The Big O
It was August in Los Angeles and the excretory funk once known as air had soared to a lung-searing 110 degrees. Grim Japanese and Mexican gardeners rolled and brushed drought-deadened lawns with Dutch Boy all-weather green paint. Lunatic Santa Ana winds whipped the pyromaniacs into a frenzy and the hills were alive with the sound of sirens and crackling telegenic hellfires. People were getting killed on the streets for jackets and watches and shot on the freeways for driving too slow. Nobody bothered to vote anymore and the politicians were running the asylum.
The onslaught of another relentless birthday was plunging me deeper into midlife bewilderment, my girlfriend walked out on me with someone her own age, prominent people in powerful places were threatening to sking me alive, and the Dodgers were seven and a half games out of first place.
I was positioned under the air-conditioning vent in my office cubicle, touching up this week’s column for the magazine Up Yours, a well-known high profile alternative to brain-numbing establishment rags like Time, Newsweek, and most any newspaper. It was my third in a series of pulverizing pieces on Franklin Dart, chairman of the board of the United Los Angeles Bank and one of the great greedy assholes of our time, when I got a call from Seymour “Sy” Horcheck, the legendary Beverly Hills attorney.
The “Silver Lion,” as he’s known in society columns and high-level show business cliques, built his reputation and influence by representing a Who’s Who of Hollywood moguls and heavyweight hitters.
I could just picture Horcheck, the suave Bel Air consigliere, with his immaculate suntan, sleek silver hair, and burnished bronze Guccis, sitting at a 500 year-old Renaissance desk and letting the unspoken menace seep through a phony patina of deep, cultured tones.
“Albie Marx? this is Seymour Horcheck.”
“Well, hello, Seymour. It’s been a long time.”
“You were behaving yourself,” he quipped - but it didn’t sound like a quip.
I let it go. “How long has it been, Sy, twenty years?”
“Who keeps count of such things? So many things happen. So many people come and go. How are you, Albie? You have your health?”
“Strong as a bull, Sy, thanks for asking. And yourself? I’m always reading about some exclusive dinner party your wife is giving. Elizabeth Taylor, Mike Ovitz, Al and Tipper ?“
“I like famous people.”
“I hope you’re taking it easy on the pate and caviar. A guy who’s all hear has to watch his cholesterol.”
“Still a smartass,” he laughs. “You always needed some slapping around.”
“I hope you don’t talk to your dinner guests like that, Sy. You don’t want Henry Kissinger thinking you’re not a real gentleman. What can I do for you?”
“For me, nothing. For yourself? you’ve been taking some pretty cheap shots at a very classy guy, Albie. I think we all know when enough is enough.”
“’Classy guy?’ I haven’t written about anyone like that.”
“Franklin Dart does more good for more people in one day than you’ve done in your whole life, my friend. Why don’t you get off his back?”
“Franklin Dart is a cold-blooded swine in a silk suit. He threatened to feed my balls to his Dobermans.”
“He never threatened you. He voiced an objection to your column, you’d do the same if you were in his place.”
“I don’t have Dobermans.”
“It was a figure of speech,” he coos. “Franklin doesn’t have a violent bone in his body. His compassion is common knowledge. Cardinal O’Connor is one of his biggest fans.”
“What can I say, he’s the modern Robin Hood. He steals from the poor, throws a bone to the destitute, and keeps the rest.”
“That’s unfair, Albie. Do you know how much he gave to Jerry’s Kids this year?”
“Do you know how much Jerry made from Jerry’s Kids this year? Gimme a fuckin’ break.”
“Franklin is deeply hurt by your columns.”
“But not enough to give back the money he stole.”
“This, I am not going to get into with you. Let’s just say that Franklin Dart has not been accused of any illegal activity and I feel you should reflect that in your comments.”
“Are you speaking as his attorney?”
“As his friend. I think someone is filling your head with callous lies about a decent man.”
“I’ll take your feelings under advisement.”
“That would be wise.”
“One question, Sy.”
“Does Franklin Dart feel anything at all for the old folks who lost their life’s savings on the phony bonds his bank sold them?”
“I assume you saw today’s paper. Another old couple committed suicide. Is this Dart’s version of euthanasia?”
The Silver Lion is deciding if now is the time to roar. “As I said,” he states tightly, “Franklin Dart has not been accused of any illegal activity.”
“I beg your pardon, Sy. He was prohibited by the SEC and his shareholders from overpaying himself when he sold his shards back to North American Realty.”
“That was five years ago and he settled. I don’t know where you’re getting the information for these things you’re writing.”
“I have a hyper imagination, Sy. Sue me.”
“I don’t sue. The fact is that nothing’s been charged in connection with the United Los Angeles Bank.”
“Yet, Sy ? yet.”
“Please, Albie, don’t act tough with me, you don’t have the weight. And remember- you owe me.”
“Debin distills the essence of L.A. looniness in the second outing, after Nice Guys Finish Dead , of hard-boiled hippie hero Albie Marx, reporter for Up Yours and a die-hard Dodgers fan. Bel Aire lawyer and teamster mouthpiece Sy Horcheck leans on Albie to drop an expose series that has already drawn enough blood from banker Franklin Dart to attract the Feds. Marx hoots at the threats until his old buddy Lenny is murdered shortly after saving Marx from an ambush in an alley. On his way to Horcheck's office to tell him to call off the wolves, Marx is waylaid by gorgeous daughter-in-law Bridgett Horcheck, with whom he begins a romance based on mutual lust and mistrust. Looking into Lenny's death, and annoying the LAPD, Marx opens a fully packed can of worms. Lenny, who was into a loan shark for over a mil, had borrowed from Dart to pay his IRS bill; Lenny's film star wife, who is boffing ace Dodger pitcher, Oscar "the Big O" Hamilton, was suing Lenny for a mega-settlement. A photo connects Dart, the mafia and Horcheck, while other clues lead to Marx's ex-wife now living with a guru who channels aliens. Debin paints a surreal L.A. with convincing style.”
“Hip humor masks a dark and disturbing core in this hardboiled take on life in the weird lane.”
“Debin’s denoument is a true stopper!”
--Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times