Daniel Lived Behind Lester’s Sculpture Studio in a Camper
excerpt: “History of the Groove, Drummer’s story” Russell Buddy Helm ©2013 all rights reserved
1971. Daniel lived behind Lester’s sculpture studio in Coconut Grove on the grassy alley between Virginia and Mary street, between Oak and Day street. Lester’s sculpture studio was a converted garage that is still standing today. But back then it held his amazing Samurai garbage can statues; full size replicas of Samurai armor made of welded garbage can lids. It was the first sculpture I witnessed upon moving into the grove and it impressed me a great deal.
On any given sun drenched grove late morning, after breakfast at the Coco Plum with Grale, or Vince, Danny or Christian, across from the Bethlehem Asylum’s second floor office being run by Drummond, I would stroll over toward Lester’s funky wooden bungalow, mozy on down the grass covered alley, pay a visit to Daniel and just watch him work. It was one of the most enjoyable times I had in the Grove. He was like a zen monk and was always graciously glad to see me. I would sit under the banana palms, Bahia grass between my toes, wearing only cut offs, and watch the tiny chips of marble accumulate at my feet as he silently tapped. His girlfriend was a Botticelli Venus we shall call Olivia. Everyday, Daniel would roll out of his camper and chisel away at a huge eight foot tall disk of Georgia pink marble commissioned to him from a bank in Coral Gables. His sculptor’s goal was to hone the concave surfaces to intersect just enough to allow sunlight to seep through the opaque stone at the curvilinear nexus of this flawless piece of marble. That center would have to be less than an inch in thickness. He looked like kirk Douglas in Spartacus; middle aged, a superb physical specimen; tanned, slim, sinewy from striking hammer to chisel to stone every day in his cut offs. Olivia, young and winsome, rising from the mists, loved him and they were happy. She was from a very connected California family. Her older brother had gone the way of many young men with pedigree and good schooling. He had gotten mixed up in the intelligence business. Eventually he ended up in a Mexican prison, and no amount of money could get him out.
There was talk of the Kennedy assassinations. He knew too much so ‘they’ kept him in prison, where he could not talk. His family tried everything to get him out. The last resort was El Rubio; the Flamenco guitarist who would frequent Coconut Grove on many of his smuggling expeditions in and out of the Caribbean. The truth be known; behind every Coconut Grove Beauty there was at least one smuggler, one spook and one soldier of fortune. The poets would tag along far behind, desperate for a smile. El Rubio performed his simmering Flamenco exclusively, in a private Coconut Grove home where the lazy long bladed overhead fans would draw in the comforting cool air that collected over the tiled pool included in the original design of the living room. This Castilian, traditional style of cooling was sufficient back then, instead of the modern air conditioning and ugly condos that now block the Trade Winds. The select patrons would sip cognac, sample exquisite paella, smoke prohibited Cohibas, fresh from Havana and clap politely but appreciatively after El Rubio’s stellar performances. I played the dombeq, which is a Mediterranean belly dancing drum. Afterwards, El Rubio would disappear.
Olivia and her Coconut Grove beauty cohort, persuaded El Rubio to hook up Olivia’s family with an outrageously bold mercenary genius. He would rescue their son from the high security Mexican prison, but he would need Olivia’s help. He would disguise a helicopter to look like the general’s official helo, making a snap surprise inspection, which Generallisimo liked to do. Olivia’s job was to get word to her brother to be in the exercise yard at twelve noon on the appointed day, and be ready to run. It worked. While the prison guards stood at attention, the Generalissimo’s bogus chopper dropped down into the exercise yard, Olivia’s brother dashed for the passenger seat and they were off before the guards could throw the bolts on their old Enfields. They skimmed treetops all the way across the Rio Grande and disappeared into the hill country west of Austin.
Charles Bronson starred as the mercenary in the movie version called, ‘Breakout’. Charles also bought one of my standing ashiko drums many years later in Malibu. The world is big, but if you keep moving you will meet a lot of the people in it.
Now the rich kid was on the run… Every agency was looking for him in all those trendy California spots. Family needed advice.
I had just returned from a brain draining tour in Europe and was invited down to Paradise Island to relax with Olivia’s new group of friends. She told how when she and Bananas had been seated at their first sortie into Paradise island, Gino had swept his hand across her lap to place a linen napkin on her diminutive skirt and copped a feel in the process. She married him. He cooked pasta and drained it through a tennis racket. “I will feed you so much pasta, you will be so fat, no one will love you but ME.”
“Your money is no good here.” He said to me. I was being treated like royalty. I found myself sitting in the casino, overlooking Tony and Gino dealing blackjack and baccarat. The crowd was beyond expensive. They had tied their yachts up to the dock just outside the casino, and entered wearing tuxedos and evening gowns. These were the ultimate jet setters. I watched as they dropped ten grand on one card. No one cared, they were so wealthy it didn’t matter.
Olivia sat down next me, tanned and lovely in a white summer frock. She was with a nervous but nice guy. “This is our family lawyer”, she said. “We are here to talk about my brother. I want your opinion.” I did not want to have an opinion. My father had been a part of the Intel community and I didn’t feel up to it. They broke it down and I gave them my advice. “You have to create a new identity for your brother.”
If you were to have access to the intelligence business phone book, my late father’s family name would appear at the top, and would be as ubiquitous as “McClusky” is in my mother’s family home village phone book in Scotland. For this reason, I am reticent to get involved when there are questions of subterfuge. I opted out of that life, to the consternation of a few. I knew the guy Olivia had just introduced me to as we sat in the casino on Paradise Island, overlooking the baccarat tables. He had been Jack Ruby’s defense lawyer, although it didn’t do Jack much good.
We had a vantage point table in the cute little white gazebo bar about ten feet above the gaming tables. Here we could watch Olivia’s husband and his associates from Rome deal blackjack while their new Las Vegas Mafia pit bosses kept an eagle eye on them. There had been a power shift in the gambling world. Meyer Lansky’s Miami Beach barbershop based Mafia cartel had moved in and taken over the previously Sicilian owned “Cathino” on Paradise Island. There were some rough nerves and some people had already fed the fishes. But Gino and Toni were still driving their Ferrari’s and kept telling me, “Your money is no good here.” Everything was free for me, even the Gauloises.
“If there was a conspiracy, we couldn’t prove it.” Olivia’s family lawyer stated with some bleakness in his voice. “Every lead, every witness, either disappeared or died, even all of Garrison’s leads in New Orleans. If there was a conspiracy to kill the Kennedy’s we would have had the legal precedent to prosecute, but we could not put a case together.”
“No surprises there.” I said to myself. I ordered a vodka gimlet, on the house. It was the favorite breakfast drink of the FBI undercover agent I had just been sharing a room with on this last tour through Europe. I forced my mouth to stay shut. That took a great deal of personal fortitude. I have a reflexive reaction to spying. I will blurt out the secret intelligence information and blow covers, ruin missions, and end people’s careers. It is a delayed stress response to my father’s murder, but it would also be a response to the upcoming murder of Tim Buckley, but I didn’t know that yet.
I looked at Olivia, she was young, beautiful, innocent in a randy sort of way, naive and skirting some dangerous territory. “Look, Olivia. Get your brother a new passport, and set him up in some foreign country, like Italy. Don’t ever let him come back here. Okay? And when you go to see him. Be extra careful.”
by Russell Buddy Helm copyright 2013 All rights reserved.