Watching Marilyn, p.25Jack Chapman
Sooner or later people die on you. No matter how much you care, they grow cold. Always. Family, friends, lovers, they betray you. Love ends in acrimony.
In Hollywood Carmen networked a lot, signed with a tenth rate agent called Harry Hertzheimer, won a couple of lines as a sassy Brazilian maid in a low budget feature but ended on the cutting room floor. She sang in a few night-clubs, reached a pinnacle in the chorus line of the last but one musical Busby Berkley ever choreographed when he was almost forgotten except by the cops who kept arresting him for drunk driving. But Carmen was already getting old for the chorus. Mostly she performed on casting couches while the studios and bands and record companies never quite offered her a contract.
After a while she started to notice the same promises coming round a third or fourth time. Hertzheimer offered her the juice she needed to keep believing. She took to drink, drugs and the semi-professional prostitution of endless Hollywood parties, it was unclear in which order.
She got paranoid, especially when stoned, blaming her failure on her family's right-wing history. In the beginning she specifically suspected a vendetta by DesiLu Productions believing Desi must have discovered it was her Pop had thrown the elder Arnaz de Acha into Santiago clink back when Desi was 13 and his father was the Mayor. Later she swung towards a vast, nebulous conspiracy of Hollywood communists. She could hold to this one even when sober since half America held the same view. At last she found someone wanted her for something other than her body when the FBI approached her to be a paid informer. She added a few more names to the Hollywood blacklist, they didn't need much in the way of proof. She volunteered to give evidence to HUAC in '56 but a week before she was due to appear she was found dead. The coroner put it down to a heroin and alcohol overdose. I put it down to raised expectations.
That year civil war broke out in Cuba. It was another of those wars where everyone was on the wrong side.
I didn't go to Tommy Guppy's funeral. Not me, and Sherri kept his son and the wheelchair away assuming she told him. I heard a crowd of older guys from LAPD and the Marines went but that was just what they did for everyone had once been one of their own. The way it was, even Tommy would have found it hard to care he was dead. I gave it a couple of days to let the Company’s attention wander.
TJ looked pathetic, a real mess. In war I had seen casualties one side to the other of the Pacific but there’s a difference between men and kids. They had his neck locked into a big, ugly brace, his face carried tracks of crude, black stitching across purple-green bruises. His legs were broken in so many places they wouldn’t let him try crutches. I had to listen to another nose-in-the-air nurse give me the stupid-irresponsible lecture before she lent me a wheelchair to take him out for air. I kept polite but I was thinking Ben Casey would never leave a patient looking that fucking bad.
A hundred miles south and over the State line when I dared stop the station wagon to buy the kid food at a roadside diner the waitress gave him free ice cream and the customers who didn’t try to ignore him were getting ready to throw dollars in his lap. TJ didn’t say much but chewing was just another of his problems.
I got close on the highway outside of Truckee then relied on TJ's memory. Anyone said 13 year-old kids have a sense of direction lied. We used up hours detouring along every back road that halfway offered the suspension a chance before we finally lucked on a dirt track heading into the mountains that TJ recognised from a tree allegedly split by lightning.
The track got worse as it rose higher through the trees. The sky got darker. I was close to giving up and turning round but Junior was guiding the final approach with increasing conviction though it was more of a trip than he should have taken in his condition.
It was a rough-hewn log cabin almost hidden in the pines, looking at most two, three rooms inside, but bigger than the sawn-wood resort cabins at Calneva and built for a harsher environment. A porch in front, a lean-to at the side full of stuff that was chaotic in the way you knew the owner could place his hands directly on anything he wanted. There was bare earth packed with brown pine needles for a few yards around, a more extensive clearing on the slope went down to the fast stream where Tommy had taken Junior fishing, a long view that was trees and sky and nowhere near civilisation.
It was getting late in the day and cold that high up. I got him out of the car not telling if the tears in his eyes were from pain or memories so I kidded him it was the way I pushed his wheelchair over the boulders.
Up in the wilderness they didn’t have to care too much about crime but the cabin door was padlocked and TJ didn’t know which rock his father’s pal who owned the place hid the key under. I broke a pane in the window to effect entry and got TJ out of the cold of the altitude and the evening.
TJ was shivering enough to make his chair rattle. I found some blankets in a cupboard, nailed one over the broken pane then carried in logs from the lean-to and lit a fire. I couldn’t persuade the kid to eat anything other than a fresh donut and soda picked up from the roadside diner we’d stopped at. They were the trusting kind in the mountains, the owner had left tins of meat, soup and beans stacked in his store cupboard with a can-opener alongside. I wasn’t hungry either. As soon as it was time to light the oil lamp I lifted TJ into the lower bunk bed. When I heard he was asleep I broke out the medicinal whisky and sat looking at the flames in the stone fireplace. In other circumstances it might have looked warm but all it looked was bleak.
Dawn came eventually. Back at the store cupboard I looted a jar of instant coffee and a cardboard drum of milk powder, then had to go out and fetch water from the stream. It was cold outside in the early morning and I brought in more wood for the fire. Considered leaving some dollars for supplies but the types who had cabins up here were either liberal in their hospitality or they’d shoot you. I made TJ eat half a tin of beans. He was starting to look surly and resentful, I hoped that was an encouraging sign but it was socially uneasy.
I wanted to get the kid talking, "They got a radio here?"
He shook his head.
"That’s good, because all you’d want to listen to would be garbage."
"No, that’s you," he said.
"Where’s the buried treasure, TJ?"
"We broke in this cabin, took anything we wanted. When your pop wants to get away this is where he comes. If he needs to keep things safe here he wouldn’t leave them lying around. Not anything that was really valuable to him. Not where other people would find it. Now it’s up to us to get it back. How do you keep things hidden out here TJ? You’ve been before, you know the place like I don’t."
It took a while for both of us to get outside. I wrapped blankets around him. TJ directed me up the slope on a trail through the pines that was never intended for a wheelchair so that a lot of the way I found it easier to haul him backwards than to push him. I was breathing heavy and it came out in clouds of frozen condensation.
A couple of hundred yards further up the mountain there was a clearing where tree felling had recently been going on. Maybe a dozen trunks had been chain-sawed and split into logs stacked in regular piles. Off to the side was a heap of upper branches and evidence they’d disposed of the useless stuff by burning. I was sweating but the kid was looking pale and after I established it would be no quick result I piled dead branches, leaves and detritus onto their fire site and managed to get them alight. The wood was heavy with resin and gave out pungent smoke but it would keep TJ warm if it didn’t roast him.
"You got to be careful of starting a forest fire, Uncle Frank," TJ warned.
I stood back and looked at my handiwork. "It’ll be okay."
"Sure." TJ conveyed that on his previous visits he’d watched men who knew what they were doing.
I took the spade he’d been balanc
Three spade-lengths down I exhumed the box. It was a metal box, tinplate painted black, the sort meant for storing documents. It had gone a little rusty in places but the lock still kept it secure until I sprung it with the edge of the spade. Inside there was a book bound in red leatherette, about eight by six inches and three-quarters of an inch thick, it was the book from Calneva and inside the lined pages were filled with her untidy handwriting. I closed the book without reading more than a word or two because a .25 calibre Colt Vest Pocket semi-automatic lay beneath it.
I recognised that as well. It was the pistol Tommy killed Hertzheimer with. The pistol Sherri claimed he’d given to Carmen Guiteras. It kept turning up like a bad omen. With Lieutenant Keats on its trail as a murder weapon it hadn’t been clever of Tommy to keep it, but sentimentality was always a fault with him.
"I certainly appreciate you doin’ all this work for me, Frank."
It scared me, the voice coming out of nowhere. I froze, crouched by the hole while the adrenalin rush leaked into my nerves.
Diaz held a hunting rifle. Not aimed at me but not far off. He had come out of the trees on the uphill side of the clearing. He pointed at a log from a felled pine tree with the barrel of the rifle. "Leave the spade and take a seat, Frank."
I stood up and moved cautiously sideways away from the potential weapon, keeping the wheelchair out of any direct line of fire.
Diaz shrugged. "Okay. Don’t sit. I thought you could do with a rest, is all. While you’re on your feet throw that red book over here. Slow and careful. It’s a special thing."
"It’s not yours to take, Señor Diaz."
"It’s just a memento, my friend. Maybe one day a National Treasure. I can think of good reasons I should look after it." He hefted the rifle in emphasis. The front sight didn’t align as far as my belly but it was still the general direction.
"I haven’t come this far to give it to the CIA."
Diaz spread his arms in exasperation. "Who you doing this for, Frank? No one told you that Marilyn Monroe’s dead? She don’t care anymore."
"Maybe I care, Jesus."
"Nobody cares, Frank. Listen to me. The world moves on. Don’t you know they already got Doris Day signed to finish the picture Monroe fucked up? People forget real quick. They forget and then they don’t care any more."
It seemed a non-sequitor but talk was better than the other options. "Doris Day in Something’s Got To Give?"
Diaz kept watching me shift slowly around the camp-fire, knowing I was waiting for a chance I could jump him. He looked at the direction the acrid smoke was drifting then up at the wind in the tree tops. He grinned pleasantly and said "Sure. They re-casting. Doing a major re-write, no nude swim. Give it a new name ‘cos of all that bad publicity, they gonna call it Move Over Darling."
"Is this something to get serious over, Jesus? Is this worth killing for?"
"It’s the drug, Frank, fame, money, power. People want it enough they won’t let anything stand in their way." He lifted the rifle suddenly and fired. It was a high shot. On the opposite side of the clearing a dead Pine Marten fell out of a tree.
"You know this guy, Uncle Frank?" TJ sounded young, a frightened child.
I gave up hoping smoke would blow in Diaz’s eyes. I went over and wrapped the blankets tighter around TJ. "If you and me are going to discuss this, Diaz, I should get the kid back in the cabin first. Get him where it's warm."
Diaz could see just from looking the bad state TJ was in. He eyed the neck brace and plastered limbs, thought about it then nodded. "We can be professional about this. Leave the book."
When I returned Diaz was sitting on a rock, he still had his rifle in his right hand and was holding the red book up in his left, he hadn’t made it easy for himself to turn the pages.
I kept walking towards him and pulled out the Colt Pocket automatic I'd slipped inside TJ's blankets for concealment.
It took Diaz a moment to focus on what I was holding and then he laughed. "Now you’ve gone and surprised me, Frank. You didn’t have a gun on your person before, didn’t have one in that station wagon, and there wasn't one in the cabin. That’s a good trick to make it appear outta thin air. Like magic. If you believe in magic."
"Make your head disappear, that’s a good trick."
"You tryin’ to frighten me with a .25?"
"I'm gonna blow your head off."
He looked from what I was holding to what he was holding. He still looked amused. His was a Marlin 336, polished walnut stock, blue metal, locking bolt engaged and the safety off the hammer block. "Popgun against rifle. I wouldn't come any closer, Frank."
"Back in Cuba, did you know Carmen Guiteras?"
Nothing showed in his steady eyes. I still held the Colt pointed between them. "I never heard of her."
"Did your people kill Marilyn?"
"My people the Company? Put the popgun down and come back, Frank. Our people."
"Why the hell would they do that?"
"For what the diary reveals about the Kennedy affair. Get your hands on that evidence, one way or another it swings a lot of influence with a President who's considering whether he should disband the organisation after the Bay of Pigs."
"Seems to me, if I told you they had, and assuming they had, then the logic is they’d have to kill you as well."
"That a yes or a no, Diaz?"
"I’m pleading the Fifth. But that could be a smokescreen to conceal my innocence." He was working to convince me he was enjoying the excitement of the standoff, playing with words and intentions.
"Know which one’s the First?"
Diaz shrugged "Life, liberty and the pursuit of money, that’s the one I really know."
"First Amendment to the Constitution is freedom of expression. I had that straight from the FBI. Turns out the Second lets you bear arms to shoot anyone whose expression you don’t like."
"I want to think I’m a tolerant man, Señor Watson. How about you?"
"It gets harder every day, Mister Diaz. Throw the red book back to me."
"I already read some of it, Frank," Jesus Diaz said reasonably.
"Maybe so. But who's gonna believe a Cuban bartender?"
"Who'd want to shoot one either come to that? Especially with a pistol fires a powder-puff wouldn't stop me pulling the trigger of my hunting gun that can blow an elk in half."
"I wouldn’t shoot you in front of my nephew, and I wouldn’t want to get shot in front of him either. But he’s not here now and I know you’re a decent man, Diaz, doing a job same as anyone. So if you plan to pull the trigger on that rifle you’re going to have to look after the kid afterwards."
Diaz sighed and put the rifle on the ground, barrel pointed away. He tossed the red book to me. I let it hit my arm and fall to the ground before bending to pick it up. I kept the Colt level the whole time.
"Why don’t you read it, Frank. I can tell you the interestin’ pages. You keep it for a while. Sooner of later, if not me, someone else will come and take it back off you."
I held the book in one hand, the hand was shaking, the red cover felt dangerously numb like a high voltage insulator. I put it to my cheek for a moment and felt it cold and hot. I couldn't decide who had won here or what needed to be done next to win. I wanted to open the book to see her script and know her secrets. I tried to remember what she'd said to me but what was in my mind was Tommy Guppy taking Hertzheimer's bullet for me, and I was asking what Tommy would have done in this situation and I knew he'd have made a crazy stand that the world couldn't understand and somewhere deep inside it would be the decent thing to do.
I threw the red book into the flames of the camp fire.
I held the gun on Diaz while the fire turned the pages and consumed them one by one.
"That’s downright stupid," he said at last.
"Yeah. You showed some stupidity yourself back there, Jesus, a little humanity, some consideration for Tommy Junior. It’s a mistake, but it's a good mistake."
When only brittle carbon was left I stamped the memory into fragments before I pulled the cartridges from the Colt and the Marlin and threw them into the trees.
Diaz said goodbye like a true professional. He had no further interest here.
Watching Marilyn by Jack Chapman / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes