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Watching marilyn, p.18
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       Watching Marilyn, p.18

           Jack Chapman
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  Chapter 18

  It was a fast-food place on Wilcox the cops used for coffee. Lieutenant Keats slid by a couple of uniformed patrolmen sitting at the counter, called an order for two mugs, and took a booth at the rear. I dropped into the seat opposite him.

  "Why won’t you level with me about last night, Keats?"

  "You don’t understand what’s going on."

  "So tell me."

  "I’m telling you nothing. People have a right to privacy."

  "Not movie stars."

  "Monroe wasn’t always a movie star. Like Tommy Guppy wasn’t always a bad apple. Did you know she was married before Joe DiMaggio?"

  "I heard, yeah, to some nobody by the name of Jimmy something."

  "His name’s James Dougherty and I don’t like him called a nobody. He went on to join the LAPD and he’s an officer attached to this division. He just happened to be on duty last night."

  "Some coincidence."

  "Life’s like that."

  "It’s not what prosecuting counsel would say."

  "There’s coincidence and there’s facts. The fact is Miss Monroe's physician wrote her a new prescription for sleeping pills only three days ago. She was a regular user, took them in bulk. Ordinarily the bottle should still have forty to fifty pills in it. We found it empty."

  "Your whole case is empty. That whole night’s a blank."

  Keats said "According to his evidence Peter Lawford rang her just on 9pm to ask why she hadn’t shown up at his dinner party. He recalls he thought she sounded a little drunk and she said something along the lines ‘Say goodbye to Pat. Say goodbye to Jack. And say good bye to yourself because you’re a nice guy.’ Maybe Lawford made that last part up, still he broods over what it means, he thinks it was just rambling but it strikes him as a little strange so he rings back. Claims to have tried several times but her phone is engaged continuously. He assumes she must be okay and anyway he’s got guests to entertain."

  "Her phone's engaged. You said you got the list from Bell about who she was calling?"

  "No, I said we sent a man round for a copy of their records first thing."

  "Can I see them?"

  "It's alleged the FBI got there ahead of us and took everything away." He sipped coffee. "We’ll continue to pursue the matter."

  "The Feds in this as well?"

  "Not according to their Los Angeles office. They deny any interest and all knowledge of the matter."

  "Maybe they would deny everything if those records showed some calls to the White House the night she died."

  "But the Federal guys made a few calls of their own to check. Came up with a theory LAPD took the records away."

  "So who does have them?"

  "If you believe what he FBI say, and you believe what LAPD say, which other agency could twist Bell Telephone’s arm?"

  Keats stood up. Sometime while we were talking, the hot shot from the shooting range had followed us in and taken a seat away from the other cops at the end of the counter. The Lieutenant gave a sign to the man as he left.

  Dougherty came over carrying his cup and a donut on a plate and squeezed in opposite. He was around forty, putting on a little weight but still a well-built, good-looking man. He had a firmer jaw than DiMaggio and keener eyes than Arthur Miller but he wore the blue uniform like an honest cop which would always mark him as a man with low ambition.

  "I'm not shocked," said Doherty after we’d exchanged the necessary pleasantries. He was still looking pale. "I seen deaths that shocked me, this line of work, but this ain't one of them. I'm surprised I guess, it all coming back of a sudden. Fact is I don't know what to feel."

  He looked shocked to me all right, over-controlled the way men got after battle. "You being her first husband and all," I prompted. He took a while to answer.

  "I don't know. That wasn't Norma Jeane. This job I see dead people plenty. Men, women, children, all sorts, and I don’t recognise any of them."

  "People change. I guess Marilyn must have."

  "Never knew anyone called Marilyn." Jimmy Dougherty looked at me, decided how much he wanted to say. "Didn’t see the girl I married when I looked at that corpse. That wasn’t the kid I knew out of the LA orphanage. The one cooked for me Sundays after we got back from church. I married her and she was Norma Dougherty. But who was Marilyn Monroe? I never knew. All that came after. Maybe deep down somewhere something took over."

  "She must have changed herself along the way."

  "Norma and me were just four or five years in a different lifetime. Seemed like it was gonna be forever when we took the vows."

  "You and her. No one knows that part. Must have been before she was ever in the movies?"

  "At the end she went to Vegas so she could divorce me quick. We’d never even argued much or anything, no more than any couple ever did. Nevada’s got a six week residency requirement, only forty-two consecutive days that’s all they ask which she faked to get it through faster. Well, we were young." Doherty ate donut like it was an unpleasant job someone had to do. "You watch that show The Outer Limits?"

  "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," I said.

  He made no comment.

  "It's a story the studio publicity machine must have sat on tight. A first marriage before DiMaggio. You could have sold that story a hundred times over."

  "Nobody's damn business except mine."

  From his tone it was unwise and unnecessary to ask if the studio had paid him to keep quiet.

  "You weren’t a cop back then? I’ve known cops it affected their relationships."

  Dougherty shook his head. His thick, dark hair was beginning to grey at the temples. "I’ve had a few different trades in my time. Back then towards the end of the War I joined the Merchant Marine. Shipped out on the China run, made some long trips, went on to India, Africa. Saw a lot of strange and exotic docksides. A man's work and his home are different places."

  "I talked to the Lieutenant about Tommy Guppy. You ever know him when he was in the department?"

  "Not really. I heard of him though."

  I shrugged my shoulders. "He was another got married in the war. Ended in divorce. Happens a lot."

  "You drift apart. Move on. Get involved in different things."

  "You never wanted to be an actor?"

  "Me? Half the LAPD is biding time hoping to break into show business. Not me. I never did." He paused, eyes focused elsewhere. "When I married Norma, she was sixteen and she didn’t have any of those ideas in her head either, but the same year Pearl Harbour was attacked. This was way before I was a sailor even, I was making steady money working at the Lockheed airplane factory in the sheet metal department running a shaper and a drop hammer. Believe me work picked up when those government war orders started coming in. Now you want a freak coincidence I’ll tell you something. My partner was a guy named Robert Mitchum. Lifetime ago."

  "So I heard."

  "When the guys at the Precinct talk how they’re gonna sell their script to some producer or make it big with their next audition that’s all I tell them, I used to work next to Robert Mitchum on the line in the Lockheed factory. That pleases the hell out of them."

  "Land of opportunity if they get the breaks."

  The diner door opened behind him and a couple more uniformed cops came in. Jimmy glanced round at them as they shouted for food.

  "You ain't gonna tell anyone about Norma and me?"

  "Not me. I heard Robert Mitchum claims she didn't show much sign of what she'd turn into. Way he talked you’d think at the time she was a shy, plain girl."

  "Mitchum says she was plain? Just shows never believe an actor. Even back then he was hungry to be a star, lot of ambition whatever he says. Bob'd be too vain to put his spectacles on."

  "You've a generous view of human frailty, Jimmy."

  Dougherty held his cup out to a passing waitress for a refill of black coff
ee. He said thank you politely then stirred in four spoons of sugar and concentrated on making it dissolve.

  "She'd be seventeen at most when Bob Mitchum met her. Maybe he met her at most once or twice. He was a big man, maybe she would be shy with him. You understand Mitchum and me were never close friends. We just worked together so him and me got to be work pals is all. Norma, well she was no more than fifteen when we started dating. Still at Emerson Junior High and even then she was the prettiest girl in her class. No contest. You can look at her graduation photograph, no doubt about that. Me, I was twenty, but there never seemed any gap. Sometimes she'd call me Daddy. She was living with good folk, the Goddards, they’d fostered her, but she didn't like being dependant, all she wanted was to set up home on her own."

  I’d seen Marilyn star with Mitchum a decade later in River of No Return, a film where the chemistry between them was so wooden the raft they were riding downstream was upstaging them.

  "Hard to imagine, her running a home like normal people."

  Jimmy Dougherty sipped coffee without showing much appreciation. "People forget she was a real person. She was just a regular girl. We got married soon as she turned of age. The Goddards gave us a real nice wedding." Jimmy looked up at me. For a moment he had the implacable eyes of a cop. "I know all the stories about Marilyn Monroe. Most of them there's no truth, no truth at all. People tell lies. She was a virgin when I married her."

  I nodded like I'd never thought anything else.

  "Norma wasn't even that much interested in show business. She'd be at the Christian Science church more often than the movies."


  "Most people go to church," Jimmy said patiently. "She just did ordinary things. She kept house and she was a good cook. She liked to do things like mix up the peas and carrots because it was bright colours on the plate, she claimed she invented that combination, I wouldn’t know. Weekends we'd do all sorts of things, shoot, fish, swim, boat. We went to Catalina, she got seasick. We were outdoor people. Vacationed at Big Bear Lake. She always wanted a dog so I bought her a collie, same breed as Lassie. And she was good with children in spite of she'd only seen her own mother once in ten years, used to play with my sister's kids like she was one of them."

  "What happened, Jimmy?"

  "The war I guess. Changes things. She got employment at the Radio Plane defense plant over Burbank way. She was a glue sprayer, and a good one at that, won a certificate of excellence."

  "Sounds like she was special even then."

  "Matter of fact some of the people on the line didn't like it on account she made them look slack, but Norma never did a job by half, it wasn't in her nature. One day a reporter from Yank magazine came along taking pictures of American women contributing to the war effort. She spent three days posing for pictures around the place. They seemed to think she had the image they wanted."

  "Not the one you wanted though?"

  "By this time I'd quit the factory myself and joined the Merchant Marine like I said. I came back from a long trip and found she'd dyed her hair and sold our silver cutlery to pay the Blue Book Model Agency to represent her."

  "She got the bug."

  "I didn't like it much but being away at sea there wasn't much I could do. The war was just over and the defence jobs all dried up. Then her mother Gladys turned up back in LA about that time as well, lived with friends though how she kept them with her being so cold I never knew, they were Christian folk I suppose. And you'd think having her mother back would bring Norma down to earth but that's when she started talking about being an actress, even though her modelling wasn't covering her expenses. She was signing up for drama lessons, speech training, dance classes. Blaming not getting any breaks on the movie studios not wanting to employ married women in case they got pregnant."

  "You said mother? I though wasn't Norma Jean an orphan?"

  "Might as well been. Sad truth is her mother more or less gave her away as a baby. Gladys might re-appear for a couple of months every few years while Norma was growing up but never enough to make a difference. The reason Norma spent time in the County orphanage was because she had no one to care for her and nowhere else to go until she got fostered by the Goddards. But Gladys was alive then, even if she wasn’t kicking, being a dour, miserable woman. I don’t know when or how she died if that's the case. Must have been after my time."

  The diner door opened again and more cops came in. Dougherty looked at the big watch on his strong wrist then gulped what was left of the hot coffee down. He stood up and pulled his nightstick round on his belt.

  "Jimmy, you ever wonder what if?" I asked.

  Dougherty didn't even think about it, just a quick shake of his head, voice solid and inarguable. "Take some good advice, Mr Watson. There's no such thing as what if. Never was or will be. There's only what is."

  I nodded "A small world, that’s what is."

  "Ain’t small enough I can understand it."



  North to Oregon as bleak as anything you’d expect. Tommy Junior had his bones in traction and his lacerations all bandaged up after he’d gone through the windscreen, and Tommy Guppy senior was in a coma in Intensive Care after the steering wheel had gone through his chest.

  The city hospital was an hour's drive off the Interstate. A small place just four storeys high and covering the block only by adding plenty of parking tarmac. Inside everything was clean and efficient apart from the waiting room where bent tin ashtrays overflowed with the stink of despair.

  They let Sherri sit with her son but I had to go over to the County Sheriff’s office to sign for the personal possessions the cops had pulled out of the car.

  I checked through an inventory of wallet, keys, the cylinder of bank-wrapped coins Tommy kept for fist fights, the usual pocket stuff. It was an office you could reach out and touch both walls if you felt like disturbing the dust on the wanted posters and the deputy and me shared a desk used for other things. "Where’s his luggage?" I asked.

  The deputy shook his head. "No luggage. You any idea where he was going?"

  "Canada. That’s a long way without a change of clothes."

  "Assuming they were on a trip it seems they were travelling light. I'm sorry."

  "He was heading straight for Canada. Planning on a long stay."

  "Well, I have to tell you with a lot of alcohol in his bloodstream, sir."

  "He must’ve had a suitcase of stuff for Tommy Junior. A toothbrush. Jeans and Sunday best. T shirts. Most times he was away he’d use a brown cardboard valise he’d throw in the trunk."

  "That much alcohol, maybe he wasn’t making plans as well he might."

  "How would you react I suggested someone drove them off the road then stole his goddam suitcases?"

  He opened his mouth but thought a moment before using it. "That really doesn’t happen in these parts, no sir."

  "Not you’d like to admit to. You check tyre marks? Debris down the highway?"

  "He had enough alcohol in him there’s no reason to be looking for any bizarre explanation for the crash."

  "That’s what I thought you’d say."

  "Well, then you were right, sir. He'd sunk enough booze to bring down a rhino." The deputy took a deep breath like he was trying to deal with an unreasonable person. "You know one of the things we like about our community here is we're someways off the beaten track. Mr Guppy drove up from Truckee on California State Highway 89 then east on Oregon Highway 66 probably heading for Klamath. It's a scenic route but it ain't the best way to Canada from Los Angeles by a good many hundreds of miles."

  "You take that much interest in the route of every traffic accident?"

  "You buy gas, sir, you leave a trail the police can follow."

  "Can follow but mostly don't. Not if you're uninterested the way you're saying you're not."

  "What happened was your sister made a complaint t
hat Mr Guppy had abducted their child. California Highway Patrol picked up his trail in Truckee and when it became apparent he'd most likely crossed the State line they made contact with the Oregon State Police."

  "So the police of two States are hot on his tail and you don't pick him up until you find the wreck of his car? Maybe someone else told you to track him for other reasons?"

  "Look sir, I know they don’t hold out much hope, but I’d like to express my best wishes for your brother-in-law’s recovery. You keep praying for him it’ll help. And be reassured your nephew’s going to be real well looked after until you can move him nearer home."

  He was a decent man, the deputy. All the same I didn’t thank him. He offered to drive me back to the hospital. I accepted the kindness because I didn’t want Sherri on her own any longer than could be avoided, but they still wouldn’t let me on the ward. So I waited filling the tin ashtray while Sherri sat by her son’s bed.

  We did a lot of waiting that afternoon and evening. There was a stack of old and well-used magazines in the hospital waiting room. I picked up an issue of Life. The headline on the cover promised, "How You Can Survive Fallout."

  It was a special issue. Inside there were articles about the failed summit with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and the Berlin Wall going up. Information was given on how to build fallout shelters, where to hide in cities, and what to do during a nuclear attack. John F. Kennedy published a letter of introduction.


  A message to you from the President

  The White House

  September 7, 1961

  My Fellow Americans:

  Nuclear weapons and the possibility of nuclear war are facts of life we cannot ignore today.

  The security of our country and the peace of the world are the objectives of our policy. In these dangerous days when both objectives are threatened we must prepare for all eventualities.

  The government is moving to improve the protection afforded you in your communities through civil defense. We are providing fallout shelters in federal buildings. We are stocking these shelters with food, medical supplies and water. I have recommended to the Congress the establishment of food reserves around the country where they might be needed following an attack. We are developing improved warning systems which will make it possible to sound attack warning on buzzers right in your homes and places of business.

  In the meantime there is much that you can do to protect yourself and strengthen your nation.

  John F. Kennedy


  I read about half the issue before I took a break to check the signs in the corridor outside, reassuring myself which way they pointed to the hospital's basement shelter.

  I considered stealing the magazine to take back for Sol, make him feel justified for spending the money on his pool-house bunker. I rolled it up but it was too big for my pocket and anyway Sol was a literate man, he'd have read it last September when it first came out. I let Life unroll and dropped it on the table.

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