36 JOHNNY COOL
Johnny Cool, 1963, USA, Director William Asher
The man backed himself. Give the guy credit for that. But that was his problem, man. Johnny Cool was a crap player, apart from when he was killing people, of course, and I never saw a dice player that lasted long. You want to know the first lesson I learned behind a poker hand? You can only back yourself for so long, man. You don’t get far in this life if you don’t listen to the cards. Johnny Cool was tough and smart. He bumped off four protected guys in one day, right here in Vegas. Johnny Cool blows up this guy in the middle of his own swimming pool. And the kids are watching. That is a heavy deal, that is what I call raising the ante. That is not listening to the cards. Johnny Cool was using exploding suitcases like depth charges. The guy was tough and smart, so tough and smart he thought he could play an inside straight. And what does Mr Hoyle say about inside straights. That’s right, it’s a no no, man. Always and always play the odds and listen to the cards. The bluff comes when you know the stars are in line. It happens because it has to some time but you don’t chase it. You keep your eyes open, man. Walk around the tables here in the Sands and what you see, what excites the tourists are the high rollers. The guys with a wad who wouldn’t know the difference between an inside straight and a three of a kind but for a night have struck lucky. But that’s what people want to see. A guy on a roll who isn’t listening to anything other than himself.
I said goodbye to the dice a long time ago. I quit the same night that Johnny Cool backed me with twelve thousand dollars. I’m not an excitable man. You can’t be in this business without knowing how to stay calm but I sweated that night, man, especially when Johnny Cool put a gun at the side of my head and said roll again. The weirdest thing was he was being friendly. Johnny Cool was showing how he believed in me. These days I’m strictly a poker man, and I raise my own stakes. It’s not so easy keeping your head down when you’re a not so tall one eyed Jewish black brother but I don’t need to stroll like some. I play Texas Hold ‘Em because that’s the only damned poker game in Vegas. The worst thing that ever happened to poker was Texas Hold ‘Em but, what do you say, you have to go with the flow. I am a quiet one down and four up man but I can play any kind of stud poker. You just have to know when to hold and when to fold. And that was one lesson poor Johnny Cool never did understand.
Where did he get his handle from? Follow this, man, watch the dealer. There were two Johnny Cools. The original was a seriously loaded Italian hood from Chicago called Johnny Colini but nicknamed Johnny Cool. The FBI kicked him out of the country. They reckoned the lack of his presence on American soil might do something about organised crime. Some hope, man. Another crew moved in on his action or mostly the same crew but with a different head honcho called Vince Santangelo. The original Johnny Colini needed someone to get even with the guys back in the States. A guy with sense would have left the table and spent the rest of his days enjoying the good life and sunshine in Italy. But that’s high rollers for you. They have to back themselves until the very end. The problem was that the guys back home held all the aces. So Chicago Johnny Cool, now in Italy, slides his own ace below the deck. He finds this Sicilian bandit that lives in the mountains and is so tough the police can only stand by and admire and whistle. This bandit is called Salvatore Giordano, and all the village folk love him because he fought the fascists and spits in the eye of just about everyone that wears a uniform. The story is that Salvatore killed a soldier that attempted to rape his mother. After that and a few dead fascists, Salvatore became a man of the people. Well, the only person that Johnny Cool, the original, looked after was called Johnny Colini. Colini picked Salvatore for one reason only. He picked the toughest guy in the neighbourhood.
The second Johnny Cool goes along with the first Johnny Cool because, if he didn’t, the first Johnny Cool would hand the second Johnny Cool over to the cops. Before Colini arrived with his helicopter to lift Salvatore out of the Sicilian mountains the cards had been kind to Salvatore Giordano. The man was carrying a really heavy wad. The last thing that Giordano needed was someone to come along and fold his hand but life is like that. Any poker player can tell you, man. There is nothing worse than having a good hand, a full house, four of a kind, a running flush or something and someone comes along and folds the hand before you make the final bet and pick up the pot. It’s happened to us all. I once was dealt a running flush just before an earthquake arrived. And you know what sticks in my throat? It’s people telling me I was lucky to get out of the place alive.
Forget the earthquake, let it rumble. Back in Italy the first Johnny Cool teaches the second the American language, puts him in smart suits and gives number two the low down on what is happening back in the States. Johnny Cool two now knows the people that need to be taken out the game and what the game is that all these people are playing. This is why the new Johnny Cool arrives in Vegas. He stayed right here in the Sands. I remember him but no one else took much notice of the guy. He played a few crap games and carried a wad of cash but so what. The real action starts when he goes to New York. Johnny Cool number two killed important people. He had inside information from Johnny Cool one and, man, he must have thought he was dealing from the bottom of the deck and had to win. The problem was he was in a game where everyone had information. They were all dealing from the bottom of the deck. It’s not easy, man, you don’t have an edge. You’re just backing yourself and even the cards are confused.
After the mayhem in the Big Apple our Johnny Cool two comes to Vegas and creates more of the same. Imagine, blowing up Lennart Crandall in the middle of his own swimming pool. Crandall was a handy swimmer. He practised every day. The poor guy may have been in bits when he died but at least he came to the surface. The tale is that Johnny Cool two considered Crandall to be mission accomplished and was on his way back to sunny Italy, job done. Maybe Johnny Cool two was bored with killing Americans and, as it happened, he had met one he rather liked, a good looking dame called Darien Guinness. No, she was loaded but not that rich, no connection with the booze people. Johnny Cool one wanted number two to take over the USA business on behalf of number one but according to this dame with the name like the black beer, the one American favoured by Johnny Cool two, the pair of them were supposed to be heading to the Sicilian Hills to enjoy the quiet life.
Now I’ve got nothing against dames, and there are a few that have liked me. But I don’t kid myself. Any dame is an inside straight, cards that always promise more than they can deliver. But just like an inside straight looks great when it is in your hand, it’s the same with a dame. If you win, there is nothing better but you have to think of the odds.
Two of Vince Santangelo’s men had roughed up the dame, well more than that, and Johnny Cool number two had made sure they paid big style. There are no suspended sentences in the Sicilian mountains, man, you know what I mean. Something about Johnny Cool attracted this Darien Guinness. She said he was the only man that had never told her lies and she knew he was honest because what he told her was so terrible. But when she read about how the two kids had seen their old man Lennart Crandall dive out of the water instead of in, well, the dame knew although it had been fun with Johnny Cool the time had come to fold the cards.
Johnny and Darien were supposed to meet in some Italian restaurant in New York but Darien needed to call it quits and the best way she knew was to tell the hoods. They were waiting for Johnny Cool. Darien Guiness confessed to the cops that she had driven the car that Johnny used before he scattered Crandall over the pool. The babe looked sweet in court, and the judge gave Darien a suspended sentence providing she went for psychiatric treatment. The defence lawyer claimed the woman was a victim, and maybe she was because these days she works with children and raises money to support those places where drunks dry out. The rest you must have heard. Johnny Cool number one died in bed, not asleep I heard, something to do with a girl half his age. Johnny Cool number two had a hard time with the number of hoods waiting for him but he waited for the right cards to fall, one of those hands when the stars aligned, and somehow he got out of there. Johnny Cool number one, who at the point was still breathing, managed to get his boy out of the States. Johnny Cool number two doesn’t get around much these days I heard but he is out there, somewhere in the Sicily mountains and with the people he cares about. No more inside straights for Salvatore Giordano, thank God.
Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest book Go Break Bad is now available here.