Read the first chapter of Jake Tapper's new novel The Devil May Dance
In the follow-up to his 2018 hit The Hellfire Club, Jake Tapper picks up with his protagonists Charlie and Margaret Marder as they navigate the hierarchy of Washington, D.C., politics. They're tasked by the attorney general with investigating Frank Sinatra, a rumored mob crony who eventually leads them to scuffles with Hollywood's most sinister forces (think: the Church of Scientology, among others). Here, read an exclusive excerpt from The Devil May Dance (out now).
Frank Sinatra handed the congressman the bottle of Jack Daniel's.
"These places give me the heebie-jeebies," Sinatra said, looking around the graveyard. "What about you, Charlie?"
Congressman Charlie Marder paused as he surveyed the small group circling the makeshift bar: stacks of paper cups and whiskey on top of a marble crypt.
"Sure," Charlie said. "I mean, who likes graveyards?"
"Graverobbers," said Peter Lawford. A young woman laughed. Her friend, who was a model or actress of some kind, rolled her eyes. They'd joined up somewhere along the way.
"How about maggots?" added Dean Martin in his rich baritone, prompting Ewws from the ladies. Earlier, Charlie had asked his wife, Margaret, if she'd caught the girls' names. "Betty and Veronica," she'd replied. "Or might as well be."
The Rat Pack — which tonight included Sinatra, Martin, Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., and Shirley MacLaine — and their assorted hangers-on had come to Forest Lawn Memorial Park not to mourn the dead but to rage against death, to celebrate, to drink and be merry. Just a couple of hours earlier, at Puccini — the restaurant Sinatra co-owned with Lawford — they had received word that an old acquaintance, Salvatore Lucania (better known as mobster Charles "Lucky" Luciano), had dropped dead of a heart attack in Naples. It put them in a reflective mood. The news was especially disconcerting because they'd gathered at the restaurant to toast the memory of innovative TV comic Ernie Kovacs, who'd been killed in a car accident two weeks earlier.
It had been pouring the night of Kovacs's crash, but the skies were clear now. At this moment, before dawn, the heavens twinkled with scattered stars, and the lush grass of Forest Lawn Memorial Park glistened with dew.
"Fill 'er up, Smoky!" said Sinatra to Sammy Davis Jr., using the nickname that was a nod to his four-pack-a-day habit. Sinatra placed his empty glass on the marble crypt in front of Davis, who was holding the bottle of Jack Daniel's at that moment.
As Davis poured the whiskey, ash from his cigarette drifted onto the rim of Sinatra's glass. Davis glanced over to see if Sinatra had noticed, then quickly dusted it off. "Clark Gable's over there," Sammy said to no one in particular, gesturing up a hill.
"Where?" asked Betty. "I don't see anyone."
"He's been dead for two years, ya quin," snarled Sinatra.
"Now, Pope," cautioned Martin.
"Unless I'm mistaken," said Margaret, "wife number five arranged to have Gable buried next to wife number three."
"Interred," said Charlie.
Sinatra rolled his eyes. He'd turned forty-six last month and what once might have played as impish now registered as old-man cranky. The sharp light from the streetlamp near them emphasized the crags in his weathered face, the scar on his neck, the onset of sagging jowls.
"Learn to read a room," Margaret jokingly advised Charlie.
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," he replied.
"Classy broad, that Kay Gable," Davis said about Gable's fifth and final wife.
"She gave birth to their kid at the same hospital where Clark croaked weeks before," Martin recalled.
"Look at the memory on Daig," said Sinatra.
"Ring-a-ding-ding," said Martin, grabbing the bottle of Jack and taking a swig. "Who wants another?"
"I do." MacLaine, elfin-looking in her pixie cut and bright red lipstick, raised a hand. "Why would she want her husband to be buried next to another woman?"
"Interred," Lawford drawled.
"Carole Lombard was the love of his life," explained Davis. "Kay knew that."
"Too bright," Sinatra growled. He was glaring at a streetlamp that cast a punishing white light, washing them all out so it was almost as if they were in a grainy black-and-white talkie, Frank reduced to Ol' Gray Eyes. "Pucci, give me your piece."
"Fat" Tony Pucci, Chicago mobster Sam Giancana's gigantic bodyguard, had a face that looked like it'd been whacked with an oar. Pucci glanced at Giancana, a buddy of Sinatra's whose presence none dared question. The mobster nodded his assent, the light reflecting off his thick glasses, and Pucci reached underneath his jacket and pulled out what looked to Charlie to be a Colt Python .357 Magnum with a four-inch barrel and a nickel finish.
Sinatra, cigarette dangling from his lips, grabbed the piece, aimed it at the streetlamp, squinted, and fired. He missed, and the bullet pinged off the metal of the pole. He fired again. Another miss.
Giancana snorted. He would not have missed.
Charlie scanned the area to see if anyone had heard the shots, but no one was around for miles, it seemed.
Margaret remembered reading about Sinatra getting arrested after he and Ava Gardner took his Smith and Wesson .38s and shot out streetlamps and storefront windows in the small town of Indio, California.
"Apparently he was a better shot in Indio that night," Charlie whispered to her, sharing the same thought.
No one cracked wise about Sinatra's poor aim. This was the Pope, as he was known; they kept quiet. After missing a third shot, Sinatra calmly handed the gun back to Fat Tony.
"You do it," Sinatra said to the bodyguard. "Jack Daniel's keeps moving the target."
"Wobble-wobble," said Martin.
Fat Tony aimed and fired, and the bulb exploded, dropping a cloak of gray upon them all.
"How's your bird, Pope?" Martin asked, a Rat Pack inquiry about the status of a fellow traveler's penis or, more broadly, his happiness in that arena. The others held their breath. Above them hung a half-moon, about which Sinatra started to sing:
Something, something, man in the moon
something, something, baboon,
something, something swoon . . .
Everyone exhaled; the wind had blown his dark mood away with the clouds. Lawford led the pack in a charge up the hill as Martin sang a song mocking the very young girlfriend of Sinatra's rival Elvis Presley. "Are you lonesome tonight?" he crooned. "Are you horny tonight? Have you reached puberty yet, my dear girl?"
Sinatra cackled. He'd hosted the television special Welcome Home, Elvis after Presley's discharge from the army, but Sinatra made no secret of the fact that he found most rock and roll deplorable; he thought the music was written and performed by cretinous goons, and Presley was the gooniest of them all.
Charlie and Margaret walked slowly, bringing up the rear. Margaret sighed, seeming annoyed.
"Stop pretending that this isn't a little cool," Charlie said,
indicating the scene — they were hanging with icons of the zeitgeist, boozing in a celebrity graveyard in the middle of the night.
"Ring-a-ding-ding," said Margaret dryly.
The crack of a gunshot echoed across the grass. It took Charlie and Margaret a moment to make out what was going on: Davis was firing Fat Tony's gun at a grave. Or, more precisely, at the sculpted angel on top of a crypt.
"What th—" said Margaret, poking Charlie in the ribs.
"I think 'Who the' is more like it," Lawford said to Margaret. "Doyle, the guy buried there, was a producer who screwed Sammy back when he was touring the country on the Chitlin' Circuit with his dad and uncle."
Charlie looked at the crypt. He didn't recognize the name.
Davis yelled, "Son of a bitch!" as he fired off another round. The angel's head exploded.
"There ya go, Smoky!" Martin cheered. He ashed his cigarette on a freshly dug grave, then took a swig from a paper cup.
"I'm not done yet," Davis said, pulling the trigger once more. The blast hit the cherub in the crotch, shattering the statue. One of the pieces of concrete clipped Charlie.
"Oof," he said, grabbing his shoulder.
"Honey!" Margaret cried.
"I'm fine," he said, rubbing the bruise.
"Oh, man," Davis said. "I am so, so sorry."
Davis was soused but clearly concerned. He made his way precariously toward Charlie, wobbly and contrite. The singer was a wee man, not even five foot five, all bone and sinew, maybe ninety pounds dressed for winter.
"It's nothing," Charlie said.
"Yumpin' Yiminy, now it's a clambake!" yelled Sinatra. "More booze!" Another bottle materialized as the pack continued its run through the cemetery, minus Giancana and Fat Tony, who'd turned to walk back to their car. Charlie and Margaret stayed in place, leaning on a thick, slightly cracked tombstone.
"Irish exit," Charlie said, motioning toward the departing mobsters.
"Not sure they're Irish, honey. Did it tear your shirt?"
Charlie lifted his hand, revealing a small hole in his suit jacket. "That might have been there before," he lied.
She poked her finger into the hole. "You're bleeding," she said. She held her finger up to capture whatever light she could steal from the moon. "We should go back to the car, see if we need to take you to a hospital."
"Oh, c'mon," said Charlie, who still had shrapnel in his chest from World War II. "I'm fine." His shoulder might be fine, but Margaret knew that Charlie was not. He slept poorly and drank too much and worked too many hours. He often lost his temper over trivial things, and she worried about how to deal with it. Eighteen years earlier, Charlie had experienced the horrors of war, fighting the Krauts in France after D-Day, and in the past few years Margaret was often reminded of the army's slogan that "every man has his breaking point." She was constantly looking for ways to prevent Charlie from reaching his. Whatever the doctors were labeling it, combat exhaustion or combat neurosis or battle fatigue, Margaret knew it would be with him forever. Beyond that, his life in Congress, where he'd been for almost a decade now, was infinitely frustrating — accomplishing anything good required Sisyphean efforts, while ethical compromises were everywhere. And at some point along the way, Charlie found that the constant fundraising and glad-handing to stay in office for his New York constituents had begun to eclipse the work itself.
Ahead, the members of the Rat Pack and their hangers-on were oblivious to the Marders' concerns; they were soaked in bourbon, singing, laughing, and loudly gossiping about ghosts as they stumbled around the graveyard. Charlie and Margaret could make out pieces of their conversations.
There goes Wallace Beery.
He won an Oscar too, Frank!
Remember he and a couple mobsters beat that guy to death at the Troc?
Bit parts. Aladdin and His Lamp.
Here's the Garden of Memory.
Some reverence, folks, Bogie is over there.
Bogart, Sinatra's hero, was credited with coining the term Rat Pack to describe an altogether different group of friends, but both the term and Bogie's beloved Lauren Bacall had been posthumously co-opted by his protégé Sinatra.
Charlie and Margaret headed back, and the snatches of conversation soon grew too distant for them to hear. They made their way over the hills on narrow paved roads to the parking lot. Earlier, Margaret, the ever-prepared former Girl Scout, had stashed the small first-aid kit she brought with her on all family excursions in the trunk of their rented white 1962 Impala convertible.
"We're missing all the fun," Charlie said as a gunshot followed by the pop of an exploding light bulb cracked in the distance. "I'm really fine, honey."
"Sure sounds like fun," Margaret said as she held out her hand for the keys. Charlie reluctantly produced them.
She inserted the key and opened the trunk while Charlie looked to the hills, where the echoes of crooning and guffaws sounded almost like local wildlife. Then Margaret screamed.
From the gauzy illumination of a distant streetlamp, Charlie saw the shape in the trunk, a big shape.
It was a body.
Charlie stepped closer. He recognized the face, as did Margaret, who turned away. He looked with horror at the woman that they'd last seen days before and that he'd seen quite a bit of in the past few weeks.
Her eyes were two bloody caverns; they must have been shot out. There was some brain and bone residue in the trunk but not enough to suggest she had been shot there. Her mouth was agape, her jaw helplessly, horrifically slack.
Charlie and Margaret stood frozen until the sudden arrival of the Rat Pack, who apparently had raced over in response to Margaret's shriek.
Sinatra looked into the trunk.
"Charlie," he said. "Just what the hell have you done?"
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