Smart. Savvy. Retired. Bored. The ten members of The Martini Club include a former CIA operative, a one-time Washington ad man, an ex-journalist, a retired brothel owner, an ex-airline pilot, a non-practicing rabbi and a few corporate types. This eclectic group assembles once a month to drink gin martinis, debate great issues and tell stories that may or may not be true. When an enigmatic financier offers them a chance to get “back in the game” and turn one-million dollars into untold riches, the retirees jump at the opportunity. But their plans are quickly stymied by the suspicious death of a local landowner, forcing The Martini Club to sober up and investigate potentially deadly hidden agendas.
Part of my inspiration for the dissolute retired rabbi in my novel, The Martini Club Mystery, was the Old Testament figure of Noah. This pre-Jew, who could be the father of us all, is saved by God from the flood that wipes out all other life on earth because he is a righteous man. Noah sails around for a long, long time and finally finds dry land, allegedly atop the mountains of Ararat. After letting all kinds of relatives and animals off the boat, he does what comes naturally for this old farmer. I quote from Genesis 9:20 and 21. “And Noah…planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.” Things went downhill for Noah and one of his sons after that. But that’s another story. My novel’s rabbi is a much more upstanding fellow, though he does like the booze. Maybe Noah was his inspiration as well as mine.
Some of the characters I created in my novel, The Martini Club Mystery, were conjured out of pure imagination. Others were inspired by real live human beings, some actually hard-drinking members of the actual Martini Club. Yes, the club exists and continues to harbor a wondrous group of fellows both dissimilar and alike. They are alike in that they are well educated, financially comfortable white men of Medicare age. The majority has a liberal bias, though a few conservatives and one Libertarian are the straws that stir the drinks, loosely quoting former Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson. One of our members inspired the hard-as- nails retired CIA operative featured in the book. He would talk a lot, mostly about others and only rarely about himself. At one session, he did mention an occasion involving a protest at U.S. consulate in which he was tempted to confront the angry mob attempting to tear down the American flag but then thought better of it. Survival, perhaps being the better part of valor. This conjured up a similar incident in the imaginary principality of Phipoc. If it had happened the way I wrote it, my drinking partner might have become so famous I might never have had the opportunity to meet him.
My inspiration for Coach Henderson was an Army captain I met while serving in a special unit located at Fort Knox during the Korean Conflict. The unit was made up of some of the best and brightest, ranging from PhDs in chemistry and psychology to electrical and mechanical engineers. The unit’s work was secret. Only those with a special Pentagon authorized pass could enter. During the work day, enlisted members of the unit ignored all military protocol, dressing in sweat pants, argyle socks, loafers. Saluting officers was out of the question. Once the work day was done, this elite assemblage had to return to regular army barracks, which were under the command of a army captain who detested us not only for flaunting army rules but for having chosen to remain enlisted men when we could have been officers. His interest in latrine cleanliness, the tightness of our bunk blankets and neatness of our footlockers was his revenge. Shortly after I joined the unit, I suffered the captain’s wrath for a less than perfectly polished boot. When I asked who he was my colleagues replied: “He is Captain Wedge. But don’t call him that to his face. We call him Captain Wedge because he is one of the simplest tools known to man."
A departed neighbor of mine—let’s call him Marty—was one of those charming people you rarely meet at cocktail parties. He was an authentic, one-of-a-kind guy without pretense. Marty was tall and good looking with a shock of wavy white hair. He was my inspiration for the character of Brody Brady in The Martini Club Mystery. He would periodically knock on my door and ask for a “child’s portion of scotch”. He was married to the same woman for over forty years, though they had been separated for the last thirty. He said he loved her passionately. She was the smartest, sexiest woman he’d ever met. He just couldn’t stand living with her. He always showed up at functions with a gorgeous lady on his arm. He worked inside the Washington Beltway before moving to Charleston doing PR and advertising, mostly for Republican politicians. “I never found a Democrat I could like or trust,” he said. “As a courtesy to a friend, I once voted for one. Turned out he was a crook and went to jail.” Marty vowed never to retire and was busy promoting larger than life projects until the day he died.
I once knew a retired rabbi who maintained that he learned to enjoy martinis from Lauren Bacall, the wonderful actress who died in 2014, a month short of her 90th birthday. He confided in me that Bacall’s recipe for the silvery drink was six to one—six ounces of a good gin to one ounce of dry vermouth. The tale may have been apocryphal, but the resulting martini was excellent. I should also note that Bacall and martinis are linked through her husband, the late Humphrey Bogart, whose last words were bogusly reported to have been: “I should never have switched from scotch to martinis.” According to Bacall, his actual last words were: “Goodbye kid. Hurry back.” And, of course, who can forget that Bogart ran a bar in the classic movie Casablanca in which he uttered that famous line: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” He was referring to Ingrid Bergman’s character.
During my years as a reporter, I covered murders, robberies, drug deals and a variety of other sordid crimes. On one of those occasions that reporters pray for, my wife received a call at home from a reputed killer named Julie—I’m leaving out the last name since Julie is no longer in prison. He wanted me to meet him at a private location where he would give me a big story about public corruption that included the assistant district attorney who he said had framed him. The prosecutor, he later told me, was his secret business partner, who had gotten greedy and wanted it all. He said he was being followed, so I would have to take a convoluted route to our meeting. It required me to drive to a lonely street, park, get into a stranger’s car and be driven blindfolded to a house where we met in its basement. We drank and he gave me one of the best stories of my career. Then there was the time two detective-investigators blindfolded me. Maybe later for that.
I was scared as hell of flying an airplane, so I learned to fly. It seemed the right thing to do. My son had decided he didn't want to go to law school, so the money my wife and I had set aside suddenly had no purpose. I asked my wife if it would be okay to use this money for flying lessons. She noted I had a couple of insurance policies and had given her two kids. She agreed. I went to a flying school at Long Island MacArthur Airport. I was not the best student. Though I understood the physics of flying intellectually, my mind kept saying, “If God wanted man to fly, he would have given him wings.” I came by my fear naturally. Years earlier, I took a lesson with a WWII pilot. Once off the ground, he said: “You fly.” I took the stick. “Now pull back on the stick as hard as you can.” I did. The plane balanced on its tail momentarily then flopped over on one wing and began a frightening downward spin. I was going to die. The fighter pilot laughed, took control, leveled the plane and landed. I walked away sick and shaken but knowing one day I'd have to get back on that proverbial horse. And I did.
My love of Martinis started rather late in my career as an alcohol imbiber. Until my tenure as a graduate student at UCLA, my most fulfilling drink was a chocolate milkshake. There I met Phil, a fellow journalism student. Phil was older and more mature. He had served as an MP in the Army and was currently working part time as a deputy sheriff. He was the kind of guy who enjoyed evicting people from their homes after a repossession notice. Yet, he was a fellow student and hard not to like. One night after a long class, he suggested we go out and split a bottle of bourbon. We drove to some gully that was part of the sometimes dry Los Angeles River, and proceeded to down a fifth. Around midnight, Phil pulled out his .38 caliber revolver and starting firing shots into the dark sky. I later realized this was good training for my induction into a select group of Newsday reporters who imbibed in Martinis during lunch at a nearby Garden City bowling alley. We all agreed the beverage made our reporting and writing more witty and creative. So it was only appropriate that my novel’s Martini Club members would enhance their story-telling abilities with glasses of the silvery liquid.
During my reporting days, I once sat at a bar with a wealthy, locally prominent businessman and politician who had used his political influence to get favorable rezoning for a motel he wanted to build. Like my character Brody Brady asks in this scene, I asked why the successful businessman needed the deal. He replied much like T. Benson Moore: “It’s the fun of the game, not the money.” Staying in the game to me has always meant being involved in something exciting—good or bad. It's the game that lets you know you’re still alive.
“Peculiar” is what the coroner called Albert Ruppert Manigrove III’s death on a dark highway just outside Fort Knox, guardian of America’s gold and home to secret U.S. military operations. It's the early 1950s, and the Cold War has turned hot. Super powers Russia and the U.S. are pitted against each other in a struggle for control of the Korean Peninsula. While this bloody encounter rages on, a more fundamental contest is being played out in secret laboratories and testing sites around the globe. Its signature is the monstrous mushroom cloud—the Hydrogen Bomb, mankind’s deadliest weapon. Was Captain Manigrove’s death tied to the gold or was he a casualty of this secret war?
The following passage is from my novel, Secrets…Spies, Lies and Criminal Ties, Chapter 16, Page 120. What does it take to get an electrical engineer’s attention? A good jolt should do it.
The following passage is from my novel, Secrets…Spies, Lies and Criminal Ties, Chapter 15, Page 112. Rank has its place, especially in the military. But there’s a difference between rank and authority.
The following passage is from my novel, Secrets…Spies, Lies and Criminal Ties, Chapter 14, Page 103. That little atom terrified Einstein and Oppenheimer, but, hey, what did they know anyway.
The following passage is from my novel, Secrets…Spies, Lies and Criminal Ties, Chapter 13, Page 95. Looks can be deceiving. The young man was a youth in appearance, but it was clear to the FBI special agents that in some ways he was old, very old. He had suffered too much pain and held too many secrets.
The following passage is from my novel, Secrets…Spies, Lies and Criminal Ties, Chapter 12, Page 91. The detectives find out they are dealing with members of the Italian mob. But what do they have to do with a secret army research unit?
The following passage is from my novel, Secrets…Spies, Lies and Criminal Ties, Chapter 11, Page 79. The unexpected shapes our lives.
The following passage is from my novel, Secrets…Spies, Lies and Criminal Ties, Chapter 9, Page 63. The CID investigator meets the man whose life he saved during a Korean war battle. It triggers hellish memories.
The following passage is from my novel, Secrets…Spies, Lies and Criminal Ties, Chapter 8, Page 59. Some Northerners may still call Southerners “Rednecks”, but we will see who gets the last laugh.
The following passage is from my novel, Secrets…Spies, Lies and Criminal Ties, Chapter 7, Page 51. While rank counts above most other things in the military, it does not enable an officer to block a criminal investigation headed by an enlisted man.
The following passage is from my novel, Secrets…Spies, Lies and Criminal Ties, Chapter 6, Page 47. Along with thousands of young, strong, testosterone-filled GIs, I fantasized about the kind of woman I would meet in the military. The following paragraph was my fantasy and frustration.
The following passage is from my novel, Secrets…Spies, Lies and Criminal Ties, Chapter 6, Page 41. Along with thousands of recruits, I did my basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Part of that training included long marches, our strides coordinated by a rhythmic sing-song chant. Those chants still linger in my head. One of them can be found on the above page.
There is something about a man who once wore a military uniform that gives him a special edge in running for public office. I suspect people instinctively want to thank him for his service—his willingness to put his life on the line in defense of his country. The Manigrove family recognizes that this positive feeling could not only lead to elective office, it could lead to financial profit.
The following passage is from my novel, Secrets…Spies, Lies and Criminal Ties, Chapter 2, Page 16. I felt it demonstrated the human impulse to put the group above the individual. That forms civilizations, organized religions and massive corporations.
I was stationed for nearly a year at Fort Knox during my brief Army career, and still vividly recall wild drives down the Dixie Highway with my fellow GIs, heading to or from Louisville before or after a night of carousing at one of its bars.
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