Chapter 22

Lucy Mancini, a year after Sonny’s death, still missed him terribly, grieved for him more fiercely than any lover in any romance. And her dreams were not the insipid dreams of a schoolgirl, her longings not the longings of a devoted wife. She was not rendered desolate by the loss of her “life’s companion,” or miss him because of his stalwart character. She held no fond remembrances of sentimental gifts, of girlish hero worship, his smile, the amused glint of his eyes when she said something endearing or witty.

No. She missed him for the more important reason that he had been the only man in the world who could make her body achieve the act of love. And, in her youth and innocence, she still believed that he was the only man who could possibly do so.

Now a year later she sunned herself in the balmy Nevada air. At her feet the slender, blond young man was playing with her toes. They were at the side of the hotel pool for the Sunday afternoon and despite the people all around them his hand was sliding up her bare thigh.

“Oh, Jules, stop,” Lucy said. “I thought doctors at least weren’t as silly as other men.”

Jules grinned at her. “I’m a Las Vegas doctor.” He tickled the inside of her thigh and was amazed how just a little thing like that could excite her so powerfully. It showed on her face though she tried to hide it. She was really a very primitive, innocent girl. Then why couldn’t he make her come across? He had to figure that one out and never mind the crap about a lost love that could never be replaced. This was living tissue here under his hand and living tissue required other living tissue. Dr. Jules Segal decided he would make the big push tonight at his apartment. He’d wanted to make her come across without any trickery but if trickery there had to be, he was the man for it. All in the interests of science of course. And, besides, this poor kid was dying for it.

“Jules, stop, please stop,” Lucy said. Her voice was trembling.

Jules was immediately contrite. “OK, honey,” he said. He put his head in her lap and using her soft thighs as a pillow, he took a little nap. He was amused at her squirming, the heat that registered from her loins and when she put her hand on his head to smooth his hair, he grasped her wrist playfully and held it loverlike but really to feel her pulse. It was galloping. He’d get her tonight and he’d solve the mystery, what the hell ever it was. Fully confident, Dr. Jules Segal fell asleep.

Lucy watched the people around the pool. She could never have imagined her life would change so in less than two years. She never regretted her “foolishness” at Connie Corleone’s wedding. It was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to her and she lived it over and over again in her dreams. As she lived over and over again the months that followed.

Sonny had visited her once a week, sometimes more, never less. The days before she saw him again her body was in torment. Their passion for each other was of the most elementary kind, undiluted by poetry or any form of intellectualism. It was love of the coarsest nature, a fleshly love, a love of tissue for opposing tissue.

When Sonny called to her he was coming she made certain there was enough liquor in the apartment and enough food for supper and breakfast because usually he would not leave until late the next morning. He wanted his fill of her as she wanted her fill of him. He had his own key and when he came in the door she would fly into his massive arms. They would both be brutally direct, brutally primitive. During their first kiss they would be fumbling at each other’s clothing and he would be lifting her in the air, and she would be wrapping her legs around his huge thighs. They would be making love standing up in the foyer of her apartment as if they had to repeat their first act of love together, and then he would carry her so to the bedroom.

They would lie in bed making love. They would live together in the apartment for sixteen hours, completely naked. She would cook for him, enormous meals. Sometimes he would get phone calls obviously about business but she never even listened to the words. She would be too busy toying with his body, fondling it, kissing it, burying her mouth in it. Sometimes when he got up to get a drink and he walked by her, she couldn’t help reaching out to touch his naked body, hold him, make love to him as if those special parts of his body were a plaything, a specially constructed, intricate but innocent toy revealing its known, but still surprising ecstasies. At first she had been ashamed of these excesses on her part but soon saw that they pleased her lover, that her complete sensual enslavement to his body flattered him. In all this there was an animal innocence. They were happy together..

When Sonny’s father was gunned down in the street, she understood for the first time that her lover might be in danger. Alone in her apartment, she did not weep, she wailed aloud, an animal wailing. When Sonny did not come to see her for almost three weeks she subsisted on sleeping pills, liquor and her own anguish. The pain she felt was physical pain, her body ached. When he finally did come she held on to his body at almost every moment. After that he came at least once a week until he was killed.

She learned of his death through the newspaper accounts and that very same night she took a massive overdose of sleeping pills. For some reason, instead of killing, the pills made her so ill that she staggered out into the hall of her apartment and collapsed in front of the elevator door where she was found and taken to the hospital. Her relationship to Sonny was not generally known so her case received only a few inches in the tabloid newspapers.

It was while she was in the hospital that Tom Hagen came to see her and console her. It was Tom Hagen who arranged a job for her in Las Vegas working in flue hotel run by Sonny’s brother Freddie. It was Tom Hagen who told her that she would receive an annuity from the Corleone Family, that Sonny had made provisions for her. He had asked her if she was pregnant, as if that were the reason for her taking the pills and she had told him no. He asked her if Sonny had come to see her that fatal night or had called that he would come to see her and she told him no, that Sonny had not called. That she was always home waiting for him when she finished working. And she had told Hagen the truth. ‘He’s the only man I could ever love,” she said. “I can’t love anybody else.” She saw him smile a little but he also looked surprised. “Do you find that so unbelievable?” she asked. “Wasn’t he the one who brought you home when you were a kid?”

“He was a different person,” Hagen said, “he grew up to be a different kind of man.”

“Not to me,” Lucy said. “Maybe to everybody else, but not to me.” She was still too weak to explain how Sonny had never been anything but gentle with her. He’d never been angry with her, never even irritable or nervous.

Hagen made all the arrangements for her to move to Las Vegas. A rented apartment was waiting, he took her to the airport himself and he made her promise that if she ever felt lonely or if things didn’t go right, she would call him and he would help her in any way he could.

Before she got on the plane she asked him hesitantly, “Does Sonny’s father know what you’re doing?”

Hagen smiled, “I’m acting for him as well as myself. He’s old-fashioned in these things and he would never go against the legal wife of his son. But he feels that you were just a young girl and Sonny should have known better. And your taking all those pills shook everybody up.” He didn’t explain how incredible it was to a man like the Don that any person should try suicide.

Now, after nearly eighteen months in Las Vegas, she was surprised to find herself almost happy. Some nights she dreamed about Sonny and lying awake before dawn continued her dream with her own caresses until she could sleep again. She had not had a man since. But the life in Vegas agreed with her. She went swimming in the hotel pools, sailed on Lake Mead and drove through the desert on her day off. She became thinner and this improved her figure. She was still voluptuous but more in the American than the old Italian style. She worked in the public relations section of the hotel as a receptionist and had nothing to do with Freddie though when he saw her he would stop and chat a little. She was surprised at the change in Freddie. He had become a ladies’ man, dressed beautifully, and seemed to have a real flair for running a gambling resort. He controlled the hotel side, something not usually done by casino owners. With the long, very hot summer seasons, or perhaps his more active sex life, he too had become thinner and Hollywood tailoring made him look almost debonair in a deadly sort of way.

It was after six months that Tom Hagen came out to see how she was doing. She had been receiving a check for six hundred dollars a month, every month, in addition to her salary. Hagen explained that this money had to be shown as coming from someplace and asked her to sign complete powers of attorney so that he could channel the money properly. He also told her that as a matter of form she would be listed as owner of five “points” in the hotel in which she worked. She would have to go through all the legal formalities required by the Nevada laws but everything would be taken care of for her and her own personal inconvenience would be at a minimum. However she was not to discuss this arrangement with anyone without his consent. She would be protected legally in every way and her money every month would be assured. If the authorities or any law-enforcement agencies ever questioned her, she was to simply refer them to her lawyer and she would not be bothered any further.

Lucy agreed. She understood what was happening but had no objections to how she was being used. It seemed a reasonable favor. But when Hagen asked her to keep her eyes open around the hotel, keep an eye on Freddie and on Freddie’s boss, the man who owned and operated the hotel, as a major stockholder, she said to him, “Oh, Tom, you don’t want me to spy on Freddie?”

Hagen smiled. “His father worries about Freddie. He’s in fast company with Moe Greene and we just want to make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble.” He didn’t bother to explain to her that the Don had backed the building of this hotel in the desert of Las Vegas not only to supply a haven for his son, but to get a foot in the door for bigger operations.

It was shortly after this interview that Dr. Jules Segal came to work as the hotel physician. He was very thin, very handsome and charming and seemed very young to be a doctor, at least to Lucy. She met him when a lump grew above her wrist on her forearm. She worried about it for a few days, then one morning went to the doctor’s suite of offices in the hotel. Two of the show girls from the chorus line were in the waiting room, gossiping with each other. They had the blond peach-colored prettiness Lucy always envied. They looked angelic. But one of the girls was saying, “I swear if I have another dose I’m giving up dancing.”

When Dr. Jules Segal opened his office door to motion one of the show giris inside, Lucy was tempted to leave, and if it had been something more personal and serious she would have. Dr. Segal was wearing slacks and an open shirt. The horn-rimmed glasses helped and his quiet reserved manner, but the impression he gave was an informal one, and like many basically old-fashioned people, Lucy didn’t believe that medicine and informality mixed.

When she finally got into his office there was something so reassuring in his manner that all her misgivings fled. He spoke hardly at all and yet he was not brusque, and he took his time. When she asked him what the lump was he patiently explained that it was a quite common fibrous growth that could in no way be malignant or a cause for serious concern. He picked up a heavy medical book and said, “Hold out your arm.”

She held out her arm tentatively. He smiled at her for the first time. “I’m going to cheat myself out of a surgical fee,” he said. “I’ll just smash it with this book and it will flatten out. It may pop up again but if I remove it surgically, you’ll be out of money and have to wear bandages and all that. OK?”

She smiled at him. For some reason she had an absolute trust in him. “OK,” she said. In the next instant she let out a yell as he brought down the heavy medical volume on her forearm. The lump had flattened out, almost.

“Did it hurt that much?” he asked.

“No,” she said. She watched him completing her case history card. “Is that all?”

He nodded, not paying any more attention to her. She left.

A week later he saw her in the coffee shop and sat next to her at the counter. “How’s the arm?” he asked.

She smiled at him. “Fine,” she said. “You’re pretty unorthodox but you’re pretty good.”

He grinned at her. “You don’t know how unorthodox I am. And I didn’t know how rich you were. The Vegas Sun just published the list of point owners in the hotel and Lucy Mancini has a big ten points. I could have made a fortune on that little bump.”

She didn’t answer him, suddenly reminded of Hagen’s warnings. He grinned again. “Don’t worry, I know the score, you’re just one of the dummies, Vegas is full of them. How about seeing one of the shows with me tonight and I’ll buy you dinner. I’ll even buy you some roulette chips.”

She was a little doubtful. He urged her. Finally she said, “I’d like to come but I’m afraid you might be disappointed by how the night ends. I’m not really a swinger like most of the girls here in Vegas.”

“That’s why I asked you,” Jules said cheerfully. “I’ve prescribed a night’s rest for myself.”

Lucy smiled at him and said a little sadly, “Is it that obvious?” He shook his head and she said, “OK, supper then, but I’ll buy my own roulette chips.”

They went to the supper show and Jules kept her amused by describing different types of bare thighs and breasts in medical terms; but without sneering, all in good humor. Afterward they played roulette together at the same wheel and won over a hundred dollars. Still later they drove up to Boulder Dam in the moonlight and he tried to make love to her but when she resisted after a few kisses he knew that she really meant no and stopped. Again he took his defeat with great good humor. “I told you I wouldn’t.” Lucy said with half-guilty reproach.

“You would have been awfully insulted if I didn’t even try,” Jules said. And she had to laugh because it was true.

The next few months they became best friends. It wasn’t love because they didn’t make love, Lucy wouldn’t let him. She could see he was puzzled by her refusal but not hurt the way most men would be and that made her trust him even more. She found out that beneath his professional doctor’s exterior he was wildly fun-loving and reckless. On weekends he drove a souped-up MG in the California races. When he took a vacation he went down into the interior of Mexico, the real wild country, he told her, where strangers were murdered for their shoes and life was as primitive as a thousand years ago. Quite accidentally she learned that he was a surgeon and had been connected with a famous hospital in New York.

All this made her more pooled than ever at his having taken the job at the hotel. When she asked him about it, Jules said, “You tell me your dark secret and I’ll tell you mine.

She blushed and let the matter drop. Jules didn’t pursue it either and their relationship continued, a warm friendship that she counted on more than she realized.

 

 

* * *

Now, sitting at the side of the pool with Jules’ blond head in her lap, she felt an overwhelming tenderness for him. Her loins ached and without realizing it her fingers sensuously stroked the skin of his neck. He seemed to be sleeping, not noticing, and she became excited just by the feel of him against her. Suddenly he raised his head from her lap and stood up. He took her by the hand and led her over the grass on to the cement walk. She followed him dutifully even when he led her into one of the cottages that held his private apartment. When they were inside he fixed them both big drinks. After the blazing sun and her own sensuous thoughts the drink went to her head and made her dizzy. Then Jules had his arms around her and their bodies, naked except for scanty bathing suits, were pressed against each other. Lucy was murmuring. “Don’t,” but there was no conviction in her voice and Jules paid no attention to her. He quickly stripped her bathing bra off so that he could fondle her heavy breasts, kissed them and then stripped off her bathing trunks and as he did so kept kissing her body, her rounded belly and the insides of her thighs. He stood up, struggling out of his own bathing shorts and embracing her, and then, naked in each other’s arms, they were lying on his bed and she could feel him entering her and it was enough, just the slight touch, for her to reach her climax and then in the second afterward she could read in the motions of his body, his surprise. She felt the overwhelming shame she had felt before she knew Sonny, but Jules was twisting her body over the edge of the bed, positioning her legs a certain way and she let him control her limbs and her body, and then he was entering her again and kissing her and this time she could feel him but more important she could tell that he was feeling something too and coming to his climax.

When he rolled off her body, Lucy huddled into one corner of the bed and began to cry. She felt so ashamed. And then she was shockingly surprised to hear Jules laugh softly and say, “You poor benighted Eye-talian girl, so that’s why you kept refusing me all these months? You dope.” He said “you dope” with such friendly affection that she turned toward him and he took her naked body against his saying, “You are medieval, you are positively medieval.” But the voice was soothingly comforting as she continued to weep.

Jules lit a cigarette and put it in her mouth so that she choked on the smoke and had to stop crying. “Now listen to me,” he said, “if you had had a decent modern raising with a family culture that was part of the twentieth century your problem would have been solved years ago. Now let me tell you what your problem is: it’s not the equivalent of being ugly, of having bad skin and squinty eyes that facial surgery really doesn’t solve. Your problem is like having a wart or a mole on your chin, or an improperly formed ear. Stop thinking of it in sexual terms. Stop thinking in your head that you have a big box no man can love because it won’t give his penis the necessary friction. What you have is a pelvic malformation and what we surgeons call a weakening of the pelvic floor. It usually comes after child-bearing but it can be simply bad bone structure. It’s a common condition and many women live a life of misery because of it when a simple operation could fix them up. Some women even commit suicide because of it. But I never figured you for that condition because yon have such a beautiful body. I thought it was psychological, since I know your story, you told it to me often enough, you and Sonny. But let me give you a thorough physical examination and I can tell you just exactly how much work will have to be done. Now go in and take a shower.”

Lucy went in and took her shower. Patiently and over her protests, Jules made her lie on the bed, legs spread apart. He had an extra doctor’s bag in his apartment and it was open. He also had a small glass-topped table by the bed which held some other instruments. He was all business now, examining her, sticking his fingers inside her and moving them around. She was beginning to feel humiliated when he kissed her on the navel and said, almost absentmindedly, “First time I’ve enjoyed my work.” Then he flipped her over and thrust a finger in her rectum, feeling around, but his other hand was stroking her neck affectionately. When he was finished he turned her right side up again, kissed her tenderly on the mouth and said, “Baby, I’m going to build you a whole new thing down there, and then I’ll try it out personally. It will be a medical first, I’ll be able to write a paper on it for the official journals.”

Jules did everything with such good-humored affection, he so obviously cared for her, that Lucy got over her shame and embarrassment. He even had the medical textbook down off its shelf to show her a case like her own and the surgical procedure to correct it. She found herself quite interested.

“It’s a health thing too,” Jules said. “If you don’t get it corrected you’re going to have a hell of a lot of trouble later on with your whole plumbing system. The structure becomes progressively weaker unless it’s corrected by surgery. It’s a damn shame that old-fashioned prudery keeps a lot of doctors from properly diagnosing and correcting the situation, and a lot of women from complaining about it.”

“Don’t talk about it, please don’t talk about it,” Lucy said.

He could see that she was still to some extent ashamed of her secret, embarrassed by her “ugly defect.” Though to his medically trained mind this seemed the height of silliness, he was sensitive enough to identify with her. It also put him on the right track to making her feel better.

“OK, I know your secret so now I’ll tell you mine,” he said. “You always ask me what I’m doing in this town, one of the youngest and most brilliant surgeons in the East.” He was mocking some newspaper reports about himself. “The truth is that I’m an abortionist, which in itself is not so bad, so is half the medical profession; but I got caught. I had a friend, a doctor named Kennedy, we interned together, and he’s a really straight guy but he said he’d help me. I understand Tom Hagen had told him if he ever needed help on anything the Corleone Family was indebted to him. So he spoke to Hagen. The next thing I know the charges were dropped, but the Medical Association and the Eastern establishment had me blacklisted. So the Corleone Family got me this job out here. I make a good living. I do a job that has to be done. These show girls are always getting knocked up and aborting them is the easiest thing in the world if they come to me right away. I curette ‘em like you scrape a frying pan. Freddie Corleone is a real terror. By my count he’s knocked up fifteen girls while I’ve been here. I’ve seriously considered giving him a father-to-son talk about sex. Especially since I’ve had to treat him three times for clap and once for syphilis. Freddie is the original bareback rider.”

Jules stopped talking. He had been deliberately indiscreet, something he never did, so that Lucy would know that other people, including someone she knew and feared a little like Freddie Corleone, also had shameful secrets.

“Think of it as a piece of elastic in your body that has lost its elasticity,” Jules said. “By cutting out a piece, you make it tighter, snappier.”

“I’ll think about it,” Lucy said, but she was sure she was going to go through with it, she trusted Jules absolutely. Then she thought of something else. “How much will it cost?”

Jules frowned. “I haven’t the facilities here for surgery like that and I’m not the expert at it. But I have a friend in Los Angeles who’s the best in the field and has facilities at the best hospital. In fact he tightens up all the movie stars, when those dames find out that getting their faces and breasts lifted isn’t the whole answer to making a man love them. He owes me a few favors so it won’t cost anything. I do his abortions for him. Listen, if it weren’t unethical I’d tell you the names of some of the movie sex queens who have had the operation.”

She was immediately curious. “Oh, come on, tell me,” she said. “Come on.” It would be a delicious piece of gossip and one of the things about Juice was that she could show her feminine love of gossip without him making fun of it.

“I’ll tell you if you have dinner with me and spend the night with me,” Jules said. “We have a lot of lost time to make up for because of your silliness.”

Lucy felt an overwhelming affection to him for being so kind and she was able to say, “You don’t have to sleep with me, you know you won’t enjoy it the way I am now.”

Jules burst out laughing. “You dope, you incredible dope. Didn’t you ever hear of any other way of making love, far more ancient, far more civilized. Are you really that innocent?”

“Oh that,” she said..

“Oh that,” he mimicked her. “Nice girls don’t do that, manly men don’t do that. Even in the year 1948. Well, baby, I can take you to the house of a little old lady right here is Las Vegas who was the youngest madam of the most popular whorehouse in the wild west days, back is 1880, I think it was. She likes to talk about the old days. You know what she told me? That these gunslingers, those manly, virile, straight-shooting cowboys would always ask the girls for a ‘French,’ what we actors call fellatio, what you call ‘oh that.’ Did you ever think of doing ‘oh that’ with your beloved Sonny?”

For the first time she truly surprised him. She turned on him with what he could think of only as a Mona Lisa smile (his scientific mind immediately darting off on a tangent, could this be the solving of that centuries-old mystery?) and said quietly, “I did everything with Sonny.” It was the first time she had ever admitted anything like that to anyone.

Two weeks later Jules Segal stood in the operating room of the Los Angeles hospital and watched his friend Dr. Frederick Kellner perform the specialty. Before Lucy was put under anesthesia, Jules leaned over and whispered, “I told him you were my special girl so he’s going to put in some real tight walls.” But the preliminary pill had already made her dopey and she didn’t laugh or smile. His teasing remark did take away some of the terror of the operation.

Dr. Kellner made his incision with the confidence of a pool shark making an easy shot. The technique of any operation to strengthen the pelvic floor required the accomplishment of two objectives. The musculofibrous pelvic sling had to be shortened so that the slack was taken up. And of course the vaginal opening, the weak spot itself in the pelvic floor, had to be brought forward, brought under the pubic arch and so relieved from the line of direct pressure above. Repairing the pelvic sling was called perincorrhaphy. Suturing the vaginal wall was called colporrhaphy.

Jules saw that Dr. Kellner was working carefully now, the big danger in the cutting was going too deep and hitting the rectum. It was a fairly uncomplicated case, Jules had studied all the X rays and tests. Nothing should go wrong except that in surgery something could always go wrong.

Kellner was working on the diaphragm sling, the T forceps held the vaginal flap, and exposing the ani muscle and the fasci which formed its sheath. Kellner’s gauze-covered fingers were pushing aside loose connective tissue. Jules kept his eyes on the vaginal wall for the appearance of the veins, the telltale danger signal of injuring the rectum. But old Kellner knew his stuff. He was building a new snatch as easily as a carpenter nails together two-by-four studs.

Kenner was trimming away the excess vaginal wall using the fastening-down stitch to close the “bite” taken out of the tissue of the redundant angle, insuring that no troublesome projections would form. Kellner was trying to insert three fingers into the narrowed opening of the lumen, then two. He just managed to get two fingers in, probing deeply and for a moment he looked up at Jules and his china-blue eyes over the gauze mask twinkled as though asking if that was narrow enough. Then he was busy again with his sutures.

It was all over. They wheeled Lucy out to the recovery room and Jules talked to Kellner. Kellner was cheerful, the best sign that everything had gone well. “No complications at all, my boy,” he told Jules. “Nothing growing in there, very simple case. She has wonderful body tone, unusual in these cases and now she’s in first-class shape for fun and games. I envy you, my boy. Of course you’ll have to wait a little while but then I guarantee you’ll like my work.”

Jules laughed. “You’re a true Pygmalion, Doctor. Really, you were marvelous.”

Dr. Kellner grunted. “That’s all child’s play, like your abortions. If society would only be realistic, people like you and I, really talented people, could do important work and leave this stuff for the hacks. By the way, I’ll be sending you a girl next week, a very nice girl, they seem to be the ones who always get in trouble. That will make us all square for this job today.”

Jules shook his hand. “Thanks, Doctor. Come out yourself sometime and I’ll see that you get all the courtesies of the house.”

Kellner gave him a wry smile. “I gamble every day, I don’t need your roulette wheels and crap tables. I knock heads with fate too often as it is. You’re going to waste out there, Jules. Another couple of years and you can forget about serious surgery. You won’t be up to it.” He turned away.

Jules knew it was not meant as a reproach but as a warning. Yet it took the heart out of him anyway. Since Lucy wouldn’t be out of the recovery room for at least twelve hours, he went out on the town and got drunk. Part of getting drunk was his feeling of relief that everything had worker out so well with Lucy.

 

 

* * *

The next morning when he went to the hospital to visit her he was surprised to find two men at her bedside and flowers all over the room. Lucy was propped up on pillows, her face radiant. Jules was surprised because Lucy had broken with her family and had told him not to notify them unless something went wrong. Of course Freddie Corleone knew she was in the hospital for a minor operation; that had been necessary so that they both could get time off, and Freddie had told Jules that the hotel would pick up all the bills for Lucy.

Lucy was introducing them and one of the men Jules recognized instantly. The famous Johnny Fontane. The other was a big, muscular, snotty-looking Italian guy whose name was Nino Valenti. They both shook hands with Jules and then paid no further attention to him. They were kidding Lucy, talking about the old neighborhood in New York, about people and events Jules had no way of sharing. So he said to Lucy, “I’ll drop by later, I have to see Dr. Kellner anyway.”

But Johnny Fontane was turning the charm on him. “Hey, buddy, we have to leave ourselves, you keep Lucy company. Take good care of her, Doc.” Jules noticed a peculiar hoarseness in Johnny Fontane’s voice and remembered suddenly that the man hadn’t sung in public for over a year now, that he had won the Academy Award for his acting. Could the man’s voice have changed so late in life and the papers keeping it a secret, everybody keeping it a secret? Jules loved inside gossip and kept listening to Fontane’s voice in an attempt to diagnose the trouble. It could be simple strain, or too much booze and cigarettes or even too much women. The voice had an ugly timbre to it, he could never be called the sweet crooner anymore.

“You sound like you have a cold,” Jules said to Johnny Fontane.

Fontane said politely, “Just strain, I tried to sing last night. I guess I just can’t accept the fact that my voice changed, getting old you know.” He gave Jules a what-the-hell grin.

Jules said casually, “Didn’t you get a doctor to look at it? Maybe it’s something that can be fixed.”

Fontane was not so charming now. He gave Jules a long cool look. “That’s the first thing I did nearly two years ago. Best specialists. My own doctor who’s supposed to be the top guy out here in California. They told me to get a lot of rest. Nothing wrong, just getting older. A man’s voice changes when he gets older.”

Fontane ignored him after that, paying attention to Lucy, charming her as he charmed all women. Jules kept listening to the voice. There had to be a growth on those vocal cords. But then why the hell hadn’t the specialists spotted it? Was it malignant and inoperable? Then there was other stuff.

He interrupted Fontane to ask, “When was the last time you got examined by a specialist?”

Fontane was obviously irritated but trying. to be polite for Lucy’s sake. “About eighteen months ago.” he said.

“Does your own doctor take a look once in a while?” Jules asked.

“Sure he does,” Johnny Fontane said irritably. “He gives me a codeine spray and checks me out. He told me it’s just my voice aging, that all the drinking and smoking and other stuff. Maybe you know more than he does?”

Jules asked, “What’s his name?”

Fontane said with just a faint flicker of pride, “Tucker, Dr. James Tucker. What do you think of him?”

The name was familiar, linked to famous movie stars, female, and to an expensive health farm.

“He’s a sharp dresser,” Jules said with a grin.

Fontane was angry now. “You think you’re a better doctor than he is?”

Jules laughed. “Are you a better singer than Carmen Lombardo?” He was surprised to see Nino Valenti break up in laughter, banging his head on his chair. The joke hadn’t been that good. Then on the wings of those guffaws he caught the smell of bourbon and knew that even this early in the morning Mr. Valenti, whoever the hell he was, was at least half drunk.

Fontane was grinning at his friend. “Hey, you’re supposed to be laughing at my jokes, not his.” Meanwhile Lucy stretched out her hand to Jules and drew him to her bedside.

“He looks like a bum but he’s a brilliant surgeon,” LUCY told them. “If he says he’s better than Dr. Tucker then he’s better than Dr. Tucker. You listen to him, Johnny.”

The nurse came in and told them they would have to leave. The resident was going to do some work on Lucy and needed privacy. Jules was amused to see Lucy turn her head away so when Johnny Fontane and Nino Valenti kissed her they would hit her cheek instead of her mouth, but they seemed to expect it. She let Jules kiss her on the mouth and whispered, “Come back this afternoon, please?” he nodded.

Out in the corridor, Valenti asked him, “What was the operation for? Anything serious?”

Jules shook his head. “Just a little female plumbing. Absolutely routine, please believe me. I’m more concerned than you are, I hope to marry the girl.”

They were looking at him appraisingly so he asked, “How did you find out she was in the hospital?”

“Freddie called us and asked us to look in,” Fontane said. “We all grew up in the same neighborhood. Lucy was maid of honor when Freddie’s sister got married.”

“Oh,” Jules said. He didn’t let on that he knew the whole story, perhaps because they were so cagey about protecting Lucy and her affair with Sonny.

As they walked down the corridor, Jules said to Fontane, “I have visiting doctor’s privileges here, why don’t you let me have a look at your throat?”

Fontane shook his head. “I’m in a hurry.”

Nino Valenti said, “That’s a million-dollar throat, he can’t have cheap doctors looking down it.” Jules saw Valenti was grinning at him, obviously on his side.

Jules said cheerfully, “I’m no cheap doctor. I was the brightest young surgeon and diagnostician on the East Coast until they got me on an abortion rap.”

As he had known it would, that made them take him seriously. By admitting his crime he inspired belief in his claim of high competence. Valenti recovered first. “If Johnny can’t use you, I got a girl friend I want you to look at, not at her throat though.”

Fontane said to him nervously, “How long will you take?”

“Ten minutes,” Jules said. It was a lie but he believed in telling lies to people. Truth telling and medicine just didn’t go together except in dire emergencies, if then.

“OK,” Fontane said. His voice was darker, hoarser, with fright.

Jules recruited a nurse and a consulting room. It didn’t have everything he needed but there was enough. In less than ten minutes he knew there was a growth on the vocal cords, that was easy. Tucker, that incompetent sartorial son of a bitch of a Hollywood phony, should have been able to spot it. Christ, maybe the guy didn’t even have a license and if he did it should be taken away from him. Jules didn’t pay any attention to the two men now. He picked up the phone and asked for the throat man at the hospital to come down. Then he swung around and said to Nino Valenti, “I think it might be a long wait for you, you’d better leave.”

Fontane stared at him in utter disbelief. “You son of a bitch, you think you’re going to keep me here? You think you’re going to fuck around with my throat?”

Jules, with more pleasure than he would have thought possible, gave it to him straight between the eyes. “You can do whatever you like,” he said. “You’ve got a growth of some sort on your vocal cords, in your larynx. If you stay here the next few hours, we can nail it down, whether it’s malignant or nonmalignant. We can make a decision for surgery or treatment. I can give you the whole story. I can give you the name of a top specialist in America and we can have him out here on the plane tonight, with your money that is, and if I think it necessary. But you can walk out of here and see your quack buddy or sweat while you decide to see another doctor, or get referred to somebody incompetent. Then if it’s malignant and gets big enough they’ll cut out your whole larynx or you’ll die. Or you can just sweat. Stick here with me and we can get it all squared away in a few hours. You got anything more important to do?”

Valenti said, “Let’s stick around, Johnny, what the hell. I’ll go down the hall and call the studio. I won’t tell them anything, just that we’re held up. Then I’ll come back here and keep you company.”

It proved to be a very long afternoon but a rewarding one. The diagnosis of the staff throat man was perfectly sound as far as Jules could see after the X rays and swab analysis. Halfway through, Johnny Fontane, his mouth soaked with iodine, retching over the roll of gauze stuck in his mouth, tried to gait. Nino Valenti grabbed him by the shoulders and slammed him back into a chair. When it was all over Jules grinned at Fontane and said, “Warts.”

Fontane didn’t grasp it. Jules said again. “Just some warts. We’ll slice them right off like skin off baloney. In a few months you’ll be OK.”

Valenti let out a yell but Fontane was still frowning. “How about singing afterward, how will it affect my singing?”

Jules shrugged. “On that there’s no guarantee. But since you can’t sing now what’s the difference?”

Fontane looked at him with distaste. “Kid, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You act like you’re giving me good news when what you’re telling me is maybe I won’t sing anymore. Is that right, maybe I won’t sing anymore?”

Finally Jules was disgusted. He’d operated as a real doctor and it had been a pleasure. He had done this bastard a real favor and he was acting as if he’d been done dirt. Jules said coldly, “Listen, Mr. Fontane, I’m a doctor of medicine and you can call me Doctor, not kid. And I did give you very good news. When I brought you down here I was certain that you had a malignant growth in your larynx which would entail cutting out your whole voice box. Or which could kill you. I was worried that I might have to tell you that you were a dead man. And I was so delighted when I could say the word ‘warts.’ Because your singing gave me so much pleasure, helped me seduce girls when I was younger and you’re a real artist. But also you’re a very spoiled guy. Do you think because you’re Johnny Fontane you can’t get cancer? Or a brain tumor that’s inoperable. Or a failure of the heart? Do you think you’re never going to die? Well, it’s not all sweet music and if you want to see real trouble take a walk through this hospital and you’ll sing a love song about warts. So just stop the crap and get on with what you have to do. Your Adolphe Menjou medical man can get you the proper surgeon but if he tries to get into the operating room I suggest you have him arrested for attempted murder.”

Jules started to walk out of the room when Valenti said, “Attaboy, Doc, that’s telling him.”

Jules whirled around and said, “Do you always get looped before noontime?”

Valenti said, “Sure,” and grinned at him and with such good humor that Jules said more gently than he had meant to, “You have to figure you’ll be dead in five years if you keep that up.”

Valenti was lumbering up to him with little dancing steps. He threw his arms around Jules, his breath stank of bourbon. He was laughing very hard. “Five years?” he asked still’ laughing. “Is it going to take that long?”

 

 

* * *

A month after her operation Lucy Mancini sat beside the Vegas hotel pool, one hand holding a cocktail, the other hand stroking Jules’ head, which lay in her lap.

“You don’t have to build up your courage,” Jules said teasingly. “I have champagne waiting in our suite.”

“Are you sure it’s OK so soon?” Lucy asked.

“I’m the doctor,” Jules said. “Tonight’s the big night. Do you realize I’ll be the first surgeon in medical history who tried out the results of his ‘medical first’ operation? You know, the Before and After. I’m going to enjoy writing it up for the journals. Let’s see, ‘while the Before was distinctly pleasurable for psychological reasons and the sophistication of the surgeon-instructor, the post-operative coitus was extremely rewarding strictly for its neurological”— he stopped talking because Lucy had yanked on his hair hard enough for him to yell with pain.

She smiled down at him. “If you’re not satisfied tonight I can really say it’s your fault,” she said.

“I guarantee my work. I planned it even though I just let old Kellner do the manual labor,” Jules said. “Now let’s just rest up, we have a long night of research ahead.”

When they went up to their suite— they were living together now— Lucy found a surprise waiting: a gourmet supper and next to her champagne glass, a jeweler’s box with a huge diamond engagement ring inside it.

“That shows you how much confidence I have in my work,” Jules said. “Now let’s see you earn it.”

He was very tender, very gentle with her. She was a little scary at first, her flesh jumping away from his touch but then, reassured, she felt her body building up to a passion she had never known, and when they were done the first time and Jules whispered, “I do good work,” she whispered back, “Oh, yes, you do; yes, you do.” And they both laughed to each other as they started making love again.

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