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Watching marilyn, p.14
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       Watching Marilyn, p.14

           Jack Chapman
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  Chapter 14

  It was early evening before I got to the Palomino. The place was already filling up, people talking and shouting over the jukebox competing with the grainy television above the bar. Tommy was leaning on the counter drinking beer. Above his head another man had got over the Berlin Wall running for freedom across no-man's land. Doing it to the soundtrack of Moon River on the jukebox, crossing you in style… He was a young man in jeans and leather jacket like he'd already dressed up for the West. They showed the ten seconds of film three times and every time the East German Border Guards shot him in the back while the studio news team kept mouthing half-audible comparisons to all the other escape attempts that year, old dream maker, you heart breaker…

  No one in the Palomino took any notice. Tommy’s attention seemed directed at Trigger wild-eyed on the wall, they both looked like they wanted to be somewhere else.

  I levered myself onto a barstool beside him. "Where’ve you been all day?"

  "Doing my job. Any problem with that?"

  "You didn’t show up at the office."

  "I was working."

  "You working now?"

  "I felt like a drink. Okay?"

  "Maybe you should have felt like filing a report."

  Tommy said in a sarcastic voice "Public records. Born 1926, Los Angeles General Hospital, the original name on her birth certificate is Norma Jeane Mortenson. By the time her mother got to church she decided to baptise little Marilyn as Norma Jean Baker. Mortenson was Gladys' second husband, a meterman by profession, bought a motor bike before Norma was born and headed for San Francisco where he was never seen again. Baker was the name of her mother’s first husband."

  "That’s going to be useful someday. How long will it take you to get to 1962?"

  "What’ve you achieved?"

  "I waited around while she took a swim."


  "I lost her. There were a lot of excited newshounds in the way."

  "She went to see her psychic. See, I was working, Frank. She look okay in the pool?"

  "I was told she stayed afloat."

  "By the time she reached the weird guy she had so many pills inside I was parked across the street and still heard her rattle walking in his door."

  "We get anything on tape?"

  "Maybe. Could be something of interest. See, I spent the day working, Frank."

  "Would it stop you repeating yourself if I apologise?"

  "No." Tommy raised his beer.

  "That’s why I didn’t, you moody son of a bitch."

  Tommy put his beer down in a resigned manner, he blew smoke from his cigarette up towards the television. He said "See, they’re lying about Vietnam, they’re denying King and his niggers their votes, and the Russians are beating us into space. I used to be proud of this country, Frank, but now I’m beginning to wonder. There’s too much stupid and too much wrong and too much we’re losing."

  The diversion took me by surprise. "Nothing wrong in Oregon."

  "Oregon’s not far enough. You’d have to go all the way up to Canada. All the way where they still got more wilderness than real estate salesmen."

  He sounded unduly convinced he was being reasonable, it made me a little concerned about his attitude. "It's a long way from home."

  "Outside LAPD jurisdiction anyway. Too far for Keats to keep stepping on my heels."

  "The Lieutenant's not the only one would miss you. Tommy."

  "Who’s going to miss me? TJ? What’s he going to think? He’s growing up, growing away. Soon enough we won’t know each other at all."

  "That’s the way it happens, Tommy. You have to play the cards you’re dealt. Do the best you can. You're his father. Maybe lacking many of the qualities but the best he's got."

  "It was different for you. You never wanted kids."

  "How do you know what I wanted?"

  "It’s what you told Carmen."

  "That’s a kind of intimate revelation."

  "You were away being important, Frank, all the time she was here in LA. Who else did she have to talk to? Me or that scum Hertzheimer?"

  I glanced at him but only for an instant, not wanting to know what emotions either of us still felt about Carmen. "Okay, Tommy. No comparison. I appreciate you did your best to look after her."

  "My best wasn't any good, Frank. It’s not getting any better. I'm 43, more than half way through. Downhill and picking up speed and never making sense out of life."

  "Tell me about the psychic, Tommy."

  "You'd have to be crazy to believe in him. Crazy or dumb."

  "Like Marilyn?"

  "The way women get when they hit the downhill. Tired of making sense. Clutching at straws, psychics, analysts, gurus, Presidents."

  "Just a line of father figures for someone who never had a daddy of her own."

  "Families are important. But that’s no excuse for her morals or the Kennedys."

  "She had 1% of a family at best. Must have been hard for her to understand how you don’t break them up when yours was broken to start with."

  "Morals being too cold for a warm-blooded woman," Tommy sneered.

  "Too cold for an actress. Whether she’s a woman acting a child, or still that little girl playing at being a woman."



  I found Jack Scalligan near where the Santa Monica stretch of Pacific Coast Highway became Palisades Beach Road and the lines of palm trees grew lusher and taller. I drew in behind his parked Mercedes and walked over to where Scalligan leant on the metal rail that discouraged tourists from jumping over the low sandstone bluffs.

  He pointed down at a street of big houses and small mansions right on the beachfront. It was a wide beach with clean, white sand and long waves rolled across it, but I was squinting against a setting sun mirrored across the ocean and a few shiny kids still surfing down the bright scar like it was the highway to hell.

  "All along there are movie executives. Darryl Zanuck, Harry Warner, Sam Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, they all have places down there. You get actors as well. See that one? That’s 565 Beach Drive, Lawford’s pad. Monroe’s a regular guest. Gets called the Western White House due to the Kennedy brothers are there so often. Some of the neighbours complain about too many naked starlets in the swimming pool."

  "Can we get closer?"

  "Not without attracting heavy security, Frank. That whole beach belongs to the Sea and Sand Club, their membership is exclusive. They wouldn’t let you in."

  "You'd be surprised how many doors a Press card opens, Jack."

  "Not really. So how is Marilyn getting on?"

  "Things were looking interesting for a while but she’s still mostly waiting for a full resumption. It’s going to be two months minimum before they get Phil Silvers back for key scenes. Why should she care? They’ve dropped the lawsuit and raised her salary to a quarter of a million. But I expect you’d have that covered in the Publicity Office over at Fox now she's back at the studio." The fresh air was making me a little playful with Scalligan. "Don’t you publicity guys script the press conference?"

  "Truth is she’s back on a contract stripped of all privileges and the studio is concerned she can hold out sober during the delay while they reassemble the cast. What press conference?"

  "The one her psychic predicted when we consulted him."

  "Psychic? As in crazy man?"

  "He’s a man sees the future."

  "You telling me I’m paying for gypsy fortune tellers now?"

  "It’ll be itemised on expenses. And to be absolutely fair the man’s more queen than gypsy. We just told him we were doing a major feature in Spy magazine, Fortune Teller to the Stars kind of thing. So we got him to make some forecasts. Guess the first thing he predicted?"

  "It’s gonna be easy taking money off a fool?"

  "Marilyn and Joe Di Maggio get re-married before the year
s out."

  "No. What for? She already owns a lap dog."

  "It’s a small dog. It couldn’t protect her in a cruel world or keep her warm on a lonely night."

  Scalligan said "She needs protecting? Marilyn wants you to think she’s a victim. Sweet little girl lost. Truth is she’s a monster. A mixed-up, scheming, manipulative, selfish, harridan using her curvature to exploit any man useful to her. And all the while claiming with her monster’s arrogance she’s an artist and beyond common decency."

  "Is that how someone gets Andy Warhol to paint their picture?"

  "You learn fast, Frank."

  "Whatever it takes. Because why would the spirits see something like that in her future unless she’d talked about it already? The good news is Tommy got a wire in there before the cops did."

  "What did she say?"

  "She confided in the psychic the studio would pay a thousand dollars for her body and fifty cents for her soul."

  "She’ll say anything," Scalligan decided.

  "She’ll do anything too."

  "Not re-marrying DiMaggio, she won’t."

  "Tell you the truth I don’t think it’ll work out either. I guess the gypsy queen picked up Tommy’s aura and got influenced by his romantic nature. But I kind of felt he was on solid foundations when that press-call came out in his second prediction. It’s what he does, how he earns his living, prophesying mostly what someone’s already confided in him for a fact. So I smiled nicely and asked him what else about her. I got a little nervous my smile might do more damage to his professional ethics than crossing his palm with silver, but I believe it was my promising him Nancy Reagan’s telephone number swung the case."


  "Her agent's planning to call a press conference in the very near future. A big one, all the syndicates invited. Marilyn will show something to the whole world that will shake the rulers and dominions."

  "Show what?"

  "Her diary of secrets. Show it to the news hounds. Headline revelations. Marilyn’s angry. She wants to let everybody know what the Kennedy’s are really like."

  "The red book?"

  "That’s my personal prediction."

  I was looking to see how frantic Scalligan got but he just gripped the metal rail above the cliff like he was on a trapeze with no net. "That's not going to happen. That can't be allowed."

  He stared down for an unwise time at the burning sun extinguishing itself in the Pacific. "She’ll push everything over the edge. Stop her, Frank. Whatever it takes, whatever it costs, stop her."



  "What’s missing?" I asked Sherri.

  "Some clothes have gone." She sounded as wound up as she looked. She stood in the middle of TJ's bedroom at the top of the house, feet apart, arms wrapped around herself, staring at me.

  "The kind of clothes he might want on a camping trip?"

  "All sorts, just pulled out of drawers."

  "Anything else?"

  She gave a tense little shake of her head like it was a distraction. "I think maybe some of his records, He just got a Beatles 45, he was playing it all the time but it’s not on the turntable or anywhere I can see."

  The room had an underlay of Sherri's ideas about decoration but the kid was beginning to impose his personality. He’d thumb-tacked pictures over most of the wallpaper, everything from a glossy LP cover of Brenda Lee in her beehive hair to a carefully cut-out magazine page of John Glenn standing in front of Friendship 7. There was a wider range of female pop singers than astronauts but while NASA was burning taxpayers’ money that was okay by me.

  "Why would he take a record if he didn’t take the record player?"

  "I don’t know. Why would he take his records if he was coming back?" Sherri shouted at me.

  At least she wasn’t as hysterical as when she first called me that morning to yell over and over that Tommy had kidnapped Junior.

  "This time I’m going to the police, Frank. I’ve got a lawyer and I’m going to get an injunction. I’ll have that bastard put away for this."

  "Let’s not jump to any conclusions," I told her more for the sake of it than expecting she’d see sense.

  "Do you know where he’s taken my son?"

  "I’ve already told you, Sherri, I’ve no idea. And like it or not TJ is Tommy’s son as well."

  "I could do without your brand of consolation."

  Downstairs the front door opened in a hurry. She forgot me and turned to run down in hope it was TJ come back.

  I went over to the small window at the end of the room to check if there was an automobile outside but the view was the back lawn and the new pool. Stacked precariously on the window ledge was an untidy pile of comics, Superman, Green Lantern, Justice League of America. I started to sort them out and came across a ‘Duck and Cover’ pamphlet.

  The government had distributed millions of doomsday comic books to the nation’s schools. The junior version featured a cartoon turtle called Bert. The turtle urged them to "duck and cover" in the event of a Soviet atomic strike. If the sirens went off when TJ was in school they'd duck under the cover of their school desks to escape the blast long enough to get killed by the firestorm following across Los Angeles. With five minutes warning if the Reds struck in the evening they'd make it down to Sol's shelter and live like rats until they'd eaten all the cans and had to surface to the radioactive mutants. I'd seen On The Beach and according to Stanley Kramer the world was going to end in 1964. But if Kramer could cast Fred Astaire as an English scientist he could easy be two years out on the date. I wondered at Sol and all the others like him, what desperate drive for survival would make people believe their government more than they believed the movies.

  I could have asked him because it was his voice in the hallway trying to reassure Sherri who was starting over on the incoherent allegations. I decided not to intrude until he'd had time to stop her hyperventilating. After she'd run her course and the level had dropped she was almost inaudible I went down. I took her by the arm and said "How you could help, Sherri, is if you wrote me down a list of everything you think is missing from his room. As much detail as you can, that will really help. More I have to work with the easier to decide where he's gone." I watched her run back up the stairs then turned to Sol.

  "What do you think, Sol?"

  "Frank, I don't know. This morning I left for work, everything seemed okay. Then the studio office sends a runner onto the set to tell me Sheri's phoning saying something terrible has happened. I just dropped everything and rushed back here. So you tell me, has Guppy really kidnapped TJ?"

  "It appears they've headed out somewhere without informing Sherri or anyone in advance what their plans are."

  "This connected to that camping trip the last fight was about?"

  "It's a reasonable assumption," I told Sol. "It certainly looks like TJ co-operated. This wasn’t a kidnapping. If he went with Tommy it was because he wanted to."

  "TJ wouldn’t ever do anything to hurt his mother. He’d have left a note at least."

  "He’s just a kid, he stayed off school claiming a stomach ache. I questioned your domestic help, Sol. When she turned up to do the cleaning this morning Sherri took the opportunity of driving to the shops for an hour or so. Soon as his mother was out of the house TJ made a phone call. Five, ten minutes later Tommy walks in like he owns the place. She knows he’s the boy’s father so she let him, didn’t think anything of it. Sixty-year old Mexican ladies have old-fashioned values when it comes to that sort of thing."

  "So where’ve they gone?"

  "Beats me."

  "Can you get them back?"

  "Time solves most problems. They’ll turn up."

  "You finished hunting for clues here? There must be something indicates where they’re headed."

  "I could look round his room some more, but it’s not promising."

  Sol danced
from foot to foot. "Talk of time, I really need to get back. I can’t do anything here. We’re depending on you, Frank. Catch up with me at the studio when you’re finished, okay?"

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