Umberto Tosi’s Novel “Our Own Kind”Continues With Chapter 10, “Gordon’s Knot.”
(Copyright © 2015 by Umberto Tosi, all rights reserved.)
The social worker doesn’t make eye contact. She squints slightly through wire-rimmed glasses as she puts her ballpoint pen to the sheet of paper on her official clipboard, her shoulders hunched as if somebody might peek. She’s only slightly plump, slightly fortyish, slightly rouged, all neutral in a gray suit and sensible shoes, except for her dyed reddish hair that needs a touch-up. She clicks off questions in with a lets-get-it-over flatness, without follow-ups. Benny gets that Ms. Gray Suit already made up her mind.
Benny tries to nuance and elaborate his responses, but she’s having none of that. He feels impatient too, thirsty for a martini at the Dog, where he would be, having taken the rest of the afternoon off. Ms. Gray Suit has him cornered in a tight, windowless bleach-lit meeting room in the basement of the courthouse, a good place to get the third degree . He had hoped she would come to his home – which I had made spotless for the occasion – with his daughters at play in the yard and all demonstrably right with his parent world. Turns out the social worker had already gone by his daughter’s school, and met with them privately in the principal’s office. Ben steams himself up imagining Gray Suit putting his girls on the spot about whether they would like to live with neurotic, albino daddy or manic-depressive, vodka-orange-juice tippling mommy.
At last it’s over. Gray Suit gathers her folders and is gone. She seems to vanish by the time he steps out of the conference room, like it all never happened. He makes his way out of the courthouse feeling a brick in his stomach. No sense going back to his office. It’s too early to go home. He heads for the Redwood Inn, lunch and cocktail den of assorted civic center minions, lawyers, flacks and newspapermalcontents.
The faux-plush décor tries for Victorian cat house – lots of dark red hues, but no redwood – burgundy flocked wallpaper and crimson leather booths, vaguely oriental carpeting, red-leather-upholstered swiveling bar stools with backs matching the long dark wood-and-brass bar that curves well into the dining area.
Don Drysdale: When there’s nothing else to talk about, there was always baseball
Benny sits at the bar and orders his usual Stoli martini, up, stirred-not-shaken, two olives – a 007 with a Russian twist. It’s the 60s. Ordering Russian vodka is anti-cold-war, kind of, and gets you where you want to go faster than Sputnik. The bartender, Jimmy, banters with customers about a Dodger game on the big TV above the far end of the bar. They’re laying bets on how long star pitcher Don Drysdale’s scoreless inning streak will last. Benny hears the usual gripes about the low-hitting Bums’ slim, pennant prospects this year, relying on big Don, sans kosher strikeout king Sandy Koufax, who retired with an arthritic arm.
Gordy raises a glass to Benny from his regular spot just around the back curve of the bar. Benny lifts his martini in return. Gordy, who usually stays put, moves to a stool next to Benny.
Gordy gets right to it. “So, Benny. You talk to Bechtel yet?” He’s a wavy noodle of a man, with tight, steel-gray eyes and the easy smirk of someone who knows a lot of secrets, not a golden hair of his expensively coiffed mane is ever out of place. Gordy gives Benny his standard conspiratorial grin, showing perfect teeth. His eyes remain as distant as alpine lakes. He runs cool in a soft gray-blue suit, off-white button-down shirt and understated navy silk tie, loosened, regular-Joe-like, with the top button open.
“No really. Not since I flew up there the first time.”
“Morgan phoned me this morning. Mentioned you hadn’t returned his call.”
“Oh, yeah. Been meaning to. Had a lot going on lately.”
Gordon’s upper lip twitches almost imperceptibly. He drains his glass and signals the bartender for another. “Not good, old chum.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll call him today.”
“Don’t worry, you’re white enough for them.” He raps his fingers on the bar rail, as drum roll to his tired gag, and Benny obliges with his usually “har-har” to albino jokes.
Al comes over and pours Gordy a shot of Talisker Islay single malt, with a water back, no ice. The bartender looks to Benny, who puts a hand over his martini glass. Al moves back down the bar.
“Was Morgan bugged?” Benny lights up a Parliament. Gotta quit. “It’s just an assistant copy writing job.”
“Pays mucho mucho dinero better than the Times gives you, I’m sure. You’re the one always bitching about needing more.”
Benny sips his martini. “Don’t know. It’s not my thing, the military industrial complex.”
“Hell, I don’t even know if he’s going to make you an offer. But it sounded like it. Just call him.”
“Hey, I appreciate you setting me up with that interview – free trip to San Francisco, and all.” Benny loves the city by the bay, but has decided it would be too far away from his girls unless he got custody, and even there, there’d be complications about them seeing their mother. He likes to think of it that way, but less nobly, he doesn’t like their politics, the sterility of their office – no misfits like at the paper – and isn’t sure he’d do well at it anyway.
“You just went for the free airline tickets?”
“Maybe. But I was serious about the interview. I gave it a shot. I just don’t know.”
“Suit yourself.” Gordy popped some salted peanuts from a little wooden bowl on the bar. “I’m cool with that, just call the guy. Okay?”
Benny tells Gordy about his encounter with Preacher Man – well known among downtown denizens. Gordy laughs it off.
“Speaking of nuts, what does Howard Hughes think about the election?”
May, 1968, Robe3rt Kennedy’s at the podium in Los Angeles
Talking about politics in the ’60s, meet the greatest weasel of all times, Mayor Sam Yorty
“Germs! All he thinks about germs. When you have that much money it doesn’t matter who wins elections, you’re still on top, but germs, they can still get you.”
“I thought you were supposed to keep your filthy rich client’s name out of the limelight.”
Though he said he was “in publicity” Gordy didn’t act like any flack Benny had ever seen. He kept to himself, chatting at the bar, but never going out of his way to button-hole reporters. He seemed to live well, without visible means of support, and frequently picked up tabs for various reporters and others in the bar, always without ceremony. Benny always thought the rumor about Gordy being “Howard Hughes’ publicity man,” was a joke, that fit with his reticence. After all, it would make sense for the loony, reclusive billionaire to hire a reverse-flack, who he would pay to keep his name out of the news media instead of in.
Gordy had surprised Benny one night, a few weeks earlier, however, by confirming the rumor, privately.
“Aren’t you taking a risk, telling me.” Benny almost whispered.
“Doesn’t matter what I tell you, Benny.”
“Thanks. Like, you’re saying that I’m a nobody.”
“Like, nobody would believe you.”
“Fuck you and the Spruce Goose.” That was Hughes gigantic, infamous all-plywood cargo plane that he kept docked at Long Beach.
“And fuck you very much.” Gordy had laughed.
Back at the Redwood now, Gordy’s “secret” safe with Benny, they fell silent for a while.
Gordy downed the rest of his drink and nodded for another. Hollow leg, this guy. “So, you’re going to take the job?”
“I don’t know… San Francisco so far from the kids… you know, weekends and all.”
“I thought you said your kids are with you…”
“Temporary. The whole thing’s a mess.”
“You just don’t want to go. San Francisco’s only an hour’s flight from L.A.”
“It’s probably moot now. I felt bad vibes from the prissy social worker who interviewed me for the family court. I can’t say what will happen now. ”
“I got news for you. Sooner or later, everybody either flakes out or sells out.”
“Words to live by. You’re so uplifting, Gordy.” Benny shrugs and takes another hit of martini. He tells Gordon about his Grand Central Market encounter with Preacher man. “And I had a contact run the license plate of the sedan that picked him up. You’ll never guess who owns it.”
“Jesus, Gordy. How do you know that?”
“Simple, my friend. That crazy John Bircher son-of-a-bitch is the moneybag behind ‘The Orchard,’ you know, that cult for hippie burnouts. They made Preacher Man a deacon because he know a lot of other hippies. But he keeps going off the reservation.”
“You know a lot. Maybe you really aren’t bullshitting about being Howard Hughes’ flack. Can I quote you?”
“You can’t quote me because I don’t exist. Not ever.”
“What do you think this lunatic preacher man meant about Kennedy? I assume that it’s Bobby he was ranting on about.”
“You never can tell about these people.”
“I guess I could tell the cops. Maybe there’s a story in it.”
“Ha! That’s rich. You got nothing. Besides, the LAPD doesn’t give a a rat’s ass about Bobby Kennedy. They think he’s a commie pinko.”
“You can say that again.”
“Maniacs roam among us. Lunatics have always been with us, just like the poor. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“Coconuts. Preacher man’s always had Jesus and hell on the brain, now he’s added coconuts and Kennedy! Why do his kind always call out Jesus? Poor Jesus.”
Gordy considers his drink a while. “You know, this may not mean anything, but I had a drink with Imhoff the other night, that homicide detective who writes TV scripts. He was bitching about tin-horn Sam Yorty, our weasel mayor, and Yorty’s ubermanfurher police chief Bill Parker for refusing to order police protection for Bobby Kennedy while he’s campaigning here in the Presidential primary.”
Benny shakes his head. “Not surprising. Our red-baiting mayor has presidential delusions himself.”
“It’s a cat-and-mouse game. Yorty wants to keep Kennedy from campaigning in South Central, because he’s worried that this will increase black voter turnout in June and be bad for him. Parker refused to send his cops down to Watts to hear Bobby and everybody singing ‘Kumbaya.’ Far as Parket is concerned, South Central is a free-fire zone.”
Benny had vetted a script from Imhoff a while back. The detective said he sold a script to a Jack Webb’s new cop show, Adam 12.
Gordy continued. “Imhoff’s no Kennedy fan either. He’s just ticked because he wanted to be on the Kennedy detail himself. He wants to cozy up with Bobby’s celebrity crowd… rub elbows with Elizabeth Taylor at fund raisers and get his photo taken.
“Yorty and Parker wouldn’t shed any tears if Bobby just went away.”
“What if this Preacher Man, or some other nut takes a shot at Bobby?”
“Nothing stopping him. It would make a lot of people happy. They hate Bobby worse than they did Jack. Preacher man would have to stand in like. Lots of people with guns hate Bobby – the Mob, the John Birchers, the Vietnam hawks, the klan, Castro, the Cubans, J. Edgar Hoover, Jimmy Hoffa, not to mention the CIA and the Pentagon… Not all you hippie pinkos believe him, but he say he’s withdrawing Vietnam, just like Martin Luther King was fulminating before he was shot. The war is a gravy train. Lot of people around here are making billions of dollars from it… Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.”
A shout goes up from the other end of the bar. The bartender turns up the sound on the TV. Vin Scully wraps it neatly up: “It’s happened! Drysdale now is one strike away from finishing off the Houston Astros in his fourth straight shutout, tying a National League record…” More cheering.
Drysdale winds up and unleashes his bulk into an impossibly graceful sidearm pitch. “Strike three! Caught him looking,” Scully announces excitedly and the crowd roars. Scully ices the cake. “Two more shutouts and he could break all major league records. Looks like he’ll face the Giants next, then the Pirates. That would be on Election Day, June 4.”
The bartender turns the TV off. He walks over to Gordy and lays down a ten-dollar bill.
Benny smirks. “Hey, Al, don’t you know you don’t bet against Don Drysdale? Not in this universe.”
Gordy puts the ten spot in his pocket. “You snort too much scifi, Benny.”
“I watch Tar Shreck.”
Gordy laughs. “Believes in a future, but all fucked up.”
“Where no ban has gone mefore…”
“You’ve gone, all right – around the bend, Benny.”
Benny smiled wanly. Better around the bend, than to an empty pad where silent, sorrowful rooms would be too much right now. His beloved girls gone, simply gone, thrown back into the mercurial madness that he had escaped and had felt he could spirit them from as well. This wasn’t shaping up as a year for optimists.