Watching Marilyn, p.5Jack Chapman
Reagan had driven over in a Cadillac convertible with the top down, cream-coloured with everything on show and well polished. Parked by the kerb after he’d dropped off little Patty Ann he sat behind the wheel leaning sideways and half-turned to me, arm draped over the side of the warm metal.
Sol and Sherri’s house wasn't a mansion but large enough and had a lawn in front looked after like a star’s toupee. For today Sol had cut and blow-dried the grass then someone had erected a bamboo arch in the middle and draped coloured light bulbs over it, an effect not enhanced by bright sunlight and the absence of an electricity supply. Even Sol had limitations and technology was among them. The front door stood open and the same Beach Boys 45rpm was serenading anyone who might be late arriving at Tommy Junior’s party.
"You mind I ask something, Mr Reagan?"
"Sure, pal," Reagan smiled like a regular, modest individual. He reached for his autograph-signing pen in the pocket of the short-sleeve plaid shirt he was wearing.
I shrugged an apology. "Some advice. Only I hear you have some experience in the field of politics."
Other than he was sitting down in a Cadillac he looked much as he did in Death Valley Days on television every week and his wavy, dark hair brylcreamed to stay in place in the slipstream was every bit as impressive as Sol claimed. "Heck, I’m no expert. You know how it goes. Lot of candidates like a Hollywood endorsement. Don’t mean we know squat."
I was standing on the sidewalk, hands in pockets so as not to leave marks on his chrome. "Democrat, right?"
"Past tense. I moved on." He shook his head searching for a better profile. "No, my Pa used to be a Roosevelt New Dealer and that’s how I started out and proud walking his footsteps in those days. But right now I’d guess the problem with the Democrats, you know, they get a certain type of East Coast Liberal, comes out of Harvard or some other Ivy League Ivory Tower, acting like a haemophiliac bleeding for causes without thinking, and just believes they've a right to run the country."
"I guess so."
"Well they may fool some intellectuals in New York and keep the Reds in the UN happy, but let me tell you most of us folk live by our hearts and faith in the Lord. This administration may be running lucky for a while but wait and see the outcome. They don’t understand America."
"I saw Robert Kennedy the other day. Couldn’t understand what he was doing in Hollywood."
"Bobbie Kennedy? Oh, that goes back a way, the Kennedys and Hollywood. You see his father Joe was a banker, Boston money, and give him his due one of the first to realise the potential of talkies. Set up RKO, later on took over Pathe."
"That right? I never knew."
"That's right. There was some debate if Joe Kennedy was really more interested in owning a studio or Gloria Swanson, but I guess they both of them got what they wanted. Fact is it was wheeling and dealing more than the movie industry itself he concerned himself with. Saw an opportunity and took it. Lot of stories about the man and his womanising but as far as the studios were concerned I guess he played it straight."
"News to me there was a Kennedy connection to the industry."
"You didn’t know that? Sure was back in old Joe’s heyday. And he’s still the kingpin of that family. You want to discover what’s underneath the shiny surface of a Kennedy you just scratch down until you come across old Joseph P."
"Seem to remember a lot of talk Joe Kennedy had underworld connections."
"Couldn’t say too much about his business habits. He had a temper and some of his associates were well-built Irishmen, but he was out of that Harvard Business School himself and he knew lawyers turn a better profit than most hoods. And knew accountants can cut a man down faster than any Chicago piano. But if fornication and adultery is a sin as told in the Bible he was a fella needed a lot of forgiving. He was married with children when he came here and he and Swanson didn’t bother to hide anything. Those Kennedy boys did their growing up exposed to an example of the worst side of this town."
"So they still got business interests here?"
Reagan shrugged. "Not in the shape of big investments anyway. Joe came in on the boom then took his profit. Like I said he was never one of the real movie men, not Howard Hughes, not one of the moguls gets carried away by the make-believe. It was a good business proposition linked to a dubious Swanson proposition. Gloria retired to pursue further marriages and he found other interests. The real continuing connection is one of his girls married Peter Lawford."
"Oh sure. Patricia Kennedy Lawford. You read a gossip column you can’t miss that."
"Married someone with all her father’s weaknesses and none of his strengths."
"Well Catholics don’t divorce. Sets them apart in this day and age."
There was a burst of noise interrupting us as a bunch of kids tore up Sol’s lawn and detoured through the bamboo arch before they stampeded round the back of the property towards the brand new pool. Patty Ann was keeping up though she was a year or two younger than most of them and the only girl in the gang. She had more of her father’s looks than her mother's.
"I guess being President of the Screen Actor's Guild you get to know most of the people who count in this town."
"Heck, I've done enough being president of things, handed it over last year. I'm taking it easy. Hollywood's changed. Give someone else the worry." Reagan grinned, the teeth looked good in the deep suntan. "You in the business?"
"Only in a way. I'm doing a little public relations work for one of the studios."
"Thought you didn't look like an actor. Who you working for?"
"Man called Jack Scalligan. Ever come across him?"
"Who's he got you working on?"
Reagan half-whistled through his teeth with just a hint of irony. "You don't mind earning money the hard way."
"I guess you know Miss Monroe?"
"Maybe, maybe not. Not too well leastways assuming anyone does. She’s a whole lot more complicated than she looks."
"Like I said I got some work to do on her. Any background you could help me out with I’d be real grateful, Mr Reagan."
"What’s your name again, pal?"
"New to the game, Frank?"
"What makes you think that?"
"You were familiar with working for studio publicity you wouldn’t ask for information. You’d just go ahead and invent it."
"I’m doing something special. In-depth."
"If I think of anything." He gave a big, easy grin and keyed his engine. The Cadillac purred like a cat, hardly audible through the noise of Chubby Checker Twisting on Sol’s party turntable.
I stepped back a pace on the sidewalk. "I bought Tommy Junior that new Ray Charles 45 for his birthday. Hit The Road, Jack. You think the kids go for that sort of thing?"
"Bad choice is my guess. With kids it’s gotta be upbeat."
"Well, thanks for your time."
"No problem. Enjoyed talking to ya." He grinned again like a man with a lot of confidence from his perfect teeth and his twinkling blue eyes and slapped the steering wheel of his Cadillac. "You know I’ve got my three great loves in life, there’s acting, there's sport, there's politics. And they don’t necessarily come in that order, but I could talk about any of 'em all day long. Sure about that autograph?"
"Well, it would have to be for my nephew, Mr Reagan. And he's already got it."
He took a last look over at the house and the kids milling about inside the open door. "Okay. I’ll be going. You think Patty’ll be alright?"
"Nancy worries, but I say you have to take a few risks in life."
"Bobby Kennedy flew two thousand miles for dinner?" Tommy sounded incredulous. "Wh
"Kennedy’s sister is hitched to Peter Lawford, the English actor. They got a beach house over Santa Monica. The marriage is coming up to the seven year itch only in Lawford’s case it’s more a seven drink itch."
"Ronnie Reagan told you this?"
"Yeah." Remembering it was him and Sol both, but I wouldn't tell Tommy the latter.
"You know Reagan ain’t a real cowboy. He's an actor. He was President of the Screen Actors Guild until last year. That means he knows about everyone in this town. Monroe, the Kennedy connection, everyone."
"You ask him about Jack Scalligan?"
"Why are you still worried about Scalligan?"
"You know who one of Nancy Reagan’s old boyfriends was?"
"What am I, a detective?"
"You could try."
"When she was Nancy Davis? When she was still in the movie business? That’s old history. There’s always talk, it sells movies. Didn’t she one time have a fiancé was run over by a train on his way to a date with her?"
"Funny. The story I remember is way back Louella Parsons used to write about Nancy Davis and Peter Lawford, the lush who's now President Kennedy's brother-in-law. Ronnie mention the connection?"
"No but he didn’t sound much as if he liked the guy."
"It’s a small town all right."
Our Chrysler failed to blend with the other cars parked around Dr Ralph Greenson's offices where Marilyn was in a session that had stretched over two hours now although the Analysts' union specified no more than 50 minutes per patient. Our paintwork lacked shine and bright sunlight showed a subtle variation in colour from wing to wing. We had the windows wound down. An optimist could claim that not having a convertible like Reagan's Cadillac we wouldn't be troubled putting up the hood in the rain. That heatwave year it never rained in California.
Tommy was on edge, getting impatient, wanting a drink.
Dr Ralph Greenson was a world-class psychiatrist assuming the world was Vienna, New York and LA; prominent enough in his own circles he didn’t need to advertise in the Telephone Book. Marilyn’s shrink could take his pick from the legions of lunatics on the West Coast but what the good doctor preferred was movie stars, presumably they made better seminars at UCLA where Greenson also had an academic post. The length of time it had taken to track down the Analyst’s address could be due to a combination of Tommy’s stellar insignificance and mental robustness; eventually uncovering it was a consequence of the limited loyalty inspired by secretary’s wages at UCLA compared to private practice.
Tommy had gone in to wire the office the night before. There was getting to be a pattern in these endeavours. The job had been done already, another 12305 Fifth Helena. The someone-else who was doing our job better than us had a bypass with scrambler circuitry in the telephone. Tommy contented himself with a pickup in an electrical socket. Today we were listening to a receiver tuned to nothing except a jamming signal.
It was a nagging worry to Tommy, he was changing his opinion. "That isn’t anything LAPD done, they got no interest in anything subtle. Is that CIA stuff, Frank?"
"I was never involved with the CIA."
"You weren't too far from them."
"Things moved on since my day."
Tommy switched off the whistle from the jammer. "This kind of technology, this is the government, right?"
"Could be little green men from Roswell all I know."
"The government’s not supposed to do this stuff. There’s half the world gone red, commies encircling us, halfway across Germany, on our doorstep in Cuba, coming down through Vietnam, and all this freakin’ government does is bug our own people."
We watched a blonde come out of the office block and head down the sidewalk to where her gleaming new sports-car was parked. She was young and good-looking and dressed to show how little fabric a million dollars could buy but she didn't move like Marilyn and Tommy had no trouble dragging his eyes back to the LA Times he'd been pretending to read on and off for the past hour.
"What I said about where Scalligan has his bank account," said Tommy. "I did some checking on that among other things. Before the war this Grand Bahama was 50,000 acres of swamp but now Freeport’s the biggest tax haven in the world. They don’t make any levy on corporate profits, capital gains, income, inheritance, sales, imports, exports or anything, and it’s a half-hour plane hop from South Florida. They call their set-up a Commonwealth and it’s attracted every US corporation with an inclination for secret bank accounts, money laundering and concealing the identity of their Officers and Directors."
"When did avoiding tax start to be a crime?"
"Fact number two. Most people assume the place is just an island, or noticing it’s plural maybe two of them, Grand Bahama, Little Bahama. Look at a navy chart there’s an arc, hundreds of little islands like stepping stones across hundreds of miles of Atlantic. It starts fifty miles off Florida with Freeport facing Palm Beach, but you know why it looks next to Cuba on a map, Frank?"
"Talk me through it, Tommy."
"Because Cuba is only fifty miles from the other end of those stepping stones. On a map maybe half an inch. Surprising a man of your experience forgot that."
"Listen, the end of the Bahamas archipelago is fifty miles from our piece of Cuba. That south-east corner is Oriente Province and the Guantanamo Bay US Navy Base. Havana’s way off at the opposite end. Fact one, the US Navy doesn’t offer money laundering services. Fact two, Castro is no friend to crooked businesses and offshore banks. There’s no connection to Jack Scalligan’s chequebook."
Watching Marilyn by Jack Chapman / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes