11 MICKEY COHEN
Gangster Squad, USA,2013, Director Rubin Fleischer
Living with Mickey wasn’t too hard. I’ve known worse. The truth is I’ve always been a flirt. I notice men and I like it when they smile at me. Some women give the come on because they like guys hanging from their elbows. They want the power, you understand me? I’m not like that. I have a sweet nature. Mickey told me so. With me, a nice smile from honey eyes and my guard drops. Every time? Almost every time. And Jerry had one of the cutest grins in LA. Remember Jerry? He was one of LAPD’s finest, so fine they dragged him into the gangster squad. But like Mickey, there was a rough side to Jerry Wooters.
Imagine, I’m living with Mickey Cohen and seeing this LA detective in hotels over all LA. I regret nothing. Jerry was the same guy who put the bug in the very house where I was living with Mickey. I even bumped into him when he was doing it. Jerry insisted there was just the one bug in the TV, so at least I didn’t have Jerry listening to me and Mickey when we were, you know. So Jerry said, but Jerry had an answer for everything.
Mickey found this young tutor to help him with his reading and writing and other stuff. I never had a teacher that looked like this guy. He had such sweet eyes, not like Jerry but he was a swell kid, straight out of college. Son of one of the guys that Mickey knew but nothing like his old man. When I walked in on the lessons, Lou, this kid, would switch on like a light bulb. So every time Mickey had Lou round I would make it a policy to go in and grin. It sure put a smile on the face of this Lou. It would annoy Mickey but that didn’t bother me none.
Every time Mickey would say the same thing, ‘Grace, I’m trying to concentrate.’ And then he would look at Lou giving him lessons and say, ‘We’re both trying to concentrate, ain’t we teacher?’ Well, Lou would go pink and lower his head and start reading whatever book he had on his lap. And if Mickey wasn’t looking, I would give Lou a wink. And then I would say, ‘Mickey, it ain’t my fault you never went to school as a kid like the rest of us.’ And then Mickey would say, ‘If I had, doll, you wouldn’t be living in this palace like the Queen of Sheba.’ And then, every time Mickey would look at the kid next to him and say, ‘Somerset Maugham, eh Lou.’ And then Lou would say, ‘Somerset Maugham, Mr Cohen.’ After that I had to listen to them chuckle and I would walk out the room. But the next week when Lou came back with his books I would still walk in, and every time, well, you know already.
And the Somerset Maugham guy? Jerry went to the library and found me this book. And as soon as I read the first story, I got wise. In this story there’s a gravedigger. He works for the local church somewhere in England, and the church has to get modern and have proper accounts. And this means the gravedigger now has to sign for his wages. Only problem is the gravedigger can’t read or write. So they give this gravedigger the heave ho but him and his lady have lived cheap and they’ve got some cash stacked and they open a shop. This is okay because the wife can read and write. A lucky break, yeah? The shop does well, and the guy and his wife open more and then a chain right across England. The gravedigger and his dame are in clover, not like Mickey maybe, but loaded, yeah. With all this cash the gravedigger makes a will. Of course, he has to sign the papers with some lawyer. And the gravedigger says no thanks he can’t read nor write. The lawyer is shocked because this guy on the other side of the desk is really loaded. He says, ‘You’ve accumulated all this wealth. Imagine what you could have been if you’d been able to read and write.’ ‘That’s easy,’ says the now rich man. ‘I’d have been a gravedigger.’
Funny, eh. It made me chuckle. Before Lou came along, Mickey couldn’t read or write which is why Mickey and Lou talked about this Somerset Maugham. Mickey couldn’t even count. He knew which dollar bills were worth more than the others but that was about it. He’d put them in different piles, fifties, twenties, tens and so on. All he knew was that some piles were higher than others. Mickey knew the difference between little piles and tall piles and that was about it. But after Lou and a few others showing him what was what Mickey was different. After that Mickey could read and write, add, subtract and even multiply and divide. And in the end he writes this book, an autobiography. Of course, he had help but, when it was finished, he read it which was something, I guess.
I took the stand against Mickey because I had to but I wouldn’t have if there’d been no Detective Sergeant Jerry Wooters whispering in my ear. And what happens? Mickey only walks free because running his trial is the one judge that’s in his pocket. The gangster squad in LA claim all sorts but why does Mickey go inside? Not because of some gangster squad. Tax evasion is why. And why? Because Mickey Cohen just had to be in the limelight. And that meant going to the piles of dollar bills. The witnesses that hurt Mickey were not folks like me who wanted to talk about Mickey pulling the trigger on someone. No, just a bunch of shopkeepers and accountants which makes sense because Mickey never did make a go of going legit’.
It don’t square how Mickey liked seeing his name in the papers so much because the same guy was at his happiest on the back lawn messing with his dogs. You heard about the special bed he made for Tuffy? The thing was an exact replica of the bed Mickey and me slept in. Not the same size, of course, but creepy, yes. Mickey and me in one big fancy bed and right there on the floor next to us is little Tuffy sleeping in his bed that looks just the same. Mickey cried at his funeral. Tuffy was buried with the best, next to the dogs and cats of movie stars.
100 times a day is an exaggeration but it was a lot. Mickey was always washing his hands. Now if you said 50 a day I might be tempted to say yes. Not that I ever kept count. I remember him having showers that lasted a couple of hours. He was particular, I suppose. Everything had to be just so. Mickey is the only man I ever lived with whose wardrobe was bigger than mine. And one thing I can say is true. He never wore the same suit more than once. The same with everything.
Bugsy and Capone were dressers and chatty with it. Personally, I think that was the problem Mickey had. He didn’t know whether he wanted to be Bugsy Siegel or Al Capone and so he copied them both. The newsboys said he was trying to move up in the world. I ain’t gonna say that ain’t true but what Mickey really wanted was to walk in a room like Bugsy could. Capone I never saw. Bugsy, I did, and I ain’t ashamed to say I’ll never forget it. Mickey was complicated. I was already passed over when he got into that Christianity stuff with Billy Graham whose preaching was as big back then as it is now. I believe what I heard, that Mickey thought being a Christian might give him a better way of life. But Mickey just had to spend money and be noticed, and his damned haberdashery was never going to give him the money Mickey needed. If his book had hit bigger and they’d made a movie like he wanted with Mickey as Mickey it might have been different. The movie stars he had done favours for were no help but then those people have their own problems. The movie didn’t happen, and Mickey went back to the rackets. Maybe he was different second time around.
I didn’t count the number of times Mickey washed his hands and I know nothing about the number of people he rubbed out except they were a lot and that he started early. And Detective Sergeant Wooters? Cute smiles don’t last forever, Honey. The last time I met him he bought me a swell meal and smiled a lot but all he wanted to talk about was the Black Dahlia killing and how him and three of his mates from the gangster squad went to this motel to hear about some woman who disappeared and left a lot of blood behind. Jerry said him and his mates on the gangster squad were about to nail the guy that did the murder. And then, typical LAPD, the gangster squad boys are pulled off the case. No explanation, said Jerry, except his language was a lot stronger than mine. Jerry quit the cops after that but it made no difference to me and him. We could have nailed her killer, said Jerry. But there was this guy that had connections according to Jerry and somehow he was involved. And it took a lot of effort to shut Jerry up about the Black Dahlia killing. I should have listened more. If I’d got some names, maybe I could have written a book like Mickey. But really? I was trying to enjoy my swanky meal. One thing I will say about Mickey. I never heard him swear in front of women.
Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest travel book No Tall Heels To Tango is now available here.