Anybody with eight figures' worth of money has to be suspect. Cooke's enemies will hint darkly at misdeeds. What misdeeds? Never mind. We know...
Well, consider this suspicious episode: Cooke's greatest danger now is not the fact that he may make or lose a great deal of money, but that he is inexorably, stealthily getting chunky. He has put himself on a strict diet, self-enforced, where he will not eat anything containing flour. Especially breads, cakes and pastries.
Now, then, the Washington Redskins were playing Oct. 16 against the Giants in New York and, unable to pick up the game on radio in California, Cooke sat fretting at home in Bel Air. He was waiting for the telephone call from Edward Bennett Williams, who is 1) a noted attorney, 2) a close personal friend and 3) club president and owner of 5% of the team. The two men have a pact: after every game Williams will call Cooke and deliver a postmortem. But this was early in the season, remember.
The Redskins lost 13-10. And Williams, like any self-respecting, distraught club president, stomped unwaveringly out of the stadium, out somewhere, and got soothingly, comfortably, steadfastly potted. No phone call. Back in Los Angeles, Cooke waited, pacing. "No call. That can only mean we've lost the damned game," he growled. Finally, in despair, he wheeled away from the house in his $28,500 beige Bentley convertible, down through the ornate electric gates and to the Bel Air Country Club. He stomped in, fixed the waiter with an icy stare and snarled, "Bring me a piece of that white cake. And put two scoops of ice cream on it." That's the sort of inhuman figure his enemies are dealing with.
Not that Cooke does not have his own biting moments. Two days after the Redskin disaster he was off to New York City. There he was, zinging along on TWA Flight 100 about 30,000 feet over the Midwest, when he summoned the stewardess and pointed imperiously at his tray.
"Take these lamb chops back and cook them some more," he said. "I asked for them well-done."
The stewardess, her smile locked into position, hovered uncertainly over him for a moment, then bent down and looked out the window at the jet engines, as if perhaps she might set the plate out there to cook a little more. And then, when he got the chops back—they may have been hotter, but certainly no more well-done—he pushed them around irritably with his fork and finally set the tray aside.
But it got worse. That night in New York the Lakers played the Knickerbockers at Madison Square Garden. Jerry West, injured, had not made the trip, and Cooke sat there in the executive seats fretting, while the team lost 122-119. It looked for a horrible moment as if Cooke was going to send back the Lakers for more cooking, because they obviously weren't done at that point, either.
The game over, Cooke left the Garden, hunched in his raincoat against a chill rain, and headed toward Toots Shor, where he spends his free time in New York City. He was accompanied by Bill Shea of the Shea Stadium Sheas, and, when the party walked in, it was ushered to table 101—to the right of the archway—one of the two top prestige tables for celebrities. Bob Considine was at the other.
For revenge against the events of the day, Cooke ordered a large bowl of Shor's homemade rice pudding. Shor limped over, leaning on his shiny black cane. "Ya bum, ya," he growled affectionately at Cooke. "Yer lucky we even let you into this town, ya creep. Lost the game, dincha?" Cooke nodded. Shor kept it up: "I made a bundle on the Knicks against yer bums. Ya got any more clubs we can bet against?" Cooke smiled, with that fluorescent burst of teeth, and ordered another bowl of pudding.