Ola came in at some point. I was telling Gary how much I looked forward to finding out more about Papa Joe, his boss at the night club, because soon I was going to attempt a novel about New Orleans that would include mobsters among the characters.
Leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees, Brother-in-law began to tell me about Papa Joe, saying that he had many sons who helped him run the business. Unfortunately, either I changed the subject, or Slim said it was time to go, because the conversation went no further.
Somewhere around the same time, I became involved with an attractive nineteen-year-old Sophie Newcomb coed named Jessica Luck, and it must have been during July of that summer, 1961, that Slim invited both of us to ride with him and Brother-in-law to look at some property on Jefferson Highway that Gary had just purchased and where he was going to build a house for his own use.
A long stone's throw from the brewery, with its aluminum kegs lined up in a row on the shipping dock, across the road the vacant land in question was grown over with tangled vines and small trees. I stepped forward into the swampy thicket, but Brother-in-law cautioned me that there were poisonous snakes about of a species that would actually chase a human being -- the cotton-mouth, I believe.
It was late in the day, the sun was setting, and I felt drained of energy, for to me it had been something of a pointless expedition. We piled back into the car and returned to the city.
Brother-in-law started talking about Nazis and Russians during the Hitler-Stalin Pact, and asked me if I knew there had been a lot of "going back and forth from one side to the other" among them at that time. Having read as much in Eric Hoffer's The True Believer, I could say that I did.
By the time we pulled up in front of Slim's place we were involved in discussing the literal meanings of the names various Russian leaders had adopted for revolutionary purposes -- "Molotov" meant "Hammer," and "Stalin" meant "Steel," and so forth.
Gary was next to me in the back seat, his hands clasped together, his elbows on his knees, in a posture I was coming to recognize as characteristic of him when he urgently wanted to be heard. "If I were to assume a revolutionary name, it would be 'Smith,' because a smith is someone who forges things--"
"You forge checks, money orders," guffawed Slim, beginning to list the small-time crimes to which Brother-in-law frequently boasted.
Of course, Gary had been referring to the forging of political alliances, but he laughed with the rest of us.
Then I must have walked Jessica up to the Freret bus stop on Canal Street, because my next recollection of that evening is that only the three of us -- Slim, Brother-in-law and me -- were sitting in Slim's room, when at one point or other in the chatter Brother-in-law asked, "Kerry, how would you like to be famous?"
"I'd love it," I replied without hesitation. "I've always wanted to be at least famous enough to make the cover of Time magazine."
Suddenly very serious, hunching forward with his elbows on his knees, he said, "I can make you famous."
After listening to me rant about how famous I wanted to be, he stammered, "Kerry, in order to make you famous I'll have to k-kill five people."
"Sure," I said with false bravado, not knowing what else to say. "Go ahead." Perhaps he was planning to rub out some of his underworld associates. I didn't ask. The remark was disconcerting.
That night, safely home in bed, I thought before going to sleep that Slim's brother-in-law was turning out to be weirder than I had at first supposed and that in the future it would be a good idea to steer clear of him.
As it happened I was not to encounter Brother-in-law again for many weeks. Slim would make mention of him from time to time. He'd gone out of town to Mussel Shoals, Alabama. He'd gotten in a fight and come out of it with a black eye. He was going to write a book about the officials of the Third Reich. It would be called Hitler Was A Good Guy, and he wanted to pay me to help him research it.
I wondered what kind of book it was going to be; I wasn't sure I wanted anything to do with it.
Besides the Sunday afternoon before Memorial Day, Greg does not remember any further meeting with Brother-in-law. But in July of that year we moved to a larger attic apartment in the same building, and sometime thereafter -- possibly late August -- Slim and Brother-in-law were very much present there one Saturday or Sunday morning. Slim and Gary and Jessica and I were going to the country for a picnic, and the place was noisy with our preparations.
Nothing significant happened that I recall, so perhaps Greg just didn't find it worth remembering. Or maybe he was bleary-eyed from a hangover and went back to bed afterwards and forgot about it. Since this time around I had the bedroom and it was he who slept in the living room, I'm sure he must have been awake, though possibly he had gone out early that morning.
Something had to be purchased to complete our provisions, so at one point Brother-in-law and I ran an errand together in his car. It was the only time the two of us were alone for more than two or three minutes that I can remember. Peter, Paul and Mary's then-popular "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" was playing on his car radio.
"Heh, heh. I like that song," he said with what seemed like cynical relish. "It's so sad! Yeah, heh, heh -- when will they ever learn?"
And so we picked up the wine or paper cups or sandwich bags or whatever we were supposed to get at Waterbury's Drugs and drove back from the corner of Camp and Canal to the apartment. I saw that Brother-in-law was in a wisecracking mood today and seemed, in his sardonic way, maybe not such a dangerous character as I had briefly feared. But I wasn't inclined to bring up the subject of the five people he said he would kill to make me famous, and I hoped he had forgotten about it.
Then the four of us drove out into the backwoods of Jefferson Parish somewhere and sat under the trees eating poor-boy sandwiches and drinking wine.
How unusual for someone like Brother-in-law, in his neatly pressed slacks with his Mafia slang and Nazi jokes, to suggest an outing like this! But he seemed to be enjoying it all immensely. Now and again he would look at Jessica with an expression I can only describe as fierce satisfaction. Certainly he wasn't flirting with her, because his scrutiny would come when she wasn't looking at him.
Vaguely disquieted, irritated with myself for feeling uneasy, unable to make any sense of his glances, I began to feel I was dealing with a man who was much too erratic or complex to evaluate.
Personally I preferred people like Greg, who belonged to a world I understood. Brother-in-law was from a world I didn't understand. I did not, in fact, know whether to fear or dismiss him as a cheap hoodlum's fabrication.
Slim belonged to both worlds. He would enjoy my labeling him a social amphibian. But he seemed predominately a creature of my world, and his fascination with this brother-in-law of his was hard to figure.
That autumn I heard from Slim that Brother-in-law's new house was now constructed on the property near the Anheuser brewery. Moreover, Brother-in-law was now respectably employed at the brewery. I don't recall whether he got the job there first and then purchased the land for his house or whether it was the other way around. What I do remember is that they were just beginning to produce a new brand of beer there -- Busch Bavarian.
That he was no longer a bouncer in a Mafia strip joint I took as reassuring, for that would perhaps mean he was that much further removed from any present involvement with organized crime. Authentic New Orleans underworld figures were people I wanted to learn about -- while staying as far away from them as possible.
And then there was the consideration that Brother-in-law was going to try his hand at becoming a writer. That was something I could identify with. Slim had assured me that Gary was going to keep his personal opinions out of Hitler Was A Good Guy.
"By God, he'd better," was my response, "if he expects to sell it to a decent publishing house."
It was to be an objectively written study of what the policies of various members of the Third Reich would have been, had they succeeded in their attempts to seize power from Hitler. The purpose was to argue that of all of them, Adolph Hitler was the least of many terrible evils.
So one morning, at Slim's prior suggestion, I met with him and Gary and we drove in Brother-in-law's car to the modest little flat-roofed house in Harahan, Louisiana, at the corner of Jefferson Highway and Plache. To the best of my recollection it was green stucco on the outside. Inside was a living room with an adjoining kitchen at the back separated by a structure resembling a breakfast bar. Upon a corner where a dirt or gravel road joined the highway, it stood far from any other residence. There was a bedroom off to the side opposite the main road. Or perhaps just a sofa in the living room that made into a bed -- I don't recall exactly.
I remember thinking wistfully what I could do with a place of that size -- a home base to which I could return after the numerous globe-trotting adventures I was planning on having as soon as I became a successful writer. Surveying the living room for the first time, I noticed an unusually large number of cheap girlie magazines stacked here and there.
This was to be the first of perhaps a couple of dozen such visits, filling a two-year span from late in 1961 until November of 1963. Each of these visits took place at Slim's suggestion, and each time Slim was to accompany me. Sometimes we would meet Brother-in-law in the French Quarter and all three of us would drive out to the house together; other times Slim would have already borrowed Gary's car and he and I would make the drive, with Brother-in-law awaiting us at the house.
At the time, these expeditions comprised a negligible portion of my life, so it seemed to me, for they were isolated from my adventures among the Bohemians and hipsters of the French Quarter -- the Quarterites, as we called ourselves. So to phrase it mildly, I wasn't taking notes. However, for things most people are inclined to forget, I have an uncanny memory, as my friends have often remarked when, many years after the fact, I have reminded them of this or that trifling incident.
So the conversational dialogue I use in telling this tale is written necessarily with a certain amount of poetic or literary license, to capture the mood of each situation, as there is no way I am able to present a word-for-word transcript of what was said.
Most of my memories of these talks were repressed for many years until 1975, when I could recall at first only that Slim Brooks had a weird brother-in-law who seemed obsessed with Nazism and who spoke once or twice with me of killing John Kennedy. As I recalled it vaguely, I had decided afterwards he was just playing with my mind.
However, since 1975 I have thought about almost nothing but Brother-in-law -- literally, day in and day out. Times were many I thought my mind would snap from the emotional strain of having to dwell so constantly on anything so difficult to understand.
Gradually it occurred to me that possibly bizarre words and actions contain their own psychological camouflage. Police hasten to close cases like the John Kennedy assassination. Earl Warren said of the Dallas crimes, "This whole thing just makes me sick." Few Commission members bothered to attend the taking of depositions. When Jim Garrison reopened the case in the late sixties, reporters complained constantly about the bizarre nature of the probe's cast of characters.
In our society, distasteful matters are quickly disposed of with circumspection and minimal attentiveness.