The Go-Between: A Novel of the Kennedy Yearsby Frederick Turner
A faded newspaperman downs a double Maker’s Mark and contemplates life as a “ham-and-egger,” a hack. Then one day he finds the scoop of a lifetime in a Chicago basement: diaries belonging to the infamous Judith Campbell Exner. Right, that Judy, the game girl who waltzed into the midst of America’s most powerful politicians,/i>
A faded newspaperman downs a double Maker’s Mark and contemplates life as a “ham-and-egger,” a hack. Then one day he finds the scoop of a lifetime in a Chicago basement: diaries belonging to the infamous Judith Campbell Exner. Right, that Judy, the game girl who waltzed into the midst of America’s most powerful politicians, entertainers, and criminals as they conspired to rule America.
When Frank Sinatra flew Judy to Hawaii for a weekend of partying, she could hardly have imagined where it would lead her: straight to the White House and the waiting arms of Jack Kennedy. And then came the day that JFK and his brother Bobby asked her to carry a black bag to Chicago, where she was to hand it off to the boss of bosses, Sam Giancana. As our Narrator pieces the notebooks into a coherent story, he finds mob connections, rigged primaries, assassination plots, and trysts—and begins to see beyond the tabloid fare to a real woman, adrift and defenseless in a dangerous world where the fates of nations are at stake. As one by one the men Judy loved betrayed her and disappeared, and as the FBI pursued her into a living hell, her diary entries disintegrate along with the beautiful, tough, sweet woman the Narrator has come to know. Who was Exner, after all? Just a gangster’s moll? Or a bighearted woman who believed the sky-high promises of the New Frontier—and paid the price?
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Read an Excerpt
LOOK, I KNOW I could tell you this straight off, and it would entertain you, too, like the campfire yarn that goes, And then, and then, and then—right through to the finish, where the hero gets the girl or dies. But if I did it this way, you’d forget it, or at least you’d forget the things I want you to remember. So in order for this to have a chance of sticking with you the way it has with me all these years, I have to go against the way I learned my trade, which was to buttonhole you quick, so to say, and then hold on to you until I was done. In the newspaper business this wasn’t very long, even when I was starting out, which was damn near sixty years ago. And it’s gotten a hell of a lot shorter nowadays, what with the carpet-bombing of twenty-four/seven news. A print reporter now is lucky to get even the top of the reader’s eyeball for two whole minutes. In that respect, I’m glad I’m out of it, though I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t miss the hurly-burly of the newsroom, the clackety-clack of the big old black machines, the cigarette smoke and swearing, the pints of sauce the older guys kept stashed in the bottom drawer of their desks. These are probably clichés to you, but before they became that they were the way we lived, and underneath that tough-guy, front-page pose we privately thought being a reporter was pretty hot stuff. I know I did. Even when we were telling each other this was one hell of a way to make a buck—busting your ass to write a story that would be used that evening to wipe up the puppy’s poop or wrap the garbage in—still it was exciting to try to intervene in people’s lives, arrest them, even if it was just for a few minutes, with your story, your version of events. When you come right down to it, that’s what was truly exciting about journalism. It isn’t enough for me now, though. I want more of you than that.
You know how every once in a while you’ll be walking along the street, minding your own business, and suddenly you’ll get a look from a complete stranger, and you’ll take meaning from it, even if you can’t put your finger on just what this is? You walk on, but you can’t get that look out of your head. You keep seeing those strange eyes boring into you, and you keep wondering, Why me? And, What the hell was he trying to tell me? Well, what I want to do here is more like that than the news story I used to write or the campfire yarn.
But right off the bat I have to get something straight between us, which is this: some of this stuff didn’t happen exactly the way I’m going to tell you here. That’s not to say that I’m making it up; I’m no blogger. I have my sources, and they’re an important part of the story. Sometimes I think they’re almost as important as the story itself, as you’ll see in a minute. They took me as close as anybody’s going to get to the truth of this thing. They witnessed some of the events they talk about and took part in many of them, but they didn’t see the whole of it or even know the whole of it. Nobody knows the whole of it. I wish to God there had been some all-seeing eyewitness and that I could have gotten hold of him or her. But there isn’t, and anyway eyewitnesses, who are so highly prized in precinct stations and newsrooms and lawyers’ offices, are actually often a good deal less reliable than you might think.
I was tipped to this years back, when I was just a squirt trying to catch on steady with the Daily News and hanging out at precinct stations on the South Side after the war. There was an old lieutenant at the South Halsted station called Rawhide O’Meara who took kind of a shine to me, maybe only because I was so goddamned green it was funny to him. When I met him old Rawhide could smell the barn, and he was ready for it: his feet hurt, his back hurt, and he was tired of the beat’s relentless bullshit. He couldn’t be bothered learning anyone’s name anymore, so I was Mac, same as everybody else he hadn’t known for at least ten years.
One afternoon I was asking him about a filling station knock-over where there’d been a bystander who positively identified two brothers named Brady as the perps. “See here, Mac,” he said, “that don’t make this any automatic. Not yet, anyways. Sure, we rely on these eyewitnesses when we can get ’em, and we try to use ’em to make the case, don’t ya see. And sometimes they do, if we use ’em right. But there’s a lot more to most cases than meets the eye.” He liked that and haw-hawed, elbowing me hard in the ribs. “There’s a lot more holes in these eyewitness deals than you’d think, and a defense lawyer who knows his stuff’ll find ’em.”
Well, as you see that comment stuck with me, though if I’m going to be completely candid with you here, I should add that I thought old Rawhide had plenty of holes in him, too. He never shut up and claimed to know everything there was to know about police work. Still, as I say, his comment stayed with me, and it came back to me later when I went to a lecture at John Marshall. I don’t make a habit of going to law school lectures at night, but I wanted to hear Phil Keneally and see him in action.
Keneally was notorious. He was an absolutely brilliant criminal defense attorney who not only worked for the Mob but eventually married into it. That night his subject was supposed to be evidence and its uses and misuses. But it turned out to be almost exclusively about eyewitnesses, and he used a case tried by Lincoln in his downstate days. Lincoln appeared for the defense, and if I remember correctly, an eyewitness claimed to have seen his client stab a man to death one night in a field. Well, in his questioning, Keneally said, Lincoln led the witness through the woods, so to say, right up to the edge of the field, where he had him peeping through the trees and witnessing the murder. At which point Lincoln broke off to ask the guy if the moon was pretty bright that night, and the guy says, “Bright enough to see what I saw.” So then Lincoln springs his trap and produces a Farmer’s Almanac, or some such, to show that there wasn’t any moon at all that night—black as the inside of a cow’s ass—which sure as hell cast the shadow of doubt on that eyewitness’s testimony. When I heard that I thought back on old Rawhide, whose funeral I went to not long ago. I’ll come back to Phil Keneally, because as you’ll see he’s a big part of this story, but for now I simply want to say that history depends a lot on eyewitness accounts when it can get them. The full truth of most human stories, though, is a lot harder to get at than just having those firsthand reports and involves other considerations.
My eyewitnesses are like everybody else’s. They tell what they saw and what they think they saw. They tell what they heard. They tell what they remember. They almost never tell you what they forgot or later realized they’d completely misunderstood. So to this extent history—written history, that is—looks to me kind of like a high-stakes gamble, something more or less carefully assembled, depending on the skill and conscience of the historian, and then kind of shoved out there like you’d push a bet through the hundred-dollar window at the track. So here’s my point: I’m betting that what I’ve put together here is a plausible and even probable reconstruction of a very murky story. But I want you to keep in mind that it is a reconstruction, an attempt to reconstruct events and people from the past, bring them back to life in the present. That’s what I’ve aimed for. Nothing more, nothing less.
A guy like me, trying for that plausible reconstruction, begins the same as the guys who win the prizes. The pros, the Pulitzer types who write the big-time official histories, will ride their firsthand sources as far as they can, then switch to secondhand, and finally go to other written sources, both published and un-. They don’t deal much, if at all, in barebacked speculation, in hunches, in it-must-have-beens, though I think there was a writer a few years back who did just that sort of thing in a bio of Dutch Reagan. He got reamed good for it, too, if I’m remembering the incident correctly. I’m no different from the pros here. I’ll ride my firsthand sources as far as they’ll take me. Then I’ll go to my secondhand ones, and finally to the books, and so forth. But then, here’s where the difference comes in. A guy trained like I was, he’ll probably handle all his sources a little more freelance, so to say. He’ll be a little looser with them. He’ll be kind of juggling them in his hands, feeling for their weight and heft and shape, like schoolkids of my generation used to work with their marbles out in the yard.
I don’t really have the words for what I’m trying to describe for you, as you see. But I’m wondering if an old term my auntie used might possibly come close. Auntie Helen used to say that if you were trying to get inside a fact or around behind one to see it from that angle, you might have to look asquint at it. That meant you kind of looked past it almost, instead of square-on. You saw it, all right. You didn’t ignore it. But you were looking for other things as well. How hard was the fact, really, and did some other party have an interest in making it seem like solid cast iron when it might turn out to be terracotta? Were there other facts surrounding it that cast a different light on it? What did the person look like when he was telling you his fact? This way of looking, it seems to me, inevitably leads you up to and probably across the borders of the Land of Hunch, which is where I might possibly have an advantage over the pros, because for some years I made a kind of living at what’s nowadays called “investigative reporting,” though we didn’t have that term back then. The investigative reporter has to learn the terrain of the Land of Hunch, has to learn it by trial and error, by developing instincts, because there aren’t any maps: an awful lot of it is simply feel, learning when and how to go beyond your sources and then hoping you’re going to end up at the right spot, somewhere your sources alone couldn’t have gotten you.
That’s what I did here. I followed my sources until they gave out, as you’ll see they did. And then I went on, trusting my training. I’m pretty sure that most of the time I tell you when I’m operating on a hunch, a feeling; or, if I don’t come right out and say that, you’ll be able to figure it out for yourself from what I say—and what I don’t. Anyway, I try to keep things as straight as I can, though you must have already guessed I don’t think there are that many things in this world you can take straight—unless it’s a belt of Maker’s Mark at the end of the day. When you have that, you know it’s true because it hurts.
But don’t get me wrong here: if this was all hunch or even mostly that, I’d be like those bloggers we have with us now, who get to claim absolutely anything they want, the wilder, the better. I’ll bet you didn’t know that LBJ had Jack Ruby poisoned in prison. Well, now you do, because you just heard me say it. And so forth.
So I have my sources, as I said. First and foremost are the diaries. Without them there wouldn’t be any other sources for me, for the simple reason that if I hadn’t seen them, I would never have known there was a story here, lying in wait behind the headlines of half a century ago, and no idea where it might lead me. Put another way, you can’t play hunches if you have nothing to play with. No marbles, no game. There are—or were, anyway—at least twenty-nine of them. There might have been more, many more maybe. But I only had my hands on twenty-two, and I only got a really good look at sixteen. You could call them “volumes” if you wanted, but that in itself would be misleading, and there are sure as hell enough false leads and red herrings to this story without adding another. The diaries aren’t the same size, and they aren’t the same length, either, a couple of them being just a few pages long while others are filled to the margins and have tiny scrawlings all around the edges. And there was one completely different, but I’ll get to that.
Not one of them has a date on the cover or inside on the flyleaf. Some of those I looked through but didn’t get enough time with didn’t seem to have any dates at all, while others had dates scattered here and there. The earliest one I saw has entries from 1948, which would make Judy Immoor, as she was then known, fourteen. It’s a girly-girly book, physically: fat, padded leather covers, fat leaves, big spaces between the ruled lines. But she filled up those pages, all right. It was like right from the start she seemed to know that she had a story to tell and that there would never be anyone who would tell it except herself. And so here again you see what I mean about history, what it’s made up of and what’s left out. Of the uncountable billions of humans who’ve walked this planet, only a tiny fraction of them ever tried to tell their own stories, and an even tinier fraction of their diaries or journals or actual autobiographies survived war, famine, fire, rain, roof rot, rats, starving dogs, and simple neglect. So in that sense, too, history is a gamble based on fragmentary evidence, like a racing form where you don’t get a look at the records of all the entries.
Maybe it’s just as well. I mean, just imagine for a moment what history would sound like if each one of us had tried to tell our stories as seriously as she did. My God! What a Tower of Babel that would be, those millions and millions of voices crying out, “Look at me! Look at me! Don’t believe anybody else! This is the truth about how I lived!” But she kept at it, off and on, with a kind of deep doggedness, from that first fat book all the way to what looked to me like the last. By that point she was very sick and was going as Judith Exner.
She was never what you’d call an accomplished writer, a pro, and I doubt she ever even thought about that, though she did think of herself as a practicing artist and seems to have really worked at painting for several years. But she was accomplished in other areas. She could bowl a good game, play gin, give the guys a run for their money on the golf course and hit off their tees. In the sack, she played in the biggest league on earth, and from what I could tell she held her own there, too.
But I don’t have a full-length view of her talents, her strengths. I’m not even sure I have a full-length view of her character, though I know what I think of her, all right. Partly this is because I never got to spend time with all the surviving diaries. Partly it’s because she wasn’t much for blowing her own horn. And partly it’s because I only met one person who really knew her in any depth, and he was never about to open up to me about her. I doubt he has ever done that with anyone, and I doubt he ever will.
But the other thing here is this: she played her cards pretty close to her chest, if I could put it that way. Nothing unusual here, for sure. You meet many people in life who’re like that, never letting you know much about what they’re thinking, much less what they’re really feeling. But you’d think if someone was going to take the trouble to keep a diary and keep on keeping it, year after year, she’d let it rip in those pages, wouldn’t you? I mean, what else could be the point—why withhold information from yourself? Sometimes, though, I get the funny feeling that this is just what she was doing, that she wasn’t being completely confidential with herself. There’s a kind of evasiveness there, especially where you’d expect her to be completely candid. That’s not to say she never lets it rip; she does. But not with any consistency and not always just where you’d most want her to.
But then I think of her life, particularly once she gets into the deep waters, and I find myself wondering who she thought she could really trust. Maybe she came to feel that there was nothing of hers that was permanently hers, that it could all be taken away by somebody, every bit of it, even her thoughts, and so she held on to some of them.
This accounts, I think, for that feeling of opaqueness I got so often in reading the entries. It wasn’t simply that she wasn’t a very good writer—how many of us are? But there I was, reading along and trying to find out what really happened in Hawaii with Sinatra, in Chicago with Sam Giancana at the Ambassador East, up on the second floor of the White House with Jack Kennedy—and it really isn’t there. Oh, it’s there, all right, but there’s no substance to it, if you follow me. To put it in the terms of my old trade, if you were a feature writer and turned in copy like this, you’d get it back in your face if your editor was on the ball. “For Christ’s sake!” he’d say. “I could get crap like this off the goddamn wire service! Give me some meat on these bones.” You might have gotten the who and the what and the where, all right, but you hadn’t gotten the reader into the human reality of the situation, whatever that was.
She rarely does this, and so a lot of the time I have to try to do it for her. I quote her own words when I can, when they seem to do a justice to the situation, but much more often I have to try to make the things she lived through come alive because she either didn’t want to or couldn’t, or maybe she thought she would come back at some later point and flesh these things out but never got around to it. So I have to try to put some meat on the bones of her life. When I began working with her diaries, I didn’t see a problem with this: “Hey, the chick was no Shakespeare, so I’ll have to tone her up a bit”—that sort of thing. But later on, as I got further into it, it came to feel a bit more complicated. I was, after all, trying to give a dead person a fuller voice, a more realistic one, and who was I to try to do that? Was I in fact burying the very story I had set out to bring to life? Was I posthumously violating her privacy, which had been violated so dreadfully in her lifetime?
I can’t give you a figure for the total elapsed time I had with the diaries—not a figure, anyway, that would do you any good. The first time I saw any of them they were the property of Judy’s adopted son, Ed. She had a blood son as well that she gave up for adoption, but I doubt that kid ever knew about the diaries. As for Ed, he kept them in a Kellogg’s carton in this rec room he had in the basement of his house in Evanston, with its top ripped away, just piled in there in no particular order, 1955 resting on 1950 or whatever. They must have come to him after Judy died, and I’m convinced he only looked into them enough to know what they were. That randomly piled box told me that in headlines. But he probably did understand that he had enough dynamite in there to blow a hell of a hole in the liberal political establishment of America and make obsolete a lot of the books written about JFK.
Oh, sure, there are plenty of references in books and magazines to Kennedy’s womanizing. The guy was one hell of a swordsman by all accounts. But as far as I know there aren’t any other firsthand accounts by women who went to bed with him, at least none that have survived or else aren’t under lock and key in some Georgetown mansion. Likewise, there are printed references to the connections between national politics and organized crime, but none I know of that can take you beyond the generalities, the it-must-have-beens, to show you how things were done and exactly where the money changed hands, and she had that down, too.
As I say, Ed had to know at least some of this. Now, how much he knew and how he knew it are questions I don’t have good answers for. How much he got from her and how much out of the headlines I couldn’t tell from his very few comments about his mother and the life she led. He said almost nothing specific about the diaries.
If I had to get money down on this, here’s what I’d say. She felt forced to give her blood son up for adoption because her own notoriety was so ferocious she thought the kid stood a better chance at life with another family and a different identity. Then, early on, she gave Ed her maiden name, Immoor, to try to shield him a bit from that same notoriety, which shadowed her all the way to the grave. Now, if she did these things, why would she subject Ed to a bruising, face-to-face description of all the stuff she’d had to go through, all the stuff she wrote down in those diaries? No. I think she probably told him only as much as she thought he needed to know and then left behind the diaries she still had so he could fill in some of the blanks if he wanted to.
Being around Ed as I was for a brief time, I have to wonder now if he’d ever thought much about the diaries at all until William Safire wrote this column after her death, all about poor Judy being a “tragic footnote to history” or some such crap. I looked up that column in the morgue later, and of course it wasn’t about her tragedy or her being a footnote; it wasn’t about her at all. She was only a cudgel Safire could use to beat Kennedy and the liberals with. Which wouldn’t have surprised her in the least, because she knew what it felt like to be used—oh, she knew that in spades. But to the extent Ed had thought about them or glanced through them, I don’t think he knew what to do with them. Probably the last thing he would have thought of was to have them published. That would have been like digging Judy up and dragging her corpse through the streets all over again. He respected her way too much for that. So they just sat there, year after year, in that box. I think the only reason he even let me look at them was that he was stoned out of his gourd. And this brings up another thing you need to understand about Ed. Despite the fact that he’d started out in life with something of a handicap, being an orphan and all, things came easy to him. He was a big, handsome guy with what’s called a winning personality. He was a scratch golfer—Judy had him out on the course when he was very little. But to me there was something kind of indolent about him. He wasn’t big on persistence, and if it didn’t come easy, he wasn’t interested. That was my take on him, anyway, and aside from the fact that he might easily have had a natural reluctance to read certain details of Judy’s life, I come back to this trait as a better explanation of why those diaries just sat down in that rec room all those years in a Kellogg’s carton with its top ripped away.
At the time I’m speaking of I was working as a legman for G. Katzen. That name won’t mean anything to you, but back then it might have, because he and his younger brother, Arthur, collaborated on a series of very popular books about American cities. The Katzens were Bronx guys who had tried a number of other things before they wrote a book called New York Confidential. It hit big. So then they did L.A. Confidential and then Boston Confidential. These were supposed to give you the inside dope on these places: who really ran things and how to cut through the red tape at City Hall to get to the guy you needed. If you played the ponies, they’d tell you how often favorites ran in the money in stakes races at the various tracks and whether the going was a little deeper on the three inside posts at Aqueduct. If you wanted a really good steak, they had the restaurant for you and the headwaiter’s name, plus how much to tip him for a table without a reservation. Enough of this stuff was accurate so that if you were going to L.A., it could be a help. And even if you weren’t, it was kind of a gas to read about what went down in Manhattan and how if you tipped Angelo a tenner at Locke-Ober in Boston, he’d see you got a table in the main-floor dining room, where the local sluggers ate and drank, instead of a seat upstairs in Siberia.
In every one of these towns the Katzens had their legmen, guys who were native and knew the kinds of stuff the brothers dealt in. Of course, once the Katzens got hold of your copy, they’d generally give it a pretty good massage. Still, as I say, the books were factual enough; they weren’t fiction. The brothers knew when to quit, so to say, but still deliver enough dirt and gossip to make for a very satisfying package.
I was their man in Chicago, and I had three stringers working under me, one of them a girl in J-school at Northwestern who was nervy as hell and tough as nails. She was also scared to death her profs would find out she was moonlighting for the likes of me and the Katzens, so I made it part of my business to make sure they never did. She needed the money, and she was worth it, too. So in that way I guess you could say I helped put her through school. Later on I saw her byline in a pretty classy magazine, far better than those I got into myself. As for the Katzens, they never had any literary aspirations at all, and after Chicago they took their money and bought some retail space below Fourteenth Street in New York and did very well with it. I doubt they ever wrote another line, either of them.
I never learned what the G. stood for. He went by it, signed my checks that way, and if you should happen across one of those Confidential books at a yard sale or in the unsorted bin of a used bookstore, you’d see on the title page “Arthur Katzen and G. Katzen.” I asked him about that one time. We were having a drink at the Tip Top Tap at the old Allerton on Michigan. G. didn’t drink much, but he did go for the Moscow Mule they served up there—vodka and ginger beer in a copper mug with a sprig of mint. It sounded disgusting, but then, I never had one. When I brought up the subject of the initial, he just stared at me through his foggy spectacles a long moment and shrugged.
“Why isn’t it good enough for you?” he said. “It’s enough for me.”
That was that. The money was good, the checks were solid, and I had no reason to piss him off. He always made it pretty clear what he was looking for, as much as you can in a situation where you yourself don’t really know the terrain and want to give your man his head. When I delivered, he was professionally appreciative. In that line of work you can’t ask for more than that. A guy like me makes a living—or tries to—being curious and persistent, but at the same time he needs to develop a feeling for when not to be either of these things, so “G.” was fine with me.
When Boston hit the bestseller list and I was running stuff down for him on the Chicago number, G. surprised me one day. He was a pretty low-key guy in his personal style: midrange hotels like the Allerton; ready-to-wear suits; chopped steak instead of sirloin; public transportation. Yet on this occasion he told me he wanted me to research a new car for him—an MG convertible, no less. I knew he had a wife and kids back in the Bronx, on Arden, where he and Arthur were born, so when a guy steps out of character like that you have to figure he must be getting around on his old lady.
However that was—and I never learned—I went to work on the assignment, and that’s how I happened across Ed Immoor. He had the MG dealership in Evanston and another outfit in Skokie that handled late-model used MGs, a good number of which he’d sold new over in Evanston. His customers were mostly North Shore types, and Ed knew them like a veteran tout knows a track or a stable—quirks, tics, vanities, pressure points. It just sort of came to him, I think, and what with his looks and personality he was a talent, all right.
The showroom was on Chicago Avenue, right by the tracks, all glass and lights and Formica, but when I went in there on a late February afternoon, one of those days that can give you the feeling that death couldn’t be any worse than this, I thought the mood was pretty low. I’d done my homework and knew Ed was the guy to see. Sometimes when you shoot straight for the top you’ll get snotty treatment from the flunkies, and if the head man isn’t available, you can’t expect any favors when you’re forced to move down a rung or two, if you know what I mean. But on average the brass-balled approach is worth the gamble, as it was here. When Ed bounced out of his office onto that gleaming floor, well, the place came alive and the ceiling lifted.
Right off I let him know I was serious, that I wasn’t any window-shopper. I told him exactly what my boss had in mind, and shortly he had me driving around the neighborhood with him in this terrific-looking green number with an off-tan top. I loved the ride of it, wondering to myself if G. could really appreciate it the way I was, tooling so smoothly around the gray suburban streets with here and there some lines of old slush in the gutters, looking like filthy fleece. In the MG, though, you felt insulated from everything, like nothing out there could get in to where you were sitting in such tight -luxury.
I told Ed my boss would be happy with this very car, and later, in his office with its color photos of Ed posed with various golfing groups and him bent over his desk working out an offer sheet, I let it drop that my boss had a brother who was sure to want one just like the green convertible, only probably a different color. Ed was filling out some standard stuff about extras and service specials, but when I threw in my own extra he glanced up quickly and without hesitation scratched out a set of figures and put down some others.
“This,” he said, still writing something below the new figures, “is off what I was going to offer. Good offer, too. But even if the brother doesn’t end up doing this”—he smiled and shrugged those broad, flat shoulders he had—“this is my thanks for bringing him onto the floor. When you line it up like that, what I knock off here”—tapping the papers—“is, ah, minuscule.”
I knew the word, all right, though I can’t tell you I ever used it in conversation. I know I never used it in print. I wasn’t looking for it from him, and it kind of bumped me off stride, making me wonder whether I’d sized him up right. I don’t know if he was a college man. I doubt it. For what he seemed to want out of life college wouldn’t have been that necessary, and as I’ve already said, Ed liked shortcuts if they were available. But maybe he’d acquired one way and another a stockpile, so to say, of heavyweight words he drew from on occasions like this. I don’t know. In the short time I knew him I never heard him use another like it, but then we never did automobile business again.
I’m pretty sure he didn’t get it from his mother. Judy was no dummy, that I can tell you, despite what you might have read about her and despite what her first husband told reporters; Billy was no Einstein himself. But judging from the diaries, I’d say her vocabulary didn’t run to fancy words. It was pretty much meat and potatoes but did the job she apparently wanted done. Since I never met her, never heard her voice, I can’t tell you how she came off in person, how she presented herself verbally and socially. I have to believe, though, that on top of her shyness, the deep insecurity that no number of private visits to the White House or evenings out with Sinatra and the Rat Pack could ever quite wring out of her, she could hold up her end of a conversation anywhere. And then, of course, there’s that universal credit card she always carried: she could flash that brilliant smile and it would be worth any amount of chin music.
I did, however, catch a glimpse of her in action, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t stay with you awhile like it has with me. This was in a blippy, faded home movie where the only sound came from the mechanics of the production techniques—whirring noises, grinding, clicking of wheels, etc. All quite primitive by our standards now. At the time I saw this footage, though, I remember thinking that the noises were oddly more realistic than voices might have been. They kind of took you back, if you see what I mean. In this movie, anyway, she says one word. That’s to say, you see her mouth move once, and the word she says looks a lot like “Hey!”
The movie was shot in color at poolside somewhere. Could have been Chicago or Miami or Las Vegas or Southern California, these being the places she hung out with Sam Giancana and his pals. He’s in it, too. But even though it’s his show, his cameraman and so forth, she’s the star, the focus. She walks past the camera in a black tank suit, but she’s so close you can’t see that much of her. The camera guy—some hood probably more comfortable behind a wheel than a camera—jerks the thing around to follow her, and so then you get one of those dizzying, wheeling sequences of empty sky and umbrellas and pool water that looks like it’s rushing uphill before he finds her again and adjusts the focus. And when he does get the range right you can understand why he might be in such a hurry. She was a knockout. There isn’t any other way to put it. Big girl, beautifully put together, with broad shoulders like Esther Williams, narrow waist, long, clean legs. When the camera guy gets up to shoot her climbing the ladder to the high board, you can see her calf muscles at work, and they are definitely not minuscule, to borrow from Ed.
Well, she gets up there and stands with her hands on the rails, and while she’s that way the camera guy scurries back to his original position so he can catch her in profile. And even though, as I say, she’s wearing a tank suit without any cosmetic scaffolding, you could tell she had plenty up top, too. She must have worked out, is all I can think, though this was before the days of personal trainers, ladies’ gyms, weights, and all that. The kind of life she was leading then was hardly designed to keep you in condition, but she was all of that. It makes you wonder where she found the time. I know I never came across any references in the diaries to workouts, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t in there; or even if they aren’t, it wouldn’t mean she didn’t do laps or the like. Every gorgeous woman, which she definitely was then, has got to have a streak of vanity in her somewhere, don’t you think? But vanity about looks doesn’t just happen; it’s got to be worked at and preserved in private, I think. In her case, I know this from the many references she makes to the hours she spent putting herself together for a night on the town.
But there she is, up on the high board, and the camera’s on her steady for a good minute or so before it swings back to the ladder. And there is Momo Giancana himself, in his bathing trunks, making a big show of stealth as he climbs the ladder, putting his finger to his lips, broadly pantomiming “Shhh,” taking big, high, cartoony steps until he’s up there behind her. And still she doesn’t appear to notice him.
When I rerun this movie in my mind—and I’ve done that many times—I come back to just this moment, wondering what the hell she could be thinking about not to have noticed Giancana and his goofy antics. And here the lack of sound becomes a kind of problem if this question interests you. Because you’d like to know what was going on at poolside just then, whether there were lots of others around, whooping it up, music playing and the like, so that she could kind of lose herself in her thoughts and Momo’s approach could get lost in the general hubbub. In some of the footage you can see another woman in the background, wearing sunglasses and a broad hat with a scarf tied around it and under her chin. She’s wearing a swimsuit that might have been orange, but the film is so faded that it and the scarf look more like washed-out pink with orange around the outlines. So that would make at least four of them there, and somehow or other I have the feeling there were more than that, that this was a party. This is one of the hundreds of details to this story we’ll never know, along with what thoughts she was having up there—clearly a more important matter—while she looked down into the deep end.
Then here comes Momo, creeping out onto the platform behind her, and his stealthy, hunched approach is creepy, coming up like that behind this statuesque, unsuspecting girl. And when he gets within striking range he makes this big pounce and rips down the straps of her swimsuit, and in that instant you get a look at her before she grabs herself and crosses her arms and whips around to face him. That’s when she says that one word. She had heavy eyebrows, and in this instant she brought them together in a frown while she uttered that single word, which maybe wasn’t even a word but only the voicing of the sound of surprise and outrage and, yes, even disappointment. Later on, when I try to tell you something of her story, you might find my use of this word positively weird. After all, you might say to yourself, how could a girl like this, living this terrifically fast life, possibly be disappointed by the behavior of the men she ran with, from JFK down to Giancana? You would have to think that life could hold no surprises for her, that by the time she climbed that ladder she knew what the deep end looked like and the shallow end, too. Disappointment can only come out of what we don’t yet know, wouldn’t you say, not what we already do?
But from what she wrote I have to think that almost to the end she still believed. In what? you’re asking. Well, there you have me. But something. Some ghost or glimmer. Some far-off call or close-up whisper. Some quick glimpse of what I guess I can only call possibility: the possibility that everything she was living through—all of it—had some better meaning than met the eye: the glamour and the glitz that were meant to blind you so that you couldn’t really tell what garbage it was made of, like Frankenstein, who was made out of garbage, if I recall. She wanted to believe, I think, that there was a meaning, for her, in all the endless restlessness of travel on planes and trains, in limos and taxis and fast cars driven by big-time wheel men. Wanted to find a way to accept the featureless hotel suites with lamé bedspreads and deep-pile carpeting—and cigarette burns behind the nightstand and a suspect stain on the loveseat’s cushion. Wanted to go along comfortably with the pervasive falseness of all the arrangements of that life—fake identity papers, fake business cards, fake names, hotel registrations, itineraries that said you were in Chicago on such-and-such a date when you were actually in Las Vegas. Wanted to believe, too, in the necessity of fake guards who looked the other way while ushering you into rooms almost nobody else on earth was supposed to enter. And finally to accept the brain-killing pace of the partying—daiquiris with Jack, champagne with Frank and his flunkies, martinis at the Armory Lounge with Sam, and then the sun coming up on the silver wing of a private plane on its way to somewhere and the passengers still skunked from the night before. And there would have been as well the necessity of learning how to bear the constant sudden passes trusted men made at you, to think of these as tributes to your physical beauty, which, I guess, they were in their own grimy way: those bodyguards and gofers fumbling at her chest when all she’d really asked for was a lift back to her room after another night-into-day.
After years of this, I think, she still somehow clung to possibility. Using that word again, I hear it loudly and wonder if it’s truly the one I want. I can only tell you it’s the one that keeps coming at me when I think about her life. And so for now, at least, let’s let it stand. Maybe you’ll come up with a better one on your own. But then, you might find that you don’t share at all this hunch I have. There were plenty of people who knew her who didn’t. To them, Judy was nothing more than a high-class whore whose luck ran out when her boyfriends got whacked: tough luck, toots, and so forth. I can’t feel that way about her, and you might as well know it right off.
I think it’s quite possible that even her boyfriends—Frank and Jack and Sam—might have thought of her as a whore. They were all users of women, and they certainly used her in the most intimate way possible, as well as in very practical ways. And they knew her in a way I never would. But I came to know her in a way I doubt they did, a way probably nobody else did, including Ed, who most likely hadn’t done much more than riffle through the diaries she’d left him.
Oddly, he had looked through the one written in code, because he told me so. It was the only direct reference to the contents of any of them he ever made to me. It was written, he said, when she was very sick. Actually, she was on her way to death, and so maybe she wanted to talk out loud to herself in total privacy, if you see what I mean, at the very end willing to write out everything she’d been holding back. She didn’t get very far with the project, though. I should have written down the number of pages there, but I didn’t. Couldn’t have been much more than a dozen. After that there were a few more scratchings that looked pretty hesitant, as if she didn’t remember anymore how the code went. And then the scratchings just trailed away into blank pages. Talk about being confined by responsibility to your sources! A set of diaries written over the years that ends in code and then silence: if this doesn’t tell you anything at all, pal, you’re in the wrong racket. Now, what it tells you may be quite another matter, and as I’ve already said, I never could make much of anything of the code. Maybe there at the end she couldn’t either. Was it the key to or the summation of all the others, a bottom line she wrote to herself about what her life had meant? Or was it a reaction to the years of relentless surveillance by the FBI and the CIA, the Secret Service men, the Mafia mugs, the Senate committees, the paparazzi, down to the garden-variety stalkers who somehow found out who she was? Or was it a side effect of the illness that killed her and the treatment, which was pretty near as bad, as far as I can figure it? I’d show you a couple of lines I copied out, but they might have a chance of making a little more sense to you later on, when you know her story, or as much of it as I can tell you. Maybe at that point you’ll see something I just haven’t. You know how it is: you look at something long enough, you see less and less, until you don’t even see the obvious anymore, which a fresh pair of eyes will spot right off. It’s like looking in the mirror every morning and not seeing how you’ve taken on age.
How I got a look at the diaries Ed had was this: he liked me. That and the dreary aspect of that February day, sales slow, and then in walks an easy one, right down Broadway. So that had put him in a good mood, and afterward we had a pop—single-malt Scotch—back there in his office and got to gassing about this and that.
“Sometimes I think I wouldn’t even bother with this stuff anymore,” Ed said, nodding at his glass and then swirling it a bit. “It’s the long way to heaven, that’s for sure.” He went on to clarify his meaning, telling me that if he could find a reliable source for Moroccan red hash, he would stick with that and just drink tonic water or some such on social occasions. But his supplier had been nabbed recently by the port authorities in New Orleans, and now old Duke was doing a good stretch in the stone house. “Duke was my guy,” he said sadly. “Nobody else can get the real McCoy.”
Several things came to mind all at once for me here, the first being that Duke, whoever he was, wasn’t the only hash importer left in North America. I knew a man in Blue Island who could get it. I’d run across him in working for G., and after I’d interviewed him about what vestiges remained of Capone’s old organization, I’d pressed some folding money into his hand. He looked at the bills without counting them, smiled thinly, then invited me back to his office in the rear of his sporting goods store for a friendly pipe. I only took one hit, just to be polite, and it was the real McCoy, all right. It gave you that almost-instant illusion of a perfect, hard-edged clarity where you think that finally you’ve arrived in the real world out of that fuzzy fog you’ve been stumbling through like a West Madison Street bum on a bat. It’s a hell of a high, I’ll give it that. But what I don’t like is how heavy it hits and how long it stays with you. If I’m having my drinks, I know pretty much where I am and how I got there, and some of the time I know when to quit, too. But with this stuff Ed seemed to like so well, it was already too late to quit with your first lungful.
Did I want to be Ed’s pony? I asked myself. The errand itself of running a pancake for him up from Blue Island to Evanston would be relatively risk-free, I thought—but not entirely so. What if some clown should sideswipe me on the Dan Ryan or the Kennedy during those few minutes I was “in possession”? Highly unlikely, sure, but how many times have you read in the paper about the serial killer who was stopped for a routine traffic violation and they find the mask and ropes in the trunk?
What the hell, I thought. I told him I had an acquaintance on the South Side who had the goods he seemed to be talking about. So right there we made an arrangement for me to bring the stuff up to his house, which I did late one afternoon about a week later.
Down in his rec room—full bar, mounted buffalo head, deep couches—he went right to work on the hash, getting out his little collection of brass pipes and asking me if I wanted a hit. But I said I’d stick with a Maker’s Mark if he had it, which I felt sure he would: the room was obviously set up for entertaining clients and business associates, and so shortly I had my drink, and then we settled down with our vices.
At first there was some talk—the Cubs and what their chances looked like for the new season, and then the auto business, which was slow just now. But then it got quiet, and I was beginning to think I’d fulfilled my function in Ed’s life and should scram. But just then he broke the silence to tell me he had something that might interest a writer like me, and more to be polite than anything else I said sure, I’d be happy to have a look at whatever he had to show me. He went back behind the bar, rummaged around a bit, and then brought out a Kellogg’s carton with its top ripped away and set it down at my feet.
“These were my mom’s,” he said, pulling out a diary at random. “I guess you couldn’t call her a writer—not like you, anyway—but she led a fairly unusual life and wrote some of it down in these -diaries.”
Well, I was in the man’s house, and I wasn’t so far along that I could miss the past tense he’d used in speaking of his mother. What the hell could I do except pretend interest? So I flipped open the diary he’d handed me, and there in girlishly rounded script, complete with little circles for the dots of the i’s and the j’s and the periods, was the name Judith Eileen Katherine Immoor on the flyleaf, but no date or place. Inside it, I found her whining on for some pages about not being allowed to go with the other girls to Sacred Heart or His Precious Blood or some such school but instead being tutored at home. Perfectly legitimate complaint from a teenager, but what the hell—you know what I mean? I could tell that Ed was already up a bit, but I hadn’t figured the hash had turned his brain to oatmeal. Still, as I’ve said, this was a situation I was in, so I kept on a bit, skimming over longish comments on an uncle who lived in Balboa, figuring I’d slowly page through the rest of it, maybe pick another one out of the box, glance through that, and leave. Ed wasn’t watching me, or if he was, it was intermittently from a long way off, and my hunch was that he would be pretty indifferent to my -leaving.
I read through some more entries about that Balboa uncle, who seemed to give young Judith nightmares, and then I carefully replaced that one and fished out the next that came to hand. I opened it in the middle, and before I’d read a sentence I knew it had been written some time later. The handwriting had lost its girlish roundness, as if Judith had lost her own roundness, what they used to call baby fat when speaking of adolescents who still had chubby cheeks and asses and tummies. Also, those circles that had floated like clouds above the i’s and so forth—they were gone. Just black dots now.
I read the entry for the day that had fallen under my thumb; it didn’t have a date. But Judith was watching a football game on TV with somebody named Billy, so that at least gave me the season. There was mention of a Bob Wagner at the end of the entry, evidently a friend. I went quickly through a few more pages, watching Ed out of the corner of my eye, some more references to Bob Wagner bobbing up along with the place name Hollywood, and so I thought about asking Ed if this Bob Wagner could possibly be the Robert Wagner who was married to Natalie Wood when she went overboard. Common name, of course, but at the very least my question would show interest and at the same time might justify Ed’s claim that his mom’s life had been unusual. But when I glanced over at Ed I could see that he was out there, and so I didn’t ask but instead turned back to the flyleaf. And there in clear, bold script was the name Judith Campbell. Somewhere between that girly-girly -diary with its rant about home schooling and this one, Ed’s mom had acquired a new name—marriage, most likely—and I wondered why it sounded a faint, tinny bell in my head.
You know how it is in these moments: that far-off bell tells you something’s there, but what? And if you’re a curious guy like me, you start riffling through the card catalogue of your memories, and sometimes you get lucky right off. But most of the time you have to work with it a little, tease it out, so to say. If it’s a name, you try to hook it up with something, some event or place or time. Me, I try to visualize it in print. Sometimes you might have to fiddle around with the name itself—with its sound—and that’s what I did here, changing Judith to Judy, which gave me Judy Campbell, and the tinny, tiny bell became a huge gong.
I had to try.
“Well, Ed, you’re right,” I began, trying for the conversationally casual. “These are interesting.” He swung his head slowly in my direction and gave me a long look. It was that stoned stare dope will give you, but there was something more beneath that. I can’t honestly tell you that even if I’d been stony sober I’d have been able to identify what it was. Now—now—I think I can. It was an immediate, instinctive defensiveness that came over him when the subject of his mom came up. I mean, it was okay if he mentioned her, as he had when he’d said her life was “unusual,” because he was in control there, if you see what I mean. But here it was me who was bringing her up again and making a kind of judgment, even if it was really only a repeat of the one he’d made himself. But like I say, this is hindsight, and at the time what I was thinking was only that suddenly he wasn’t easy, affable Ed the car dealer anymore. Different guy: you can’t ever tell what direction dope will take a man, though I guess the same might be said of the sauce. Even so, I thought I had to go on.
“They make me wonder if she’s the Judy Campbell that knew JFK,” I said, and in saying those words my own voice sounded strange to me, like someone was applying pressure around my neck.
“Yeahhh,” he drawled in a suddenly weary tone. “Right. That one.”
A moody silence fell between us. Ed put his pipe down and stared off across the room. I thought maybe he wasn’t going to say anything else, and what with that look he’d given me and those four weary words I wasn’t sure I wanted him to. He raised one hand slowly and began to stroke his lower lip.
“But let me set you straight, pal, she wasn’t anything like they painted it.”
More silence then, and me sitting there with my hands on the diary and all my fingers feeling that what I was really holding was a stick of dynamite; that if the pages in these randomly piled books covered the right territory, this was the scoop of a lifetime, right at my feet. Because this Judy Campbell was the woman whose face had been plastered across the covers of magazines and tabloids years back, the dark-haired beauty said to have been used as a go-between by Kennedy and Momo Giancana. And right then I found myself wishing more than anything ever in my life that I had been sober and clean as a whistle, because all my reporter’s instincts were instantly alive to the possibilities here. But they weren’t sharply alive, and a false move in this situation could queer the deal forever. I fumbled around a minute for some kind of comment that would break the silence, which was getting thicker by the second.
“This Bob Wagner,” I said, gesturing in Ed’s direction with the diary and not going straight for the target but for something next door to it, “would that be the Robert Wagner in the movies, by any chance?”
Ed didn’t answer. He must have been stuck back there with the rumors about his mom, the ones that made her out to be a moll.
“Whatever you heard,” he said finally, “it isn’t what I know. She was a real lady, and she was a great mom to me. She was strict as hell.” Saying this, he lolled his head back against the sofa cushions and looked at the ceiling. Then he brought his head back down and almost glared at me. “But she always encouraged me in whatever I wanted to do.”
“That’s a good combo for a parent to have,” I said, and meant it.
“You’re damned right it is. I never knew a one of my friends who had it as good at home as I did. Not a one. She saw to it I had a damned good Catholic upbringing, and it wasn’t farmed out, either. She saw to it herself. But you never hear about this. Goddamned vultures. All they wanted to talk about was the Kennedys and the Mob.”
I was thinking you could hardly blame them, and also that I myself was one of them. To be completely honest here, that was all I was interested in at that moment. That’s to say, if Judith Eileen Katherine Immoor hadn’t become Judy Campbell, the notorious go-between rumored to have been making it with the most powerful and glamorous man in the whole world and at the same time with the shadowy, vicious vice lord of Chicago, who the hell would care how she’d raised her kid? Who did care? Did I, really? And if the answer was no, did this make me just another in the flock of vultures? I’ve asked myself this question a number of times since then, trying to come up with an answer that isn’t influenced by all the stuff I later found out about her. And what I’ve come up with is only this: at that moment, the one I’m trying to tell you about, she could have sold her son into slavery or scrubbed floors to put him through divinity school, and no writer I know of would have cared much either way—me included. No, the red meat here, the blood that gave it that color, was the connection she’d had with JFK and Giancana, and what I wanted just then was to sink my canines into this juicy mass and just gorge.
I don’t know how this sounds to you. But we all know that if there’s a fire, arson sells a hell of a lot more papers than faulty wiring, and here was a five-alarmer with a wad of oily rags at its center. So whatever I came to feel about Judy Campbell later—and you’ve already heard me say something about that—down in that rec room waiting to see what Ed’s next move might be, I quickly consigned the Judy-Ed relationship to the back burner, the far back one, like you might have seen on one of those big old Wolf commercial stoves. Life, as one of the Kennedys famously said, isn’t fair. Neither is the writing of history, which runs a lot closer to the tabloid headlines than we like to believe and would rather deal in mayhem than mothering. This was a fact of life I picked up early in my career, and it’s stayed with me. You can make of it what you want, but if you’re honest, you won’t be able to say it isn’t true. So you see, you’re implicated, too, in a way.
Now here’s something else that’s true about me that you need to factor into this situation. As a writer I’ve always been what you’d call in racing or boxing a ham-and-egger. This is a term, I think, out of the Depression. It means a guy who knows his trade, all right, who has the skills to keep busy at it, but who’s a full cut below first-class. In racing, your ham-and-egger generally gets mounts that are just that, too. He isn’t going to get up on Kelso or Secretariat or ride in the Arlington Million, though he’ll get stakes horses once in a while. In boxing he’ll be a step above being merely an opponent; he’ll be the guy who’ll take a licking from some kid on the way up or else one from a former contender on the way down who’s hoping for one more good payday. But he won’t beat a good fighter on a normal night.
Unless he gets lucky. And what came to me in Ed’s rec room was that here at my feet could be the break I wasn’t even looking for anymore, simply because I’d been on my beat long enough to stop looking for it and settle for what I was. Saves you some heartbreaks that way, and some heartburn, too; sometimes your body will tell you what your head won’t own up to.
It’s the nature of the terrific break that you almost never see it coming, until it’s handed to you like cosmic room service. But then you have to be ready. Remember way back when Jersey Joe got in there with Joe Louis and damned near cleaned his clock? Jersey Joe was the walking definition of the ham-and-egger, if ever there was one. But he was ready for his break, and it changed his life. Sure, he lost. But he got another shot—which he also lost—and he kept on getting shots until finally he caught Ezzard Charles on a bad night and was the champ at last. He saw some real money then, got his name in lights, even got into the movies. These diaries, if they covered the right territory, could do the same thing for me. And they had to cover at least some of it, or why would Ed have made that remark about Judy’s unusual life when he’d handed them over?
But it’s one thing for a guy to let you have a glance at something and a whole different thing for you to ask him if you can appropriate it, so to say, which is just what I’d be doing if I said I’d love to copy some of this stuff down. He’d just made that crack about the press, and so maybe in handing me the box he’d been telling me that this was strictly between friends and completely off the record. Stoned though he was, I didn’t think he was stoned enough to have forgotten what I did for a living. He had stopped even glancing my way but was staring at his shoes and every once in a while shifting them slightly, as if he was admiring the shine somebody had put on them. So I thought, What the hell, and took the plunge again, asking him if he minded if I copied down a few things—hell of an interesting story, and so forth. He just waved in my direction, still admiring facets of his shoes, and I pulled my dog-eared spiral pad from my pants pocket, snapped my ballpoint, and copied out that entry about Judy and Billy watching football on TV. Here it is:
We slept late. Then Billy said he wanted to do it but we’d have to hurry—the UCLA-Cal game was on tv and he had to watch—Jackie Gibbs being so great. When he was finished I got us some chips and onion dip and Billy got beers and we watched. B had USC on the radio too and it was confusing to me. Afterwards he started fooling around and said let’s do it again and we did right there. About 6 John Agar called and wanted to come over to talk about Shirley. B’s really worried about John’s drinking and sure enough when John got here he was already about half bombed. B. tried to get some coffee down him but he was too upset for that and we had a couple with him while he talked about S. and who she was seeing.
Went over to Bob Wagner’s for supper. Pretty much fun. Billy talks behind Bob’s back though and that makes me sad—I’ve known R.J. a lot longer than him.
When I think back on this, a part of me is astonished. I mean, I was no rookie reporter, a wide-eyed jerk out of J-school. I’d been around the block a few times, and I ought to have had a fairly well-developed sense of what was at least potential pay dirt. Yet the morning after when I had looked at this entry, it looked an awful lot like just dirt, a waste of a precious chance. But then, remembering the circumstances, I kind of let myself off a bit. Might have been a really dumb choice of a passage to copy out, but pardonable. But here are a couple of odd things. First, I’ve come to think of this as a bit of dumb luck, because I think I see here something pretty important after all. Oh, not in terms of the story’s red meat. But more in terms of giving me an early understanding of who Judy Campbell was. It would be unfair of me to say more than that here, because it would be kind of like coaching the witness; I’d rather you get further into the story before you start forming opinions about her. But you might want to come back to this and give it a closer look. I’ll try to come back to it myself.
Anyway, there I was the morning after, like I say, looking at that note and the few others I’d scribbled with Ed on the next couch and sinking deeper into a mood, until finally he’d glared at me and then shifted his glance down to my notepad where I’d just been making some frantic scratches about how his mom had chanced to meet Peter Lawford and Pat. That glance, hostile as it was, told me it was time to get the hell out of there before I ruined whatever my chances were of ever being invited back so that I could dig into that box in a systematic way. So I’d left, and now here I was in what felt like a very bleak morning light, looking at my little notes, which wouldn’t take me anywhere unless I could get another invite, which seemed pretty unlikely given that last glance: it was like he’d completely forgotten that it had been his idea to let me look at the diaries, that somehow I’d gotten my mitts on the sacred coffin and was pawing through it like a grave robber.
But while I was sitting there feeling hopeless the phone rang, and it was Ed, wanting to know whether he’d paid me and whether I could get him some more of that “dynamite stuff.” He had paid me, I told him, but as to the other matter, I’d have to check with a friend of mine. I wasn’t eager to continue this part of the conversation, because Ed’s end of it was hardly Navajo code talk. It was pretty transparent. So even though I dearly wanted to keep him on the phone awhile so that I could work around to the diaries, I felt I had to ring off, telling him I’d get back to him as soon as I knew something. And that’s what I tried to do, immediately calling Mario, the Blue Island guy who’d sold me Ed’s pancake. He wasn’t there, and every few minutes for the rest of that day I kept trying, but no dice. Same thing the day following.
The short of it was that it was a week before I had the goods and could tell Ed that, and when I reached him his tone scared the bejesus out of me, it was so flat and coldly distant. He wanted the stuff I had, all right; he made that clear. But it would have to wait. There were other, unspecified things he had to take care of first, and when he had these cleared away, he’d call me back. I’d been counting on him being hot to get his hands on Mario’s stuff, but obviously he wasn’t hot anymore. Neither was I when we’d hung up. I was in a cold sweat because I had the feeling, like doom, that he’d take delivery, yes, but then he was going to drop the nickel on me about my access to the diaries.
In fact, the hunch was so strong that before I got on the Edens going north to Evanston, I dropped off my notepad at my girlfriend’s apartment. Lucy and I had known each other for years but had only recently become involved, when both our lives had changed. Handing her the notes for safekeeping, I suddenly was very aware of how pitiful they must look to her—this little dog-eared pad that I considered so terrifically important. I doubted she’d actually open it and read it after I left—that wasn’t her style—but if she did, then it really would have seemed pitiful to her, with my frantic scribbles and cross-outs, the margins crawling with half-finished thoughts. And there was absolutely no order to it: that was a luxury I hadn’t had time for. Driving away toward the North Shore, it felt to me like I was never going to get that luxury, either.
I was right, too—about the nickel, I mean. I knew it the second Ed answered my ring. No easy, country-club Ed here, and the way he was looking at me, he couldn’t have given away an MG to the hottest prospect who ever walked onto his floor: he looked that sour. “Hi” was all he said, and even then he was turning his broad back to lead the way to the kitchen, so my outstretched hand grabbed nothing but air. Maybe this has happened to you sometime in your life. If it has, you won’t have any trouble remembering how foolish you felt. Finding that your fly is open in public trumps this, I guess, but not by much. So what could I do but drop my hand and follow him? I felt like the guy taking the last long walk to the hot seat.
In the big, airy kitchen we made the exchange right off, and for some odd reason I remember a pink sponge lying there on the tile-topped counter and Ed tossing it into the sink while muttering something about his “spic” maid. Meanwhile I’d begun to silently curse myself for not thinking about what I was going to do when he did drop the nickel, which I knew he was about to do. Instead of working out some sort of response, some kind of strategy on the way up there, I’d spent my time pissing and moaning about how he was going to ruin my big break. Not very smart, I know, but then I think I probably have lots of company in this useless habit.
So there we were, with Mario’s little package on the counter and Ed’s cash in my hand, and he was giving me that hard look again when he asked how much I had copied down from the diaries.
“Not that much,” I told him, which was truer than I could have wished. “More like notes to myself about how I might write your mom’s real story the way it deserves to be written.” I didn’t think it was a real question. That’s to say, I don’t think he cared what my plans were for the story. It was what his plans were that was the issue, and his plans were to get rid of me as quickly as possible and then stash that box somewhere good and safe. Probably he’d already done that.
“What exactly did you have in mind?” he asked, fiddling with Mario’s package.
“Well,” I came back, cursing myself again for not having rehearsed at least something, “you told me your mom led a pretty unusual life, and from the little I’ve read, she sure did. Amazing stuff, really. Totally unique. What I’d like to do is tell her story—tell it the right way, I mean. Her side of it. How she felt about those things. I think she deserves that, don’t you?” Believe me, I could hear how lame this sounded, and even more, I could see how it sounded, looking at her adopted son’s face.
“Nah.” He shook his head, looking off down the hall, probably measuring off the steps back to the front door. “Nah. Can’t be done.”
I don’t remember exactly what I did at that point—whether I simply gaped at him, or shrugged as if I didn’t understand, or asked what he meant by that, or whether I even claimed I could do it the right way. But whatever it was, he filled in all the blanks of that single short statement.
“Can’t be done. It’s too late. The damage has already been done.” He took a deep breath, those big, flat shoulders rising with it. “All those lies, those—ahhh . . .” He lifted his hand from Mario’s package to make another of those dismissive gestures I knew well enough, but this wasn’t one of those slow, stoned ones I’d seen downstairs. This one had some force to it. And the accompanying sound was like he suddenly had a foul taste in his mouth. He probably did, thinking of how his mom had been so widely portrayed as the sinister moll of a Mafioso godfather or else as an anonymous high-priced spread for handsome Jack. And right then what popped into my mind was the literal image of his mom as a moll.
If you remember her at all, chances are you, too, might be thinking right here of that once famous photo snapped by some lucky news hawk who caught her in fur coat and white gloves, either going into some club or hotel or coming out of one. Clearly she isn’t at all happy about the encounter. Those heavy brows are knit, just like they were in that bit of movie footage I was telling you about, and she looks . . . Well, she doesn’t look tarty—not to me, anyway. She does look, though, like she’s acquainted with nightlife, if you see what I mean. Put another way, you wouldn’t think, looking at that shot, that she’s on her way to a Junior League benefit. Anyway, that’s the image that came to me just at this critical moment, and it’s a good thing Ed couldn’t read minds. But now, telling you this, it occurs to me that it’s possible, given what Ed was talking about—his mother’s public image—that he himself had that same photo in mind. It was famous—or infamous—in its time, that real brief, flashing instant we call “time” when you’re thinking of current events. And trying to trace Ed’s thoughts here, I wonder how you can correct an image, especially one like that: beautiful, dark-haired, dolled-up woman emerging into the night and the glare of the cameras? In that particular and peculiar sense, Ed was right. And the bitch of it was that it was just her startling beauty that here became a kind of fault, if you follow me. I mean, if the shot had been of, say, Mamie Eisenhower, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal, right? Who cares how Mamie might have looked coming out of some state dinner or fancy ball?
Well, I’ll never know what Ed might have been thinking at that moment. But the conclusion his thinking had led him to was perfectly clear. “I don’t want you to write anything” was what he said. There were probably quite a few ticks on the second hand before I asked him what had changed his mind. I didn’t want to beg—though that’s what I really felt like doing—mostly because I felt sure it wouldn’t do any good.
“I didn’t change my mind. I never had it made up. I don’t know what in hell I was thinking about then, letting you have a look through them. Probably wasn’t thinking anything.” He tapped Mario’s package and raised his eyebrows. “But like I said, it’s too late to clean up all the crap that’s been spread around. Way too late, especially now that she’s dead and gone. She knew that herself. She made a stab or two at it and gave it up. She even let a guy ghostwrite her life story, which just made everything worse. I want her left alone, simple as that.”
That’s how I found myself out on the street—literally—with Ed’s door closed in my face. It was humiliating, just standing there, looking at the brass knocker, a horse’s head. It might as well have been the horse’s ass, and I felt the eyes of all of his neighbors boring into my back. So I drove my car to the end of the block, turned the corner, and parked. My chest was heaving and my temples were sweating, but after a few minutes I began to settle down some, at least enough to steer, and I drove over to Howard Street and the Tally-Ho at the corner of Winchester. It was a Saturday afternoon, and there were some college kids at the tables drinking beer and some neighborhood types doing more serious work at the bar, where I joined them, determined to get blind. I took down a Maker’s Mark, and I took it fast, too, and ordered another. But then as I sat there, staring at its swirly brown depths, something came over me. I don’t know what to call it, whether it was a reporter’s instinct to try to think this thing through while still reasonably straight, to see if there wasn’t a way to salvage something out of this awful wreckage, or whether it was something more basic, like not wanting to get legless up in -Evanston and then have to somehow navigate back to the South Side: that had the potential of making a bad situation considerably worse. So I didn’t have that second belt. Instead I drove slowly down to the city along Sheridan and Lake Shore Drive, turned off at Melrose, and parked.
The day had changed, as if the weather was tracking my mood. When I’d dropped off my notes at Lucy’s it had been a classic midwestern spring day, lots of wind and high, puffy clouds and the sun darting in and out. Old leaves skittering around and a real nip in the air, especially over here near the lake. But now the clouds had massed and the gray sky felt like it was sitting on top of my head as I walked down through Lincoln Park, kicking those skittering leaves and hardly looking up at all, which can be a hazard, since the cyclists tend to whip along there without too much concern for walkers or joggers.
I found a bench behind the Theater on the Lake and flopped down on it, my hands jammed in my pockets. The theater’s red neon light announced SUMMER THEATER TONIGHT, but the building looked so dank and dark I didn’t believe it. I stared off in the direction of Navy Pier, but a fog had swiftly settled there, and I couldn’t even see the top of the Ferris wheel. I don’t know how long I sat there, trying to line up my options. One I knew I didn’t have was to try to make another run at Ed. There are times when even if your dearest hopes are set on something, you know it’s no go. So when I started back up through the park I had that image of Ed’s closed door for company, and I knew there was no way I’d ever get back down to that rec room and that box with its jumbled collection of diaries that would’ve changed my life forever, if only I could have mined them.
That’s not to claim that it was then and there that I succeeded in putting this out of my mind forever. Far from it—especially in the following months, which were unusually hot and muggy. During that time I thought constantly about Ed and how I might get another look into that box. I’d think about calling him and making all kinds of ironclad promises about what I’d write, but mostly about what I wouldn’t. Once I even got into my car and started up to the showroom on Chicago, but I hadn’t gotten far when I saw how foolish this would be. I didn’t take Ed for a violent man, but I did sense he had a lot of anger in him on the subject of his mom, and I didn’t want to put myself in the way of it.
I never exchanged another word with him. As far as I know those diaries are still down there in that box—unless he’s burned them, which I definitely think he’s capable of. I do think this: if he hasn’t burned them, he will destroy them somehow before he buys the farm. Then it’ll be just like they never existed, as if Judy never wrote all those words of recollection and explanation. You’ll just have to take my word for it that they once existed and that I had my hands on them.
Sometimes I think sobriety is overrated. That April afternoon in the park turned out to be one of them. Yeah, I’d pulled back from the bar at the Tally-Ho, but when I got back to my car on Melrose I had zip for all my sober reflections. So over on Halsted I called Lucy and we met for drinks near her place. Then I had that second bourbon, all right, and a bunch of others along with it. And after that we ended up in the sack, where I wouldn’t exactly say I was a standout.
Actually, there wasn’t anything I did during those following months that was outstanding, unless you want to count bumping up my bourbon consumption to heroic proportions, and the cigarettes, too; or maybe the increasingly lousy meals I cooked up for myself when Lucy worked late or went out with friends. I was feeling sorry for myself, stumbling around with my half-scoop like a kid who lets his ice cream cone droop and drops the ball. He still has the cone, all right, but not much of a scoop.
On many mornings during this slump I didn’t feel so hot. I’d drunk too much, eaten too much, and my throat was raw with yesterday’s smoke. Also, I arose with the growing impression that Lucy was growing weary of this mopey man—not nearly what she’d signed on for when we’d moved from friendship to romance. One night we went to Ed Debevic’s, where I hogged down a huge meal in virtual silence. Afterward, Lucy poked my belly with a finger that felt very hard and said, “That’s a nice little alderman you’ve got going there”—Chicagoese for a potbelly. That unsubtle prodding turned me back to my pathetic notes, where I thought I might somehow recover a bit of self-respect. But there was nothing there to build on. There wasn’t anything for me to do but go back to my old beat as best I could. I was quickly running out of dough, and Lucy was getting pretty short in the patience department, too. Something had to be done before my life completely disintegrated into a pool of liquor, fat, and nicotine.
I knew a kid who had a photographic project going, a portrait of the Wrigleyville neighborhood. He lacked depth of background, though, being from Michigan. I signed on as his guide and then supplied the text for what became a pretty decent book. Then there was a friend from New York who used me to get him an intro to Deborah Norville, whom I’d known in her Chicago phase. He ended up having lunch with her and writing that up for Chicago magazine. I got some change out of that. I did a couple of straight-up reporting jobs for the Trib, but I knew that wasn’t going to lead to anything: those conservative guys have long memories and remembered when I’d worked steady for the Daily News—hell, they’re still trying to get back at the liberal press for Watergate and Robert Bork. Studs Terkel said he might use me to run stuff down for a book he had in mind on Western Avenue, a sort of sequel to the one he’d done on Division. But while I was waiting for that call I was “eking out a living,” writing copy for a neighborhood rag called the South Side Enterpriser that was delivered free, whether you wanted it or not. -“Eking out a living” is a term meant to cover your near acquaintance with poverty, like a shrunken overcoat that tries to cover your ass in deep January: if you’re eking, you know how close to not eking you actually are.
One late-summer evening, having nothing better to do, I went up to a Sox game and afterward drifted into a bar on Shields called the Bullpen: blue-lit, divey place, the kind where you can order a Schlitz, if you have a memory long enough to recollect that brand and it suits your pocketbook. That was me, all right, and I was on my second and wondering if Schlitz had always tasted like soap and sugar and how it had all come down to just this. These were not big thoughts, you understand, only the sort of numbed, lazy ones everyone else around you was having. Which was why I glanced up as little as possible. Every time I did, though, there was this kid right in my line of sight, at two o’clock around the angle of the bar—sunglasses pushed up on his slicked-back hair and a long-sleeved T-shirt that said he loved New York. It was clear he was waiting for someone, but when I glanced up the next time, the seat to his right was overflowing with a guy in a suit but no tie, and I was sure this wasn’t who he’d been expecting. Maybe he’d gotten tired of saying the seat was saved and was now peeved at his tardy friend, because when I looked that way again, I saw him say something to Mr. Big, who turned to answer. When he did that I caught a glimpse in the different slant of the lighting of what I hadn’t seen: a huge dent in the man’s right temple. There was only one guy I’d seen in my life who carried such a marker. It was Phil Keneally I was looking at. I wouldn’t have recognized him without it.
The dent was as big around as a silver dollar and maybe a quarter-inch deep—hell of a hole. The story was that he’d picked it up in the Solomons in the war’s last days, and they’d done some amazing sort of surgery right there in the field that saved his life. He got a Purple Heart to go with the Bronze Star he already had. But as I say, without that dent I wouldn’t have recognized him. The Phil Keneally I’d heard give that night school lecture on Lincoln had been a red-faced, handsome man who looked very much like the star fullback he’d been at Notre Dame before the war. He still had those shoulders, all right, but the rest of him—well, from my angle it looked like he’d been subject to some special law of gravity; I mean, everything about him seemed to be sagging toward the floor, and it was only those shoulders that saved him from collapsing into a shapeless heap of suet. I knew he’d fallen on hard times—messy divorce from Annette Giancana, disbarment, even a prison stretch. Still, the effect of seeing him like this was a shocker.
And that shock was obvious, too, because when he looked across at me I could tell from his eyes that he’d caught me staring; he hadn’t lived the life he had without acquiring the necessary skills. He made me right away, too, fixing me with his light blue eyes and nodding that jowly face so that his cheeks and chins bobbled. I nodded back and raised a hand to signal Hi, and he excused himself from the kid who loved New York and made his ponderous way around the bar to where I was sitting.
“Newspaper guy,” he began, winking an eye and pointing at me, index finger out and thumb up like a pistol. “Give me a second, and I’ll have it.”
I saved him the trouble, and he sat down, smooth enough and already ordering a Scotch. “I would have fuckin’ had it,” he said when the drink came. “Daily News. Worked for those Jew boys on that Chicago book. That was a while back.” He flicked his pale eyes over me, managing to make his meaning clear. “So now what?”
“Well, you know,” I came back, “this and that.”
“Oh, yeahhh,” he said, raising his eyes briefly ceilingward as he swirled the Scotch. “I know all there is to know about ‘this and that.’ I could write a book about it—but then, that’s your bag. I can’t really write, not the way I can talk.” He made the flapping-jaws gesture with his thumb and fingers. He looked at me searchingly, as they say, as if inviting confidence or even a full-length confession, and I thought right off, What the hell, this guy’s down even further than I am. But right behind that thought, almost treading on its heels, was the realization that here at my goddamned elbow was a guy—no, the guy—who knew the whole terrain of the Judy Campbell story, maybe better than anyone else still alive. He’d been married to the Mob, though now some years divorced from Annette Giancana; he’d been their legal mouthpiece for years before that and would have to know the guts of the entire operation. He’d even taken the fall for them in a jury-tampering case, and it had cost him his license. If I’d searched the entire city for the one person who could truly understand what I’d had my hands on and then lost, here he was. I don’t believe in fate or luck or serendipity, or whatever word you want to stick in here. What I thought then and later on, too, driving back down to Morgan Park, was that this was nothing more and nothing less than two guys down on their luck and looking to forget about that for a few hours. These two guys would naturally find themselves in a dive just like the Bullpen. So there you are, and there we were.
For the next twenty minutes or so I told Phil Keneally my version of “this and that,” and I saw no point in trying to put any makeup on it, besides which he’d have seen through it right away. Even in my sorry-ass, self-serving rendition it wasn’t that long a story.
He heard me out, this huge, misshapen, dented, damaged man who had no doubt listened to hundreds of sob stories in his line of work. And he heard me out in silence, too, sipping his Scotch right along, signaling for another, never once interrupting with a question or objection. Must have been a trait—this control—he’d had to learn when listening to his criminal clients lie to him. When I’d finished, he nodded, staring straight ahead, then signaled the bartender. He still hadn’t said a word. When the bartender came over, Keneally asked if I was sticking with the Schlitz, and I said not if he was buying. He shook that massive, jowly head with its tarnished badge of honor.
“No, no, no, you’re buying, ass-wipe,” he growled, pointing a finger at me, though this time not with the thumb cocked, the bartender standing above us in his short-sleeved shirt with his tattoos faded to green on his forearms. “You’re buying, and I’m selling. Bump me up to a Grant’s,” he told the bartender. “Suddenly this has turned into a lucky night. And bring him another can of that horse piss.”
I guess I have as much pride as the next man, but among other things I knew about Phil Keneally was that he had a famously salty tongue and wasn’t particularly careful who he used it on. A story got around about him telling Charlie Fischetti to go fuck himself and his guinea mother, too, when Fischetti was his client and had said something Keneally didn’t like. If you remember who Charlie the Fish was, you know this was very risky talk. So I didn’t take it too personally that in the last few seconds Keneally had called me an ass-wipe who drank horse piss. Besides, he wasn’t that far from the mark in his description of the Schlitz. So I said nothing, tried to look as if I hadn’t even heard his remarks, thinking I’d stay another round to see what it was he was up to here, what it was he was offering to sell me.
When the bartender produced our drinks, Keneally leaned toward me and said in a conversational tone, as if we were discussing tomorrow’s races at Arlington, that I hadn’t really missed my scoop, because from the sound of it what Ed had in that box was much too early to be of any real use. “Who gives a fuck how she grew up,” he growled. “The point here is she fucked JFK and Momo both—probably at the same time. You don’t have the real beginning of this thing. You were wasting your time down there in your friend’s rec room. The story starts here”—tapping the blackened, sticky bar top with his finger so that it sounded oddly like a judge’s gavel, and I thought the guy’s troubles with the bottle had unhinged him.
“Here?” I asked. “Here?”
“Not here, you sap,” he said. “Here in Chicago, at the County Building, in February of ’sixty.” Now it was he who was looking at me, wondering whether I was unhinged or never had hinges to my frame to begin with, whether I could keep up with him or was only a hopeless hack. He paused a long moment, like he was considering whether he was wasting his time on me. If this was what he was doing, then you see again in this situation how accidental, really, history can be. That’s to say, suppose he’d just dismissed me? He might have, easily enough: seedy-looking guy in a crappy bar, whining about missing his big break when all he had to show for it was a jumble of anecdotes that kind of circled around the center of the story. And he himself with a famous temper on him.
“I have the real story,” he said then. “I have the notebooks Campbell had Momo stash when the feds were all over her ass. They were just about the only things Toinette got after they whacked her old man. What happened to the rest of it—the loot and so forth—I don’t know. Only the family does.”
The instant he said it I knew it had to be true. So far as I could figure, there wouldn’t be any point in his lying to me. Looking into his face, I wasn’t seeing it so much as I was seeing in that bleak, blue light how it all made perfect sense, even if I didn’t have the facts that made it add up, if you follow me here. So I asked him how many more books there were.
He shook his head. “I haven’t looked at them in a while, but it’s got to be a dozen, anyway. Toinette almost threw the package of them at me.” He grinned in rueful recollection. “She was one fiery bitch, I’ll give her that—that’s one thing she got from her old man he didn’t quite stamp out. But otherwise he did a pretty fucking thorough job on her personality. Where was I?”
“Right. Anyway, after they found him her family got whatever was down there to get, and after that, then they called the cops. They left the shit for Toinette—some tie clasps, a rosary, shit like that. Not a dollar. They told her there wasn’t any. Bullshit. The guy was keeping millions—that’s millions—right there in his safe. I know that because I helped him put some papers in there one time, and I saw it with these baby blues.” He pointed at his eyes with the forked fingers of his hand.
“But they hated her ass, and the truth was she’d caused them all a huge amount of trouble when she was a teenager.” That rueful grin came to him again. “‘Here are his whore’s diaries.’ She said that when she heaved them at me. ‘If you want to find out how many times they fucked, be my guest.’ There they were, big package wrapped in brown paper and her first name in the upper left-hand corner—in his handwriting.”
“Well, did you,” I asked, “look at them?”
“Not really. I glanced through them some, and then, what with one thing and another”—he flicked a glance at me out of the corner of an eye, a reference to my own “this and that”—“I stashed them and forgot about them. When she came back in the headlines with the Church Committee investigations, I remembered them. But shit, it was old news to me, and I thought, Fuck it.
“But if your real question here is, Do they have the goods?—the blow jobs, the payoffs, that shit—the answer is yes, in spades. They’ve got all that, all right, the stuff you need.” He swirled his tumbler some more, and I sensed he was getting ready to order up another. Big as he was, I could tell the stuff was starting to take hold: his face had that sheen you get when the whisky starts cooking your insides. He wasn’t slurring his words, but I thought his pronunciation had lost a bit of the courtroom crispness it had had when he’d sat down next to me. I don’t doubt he would have come up with my name when he’d first come over, as he claimed; I wondered if he would have now, though.
Wouldn’t this be a hell of a note, I thought, if I had my hands back on this thing and then had my man drift off into an alcoholic stupor? Who could tell what might happen to him? He might just blow up with a stroke or heart attack this very night, the way he was going, or, more likely, have a fatal smash-up on the way to wherever it was he was living.
“Anyway,” Keneally suddenly continued, tapping the bar again with his finger, “they’ve got plenty. And what they don’t have, I do. So”—again that insistent tapping—“you came in here with shit in your wallet, and suddenly you’ve got yourself the two crucial sources you need to write your story. If you can’t put it together after what I’m handing you, you’re a bigger asshole than I figured.” He let go of his glass and clawed at the dirty air with his meaty hands. “Oh, Christ! If only I could write! Then I wouldn’t have to fuck around with fifth-rate minds. If only . . .” He dropped his hands and leaned into me so that I got a good load of what he’d been drinking. This plus all the other drinks he’d had in places like this and worse; also the better ones when he’d been mobbed up and the Boys in the White Hats (as they used to be called) were buying and often enough owned the joints where they all were drinking. His breath smelled hot and awfully stale at the same time. If history had a breath, it might smell something like this, and I wanted to draw back but didn’t.
He was dramatic, yes: that was part of what had made him so spectacular and successful in the courtroom. Probably was his nature, too. But I had to believe him. He would have taken those diaries and shaken everything out of them that was important and written it up himself if he thought he could do it. So that part of the drama with the hands and all, that was genuine. Whether I had a fifth-rate mind might be another matter; if you’re comparing mine to his, maybe he wasn’t that far off the mark, which would make his comment not so much insulting as rude. That’s a pretty big difference, no matter where you’re sitting. Even on this night, with all the Scotches he’d gulped, even after that stretch in the stone house, the loss of his license, the lower layers of life he was drifting down through—even after you’ve thrown all this into the calculation, he was still a brilliant man in his way. You couldn’t miss that. Maybe he wasn’t the guy I’d seen that night at John Marshall, but then, he didn’t have to be to deserve, in my mind anyway, that word brilliant. He was.
“But here’s the thing,” he said, his tone altering just slightly. “Here’s the thing—you can. I’ve read your stuff. Read that Chicago book. You’re okay. And I can tell you now, if this thing’s done right, we won’t ever have to come into a shithole like this. Ever. We’ll be drinking Johnnie Black, eating at Charlie fucking Trotter’s, and our girlfriends’ll be farting through silk, to quote a famous source.”
I didn’t get the reference, and I didn’t care. What I wanted, what I was driving toward as best I could, was making some kind of deal, right here and now. What was in it for him, I asked, for him to be so generous?
“Half, you shit-eater. Half.” He glared at me saying this, his great, glistening mug jammed up to mine with that breath on him.
“Sounds okay to me,” I said, trying for the professionally cool while knowing full well that what I’d already confessed to him had destroyed any pretense of leverage. I had none, and he knew it. “When do we start?”
“Right here,” he said, shifting his ass on the overmatched barstool. “Right here, right now.”
“Jake,” I came back, reaching into my pants pocket for my ballpoint and little pad. “But—” I couldn’t finish before he had those meat hooks outspread between us.
“But what?” There was impatience of a high order here, as well as a pretend puzzlement. “What?” Still, I had to plunge on and ask the question.
Looking back, I’m a bit surprised I felt even so early on this kind of urgency about it. That’s to say, what I should have done then, what a reporter’s gut should have been sending up to his brain with all bells and whistles full on, was this: okay, let me at it. Instead, I heard myself asking whether he’d ever met her. And I wasn’t surprised when he tossed his head toward the ceiling, as if he thought the question was asinine—which it probably was under these circumstances. But he checked his impatience for some reason. He was one really impatient guy, as I’ve tried to indicate. Remembering this, I’ve wondered why he didn’t just let it fly: after all, he’d called me a fair number of unflattering things already. Why stop here? But that isn’t what happened.
When he brought his head back down and nodded at the bartender, he answered me in a different tone. Soft isn’t the word I want, but there was an edge that had dropped away. “Yes,” he said. “That is, I saw her. Twice. Once when I had something to talk over with Momo at his house.
“Our arrangement was for me to call him when I got close. Usually I’d do this from over on Harlem. I did that. He told me to come on, so when I came around the corner on Wenonah, there she was coming out the back, by the garage. She didn’t even so much as glance in my direction, just got in one of those shitty little Fords he used to drive, about one step up from a golf cart, and backed out. Didn’t look either way, but I could see her face in profile inside the car.
“The other time was about the same. I had some business to discuss with him, and he told me to meet him at the Armory. When I got there, I parked in back, went in, and there she was in the booth with him, and he says something to her, she gets up, walks past me, doesn’t look. Then she’s gone.” He smiled, for the first time, I think, since we’d glanced at each other across the bar. He had long, broad teeth that looked like they’d been cared for once upon a time.
“Yeah,” he breathed, nodding twice for emphasis. “Yeah. They didn’t lie about that part of it, at least—she was a dish, a bombshell, a smoking babe. That was true.” The new drinks came, and he took an enormous hit of his, wiping his mouth with his fingers. “She made an impression on you. But you know what I thought about on that occasion when I saw her coming out of the house on Wenonah?”
I shook my head.
“Well, this is Christ’s own bare-balls truth. I thought to myself, Why is she fucking him?” He glared again at me, this time with what I took to be a simple feeling of stud rivalry. We’ve all felt that, right? But I’ve come to think there was more to it than that—though there’s an awful lot of troublesome and important stuff wrapped up inside that, isn’t there? Maybe I never would have come close to it—if I have—if I hadn’t seen that bit of movie footage I was telling you about. Of course, I hadn’t when he and I were sitting cheek by jowls at the Bullpen. That wouldn’t happen until months later, because it was Keneally who showed it to me. But when I was watching it, that was when it came to me that it wasn’t just stud rivalry, though it was probably that, too. No, what it was was outrage. Outrage at what he took to be a kind of cosmic mistake, or an insult, if you like, to the way things ought to be if the universe was going to make any sense. And this coming from a guy who had seen everything the show has to offer and then some. But looking at that footage, it came to me that you couldn’t feel any other way about it: this banana-nosed guy the color of old, raw liver, at least in that faded film, with his back all hairy, creeping along like a beast of prey, and this beautiful, statuesque girl, staring down into the deep end and just unconscious of what was about to happen to her. If that didn’t give you the instant feeling that Hey! Something’s wrong here! then I’m telling all this to the wrong party, because you haven’t got a heart in you, only a timepiece.
Anyway, back to the Bullpen and Phil Keneally, who had pulled himself back from wherever he was to tell me that this was way too big a story to get paralyzed by pussy—his words, not mine. “This began before her and it goes on after she’d left the scene,” he claimed. “Yeah, she’s a player, and she has some firsthand stuff you won’t find elsewhere. But we’re hunting elephants here, my friend, not fucking gazelles. Elephants.
“The story starts in the County Building”—nodding in the direction of the Loop—“and I’m sitting in the chambers of William J. Tuohy, chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County. We’re waiting for a friend of Judge Tuohy’s to show. It’s after hours, and the place is pretty still, just a few sounds, far-off. Then we hear footsteps, and they keep on coming our way, on through that empty courtroom.” He made walking legs with his fingers along the bar, and such was his dramatic talent that at that moment the background noise of the bar dropped away and I was there. “Then the door’s pushed wide, and in walks Joe Kennedy, the old man. That’s where your story starts, pal, not with some shithead recollections Judy Campbell had of her childhood.”
Meet the Author
FREDERICK TURNER is the author of many works of nonfiction and two novels, and is the recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.
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