Watching Marilyn, p.12Jack Chapman
Around six when dawn intruded I went out to look at Lake Tahoe and the white-topped mountains. These days I slept even less in a strange bed than in my own. I kept my jacket tight, six thousand feet above sea level more than LA it was brisk until the sun got high over the snow peaks. That time of morning you could pretend it was a whole new world. No one in it except the water fowl seeing how much noise they could make, how long a wake they could leave in the flat reflection of the sky before the big motor launches got up to drown them out for the rest of the day. That time of morning before the smoke of engines and log fires in cosy fireplaces there was a smell on the wind of cold and emptiness, a clean smell of pine and vast indifference.
"You know how to tell all those birds apart?" It took me by surprise, would have startled me if the voice hadn't been like a shift to a warmer climate.
It was Marilyn, appeared out of nowhere. I might not have recognised her if it wasn't for the voice. Hair damp from the shower and escaping from a towel she'd wrapped like a turban, wearing old slacks and an oversized man's plaid shirt.
"I don't know anything about them," I told her.
"The difference is obvious. Ducks fuck, but swans are in love," Marilyn said.
"Is that right?"
"You tell just by looking at them. About swans that is. Way a pair of them move, always knowing where the other is. Are you here to help me, Mr Watson?"
"Much as I can. If I've got the kind of help you need." Then I said "That might be a big question."
"What other sort of question is there?"
"You're up early, Miss Monroe."
She nodded agreement, not looking at me. "Trying to catch them out."
"You seen it, Frank?" She squinted her cornflower blue eyes against the low sun and stared into the distance.
"You get up early enough, early so they think no-one's around, you can catch them out. Supposedly. Can you see it?"
"See what, Miss Monroe?"
"The smile on the face of the mountain, Frank."
"Happiness, Frank. When the mountain thinks you're not watching. Kind of a secret. Did you see it?"
I looked over at the High Sierra. "That must be an inscrutable kind of smile."
"Guess we're too late then."
I wasn't entirely certain she was joking or she'd lost her mind. But it was early in the day for straight thinking.
"I shouldn't tell you this, Miss Monroe, but there are matters going on you may not be aware of."
"I know who you are."
"You lied to me. You're a detective."
"One way of looking at it."
"They hired you to watch me."
"I'm sorry about that."
"It's okay. Everyone watches me."
"Guess it goes with the job."
"You be careful, Mr Watson."
"Isn’t that my line?"
"You be careful."
"I don't intend to hurt you in any way, Miss Monroe."
"There are certain people don't like you much."
"I hope we're excluding present company."
"Who told you that?"
Just for a moment I thought it was my name but she looked away from the instant of eye contact. Her face naked without make-up.
"Mr Sinatra. He's a friend of mine."
"He has lots of other friends. All different sorts."
"Frankie and his friends don't like me? It improves my usual class of enemy."
"They don't like who you're working for."
I shrugged. "No one likes their boss. It’s best to think the studio’s a force of nature, like plague and earthquakes. A pain in the backside but nothing personal."
"I thought it might be Bobbie, but Frankie says you were hired by Richard Nixon."
I looked at her close and this time she met my gaze. Wide, blue eyes reflecting the bright water mirror of early-morning sun with the blankness I remembered from other times of frightened people whose only defence is to pretend not to care. She seemed sincere, or maybe her pupils were just dilated from whatever brand of junk she was on this morning.
"I don’t think so."
Marilyn came and sat down on the dew-wet grass next to where I stood.
"You still pretending to be a hack, Mr Detective?"
"Gives me a good excuse to ask you questions, Miss Monroe."
"You’re no hack."
"Sorry I don’t convince."
"Pretending to be something you’re not, makes you kind of an actor. Makes us the same. Something we don’t want to be."
"What do you want to be?"
"Maybe an actress, maybe a swan, if I had a choice."
"Don’t you have a choice?"
"There was this place in Britain, when I made a film with Laurence Olivier. Don’t you know every one of my films?"
"The Prince and the Showgirl. Five years back?"
"Maybe five years. I was just married to Arthur and he’d gone with me to Britain. They had a lot of time for each other, him and Larry, they should have been the newlyweds. Did I say Laurence Olivier drove us over to Stratford upon Avon one day we had a break from shooting? They got a theatre there. It was a big, ugly building right next to the river and I was real surprised the auditorium looked so small inside. I don’t know what they did with the rest of the space. And in the auditorium the doors had marble frames, that kind of marble they make gravestones out of. The river was pretty though. Not like…" she waved at the expanse of Tahoe and the unsmiling mountains beyond the lake. "It was cosy and small, you know, British. But there were swans there too, on the little Avon river. Afterwards we walked up the street to where William Shakespeare lived and I made Larry take us to eat fish and chips. He was critical about the performance but I thought it was fine because it was very British too despite what disrupted it. It was theatre, Shakespearean, that’s different to film acting. So maybe I have a lot to learn about theatre acting but Larry Olivier had no right or reason to look down on me the way he did. And Arthur took his side even though we were still really on our honeymoon because they were both clever men and thought they were above me. But you know the Congress was after Arthur. They were citing him for contempt even before we got married and it was because of me he could hide in Britain while I was making the film with Larry and they couldn’t extradite him."
I shrugged at that. "What I didn’t like about Shakespeare, he never set any of his plays here. Never America. Places like Venice, Denmark, Italy, France he used. No end of those foreign countries, Fairyland. Never the USA. Not even the East Coast."
"I suppose. Though he mentioned Mexico in passing, but the ship sank before it got there."
"There must have been plenty of places in North America, even when Shakespeare was around."
"I don’t think he was allowed. Not the USA. He wasn’t in the Writers Guild." She giggled almost like she found it funny but it was enough she wanted me to think I’d amused her.
"Maybe the House Un-American Activities Commission scared him off."
"No, they’re nothing any more," she said, serious. "We beat those bastards."
"You think so?"
"Yeah. That’s right. When they went after Arthur when we were married, Jack Kennedy was my friend and stood by him, and now they’re history."
"Anyone told them that? Do they know they're history? That type don’t give up so easy."
"Well you should know. Your boss Nixon’s on their side. He was part of it a long time."
"I don’t work for Nixon," I told her in a tone made the Tahoe swans turn away. "But I talked to him. He told me something. About you and Kennedy."
"What I heard is you wrote it all down in a red book. Sort of diary or journal. With a red cover. All dates and times and places. What you talked about. Everything he told you. So you could go off later and read up about things that matter in his world. Important things. Affairs of state and such, so you could maybe hold a conversation with him on level terms. So he’d come to see you as a person of intelligence and not just a body."
She stood up. Dusted off her derriere.
"I’ll be seeing you, Frank," she said. That special voice.
If you were dying of thirst in the desert that’s how bourbon poured over ice would sound.
Marilyn's cabin was Number 3, near Cabin 5 that Sinatra himself used, but even closer to Cabin 1 reserved for the Kennedys. It was on sloping ground just above the lake shore with cement steps down from the access road. There was a veranda round it which at the front was on wooden piles with a white painted rail fence guarding the drop. The side below the road was windowless for privacy, the door and windows faced the lake view. Anyone wanting to observe if the place was occupied would have to get an angled view from the concealment of the pines.
Tommy had spent most of the day sitting under trees watching the outside of the cabin. She'd stayed indoors since our dawn encounter, ignoring the many attractions of daytime Calneva. When I joined Tommy on the carpet of pine needles he was looking jaded.
"Anything happen yet?"
"DiMaggio visited. Stayed in there an hour."
"And then he left."
"What was he doing?"
"He was looking for the staple in her belly button. How the hell should I know?"
"Must have been a fine welcome to America."
The first big change in the world that hit Tommy Guppy when he came back from Korea in December ’53 had been Issue 1 of Playboy selling from the same legitimate outlets as Black Mask. Marilyn had been the original nude centrefold. That was the only magazine other than Black Mask I’d known Tommy buy. He claimed he was catching up on how far civilization had slid into moral decadence. Sherri had stopped him from collecting Issue 2. That was maybe why Issue 1 had stuck in his mind this long.
"Either we train up a squirrel to take dictation or we need to put a bug in there." Tommy had occupied his time under the trees planning options.
"Might be worth considering."
"I think he spotted me."
"He took a good look walking back along the path."
"He's the strong silent type. If Joe says hello it’s a long conversation."
"Was he carrying anything?" I persisted.
"Like anything. Sandwiches. She didn’t appear for lunch. The hotel kitchen didn’t send anything over. What's she doing in there?"
Tommy threw a pine cone at a tree trunk. It was a good aim but I presumed he'd practiced a lot. Out on the lake speedboats surged backwards and forwards. We waited. After a while the boats bumped into the wooden jetties one by one as the vacationers came on-shore to freshen up for whatever entertainment they anticipated that night.
Tommy made his millionth check of his wristwatch. "We’re wasting our time. Circle Bar should be open. How about I pump the spic barman some more?"
"How about you stay away from any place Sam Giancana and his henchmen might be lurking."
"It’s hot air, Frank. There’s not gonna be any trouble. These people know better than to crap on their own doorstep."
"Giancana’s got to be mixed up in whatever’s going on here."
"He’s trying to collect. Sinatra and Lawford are his conduit to the Kennedys. Everybody knows the Chicago Mob stole the election for JFK in Illinois and that gave him the country. But then he turned his back on them. You owe a debt but you don’t pay you expect trouble. Everybody knows that."
"It’s a necessary lesson."
"That includes China?"
"There’s a billion people in China. They know that?"
"If it was my call I’d have told McArthur go ahead, nuke ‘em."
"You been here all the time?"
And other than DiMaggio nothing’s happened?"
"You didn’t leave anytime to take a leak or anything?"
"Open your eyes, Frank, there’s trees all around. What’s got into you?"
"I’ve got a bad feeling. Like the situation’s running out of control. Heading for the iceberg. Under the surface things are stacking up against Marilyn even worse than they appear. "
Tommy said "It's my experience, Frank, a man looks at any woman long enough without talking to her much and he's bound to fall in love."
"How many times that happen to you?"
"Just the once."
"Once ain't experience, Tommy."
"Once is enough." Neither of us mentioning the name of my sister.
"Your problem is you believe what you see. Everything. A lot of men they look at a woman on the movies, they think it's all real, love and roses."
"Who was talking movies? But on the subject, no, it's not all real."
"You sure as hell believe it."
"Better than real. That's what I believe. I don’t get taken in, that’s not me. Are you talking about yourself here, Frank?"
I got angry at that. "You don't think that's a problem, happy ever fucking after, you think the movies are better than fucking real."
"It ain't my problem You ever hear anyone say a word like that on the big screen?"
"Fuck." Tommy Guppy objected, part-time Puritan.
"And they never will and that proves what I’m telling you."
"What are you telling me, Tommy?"
"You’re a romantic, Frank. You act tough but the truth is you’re just a dumb, stupid loser gets taken in by any woman more than half smiles at you. You don’t understand what goes on around you."
"Monroe’s using you, Frank. You were hired to watch her and now you’re as devoted as that stupid poodle of hers."
"I’m trying to retain a little faith in humanity," I told him.
"Yeah, well I’m gonna go talk to the spic Son of God some more."
"Listen, the man’s more spook than spic." I told him about Jesus Diaz's offer on the red book.
"I wouldn’t trust him," said Tommy.
"Wise not to."
"He’s what the CIA really look like?"
"That’s what he implied. A little too easily but standards are slipping. Claims he’s sold Castro out but he could as well be Dirección de Inteligencia."
The evening chill was setting in to keep the boredom company. It was close to dinner time. All of a sudden the door of Cabin 3 opened and Marilyn came out in a fur wrap, hair under a silk scarf, and from the way she climbed the steps wearing high heels.
Tommy got up, nodded at me and started off to follow her. I’d watched her eat the night before. It was fun but she only picked at her food and it wasn’t getting the job done.
"Hey," I called after him, "Stay on the wagon."
He waved at me dismissively.
"Keep out of trouble," I tried.
I waited another 30 minutes until it was dark enough and I was sure she’d settled down at a table with the other celebrities, then I went to bug her cabin. Ever hopeful, it was a different jurisdiction and LAPD wouldn’t have got here first. Besides it was what we were being paid for.
The lock on the door wasn’t serious. The cold, mountain air that came in with me struggled against the warm scent of Chanel 5 and surrendered as soon as I quietly pulled the door closed. My eyes had dark-adapted while night had fallen under the
There was a lot of pale wood around the place. Suitcases half unpacked. I looked through some drawers but the hotel maid would go over most places easily reached with a duster or an inquisitive eye. Taped under the wooden frame of the bed seemed the safest concealment for the bug. The bed was unmade, sheets rumpled. I felt under the pillow. The book was about eight by six inches and three-quarters of an inch thick, bound in leatherette that I knew would be a red colour under light and inside the lined pages covered by her untidy writing. I opened it at random, flicked through, it was too dark to make sense of anything.
I left and relocked the door behind me. Dropped over the veranda rail to the shoreline and headed back into the trees. I stopped as soon as I was deep enough under cover to risk switching on the torch, unable to wait any longer before confirming what I’d found.
I froze as I heard the noise of other feet running over fallen pine needles. Then someone was behind me. Dark, relentless.
Watching Marilyn by Jack Chapman / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes