Friday, October 21, 2016

The Music Box Always Plays Twice

"To Lana, Love, Johnny."
"What?!" I ask hubby's father.  "Back up.  Start over.  This is amazing."  "It's just something that happened," he says over dinner.  "You want stories?  I've got lots of them."  "Hang on, I'm getting a pen.  I've gotta write this down.  Okay.  What year was it?"  "What year?  I don't know.  Maybe 1950's. "  (It was 1958 to be exact.  April.  Good Friday.  Or, as hubby's father calls it, Good Shabbos.)  "Go on."  "Johnny Stompanto comes into the store."  (And by store, he means, his picture framing business on Pico.)  "He was a gangster-enforcer for Mickey Cohen.  A very charming gentleman, very pleasant.  A handsome son-of-a-gun.  Tall, over six feet. Meticulously dressed.  A bon vivant. He lived at the Del Capri on Wilshire."  "Oh, right near where I grew up."  (Important to insert myself into the story, don't you think? Of course you do.)  "He owned a little shop in Westwood, the Myrtlewood."  "Wait.  He was a gangster with a gift shop?"
Johnny and Lana, in happier times
"He liked nice things."  Here, hubby's mom chimes in, "It was a mob front!"  "How old was he?" I ask.  "I don't know.  A young man."  (He was 32.)  "So, he comes into the shop in the late afternoon, and he's got a European music box that's got damage to the top.  He asked if I could repair it in two to three hours.  He was going to the airport to pick up his girlfriend Lana Turner, and he wanted to give her the box.  I said I wasn't sure if I could do it, but I'd try.  A few hours later, he comes back.  I've fixed the box.  I tell him, 'I don't know what to charge.'  He hands me two crisp hundred dollar bills and goes off to the airport.  That night, he was dead."  (Lana Turner's daughter Cheryl allegedly stabbed him.  She was 14 at the time.) "It was in the paper the next day.  I was shocked."  "The daughter was never charged," adds hubby's mom.  "She probably had a thing for Johnny.  She was jealous of her mother," hubby's father says.  But the SJG doesn't buy it.  "That's crazy!  She was a girl!"  I whip out the iPhone and start Googling right there at the table.  I should've just called my brother John, the authority on all things Hollywood.  (This morning, he tells me, "Everyone always knew that Lana did the stabbing. The daughter took the rap because they'd known she'd get off.")  "Do you think it was the music box?" I ask hubby's dad.  "Maybe Lana didn't like it?  Maybe she noticed the repair job you did and wasn't happy?"  He laughs at that.  "They'll never know what happened," he insists, unwilling to take the rap.  "But you saw him on his last day," I say.  "I lost a good customer," he says, and takes a bite of cake.

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