Tuesday, 10 January 2012



I am certain my first meeting with Marina would have gone much smoother had she understood English, or for that matter, had I understood Russian. But since neither was the case, communication was somewhat restricted.
When I entered her modest bungalow I was first struck by the picture of Czar Nicholas the Second on her living room wall. Was this a clue to her politics? If so, she was obviously quite nostalgic.

“Kack tee posh oh vayish?” she asked. Of course I had no easy response since I didn’t understand what she said. Sensing my confusion she tried a new question.
“Shto Novo Ho?”
“Look,” I said bluntly, “your husband was at the scene of an attempted political assassination. What was he doing there?”
“Lee good man,” she replied. “No kill nobody.”
“Mrs. Oswald, your husband has a rather perplexing past. He defected to your country, retuned to ours and initiated pro-Castro demonstrations. That alone, though circumstantial, makes him a prime suspect in a murder case.”
“Lee good man. No kill nobody.”
“And you, Mrs. Oswald. You are the niece of a top KGB official. How did you get out of the Soviet Union?”
“Lee good man. No kill nobody.”

It was obvious I would get nowhere with this line of questioning. I left in frustration, telling her I would return that evening. She seemed to understand my intent and kissed me on the cheek before I left.
“Mrs. Oswald,” I exclaimed. “You’re a married woman.”
“Lee good man,” she replied.
“I know,” I said. “No kill nobody.”“You know?” she asked. “Is good.”

When I got to my hotel I phoned Pierre Salinger in Washington. “Look, Mr. Salinger,” I said. “How am I supposed to discover anything when she only speaks six words of English?”
“The six words wouldn’t happen to be, “Lee good man. No kill nobody.?”
“Yes, those are the words. How did you know?”
“That’s what she’s been telling the press. We assume she knows a few more. Just keep pressing her. Use a little force if you have to.”
“What about me trying the old Mandel charm?”
There was a pause before he answered.
“If nothing else works it couldn’t hurt to try,” he replied unenthusiastically.

With Marina in the back of my mind and knowing I had permission from the top to pull all stops with her tonight, I visited Marilyn at Abe Zapruder’s dress factory. After the perfunctory greetings Marilyn kissed me on the cheek exactly where Marina had kissed me just an hour before.
“You taste like borscht,” she said.
I turned beet red and made an excuse. “Uh, yes. My baba brought that custom from the Old Country. I often wash my face in borscht.”
I could sense by her silence that she didn’t believe me. I hoped she didn’t suspect the truth.
“Norm,” she replied, “I would prefer if you stopped that superstition. What could borscht have that simple soap doesn’t?”
Yes, she accepted my story. “Non-alkaline enzymes,” I said confidently.
“Is that good for zits?”
“I never saw a zit on my grandmother’s face.”
“Maybe I’ll try it,” she said ending the issue.

I soon learned that Abe had taken a fancy to his new movie camera and had signed up for a film-making course. He had asked if Marilyn would agree to pose nude for him, but she adamantly refused.
“He wasn’t even planning to pay me,” she said in disgust. I had heard enough. I barged into Abe’s office. He was visibly distressed.
“You see what these are, Norm?” he asked holding a pile of papers. “These are returns on crinolines. For years I made the best crinolines in the southwest. Now no one wants to wear them. Not even in the little girl sizes. I’m stuck with a warehouse full of shmatas.”
“I’m sure they’ll come back into fashion,” I said trying to console him. “You know how quickly things change in the trade. They’ll start moving again in the Spring.”
“No. Corduroy is in now. Everyone’s making things in corduroy. Can you imagine corduroy dresses? Who’d have guessed? Not me, and now I can’t buy a yard of it from anyone. It’s all committed to New York. And me, I’ve got three miles of Dacron and half a barn of gabardine.”

“Look, Abe,” I said, trying to change the subject. “It’s about your movie camera.”
“The only pleasure I have in this world.”
I made my excuses and left the room.
“What’d he say?” asked Marilyn. “Is he going to pay me?”
“He said a sweet girl like you should be ashamed of herself for even thinking of agreeing to pose for his stupid camera.”
“You mean he won’t agree to the crinoline promotion?”
“No, not even that. And he said never to bring up the subject again.”

I left with mixed emotions after agreeing to meet her at the club when it closed. Arriving in the evening at Marina’s home, the burden of responsibility dawned on me. Someone had tried to kill my President, and I would find out if it was this Oswald creep.

I was mildly surprised to see Marina had prepared me a romantic candlelight dinner. The candles were placed in rather bulky holders of either zinc or nickel, and the white wine turned out to be vodka, but I had a nice time despite the peculiarities of custom.
“Do you like potatoes and cream cheese?” she asked.
“Da,” I answered.
“And perhaps some borscht with it?”
“Nyet,” I answered. I hate borscht.”
“Then we make toast together.”
She poured the vodka into paper cups, lifted hers in the air and said, “Pravda.” I repeated the process also toasting, “Pravda.” After swallowing the contents in one gulp she crumpled the cup and threw it in the wastebasket.
I couldn’t swallow a cup of vodka like that without gagging, but I covered my weakness by asking, “What is Pravda?”
“Truth,” she answered.

Propriety forbids me providing a detailed description of our after dinner activities, but I will hint that her bra had eight hooks in it. In the afterglow of what is known as necking and getting to first base, I asked her what her husband would say if he found out.
“Vladimir never find out. Never see me no more.”
“I was thinking more of Lee.”
“Lee not my husband. Lee bad man. Maybe shoot somebody.”At last I had broken through. The story that followed the confession, however, I assumed to be a lie. Before I left her place she kissed me deeply on the cheek.

When I arrived at my hotel I washed my face for several minutes and applied several coatings of Aqua Velva to my right cheek. Then I phoned Pierre. He was happy to hear from me.
“How’d it go?”
“I think terribly. I got some strange information from her.”
“Like what?”
“Like Glad Bags.”
“Like what?”
“Glad Bags. She says it’s America’s greatest invention. She says Soviet housewives have to take the garbage out in heavy cans. This is a major technological breakthrough, and she asked me for the formula. Do you have any disinformation on Glad Bags?”

“Forget that. What about her husband?”
“I don’t know if it’s worth telling you.”
“Try me.”
“You sure?”
“Just spill it, will you?”
“Promise not to laugh.”
“I promise.”
“Okay, I’ll hold you to that. Lee Harvey Oswald never went to Russia. She married someone else there, and before she arrived in America Lee traded places with him.”
“Come on. Honest?”
“That’s what she said.”
“But why?”
“She refused to say. That’s as far as I could get with her.”
“Okay, we’ll check it out.”

I later arrived at the Carousel Club expecting to pick Marilyn up. Jack Ruby seemed genuinely exhilarated to see me.
“I let Marilyn off early tonight. She’ll expect you for drinks at her place later. Some doll, that Marilyn.” He jabbed me playfully in the upper arm and added, “You’ve got a real winner there, Norm.”

He jerked his head to the left twice and said, “My club has been honored once again by the visit of your employer. Why don’t you sit down and have a drink with him?”
I saw Mr. Hoffa nursing what appeared to be a glass of bourbon. What an honor it was to be visited by my benefactor!
“Sit down, Mandel,” he almost barked. I obeyed instinctively for reasons I barely understood.
“You recognize these people,” he asked while handing me a photograph. Of course I recognized them.
“They’re my parents. Where did you shoot it?”
“This time we shot it with a camera yesterday. Someday we could shoot it with something more lethal.”
“What do you mean?”

“Let me explain to you what I mean. You see, this here Bobby Kennedy is out to crucify me. You understand that the Union invests its dues in projects that will pay dividends come retirement. And we’re good investors. We’ve arranged some enviable pensions for our members. You know that.”
“What’s that got to do with Mom and Dad?”

“Please, allow me to go on. You see this Bobby creep has the whole apparatus of the Justice Department and the FBI at his disposal. And he’s attacking me like I was poison.”
“Then I’ll speak to him about it. If you’ve been subjected to illegal harassment I will bring it to the highest…”

“Mandel, will you shut up? Some of my investments are going to get me ten years in the can, and nothing can stop that unless Bobby is snuffed permanently. And you’re going to do it or your parents will be in the next world a bit early.”
“You don’t mean that?”
“I do. You’re going to poison our illustrious Attorney General at the first convenient moment before I’m convicted. After that things are taken care of.”

“I can’t. I haven’t got it in me.”
Hoffa called Ruby over and said, “Sure you do. We all do. Tell him about it, Jack.”
“Well, you see,” said Ruby humbly, “I began my career as a messenger for Al Capone in Chicago. I was a good messenger and word got out. In time, my enthusiasm and ambition carried me to the vice-presidency of the local Wastehandlers Union. One year our president began some reforms that were detrimental to the interests of our members. So I had to kill him. It was easy and actually quite a lot of fun. Needless-to-say, the Union took very good care of me, and no one was the wiser for it. In time I was given an important, though unpublicized position in Dallas, and as they say, ‘the rest is history.”

“Jack, you have the right personality for the job. I’m squeamish. I don’t have the stomach for murder. Get someone else to do it, and don’t tell me about it. I don’t want to know.”
“Norm, Norm, Norm,” Ruby repeated. “We’re from the same tribe, remember? I know what your parents went through. And I know you want the best for them. Believe me, I understand suffering. I cry every time one of my dogs gets sick. You couldn’t make your parents suffer any more. Not after what they’ve been through.”

Hoffa pulled a package the size of a matchbox from his suit pocket. “A little powder in his coffee. You pick the place. If there’s any trouble we’ll have the FBI personally escort you to the airport with a new passport and a ticket to a place where a million bucks is in your bank account. You’ll love Honduras. The broads, (kissing the tips of his thumb and forefinger), mwah! All of ‘em honeys.”

In a fog I walked into Marilyn’s apartment building. I knocked on her door. She opened the door, and I saw her face was all red. Her hands tried to cover the odd completion.
“How could you, Norman? I washed my face in borscht like you said, and the stuff doesn’t come out.”

12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

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