Watching Marilyn, p.11Jack Chapman
Dean Martin and Peter Lawford were lounging on tall stools at the bar of the Indian Room. Lawford looking across at us but I got the impression Dean could take it or leave it as far as Sam Giancana’s company was concerned. Sinatra suddenly relaxed, poured more champagne and leant back in his chair. He seemed easier in the company of men, even one with murder in mind. When I’d seen him dining with Marilyn, despite his reputation as a womaniser, he’d looked stiff and formal.
Giancana was staring at me. "You knew Lucky? Hell of a surprise. Like I said, see Napoli and die, right? All he saw was the Airport. Must’a been the Departure Lounge," Giancana laughed at his own joke. "How well you know him?"
"It was a long time ago, he was an associate of some associates is all. He was with you when you met Carmen Guiteras, Mr. Sinatra. You sure you don’t remember her?"
We’d both been ten years younger the time our paths had crossed before Calneva. In Cuba with Sinatra and Luciano sitting in the big nightclub at the centre table near the stage where they could put a spotlight on Frank and get him to stand up when the bandleader announced how honoured they were to have him in the audience.
Outside the Hotel Nacional all hell was breaking loose. General Zaldivar had deposed President Socarras the week before and the Army was on the streets but the informed betting was the General wouldn’t last and our man Batista was making a comeback.
Inside the nightclub no one gave a damn, not about the revolution or who was running the government long as the outstretched palm didn’t rake-off more than the usual 10% from the flood of dollars rolling on the back of gambling, inflated construction deals and other less salubrious enterprises. Estimates were at least twenty honourable members of the departed administration had leached a million dollars each into Swiss accounts.
After the floorshow when Carmen had given her all and shaken her rumba mostly in their direction, Sinatra and Luciano invited her over while I propped the bar. Back home the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket was winning the ‘52 election and I wondered what line they planned with non-democratic neighbours and the trouble it might cause in my job, and told myself Carmen sitting with important people was good for her career. She came from a well-connected family, daddy a colonel in Batista’s Army until he was killed in a guerrilla ambush when she was 14, but family plans hadn’t extended beyond a well-connected marriage and they’d disowned her. She had ambitions of her own and she’d sweated her way up from kicking in the line at the age of 17, but the spotlight of a Havana cabaret would never be enough for her. Frank and Lucky behaved with perfect decorum that whole evening, in itself distinguishing them from the authentic gentlemen in Cuban nightclubs.
Lucky bought champagne though stayed drinking vodka himself. Persuaded Frank not to start an argument with the management over how they encouraged the dancers to mix at the tables but not the guys in the band. It was well-known the club was Mafia-owned but Luciano always stayed in the background and took no obvious interest in the running of the place.
Frank said she had a great voice and talked music. Said her version of Jambalaya was every bit as good as Jo Stafford’s. Asked her about herself and who she’d sung with. Carmen rolled over like a puppy, skin still glistening with sweat from the rumba and eyes gleaming with something primeval. She was supposed to drink ginger ale but with Sinatra she matched him glass for glass of the best champagne. For a while after that every time she called me Frankie I never knew who she was thinking of.
I knew Luciano of course from Company files. He’d risen in the Mob during Prohibition, controlled narcotics, extortion, prostitution. Spent ten years in jail claiming the Feds had framed him. In ‘46 the government sprung him in gratitude for his War contribution when he provided US Intelligence with many useful contacts in Sicily.
Maybe because of the CIA patronage he never made it up with the FBI, and in exile in Havana the U.S. Narcotics Bureau continued to hound him. We had no problem in the Embassy having it both ways. Many staffers argued it was a balancing safeguard of our democractic system, contrasted with the Latin dictators who could never pursue self-contradictory policies. The Narcotics Bureau insisted the stream of syndicate heads flying down to pay Luciano homage and launder cash through his casinos meant he was still capo di tutti capi and was directing the drug traffic across to Florida. The Company really didn’t care, not with direct orders to stay away from home territory. In Cuba we had a different tolerance and our friends in the Mafia needed to contain communism as much as we did. Plus there were benefits dealing arms-length on certain matters instead of too obviously with that comic opera parade of tyrants, Zaldivar, Socarras, Batista, you name them.
I heard later after Castro put an end to playdays Lucky went to live in Naples. He was a patient man, extremely courteous, but he had a sad face. To me he always seemed to be lonely. Something about his distance made him memorable. I’d rather face down a hundred men who act big like Giancana than one polite man like Luciano.
Sinatra downed his drink and stood up, "I have to go. Someone needs to keep this place running. Do me a favour, Sam, don’t leave Marilyn and DiMaggio alone too long. They might decide to get hitched again."
Giancana croaked out a laugh. "Never any problem her with no chaperone when it was JFK’s cabin she was rendezvousing in."
"I heard they found some commmon ground," I said offhand.
"What kind of dumb slut could dream that ambitious prick risking it all for her sweet fanny."
Sinatra glanced at me then switched to looking at Giancana, touched his finger to his lips, "We don’t discuss our guests, Sam,"
"Like she really thought he was going to make her the First Lady?" Still finding it the big joke.
"None of our guests, Sam," Sinatra reprimanded. "Not yourself as you’ll appreciate. Not even Chicky Boy in front of company, whatever we might think of that person."
Giancana sneered like it didn’t matter what I heard then shrugged it off. "Okay, I’ll keep the crazy bitch company."
I stood up with them, "Thanks for the drink, Mr. Sinatra."
"You’re welcome. Look after your buddy. Yourself also. Real shame anyone gets a bullet in the back unnecessarily."
I watched them leave before I went over to the bar.
"Mr. Martin? Mr. Lawford? My names Frank Watson." I held out Scalligan’s press pass with the Fox endorsement.
Lawford just ignored it with a demi-smile didn’t extend far enough to disturb the saturnine profile that was his best feature, close-by his complexion was deep tan over liver failure.
Dean glanced down then turned back on his barstool to face his drink. "That thing real?"
I put the identification back in my pocket. "I was told."
"You write for film magazines?"
"It’s a living."
Dean gestured at a bar stool. "Go ahead. I don’t mind drinking next to a man with no pride."
"I hear the production of your latest movie has run into trouble, Mr Martin. Are you worried how things are going?"
Dean Martin grinned over the rim of his glass. "Heck no."
"Thirty-two days of production on Something’s Got To Give and Marilyn Monroe’s only showed up on set twelve times. Sounds like she might have problems."
"That movie we’re shooting on and off? Well I sure got a problem. You know the storyline? Marilyn and me, we play a married couple, Nick and Ellen Arden. I ask you, do I look like a Nick?"
"How convincing is Miss Monroe as an Ellen?"
Lawford blew cigarette smoke through his nostrils, spoke for the first time in that English ooze of suavity. "Shooting a movie? Should have shot it through the head. Put the sucker out of its misery."
"Yeah, way things are at Fox they’re better off claiming insurance than hope a film’s gonna make money." Dean put his glass down like an old friend he might never see again . "Me, I got to go sing fo
Lawford levered himself away from the bar to accompany him. People were making a point of walking out on me this night. Now there was only the latin Valentino left sauntering along the other side of the mahogany counter until he could lean over, push another bourbon at me, and ask "You think she brought it with her?"
I focussed on him and said carefully "I hear she’s a big reader. Literature, that kind of stuff, Dostoievsky, so on."
"No. The red book’s what I mean."
"Yeah, I heard she read books."
"Wise up. The red book."
"What the hell sort of bartender are you exactly?"
The guy narrowed his eyes. "It’s my job, okay?"
"I get to meet different prople. Plus I like the company."
"Company of drunks?"
"You remember the Company, Señor Watson. It was a long time ago but you don’t forget.".
"Should you look familiar?"
"Jesus Diaz. It’s a Catholic thing, same as I told you yesterday. But we go back further. We met couple of times in the old days, leastways I was in the same room in Havana, possibly a different name. Okay, you’ve forgotten, big Americano in a big room, all Spics look the same. But the business we were in - maybe that’s a compliment. You want to take a breath of air?"
The Indian Bar was deserted now. Everyone watching Dino’s cabaret act. We could hear him from the Showroom launching into That’s Amore. Diaz signaled to another uniformed barman to take over. He led the way through the doors.
Outside the Calneva the cooling night air didn’t carry Dino’s band at all. We walked away from the building and away from the bright lights down through the trees towards the black water of the lake and diamond stars.
My eyes had just begun to dark adapt to the world solidifying from the shadows when there was a blinding flash on the south-west horizon. I stopped and waited for the delayed thunder to betray the distance of summer lightning while the green afterglow faded too slowly.
"That’s an H bomb," Diaz said.
"Military let one off every month or so. Test site’s down near Mercury in the Nevada desert."
"Where they test the bombs? Must be 500 miles from here," I said unconvinced.
"They’re real big fuckers."
"I’m counting seconds."
"You don’t hear them. This distance it’s only the light, just like you don’t hear the Sun. But those H bombs keep getting bigger ‘n brighter."
"That worry you?"
"Depends which way the wind’s blowing." He licked a finger and held it up in the still, night air. "They been doing those tests for the past ten years. But I hear the Soviets got a couple of thousand pointing our way, I guess we need more."
"I know you from the old days?" I was thinking hard, still couldn’t place him.
"Forget the old days, Frank, times change."
"Nothing’s changed far as I can see."
"Lot of changes. Like that briefing got you fired from the Embassy."
"I was never fired. Where’d you say you come from that Jesus is a common name?"
"You must remember Cuba, Frank. Only reason you wrote that stuff is you were loyal as a dog to the Company. You still believe they picked the wrong side? Sure you do, but you don’t say it no more."
"Hey listen, nothing to be ashamed of. I was loyal to Fidel until the CIA started paying me more. But little people like us, Frank, our job’s to get on best we can. Who’s got the power, who runs the show, we can’t make a difference to that. And most of the time we don’t know what shit’s going on anyway so what’s it matter."
"Only difference I noticed is a dollar’s worth more than a peso. Most everyone’ll change sides for a reason good as that."
"They don’t pay you to keep your mouth shut."
"How much is that Señor Scalligan paying you, Frank?
"Double? Plus all expenses? Let’s say we add in a bonus, hey, the Company can be pretty generous for a special commodity it really wants, I guess you remember that as well."
"Just remember the book. That should be easy, starts with the same letter as bomb. We don’t mind if you get to it first, you can find it and let Señor Scalligan think you earned your pay. Long as you pass it over unopened."
"You know the rest."
Watching Marilyn by Jack Chapman / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes