" Making as if he was offended.
"No. We own her. Legally we can do anything. She's under contract."
"The studio’s going to give me indemnity?"
"You know better than asking that, Frank."
"Fox doesn’t want to know anything about this. Or about you. We need a job done, that's all. Just say it'll be convenient for us to find it's happened. Double your usual rate. Two hundred per cent."
"You understand, Mr Scalligan, I have a partner. I'd have to discuss anything, even provisionally."
"Take all the time you want. Take 24 hours. No. Give me an answer 9 a.m. tomorrow."
"You’re a funny man, Mr Scalligan."
"Mr Watson, when I want jokes I hire gag writers."
"My mistake. I kind of imagined funny business was what you were involved in."
"You don't hear me laughing. Listen, I don't care how you do this, it's your business. Just take the money. Do the job."
I put the phone down. Wiped more sweat. He knew I’d accept.
You throw the dice enough times something's bound to come up. Statistics make it inevitable, that prospect is what keeps you in the game. But you never expect the result all that soon.
The client wanted me to watch Marilyn Monroe. Wanted to pay good remuneration for it. That kind of proposition has to happen sometime.
Only when it comes to throwing dice my philosophy is that if sixes start falling in a roll you know some bastard has loaded them. Sure as sin sticks to damnation.
I went to the window to check on the racket. There were men in suits and fedoras shooting the hell at each other across the street. They kept at it until they ran out of bullets. Then one of them swept off his black hat and took a wide, theatrical bow even bef
"Monroe’s a whore," Tommy insisted.
That time of day he was already smelling of bourbon. Tommy was a very moral person. Always had been, judgement was in his nature. As was drinking to excess.
Possibly there is nothing worse in this world than a moral drunk. In a different mood and I hadn’t known the reason he did it I could have hit him, but you can’t hurt a drunk. They are a breed anaesthetised to everything except themselves and the solid rock of their morality, and it would just have made him feel superior.
We sat in our office, each at our own desk at an angle to the other. Not much of an office, the two desks were about all we had. Not much of an address the wrong side of North Los Angeles. But a good enough place to hide from creditors.
When Tommy shot up the bar the fact he was still well-liked in the Police Department kept him out of jail. As far as our partnership went I consider we had built a reputation for straight-dealing and ethical practice, and that is why few clients wanted to employ us.
The State rescinding the PI’s licence Tommy had taken out after leaving LAPD made hardly any difference, we were already too far down the road to nowhere.
He was still my brother-in-law. For as long as it took Sherri to divorce him. Also a man with some claim to be my good friend.
Tommy Guppy had a wide-shouldered build to the extent he looked like every jacket ever made wasn't wide enough for him. Most of the build was still muscle but not as much as once had been. This day, besides the wide tweed jacket, he wore a sports shirt and tan slacks which had creases in a number of wrong places. It was best not to get down to detail on his shirt.
Tommy had a sour outlook and never liked Monroe which is why he threw himself into the subject enthusiastically. "Everybody watches her," he stated. "Everywhere she goes. Lot of it on camera, I know that, you know that. The most famous woman in the world. What's he think we're gonna see that no one else notices?"
I used my foot to push the cardboard box full of pick-ups and wire spools across the floor.
"Studio could get LAPD to bug her phone any day they wanted," he pointed out.
"Maybe it's something they don't want the cops to get too acquainted with. You got any objection?" This was not rhetorical with Tommy’s experience of the Department.
"Hell, I'll listen to anyone's conversation they pay me enough. I'll watch paint dry."
"They got an expense account would paint Mexico, Tommy."
He shrugged the wide shoulders. "Count me in," he said with bourbon certainty but no conviction.
Strangest thing, a kind of anomaly, by movie star standards it was a nothing-special house and it was in the suburb of Brentwood.
End of a cul-de-sac street and a lot of privacy behind its high walls, but no mansion. Single-storey, Spanish Colonial. Not many rooms.
This was a neighbourhood aspired to by successful doctors, the presidents of small banks, and retired sweat-shop owners. Well-off, but definitely subdued for a world-class movie star. Whatever she spent her money on, it wasn’t all on real estate.
Early evening. I took over from Tommy in the old Chrysler we were using. I opened the front nearside door and slid into the passenger seat.
Tommy showed no signs of leaving despite the fact he'd been there six hours. Maybe he had nowhere better to go and nothing better to do than sit in a car watching a gate that didn't change any the more days you watched it.
Tommy lit a cigarette. He’d smoked half of it in silence when the limousine slid past. It rolled to a stop and a man in dark suit and sunglasses got out to open the gates of 12305 Fifth Helena Drive.
" Jeezus Christ, Frank," Tommy muttered. The ash fell off his cigarette down his shirt.
"You thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Jeezus F. Christ. You see that?"
By this time a second man was climbing out the front of the limo. Like the first he was heavy-set. He wore the same dark suit and dark sunglasses, as if the limo was some kind of assembly line spewing them out. The suits hadn't come from any California tailor. They were Washington suits.
He stood staring at us from behind his shades then strode diagonally across the road. He leant down by Tommy's window. After a while Tommy wound it down.
The heavy sounded polite enough when he asked "Can I help you gentlemen?" But you could read between the lines he didn't mean anything by it.
Tommy shook his head. "Maybe you got a sister though?"
The dark shades began to look even more hostile.
I leaned across Tommy and interrupted "What sort of help you have in mind?"
"What's your business here?" Sunglasses asked.
"You got who I think you got in that limo?"
"Show me some identification," Sunglasses instructed politely. Polite like he'd prefer to drag us out of the car and beat us to a thin pulp in the gutter.
Tommy shifted in his seat like he wanted Sunglasses to try.
I passed across the Press card Jack Scalligan had given me. "You want to swap?"
He glanced at the cardboard oblong, flexed it thoughtfully to test how easy it tore Then passed it back without reciprocating any I.D. of his own.
"You've seen nothing. Understand? You clearly appreciate that, gentlemen?"
"So if Robert Kennedy's in the back of the limo that would make you the Secret Service?"
Sunglasses looked round. The limo had driven through the gate leaving him behind. He leant back through the window, "Wise up, you fuckin’ dumb asses. You know what's good for you, drive away from here. Drive away immediately and do not come back. You want to keep your health and career, you will do that right now. Is that clear?"
Tommy started to wind the window up on his face.
Sunglasses pulled back and banged the roof of the car with his hand. "Dumb ass fucks!"
Tommy hit the switch and accelerated off before the Secret Service agent had time to pull his gun all the way out.
"Jeezus F. Christ," he said wonderingly.
Alone with the echoes from her bare walls.
Talking quiet to reassure ourselves.
Moving fast but careful we leave nothing out of place.
"You think she reads these?" Tommy asked. He pointed to the shelves of books. He was looking for places to drill in back of, somewhere to hide another microphone that would cover this end of the living room. In case here was where Robert Kennedy, Attorney General of the United States of America, had his next conversation with Marilyn Monroe.
"I mean you see her in The Prince and the Showgirl, or some photo spread with a beach ball in Spy magazine, and the first thing that comes to mind is not here’s a chick reads Herman Melville."
"You don’t want to believe what you see, Tommy, especially not anything you read. That's why they pay big money in the industry. They hire talent. They project deception. Twenty-four dreams a second. Movie stars are not real people. Everyone knows that."
"Sure. Better than real."
I finished pushing the wires back in the telephone. "Just look at their teeth."
"You think that’s their own teeth?"
"I dunno. Maybe there’s just one set of perfect teeth and they pass them around between close-ups, they all look the same. What I’m saying is the movie industry is a shell game start to end. You want to believe something look on the pavement, not on a movie screen. Find something don’t cost so no-one’s got an angle."
"No such thing as a free anything," said Tommy leafing through a copy of War and Peace. Checking for pictures.
Tommy read Black Mask. Every issue from a bookstall run by a Jap.
"How do you know? You ever try?"
"Never had the time."
"You could have gone to college, Tommy. After the Marines. One of those scholarships."
"Yeah, Frank. Could have been a regular Einstein. Arthur Miller maybe. This could have been my house we are failing to ransack. How about we do some work here, okay?"
As if I was stopping him.
We had gained entry to the premises mid-afternoon. The housekeeper out shopping which she didn't hurry over, Miss Monroe known to be engaged with her psycho-analyst until after five.
What was as disturbing as the modest size of the place was the house was only half-decorated, the furniture pushed around anywhere. Everything incomplete like no one really lived here. It made planting the bugs almost too easy.
In her bedroom there were no curtains on the small window, just a sleep mask tossed on the white pile carpet beside the bed which admittedly had quality sheets.
A bedside table had an empty pill bottle lying overturned in front of a photograph of an old woman with staring eyes, sunken cheeks and prominent widow’s peak. Two other prescription bottles held yellow capsules and green capsules respectively.
But everything and everywhere unfinished.
Like she'd moved in before she'd convinced herself to stay.
Except the big, walk-in wardrobe where she kept her clothes. Warm and cold as the bars of light and dark the afternoon sun cast over hanging silk as it penetrated the door-slats.
Alive with the Chanel scent of her.
Tommy and me left it the way we found it. The mink coat still tossed on the floor, the unsigned business contract for a sum to make you whistle still fallen behind the desk. Left it with no trace for Miss Monroe ever to know we’d been there.
Microphones ready for when she next entertained Robert Kennedy.
So far in our investigation the one fact we’d discovered was that the stakes were rising higher.
Lane Sickert worked for Fox Security in an office of a size to seem empty with just the two of us. We had to stretch over his desk to shake hands.
"Long time no see, Frank."
"Been a while, Lane," I agreed.
Sickert settled back into his chair. The big picture window behind him had a view of the slab side of Stage D leering over a trim, sunlit hedge.
"Damn right. How long has it been?"
"A long while."
"Not since all the trouble I’d guess."
"There’s always trouble."
Sickert toyed with a heavy gold pen from the pen and ink desk-set in the middle of the empty veneer of his desk top until he worked it out. His hands were as well-manicured as he was well-shaven, the way you get when you pay well for it.
He was wearing a silver-grey suit, white shirt and a tie hot enough to counterblast the chilled air whistling through a grill in the office wall. Outside it was ninety. I kept my hat on.
"We were all real sorry." He nodded his head regretfully. "About Carmen."
"Why the hell they do that to themselves."
"I never thought she did it to herself."
"They all do it."
"I see a lot of them, Frank, this line of work. Actresses as a profession, the dreams, the hopes, the disappointments. Maybe they have to be a little crazy."
"She was an intelligent woman, Lane."
He wasn’t a man that liked to be contradicted. "My experience, Frank, true intelligence is a rare thing in an actress. They can be cunning schemers. They can be vindictive and relentless enemies. They can hypnotise a man in subtle ways. Snakes have many of those qualities. It's not intelligence."
"She spoke three languages."
"How hard is that when your vocabulary confines to a horizontal yes in all of them."
"I ought to punch your dirty teeth down your lying throat, fella."
Sickert scraped a wooden box of cigars over the polished desk at me. "Hey, what can I say?"
"Spanish, English and Portuguese. Fluent in all three. You know that?"
I caught the matches he threw. They were big, Havana cigars. We hid the distrust between us with enough smoke to fill the year or more since President Kennedy put the embargo on Cuba. These cigars smoked a lot fresher than any trade embargo.
"Mind if I ask you a favour, Lane? For old times?"
"You can ask."
"Off the record you understand."
Lane Sickert blew a smoke ring like he was inviting me to jump through it. "Depends."
"You know Jack Scalligan?"
Sickert nodded a non-committal acknowledgement.
"He works out of your publicity outfit."
"What’s he do?"
Sickert kept the top of his desk empty of anything that might suggest he had gainful employment. Like a prospector in a desert he searched the wide plane before he rediscovered the gold fountain pen. He picked it up again from the ornamental stand and examined it casually through smoke-narrowed eyes. "Publicity would be my immediate guess."
"Publicity to keep someone in the showbiz columns? Or PR to keep them out of the scandal columns?"
"Well now Jack’s what you might call freelance. A consultant. Sometimes I hear he works direct for the Head of Production. I guess he does what he’s told to do. Leastways that’s as I understand. You have to realise I’m not that intimate with everything goes on in Zanuck's office."
"But you got some idea."
"Let’s say the studio chief mostly leaves the gossip column scraps to other people. Leastways unless they’re totally out of hand. He’d be more concerned with maintaining an overall wholesome image for instance. Family values. Bottom line returns."
"Am I right assuming at this point in time Scalligan's attempting to fix some problem concerning Marilyn Monroe? Like the rumours about why filming on her latest movie has stopped?"
"Jack Scalligan? Truth is I'm not even certain he’s still under contract at Fox these days. He certainly don’t work out of the studio here that I’m aware. Maybe he’s got an office downtown, probably doing business for whoever wants to hire him freelance. Some special assignment. Or maybe it’s coming from the New York office."
"He don’t work for you, Lane?"
Sickert blew another smoke ring. "No. He don’t work for me. You still see Tommy Guppy?"
I stood up to go. "I work with Tommy. Tommy’s my partner."
"That must be a tough job."
Lane hadn't said an awful lot about Jack Scalligan.
What meant more was he hadn't asked why I wanted to know.
Outside I walked in the heat and sunshine down the row of bungalows they gave to important people to work in or sleep the afternoon away, and went out through the Fox gates onto Pico Boulevard.
A block down and across on Avenue of the Stars was the building where Hertzheimer used to have his office suite. I couldn't help the memories clawing up then to make the day into a different one. A long while now. The day Carmen Guiteras got shipped back to Havana in a cheap wooden box.
Hertzheimer was some talent agent even by the standards of the breed. The type who fed his talent whatever was needed to fuel the all-night parties and the big auditions that never went further than a casting couch.
It hurt me I was in a different country when it happened. Not keeping a close watch, believing the bright stories and not knowing until it was too late. Not protecting. That hurt as bad as it could. But Cuba was a world away. And everyone in Hollywood knowing and no one ever talking because too many walked that road.
Blind eyes and dumb mouths when it came to proof that would stand in court.
I'd never wanted to talk to him myself. I flew back to Californi
That’s when he started telling me he could give me names and places, the bad friends and unwise counsels. Something to understand the truth about Carmen.
All he took out of the drawer was a pistol. It was a woman’s gun but aimed accurately it was enough to stop a big man at short range. Tommy charged and caught a bullet in the shoulder before he twisted the gun to shoot Hertzheimer up through the jaw. I was round the desk just soon enough to see the agent's scalp lift like a cheap toupee.
I stopped in my tracks. "Jeezus, Tommy, what a mess."
Tommy tried to shrug and winced in pain from where the bullet had splintered his bone. The small pistol was almost hidden in his fist, he clumsily dropped it in his pocket. Having a guy like Tommy wince was maybe as bad as the brains that vomited down Hertzheimer's face.
With the arm that wasn't pumping blood through the sleeve of his tweed jacket Tommy tipped what was left of the head back to examine the neat hole under Hertzheimer’s chin, like he wanted to reassure himself the entry wound was a minor inconvenience and ignore as best he could the gore that slopped out from the shattered cranium.
"Ain't my fault he's got a thin skull," Tommy said.
I took his good arm and steered him towards the door. Feeling no forgiveness then or ever but somehow I'd got over hating Hertzheimer so immediately.
"Ain't your fault, Tommy. But it might have been better to keep the crap inside him."
Watching Marilyn by Jack Chapman / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes