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The Night Before the Weird Beatle Died

“We’re stuck tonight, Yo – Joslyn James is a no-show and Chelsea Handler, that bitch, bailed at the last minute. It’s two minutes till show time! We have no choice.”

“Damn, damn, damn. I can’t believe it’s come to this. All right, as much as I hate to do it, bring her out.”

“Five, four, three, two, one … ”

“Good evening, everybody. I am Johan Rivera and I am reporting to you live and on the air tonight with an up-close and exclusive interview with a remarkable woman named Yolanda Milken-Cummings of Norfolk, Connecticut. Yolanda claims to have spent four hours with Mark David Chapman on the night before he shot and killed John Lennon, the beloved Beatle, 30 years ago this day. Yolanda, would you please share your amazing ordeal with America?”

“I sure will, Johan, and I thank you and the network for finally havin’ the guts to put me on your show. As right as I am sittin’ here tonight, I will tell you the facts as I only know them. I don’t live in the Big Apple no more but back on December 7, 1980, I was a bona fide resident working my tail off on the streets of New York. I have that date memorized by heart ’cause my daddy was in World War II and he always talked about that day for some reason. More than that, my son, Patrick, was born on that day. Not in 1980, though. He was born in ’67. So I guess that made Patty what – 12, 13 that year. He was such a good kid, Patty, never a problem. God, how I miss him. I wish he’d call me at least so I’d know he was alive. Patty, wherever you are, darling, please call your Mama. I miss you, sweetheart!”

“Yolanda, we feel your pain. But please, tell us about that night.”

“OK, well, it was a cold winter night. Real cold. I remember ’cause I had on a long mink that Johnny had got me. Johnny was good to me. I mean, as far as pimps go anyway. He was fair with the money and he never once hit me. Not that he was a good father for Patty. I mean, a father figure? Give me a break. Patty hated him. It wasn’t that Johnny was even around much. But Patty knew who Johnny was, and Patty just couldn’t stand the sight of him. I mean, how can you blame him? He was a smart kid; he knew Johnny was no good. I don’t blame him. I don’t.” (Yolanda shrieks and sobs.)

“Yolanda, I know it’s hard. But you came to us tonight with a story that America wants to hear. Now take a deep breath and tell us about that night.”

(Yolanda sniffles audibly, while wiping the mascara off her cheeks.) “I remember the room number. It was 2730. I remember that ’cause my first address in Connecticut was that number. It really gives me the creeps to think it’s the same as my old address. I mean, why do things like that happen? I used to play that Pick-4 number over and over and it never came in. And then, that night, when Johnny told me the room number, I got, like, real excited. I mean, I wasn’t sure if it was a good omen. But I knew it meant sumpin’. So it made me nervous. I didn’t like one bit that it was in the Sheraton. I remember that. It was the Sheraton Centre over on Seventh and 52nd. I had done only one other trick over there and it was really weird. One of them old guys who like to dress up in – oh, I won’t bother givin’ the details on that. It’s too wild.

Anyway, I was hoping that it wouldn’t be the same kind of sickie, you know? I mean, there were some johns you just fell in love with, you know? I mean, not really love but they were just so cute and you could just hold them all night, as long as they paid in advance, you know? But there were others that were so creepy and odd, well, you just wanted to get your money and get out of there as fast as you could. Well, this guy, Jim Steele – at least that’s the name he gave himself – now I know it’s not that, but that’s how I remember him. He wasn’t like none of ’em. I mean, I didn’t want to hold him all night but I didn’t want to leave him either. He was just so – oh, pathetic, I guess. I mean he had this fat baby face that was kind of soft and round and, like, harmless, you know? (Yolanda cringes and scowls, animatedly, with a chills-up-the-spine look.) It gives me the creeps to think of it now. It’s just so … awful.”

“Now Yolanda, what exactly did it feel like entering the hotel room?”

(Yolanda sighs loudly.) “Well I got there at 11 on the nose. I was always on time for my tricks. When I first saw him, I thought, oh shit, a heavy one. Hopefully he’ll like it with me on top (ha ha). Sorry, Mom. Anyway, he had on glasses and he was sort of goofy lookin’. I mean, he tried to act so cool and calm and all but he was sweating like a P-I-G, pig. I mean, I’d been with younger but I knew he couldn’t be more than my age at the time – 24, 25. I was curious how he could afford me. I mean, he had booked for four hours – and at one-fifty and hour – hey, I bet that’s about a shrink’s rate now! And this was a long time ago! So you know what I’m saying. That’s a lot of cash! I didn’t ask, though, how he could afford so much. I never did. I never stuck my nose into my john’s affairs, EVERYWHERE else but never into their private business. I got the six hundred bucks up front — girlfriend, you gotta get it up front – and I waited.”

“Waited for what?”

“I waited to see what he wanted. I mean, they all have different kicks. I wasn’t sure what his was. He took my coat when I walked in and hung it in the closet. A perfect gentleman, he was. Ha! But then when I went to take my dress off, he stopped me. I thought, OK, White and Pasty likes it slow. So I started caressing him a little. But then he stepped back. He didn’t push me or nothing. I mean, I didn’t feel like he was gonna beat me. He just stepped back and started yappin’.”

“Yolanda, we are so anxious to hear what Mark David Chapman discussed with you on the night before he shot and killed John Lennon, rock music’s wunderkind from Liverpool. But first we must break for commercials.”

(Closing jingle: “Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastykake.”)

“We’re back and we’re all waiting to hear from Yolanda Milken-Cummings, the former prostitute who spent four hours in a hotel room with Mark David Chapman on the night before he assassinated who some called the weird Beatle, John Lennon, 30 years ago from this day. Yolanda, what did you and Chapman talk about?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Johan, a bunch of things. I had a tough time keepin’ up with him. I was lookin’ around the room and he was goin’ on about Hollywood and movie stars and stuff. And it was the oddest thing. I saw a picture of Dorothy, you know, from the Wizard of Oz? It was on the table. I said, so you like movies? He said, “no,” real short like, and went on saying why he thought everybody in movies was phony and stuff. I told him, “that’s what they’re supposed to be like,” and he laughed. I remember that, he laughed, and when he did that, I swear he looked about 12. In fact he looked like a fat Patty, you know, my son. He looked like Patty would have looked had I told him a joke. I guess that’s when I started fallin’ for him. Not fallin’ for him in love fallin’ for him. But just felt like he was a sweet kid, you know? And he looked so lost.”

“What else did you notice in the hotel room?”

(Yolanda stretches and moans, stifling a yawn.) “Ah, that’s better. Sorry, Johan. Late night. OK, where were we? Oh, the room. Let’s see, there was a bible and there was a passport, I think, and there were some tapes.”

“What kind of tapes?”

“You know, stupid, the kind with music on ’em. Just kiddin’. He asked me if I liked the Beatles and I said they were OK. He told me they were the best band in the world and then two minutes later, he told me they were crap. I’m tellin’ you, I just couldn’t keep up with this dude’s jive. I tried to get him to relax a few times but he just kept ramblin’ on, how everybody was so fake all the time and how people at the Waldorf-Astoria were all caught up in some kind of crazy game or sumpin’. I can’t remember ‘zactly , but he seemed pissed at everybody.”

“Did he ever mention John Lennon by name?”

“No. He mentioned sumpin’ about a Harold Coldfield. You know, that kid in the book by J.D. Salisbury – my brother told me to mention that. Thanks, Reggie! Hard to say but one thing’s for damn sure: Jim Steele, you know, the guy we’re talkin’ about here, the one who killed that weird Beatle like you said, Lennon, yeah, he was a real wack job.”

“Were you afraid?”

“Nah, that’s the funny thing, Johan. I wasn’t. I felt comfortable with him. I mean, just when I thought he was goin’ off the deep end with his rantin’ and ravin’ and shit, he’d stop short and smile with that Patty kid face of his. I figured this was his way to get it all out. I mean, we all need to let off steam. And hey, I was bein’ paid good bread so I don’t mind actin’ like a shrink. If that’s what he needs to get his rocks off, then that’s what I’s givin’. An “eargasm,” they call it these days. Sheeet. A shout out to my sistahs on the streets! Gimme some, gimme some, ladies! Ha!”

“Yo …”

“I mostly just sat there and pretended to listen while I made plans and thought about other stuff.”

“What else can you remember, Yolanda?”

“Let’s see, Johan, let’s see. Well, at one point, I asked him if he wanted a massage. He said he didn’t but he was happy to give me one. I thought, “finally, a little action” (I was a lil’ horny thing back then – ha!). Naw, I just jivin’. I said, “sure, let’s get to it,” so I took off my dress. He said, “stop there.” You see, he didn’t need. No, no, Yo-Yo, that’s not right, he said he didn’t want, he didn’t want to see me naked. I said he had a right to see my body – he paid for it. He said he just wanted me in my bra and panties. Great then. No big whoop. A lot of them like that. I never could understand it. But it don’t matter what I think. So I lie down on the bed and wait for White and Pasty to start rubbing me. I turn around and he’s stripped down to his long johns and a t-shirt. (Yolanda laughs.) And he’s got this ridiculous fur hat on his head. I start laughin’ like a hyena. I mean, laughin’, laughin’. I just can’t help myself. I just keep laughin’ and laughin’ until he finally tells me to stop. He says it very low-like. I could hardly hear him. “Stop,” he said in a deep voice, sort of like a frog’s voice but even more like a five-year old’s. It was screwy, but I knew he meant it. So I stopped. I mean, right now, I stopped. ‘Cause I knew he wasn’t screwin’ around. I mean, I embarrassed the boy. Made him feel like a child. I don’t mean to, it just happened.”

“What happened then, Yo?”

“He gave me a massage. It was kind of nice for a while, especially when he got quiet. His hands were sort of short and stubby but they were strong. Then he start tellin’ me how he live in Hawaii and had a wife there. I was surprised. I didn’t think he was married. I really didn’t. I mean, I usually know these things. He just seemed like such a loser, I figured no girl in her right mind would be with him. And usually I am very good at knowin’ whether a guy is cheatin’ on his wife. I figured he was lyin’. Had to be. Either that or he was crazy. White and Pasty was so nervous. Didn’t make sense. Now it does. Now it make a whole lotta sense.”

“And then?”

(Yolanda takes a deep breath and lets it out, sits up in her chair and begins using her hands to talk. She’s much more animated now, as if she just awoke from a long slumber.)

“I finally convinced the fat ass to lie on his stomach. I told him he’d feel better if I gave him a rub-down. I wanted to make him feel better, I really did – it’s in my genes to please. That’s my motto: In my jeans to please, boy! Ha! I don’t know why I cared, Johan. I guess White and Pasty just seemed so unhappy. He just laid there like a lump, in his stupid hat and them stupid long johns. And he insisted that I not touch his skin. He insisted. He said to rub his back like I would my boy’s. That’s what he said. I had told him about my boy – he just had that kind of face you could spill your guts to. I was touched that he mentioned Patty, not by name, mind you, but he mentioned my boy. He didn’t seem like the kinky ones who get off on that mother-son thing. He seemed to really mean it. So I rubbed him down a bit, only his back and shoulders, above the shirt.”

“So there was nothing sexual?” Johan asks with a disappointed tone.

” ‘Fraid not. A couple of times I started rubbing his butt, but then he’d squirm and tell me to stay above the waist. (Yolanda shrugs.) I listened.

“Anything else?”

“He talked about that book a lot, that Catcher’s Rye book. Oh and he said that I reminded him of his mother and that he wished I wasn’t a whore. (Yolanda laughs heartily.) Crazy ass white boy.”

“Wanda, I mean, Yolanda, at any point in the night, did it occur to you that you might be conversing with a person capable of killing a human in cold blood?”

“Huh? You kiddin’, Johan? You shittin’ me, right? Have you been listenin’ to nothin’ I been sayin’? White and Pasty was just rattlin’ on whatever was on his mind is all. He kept talkin’ about how we’re all in such a state. Lotta truth to that. Lotta truth. I felt sorry for the guy, really.”

“Did Mark David Chapman ever mention to you, that is, did he ever let on his plan to murder John Lennon?”

“Well, the closest he came was near the end, I guess. He asked me if I believed in God. I told him that I did, at least most of the time, and that’s when he said he was on a mission. A mission from God.”

“What type of mission?”

“He didn’t say. He just said that he was on a mission and that I would read about it in the papers. (Yolanda pauses and shrugs.) That was it.”

“You didn’t wonder what he meant by that?”

“It was three o’clock in the morning, for cryin’ out loud! I was tired and I’s just looking to get the hell out of there. My trick was done, his four hours were up. End. Of. Story.”

“And there you have it, America. The straight dope from Yolanda Milken Cummings. Ms. Cummings is the lady who accompanied Mark David Chapman on the fateful night before he mortally wounded legendary Beatle John Winston Lennon 30 years ago today.

Yolanda, why did it take you so long to step forward with this, er, fascinating story?”

“Johan, I love your show and I love hearing audiences clap. It’s good to get this off my chest. (Yolanda pauses, unbuttons one blouse button, and tosses back her hair.) I’m all for signing away the movie rights, too. Just contact my agent, Johnny, ya hear? He’s stopped pimping for now. Sees a payday here. White and Pasty, he says, smells green. Smells green to me, too. Ha! (Yolanda pauses, then stands up, takes off her mike and walks directly to the camera.) “Patty, wherever you are, son, please call home!”

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About Dan Cafaro

Dan Cafaro is the founder and publisher of Atticus Books, a small press based in Madison, N.J. When Dan is not following his wife around the country, he is known to sit for long periods of time pondering how to live off the grid. Atticus Review is his first literary journal.

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