Talking hoods

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1/15

THE SINATRA CLAUSE 

 

All-New-Paul wouldn't have been famous at all, except for the Clause. Which would have suited him fine, believe me. He would have just handled the skim for the mob like he was supposed to. And, of course whacked out the occasional deadbeat... Just to keep everything kosher and on the up and up. 

 

Only thing was, they caught him. And that wasn't good. They didn't catch him. He don't handle cash. Except for the occasional Cecil he lays on some broad for some head. A tip really... Sex is comped too. Like lunch and parking and drugs. When you're a Big Boss at a Casino it's all really clean; a barter economy like, you know, you lend me your wife, I let you live... real basic. Tit for Tat. 

 

They didn't catch him. They caught one of the Town Boys, I call them. I call them that cause they all do stuff for Paul and they all got funny names... Like Joey Detroit and Sammy Miami and Fast Framingham Phil. For some reason, nobody's called Joliet Tim or Lenny Levenworth. I guess that's too close to home. They all had ample reasons for adopting Nom de Hoods. Joey had been on the far side of law so long he thought his middle name was AKA. 

 

Anyways, some of the boys, I forget which exact ones, get caught with like Seven Round Ones on a charter flight to Miami. And of course, they act like its a surprise...Like, you know, they went out for Chinese and, you know, look inside for the Chow Mein and it's like cabbage, you know, mostly unmarked Grovers at that. So they're like, already in the air and watching the movie, so, like what are they supposed to do, ya know, report it to the government or something!?  Well, of course they was gonna do that, but, what with the excitement of landing and all. They forgot.  

 

So when the agents come up to them, they thought it was like a misunderstanding, you know. Like nobody made the call.. So they hit them with a Cecil or two...And like that was where they went wrong, cause these were not Casino Cops, these were like Federal Agents... Hey, an honest mistake! But what you don't wanna do is like hit the Feds with a couple of Cecils cause, like, they take offense!  Ya gotta show 'em at least a Grover or six or like get their kids into Harvard... Cause like anything else is just in the nature of an insult... Much better than that is to clam up and smile and like, fake a brain seizure. 

  

 So the Feds had a wire and all that. They knew what was coming. There's probably more FBI in Vegas than in Washington what with the weather being so good and all. They're watching these things. They just got pissed off at Paul cause it just wasn't cool. Like, you know, you don't show them up. Like taking a strike, three and oh, and starting to walk to first. The umps don't like that and neither do the feds when you skim Seven Large off just the slots in a few weeks and walk it to the Bahamas. Shows them up in front of the crowd. They're gonna call you out.

 

 So Paul's in the soup. A new job, new responsibilities and here the Feds wanna put him under indictment for fraud. Welcome to Town! Really!  Worse than that, is, they start going into all the old stuff. Stuff that really wasn't fair... cause none of it had ever stuck. And like he had laid out quite some bread over the years... His legal fees if laid end to end like his victims, would stretch from Columbia Law to Columbia Pictures. If converted back, they could have reforested the Golan Heights in dwarf pine.

 

​ And, he enjoyed his good name and rep. Being an Un-Indicted Co-Conspirator had a certain cachet among peers. It meant, not only had you done it, but they couldn't nail you on it. It made him a big scary man about town. And he could give you that cold fish-eye stare and your dentures would lock. 

 

 This made him doubly pissed when they refused his Gaming Card in Vegas. Come on!  What's seven million? It didn't seem fair. Hey, it could 'a cost him his job, for Chrissakes!

​ Ya see, since this stuff is all totally legit now, what with the Hotel Corps and the pension funds and whatnot, and so that nobody should think for one nanosecond that gambling and whoring and drinking and drugs might attract, say, your..... unsavory characters... they go out of their way to show that, well, “Gaming” has got nothing to do with, like, “Gambling”. Losing those two letters makes it legit. Gaming is, you know, like something a WASP or English person would do, like snooker and stock fraud, whereas, Gambling is for negroes and WOPs. So the scam is, like, there aren't any gamblers hereabouts. And that all the hoods and gunsels died out years ago... say in the early Pleistocene with the dinosaurs. Presumably all these pit bosses that glom at you from the tables learned the gaming rules at Princeton. And your basic bust-out degenerate gambling is like just another healthy non-contact sport... good for your heart like bowling, or a jog down the I-15.  In fact, I saw them ask one of the guys, Vito the Torch, I think it was, if he knew the King's English.  "Sure I do!" says Vito, " An' far as I know, the Queen is, too!

Anyway, since everything is totally on the up and up, Key Executives have to be licensed. Anybody near the casino operation has to have first seen Sonny and Clemenza in that movie. And they definitely shouldn't be seen in the company of any alleged perps from back east. Except for Sinatra.

 

​Ya see, years ago, when Circus Sodom was just opening up, they needed an act... you know, a headliner, someone who would bring in the High-Rollers. Frankie got what, 200 Large per engagement across the street at the El Gomorra in the Great Gattara Depression Room? His contract was solid; 25 years-to-life.

 

 But Circus Sodom was intent about this. It was not to be denied. It was new, it was flashy. It not only had the Flying Wallenda's over the 21 pits, it had a restaurant in a diving bell descending twenty-five feet into an actual scale replica of the Mariannas Trench.  It had a trout stream winding through the casino, a golf course on the roof. And, it wanted Frankie Sinatra to kick off the opening.

 

No problem. They gave him a couple 'a points in the casino. They made him an executive. Frankie was happy as a clam. He now could charge hookers directly to his room and it went down as parking.

 

​ It was the wedding that killed it for Frankie. The bride was an angel. But her father was Carmine the Weasel. The groom, Little Augie Two Fingers, later got in on the ground floor of a bridge. It was the picture of Frankie with his face full of cannoli and his arm around Mrs. the Weasel that did it, I think.  The Feds tried to look the other way and found the last three-fourths of a horse. Once again, Mom, one thing I learned is to learn not to show up the Feds.

​ Anyway, they yanked his license, and he had to sing at the White House and get a few girls on the line for the Pres before they would let him back in. So then, they all hadda come up with something, and what they came up with is something called the Sinatra Clause, which roughly is: You can't license bad guys for the casino, but if the guy is an entertainer, then it's alright.

 

​​That's some clause and Paul got right on it, because, after all, there was quite a bit of moola in question. Paul became the Entertainment Director...The only problem with this was that the Hotel only had a show, the Lido de Paree. And that show, since it featured both disappearing Elephants and naked bouncing tits had run for 23 years without a hiccup.

Just Don't Kill Orson Welles 

    

    That was the first and last thing Morty said to me. 

“Whatever you do. Don’t make us known for that.”

“Why would I kill him, he’s a national treasure.”

“Well, he weighs as much as that. And if he were to topple over it’d bring down half the chandeliers in Tom Morrow’s Goatfuck Casino. So just don’t do it. Be careful, Very careful. Just don’t kill Orson Welles.”

“I won’t. Promise. Don’t even know the guy.”

“You will. You’ll have to meet him to direct him. That’s how it works.”

“Why will I direct him?”

“Markers, I think. Anyway, somebody’s got to do it. We got the gig from Grifter’s Palace. And you said you were a director, so you’re it.”

“He’s a genius, or Ex-Fucking Genius, gone to seed. And fat.

“I know.” nodded Morty.

“But the other show. I’ve got to coach Cherie.”

“Is that what they call it, now?”

“No. Seriously.” I have to work with her.”

“Don’t let Paul catch you.”

“Look, we have to have someone on camera who is not under indictment, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yeah, good idea, but first this. And remember.

“Yeah, I know. Just don’t kill Orson Welles.”

        

High Roller Territory

 

    Hah, easier said than done!    Welles was tottering on the bar stool at 400 pounds and wide as the Missouri River. He had finally showed up at the casino and we were to shoot a segment for the show. But what the fuck were all these people doing here?

    “It’s a talking head, Morty. And some inserts of playing cards. I could shoot it on a Bolex.”

    “It’s billed cost plus,” said Morty.

    “It's a single on a fat guy. And some playing cards. I don't think I need a forty-foot mobil television truck to shoot that, let alone, two!”

    “It's how we do things.”

    “Not very efficient. I can’t even get them to stop tape.”

    “We don’t.”

    “What’s that mean?”

    “We roll at eight in the morning and go ‘til five.”

    “You record everything?”

    “Might as well. Much easier than all that stopping and starting...that just confuses everybody.”

    And like, I thought, if Law and Order want to keep an eye on stuff, or alibis need to be established, why it's all there in the truck. replete with timecode.

     And I can only think of about a million point seven reasons why that's not a good idea.  But I am shouted down. Not shouted exactly, more like just ignored. Ignored and maybe... wandered off on.  So there I am.. not with one, but with two 40 foot trucks full of teamsters and IA. ...I look out into the pre-sunbaked parking lot and it looks like the Third Armored Division’s logistic train.  

    “Do you have a question? says Morty.

    “Is it so wrong to collect naked pictures of the Pope?” 

    “About the production?”

    “Oh that. Yeah, Yeah, I do.” 

 

    And this for a talking head. I mean he was like 400 pounds, he wasn't gonna be dancing around. Move. He wasn't gonna move. Not at all, not an inch. Bar Stools! We propped him up with barstools and flanked him with pretty girls trained in engineering, in levers and stress points, hired to be flying buttresses to Orson.    

    Should he start to topple they' be the first line of defense. Then teamsters would dive at his feet with sperm whale sized pillows. And as a last resort, the cue card guy was to throw himself under the toppling mass to break the fall. His health and retirement had been picked up by the Casino and his survivors, if any, would be pretty well off. 

    There was no doubt about it. We were not gonna kill Orson Welles.  Now, if we could only stop him eating. In fact if he would just open his mouth to say lines, and close it at all times after that, it would be good.

    It's not that he wasn't a good conversationalist, because  he was. He knew more about cards and magic than anybody in the room. And these were some of the worst bust-out gamblers the world had seen. And top Casino Executives! 

    Of course, the cue card guy was going crazy. First thing he did, Orson threw out the whole script. Right there, on the spot, In front of everybody. And rewrote the whole thing. Of course the writer disappeared. Couldn't find him. Chickenshit writer...leaving me with a full crew and Welles. 

    “Oh, no. the Jack of Diamonds wasn't invented until the year 1533.”

    ”Who gives a fuck!” I was thinking,  but was he wrong? I couldn't say.

    “How the hell is one of the world’s great directors, a man be-knighted in Cahiers du Cinema doing a gambling industrial for Grifter’s Palace? I asked Donny.

    “Why does anyone in their right mind work here?” he responded.

    “Good point, but not too much help.” 

    “He owes markers.”

    “He's a gambling man?”

    “You kidding? Have you seen his movies?”

    “I don't know. Could be gambling. Could be eating. He could have eaten up everything in the hotel. I've seen him do it. We'll not the hotel but that restaurant in Hollywood.  Has run them out of lobsters multiple times.” 

    “He drained the wine cellar at the Gay Paree,” said Donny, “and scoffed down a month’s supply of foie gras like shit through a goose. They named a whole menu after him. And a tugboat, I think.”

    “Where do you get this shit from?”

    “Pansy, the makeup girl. I may have also got the crabs.”

    Teamster talk goes on like this. And stagehands and grips are basically teamsters. You walk around swinging a big hammer and you'd get like that, too. They were in awe of Orson, like he, himself was. And some of the rest of us, too. 

    “The Queen of Spades,” he went on...”is believed to be based on Ava Gardner.” 

    I knew I hadn't heard that right, but I had to get a move on. I knew we only had him for a day and if he could keep us fucking around, he'd have what he wanted, a payoff on his marker, with absolutely no tape on him anybody could use. So, I said...

    “You know we're rolling?”

    “What?”

    “That's the way it works, Vegas!” Like don't blame me, and I'm not taking the blame for this. An Understanding! Of Sorts. When he realized we were rolling tape, and he was in it, he started yelling about the lights.

    “What do you call that, up there?”

    “That would be your key light, Mr. Welles.”

    “What is the key light doing up there?”

    “Just hanging there, throwing light on your face. Why?”

    “You can't put a key light, there! Not in the Northern Hemisphere!”

    “Works like toilets, huh?”

    “I beg your....”

    “Light swirls opposite, like water. Cool. Didn't know that.” First thing a director has to do is establish authority. And it works best if you can do it without being armed. Some like to start off by firing somebody, anybody. Doesn’t matter, just shows who’s boss. Some like to sit down and cry, but that only works on musicals. And stuff for the Hallmark Channel. I decided to take the bull by the whores.

    “Kill that light!” I said in that voice I learned from the cops.

    “What?”

    “Just take it off. Mr. Welles doesn't like that.”

    And he went dark.

    “Wait, now how am I lit?”, he murmured to his left, as if asking for someone half capable of finding someone competent. He turned back and seemed to search our side of the room. Yeah, without that modeling light he looked even bigger in black...like an old steam locomotive chugging out of the fog. And he knew it. 

    “Can't relight the whole set, Mr. Welles. Don't have time. We'll just shoot it like it is.”

    He was stuck. He needed that light. 

    “Ah, never mind. Turn it back on. I'll manage, somehow....to play to it. Now about this script...” 

    “What?”

    “This line here.”

    “Whatsamtterwithit?”

    “You cannot say that.” he sparked, pointing to the verbiage. “Those words don't appear in that order, anywhere in the English language.”

    “Really,” I said, “I did not know that. Well okay.”

    “Okay, what?”

    “Say anything you want. We're rolling so say it right into this camera.”

    “What?”

    “You're the expert on gambling, Mr. Welles. I don't know a thing about it. If you say this is not right or that is all wrong. I'm not gonna argue. Who am I to do that?”

    It was a test of wills; who was less interested in this project, and I wanted to project it was me. I smiled big and phony at Mr. Welles.

    “So just...go ahead. Whenever you're ready. You gamble. You like to gamble. You think its' fun, kind of like magic so just tell the people, what it is and how to do it.”

    So I just stood there, and he stood there, and the cameras rolled. And people looked at me and people looked at him. And he said something. Don't know what it was. What it was, was, I wasn't listening. I was looking at the camera monitors and the counters going around, knowing I wasn't probably going to kill Orson Welles. And I'd be through with him in a day.

    Little did I know.

 

    “If I could just have a chamois, a damp chamois, not a wet chamois, a damp one.”  

    “..the fuck is a chamois?” the grip asked.

    “Big fucking sheep, Donny said. Or like an antelope or something.”

    “He wants a wet sheep?”  The grips pretended to look for some. 

    “I'm not that kind of  girl.” said the AD.

    “Shut up, Darlene. It's not always about you!”

    “It’s okay. He doesn't want the whole thing.”

    “He wants part of a sheep?”

    “He wants some skin, with some kind of sheep fur on it, to wipe his brow.”

    “Whynd’t he say so.” He turned to Orson, “Wipe this!”

    “No, now just get him what he wants. Ask a makeup girl or something. Okay, where did he go?”

    Because he had disappeared during our talk, leaving a vaporous hole in our visual universe.

    

   “Yes, Operator. Could you please page Orson Welles!”

    “And you two.” I said to the nearest assistants,  “Find him.”

    “How? It's a big hotel.”

    “I don’t know. See if he left a trail of bread crumbs or something...”  Then it occurred to me. 

    “Lunch. Omygod!  I’d forgot about lunch.

 

    The tape was still rolling on an empty set when they found him at last.

    “He's in the Noshorium?” they said. “You better come quick.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “He's four hundred pounds of wheezing white man. Kind of hard to miss.”

    “He's taken over three tables and he's ordering off the menu. Says its all comped.”

    “That's right, it is.. Wait! Off the menu? How far off?” 

    “Would you believe Tehran!”

    “What?”

    “Several pounds of Caspian Sevruga, to start! He's shoveling it in with a serving spoon. You better get down here.”

    “Oh Jesus Fuck!” I was on the way.    “Slow him down. Rolls and butter. Salad, Soup.  Anything! I don't care what it is, just keep bringing it until he weakens.” 

    I didn't care about the caviar. I didn't care about the cost. I just knew that a skip loader full of highly intense salt-laden protoplasm could throw even a healthy half-tonner into Sudden Cardiac Arrest, I was just trying to keep him alive through coffee and maybe dessert.  

    “Wait, is he drinking?” I garbled on the half-run.

    “Gulping would be more to the point.”

    “Oh shit, what is it?”

    “Top of the Line... Pouilly Fuisse!”

    “Wine, ah Jesus! He'll be comatose.”

 

    “Just prop him up and animate his mouth.” The TD was old school and full of Television Advice.   “If you threw things at him from off camera, small chunks of foie gras, perhaps...he'd open his mouth to catch them and then he'd chew. Keep the shot wide enough, you could slip any kind of monologue you want in there. We used to do that with Rin Tin Tin and President Reagan.”

    I sensed desperation. 

 

    He was down there, scoffing up as much as he could, just like anybody'd do when it was all comped. I mean, maybe it was all about that in the first place. Comped into The Vicious Tyrant Suite and all you can eat, and with Welles, that's a very scary thought. I thought he could bring down a bison by chomping their back leg.

    In school we studied Citizen Kane for a whole semester.  And here he was, in the flesh and plenty of it, too. And all I wished for was for him to go away, even if he had to roll.

    We got him back by dropping pork chops in trail, through the midget casino and back up the stairs. He saw these and spun, toppling back and guided by rolling carts was vectored into the freight elevator, with a tubby thubbump and cranked up outta sight.

    When I caught up,  he was regaling the girls.  

    “No, really. I can dance. A lot of heavy men are light on their feet. And its such a surprise!” He took a step and started to lean. Four grips caught him with the Luma Crane and cranked him upright again. He waved them away. 

    “I’m fine. Just a small chamois....”

    One teamster snaked in and announced, to all...“Sometimes I like to stick a milk dud up my ass and go sit on a gopher hole, but that's just me.”

    That brought the crew back in line, and even Orson started to fall back on the script. Exhaustion and two bottles of Pouilly Fuisse had set in. And the crew stopped fidgeting and turned to him. Everyone did. He took over. He played his scene, and sold his story. He’d been worn down by standing and apparently decided he'd just do the job and get the fuck out of there. 

    He ran through the script top to bottom, and nailed every line, every word, every comma. He gave you multiple reads,  emphasis on every word in the sentence, each change slightly tweeking and tworking the meaning, making more or less of the moment. And each world in each sentence somehow connecting in a better, truer way. And this crap was all about gambling, not even Shakespeare or something...just like fine directions to most rapidly losing the old homestead. And the tape ran on and on, and the timecode pushed forward. And with each sentence the work became more complex, with more choices: Take three from sentence one, with phrase two from take seventeen? Or maybe not.  I sensed what he was trying to do, it would take forever to edit, and he'd be long gone,  And being it was for a big corporate client, they'd be arguing over every little point.

    He came to the end in sort of a gaggling throttle, like he had a roast condor caught in his throat and wobbled there throwing off suet breath.

    “Great, Mr. Welles, I said. Now, if they knew how to cut, I’d say it, but for you, the day is over, we’ll take it from here. Would you like an ambulance or anything?”

    “And who are you?” he said.

    “I am the director. Perhaps you didn’t notice, since I do it in a very low key way.”

     He just stared. Like he was wondering if there was anything else to eat. 

    “I think you knew my father, ...back in the day.”

    And he stared down his snoot, as I told him my name.

    “If I could just have a damp chamois,” is all he said.

 

    And he started to go over. Karen hit him at the shoulder like a linebacker and stiffened him right up.  Just as he was getting jelly leg, Tricia slammed in with a barstool right in the pit of his back, and a grip went over the roulette table to steady him, while he settled like a quivering mass of jellyfish into the stools, wedged squeaking tight against the tables and the tables smashed hard against the wall.

    I didn't want him to sit. I had an idea on his eating co opting his breathing... And the paramedics, if called into play, would surely try to sell the story to the tabloids just like the one of Fletcher and the light bulb.  And that was a kind of publicity that no one would need. 

    We got him out the back in one of those rolling hospital beds. As we cut through the kitchen he made a lurch for the rib roast and nearly toppled the cart. He grabbed at room service wine as we passed. A few of the help lofted roast quails at him and he snabbed one or two.

    The door to his limo was too small. He probably fit before lunch. He was wedged halfway in, and his color was not too good. Now was the time to panic. Not only was I gonna kill Orson Welles and have Roger Ebert on my ass forever, but he would die stuck in a limo. There’d be police. What if  rigor mortis set in? What if his body swelled up after death. It would have to be a limo / Welles burial, with Orson half-in.  A viking funeral. Put the whole thing on a flat-bed, crane in onto the Grifter’s Palace boat. Torch it up, and sit it adrift down the Colorado. Let Laughlin deal with that shit cause with that fat content, it would burn forever. 

     I may have been getting overstressed.

    Thank God the Room Service Chef had a history with the problem. 

    “Ya butter him up,” he contributed. “Hose him down with non-stick solution, one of those things.” You may laugh but it worked. Both arms and thighs coated with triple A creamery and a double blast of spray-on PAM, and four teamsters pushing, BaaBork! he popped right in.

    “Roast Beef,” he slobbered as they tried to right the limo. I think that’s what he said.    I didn’t breathe well until I got his assistant to sign off on a receipt: ‘1 Orson Welles, in as-is condition’. And then I called Mom.

 

    “When I told you I was directing Orson Welles, you could have said something, you could have helped out a bit. I sensed something when I told him my name.”

    “Your father, when he had the Copa. Welles would come in after the girls.”

    This must have been when he was a wonderkind, always a difficult stage.

    “Peter Lynde Hayes and Mary Healy were friends of your father,” she continued, “and it was the war and Peter had to go into the army.  Welles took that as a clue to get beside Mary. Peter called your father and, as a favor, your father offered Mr. Welles the choice of which leg he wanted broken. It was never the same after that.”

    “Oh, great. At least it wasn't my personality, as usual.”

    And he was gone. Leaving a big whole in my heart where some of the ventricles used to be. Gone but not forgotten, or really gone in that final way you like with people who really irritate the shit out of you.

            ROLLING THE ROCK

 

    “You cannot say that. Nobody can. Those words never go together in the English Language.”

    He was back! I was in Sisyphean Hell. I was chained to a cave, rolling a rock up the hill and watching it crash down again. I was in world wide headquarters of Video Vegas Industries, out in the back.

    And the part they didn't tell me about 20 hours of two inch video. It would have to be cut.  And not on big trucks with engineers and crew, no. Just me.

    And on a Sony 150, an analogue offline semipro editing machine, accurate to within four frames. Well this sounds just peachy, just fine. But within four, is not an accurate frame. And even when you made the right cut, sometimes the machine would get it in its own mind to do something else, like cut three frames before, or six after.  And so you'd pray. And rub rabbits feet and things. And you'd wind up destroying that cut and the shot before. And then you'd have to backtrack and recut that shot, and the cut going into that shot. But...right! That cut wouldn't be accurate either, that'd be off by oh, say, three or four frames. 

    So for a week or more, I'd be cutting backwards, destroying the cuts I'd already made, while Orson would berate me and the crew backwards and forwards. This is not the English language, erupp! “Egaugnal hsilgne eht, ton, si, sihT.” Errrrrpppt Clink, “This is not.. and so on and so forth.  Over and over with a stack of tapes and approaching deadline, no wonder I started snapping at the maid.

    Week after week, way beyond deadline, and I couldn’t finish a cut.  And over and over, berating, demeaning, insulting vitriol at me and the crew. I don’t know, somehow, it was just like home. And for this I live in a dark cavern, in a heat blasted desert, in a town of neon tarts, and desperate wagers... and I’m thinking...”For this I turned down the Marines!”

    And much later, Donny had a tape. One of those bootlegs passed around by sound engineers. Out takes and Comedy Albums you played at parties, like we had in the truck. There was Paul Boomer’s Farting LP, there were various stars yelling at each other in out takes. And there was Orson Welles.

    And then like an acid flash to editing, editing, editing in a barn in the desert, and from the speakers, the Voice of Welles assailed me again. 

    “This is not the english language, you cannot put the key light there. Did someone really write this....Tiny Little Snow Peas!, I don’t believe it!” 

    It was an acid flashback. I’d had too much sun. No. It was real.

    And then I saw it, the remnants of genius, if taken apart by mercantile forces and forced to bend to the will of the masses and the lawyers and ex-wives, the humiliation turned toward the world, the act honed like a magician's turn, a misdirection of self-loathing anger... turned into an act.

    ‘Tiny little snow peas!’ ‘Tetley Tea Bags’, ‘Mondavi wine’, it didn't matter. It was all a show, for the booming stentorian voice, the sad gravitas hung on the man, like a shroud. Causing a well known director to submit a bill; “$50,000 - For... attempting...to direct Orson Welles.” and having to listen to, over and over again...

    “You cannot say that. You cannot write that. Those words don’t appear in that order anywhere in the English language.”  

 

Talking Hoods - Copyright C. Proser July 2013

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