24 LUCKY JACKSON
Viva Las Vegas, 1964, USA, Director George Sidney/ The Killers, 1964, USA, Director Don Siegel
To be honest it wasn’t so good before the crash but after Lucky came off the track and turned the car right over, well, it all went boom, boom. No one was surprised by Lucky and Rusty having arguments after they married. Each was used to being the star of the show. Egos, they call it. The way Lucky had of giving orders didn’t bother me none. I was the mechanic, and Lucky was the driver and the guy everyone wanted to meet. So, so what. Lucky Jackson had no fancy airs. And Lucky did know one wrench from another. I never met anyone who got a pair of overalls as dirty as Lucky Jackson could. The wrenches weren’t the problem. The wenches, it was different. Lucky didn’t play around, not after Rusty appeared, but Lucky and Rusty were handsome people and they got the smiles. Rusty was as cold as ice and that helped the marriage but Lucky had a different nature. If a woman smiled at Lucky, he had to smile back. That was okay when everything was fine between Lucky and Rusty, a smile is just a smile, but when there were arguments Rusty remembered the friendly grins. Boom, boom, it just made things worse.
Lucky and me worked on the cars together. We were as close as brothers. We had some good times but then Rusty came along and it was different. We won that race in Vegas okay but the next couple of times out Lucky had bad breaks and finished nowhere. Whatever Lucky and Rusty were arguing about at home it had an effect. Lucky lost his edge. He’d walk in the garage and he was a different man. I could tell. Before Rusty happened it was Lucky that was pushing me to work hard. After he got married it was me pushing Lucky. The racing trophies didn’t line the shelves, I can tell you. And, like Rusty, there is a lot of pride inside Lucky Jackson. Troubled or not Lucky wanted to be the winner. Lucky took chances on the track because he was slipping and because he had to. It helped for a while. He picked up a couple of wins but the inevitable happened.
It wasn’t all Lucky’s fault. The other driver was in Lucky’s space. But Lucky reacted and he was that busy worrying about this driver he messed up the bend. The car went straight up in the air. Lucky wasn’t dead but the accident wrecked his left eye and the cost of the car repairs ruined me. I told him in the hospital. Lucky, I’m broke and finished with all this, and you ain’t going to pass no medical, so you can forget about driving. We argued about it. We could have got jobs as mechanics working for this Italian count or something. Lucky said that me suggesting working for the count was not showing respect. I never saw Lucky Jackson again.
The rest I heard when I went back to Vegas for the big car race they have every year, the one that Lucky won in ‘64. I went to watch. No, I never married. I was there alone. The race Lucky won in Vegas, those were the best days, all of us pulling together. Who would have guessed that on the same exact day a year later Pops would die. That changed Rusty because when Pops was around he would tell his daughter to ease off worrying about car crashes. And she did. But after her father died Rusty brooded about death and what could happen on a racetrack. The crash was not the final straw but it made the arguments worse than ever. Yet when Rusty visited Lucky in hospital they acted like two people who remembered they loved one another. If they hadn’t, I might have hung around. But I thought the guy doesn’t need me.
It really blew up between them after he took the medical to go back into driving. Lucky failed like I said he would. So he starts driving under an assumed name even though Rusty had found him a spot in the Flamingo, the hotel Bugsy Siegel had built. She thought it crazy that Lucky was racing and was not best pleased she had to tell the folks in the Flamingo no deal. Rusty and Lucky had a row and said things. Lucky walked out on Rusty and said goodbye to Vegas. Not long after he was caught driving under the fake name, and after that he couldn’t even get a job working in the pits. Boom, boom. Lucky drifts around the small towns and gets by driving in junk heap races at county fairs where they ain’t so particular.
Rusty hung on in Vegas and found new friends. Not good friends, I can tell you. One was Ginger McKenna, a gorgeous moll that wise guy Ace Rothstein had in tow. Having loaded friends kept Rusty working. She always had the pool job but funds came from the showroom spots, the kind of entertainment work that Rusty had wanted for her husband even though Lucky Jackson was no professional entertainer. Autos were his love. He didn’t mind having fun on stage but applying himself to music like he did to cars, that wasn’t Lucky Jackson. Rusty didn’t forget Lucky which was why she got into bad habits maybe. Not the drink or the drugs like her friend Ginger. No, Rusty couldn’t stop spending money. If a beautiful girl likes nice things then maybe Vegas ain’t the place to be. The more money Rusty had the more she wanted. Did the men use her or did she use the men? Difficult question, mister. The men paid big style but then so did Rusty.
I don’t know who came up with the idea. Rusty wanted money for the sake of it, and Ginger wanted money that boyfriend Ace Rothstein wouldn’t know about. Money for the coke and bourbon, I suppose. The plan was to rob a US Mail truck that took money from all the hotels on the Californian coast before dropping it in a bank in Los Angeles. The people Rusty knew, they needed a driver. Rusty with the help of Ace finds Lucky dragging a junk heap at some dump of a racetrack and makes the offer.
Lucky and this guy, it wasn’t Ace Rothstein, this guy was called Nicky Santero and bad news, well, Lucky and this Santero guy would pose as cops and divert the US Mail truck off the main drag and on to a country road. In the pretend cop car they’d use to divert the Mail truck, Lucky and Nicky Santero would then follow the truck, overtake it and, with the help of two guys waiting at the other end of the country road, rob the money in the back of the truck. The country road was not that long so the driver of the cop car had to be fast. But Lucky could do that kind of thing in his sleep and maybe he did.
They rob the money, and no one gets killed which is a blessing. I like to think that Rusty and Lucky insisted on no violence but who knows. The haul was not peanuts. Somebody said a million bucks which those days could have bought you a lot of top class motors and even a big garage to keep them nice and shiny.
The problem was it got complicated. Before the heist Rusty sneaks a visit to Lucky and tells him that psycho Santero is planning to kill Lucky after the job. So after the stick up Lucky and Nicky Santero are driving away to escape. The two others in the robbery are in another motor but Lucky and Santero are in the auto with all the money and, because Lucky does not want to drive to his death, he thinks a detour might be in order. Lucky slugs Santero and pushes him out of the pretend police car. That must have put a smile on the face of Lucky Jackson. Not the kind of smile that Lucky shared with his lady admirers but a smile I bet. Boom, boom, indeed.
This is the way I heard the rest from folks in Vegas. So Lucky is driving the pretend police car and is on his way to meet Rusty who Lucky thinks still has the hots for him. Rusty is where she should be which would have put one of those famous smiles on the face of Lucky. But the problem is Rusty takes Lucky to a hotel where Nicky Santero is ready, waiting and armed. Santero plugs Lucky in the chest but somehow Lucky escapes. It didn’t do him much good. Santero hired a couple of hit men, and they found Lucky. These guys were professionals. Lucky was working in a blind school, teaching car repairs. That was the end of Lucky Jackson. The talk was that Lucky just stood there, as if he was waiting to die. We were close but I only ever knew him as Lucky. I’m not sure what they wrote on his tombstone but I’m damned sure it wasn’t Lucky. People said Rusty really had the hots for Santero but, after Lucky Jackson, I don’t think so. Santero had to have something on Rusty to make her sell out Lucky. What it was we’ll never know. What I know is this, Rusty worked all her life and her and Lucky should have stayed together. Maybe that was why they argued so much. They needed one another and because of what was inside them they hated being that way. Rusty and Lucky had plenty of pride, I can tell you. I used to think they were blessed. Cursed more like it.
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.