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Fools die

Mario Puzo

  Fools die

  Mario Puzo

  I read Fools Die for the first time when I was sixteen and it was chosen by me because of my desire to learn more about Mario Puzo's work aside from The Godfather. It changed me. Even after five years of college and university, I have yet to find a novel with characters which touched me the way Puzo's did in this novel. I actually miss them to this day and every year or two, I read it again, to remember those characters and the lessons they taught me. If someone was to ask me what it was that Mario Puzo is trying to say in all his novels, I would answer with this one sentence. Life is beautiful. That is it. Fools Die exemplifies that notion in the most profound way possible. Puzo says it over and over again but most people who I have encountered prefer to think of him as a novelist who is trying to promote organized crime. He is everything but that. He is a novelist attempting to promote life. After reading Fools Die I not only had the fascinating experience of feeling that I myself had lived the events of the book or had at least seen them through another's eyes, but I also felt a very strong connection to Mr.Puzo himself. It was only after reading this novel that I began to form the first thoughts in my mind as to what I would do with my life and why. It opened my eyes to philosophy, a philosophy which, is thought out carefully, could lead to the type of happiness that Puzo shows as possible. Sometimes the true path to success is best illustrated by its failures. Learning from other's mistakes enables an individual to be a step ahead of his own possible misfortunes. Mario Puzo, with this novel, prepared me for many of the dangers as well as the pleasures which this world has to offer. I learned some valuable lessons about love as well as about men and women in general. Puzo has a way of showing you the truth of a circumstance as if you yourself had thought it and in so doing so, removes the guilt which you may feel for thinking it. I knew when I read the opening to this novel that I had found something very special. The reason is that I could have written it. For in truth, the story of Fools Die is my story as is The Godfather and The Sicilian. They are tales of the romantics. Those individuals who see things not always as they are but as they should be. Whether it was Vito Corleone, Salvatore Guliano or Merlyn, the individuals whom Puzo has portrayed as the heroes of his novels follow through with that vision of life. One day this author will no longer be around to answer the worlds questions but he will still be speaking. As long as someone, somewhere is hearing his words.

  Mario Puzo

  Fools die

  Book I

  Chapter 1

  “Listen to me. I will tell you the truth about a man’s life. I will tell you the truth about his love for women. That he never hates them. Already you think I’m on the wrong track. Stay with me. Really-I’m a master of magic.

  “Do you believe a man can truly love a woman and constantly betray her? Never mind physically, but betray her in his mind, in the very ‘poetry of his soul.’ Well, it’s not easy, but men do it all the time.

  “Do you want to know how women can love you, feed you that love deliberately to poison your body and mind simply to destroy you? And out of passionate love choose not to love you anymore? And at the same time dizzy you with an idiot’s ecstasy? Impossible? That’s the easy part.

  “But don’t run away. This is not a love story.

  “I will make you feel the painful beauty of a child, the animal hominess of the adolescent male, the yearning suicidal moodiness of the young female. And then (here’s the hard part) show you how time turns man and woman around full circle, exchanged in body and soul.

  “And then of course there is TRUE LOVE. Don’t go away! It exists or I will make it exist. I’m not a master of magic for nothing. Is it worth what it cost? And how about sexual fidelity? Does it work? Is it love? Is it even human, that perverse passion to be with only one person? And if it doesn’t work, do you still get a bonus for trying? Can it work both ways? Of course not, that’s easy. And yet -

  “Life is a comical business, and there is nothing funnier than love traveling through time. But a true master of magic can make his audience laugh and cry at the same time. Death is another story. I will never make a joke about death. It is beyond my powers.

  “I am always alert for death. He doesn’t fool me. I spot him right away. He loves to come in his country-bumpkin disguise; a comical wart that suddenly grows and grows; the dark, hairy mole that sends its roots to the very bone; or hiding behind a pretty little fever blush. Then suddenly that grinning skull appears to take the victim by surprise. But never me. I’m waiting for him. I take my precautions.

  “Parallel to death, love is a tiresome, childish business, though men believe more in love than death. Women are another story. They have a powerful secret. They don’t take love seriously and never have.

  “But again, don’t go away. Again; this is not a love story. Forget about love. I will show you all the stretches of power. First the life of a poor struggling writer. Sensitive. Talented. Maybe even some genius. I will show you the artist getting the shit kicked out of him for the sake of his art. And why he so richly deserves it. Then I will show him as a cunning criminal and having the time of his life. Ah, what joy the true artist feels when he finally becomes a crook. It’s out in the open now, his essential nature. No more kidding around about his honor. The son of a bitch is a hustler. A conniver. An enemy of society right out in the clear instead of hiding behind his whore’s cunt of art. What a relief. What pleasure. Such sly delight. And then how he becomes an honest man again. It’s an awful strain being a crook.

  “But it helps you to accept society and forgive your fellow-man. Once that’s done no person should be a crook unless he really needs the money.

  “Then on to one of the most amazing success stories in the history of literature. The intimate lives of the giants of our culture. One crazy bastard especially. The classy world. So now we have the poor struggling genius world, the crooked world and the classy literary world. All this laced with plenty of sex, some complicated ideas you won’t be hit over the head with and may even find interesting. And finally onto a full-blast ending in Hollywood with our hero gobbling up all its rewards, money, fame, beautiful women. And don’t go away-don’t go away-how it all turns to ashes.

  “That’s not enough? You’ve heard it all before? But remember I’m a master of magic. I can bring all these people truly alive. I can show you what they truly think and feel. You’ll weep for them, all of them, I promise you that. Or maybe just laugh. Anyway, we’re going to have a lot of fun. And learn something about life. Which is really no help.

  “Ah, I know what you’re thinking. That conning bastard trying to make us turn the page. But wait, it’s only a tale I want to tell. What’s the harm? Even if I take it seriously, you don’t have to. Just have a good time.

  “I want to tell you a story, I have no other vanity. I don’t desire success or fame or money. But that’s easy, most men, most women don’t, not really. Even better, I don’t want love. When I was young, some women told me they loved me for my long eyelashes. I accepted. Later it was for my wit. Then for my power and money. Then for my talent. Then for my mind-deep. OK, I can handle all of it. The only woman who scares me is the one who loves me for myself alone. I have plans for her. I have poisons and daggers and dark grave sin caves to hide her head. She can’t be allowed to live. Especially if she is sexually faithful and never lies and always puts me ahead of everything and everyone.

  “There will be a lot about love in this book, but it’s not a love book. It’s a war book. The old war between men who are true friends. The great ‘new’ war between men and women. Sure it’s an old story, but it’s out in the open now. The Women’s Liberation warriors think they have something new, but it’s just their armies coming out of their guerrilla
hills. Sweet women ambushed men always: at their cradles, in the kitchen, the bedroom. And at the graves of their children, the best place not to hear a plea for mercy.

  “Ah, well, you think I have a grievance against women. But I never hated them. And they’ll come out better people than men, you’ll see. But the truth is that only women have been able to make me unhappy, and they have done so from the cradle on. But most men can say that. And there’s nothing to be done.

  “What a target I’ve given here. I know-I know-how irresistible it seems. But be careful. I’m a tricky storyteller, not just one of your vulnerable sensitive artists. I’ve taken my precautions. I’ve still got a few surprises left.

  “But enough. Let me get to work. Let me begin and let me end.”

  Book II

  Chapter 2

  On the luckiest day of Jordan Hawley’s life he betrayed his three best friends. But yet unknowing, he wandered through the dice pit of the huge gambling casino in the Hotel Xanadu, wondering what game to try next. Still early afternoon, he was a ten-thousand-dollar winner. But he was tired of the glittering red dice skittering across green felt.

  He moved out of the pit, the purple carpet sinking beneath his feet, and moved toward the hissing wheel of a roulette table, pretty with red and black boxes, punishing green zero and double zero. He made some foolhardy bets, lost and moved into the blackjack pit.

  The small horseshoe blackjack tables ran down in double rows. He walked between them like a captive through an Indian gauntlet. Blue-backed cards flashed on either side. He made it through safely and came to the huge glass doors that led out into the streets of the city of Las Vegas. From here he could see down the Strip sentineled by luxury hotels.

  Under the blazing Nevada sun, a dozen Xanadus glittered with million-watt neon signs. The hotels seemed to be melting down into a steely golden haze, a reachable mirage. Jordan Hawley was trapped inside the air-conditioned casino with his winnings. It would be madness to go out to where only other casinos awaited him, with their strange unknown fortunes. Here he was a winner, and soon he would see his friends. Here he was shielded from the burning yellow desert.

  Jordan Hawley turned away from the glass door and sat down at the nearest blackjack table. Black hundred-dollar chips, tiny cindered suns, rattled in his hands. He watched a dealer sliding cards from his freshly made shoe, the oblong wooden box that held the cards.

  Jordan bet heavy on each of two small circles, playing two hands. His luck was good. He played until the shoe ran out.

  The dealer busted often, and when he shuffled up, Jordan moved on. His pockets bulged chips everywhere. But that was no sweat because he was wearing a specially designed Sy Deyore Vegas Winner sports coat. It had red crimson trim on sky blue cloth and specially zippered pockets that were optimistically capacious. The inside of the jacket also held special zippered cavities so deep no pickpocket could get at them. Jordan ’s winnings were safe, and he had plenty of room for more. Nobody had ever filled the pockets of a Vegas Winner jacket.

  The casino, lit by many huge chandeliers, had a bluish haze, neon reflected by the deep purple carpeting. Jordan stepped out of this light and into the darkened area of the bar lounge with its lowered ceiling and small platform for performers. Seated at a small table, he could look out on the casino as a spectator looks on a lighted stage.

  Mesmerized, he watched afternoon gamblers drift in intricate choreographed patterns from table to table. Like a rainbow flashing across a clear blue sky, a roulette wheel flashed its red, black numbers to match the table layout. Blue-white-backed cards skittered across green felt tables. White-dotted red square dice were dazzling flying fish over the whale-shaped crap tables. Far off, down the rows of blackjack tables, those dealers going off duty washed their hands high in the air to show they were not palming chips.

  The casino stage began to fill up with more actors: sun worshipers wandering in from the outdoor pool, others from tennis courts, golf courses, naps and afternoon free and paid lovemaking in Xanadu’s thousand rooms. Jordan spotted another Vegas Winner jacket coming across the casino floor. It was Merlyn. Merlyn the Kid. Merlyn wavered as he passed the roulette wheel, his weakness. Though he rarely played because he knew its huge five and a half percent cut like a sharp sword. Jordan from the darkness waved a crimson-striped arm, and Merlyn took up his stride again as if he were passing through flames, stepped off the lighted stage of the casino floor and sat down. Merlyn’s zippered pockets did not bulge with chips, nor did he have any in his hands.

  They sat there without speaking, easy with each other. Merlyn looked like a burly athlete in his crimson and blue jacket. He was younger than Jordan by at least ten years, and his hair was jet black. He also looked happier, more eager for the coming battle against fate, the night of gambling.

  Then from the baccarat pit in the far corner of the casino they saw Cully Cross and Diane step through the elegant royal gray railing and move over the casino floor coming toward them. Cully too was wearing his Vegas Winner jacket. Diane was in a white summer frock, low-cut and cool for her day’s work, the top of her breasts dusted pearly white. Merlyn waved, and they came forward through the casino tables without swerving. And when they sat down, Jordan ordered the drinks. He knew what they wanted.

  Cully spotted Jordan ’s bulging pockets. “Hey,” he said, “you went and got lucky without us?”

  Jordan smiled. “A little.” They all looked at him curiously as he paid for the drinks and tipped the cocktail waitress with a red five-dollar chip. He noticed their glances. He did not know why they looked at him so oddly. Jordan had been in Vegas three weeks and had changed fearsomely in that three weeks. He had lost twenty pounds. His ash-blond hair had grown long, whiter. His face, though still handsome, was now haggard; the skin had a grayish tinge. He looked drained. But he was not conscious of this because he felt fine. Innocently, he wondered about these three people, his friends of three weeks and now the best friends he had in the world.

  The one Jordan liked best was the Kid. Merlyn. Merlyn prided himself on being an impassive gambler. He tried never to show emotion when he lost or won and usually succeeded. Except that an exceptionally bad losing streak gave him a look of surprised bewilderment that delighted Jordan.

  Merlyn the Kid never said much. He just watched everybody. Jordan knew that Merlyn the Kid kept tabs on everything he did, trying to figure him out. Which also amused Jordan. He had the Kid faked out. The Kid was looking for complicated things and never accepted that he, Jordan, was exactly what he presented to the world. But Jordan liked being with him and the others. They relieved his loneliness. And because Merlyn seemed more eager, more passionate, in his gambling, Cully had named him the Kid.

  Cully himself was the youngest, only twenty-nine. But oddly enough seemed to be the leader of the group. They had met three weeks ago here in Vegas, in this casino, and they had only one thing in common. They were degenerate gamblers. Their three-week-long debauch was considered extraordinary because the casino percentage should have ground them into the Nevada desert sands in their first few days.

  Jordan knew that the others, Cully “Countdown” Cross and Diane, were also curious about him, but he didn’t mind. He had very little curiosity about any of them. The Kid seemed young and too intelligent to be a degenerate gambler, but Jordan never tried to nail down why. It was really of no interest to him.

  Cully was nothing to wonder about or so it seemed. He was your classical degenerate gambler with skills. He could count the cards in a four-deck blackjack shoe. He was an expert on all the gambling percentages. The Kid was not. Jordan was a cool, abstracted gambler where the Kid was passionate. And Cully professional. But Jordan had no illusions about himself. At this moment he was in their class. A degenerate gambler. That is, a man who gambled simply to gamble and must lose. As a hero who goes to war must die. Show me a gambler and I’ll show you a loser, show me a hero and I’ll show you a corpse, Jordan thought.

  They were all at the end of th
eir bankrolls, they would all have to move on soon, except maybe Cully. Cully was part pimp and part tout. Always trying to work a con to get an edge on the casinos. Sometimes he got a blackjack dealer to go partners against the house, a dangerous game.

  The girl, Diane, was really an outsider. She worked as a shill for the house and she was taking her break from the baccarat table. With them, because these were the only three men in Vegas she felt cared about her.

  As a shill she played with casino money, lost and won casino money. She was subject not to fate but to the fixed weekly salary she received from the casino. Her presence was necessary to the baccarat table only in slack hours because gamblers shied away from an empty table. She was the flypaper for the flies. She was, therefore, dressed provocatively. She had long jet black hair she used as a whip, a sensuous full mouth and an almost perfect long-legged body. Her bust was on the small side, but it suited her. And the baccarat pit boss gave her home phone number to big players. Sometimes the pit boss or a ladderman would whisper that one of the players would like to see her in his room. She had the option to refuse, but it was an option to be used carefully. When she complied, she was not paid directly by the customer. The pit boss gave her a special chit for fifty or a hundred dollars that she could cash at the casino cage. This she hated to do. So she would pay one of the other girl shills five dollars to cash her chit for her. When Cully heard this, he became her friend. He liked soft women, he could manipulate them.

  Jordan signaled the cocktail waitress for more drinks. He felt relaxed. It gave Jordan a feeling of virtue to be so lucky and so early in the day. As if some strange God had loved him, found him good and was rewarding him for the sacrifices he had offered up to the world he had left behind him. And he had this sense of comradeship with Cully and Merlyn.