Watching Marilyn, p.24Jack Chapman
Sol Marx paid for the ticket that flew me up to Portland and for the hire car I drove across state to the hospital. He was a generous man but he balked at the cost of a private ambulance to bring TJ back from Oregon, and the way the kid was plastered they couldn't fit him in a scheduled airplane without breaking something new.
It was no part of Sol’s commission but I needed to see Tommy Guppy first. That became a problem. They had moved him from the ward and when I asked at the desk if that meant he was any better a nurse looked at her notes, shrugged and said you’d have to check with the doctors. I asked if that meant he was worse but she only stared at the notes like they didn’t mean much to her, made the same motions with head and shoulders and repeated the same thing. When I asked where he was now all she’d say was he couldn’t be allowed visitors. I pressed for the information, she showed no interest or co-operation until I got loud and threatened her with a habeus corpus subpoena which was nonsense but she didn’t know that either. She directed me to a private room on another floor without suggesting I had a nice day and when I asked again if a private room meant he was any better or any worse she mumbled some pretext she believed he was getting special treatment because he was a war veteran.
Tommy turned out anything but better. There were two people at the bedside, both looked round fast and annoyed when I opened the door. He was wearing a different outfit but I recognised Jesus Diaz. The first time I'd seen Diaz was in the uniform of a Calneva barman. What he was wearing now was a smart Washington suit. The tall, stooped man beside him had on the white coat of a hospital doctor, he held a large hypodermic.
"What the hell are you doing?" I asked.
"Did wonder if we’d see you here, Frank, but I heard you’d gone back home," Diaz said like an old friend.
"What the hell?" I insisted.
Diaz spread his hands wide. "Like you’re just visiting, right?"
"I got some questions to ask him. What about you?"
"Same thing, Frank."
Flat on the bed Tommy Guppy lay unconscious. There was a tube up his nose and a bigger one down his throat, wires taped to his chest between the bandages snaked off to a box that drove an untidy green line on a monitor. "Looks like both of us are out of luck," I said.
I pointed at the white coated man.
"This guy might solve our problem," Diaz said by way of introduction.
"Maybe we should talk in private. I could find some questions for you as well."
"You can ask all you want. The doc’s on our side. He’s reliable."
I looked for a name badge but there was nothing on the white coat. He was an older man, taller than he first appeared with his stoop, one of those angular, well-used faces that hadn’t spent too much time under hospital neon. "Are you Mr Guppy’s regular doctor?"
"We have the full co-operation of Mr Guppy’s medical team." A voice used to its own way. He held the large hypodermic impatiently.
"Don’t tell me it’s to do with veterans?"
He glanced at Diaz. "I won’t tell you anything."
"What’s going on here?"
"The doc’s gotta give Guppy a shot. Then we can all of us ask questions, maybe get some answers."
"What sort of shot?"
"Wake-up juice," the man in white said.
"Blind me with science."
"Frank’s been around," Diaz reassured the medic.
"Cocktail of benzedrine, lysergic diethylamide and sodium pentothal."
"I never heard of that being a cure for a car wreck."
"It’s illegal, right?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. What class of judge can you afford?"
"You wouldn’t believe the friends I have in high places."
"You talking about the has-been VP?" Diaz sneered.
"He has contacts still," trying to sound certain. "Who’s authorised the CIA pumping mind-altering drugs into citizens?"
"Nixon’s down. They wouldn’t listen to him."
"He'll bounce back, he's a rubber man," not believing it. "You’re exposed here, Diaz. Operating outside the boundaries."
"Join forces, Frank, an alliance of expedience. Guppy stole the red book from you at Calneva. We all need to find out what he’s done with it."
"That junk could kill him."
"Any experimental drug is risky, Frank. But Guppy’s in a coma, he won't come out. He’s sliding away, nothing anyone can do to stop that. The only choice is whether he’s conscious or unconscious while the inevitable proceeds. Worst can happen it burns him out and we got incoherent junk instead of what we're after, but this is national security. You know how well that pays."
The doc started tapping his hypo with his fingernail, looking at the two of us like we were wasting his time.
I was in no hurry to come to a decision but eventually I had to say something. "Okay. He made no sense when he was sober, try him when he's stoned."
The doc stuck his needle in like a Mexican matador. Nothing happened for a while.
"You being here must mean the red book wasn’t in the suitcase," I said to Diaz.
"That one you stole from the wreck after you drove Guppy off the road."
"You don’t really think that was me, Frank?"
"Well, if I did I’d put a bullet in your guts. You might have suggested it to someone else though and they did it."
Diaz shook his head, "You’ve got a bad imagination, it’s a product of a violent culture."
"I’ve got a nephew, thirteen years old, can’t walk anymore."
The CIA medic watched the green line on the monitor. After a couple of minutes he pulled the tube out of Tommy’s throat, let it drop to the floor, and started slapping Tommy’s face. A minute or two more and Tommy opened his eyes, half choked, and shouted at him. What he shouted was mostly incoherent, otherwise obscene. His pupils were dilated and his eyes rolled around. The doc picked up a smaller hypo and gave him another shot.
Tommy still didn’t move apart from his eyes and mouth but some intelligence surfaced from the subconscious chaos. "The fuck," he mumbled to the room in general.
"Mr Guppy? How many fingers am I holding up?" the medic asked loudly.
"Fuck you," Tommy’s answer seemed rational enough. He moved his eyes across the three of us and back to me. His voice was thick. After a couple of false starts he whispered "What the fuck’s happened, Frank?"
I moved the man in the white coat aside and leant over the bed. "Someone ran you off the road, Tommy."
Panic hit him. His memory was back. "Junior?"
I pushed him back down before the wires on his chest ripped off. "He’s okay. He’s fine," I lied.
"We need to ask a few questions, Mr Guppy," the medic said loudly from behind me.
"Get Junior here," Tommy wheezed. Without the tube down his throat his chest wasn't working right.
"You have to answer some questions first," the medic gave up trying to get round me and moved to the other side of the bed.
Tommy was getting better control over his throat. He shot back a string of abuse. Veins bulged in his neck and temples.
I looked at Diaz who had the grace to seem embarrassed. I motioned with my head. Diaz took the doctor by the arm and said "We’ll leave these guys here to talk in private. That okay with you. Frank? We’ll be outside. You know the questions. Let us know how things turn out."
I nodded and waited until the door shut on them.
"Where’s Junior?" Tommy demanded.
"He’s okay. He’s just not here right now."
"Sherri took him back?"
"She’s got the right, you know that, Tommy."
"Got no right to take him away from me."
"Yeah, I'll talk to her. You're his father, he ought to spend time. I'll talk to her," I
"I'd appreciate that," said Tommy suddenly weak like the effort was too much. "I'd appreciate just for once you stood up for what's right and beat some consideration into the goddamn whore."
"Whatever. I'll talk to her about Junior."
"You’re a good friend, Frank." Tommy Guppy tried getting up from the bed and got nowhere. "I don’t feel too good."
"I’ll be straight, Tommy. You’re not good."
"Uh huh." He stared at the ceiling for a while. "I let you down, Frank."
"Yeah. You could make it up some, best you can, you could tell me about it, you got nothing to lose now, Tommy."
"Who were those fuckers just went out? That the spick from Calneva?"
"Don’t worry about them. I’ll look after it."
Tommy tried to raise an arm but had to give up. "Time to be straight with each other, Frank?"
"While there’s time. I’d prefer you told me instead of I have to ask."
He thought for a while. "Then something else I need you to do for me. That book we were looking for, I never said, but truth is I found it."
"Marilyn’s cabin. Calneva. You stole the red book."
"How’d you know that?"
"You didn’t have to slug me over the head, Tommy. It was unnecessary."
"It was dark, Frank. I thought you were one of those Italians."
"I’m the wrong build entirely, but I’ll put the mistake down to thoughtlessness."
"Had no choice, Frank."
"This an idea of your own? Or was someone paying you?"
"Other than your friend Scalligan who claims to be the studio?"
"Like the Company who are showing a lot of interest, or the mafia who certainly noticed you."
"Hell. Why does there have to be a choice? They're all the same people. You know that."
"Where is it now?"
Tommy coughed and something rattled in his throat. "What you want it for? To sell it to Scalligan?"
"We parted company. Not that you were in any way right about him."
"I promised Marilyn," I told Tommy.
Tommy sneered even though the effort hurt him. His eyes went elsewhere like he’d just noticed something that scared him. He ebbed out of consciousness for a frozen moment then something kicked him back. "So you'd be the first man to promise her something and not deliver?"
"That’s what I told her. I said I'd put all the broken dreams back together."
"And what’s your promise worth, Humpty?"
I took it as rhetorical. The words were slurred. He was starting to look bad, grey skin and blue lips. The green line was jumping all over the monitor.
"How do you feel, Tommy?"
"Top of the world," Tommy muttered. "Top of the world." He arched his back in a violent spasm. His voice choked on whatever he was trying to tell me.
"What did you do with it? Where’s the red book now, Tommy?" I asked.
Tommy Guppy fell back and didn’t say any more even when the Company doctor came into the room and played around with his eyelids.
"You killed him," I said.
The quack looked at me and the craggy features turned nervous. "I adjusted the timing slightly," he protested.
Jesus Diaz put a hand on my arm. "Hey. Don’t pretend you don’t know the risks when we pump someone with that stuff. You never thought it wouldn’t kill him, Frank. At least be straight about it. He make a death-bed statement?"
"Like you don’t have the room bugged, Jesus?"
"Hey, only asking from consideration, ‘cos I trust you. Don’t get mad at me, pal."
I didn't take it any further. If Tommy Guppy had ever made it to Canada with TJ he'd only have run from one drunk day to another until finally Sherri and the Mounties extradited him and he ended up in jail taking out his liver with fermented shoe polish. He'd been my friend once and now was gone and that was an end. One death or another made no difference to the final count. Few men meet it with dignity but it was best to avoid going in shame.
I took a last look at my best friend. There are people that have secrets and people that can't keep them. Tommy just did his best in a rotten world. Cheated on me, cheated on my sister, lied to himself. To best of my knowledge what was between him and his kid had never been tarnished.
I went to find TJ. I wouldn't tell him about his father just yet.
Watching Marilyn by Jack Chapman / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes