it happened in vegas, but didn’t stay there
Me, Mikey and Antoine took a Western Airline prop from the Burbank Airport on a late Thursday summer afternoon and landed in Las Vegas in time for veal chops, pasta and red wine at the Italian joint I owned a piece of down on Paradise Road. Tickets were waiting at the door for us at the country singer’s last show for the night and we were shown to our table which was in front and at the center of the stage. As always the crowd was loud, appreciative and completely drunk off their asses.
On Saturday nights, when he was not out on tour, he often played at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in front of the tourists and WSM microphones, and he was the grand ol’ man of country who mixed the spirituals with the ballads of “lost love and love found”. In Nashville and the small towns across America, he was always dressed in a fine suit of clothes, with a tie, his trademark black hat and that big old custom Gibson of his. But out west, on the stages of the fancy casinos, he sang the hell-raisers and told blue jokes. He opted for tight black pants without pockets or belt loops, and wore the pre-Jerry Seinfeld puffy shirts that he kept unbuttoned almost down to his waist. Despite his age, somewhere north of sixty-five, he’d always been in great shape with a full head of thick dark brown hair and he was loved by the ladies and admired by the men.
We waited until the casino showroom cleared out until we made our way backstage to say hello and talk business. For over thirty years he had recorded for just one label owned by the Schlimmel family from Chicago, but that changed five years ago during a poker game at the Beverly Hills’ home of George Burns. A group of us guys, most of whom had worked off and on with George and Gracie over the years, would get together each week for a friendly little game. On this particular night, Abe Schlimmel threw a marker down on the table for not only the record label, but also the publishing and management company they owned. And he lost it all to my four aces.
Some men might have cried, but Abe just belly laughed. In the past five years he’d been in aluminum siding, and was making millions every month, so the old man’s record label was just a headache to him and he was glad to get rid of it. My money had been made in wholesale bagels, sold to resort hotels from coast to coast, so the last thing I needed like a hole in the head was a record label with some dumb country singer as the only artist on the roster. The next morning, I called Mikey Lichtenstein and told him to sell it off. Thank god he didn’t.
Mikey was probably the best accountant the Wharton School of Finance had ever taught and graduated, and he had a knack of cooking the books for some of the country’s notorious gangsters, politicians and entertainers. He saved Ed Sullivan from bankruptcy, Walter Winchell got to keep his huge apartment on the Upper West Side, Lenny Bruce had a steady stream of cash for his habit and various syndicates from small towns like Trenton, Scranton and Columbus funded the revolution and provided the guns to Cuban revolutionaries thanks to his ability to move money so effortlessly and keep it away from the prying eyes of Hoover’s boys. We’d grown up together in Tenafly, and he was my go-to man for all the deals I did. And it took him about twenty-six minutes to look at Schlimmel’s books and realize that the whole thing was worth a fortune. The publishing company held the rights to over four thousand songs from early Louie Armstrong tunes to everything that hit the charts from the Brill Building. Close to half of whatever Elvis had recorded in the fifties was now owned by me, and I can’t tell you how many country classics were in the catalog from Hank Williams through Tammy Wynette.
But it was the country singer, the one we just saw perform in the showroom who was the real moneymaker. Not only did we put out his records, but we owned his publishing, the management contract, his house, his cars, his fancy clothes and even his dog. And Abe Schlimmel’s family had done very well by paying off every late night radio DJ in the country to insure each and every song was a smash hit. And they kept him on the road 250 nights a year, had him appear in over twenty-two films, used his voice and image as spokesperson of dozens of products from donuts to golf clubs, made sure he paid his dues by appearing on the Opry stage when asked and kept his sins and indiscretions far from the eyes of his adoring public, the press and police.
Mikey and I walked into the dressing room and as he said hello to the singer and shook his hand, I kissed the cheek of his teenage girlfriend Kimmie who sat on a red velour couch doing her homework. She’d be eighteen in a few months and her mom was no doubt upstairs at the slot machines with her boyfirend, the band’s drummer. A kid not that much older than her daughter. The musicians all came from the same small town in Alabama and sometimes I wondered is they weren’t all related in some way as well, but I’m smart enough not to ask too many damn questions. Antoine was still out in the hall where he’d stay and keep an eye on things, as me and the country singer talked. I handed Kimmie a hundred dollar bill and told her to go get herself some ice cream or something. Mikey took her by the hand and shut the door on the way out.
I went over to the bar, tossed some ice into two tumblers and poursed us each a couple fingers of whiskey. “Here” I said. “You’ll need it.”
“So, Spanish Eddie Castillo, his big ass accountant Mikey, and Antoine the Muscle come to see me and something tells me this ain’t good news. What’s up boss?”
“You remember the night in Kansas City last year, when you killed that man who asked for your autograph?”
“So what? Y’all cleared that as self-defense.”
“And two months later, when the woman and drowned in the bathtub at your house when you were supposedly out shopping at two in the morning at Piggly Wiggly?”
“I needed to get some things. What’s your point?”
“My point is that last week you went too far. You took your dog, put it into a carrier, strapped it on the roof of your station wagon and drove straight from El Paso to Vegas. We have pictures, we have people writing letters, we have Kimmie and her mom talking on the news, and now we have the SPCA crawling up our butts. You went too far you damn hillbilly, and I’m shutting you down.”
I rapped my knuckles on the door and Antoine quietly stepped in. The singer watched as Antoine reached into his jacket and pulled out a syringe, already loaded and ready to go. He wasn’t stupid, he knew.
“C’mon Eddie…you don’t want to do this. I make millions for you assholes, and the dog is fine. He’s alive, dammit. He’s upstairs crapping all over the room and chewing up my shoes. This ain’t any big deal.”
Antoine saw me nod my head slightly and he moved quickly. He jabbed the needle into the man’s neck and we both watched silently as his eyes fluttered and shut. His body fell over, and it appeared he fell asleep. Which is what we did…we put the man to sleep. You don’t ever mess with the dogs.
Later that year I got a call from our record distributor to tell me that the box set we had released for Christmas was the biggest seller of all time. Built in the the shape of a dog carrier, we loaded all fifteen of his classic country and spiritual albums into it, and also included a VHS tape of his last appearance on the Opry’s stage. Mikey says we’ll clear over $750 million bucks by the end of 1978 from the music sales, a tribute TV special, merchandising and the $5.00 per person tour of his mansion in Nashville.
At Mikey’s advice, I sold everything in 1979 to a company called Bain Capital. Took all the proceeds and invested it in a new company called Apple, which I still own. Bain and the head of the company, I believe his name was Romney, ran Schlimmel’s old family business into the ground. Laid off all the workers, shut down the offices, the warehouse and distribution center. Closed it up in 1982.
Antoine decided to keep the dog. Mikey is dead. Kimmie lives in Costa Rica and teaches yoga. Her mother owns an organic pot farm. The late great country singer continues to be loved and revered by fans worldwide. Especially in China. His music is still played on the radio, his songs are covered by everybody from Neil Young to Susan Boyle. Last year American Idol featured a night of his music sung by the contestants. A biopic was made and shown by HBO in 1996, and James Cameron is doing a theatrical 3-D re-release next year.
Disneyland’s latest roller coaster, The Dog Run, is dedicated in his memory. Mitt Romney is running for president.
Easy Ed and Spanish Eddie Castillo are one and the same. The former sometimes blogs about music and culture. He occasionally enjoys writing fiction. The latter currently resides at the Mt. Pilot Hospital for The Criminally Insane, being treated for schizophrenia and delusional radical politics.