The Man Who Loved Frank Sinatra by James C Clar

Born William Bruno, he was going by the name Eddie Bertani these days. Eddie, né William, was also probably the biggest Frank Sinatra fan on the planet. More than a fan, actually, Eddie was a genuine expert on ‘Ole Blue Eyes’. At forty-seven, he had been studying the legendary singer’s life and music for over thirty-five years. His knowledge was encyclopedic. Back when he was twelve or thirteen years old, when other kids his age were listening to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, Eddie was rattling the windows with “Sinatra at the Sands” and “The Man and His Music.” He’d read everything that had been written about Sinatra. He even contributed a few articles himself to a number of different fan publications. There was a period of time when, back in upstate New York where he came from, Eddie actually hosted a local radio program featuring his hero’s music. “Damn,” Eddie thought as he made his way down Kalakaua Avenue into the heart of Waikiki, “that was a lifetime ago.”



Passing the partially restored natatorium and war memorial on his left, Eddie’s view of the ocean was somewhat obscured by the hoards of tourists mixed with local people cooking out and frolicking at Kapiolani Beach Center. Even though it was nearly 6:00 P.M. he was glad for the shade of the iron wood trees that grew along this stretch of the broad avenue. The trade winds had disappeared over the last few days and it was uncommonly muggy. He sang “Summer Wind” quietly to himself as he walked.



The noise and congestion grew even worse as he reached Kuhio Beach Park. But that was fine. It was part of the appeal, after all, and it made it easier for Eddie to pass unnoticed. The sensory overload of Waikiki was part of what had drawn him here in the first place. It was a variation on the “hide in plain” sight scenario. Tonight, Eddie was heading for the Hilton Hawaiian Village, about a twenty or twenty-five minute walk from his condo at the Colony Surf near the base of Diamond Head. Eddie lived well, but not ostentatiously. That would have been a huge mistake. Blending in, that was the key. And it had worked for him now for just over a decade.


Just beyond the Moana Surfrider Hotel, Eddie cut through the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center to save a little time. A few moments later he emerged on Lewers Street and headed toward the ocean and Kalia Road. At the venerable Halekulani he turned right. He always got a kick out of the helicopters perched atop the squat concrete structure of Battery Randolph and the US Army Museum at the corner of Saratoga. In the back of his mind he half-expected them to lift off one day and soar over the palm trees into the Hawaiian sunset. He came to the Hale Koa Hotel and then, a little further on, the walkway that lead to the grounds of the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The sidewalk was strewn with pink and yellow petals from the shower trees that grew in profusion here. There was a scent of plumeria in the air.



Walking past the tour desks and the duty free shop, Eddie felt a surge of excitement and anticipation. Tonight was the opening of the “Sinatra in Hawaii” exhibit near the Hilton’s Tapa Bar. He couldn’t wait. Truth-be-told, it was probably no big deal … it would most likely be a few photos, some memorabilia, a couple of displays that wouldn’t appeal to anyone other than real aficionados like him. Nevertheless, when he read about it on one of the Sinatra newsgroups to which he subscribed on the Internet, he knew that he’d have to walk up and take a look. And there it was, just up ahead arrayed around the statue of the legendary Hawaiian musician, Alfred Apaka. How cool was that?



As he drew nearer, Eddie couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was all here; material and photos dealing with From Here to Eternity (of course!), None But the Brave, and even a half-dozen stills from Mr. S’s guest starring role on Magnum, P.I. in 1986. He pulled out his digital camera and started snapping away. Eddie was so preoccupied that he let down the guard, the habitual wariness, which he had spent just over ten years developing. He looked up to see a well-built man of, maybe, fifty-eight or so, staring at him. At first Eddie took him for a security guard but the jeans and the tacky Aloha shirt ruled that out … no way they’d allow that here at the Hilton.



Taking his time, playing it cool, Eddie put his Nikon back in its case and looked up. “Can I help you, pal?”



“I’ve spent a long time tracking you down, Billy,” the stranger declared. “My name is Marty Crane. Detective Marty Crane, although I’m retired now.”



It took every ounce of Eddie’s nerve for him not to bolt. Instead, he stood his ground. “I’m sorry, you’re mistaken. “I’m Eddie Bertani. You must be confusing me with someone else.”


Marty Crane laughed. It wasn’t a malicious or sadistic laugh, but a laugh of genuine amusement. “There’s no confusion, Billy. I know who you are. There’s no point denying it. You and your two friends, Sam Paine and Johnny Milano, pulled off one of the richest armored car heists in history back in 1996. 2.5 million dollars. Damn! I’ve never been able to figure out how three such rank amateurs got away with it.”



Eddie shifted his weight and sighed with the kind of resignation that can only come from years on the lam. The guy was right, there was no point dissembling. It was almost a relief. He looked the retired policeman straight in the eyes. “Shit. I think we got away with it precisely because we were amateurs. We had no idea the risks we were taking. We didn’t have enough common sense to be scared. We just did it without really being concerned or worried about what we were doing. It was all very Zen. We took the whole ‘Rat Pack’ thing a little too far but, believe me, there was nothing Ocean’s Eleven about it! I’m just glad no one got hurt. None of us wanted that.”



“Sam and Johnny are both dead, Billy. You knew that, right?”



“Yeah, I heard on the grapevine that Sam had a heart attack and Johnny got cancer. I never even tried to find out what happened to their share of the money. I figured that would have been a real bonehead move. Besides, I’ve had enough trouble with my cut. Do you realize that it’s cost me almost $250,000 just to launder that damn money? Sometimes I think that if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t. Well, that’s not quite true. I’ve had a good run. But I always knew that this day would come. Tell me, how did you find me?”



A Japanese family and a young American couple wandered over and started looking at the Sinatra display. Marty Crane moved closer to Eddie. He was pleased that Bertani made no effort to back away.



“Listen, Billy, let’s sit down and have a drink. That way we can talk a bit more privately.”




The two men took a seat at a table just to the left of the Tapa Bar itself. A small combo was playing a blend of contemporary and traditional Hawaiian music on a stage just behind them. A waitress came by and took their drink order. The music was just loud enough so that they could talk without being overheard.


“Well,” Crane began, “as I told you, I’m a former investigator with the New York State Police. After I retired I became bored. I got interested in what we used to call ‘cold cases’. There was something about the robbery you guys committed that grabbed me. I kept going over the case notes and the reports. You might say that I got you guys ‘Under My Skin’. I managed to track Paine and Milano without too much difficulty. To be honest, Billy, they weren’t nearly as smart or as discreet as you’ve been. They spent money like drunken sailors. I’m only surprised that they weren’t caught long before I found them. In the end, though, it didn’t matter. They both died before I was able to blow the whistle.”



“That,” Eddie interjected, “is the reason why, after we split up, I vowed never to have anything to do with those guys again. They always were loose canons. If they went down I didn’t want to go down with them. I loved those two fools, but that’s what they were, fools.”



“Hey, let’s be frank here. You’ve done very well. I can’t believe you’ve lasted this long. I have to hand it to you. But you made one big mistake. You asked me how I found you. Well, you’ve changed just about every aspect of your life, your appearance, your habits, even what you eat. But what’s the one thing that hasn’t changed?”



“Son of a bitch,” Eddie sputtered after a few seconds of thought; it was like the proverbial light bulb had gone off in his head. “You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s how you found me?”



Marty Crane eased back in his chair as their waitress set two glasses of wine down on the table. “Your interest in Frank Sinatra was all over the background notes and profiles in the case materials. Let me ask you something, where are you living here these days?”



Eddie hesitated while he considered making up some bullshit lie. Realizing that the truth couldn’t possibly cause him any more trouble than he already had, he responded, “Down at the Colony Surf near Sans Souci Beach. Why?”



“Isn’t that where Sinatra and Lana Turner shacked up? I should’ve thought of that. In any case, do you see what I mean, Billy? This was your one weak point, your Achilles’ heel.”



Eddie shook his head. It really was funny when you thought about it.



“Anyhow,” Crane continued, “I started subscribing to online newsgroups, email lists, newsletters as well as hanging out in Sinatra chat rooms. Every time there was a fan convention or an exhibit or the meeting of a major Sinatra fan club, I’d find a way to make the scene. You have no idea how many miles I’ve traveled, how many cities I’ve visited in the last three years. I knew that, one of these days, I’d run into you. I was in San Francisco last week and heard about this little show. I thought, what the hell, I’ve always wanted to see Hawaii. Here I am, and here you are. We’re just two ‘Strangers in the Night’.”



The two men were silent for a good five minutes. Eddie finally spoke. “Under other circumstances I’d congratulate you on your ingenuity. Right now, though, I’d really like to know what it is that you want. If it’s money you’re after, I’ll go to jail before I let you blackmail me. And if you are going to take me in, let’s get it the hell over with. I’m all for playing nice-nice, sipping wine and listening to some slack key guitar, but enough is enough. Let’s go.”



As Eddie pushed back his chair and started to get up, Marty Crane held up his hands in a “take it easy” gesture. “Relax, Billy,” he said quietly, a twinkle in his eye. “I don’t want your money. I have a good pension, I’ve invested wisely and I don’t have any family commitments any more. Thirty years as a cop made sure of that. As far as turning you in is concerned, well, I have no intention of doing that.”



Eddie sat back down. This time, there was a slight edge in his voice as he spoke. “Again, I’m asking you, what the hell do you want?”



“In the first place, I’ve tracked you down just to prove that I could do it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to prove anything to you. It’s really more that I wanted to prove to myself that I still have what it takes. Beyond that, I also wanted to thank you.”



“To thank me,” Eddie replied incredulously. He was beginning to think that the older man sitting across from him was a nutcase. “What are you thanking me for? Now you’ve completely lost me.”



This time, it was Marty Crane who stood up. He took out his wallet and tossed a twenty dollar bill down on the table. “I wanted to thank you for turning me on to Frank Sinatra. You’ve opened up a whole new world to me, Billy. I was never much of a fan before, but now, it’s an addiction. The gift of music, my friend, you of all people should know what a wonderful thing that is.”



With that Detective Marty Crane turned on his heel and began to walk away. Speechless, Eddie Bertani watched as the retired policeman passed the Sinatra display on the left and the entrance to the restrooms on the right. Just before being swallowed up in the crowd, Crane paused to look over his shoulder. He winked and, shooting Eddie the classic gunfighter’s salute, disappeared down the hallway. Eddie never saw him again. As Eddie rose to leave, he noticed that the band had taken a break. They had been replaced by recorded music being played through their speakers. Improbably, but utterly appropriately, he heard Frank singing “Tender Trap.” It was the one with the Count Basie Orchestra; the one where Francis Albert really nails that high note in the last bar.

The End