Lawrence Russell

ƒƒ Yes, I was with him when he drove from Paris to Amsterdam. He'd just finished a gig, decided he would do it, because he loved driving, even if he was strung-out and stoned. Most people wouldn't get in the car with him, but for me, no problem, because Chet was a damn good driver and I should know as I'd driven all over Europe with him, over two hundred gigs, maybe more. Didn't matter if he was loaded, because when he got behind the wheel he was extremely focused, and we made great time. Five hundred klicks in five hours, no shit, straight through Belgium and into 'dam. 1985 Alfa Romeo Giulietta, sports sedan, low to the ground just the way he liked it. I was with him when he bought it. Still had Italian plates, what the hell. He probably gave the prison in Lucca as his address, y'know.

Why did he want to make Amsterdam? Drugs, obviously. Easy to get, limited hassle. He had a connection there he called Mr. Monkey as he could always find him at the zoo, the big one, the Artis, which is at the heart of the city. Chet was doing methadone I think but always craved the hot flash, the real thing, and Mr. Monkey had the hot flash. People said bad things about Chet and his habit, yet as far as I could see there never was a problem if he had his dope. He didn't fuck with me, vriend. I was his handler and it was my job to see he was happy. I have the qualifications, see. I'm a veteran, love jazz, the old jazz, and I've seen a thing or two. My boss Otto knew I'd been in the army as a young man, could deal with the promoters and all the jerks in that scene. Otto is German, has the biggest booking agency in Europe for this sort of music.

We booked him into the Prins Hendrik which is right beside Zeedijk, the red zone. Chet stayed there lots, for obvious reasons, but that night he wanted to go to the zoo, so we drove there at eleven o'clock, cruised around looking for Mr. Monkey. Frankly I've never seen this gentleman, so he could've been anyone, and you know there aren't a lot of people around the Artis this time of night. Chet parked near the main gate and before he got out, he passed something to me, said, look after this for me, will you? Chet is a man of few words. As he headed for the wall, I saw it was a trumpet mouth-piece, the one Dizzy Gillespie had given him. It has "Birks" engraved on it, which is Dizzy's middle name, I believe. Yes, indeed I thought it was strange that Chet had given me this for safe-keeping... but then as I watched him go over the wall into the zoo, I reminded myself that the procurement of drugs was a dangerous game.

He never came back. I sat in the car for two hours, and then I thought to hell with it, Chet is Chet, he knows what he's doing, and I'll see him in the morning at his hotel. So I took a taxi to my sister's place, and when I phoned in the morning, that's when I found out he was dead. I went to the hotel immediately but of course his body had been removed to the mortuary, which is where I identified it. The police didn't really know who he was, as his kind of fame was outside their jurisdiction. They knew he was an addict, figured he'd come to grief by some bad klootzak and then when they found out he was staying at the hotel, they decided he'd fallen out the window, smashed his head against a concrete post. Suicide? Accident? I saw the post, I saw the blood... and I saw the body and I said nothing, vriend. What percentage for me? None. A hassle. I wasn't afraid of Mr. Monkey -- if there ever was such a person -- and I could see no reason to disagree with the coroner. Chet was stoned, he fell out the window, got unlucky. Sure, he could've been on the street, got whacked. Sure, maybe something happened at the zoo, and they dumped his body in front of the hotel. As my boss Otto said on the phone, the line between accident and murder is infinite.

Otto suggested that I see the body back to L.A., pass it over to the family, do some PR for the agency, but I was going to go with Chet anyway. I was his friend, had ridden all around Europe with him for years. He was a genius. He was difficult, but he was a genius.

It's a long flight. Amsterdam to Los Angeles. It's a long flight when you're sitting with a ghost, having conversations about his life, his women and the rest. You think you'll talk about jazz, but it's women. Somehow they measure his reckless journey into darkness better than any album he recorded, and he recorded lots. Halema. I knew about her, had met their son in fact. I suppose she was treated badly, especially during that drug trial in Lucca, Italy. Chet told me she was a rebound thing, he'd married her on an impulse to get away from Liliane, the French girl. You might know Liliane, as she's in the movies... well, French movies. She's late night stuff, always was.

Flying is no longer real, I feel. Not like driving. If I could've driven from Amsterdam to L.A. I would've. Me and Chet, we could've done it. He could see the centre line no matter what. He could see it in all conditions, sober or stoned. I drive just a little below the line, he says. Don't you see? It's the way he plays his trumpet. Fantastic, my vriend, fantastic. Above the line, you disappear fast.

I met his girlfriend Ruth, the one who would sing with him now and then. Not often, as she was insecure about it, but she could sing. Know what she said? Chet gave good head because he was a trumpet player. Yes, she said that. She had a mouth like that comedian lady Joan Rivers. She was wild, still is. You never know what's going to come out of that mouth. Chet bumped her around a bit, was nasty occasionally, although I must say she could give it back. Chet's wife didn't like her. Carol. The English showgirl he met in Italy, dumped Halema for. Chet told me she wanted Elvis, but settled for him. Three kids. Well, I'll bring him back to her, her and the kids. It's only fair.

I put the mouthpiece to my lips, blow softly. I blow and these women appear before me. Must be the merlot. I drink too much, think too much on long journeys like this one. Poor old Chet back in the hold, bored out of his mind. I'm sure he'll get out of the casket, find a chair, blow his horn. Why not? I put it in the casket.

When we got to LAX, I went to the customs hangar to repatriate the deceased. There were two FBI agents there and a customs lady, so I turned over Chet's US passport and the documents from the Amsterdam police, including the coroner's report. The casket was sitting on a trolley where they'd brought it from the plane. It was a big aluminum case, much bigger than a regular coffin, a reusable container used for international shipping. The short FBI agent with the red sunglasses asked me a couple of questions about my relationship to the deceased, while the customs lady checked my Dutch passport. They were just about to send me on my way when an old man wearing a fedora like one of those cops from the old film noir days showed up and demanded to see the body. Personally, I thought this was a bit much, a bit impolite, but there you go, their country, their state, their rules.

He was a big bugger with yellow eyes and all grizzled, should've been retired years ago. I wanna see him, the cop said. I been chasing this goddamn dope fiend all over LA County fer years, and I wanna see him. Excuse me, sir, I said, do you think he has narcotics in his pockets? I have his death certificate here, and I consider this to be an unnecessary intrusion on the privacy of a dead American genius. Yellow Eyes looked at me, then at the FBI and the customs lady, said, is this guy legal? They nodded, smiling like it was funny, and I suppose it was, although assholes like these are never as funny as they think they are. O.k. open it! barked Yellow Eyes, and the young customs vrouw reluctantly undid the anchor clasps, swung open the lid, stood back. Yellow Eyes moved in, took a look. He seemed puzzled, just kept staring.

I don't know why I did what I did. I took Chet's Dizzy G mouthpiece from my pocket and blew it. You really couldn't hear anything, it was just a hiss or a whistle at best. That's when the creature rose up out of the coffin and attacked Yellow Eyes. It was a big lizard, like one of those Komodo giants, with a heaving barbed tail that felled the FBI agents when they ran in to help the old cop. Vriend, I have never seen anything like it, no sir. The lizard savaged Yellow Eyes, ripped him like a rag doll and then took off out of the hangar. It was moving slowly, yet somehow it was moving briskly and I saw it disappear under some parked aircraft. Where was it going? I can't say. Hollywood, perhaps, or the ocean. Hermosa Beach, Redondo... any of these old places Chet used to live and work in.

The L.A. night was soon filled with sirens, police helicopters and searchlights as the madness of the hunt took hold. What would tomorrow bring? Chet's family had a plot in a cemetery not far from the airport, and a funeral was supposed to take place. I knew and admired Chet, even though he did some crazy stuff; he wasn't that reliable, you know, so it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't show up for his own funeral.

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