بخش 24کتاب: پدرخوانده / فصل 24
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Johnny said cautiously, “Do I have to get your OK on anything else, scripts, stars, any of that?”
Hagen shook his head. “No,” he said. “It may happen that the Don would object to something but he’ll object to you direct if he does. But I can’t imagine what that would be. Movies don’t affect him at all, in any way, so he has no interest. And he doesn’t believe in meddling, that I can tell you from experience.”
“Good,” Johnny said. “I’ll drive you to the airport myself. And thank the Godfather for me. I’d call him up and thank him but he never comes to the phone. Why is that, by the way?”
Hagen shrugged. “He hardly ever talks on the phone. He doesn’t want his voice recorded, even saying something perfectly innocent: He’s afraid that they can splice the words together so that it sounds as if he says something else. I think that’s what it is. Anyway his only worry is that someday he’ll be framed by the authorities. So he doesn’t want to give them an edge.”
They got into Johnny’s car and drove to the airport. Hagen was thinking that Johnny was a better guy than he figured. He’d already learned something, just his driving him personally to the airport proved that. The personal courtesy, something the Don himself always believed in. And the apology. That had been sincere. He had known Johnny a long time and he knew the apology would never be made out of fear. Johnny had always had guts. That’s why he had always been in trouble, with his movie bosses and with his women. He was also one of the few people who was not afraid of the Don. Fontane and Michael were maybe the only two men Hagen knew of whom this could be said. So the apology was sincere, he would accept it as such. He and Johnny would have to see a lot of each other in the next few years. And Johnny would have to pass the next test, which would prove how smart he was. He would have to do something for the Don that the Don would never ask him to do or insist that he do as part of the agreement. Hagen wondered if Johnny Fontane was smart enough to figure out that part of the bargain.
After Johnny dropped Hagen off at the airport (Hagen insisted that Johnny not hang around for his plane with him) he drove back to Ginny’s house. She was surprised to see him. But he wanted to stay at her place so that he would have time to think things out, to make his plans. He knew that what Hagen had told him was extremely important, that his whole life was being changed. He had once been a big star but now at the young age of thirty-five he was washed up. He didn’t kid himself about that. Even if he won the Award as best actor, what the hell could it mean at the most? Nothing, if his voice didn’t come back. He’d be just second-rate, with no real power, no real juice. Even that girl turning him down, she had been nice and smart and acting sort of hip, but would she have been so cool if he had really been at the top? Now with the Don backing him with dough he could be as big as anybody in Hollywood. He could be a king. Johnny smiled. Hell. He could even be a Don.
It would be nice living with Ginny again for a few weeks, maybe longer. He’d take the kids out every day, maybe have a few friends over. He’d stop drinking and smoking, really take care of himself. Maybe his voice would get strong again. If that happened and with the Don’s money, he’d be unbeatable. He’d really be as close to an oldtime king or emperor as it was possible to be in America. And it wouldn’t depend on his voice holding up or how long the public cared about him as an actor. It would be an empire rooted in money and the most special, the most coveted kind of power.
Ginny had the guest bedroom made up for him. It was understood that he would not share her room, that they would not live as man and wife. They could never have that relationship again. And though the outside world of gossip columnists and movie fans gave the blame for the failure of their marriage solely to him, yet in a curious way, between the two of them, they both knew that she was even more to blame for their divorce.
When Johnny Fontane became the most popular singer and movie musical comedy star in motion pictures, it had never occurred to him to desert his wife and children. He was too Italian, still too old-style. Naturally he had been unfaithful. That had been impossible to avoid in his business and the temptations to which he was continually exposed. And despite being a skinny, delicate-looking guy, he had the wiry horniness of many small-boned Latin types. And women delighted him in their surprises. He loved going out with a demure sweet-faced virginal-looking girl and then uncapping her breasts to find them so unexpectedly slopingly full and rich, lewdly heavy in contrast to the cameo face. He loved to find s@xual shyness and timidity in the s@xy-looking girls who were all fake motion like a shifty basketball player, vamping as if they had slept with a hundred guys, and then when he got them alone having to battle for hours to get in and do the job and finding out they were virgins.
And all these Hollywood guys laughed at his fondness for virgins. They called it an old guinea taste, square, and look how long it took to make a virgin give you a blow job with all the aggravation and then they usually turned out to be a lousy piece of ass. But Johnny knew that it was how you handled a young girl. You had to come on to her the right way and then what could be greater than a girl who was tasting her first di@k and loving it? Ah, it was so great breaking them in. It was so great having them wrap their legs around you. Their thighs were all different shapes, their asses were different, their skins were all different colors and shades of white and brown and tan and when he had slept with that young colored girl in Detroit, a good girl, not a hustler, the young daughter of a jazz singer on the same nightclub bill with him, she had been one of the sweetest things he had ever had. Her lips had really tasted like warm honey with pepper mixed in it, her dark brown skin was rich, creamy, and she had been as sweet as God had ever made any woman and she had been a virgin.
And the other guys were always talking about blow jobs, this and other variations, and he really didn’t enjoy that stuff so much. He never liked a girl that much after they tried it that way, it just didn’t satisfy him right. He and his second wife had finally not got along, because she preferred the old sixty-nine too much to a point where she didn’t want anything else and he had to fight to stick it in. She began making fun of him and calling him a square and the word got around that he made love like a kid. Maybe that was why that girl last night had turned him down. Well, the hell with it, she wouldn’t be too great in the sack anyway. You could tell a girl who really liked to fu@k and they were always the best. Especially the ones who hadn’t been at it too long. What he really hated were the ones who had started screwing at twelve and were all fu@ked out by the time they were twenty and just going through the motions and some of them were the prettiest of all and could fake you out.
Ginny brought coffee and cake into his bedroom and put it on the long table in the sitting room part. He told her simply that Hagen was helping him put together the money credit for a producing package and she was excited about that. He would be important again. But she had no idea of how powerful Don Corleone really was so she didn’t understand the significance of Hagen coming from New York. He told her Hagen was also helping with legal details.
When they had finished the coffee he told her he was going to work that night, and make phone calls and plans for the future. “Half of all this will be in the kids’ names,” he told her. She gave him a grateful smile and kissed him good night before she left his room.
There was a glass dish full of his favorite monogrammed cigarettes, a humidor with pencil-thin black Cuban cigars on his writing desk. Johnny tilted back and started making calls. His brain was really whirring along. He called the author of the book, the best-selling novel, on which his new film was based. The author was a guy his own age who had come up the hard way and was now a celebrity in the literary world. He had come out to Hollywood expecting to be treated like a wheel and, like most authors, had been treated like sh@t. Johnny had seen the humiliation of the author one night at the Brown Derby. The writer had been fixed up with a well known bosomy starlet for a date on the town and a sure shack-up later. But while they were at dinner the starlet had deserted the famous author because a ratty-looking movie comic had waggled his finger at her. That had given the writer the right slant on just who was who in the Hollywood pecking order. It didn’t matter that his book had made him world famous. A starlet would prefer the crummiest, the rattiest, the phoniest movie wheel.
Now Johnny called the author at his New York home to thank him for the great part he had written in his book for him. He flattered the sh@t out of the guy. Then casually he asked him how he was doing on his next novel and what it was all about. He lit a cigar while the author told him about a specially interesting chapter and then finally said, “Gee, I’d like to read it when you’re finished. How about sending me a copy? Maybe I can get you a good deal for it, better than you got with Woltz.” The eagerness in the author’s voice told him that he had guessed right. Woltz had chiseled the guy, given him peanuts for the book. Johnny mentioned that he might be in New York right after the holidays and would the author want to come and have dinner with some of his friends. “I know a few good-looking broads,” Johnny said jokingly. The author laughed and said OK.
Next Johnny called up the director and cameraman on the film he had just finished to thank them for having helped him in the film. He told them confidentially that he knew Woltz had been against him and he doubly appreciated their help and that if there was ever anything he could do for them they should just call.
Then he made the hardest call of all, the one to Jack Woltz. He thanked him for the part in the picture and told him how happy he would be to work for him anytime. He did this merely to throw Woltz off the track. He had always been very square, very straight. In a few days Woltz would find out about his maneuvering and be astounded by the treachery of this call, which was exactly what Johnny Fontane wanted him to feel.
After that he sat at the desk and puffed at his cigar. There was whiskey on a side table but he had made some sort of promise to himself and Hagen that he wouldn’t drink. He shouldn’t even be smoking. It was foolish; whatever was wrong with his voice probably wouldn’t be helped by knocking off drinking and smoking. Not too much, but what the hell, it might help and he wanted all the percentages with him, now that he had a fighting chance.
Now with the house quiet, his divorced wife sleeping, his beloved daughters sleeping, he could think back to that terrible time in his life when he had deserted them. Deserted them for a whore tramp of a bit@h who was his second wife. But even now he smiled at the thought of her, she was such a lovely broad in so many ways and, besides, the only thing that saved his life was the day that he had made up his mind never to hate a woman or, more specifically, the day he had decided he could not afford to hate his first wife and his daughters, his girl friends, his second wife, and the girl friends after that, right up to Sharon Moore brushing him off so that she could brag about refusing to screw for the great Johnny Fontane.
He had traveled with the band singing and then he had become a radio star and a star of the movie stage shows and then he had finally made it in the movies. And in all that time he had lived the way he wanted to, screwed the women he wanted to, but he had never let it affect his personal life. Then he had fallen for his soon to be second wife, Margot Ashton; he had gone absolutely crazy for her. His career had gone to hell, his voice had gone to hell, his family life had gone to hell. And there had come the day when he was left without anything.
The thing was, he had always been generous and fair. He had given his first wife everything he owned when he divorced her. He had made sure his two daughters would get a piece of everything he made, every record, every movie, every club date. And when he had been rich and famous he had refused his first wife nothing. He had helped out all her brothers and sisters, her father and mother, the girl friends she had gone to school with and their families. He had never been a stuck-up celebrity. He had sung at the weddings of his wife’s two younger sisters, something he hated to do. He had never refused her anything except the complete surrender of his own personality.
And then when he had touched bottom, when he could no longer get movie work, when he could no longer sing, when his second wife had betrayed him, he had gone to spend a few days with Ginny and his daughters. He had more or less flung himself on her mercy one night because he felt so lousy. That day he had heard one of his recordings and he had sounded so terrible that he accused the sound technicians of sabotaging the record. Until finally he had become convinced that that was what his voice really sounded like. He had smashed the master record and refused to sing anymore. He was so ashamed that he had not sung a note except with Nino at Connie Corleone’s wedding.
He had never forgotten the look on Ginny’s face when she found out about all his misfortunes. It had passed over her face only for a second but that was enough for him never to forget it. It was a look of savage and joyful satisfaction. It was a look that could only make him believe that she had contemptuously hated him all these years. She quickly recovered and offered him cool but polite sympathy. He had pretended to accept it. During the next few days he had gone to see three of the girls he had liked the most over the years, girls he had remained friends with and sometimes still slept with in a comradely way, girls that he had done everything in his power to help, girls to whom he had given the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts or job opportunities. On their faces he had caught that same fleeting look of savage satisfaction.
It was during that time that he knew he had to make a decision. He could become like a great many other men in Hollywood, successful producers, writers, directors, actors, who preyed on beautiful women with lustful hatred. He could use power and monetary favors grudgingly, always alert for treason, always believing that women would betray and desert him, adversaries to be bested. Or he could refuse to hate women and continue to believe in them.
He knew he could not afford not to love them, that something of his spirit would die if he did not continue to love women no matter how treacherous and unfaithful they were. It didn’t matter that the women he loved most in the world were secretly glad to see him crushed, humiliated, by a wayward fortune; it did not matter that in the most awful way, not s@xually, they had been unfaithful to him. He had no choice. He had to accept them. And so he made love to all of them, gave them presents, hid the hurt their enjoyment of his misfortunes gave him. He forgave them knowing he was being paid back for having lived in the utmost ÿ4kUdom from women and in the fullest flush of their favor. But now he never felt guilty about being untrue to them. He never felt guilty about how he treated Ginny, insisting on remaining the sole father of his children, yet never even considering remarrying her, and letting her know that too. That was one thing he had salvaged out of his fall from the top. He had grown a thick skin about the hurts he gave women.
He was tired and ready for bed but one note of memory stuck with him: singing with Nino Valenti. And suddenly he knew what would please Don Corleone more than anything else. He picked up the phone and told the operator to get him New York. He called Sonny Corleone and asked him for Nino Valenti’s number. Then he called Nino. Nino sounded a little drunk as usual.
“Hey, Nino, how’d you like to come out here and work for me,” Johnny said. “I need a guy I can trust.”
Nino, kidding around, said, “Gee, I don’t know, Johnny, I got a good job on the truck, boffing housewives along my route, picking up a clear hundred-fifty every week. What you got to offer?”
“I can start you at five hundred and get you blind dates with movie stars, how’s that?” Johnny said.” And maybe I’ll let you sing at my parties.”
“Yeah, OK, let me think about it.” Nino said. “Let me talk it over with my lawyer and my accountant and my helper on the truck.”
“Hey, no kidding around, Nino,” Johnny said. “I need you out here. I want you to fly out tomorrow morning and sign a personal contract for five hundred a week for a year. Then if you steal one of my broads and I fire you, you pick up at least a year’s salary. OK?”
There was a long pause. Nino’s voice was sober. “Hey, Johnny, you kidding?”
Johnny said, “I’m serious, kid. Go to my agent’s office in New York. They’ll have your plane ticket and some cash. I’m gonna call them first thing in the morning. So you go up there in the afternoon. OK? Then I’ll have somebody meet you at the plane and bring you out to the house.”
Again there was a long pause and then Nino’s voice, very subdued, uncertain, said, “OK, Johnny.” He didn’t sound drunk anymore.
Johnny hung up the phone and got ready for bed. He felt better than any time since he had smashed that master record.
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