THE THIRD HAND
by Shaun Costello
Excerpted from the “Seventies” manuscript:
Sex, Gangsters, and Deception in the time of ‘Groovy’
By the middle of 1974, my time was pretty evenly divided between CBS Sports, and Star Distributors, the porn unit of the Gambino Crime Family. Out in Hunterdon County, my girlfriend Jane had quickly outgrown my birthday gift to her the previous year, a little chestnut gelding called Applejack. She was an athletic and natural rider, and wound up buying an open jumper who nobody except Jane seemed able to ride. She called him Bojangles and did wonders with him. I tried riding him only once, and was so terrified by the experience that I almost quit riding altogether. I sold little Applejack to a local teenager, and started riding school horses during lessons, which never lasts long. Show Barns make their money on lessons and on selling expensive horses to horseless riding students like me. After a few weeks of taking lessons on their school horses the sales routine began. “Shaun, what can I say? You’ve outgrown the school horses, and if you’re really serious about riding then it’s time to find you a nice thoroughbred.” Essentially they were saying, “Either you’re going to own an expensive, fine tuned jumping machine, or you’re going to remain a horseless slob, looked down upon by all concerned.” So within a few weeks, not wanting to remain a horseless slob, I forked over the money for a stunning bay thoroughbred gelding who I called Dawn Patrol. The problem was that Dawn Patrol was a five year old and only a year off the track, so he was completely green. This meant that I could only ride him under professional supervision, which wound up costing quite a bit of money. If I wanted to go hacking with Jane off in the woods and fields I had to rent a school horse from the barn, while my difficult-to-ride thoroughbred remained in his stall eating me out of house and home. I was now in way over my head.
August passed into September, and my porn production output continued at a frantic pace while I still spent weekends trying not to look foolish attempting to ride my fine tuned jumping machine, and watching Jane tear over Jump courses on her
chestnut monster with the reckless abandon of the fine rider she had become. She had risen to a full level above me, but I was happy with our situation. My life seemed to work. I was maxed-out, but as long no surprises came my way I could manage this level of activity. It was at this point that my mother called to tell me she was getting re-married.
This matrimonial announcement immediately put Jane into wedding-present mode. So, with our gift perfectly wrapped, we jumped on the Metroliner and headed to Washington DC, where the event was to take place. Both the ceremony and the reception were to be held at the townhouse of Michael Gill, a close friend of my mother’s new victim, and a man who had made a
lifetime career out of being the nephew of Mamie Eisenhower. He was one of those Washington political parasites who lived on the perks when his party was in power. The republicans still held the Whitehouse so Michael Gill was on the dole. It was never made clear to me exactly what Gill did, but from the look of him, I was certain that not all of it was legal.
The ceremony was to be presided over by a Seventh Circuit Appellate Judge, and attended by a collection of Washington’s best and worst characters. My mother’s new husband had owned restaurants in the Washington area for years, and seemed well liked. Bob Dole was there, as was Dick Cheney, Ed Musky, and what seemed like every lobbyist in the capital.
On the other side of the reception was a delegation of boys from the Bonnano family in New York, some of whom looked familiar. What an amazing gathering. Some of them had gone to law school to learn how to defend criminals, and some of them had attended “The University of the Streets” to learn the subtle nuances of the import/export business, but all of them were gangsters. I hadn’t seen this many republicans in one room since the televised coverage of the 1972 Convention.
I introduced Jane to the happy couple, who really did seem like a happy couple, and who in turn, introduced us to our host. Michael Gill took Jane in tow, “Young lady, before the ceremony begins, let me introduce you to our guests”, and off they went. While Jane was glad-handing the guest list, I decided to explore Gill’s house. The main floor contained the cavernous living room, its walls decorated with many photographs of Ike and Mamie, and where the wedding guests were milling about. Just down the hall was an equally large formal dining room with more photographs of the Eisenhowers, a chefs kitchen where the caterers were busy
prepping the banquet, and various and sundry pantries and storage cabinets. The floors above contained bedroom after bedroom, each one with walls covered with more Ike and Mamie pictures, that seem to go on forever. Next to the kitchen was a door that led to the stairway to the basement. I decided that Gill’s basement might be worth exploring, and I was right.
Michael Gill’s secret subterranean playground was a wood paneled wonderland of adult entertainment. A screening room, with couches instead of chairs, where guests could watch adult films while stretching out together in total comfort. The next room was decorated in a kind of cruise ship motif, with port-holes painted on the walls, round life-preservers hanging everywhere, and deck chairs for the comfort of the ship’s passengers. In the
center of the room was the biggest hot tub I had ever seen, accommodating maybe ten to twelve wet revelers at one time. As in the previous room, there was a large movie screen, and through one of the port-holes I noticed an 16MM movie projector.
The shelves in the projection room contained 16MM prints of feature films, all pornographic. As I went through the titles I was horrified to find several little movies that I had made for Sid Levine the previous year, and I was in about half of them. So Michael Gill had seen me in action. But how could he have gotten his hands on theatrical films that I had made for the DeCavalcante crime family? Then I remembered the boys from the Bonnano family who were upstairs for the wedding. The wedding! I made a bee-line for the stairway and arrived just in time. Jane was furious whispering, “Where have you been? Everybody’s been waiting for you.” I just said, “Don’t ask.”
The ceremony passed without a hitch, my sisters cried, and the reception began. Michael Gill hadn’t taken his eyes off Jane since we arrived, and it was making her uncomfortable. Gill, who’s constantly filling my glass, was telling me a series of bizarre stories about the sexual capabilities of his insatiable, nymphomaniac girlfriend. She was a mousy little thing, who I’m sure no one at the reception suspected of having a third hand located in her vagina, yet Gill maintained that this was the case. Now I knew that he recognized me from the movies. Why else would he be constantly whispering in my ear about his girlfriend’s sexual exploits? If he knew, did his pal who was in the midst of marrying my mother also know? Did Cheney? Dole? Musky? Just how many members of the United States Senate had watched, in the comfy confines of Michael Gill’s underground pleasure chamber, the movies I had made for the Mob? Gill was still relentlessly whispering. “I guarantee you young man, the slippery grasp, the velvety fingers, your zorch will be the happiest little guy on planet Earth.” Zorch? I hadn’t heard that word since I was twelve. At this point Gill decided that I should meet his pal Dick Cheney who, for the past few months, had been running Gerry Ford’s transition team, working just under his buddy Don Rumsfeld. “Dick, I’d like you meet the bride’s son Shaun. He’s a film maker you know.” Cheney turned with an outstretched hand, “A real pleasure Shaun. They make quite a handsome couple. A film maker, huh. Not a member of the press are you?” “No sir, not at all.” Cheney was sizing me up. “What kind of films do you make?” He was peering at me over the top of his glasses. “Golf sir, my last film was about the British Open.” Cheney smiled, “Golf. That’s the ticket. The great American common denominator. Everybody loves golf. Did you know that President Ford is quite an accomplished golfer? Plays with the pros all the time.”
So here we were at my mother’s wedding reception. Michael Gill was standing between Bob Dole, who was endlessly telling great jokes, and Dick Cheney, who was explaining how his friend Gerry Ford would save the GOP from ruin; and in between Dole’s Jokes and Cheney’s explanations, Gill was whispering in my ear about how it would feel when his girlfriend got that third hand in her vagina around my zorch. The only improvement that I could see on the theatricality of this moment might be the addition of a little acid, but I guess you can’t have everything.
The reception began to wind down and, before I could tell Jane about Gill’s subterranean amusement park, he was already telling her about his new gazillion gallon hot tub which, he proudly told her, was big enough for the whole neighborhood. He was having an intimate get together after the reception ended. Just a few couples would be there. Fun, open-minded couples, and we were invited. How could I have been so stupid? Gill was selling me on the sexual talents of his mousy girlfriend, while my mother was saying “I do”, in order to get his hands on Jane. This was truly hilarious. So my mother and her new hubby went over Niagara Falls in a barrel, and Jane and I took the short walk to Union Station, leaving Michael Gill and his three-handed girlfriend to swim laps in their hot tub.
Back in New York, I had stopped by Sid’s office to pick up a couple of checks from Star, and their office had a different feel. The young guys who did the grunt work, carrying boxes of film cans from one floor to the next, were all wearing suits. Normally these guys wore tee shirts, so I asked them what was going on. Paulie, who was the youngest, and always joking around, seemed strangely serious. “We’re in the banking business now”, he said. “Got to look good.” The banking business?
So I took Star’s checks down to the Franklin National Bank, like I always did, and a change had been made. The Franklin sign above the building had been replaced by one that read European American Bank. Inside all seemed as usual, with the exception ofsome of the bank’s personnel. Sitting at desks formerly occupied by the branch’s officers were employees of Star Distributors, wearing suits and looking a bit out of place. Charlie, the manager who had worked for Franklin, was still there and greeted me. “Hi Shaun, what have you got today?” “Just a few checks, Charlie.” He smiled. “No problem. Come on in the back.” As we walked toward the back of the bank, some of the “officers” winked or gave me the high-sign. In the bank’s back room four long tables had been set up, and they were covered with cash in various denominations, some of it stacked, and some of it just in piles. There were five or six men, all wearing suits, and all recognizable to me as employees of Star, sitting at the tables, counting the money, and putting the cash in large corrugated cardboard boxes. I gave the checks to Charlie, who reached into one of the boxes and handed me an enormous stack of freshly laundered hundred dollar bills. “Things are going to be easier from now on”, he said while counting out the last of my cash. It took a few of these odd transactions before the scandal hit the papers.
The Sicilian Mafia, fronted by an Italian businessman named Michele Sindona, had bought out the failing Franklin National Bank, renaming it EAB. The administration of the bank’s branches was to be the responsibility of New York’s Gambino crime family, along with the DeCavalcantes. So that’s what happened. I wondered why they didn’t just call it the Mafia National Bank and get it over with, but of course I never suggested this idea to the boys. So the European American Bank went about doing business with most of its employees bearing a strange resemblance to the cast of Mean Streets.
© 2011 Shaun Costello
RED SKY AT MORNING
By 1982 my downward spiral was well under way,
not that I wasn’t enjoying myself.
By Shaun Costello
The sun was an hour from rising, and the sky was a fiery red when we drove the trailer over the Mid Hudson Bridge on our way to Rhinebeck. Skies like this always reminded me of the old sea shanty that began:
“Red sky at morning, sailor’s warning.
Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”
There were three of us riding in the cab of my truck; myself, Harriett, and Becky, a local high-schooler who was working as our groom for the day. The lights in the barn had burned late the night before. There were coats to be washed and brushed, manes and tails to be pulled and braided, hoofs to be polished, tack to be soaped and scrubbed, and everything, other than our two now-immaculate horses, packed into the trailer for the next day’s competition. Then home to try to get some sleep, which never happened because I was too terrified of my dressage test. If only I could get through the dressage test, the next two phases of the competition would be a breeze. I could always get horses over fences. But the dressage test.
I would lie awake staring at the ceiling, going through the test over and over. Enter at “A” at a working trot. Keep it straight, keep it straight. Collect and halt at “X”. Settle. Be still. Salute the judge. Be still. Wait for the nod. Pray to God that somebody’s truck doesn’t backfire. Exhale. Proceed to “C” at a working walk. What a nightmare. If I could just get through the dressage test.
In the back of the trailer were two one-thousand-pound animals; primped, polished, and ready to show their stuff. In the front was a changing compartment that contained our freshly cleaned tack, our riding clothes, our boots and helmets, and the various tools and horsey gadgets that would see us through the event. In my tack trunk hung my custom tailored riding jacket, and in the inside pocket of that jacket were four tiny glass one-gram bottles of Peruvian flake. It would be a four-gram day.
My dressage test was a blank. I entered the ring, I left the ring, and I couldn’t remember a thing. Probably better that way. When I looked at the scores that were posted outside the judge’s tent I was 58th, out of 65 riders. There were actually seven riders who were worse than I was. Not bad. Maybe the coke helped. I had already gone through the first gram. And, unknown to Harriett, my tiny coke spoon was secretly finding its way to Becky’s willing little nostrils throughout the morning. There’s a sexual dynamic to the shared cocaine experience. You do a line, and first there’s the exhilaration – the heightened awareness followed, only moments later, by the glow of sensuality, and sense of well being. Then she does a line, and you know what she’s experiencing, and you want her to know that you know, and you want to kiss her, and hold her, and touch her everywhere. You want to join her experience. Of course, this could be embarrassing if she’s only sixteen, and the two of you are standing in the middle of three hundred other people, so you keep your hands to yourself. And as the day progressed, and we kept up the coke consumption, the heightened sexuality between us became more intense. I worried that Harriett would notice the amount of time I was spending with Becky in the dressing compartment of the trailer, but she was preoccupied with her own riding and didn’t seem to pay attention.
I did well in the cross-country phase, and was now 20th, out of the 65 competitors. I was also now half way through my third gram, with the help of my loyal groom, who was assisting me through the obligatory wardrobe changes that happen before each phase in the competition, her young hands brushing dangerously close to places where they should never have been. I was second in stadium Jumping, the third and last phase of the competition, and wound up sixth overall, getting a green ribbon for my efforts.
It was after nine by the time we dropped Harriett off at the house, and drove around to the barn to unload the trailer and feed the horses. Becky insisted that I drop her at the beginning of the long driveway to her parent’s house. There was an awkward moment, the two of us standing beside my truck, when I handed her twenty dollars, which was her groom’s fee for the day. I told her it should
be more and she said, “Are you kidding? I’d do it for nothing. I’d do anything for you. Have you got another hit?” And suddenly it happened. It had to. The kissing, and groping, and tearing of clothes, and the coldness of the metal bed of the pickup truck against my skin, and she was so willing to please me, and she was so young and delicious, and I’m not sure how long it lasted, and then there was nothing but the loud breathing, and then the cold. I don’t think we said another word to each other. There was nothing really to say. I dropped her off further up the driveway, closer to her parent’s house, and then drove home.
Harriett was still up, and she was bristling. When I asked her if she wanted me to fix a late supper she refused to talk to me. I guess my flirtation with Becky must have been obvious, and it had happened within full view of most of our friends. Harriett was livid. So I had a glass of port, and went upstairs to finally get some sleep. All in all, Harriett’s objections not withstanding, it had been a good day. A green ribbon day. A four gram day. That’s the way I saw it. That’s the way my mind worked. It was the logic of the coke spoon. Harriett’s taking exception to my behavior was simply an annoyance. A small bump in my road to self-satisfaction. A minor glitch. And what was she objecting to? Just, my ingesting enough cocaine hydrochloride over the last fourteen hours to give a normal person a seizure. And sharing a good deal of it with an underage girl, with whom I had a felonious sexual encounter in the back of a pick-up truck. And, in my coked-out haze, I thought it had been a good day. Just how many more ‘good days’ like this one could I survive? How many could the people around me survive? The collateral damage was mounting.
My journey towards oblivion was gaining momentum now. I was riding a runaway train. I was out of control, and it didn’t scare me a bit. ‘Out of control’ was delicious. ‘Out of control’ was a safe haven from responsibility. ‘Out of control’ was my excuse-of-choice for all my sins. ‘Out of control’ was my last alias. It was the outfit I wore to the costume party that my life had become. Maybe ‘out of control’ had been my intended destination all along. Since, taking advantage of the youth-fare, and boarding the train as a
twelve-year-old, while negotiating with God about masturbation. Since hiding behind my first pseudonym. Since becoming comfortable with duplicity. Since telling my first lie. I had lied to Jane, and Jane had lied to her parents, and her parents had lied to themselves. All aboard. Next stop self-destruction.
I was spending more than I was earning, and funds were becoming dangerously low. My ability to generate income through producing pornography, something I had always taken for granted, was now seriously impaired by the cognitive congestion in my coked-out brain. Spending money was seductive. Another ounce. A new thoroughbred. “How much? Sure, I’ll take it. No, give me two. Hey everybody, I’ve got more
coke, have some. Want some quaaludes? Sure, I’ve got plenty. And have some more coke. Hey, lets go to Jamaica for the weekend, my treat. Let’s call a limo. I can charge it. But please like me, OK? I just want everyone to like me. Please”. I needed compensation for my own self-loathing.
Harriett was fed-up with my charade, and I was spending more and more time in the city. I had been abandoned by Mark Silverman, who had gone off to Texas to help Joel and Ethan Coen make “Blood Simple”. Mark gave me his assistant Kevin, who took his place, and I drove him crazy. All night bacchanal’s at the Hellfire Club and three day drug/sex binges at Steve Tucker’s had taken their toll on my cognitive abilities. Where Mark, knowing what I needed, and where I had been the night before, made decisions without needing my approval, Kevin simply walked through the offices at 505 muttering to himself that I had lost my ability to focus on anything. He was right. I could barely focus on the meter to figure out the taxi fare from Steve Tucker’s to The Hellfire Club – my home away from home.
The Hellfire Club had been built as a working set for an Al Pacino movie called Cruising. In the film, it was supposed to be a gay sex club. The producers left it intact when they struck the production, and the owner of the building opened it as The Hellfire Club. It was gay, it was straight, it was rough, it was smooth, it was all things to all people, and there’s never been anything like it. As the hour grew later, and Donna Summer grew louder moaning, “Ooooooooooooo love to love ya baby”, and the dancers grew sweatier, and the sound of a distant whip crack grew more frequent, the night was just beginning. Jerzy Kozinski was in the corner practicing the art of manipulation, convincing unsuspecting girls into doing unthinkable things. Mickey Rourke seemed everywhere, groping and caressing ever-available flesh. Huntington Hartford, who was eating Quaaludes like candy, leaned against a wall trying to focus on the activities happening in front of him. Recognizable fashion models were strutting through the “Maze” in the back of the club, hands outstretched, stoking the hard cocks, sometimes twenty at a time, protruding through the glory holes on either side. If you had to take a leak, the only bathroom had a trough, about six feet long, containing a piss soaked guy in fatigues chanting, “Faggot, faggot, piss here, piss here, I’m a faggot, got some poppers?” Jamie Gillis, had leash in hand, connected to the collar on the throat
of Gael Green, a well known restaurant critic for New York Magazine, who was on her knees servicing a line of twenty guys waiting to be sucked off. “Oooooooooooooo love to love ya baby.” I just loved this place.
And when I got tired of the crowd at Hellfire I could always head back up to Steve Tucker’s apartment, which was a constant drug/sex binge. Cocaine, both snorted and free based, ecstasy, mushrooms, Ketamine (Special K), which made you feel like you had just been shot out of a cannon, and willing young girls in a quaalude haze, ready to do anything. It was a pharmaceutical phantasmagoria.
And I had a movie to do. I had to pay for all this. I sat in my office trying to write a script, and the sirens at Steve Tucker’s were sweetly singing. So I did another line of coke. It couldn’t hurt. I had two more pictures to do for Leisure Time, and I’d become a messy commodity. I hired an old friend, Ron Dorfman, to shoot both films. He was doing as much cocaine as I was, so my paranoia level was assuaged. I did the pictures. What a mess.
© 2009 Shaun Costello