Watching Marilyn, p.23Jack Chapman
DiMaggio was a gracious host but didn't offer to drive me back to where I'd left my Chrysler. I walked out the gates onto Fifth Helena. They'd parked the black limo twenty yards down the street. One of the heavy-set men in dark suits and shades opened the rear door and the other took my elbow and guided me in.
We drove the familiar route down Sunset onto Stone Canyon Boulevard to the Bel-Air Hotel. Inside the grounds the air as usual was perfume-soaked from the flower beds piled under the palm trees. The birds sang loud enough to overwhelm any lingering traffic noise from the Boulevards. We headed for one of the bungalows that afforded that maximum privacy the rich and powerful demand. I recognised it as the same one in which Ronald Reagan had entertained me. In single file we circled the fountain in the middle of the courtyard and navigated between the pink camellia bushes. The suits opened the bungalow door like we were expected, pushed me in politely but stayed outside themselves. Curtains heavy enough to blanket the late afternoon sun were drawn across the windows. The main room lights were switched off but there was a glare from a single bulb directed into my eyes to make it hard to see just who and what was waiting for me in the room.
Same as everyone else in this town he imagined he was an actor. In the shadow behind the angle-poise lamp he had pointing in my face he rustled papers turned over loud for theatrical effect. He kept at it a while making out he was using his x-ray vision to read in the dark back there while he just hadn’t noticed me in the pool of light. I shuffled across the carpet and sat on a sofa against the wall. It was a deep sofa and comfortable like everything at the Bel Air. Eventually he considered he'd waited long enough to justify me relaxing off-guard.
"How’d you descend into this line of work, Watson?"
"Saved hard, studied a cheap mail-order course. Where's your excuse, Jack?"
"Before I hired you I looked up your file. You have some history," Jack Scalligan told me.
"So you know I sleep in a crumpled suit, drink liquor for breakfast, beat up broads without ever stopping to think?"
"You don’t shave too well either."
I shrugged. "Sorry, that's an advanced topic." My eyes were adapting, Scalligan was sitting in an armchair with a leather briefcase on his lap. Today he was wearing the government-issue dark suit over a white shirt that was dimly luminous in the gloom. As yet I couldn't make out his shoes.
"Maybe the naive approach is why you had your licence rescinded by the city authorities," Scalligan said.
"Okay, that sums up my credentials. Does this finally blow your cover, Jack? I never thought the studio publicity angle carried conviction."
"One way or another we all work for Uncle Sam. You used to have a career, Frank. Maybe you could still use a friend with influence where it matters."
"So I can have the licence back?"
"That all you want?"
"I don't know. I'd have to work on the options. What else is on offer?"
"You understand the issue? I mean what we’re dealing with here?"
"If you’re still paying for my time, Jack, I’ll understand anything you want me to."
"You understand we can’t let the President be brought down."
"Sure you could."
I waited for Scalligan to disagree then when he didn’t I reached over and turned the angle-poise lamp back so I could see his face. The lamp was gold-plated. Jack’s face was stony.
"Just between the two of us, I know you’ll treat this discussion in confidence, didn’t Kennedy put your people in the Bay of Pigs then throw them away out of political expediency? Isn’t he the man who promised Navy support but held it back while Castro ground your Cuban friends to dog meat? Left the CIA smelling shit? Am I playing the devil’s advocate?"
"You think I work for the CIA, Frank?"
"Last time I was in this room it was occupied by an ex-Vice President. I can draw conclusions."
Jack shook his head. "There are things you don’t appreciate. You don't get it at all."
"About you being a spook?"
"About me? Is that Twentieth Century Fox so concerned, or the Company?"
"I don't work for the goddamed CIA, Watson, or the studios." He reluctantly put his briefcase on the floor, reached in his jacket pocket and flapped open his badge.
"You've worn so many different outfits, Jack, you had to be in some disguise."
"J. Edgar Hoover's worried. That's bad news. He wants the red book. He wants it now."
"From what's in Monroe's will I'd guess it legally belongs to her acting coach."
"You got a copy of the will?"
"I read it. A man by the name of Lee Strasberg, theatrical type out of New York, gets a whole lot of things including anything isn't specifically bequeathed elsewhere. I'd guess that covers her diary assuming it exists."
"The red book exists. Keep your story consistent, Watson. You admitted you saw it at Calneva. So where is it now?"
"If I was the FBI I'd search her house."
"You know well as I do we’ve had LAPD all over that place since she died. They didn't find it, it ain't there. Frankly we‘d be very concerned to discover anyone who had it was planning to make public use of it."
"Anyone concerned about the First amendment? Didn’t that make keeping a diary a constitutional right?"
Stone face still.
"Or was that one about bearing muskets against King George?"
"That’s the second. Just accept we need a strong President right now." Sounding he was convincing himself as much as me.
I sank back on the luxurious Bel-Air sofa. "The man talks strong all right. He may have gone a tad too far for decent folk the day he said guns came before colour televisions. What sort of a vote-grabber was that for a US President? But times change and politicians don't always mean what they say. I see a lot of colour television sets in the stores lately."
"The nation’s under threat, Watson. Grave threat. So we all of us have a duty, a solemn obligation to stand up for our elected leader. Like him or otherwise as an individual, in times of crisis that’s irrelevant."
"I guess you need to be certain where your loyalties lie. And why not be loyal to a two-faced hypocrite hiding behind all the power his hoodlum father bought him. I hear J. Edgar likes a handle on his Presidents."
"You imagine you were a particular friend of Miss Monroe?"
"Is that your business?"
"That's right it’s my business. Everything‘s my business. When I looked up your record, Watson, to see if you were the man for this job of ours, things got noticed. Like when you were stationed in Havana - you still have friends in Cuba?"
"You mean since the revolution? Would that be illegal?"
"Probably. I wonder if Señor Diaz told you what they’ve got over there now?"
"What’s left over there now the Mafia’s come home? I hear it's just the candy rock mountains and cigar trees."
"Cheap lyrics, that what they taught you?"
"Cheap songs can hide a lot of tears, Jack. Assuming I had knowledge of Cuba it would be mountains of sugar they can‘t sell, fields of rotting tobacco since our President put on the sanctions."
"They’ve got Russian technicians. Know what they’re doing?"
"Smoking too many cigars, ruining their teeth."
"Our friends in the military, their U2s overfly the island. Daily basis, twelve miles up, taking photographs. What they're doing, the commies are building missile bases."
"Those ships come over from the Soviet Union? Out of the Arctic ports, across the Atlantic, down the Caribbean. They’ve been carrying warheads, Frank. Megaton nukes. H bombs. They’re putting them on launch pads 90 miles out from Florida."
That gave me pause for thought. "I can see how that might be a concern if you plan on retiring to an East Coast condo, or even just bank in the Bah
"No one is to know this, you understand? They've shipped in 32 nuclear warheads."
"Well I certainly don’t want to break bad news."
"Ever watch the footage they shot in Hiroshima?"
"Just to spell it out real clear, the situation, our President is working night and day to stop this country falling over the edge. Trying to hold back World War Three and nuclear oblivion. Trusting to God and the Hot Line we don’t see mushroom clouds. And you, Mr Watson, you think now’s the time we should distract his attention with a sex scandal?"
"Put it that way it might be inopportune, out in the open under the circumstances. Hoover would lose his edge. But since you mention the delicate question, why did you hire me in the first place? Don’t the FBI plant their own bugs these days?"
"You want us to set out to tape the President screwing his mistress on an official basis? Open a case file and end up having some court scrutinise if we've followed due process? What kind of a moron are you, Frank? "
I had to think about it. "What exactly do you want me to do?"
"Give me the red book."
"What red book?"
"I trust you know your duty, Frank."
"What makes you think I've got the book?"
"Because no one else has."
This was getting too big. Marilyn dead and the world’s neck in the hands of the man might be responsible. I stood up. "You want to turn the room lights on now so I can find the door?"
He let me walk in the semi-dark. Before I got to the door I turned "One thing puzzles me, Jack. You're saying I should do this because I’m a patriot, to save the President?"
"Aren’t you a patriot?"
"If I knew what it meant. My problem is, after I got past the studio publicity smokescreen, you know, when I had you as a spook instead of a Fed, I also had you working for Nixon. Nothing I've heard so far changes my mind."
"These days he’s retired. Even if he was in elected office the FBI reports to the Attorney-General, not the Vice President."
"That's right. But an ex-VP might still have close links to the CIA. On the other hand loyalties change. These days he’s a pal of Ronald Reagan, Screen Actors Guild activist with a record of FBI cooperation. They met when Reagan was a friendly witness to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Coincidence or linkage? Nixon, Reagan, FBI. Only two degrees of separation and Hoover remembers his friends."
"Loyalty belongs to power. You’d have to assume Nixon could bounce like rubber."
"You’d have to hope the Kennedy brothers get sunk with lead boots. Or a sex scandal might do as well. But then just for instance the way Bobby's Justice Department has been hounding the FBI to racially integrate, that kind of thing and a dozen other demands, there's no love lost. Help me out of my confusion. Am I wrong?"
Scalligan thought about it. "You usually are, Frank. But no one scores a hundred per cent."
"Did you know about this?" Sherri was still full of anger and suspicion, not ready to give anyone the benefit of the doubt, especially not me. In Oregon she had been shocked into silence but back home she'd had time to get paranoid.
"Did Tommy tell you he was going to kidnap TJ?"
"Did he tell you and you didn’t let me know?"
I looked at the steel-eyed poster of John Glenn in the NASA spacesuit that TJ had pinned to his bedroom wall alongside a glossier LP cover of Brenda Lee. Major Glenn was another ex-Marine who back in February had orbited around the world three times in less than it was going to take me to get back to Oregon.
"You sure, Frank?"
"Honest to God, Sherri." I was looking to get hold of the suitcase she was packing for TJ’s trip home and then get out of there. A change of pyjamas and a dressing gown was all the kid needed but that’s a mother. She was packing enough for a month and was in no mood to hand anything over without making me sweat for it.
"He must have planned it. And you'd know about it, right? You must have. Tommy was lousy at keeping secrets."
"Yeah, well I always thought the guy opened up to me too. But this time I don't know, lately he’s been more stressed-out than ever. Acting unpredictable. He had some daydream about the wilderness, Canada, anyplace with no people, but I never took him all that seriously."
"He had no right to take TJ without my permission. No right at all."
"He loves that boy, Sherri. Maybe TJ’s the last thing in the world he does still love. You know he’d never hurt the kid."
"Every bone in his body’s broken!" Sherri screamed.
I thought better about correcting the exaggeration. I just tried to put an arm around her. She shook me off.
"Tommy’d never do anything intentional to hurt TJ. You know that. He’s just a stupid son of a bitch. Fact is, if you want my honest opinion, I don’t think he ever wanted to hurt you either, Sherri. He was just lost and mixed up and the booze makes him do things."
"You don’t know the half of it," Sherri spat.
"I don’t want to. It’s not my business."
"And you call Tommy stupid? You defending him? What a pair of morons the both of you make. You think he was your friend, Frank?"
"He tried best he could."
There was an ugly expression on Sherri’s red-eyed face. Behind the tears she looked spiteful, bitter, vindictive, like revenge was all there was left that hadn’t leaked out of her.
"You know what went wrong between Tommy and me, Frank?"
"I don’t want to know."
"About time you faced some reality, Frank.
"That's what Sol told me. You two in some conspiracy?"
"Tommy was fucking Carmen Guiteras."
She slammed the suitcase shut and made a lot of noise running it down the stairs. At the bottom she threw it in the hall and kept on going. I followed at a more deliberate pace into the kitchen and watched her pour herself a gin from the cupboard they stored the drinks. She kept her back to me facing the wall of shiny gadgets, gulping the booze. I grabbed her arm to turn her. "What the hell are you saying?"
"He played around with the girl of your dreams, Frank. That's the friend he is."
Sherri was bitter but there was no call for that. She looked nervous about what she'd said but defiant.
"Not Tommy. Other people used her. Took advantage of her."
"She ran in dangerous company. She knew the risks but ambition was everything. She used Tommy for protection, Tommy used her for something else. It was a mutual arrangement."
"You asked him to look after her, didn't you? Trusted him. He looked after her all right."
"Little girl in the big city."
"You ever pull the wings off a fly, Sherri?" I took the gin bottle off her and filled myself a tumbler.
"She trashed her own life and she trashed everything around her. And you and Tommy let yourselves get dragged down by her like the pathetic fools you are."
"You never knew Carmen, not the real person," I said.
"First couple of months after she arrived here from Cuba we were doing everything for the bitch. Looking after her like you wanted us to. Finding her a place to live, having her over to diner meeting people. Trouble was though, the kind of people Tommy could introduce her to didn't ride horses and weren't in show business, so she couldn't care less. She left us alone for a while, then later when she found she'd sold too much of herself to people who wanted more, and their promises were worthless, and the louse she was running with was more a mediocre pimp than an unsuccessful agent, that was when she discovered a heavy in the police department could be useful. She started sleeping with Tommy about the time he made detective grade."
"Of course she never had any real interest in him. He couldn’t do anything for her movie career. So she kept whoring with other men and he didn’t like that. The louse was drunk one night and crying with self-pity, Frank. He told me he loved her. He really expected me to feel sorry for him. Can you believe it? He wanted his wife to comfort him over his mistress having affairs with other men. Junior was six at the time. It made me sick to realise I’d married a man as weak as that."
"Did Tommy ever give Carmen a gun?"
"He spilled it all out to me, Frank, every sordid, foul detail. Like confession was good for the soul. She wanted him to do something about the way people treated her. So she got him to beat up a few of her clients who'd got rougher than they paid her for, and then he gave her a handbag gun to defend herself in case anyone tried again. The life she was leading that must have been like pissing in the wind."
"Do you know what happened to the gun, Sherri?"
"Every foul detail, Frank. She told Tommy she'd lost it, wanted him to give her another one. The way things were going by then even Tommy wasn't that crazy. He went looking for her agent, Hertzheimer? Slimeball, whatever he was called. First of all Hertzheimer claimed he took it off her, threw it away after she got threatening and suicidal one time, then when Tommy got more persuasive admitted she'd sold it to him for smack."
"She didn't need do any of what you're saying, Sherri. She had talent. Carmen had friends."
"Listen Frank, if they didn’t pump it out of her stomach the pushers didn’t stock it. She was a user, all her life, people, friendship, heroin. Took it in, crapped it out, whatever came her way, and in the end she used herself up. And that was the best thing she ever did."
Watching Marilyn by Jack Chapman / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes