Authors: J.I. Baker
THE EMPTY GLASS
J. I. Baker
BLUE RIDER PRESS
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright © 2012 by James Baker
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
Published simultaneously in Canada
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Baker, J. I. (James Ireland).
The empty glass / J. I. Baker.
1. Monroe, Marilyn, 1926–1962—Death and burial—Fiction. 2. Motion-picture actors and actresses—United States—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3602.A58645E47 2012 2012009187
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For my parents
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived, and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.
—John F. Kennedy
Let’s play murder—or divorce.
fter a while, everything started to blur.
I felt that I’d spent hours, days, lying on the floor of this hotel room with my face against the wood and my eyes open wide as the air came through the vent near my head. The whoosh was all I heard—then the door closing, the keys in the lock, the footsteps on the floor stopping as I turned to see the patent leather shoes before my eyes, the stub of a cigarette dropped between them, burning.
And then there was the gun.
“Wake up.” Captain Hamilton pushed the Smith & Wesson into my neck. “I want you to write me a letter.”
I don’t remember when or how I did it. The three (or was it four? Or five? Or ten? I don’t remember) Nembutals had knocked me out. The captain was out of focus, going double.
He handed me the pen that she had used to write her own last words, and forced me to write mine. Reeling on the bed with his gun at my temple, I thought of the notes written on napkins and doors and windows and carpets that lined the shelves of Suicide Notes and Weapons. Now I was adding my own:
Take care of Max for me. Tell him that I loved him. Tell him that whatever else his father did, he loved his son
“That’s good, Delilah.” He loomed over me. “Now you feel good?”
“Even better.” He handed me the bottle.
I leaned forward, reached for the pills, and ended up with the gun. Ah, his shoulder had been injured, Doc.
I don’t need to tell you that I shot him. I was on my back, elbows locked. He was bending down when the gun kicked, a black dime smoking on his chest. He reared, touched the hole, and stared at the fluid that glistened like oil on his finger. “Oh, I know what this is,” he said as he fell.
I heard the sound his skull made.
I know what happens when you die.
• • •
ou sigh and rub your forehead. “All right.” You shake a Chesterfield from your pack and light it with a kitchen match. You drag and blow smoke to the ceiling fan with the bulb above the table, and I notice (not for the first time) how clammy and pitted your skin is. You’re a big man, Doc, like an aging football player, with the face and waist of a small-town cop. “Let’s go over this again,” you say. You adjust your wire-rimmed glasses and check the notes that you are keeping in the book near the Sony reel-to-reel, lying on the desk like a suitcase, rolling at
. “You shot him.”
“In self-defense. You see the bandages. You gave me the Novril.”
“Is it working?”
You sit on one side of the table; I sit on the other. Between us, that reel-to-reel, a stack of used and unused seven-inch tapes, a glass ashtray, a vial of Novril, and your pack of Chesterfields. There is also a box with a label reading “Fitzgerald, Ben, Psych Eval.” It contains what you call “the evidence”:
1. The Smith & Wesson
2. A vial of Nembutal
3. A piece of notebook paper reading “Chalet 52” and “July 28”
4. A stained manila folder containing a number of 8 × 10 photographs
Amahl and the Night Visitors
6. A bag of ashes
7. A new red
You pick up Item No. 1. “It had your fingerprints on it.”
“Like I said, I shot him.”
“Why did anyone do anything? Everything changed after she died.”
“The actress. I’ve told you this already.”
“Tell me again.”
So I do:
“I woke to the sound of the knock on the door and sat up in the light from the neon sign that snaked along the wall outside the window,” I say. “An empty carton of moo goo gai pan sat beside me; I hadn’t thrown it out. I wasn’t sure if I had dreamt the knock or actually heard it. I didn’t have a phone—”
“Hang on.” You are frowning. Something is wrong with the Sony. The wheels have stopped. You hit
, and I hear my voice:
“—touched the hole, and stared at the fluid that glistened like oil on his finger—”
and look up at me. “Like oil?”
“It glistened like
“It’s a simile.”
“Who do you think you are, Edna Ferber?”
But you can’t hear my voice on the tape anymore. This is where the recording stopped. There is nothing but static. You make minor adjustments to the machine and try it again:
It doesn’t work. You hit it with the heel of your hand.
My voice: “Why did anyone do anything? Everything changed after she died.”
You pause the tape and look at me. “Now pick up where you left off.”
“Give me a cigarette first.”
“I thought you quit.”
“That was yesterday.”
You give me a cigarette.
And a Novril, too: for the pain.
After a while, everything starts to blur.
“Tell the truth this time,” you say.
“I already told you the truth.”
“So tell it again.”
SUNDAY, AUGUST 5, 1962
woke to the sound of the knock on the door and sat up in the light from the neon sign that snaked along the wall outside the window. An empty carton of moo goo gai pan sat beside me; I hadn’t thrown it out. I wasn’t sure if I had dreamt the knock or actually heard it. I didn’t have a phone.
The knock again, then a voice:
It sounded like Inez.
The seventh-floor apartment was fifty bucks a week, furnished, which meant a hard bed with a history and springs that whined when you turned over; yellow curtains with plastic linings that smelled of cigarettes; a carpet into which a sort of hopelessness had settled, like dust; and a sign on the door reading:
LOCK THE DOOR BEFORE YOU SLEEP
As if I needed the reminder.
My small bedroom was connected to what the brochures had called the “living area” by a short hallway that contained a water closet. By “living area,” they meant a used couch, a hot plate, and bare bulbs that flickered in the endless cycling of uneven electricity. The door leading out to the stairs was on the left as I walked from the bedroom. I stared through the peephole: a fish-eye view of Inez. She was the night clerk in the lobby bar.
“Call for you, Señor Ben.”
I unlocked the door. “Is Max all right?”
“Is not your son.”
“Not your wife, Señor Ben. Is work. You coming?”
“I need to get dressed.” I was wearing boxers that weren’t so white anymore. I slipped on an undershirt and stepped into the pants on the floor and pulled suspenders with a snap over my shoulders. Then I checked my face in the mirror that hung, framed like a photograph, to the left of the door: the shock of black hair, the pale skin, the bleary eyes and bluish stubble.
The broken clock on the elbow of wall between the couch and kitchenette read 2:15.
It was always 2:15.
There was cold coffee on the hot plate from the night before, so I poured it into a cup with the ring around the rim. Housekeeping wasn’t my strong point, and I don’t like cold coffee. But it helped me avoid smoking, which for me was like trying to fly.
I knew the packet of Kents sat in the wastebasket under the sink. I had tossed it there the night before. I grabbed it, along with the half-eaten sandwich I now figured I might need. Today was supposed to be Day One of my new smokeless life, but I told myself that Kents got rid of the tar.
Tar is what kills you.
• • •
he phone sat on the desk in the dimly lit bar you reached through the double doors off the fading lobby. The bar served as both the Savoy’s unofficial reception area and, well, the bar. It had ripped black leather cushions on metal stools, plastic napkin holders, and pressed-tin walls. The red lightbulbs made the place look like a Holland whorehouse.
Behind the bar, Inez answered the phone and sold cigarette packs with tickets slipped inside. You collected enough, you could buy a toaster. She had tacked pictures of actors she admired up and down the walls: the wrestler El Santo, Cantinflas, and Dolores del Rio, whose name meant (she said) “Sadness of the River.”
She handed me the phone.
“Ben here.” I slipped the cigarette into my mouth.
“Fitz.” It was the department administrator, Seldon. “It’s nuts over here. We need you.”
“Time is it?”
“Five. Need you down here.”
“Brentwood. One-two-three-oh-five Fifth Helena Drive.”
He gave me the address. I wrote it down.
“Someone died,” he said.
He told me who it was. I remembered reading scandal-sheet stuff about a film she hadn’t finished. I had the copy of
magazine with her last interview: “It might be kind of a relief to be finished,” she had said. “It’s sort of like, I don’t know, some kind of yard dash you’re running, but then you’re at the finish line and you sort of sigh—you’ve made it! But you never have—you have to start all over again.”
“Think it’s maybe a . . . no, Billy,” Seldon said. “Daddy’s okay. Go back to bed, okay? Sorry.” Back into the receiver: “Family stuff. I woke the kids.”
“You woke me, too.”
“Need next of kin.”
“I don’t handle next of kin.”
“You’ll handle it today.”
I was a deputy coroner with clerical functions, overseeing Suicide Notes and Weapons. Sounds simple, but sometimes a suicide note is written on part of the floor, a door, mirrors, whole sections of walls. You could walk through the Sheriff’s Evidence Room and see doors propped against the shelves, covered with lipstick, reading: “Dear Andrew. Tell the children I loved them.”
“Hurry,” Seldon said.
I tried. It took ten minutes to get the Rambler started. It was a used ’58 I had purchased through the classifieds. The seller had asked me to assume his contract, which I did without knowing the abuse it had taken. It was like a battered wife that way; it ran like one, too.
I patted my pockets for a match.
Tomorrow would be Day One.
• • •
he green wooden gate outside the house sat in the middle of a stucco wall covered with bougainvilleas. It hid the property from the street, though I could see the Spanish tiles on the roof of the garage. No name on the mailbox. It was modest enough. I wondered why she’d bought it. The most famous woman in the world, with all the money that implies, but instead of a mansion in the Hills, she’d bought a one-floor hacienda in Brentwood.
one-floor hacienda in Brentwood.
I parked in the cul-de-sac on the fifth of the numbered Helenas, tossed what was left of the third Kent to the tar, and carried my briefcase through the photographers and reporters with their press credentials lodged like playing cards in hatbands. Not to mention the neighbors gathering in their tea-rose flannel housecoats.
The sun was coming up. There were low-pressure systems in Utah and Nevada, and a southerly wind: That’s what the radio said. It was going to be another scorcher.
Two cops flanked the gate.
“Morning, officers. Ben Fitzgerald. Deputy coroner.”
“You’re already inside.”
“LACCO is already inside.”
“Is so. Taking pictures. A woman.”
“A woman? You ask for credentials?”
I flashed my credentials. “What does this say?”
“Mr. Benjamin Fitzgerald, deputy coroner, L.A. County Coroner’s Office.”
“Thanks,” I said.
I walked through the living room to a hallway that led into a bedroom too small for all the people inside it now—maybe fifteen square feet. I can’t remember how many; they kept coming and going. Maybe five? Then six or seven. And two or three; then seven again. A man popped his head through the door and told someone named Don to come into the kitchen, and Don stopped dusting the dresser for prints and stepped on a Sinatra record.
There were bags and boxes from I. Magnin’s and Bullock’s on Wilshire all over the floor. Leicas flashed as photographers took shots that would vanish tomorrow. Cops drew lines with chalk, covering the floor with a canvas cloth. My eyes darted from the detective dusting shattered glass to the copy of
beneath the bed to the rubber gloves spotted with liquid and the pills embedded in carpet fibers, but all of this—and everything—stopped when I saw the actress.
She was lying facedown on the bed, clutching a phone. A sheet was pulled up to her shoulders. You could see the ash-blond hair fried from too many treatments. The cord snaked underneath her body. Her fingernails were blue. The cause of death seemed obvious: an overdose. Except—
Except the body was in the soldier’s position: legs straight, head down.
“I don’t have to tell you what that means, Doctor,” I say.
“Yes,” you say. “You do.”
“Well, it looked like she had been placed.”
I say. “People who overdose don’t drift happily away. There are usually convulsions. Vomiting. They die contorted. And she was clutching the phone.”
“A person dying of a barbiturate overdose would not have died clutching a phone. She might have
it. But a person dying of a barbiturate overdose would have gone limp before the convulsions began.”
I walked to the bed and looked down. There was no vomitus. She looked peaceful.
On the bedside table, several vials of prescription drugs sat under a lamp covered with a handkerchief. One of the vials read San Vicente Pharmacy: “Marilyn Monroe. Engelberg . . . 7.25.62 . . . 0.5 gms . . . at bedtime.”
It’s the vial that sits before us now—part of your “evidence,” Doctor:
Item No. 2.
Under the table was a Mexican ceramic jug, cap askew; piles of books and papers; a jar of face cream—and an empty water glass.
Remember the glass. It becomes significant.
A voice behind me: “Helluva thing.”
I turned and saw Jack Clemmons in the doorway. His face was so red it looked raw, his hair the color of diluted mustard. He was West LAPD: the watch commander on duty at the western division when the call had come in that morning.
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Fitz?”
“Here for next of kin.”
no next of kin. Only a mother down at Rockhaven.”
“Never heard of Rockhaven.”
“What happened here?” I asked.
“It’s a helluva thing.”
The housekeeper, Eunice Murray, claimed she’d noticed a light under Marilyn’s door (Jack said) when she retired around ten on the previous evening. She went to bed in her own room, adjacent to Marilyn’s; they share a wall. She woke at midnight and had to go to the bathroom. The bathroom was in the Telephone Room, connected to her own bedroom, but somehow she ended up in the hall in front of Marilyn’s room instead. She noticed that the light was still on under the door, which was locked from the inside. She knocked: no answer.
“So what do you think she did?” Jack asked.
“She called the police.”
“Oh, no, that would be too easy, Fitz. That would be too obvious. This is Hollywood. Everyone needs a twist. She didn’t call the police. She called the
“Him.” He pointed to a distinguished-looking, gray-haired man who stood in a suit by the window looking ashen. “Ralph Greenson. Marilyn’s shrink.”
“And what did
When Greenson arrived at the house (Jack said) he, too, found the door locked. He went outside, looked through the window, and saw the actress lying facedown and nude on the bed under rumpled bedclothes. She looked “peculiar,” he said. She wasn’t moving. He broke the window with a poker from the living-room fireplace and climbed inside. She was clutching the phone. “She must have been calling for help,” Greenson had said.
“Why would she call for help when the housekeeper was in the next room?” I asked.
“Beats me. The shrink told Mrs. Murray, ‘We’ve lost her,’ and called Dr. Engelberg, her physician. And Dr. Engelberg called
at—get this, Fitz—four thirty-five
hours to call the cops?”
“Mind if I ask the doctor a few questions?”
“You’re not investigating, Ben.”
“Same old Ben.” He smiled. “Be my guest.”
I walked up to Greenson, introduced myself, and said, “If you don’t mind me asking: Why did you wait four hours to call the cops?”
“We had to get permission from the publicity department first.”
“Twentieth Century-Fox. Miss Monroe was filming there.”
“So what did you do while you waited?”
“Talked,” Greenson said.
“Look, I see no reason why I should go through this again. I’ve been through this already. I’ve already spoken to the coroner’s office.”
the coroner’s office.”
“So is she.”
“Her.” He pointed to a woman with a camera taking pictures of the space around the bed. She was maybe thirty-five and had violet eyes with dark lashes and black hair done up in a bun. She wore a gray skinned-down Norman Norell suit and stiletto shoes. Her crimson nails matched her lips. I could see the powder on her face. She reminded me of someone.
Eventually I would see her smiling up at me from behind the edge of a martini glass, moisture glistening on her front teeth, her lipstick smeared on cocktail napkins and, later, bed linens.
But for now: She was pulling something from underneath the dead star’s pillow.
It was the red leather diary.