Chapter 4: A DESERT GRAVE...
It was a deadly situation! Jack Barrymore, his monkey, Clementine, and I, prisoners of the notorious Bugsy Siegel, being driven far into the desert to be executed!
Poor Clemmie looked so pathetic, bound up like a mummy, that I asked permission to untie her; Siegel laughed, and said, "Sure, why not? She might as well be comfortable, before we machine-gun her!"
Clemmie calmed down, when untied, and whispered, *SNORT* I was so stupid! When Bugsy sent more boys, I thought it was for more fun! *SNIFF* I was so turned on by the rope...Jack used to do that stuff, before he DUMPED me *SNIFF, SNIFF*...but then they grabbed me, and tossed me into this car! *SPIT* You men are all PIGS!!!*SNORT*
*SNORT* So, are you here to rescue me?*GIGGLE, GIGGLE*
I looked to the floorboard, and said, sadly, "Not exactly."
Jack simply ignored her, and announced, "I have to pee."
*GIGGLE* They got you, too? They didn't even have to tie you up???*CHORTLE, CHORTLE* LOSERS!!!!*GIGGLE, GIGGLE*
I ignored Clemmie's sarcasm, and turned my attention to Siegel. "I'm confused by the whole Grauman's fiasco," I called. "I thought the Mob hated public displays..."
Siegel laughed, coldly. "Who says the Mob staged it? A deranged fan, waving a water pistol...sorry, Ron, your gesture to save Jack was noble, but unecessary...hired by Barrymore, himself, we've 'leaked' to the press..."
"Ohhhh, don't use that word," Barrymore groaned.
"...as another of his theatrical gestures to get free publicity, and a chance to get away from Hollywood for a while...Simple, and everybody will believe it!"
I shook my head. "What about my disappearance? How can you cover that up?"
"You provided the explanation, yourself, when you sent your wife and kid to Boston...oh, don't try to deny it, I'm not that stupid! You played right into my hands...'Distinguished actor carries on adulterous affair with starlet'...my girlfriend, Virginia, is quite convincing in the role...'sends family away to avoid wife's suspicions and continue clandestine meetings with his mistress...then, when story breaks'...I've leaked that, too...'goes into hiding, out of shame!' Damn, I'm good!"
"Benita will know it's a lie..."
"Who cares? The public will believe it, that's all that matters!"
I sat back, heavily, in the car seat. He was right, of course. As hedonistic as actors are reputed to be...and Jack and Clemmie were perfect examples...my personal morality would be ignored, in favor of juicy headlines...
"I gotta pee..." Jack moaned.
*SNORT*Are we there, yet?*SNORT* Clemmie asked, impatiently.
We were all dead, I realized, and I really hated dying with this pair!
Clemmie kept up a stream of insults at both Jack and me, and Jack's groans became even more pathetic, as we crossed the State Line, into Nevada...
I suddenly noticed that Jack was unzipping his pants! "What in God's name are you doing???" I whispered.
"Hell, Colman, he's been doing this to us...I think I'll return the favor!" Clemmie loudly hooted and squawked to cover up the sound of Jack's golden flow, which he liberally spread under the seats of Siegel and 'Knuckles'...with a satisfied sigh, Jack zipped his pants back up, and I squeezed my feet further back, to keep my shoes from getting damp!
"The Last Great Act of Defiance!" I said, and we all grinned at each other...then Clem shook her head, vigorously...
*SPIT*No, no, no! You aren't being forgiven by me! If I had a GUN, I'd shoot BOTH of YOU!*SNORT*
"Why?" I asked, confused. "What brought about all this?"
*SNORT* You and Jack both USED me, then just TOSSED me aside!*SNIFF* I gave you the best years of my LIFE, Jack, then you tossed me out like yesterday's banana peels!*WHIMPER*Just for some empty-headed bimbos to play with your BANANA!*SNIFF, SNIFF*
"You get more in alimony than the PRESIDENT makes in a YEAR, you simian strumpet! A blasted penthouse with a staff of male strippers, more fruit than in all of Central America, an open door to every club in Hollywood...you must think I print money in the basement, with what you've spent on a new wardrobe...and I still had to get a Restraining Order to keep you from attacking me and my lady friends! You aren't a monkey, you're Lucifer, without a penis!"
*SNIFF, SNIFF* But you're cheapening what we shared...letting amateur hookers enjoy your banana!!! That banana belonged to me! *SNORT*
Barrymore inhaled, then said, gently, "I'll always love you, Clem, what we shared was certainly special...but we're too much alike! It's as if the same soul resided in two bodies! I need variety, so do you! Fidelity is for suckers like Colman, here...even if I wouldn't mind sampling Benita's fruit..."
"Just try it, Jack, and you won't have to worry about Siegel killing you...I will!"
Jack coughed, nervously. "Merely a hypothetical observation, old chum..." he apologized.
"And why are you angry at me, Clemmie? I apologized for missing your housewarming..."
*SNORT* As if that were the ONLY thing! You NEVER write or visit, you ignore me for days, you're always too busy...even after ALL we SHARED!!!*SNIFF*
"Clemmie, I adore you, as a friend, but I have a life! A wife and child who have my priority ,a career that requires my constant attention, a plate so full that I barely have time to sleep! We're friends, Clemmie, but I can't sacrifice my other priorities just to spend more time with you!"
*SNORT* SEE??? You ADMIT IT! *SNIFF*
In the front seat, 'Knuckles' shook his head, and proclaimed, "Boss, these guys are wackos! They're back there talkin' to the monkey!"
"Um, weren't you part of the crew I sent to rough up the monkey?"
"The crew that came back scratched and with hickeys, saying they'd had a WILD TIME with the monkey, the most fun they'd ever had?"
"It sure was, boss!"
"And you think THOSE TWO are CRAZY????"
"Uh...never mind, boss."
As the temperature climbed to 115, the cars containing us, and Siegel's gang, churned up a cloud of dust over the largely unpaved roads. It began to appear that somewhere around Las Vegas would be our final destination, and as the signs reminded us it was getting closer and closer, my feeling of dread increased...
But Jack was deep in thought, and I began to wonder if he'd gotten an idea...
"Siegel," Jack said, slowly, "Would a cash stipend serve as a substitute for the services I didn't render?"
"'Knuckles', how much cash did Barrymore and Colman have on them, when you patted them down?"
"About $300, and some change."
"Sorry, Jack, not enough, by far!"
"I know that, but I was just thinking, gambling is legal in Nevada, right?"
"What's your point, Barrymore?"
"Why not stop at a casino, and let me win enough to pay off the debt?"
Siegel roared in laughter. "You expect me to stop at a casino on the way to your execution, so you can play poker???"
"Why not? If I lose, you still kill us, but if I win, you're a great deal richer!"
"Parleying $300 into enough to clear your marker is damn near impossible, you know that?"
"Hey, what have I got left to lose?"
Bugsy considered the idea, then slowly smiled. "Why not? Never let it be said I never gave a guy every chance, before I killed them!"
On his walkie-talkie, he informed the other car that we would be going into Las Vegas...
Las Vegas was known as the 'Poor Man's Reno', and driving up Fremont Street, I could see why. Clapboard western buildings lined the dusty streets, and some residents still travelled on horseback! Every establishment offered gambling (even the churches advertised Bingo), but business appeared to be nil, as I saw many store owners taking siestas, outside the storefronts.
Just outside the city, however, things improved, somewhat...a line of wood-and-adobe casinos, run by the Mob, appeared to be moderately prosperous, if the cars lined up were any indication...
With only $300 as a stake, Jack couldn't get into the 'big money' games; he'd have to work his way up, from level to level, building up a 'bankroll' as he went...
The first casino was a true 'piece of work'...a run-down, sleazy converted saloon, with players who looked like they'd served with General Custer...
I looked, dubiously, at the collection of cowboys. "Be careful, Jack," I warned.
"Aw, what fun would that be?" he laughed, and took a seat at a one of the games...
...and began to LOSE! Again and again, Jack lost, and our tiny backroll quickly evaporated!
Siegel bitterly proclaimed, "I shoulda just killed you guys! He's stinkin' this place up...I'm gonna pull him out..."
"Please, just wait!" I begged. "He'll turn things around, I know he will!"
With the last of our money, Jack played his last hand...and not only did he win, he succeeded in scaring every player in the room!
ACES AND EIGHTS!!!! The grizzled old prospector seated next to Jack howled, then launched a load of tobacco juice into a nearby spittoon. "Of all the dad-blasted, gol-durn unluckiest winnin' hands, you picked the worst! That's a 'Dead Man's Hand', son, the hand Wild Bill Hickok had in Deadwood, just a'fore he got himself shot in the back, and permanently killed!!!"
"You don't say!" Jack said, innocently. "Imagine that..."
The prospector blinked, then nodded his head, vigorously. "Yessir, if you get that hand, it's a sure sign the Grim Reaper is a-comin'!"
Jack stared at him, intently. "Maybe I am the Grim Reaper..."
The old man stepped back a pace, then grinned a toothless smile. "No, you ain't!" he laughed. "I recognize you! You're that actor fella I seen down at the movie house...you do those classy, high-fallutin' flickers..."
Jack shrugged, and smiled, nodding.
"...You're Ronald Colman!"
The smile froze on Jack's face, and he silently reminded himself to never, ever talk to locals, again!
Despite winning several more hands, it was obvious the players were more than a bit uncomfortable having a doomed player at their tables, and the place was soon empty!
"How'd I do?" Jack asked.
"A little over three thousand," I replied.
"Ah, well, I'd hoped for more, but an auspicious start! Come, Clem! Where to, next, Siegel?"
The next matches were held in a back room of the adjoining casino, as the players were all under-age college students, gambling with the allowance money their parents had sent them. The 'leader' of the group, a pimply-faced boy with a crew-cut and glasses, arrogantly exclaimed, "We're pretty good, but we'll take it easy on you, old man!"
"Old man?" Jack hissed...less than an hour later, Jack walked out $5000 richer, and the boys were thinking up excuses to get more money from Mommy and Daddy!
Jack had 'graduated' to the main casino, now, and had a chance for big money...and he simply couldn't lose! Despite contantly changing decks, being told to move to different tables, and my being ordered not to allow Clemmie anywhere near him, one pot after another ended up in Jack's coffers. In a little over two hours, Jack was ahead by $25,000!
Siegel shook his head, in awe. "I've watched a lot of poker players, but Jack is in a class by himself!"
"Has he made enough to tear up his marker?"
"Not nearly...but he's ready to face the big boys..."
We were taken to a private casino, where Jack would face his greatest challenge...
There were only three other players...a British government employee, very dangerous-looking, who went by the title, 'Commander'; an old-fashioned Wild West gambler who was always offering advice his 'daddy' told him, named Bret; and a poker-playing troubadour, who simply called himself 'The Gambler'.
Jack smiled at his opponents, and said, quietly, to me, "These gentlemen aren't the clowns I've faced all evening, Colman, but pros...I'll either leave here rich, or dead, that's for certain!"
Truer words were never spoken, as the game became as much a test of strategy and tactics, as bets and winning hands! Bret couched his every move with pithy philosophy from his father, The Gambler hummed songs and showed an amazing memory of the deck, and the Commander pounced like a shark at any sign of weakness. Jack was holding his own, but obviously, it would be a long night!
"How long will this last?" Siegel asked, as 'Knuckles' took Clemmie for a walk.
"Who knows?" I shrugged. "Maybe a couple of hours, maybe all night. It depends on player luck, the size of the pots, endurance, any number of things. But the big winner will walk away several hundred thousand dollars richer!"
A crazy thought popped into my head, that made me laugh...
"What's so funny?" Siegel asked, smiling.
"I was just thinking what miserable excuses for casinos these are..."
"Hey, watch it, Colman! The Mob owns these casinos..."
"I'm from Europe, where casinos are palaces, with 4-star accomodations, world-class restaurants, and the finest gaming tables in the world."
"L.A. is where all the money is, in California, right?
"And where do people in L.A. go to gamble?"
"Legally? To Reno, of course."
"That's hours, even days away, in mountains that are treacherous, most of the year."
"Well, there are the Indian reservations, at the State Line..."
"Watched over by the government, who takes a big cut..."
"And your point is...?"
"Well, if I were an investor, I'd consider building a European-style casino here in Vegas. It's only a few hours from L.A., and if it were a high-rise, offering big-name entertainment, high-end cuisine, luxury rooms, and classy gambling, I bet people would come in droves!"
"The only people who come to Vegas are Cowboys and Indians."
"A top-drawer casino could change all that!"
"You may have a point...My nickname for Virginia is Flamingo, I'd love to name a casino after her...I wonder if I could get the Mob to finance an upscale one...maybe after the war..."
I walked back to Jack, leaving Siegel dreaming of the future...
Dawn was breaking over Vegas, when the monster pot finally appeared...
There must have been some epic hands being held, by everybody, considering how quickly the pot grew! But the very size of the investment involved finally whittled down the players...
"You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em," The Gambler sang, tossing in his cards. "I'm going to breakfast..."
A few minutes later, Bret cashed in, as well...
"As my Daddy always said, 'Better to go home poorer, than go home with nothing'..."
"Well, Jack, it appears to be down to you and me...I'm not entirely unhappy with my hand, so I'm staying...are you with me?"
"As my daddy used to remind me, 'Never give up on a good hand, or a bad woman'..."
A crowd gathered, as this would be the climactic hand, and the tension in the air was palpable...
"Rather than prolong things with little bets, I'll just bet everything I have," the Commander said, with a raised eyebrow, and pushed $150,000 into the pot!
My heart sank, and I could see the bitter disappointment in Jack's eyes, as well...he only had $120,000, and could not 'call' the Commander's wager! After so much work, and a miraculous winning spree, we would all still be killed!
Seeing Clemmie, Jack remembered 1920...
"What if I include this little ape in the pot?" Jack said, quickly.
"She has many talents, and is certainly worth $30,000!"
"You're joking! I need a monkey like I need a ditzy bedmate, or another golf match with Auric Goldfinger! Sorry, Jack, but coin of the realm, only!"
Crushed, Jack racked his brain for a way to win, to survive...
I stood, a few feet away, and watched Bugsy Siegel approach, with death in his eyes. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder...
Bret looked at Bugsy's approach, and said, quietly, "You and Jack are in trouble with Siegel, aren't you?"
"I won't lie...if Jack doesn't win this hand, the two of us, and that monkey, will all be executed in the desert..."
"Bugsy's a real charmer...look, I hate to see him win at anything...I have a chit for $30,000, payable at the cashier cage...take it, and stay alive..."
"But Bugsy will get your money! The only way the 'marker' will be torn up is with the money in that pot!"
"I figured that...I have ways of getting my money back, trust me! Now get over there and give Jack the chit, before the Commander declares himself the winner..."
Shaking, I ran to Jack, and handed him the folded chit...He opened it, and blinked back a tear, I swear! He nodded, and turned to the Commander.
"I call your $150,000...What have you got, Commander?"
The Commander nodded, slightly, and smiled, and laid out his cards...
"If you knew me, you'd know the significance of four 007s!"
'007' meant nothing to me, but the Four of a Kind of Sevens sent a chill down my spine...it was the hand Jack had when he beat Brannigan, back in 1920! It was nearly impossible to surpass!
Jack smiled. "Commander, thank you for a most invigorating night..." The Commander nodded, and started to reach out for the pot...
"However, I must tell you, I've beaten you..."
It was the Holy Grail of card hands...the supreme hand, impossible to beat...a 'Natural' Royal Flush!
The crowd moaned, in awe, staring at the five cards, then a rising crescendo of applause filled the room! Clemmie began doing backflips, grabbed Jack and kissed him on the lips, then leapt upon the chandelier, and began swinging on it!
I hadn't realized I was crying, but felt a tear touch my hand, and hurriedly wiped my eyes. I saw Bret, who tipped his hat, and walked out the casino doors, whistling.
The Commander walked over to Jack, and shook hands.
"You're a helluva card player, Jack...?"
"Actually, John Barrymore! You're damned good, too, Commander...?"
Bugsy Siegel, now smiling again, walked up to me. "How much did I make?" he asked.
"Close to half a million..."
"The marker is paid in full." He reached for his walkie-talkie. "We're leaving, boys. I'm riding with you...my car smells like piss..."
"Want to share a limo back, Colman, old chum?" Jack said, striding up to me. "I pocketed a few hundred in chips...Siegel will never miss them..."
"Sorry, Jack, but I'm going to arrange a chartered flight to Boston...I haven't seen Benita and Juliet in nearly two weeks, and after what we just went through, I need them, desperately!"
Jack nodded, and flipped me two hundred dollar chips! "You'll need these more than I will...and remember, if you ever need someone to give Benita a tumble..."
I shook my head, laughing, and headed for a telephone.
"Ah, Clem!" Jack said, jovially. "Want to ride back to L.A. together? I'll give you a banana..."
*GRUNT* Gee, Jack, that sure is a SWELL offer, but 'Knuckles' is taking me home...*GIGGLE, SNICKER, SNICKER*
Jack watched them leave, and realized he was alone in the Casino. Surprisingly, he didn't mind...he'd pulled a Royal Flush, he could do anything!
"Let's check the little black book, and see if we can find a wench not pissed at me, this week..." he mumbled, tossed down his drink, took a drag of his smoke, and began the journey home...
A MAN, A MONKEY, the MOB...and RONALD COLMAN
THE RONALD COLMAN SAGA
"The Dinner Party for Erich von Stroheim"
"The Misadventures of John Barrymore's Cheeky Monkey, Clementine"
"The All-Star Surprise Party for Laine"
"The Classic Hollywood Long Beach-Catalina Yacht Race"
"The Ronald Colman Seance"
"My "Lost Horizon" Surprise!"
"A Night at the Hollywood Canteen!"
"But I Thought You Were..."
"The People vs. Ronald Colman"
"The Epic Hearst Costume Party..."
"The Monkey on Ronald Colman's Back Saga" (A 9-Part Adventure):
"A MAN, A MONKEY, the MOB, and RONALD COLMAN!" (A 5-Part Adventure):
"Introduction: Broadway, 1920..."
"Chapter 1: A LONG Memory..."
"Chapter 2: Barrymore's Reply..."
"Chapter 3: Barrymore in Cement!"
"Chapter 4: A Desert Grave..."
"SURPRISE PARTY for RONALD COLMAN!"
"The RONALD COLMAN Banner Collection"
Finally, if you'd like to 'go to the source', with over 200 photos of Ronald Colman's life and career, please visit Myspace.com/Ronald Colman...the page that started it all!