Exit From Eden: Excerpt From A Novel In Progress By Mary Reinholz

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February 1, 2014 · Posted in Exit From Eden -Mary Reinholz 

Mary

Mary Reinholz, from 1970 when she lived in Laurel Canyon. Photo by Don Strachan

CHAPTER ONE

Fanned by the Santa Ana winds, the September brush fires started a couple of weeks before I  blew out of Los Angeles on a cross country road trip heading East, far away from the sprawling star-studded  eden of my youth.

Twice I drove up to fire lines of the Malibu hills in my little MG convertible, top up, radio blaring Jim Morrison’s “Baby, light my fire,” watching dead trees explode in the darkness. I was 25, a California girl reporter who once went to convent schools about to head into the unknown. Fire on the mountains inspired the thrill seeker in me, the would-be anarchist who had decided it was time to burn my bridges, trash the past and live on the edge.

Back in my Laurel Canyon cottage, I felt my hair was on fire, maybe because my spent love affair with a pacifist writer made me want more than what he could deliver.  I longed for him, the smiling activist I called Orange Man, but it was like clutching at air.

“The East is red!” I began murmuring when the fires jumped over the freeways and into the hills and rolled towards Malibu like a river of flame. I had this vision of an Eastern Utopia in Vermont where I might meet a hearty hippie farmer, live in a beautiful farm house, make babies, books and revolution. Nothing happened that way, but Orange Man’s decision to leave me and live on the beach was the catalyst for my decision to get the hell out of L.A.

He had advised me to my dump little hillside nest, on which I had an option to buy like a good bourgeois babe,  warning, “It’s best to travel light without a house on your back.”  Bad advice, but it seemed perfectly reasonable at the time.

 After all, reason did not rule in that waning summer of 1970, one year after the Manson murders one canyon west of mine and two years after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel.

 ”You want to redeem this horrible experience you had with Orange Man by hitting the road,”  mused my costume designer friend Tina Missouri, who had worked on the set of “Bonnie and Clyde.” She lived up the block from me on Lookout Mountain Road in a house she claimed had a bedroom fashioned from wine barrels.  ”You want to take your chances. But you might miss it here. Of course, you won’t miss the phonies here and the temperamental assholes  of the silver screen.”

“I had an offer to room with a feminist filmmaker who lives with two lesbians in this great house in the Hollywood Hills,” I told her. ”I considered it, because I’m really lonely now and it would help sharing the rent. But Jesus, I don’t want to wind up a lesbian.”

“No, you don’t want to live with a bunch of dykes,” Tina said as we finished lunch in her garden. “Just start over with the real people you’re looking for and remember: There’s always shoplifting if money gets tight.” She was joking but Tina admitted she used to boost things for the sheer hell of it. We kissed and promised to keep in touch.

My actress neighbor Charlotte Klein, a willowy brunette who moonlighted as a call girl, barely had time to say goodbye because she was getting ready for a hot date, dressed to the nines in a see- through crocheted mini-dress.

“He called me and said, ‘Oh my darling’ and promised expensive presents,” she said breathlessly, pasting on her false eyelashes while seated in front of a vanity mirror in the second floor bedroom of her cedar paneled house, a gift from her widowed mother who owned apartment buildings.

Charlotte gave me a quick once over, obviously disapproving of my jeans, wrinkled blue work shirt and sandals. “Look, Joanna, I know you’re into this women’s lib shit, but when you get to New York, you should dress up more. Some of the most stylish women in the world work there and you gotta compete. Wear some makeup. It won’t kill you to put on some lipstick, blush and  some eye shadow to bring out those baby blues. You’ve got nice red hair and you should curl it.”

“You know I’m not into selling or renting myself these days Charlotte,” I retorted, and then abruptly regretted the snippy comment, considering her sideline.

She didn’t seem offended. “I lived in New York for awhile. It can be tough. You don’t have a job lined up, do you? You’re just running because of this spaced out guy who dumped you and thinking something better will show up. Good luck, honey. You’re gonna need it. ”

****

On my last day in Los Angeles, Maxwell Veribushi, an old radical anti-war buddy, showed up at my hillside house, driving a black Volkswagon van and packing a .22 caliber pistol.

“For your protection Joanna Willowby,” he said solemnly, presenting me with the dainty little rod like a knight errant. The piece was concealed in a leather case that could fit in the pocket of my work shirt. I accepted it readily and thanked him with a hug. If, as the Beatles sang, happiness is a warm gun,  I had been given the opposite: a chunk of cold metal that could do serious damage to any wiseass redneck who might give me grief in my cross country travels.

    Max grinned and produced a small, weather-beaten box of bullets. He showed me how to load the gun and how to fire it. He was a big bearded guy of about 26 or 27 then, my age, but now he looked ten years older in his denims, worn leather jacket and scuffed boots. I hadn’t seen him in a year and only received cryptic notes from New Mexico and then a telephone call when I was working on a women’s liberation issue at the L.A.Free Press.

Seated together on my love seat in the living room, we pointed the gun at various targets and squeezed the trigger after removing the bullets. Again and again. My right finger caught on a catch and bled a little, but Max stopped me from jumping up to get a bandaid in the bathroom. “You’re an outlaw now, JoJo,” he said. “You gotta learn how to endure pain.”

He had brought his own weed and starting smoking a joint while I fixed some herbal tea for both us. Then, abruptly, he announced his own status as a fugitive. “You should know , Joanna, that I jumped bail on a manslaughter charge in New Mexico. This will be the last time we’ll see each other. Tomorrow my mother is driving me up to the Canadian border.”

A shadow seemed to fall in my sun-dappled living room as I took in this information: it was hard to accept. Here was a hippie advocate of love and peace, the second son of Holocaust survivors from Germany who had run a book store in Encino where he had helped organize student protests against the Vietnam war. Now he was on the lam after killing a man. “Why?” I mumbled.

“He raped a woman I cared about,” Max said, inhaling deeply.

“How do you know it was rape?” I inquired, ever the reporter, now facing Max on my mother’s antique swivel chair.

“It was rape–that is what she was screaming, and I believe her. He had done it before.” Max stretched out his long legs. He produced a newspaper clip from a New Mexico daily, detailing his arrest and how his parents had posted $50,000 bond and then folded it back into his wallet.

“I told him the first time that I’d kill him if he raped her again,” He said.”And he did it again. He deserved to die. No human being should do something like that to another human.”

“Jesus Christ, Max!” I exploded,. “Do you think you’re God?”

“No, but you have to put yourself in my situation. Of course, I know you were raised Catholic, but I always thought you had an Old Testament sense of justice, an eye for an eye.”

He had me there. Still, I wondered about the little gun he had just given me. ”Max,” I said, my voice nearly a whisper.” Did you use this gun to shoot him?”

He looked me in disgust as if I had accused him of betraying his standards. “Of course not.”

We spoke for another hour and embraced before he drove off to meet his mother in Pasadena. I stashed his gift into my leather handbag. It would not do for my refined mother to find a firearm when she showed up later in the day with my father. They were newly divorced but still close, arriving together from separate homes in San Marino to pick up Sybil, my Siamese cat, and  to dispense their blessings on my trip to New York.

My father, a big man with a handlebar mustache  and droll sense of humor, gave me a bag of walnuts for the road and a silvery nutcracker. “Just in case anyone gets out of line,” Dad said with a wink. He had been an engineer at Howard Hughes aircraft  before starting his consulting business and knew how things worked. He was also a devout Lutheran, given to thundering feel-good platitudes like “Every knock is a boost!” and quoting from the bible when my mini-marriage broke up five years ago:  ”When adversity comes, jump with joy!”

Mom was also a vivid presence, a petite former fashion model in New York who grew up Irish Catholic in Massachusetts and had retained her Miss America figure at 60. She  gave me a carton of oranges and  a small pocket knife to cut them.

“Do you think you’re doing the right thing, dear?” she asked as we stood in the bedroom of my nearly empty house and inspected the remaining contents in the closet. “You built up a career in Los Angeles. You had beautiful clothes and now you’re going on this trip to New York with hardly anything beyond the basics, and all because of two silly men who wouldn’t give you a cup of water if you were dying of thirst. Remember, New York can be loneliest city in the world. And it’s dangerous these days, I hear. You, my youngest daughter who has had a good upbringing but no job to go to, will have to live by your wits. I’m afraid for you.”

“It’ll be alright mom,” I told her. “I’m going to be staying with a woman friend who has a nice apartment. I can get temp work as secretary if I have to and I’ll be avoiding sexist pigs.”

“You seem to think most men are selfish and stupid, ” mom said. “But they’re not as stupid as you think. Of course, they’re like children. You have to make them feel important. Can’t you do that?”

“Not if I don’t like them,” I told her.

“My girls are like night and day,” Mom mused, referring to my older sister Valerie, who had an successful accountant husband, two adorable kids and an split-level ranch house overlooking the Pacific in La Jolla. They’d been married at Stanford ten years before whereas my quick hitching in Nevada didn’t survive a semester break at UC Berkeley, then in the throes of the Free Speech Movement.

“Dear,” Mom went on in sweet voice.  ”Would you mind if I took your see-through blouse? I love it.”

I didn’t mind at all. It was a relic when marriage was  on my mind. Mom gathered up the blouse, neatly folded it and walked into my kitchen. Dad was snacking on apricots I had laid out in a bowl.

” A groovy looking guy just came by on a motorcycle , looking at your convertible,” he announced sardonically, looking up. “Who is he?”

“Oh, that’s Steve Roth who’s buying my car,” I told Dad, alluding to a hip businessman I had met while profiling him for West, the Los Angeles Times Sunday magazine, a solid freelance market I was also leaving behind. “He sells pop posters.”

“Powerful looking fellow,” my father said, his words suggesting Steve would be a good catch for his daughter.

I didn’t tell dad that Steve was a former bouncer from the Bronx who seduced me by claiming he had held up banks in New York. Steve had encouraged me to go to the big bad city because, he said, “The way of life in California makes people too fragile. You’ll meet tough people in New York like you. But, honey, you should stop coming on like a thundercloud. Can’t you be a dew drop?”

Before sunset, I had given away most of my furniture to the Salvation Army, leaving behind my love seat for the next tenant.

*****

The next morning at dawn, wearing a fresh pair of jeans and a tank top, my long red hair pulled back in a prim Victorian bun, I took off in the Mercury sedan with the California license plates owned by Zenia Smith, a black feminist who had just relocated to Washington D.C. Zenia had offered to let me use her car in exchange for transporting personal items of hers that were stashed in the trunk to her new home near the Watergate complex.

Inside her car was a newly purchased canteen, a mapcouple of blankets, two ruck sacks, and about $2500 in cash and travelers checks from the sale of my MG. I stashed the money in a shoulder bag along with my new unloaded pistol, keeping gas money and loose change in a wallet with my drivers license. I had already mailed samples of my writing to Phoebe Whistlethorpe, an artist friend who had moved to the East ViIlage from West Hollywood. She would be putting me up for a modest fee in New York until I found my own place.

Los Angeles was still burning in varied hot spots around the county as I stepped on the gas, flooring the pedal when traffic thinned on the freeways. The air cleared as I drove eastward past smog pits trapped by the San Bernadino mountain range. In the desert, the sky turned cobalt blue. By nightfall, I had crossed the sun scorched sands of the Mojave, taking a brief detour into Joshua Tree National Park. Then I headed into Arizona, permitting myself one luxurious rest stop at a resort lodge off Route 66 nestled amid Ponderosa pines.

The town of Williams was a gateway to the Grand Canyon and I spent an hour meditating on the ancient rock formations. But this vision of a vast pre-historic America was marred for me by the cigarette butts and empty soda cans left by tourists on sacred stones. My ex-lover Orange Man, an ecology freak, would have been outraged.

Next morning, I mourned losing him when an orange butterfly slammed into the Mercury’s windshield. Sweet baby James Taylor’s voice bubbled up on the radio, singing plaintively, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. But I always thought I’d see you again.”

The song haunted me and again I wondered why Orange Man, after returning from a trip to Hawaii, had announced that he needed his space and would be moving to Venice to live with three hippies from the War Resisters League and to continue writing his “Shaft the Draft” column for the L.A. Free Press.

“I don’t NOT love you,” he said as we both wept and flowed into each other like water in the house I had just dumped. He was long and lean and I remembered how his shoulder-length strawberry blond hair fanned out on the pillows of my bed like the plumes of an exotic dancer.

Of course, we had political differences. He espoused non-violence while I harbored fantasies of blowing up the Pentagon to stop the war in Vietnam. One day he spotted me reading a manifesto from the Weather Underground, a militant offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society. They had led a 1969 demonstration against the war called “Days of Rage” in Chicago, that turned into a riot and violent clash with police. Then the Weather Underground, led by Bernadine Dohrn, my favorite radical heroine, took credit for springing acid guru Timothy Leary from prison in a daring jail break. I was impressed by their derring-do.

“What a low quality trip,” said Orange Man, who believed strongly that men should learn how to cry–and often–to release tension. He declared all trees saints in his mimeographed newsletter St. John’s Bread Wednesday Messenger and used to joke that carrots “screamed in pain” when small farmers pulled them from the ground. Orange was just too sensitive for me. And apparently I was too much for him.

In New Mexico, I passed through painted desert where the earth and the rocks seemed red and I remembered how Orange Man was often a premature ejaculator. He sometimes slept on the roof and had written a poem suggesting he sometimes felt sexually neuter. He certainly wasn’t the world’s most passionate guy. Maybe I’d find somebody more enthusiastic in Manhattan.

In the meantime, it was important to keep on moving as the sky darkened. The early October weather had turned around and tornados swept through Texas and Arkansas. I drove through the wreckage of one town leveled by a twister and found what I thought would be temporary refuge in another one that was still standing.

A tall man wearing a black sock hat, jeans and a tan leather jacket filled up my tank and wanted to know what a nice California girl like me was doing in the boondocks of dirt devil country.

“Traveling to New York,” I told him. “Starting a new life.”

“That won’t be easy,” he grinned. “What kind of work do you do?”

“I’m a writer,” i said and smiled nervously. He was about 35 and muscular. He had golden tanned skin that probably never experienced the rays of a sun lamp, natural blond hair under his sock hat and clear blue eyes. This guy was a change of pace from all the bad actors and drug store cowboys in fringed buckskins I had encountered at Schwab’s pharmacy at the intersection of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and the Sunset strip.

Was he a real Marlboro Man? I pondered with some excitement, wondering what he’d be like up close and personal. He seemed to have similar thoughts about me as a prospective pickup.

“Look,” he said, shifting his weight on lace up boots. “I own this place and a motel down the road. There are plenty of vacancies and you can stay for the night and start fresh in the morning.”

It seemed like a good idea especially if things evolved nicely. He said his name was Jed Scott and added with a smile, “I’m divorced and a family man and I have the pictures to prove it!”

That was reassuring. After paying him for the gas, I took the motel key Jed gave me and drove towards a row of one-story stucco motel rooms joined together like a horse shoe in a clump of trees. It was about 5 pm. The rain had subsided. I walked into the appointed room with one ruck sack, my tote and the carton of oranges Mom had given me and looked around.

The place was spotless. It contained a queen sized bed, a TV, a shower in the bathroom and a tiny kitchenette with a hot plate, small fridge with a sauce pan on it and some plates, bowls and utencils. There was even a table for two and a portable radio.

Dylan was singing “Lay Lady lay” after I showered, inserted my diaphragm, slipped on a bathrobe and started slicing oranges into quarters with mom’s pocket knife. Dinner could wait. I was watching the evening news about an hour later when there was the predictable knock on the door from my benefactor. I hope he’d do right by me. Married men, I had learned after my divorce, were generally better lovers than bachelors. They tended to have more finesse and would court a girl for at least ten minutes.

Jed smelled of cologne as if he had just shaven. He carried a bag of groceries and a bottle of white wine. “I thought maybe we could have dinner and talk a little,” he said. “It’s not every day that I get a writer coming through these parts.”

He sat down at the table in the kitchen. Dutifully, I heated up the can of chili, sliced some tomatoes and the onions he had brought and poured our dinner into two bowls. He opened the wine and poured that into two paper cups.

“We’ll have to rough it a little,” he said, taking a big swallow of wine.  “But I get the impression you like rough edges.”

That remark sent a tremor of fear up my spine, but I tried to keep things light. “This is a first for me,” I said. “Generally, I curl up at night with a novel and a frozen entree.”

He took another swig. “A real lady of letters, huh? What do you write anyway? I bet you write porn. Come on, you can tell me. After tonight, we’ll never see each other again.”

“Not really,” I said, giving him a level gaze. “But I sometimes use explicit words and I believe in free speech.”

Jed belched and stood up, his tone suddenly nasty.”Bet you’re a California hippie broad who wants to go on welfare in New York. Well, you don’t have to do that. I can get you a job here as a waitress. And you can stay in this place. The routine, 9 to five, would be good for you. And you’ll make enough money to buy a new dress, something sexy.”

Now the prickle of fear turned to major annoyance. It was time to usher this crude dude to the door. “Look, Jed, I appreciate your interest, but I have got something lined up in New York.”

I went over to my bag on the bed and turned my back to him for a few seconds while rummaging through my wallet. I fumbled a little before finding a crisp $100 bill. “I want to pay you for spending the night at this nice place but in the morning I’ll be on my way,”I said, my back still turned to him.

He had other plans. As I turned around, he stood before me in the kitchen completely naked except for his boots. His erect penis was huge and clearly pointed in my direction. I bolted for the door, but he ran and grabbed me, tore off my robe and pushed me down on the bed. At first I fought him, but he was too big and he managed to spread open my thighs, ramming me so hard that I bled.

“This is what you want,” he kept muttering. “You know you like it.”

It seemed like it took nearly a half an hour before he came and he shouted when he did. He lay on top of me and I couldn’t get away. When he fell asleep, I was able to slip out from under him, get dressed and prepare to get the hell out of his little Arkansas whorehouse.

But I made a mistake trying to wash out his come in the kitchenette. Suddenly, he was blocking me. “You don’t like my company?” he growled.

“Get out of my way you dumb fuck,” I found myself shouting. Another mistake. He threw a punch at my face. I could feel a couple of teeth crack.

“You think you’re better than I am, don’t you, you little chippie hippie,” he said. “You didn’t come did you? Well, I know how to make you do that,” he went on and started choking me.

For a few seconds, I felt myself blacking out as he pressed me against the sink. Then my flailing right hand found mom’s pocket knife on the dish drain and I drove it straight it into his neck. He screamed and fell backwards, blood gushing from him like a geyser. I rushed to get Max’s gun but didn’t need it. Poor Jed was dead, a working class guy who probably had a mother like I did, maybe even kids. God would punish me, I was sure of that.

But the law probably wouldn’t. It was a case of self-defense. “Peace,” I said and drew one of the motel’s blankets over him and washed the pocket knife, placing it in my ruck sack. If there had been a Gideon bible in the motel room,I would have read a passage for Jed, who at least had filled my gas tank and offered me  a place to spend the night.

Instead, I called Charlotte Klein, my former actress neighbor in Laurel Canyon, figuring her history of discreet whoring would help me now.  I made it a collect call, hoping she wasn’t servicing a producer with her vibrator and would pick up.

She answered on the second ring and I asked if her if LAPD vice was tapping her phone, dispensing with the usual pleasantries. “It’s not, Jo Jo. I checked for bugs.”

Charlotte was remarkably calm when I described the grisly details about the dead man inches away from me. “I’m beginning to freak out,” I said. “I’m afraid of the cops here.”

“Don’t panic or things will get worse,” Charlotte said. “And don’t call the cops. You think those redneck crime busters will believe you? You didn’t use a credit card to pay him for anything, did you?  Is there any record of you’re even being thereYou’re sure? Good. Get the fuck out as soon as you can. When you’ve dropped off the car in D.C and get to New York, change your name. Get new ID. Become another person. Writers and actors do that all the time. Remember, I once lived there. Came back because I didn’t like soot coming through my window sills and snooty directors putting me down because I didn’t attend Sara Lawrence. New York is hell, but you can be anonymous in that city.”  She had one more piece of advice: “You gotta stop fucking guys on the first date.”

© 2014 Mary Reinholz

 

CHAPTER TWO

There were only a couple of other guests at Jed’s motel when I left my room around 7 pm that bloody Monday evening, wearing the dead man’s black sock hat with my hair tucked inside. Once behind the Mercury’s wheel, I drove like a maniac through the night, keeping my eye out for any signs of local police or state troopers on the rain- slicked roads.

Of course, Jed’s body probably wouldn’t be discovered until the start of the business hours on Tuesday when the cleaning people arrived and so I was temporarily safe from being a suspect. But as a reporter with experience on the police beat, I could easily imagine the lurid headlines on “Murder in a Motel” or “Love Tryst Turns Deadly at Room 7A” soon to appear in local newspapers.

Fortunately, I had signed nothing when Jed gave me the key. And I had cleaned up before exiting the death scene, washing dishes, frantically cleaning up possible fingerprints, dumping leftovers from the deceased’s last supper at a rest stop. I’d have to get rid of mom’s lethal pocket knife. But not just yet. Anything could happen and I might need it again.

The sky was clear by daybreak when I reached the Tennessee border and parked for a nap outside a vacant construction site. Then I had breakfast at a 24-hour diner on the outskirts of Nashville, feeling almost down home when the owner, a grizzled old timer wearing a clean white apron over his dungarees, served me scrambled eggs, bacon, buttered wheat toast with a side of strawberry jam and a mug of steaming hot coffee. I tried to primp up a bit.

“That’s a nasty bruise you got on your jaw, girl,” the geezer drawled, refilling my mug and gazing at the sore spot where Jed’s fist had landed. “Do you need a doctor–or a divorce?”

“Oh, I was wearing high heels and fell down some stairs at this fancy hotel,” I lied, smiling and trying to appear in need of Southern chivalry.”Do you know any place around here where I can get my hair done? I’m visiting some relatives in Nashville and want to look decent.”

“My wife goes to a place a few blocks away,” he said, and gave me directions along with the check. “A woman named Thea Resnikoff runs it. She came here from New York a couple of years ago. She’s a smart Jewish businesswoman. A lot going on. The grass don’t grow under her feet.”

Maybe she had another kind of grass in her garden. I thanked my host, left a nice tip and drove to the hair salon he recommended. It was on the first floor of a three story brick building facing the Cumberland River. The proprietor had opened her doors for business. I walked in, her first customer of the day.

*****

Thea  Resnikoff was seated in a wicker chair reading a newspaper by the front window amid a profusion of plants and hanging ferns in exotic pots. She stood up quickly, a slim woman of about 50 with iron gray hair worn in a page boy. With her black skirt, hose and black cashmere cardigan over a matching  turtleneck sweater, she seemed more like a beatnik librarian than a hairdresser.

Her lair was sophisticated for a pit stop in the Bible Belt. Wig stands holding fake hair in various styles and shades were positioned like sculpture atop book shelves. One appeared to have a devil’s head on top, a smiling comical Satan. There were Abstract paintings in between a wall of mirrors and leather chairs with zebra striped pillows. I could hear the sultry sounds of a torch singer from a record player in another room.

In a far corner of the salon stood a rack of antique dresses and a display case of jewelry. Flowering Judas and vines of Philodendren sprouted near an old fashioned cash register. The faded Oriental rugs gave a homey lived in look to Thea’s exotic layout.

“This is a beautiful place,” I murmured, very much impressed.

“Thank you. I’ve enjoyed being here after so many years in New York,” Thea said, removing her horn rimmed glasses and eying me warily as I inspected her books. They were a mix of tracts on herbal remedies, organic foods, hypnotism, fashion, sex, feminism and novels by literary lions like James Baldwin and Annais Nin. This is a hip witchy woman, I told myself.

She asked politely: ” How can I help you?”

“Well, I’m traveling to New York after a stop in Washington D.C. and would like to change my hairstyle completely,” I said, feeling I could be fairly candid with her. “Right now my long hair makes me look too sloppy, too bohemian. The red has to go. I want the whole thing cut, dyed light brown and reshaped, so I look like an ordinary working woman.”

Thea waved me to one of her leather chairs. “None of my clients could ever be considered ‘ordinary,’” she said airily. “But I have a theory that most women, consciously or not, want to look like their mothers did when they were young.”

When she mentioned mothers, tears involuntarily welled up in my eyes. “My mother was a model when she lived in New York,” I told Thea, taking a faded photograph out of my wallet. It showed mom in her late teens wearing a smart looking cloche over her close cropped hair, the kind of a hat that flappers used to wear in the 1920s.

“Oh beautiful,” said Thea. “The 1920s were a great time for women. They won the right to vote. The flappers bobbed their hair, they smoked cigarettes, swore, drove cars, danced sexy and defied convention. They had an androgynous tomboyish look–like I’m going to give you.”

From her book shelves, she produced a picture album of hair styles favored by celebrities and turned to a page of magazine photographs of actress Louise Brooks, a one-time chorus girl and 1920s icon who wore her short dark hair like a helmet.

“Perfect,” I said. “Please make me a Brooks brunette with bangs.”

And Thea Resnikoff did that, first wetting and cutting my hair, letting thick red swatches fall on her hardwood floor. I winced as if a nurse had drawn my blood but said nothing as she mixed dyes in a bowl, applied them and fit a tinfoil cap over my head. She told me the color would take hold in about 45 minutes. Then she disappeared for a few minutes, returning with a copy of Vogue and coffee in a china cup.

But despite the third jolt of java that morning, I fell into a deep sleep and awoke when she tapped my shoulder my shoulder and led me to the wash basin, rinsing my hair and giving me a vigorous shampoo. She applied conditioner.

“You’re very dry,” Thea intoned hypnotically as she massaged my scalp.”Always use conditioner after you wash your hair and let it soak for at least ten minutes.”

She led me to leather chair and ordered me to sit under the dryer. I complied, feeling woozy and soon fell asleep again. When I awoke, it was almost noon. I’d been at Thea’s for at least two hours. And I didn’t have time to linger on.

“You’ve had a rough time of it on the road, and you’re just exhausted,” Thea said in brisk maternal tones. “I let you sleep. Now let’s rinse out the conditioner and comb you out. The color looks divine if I don’t say so myself.”

Peering at my image in her expanse of mirrors, a former red headed hippie girl transformed into a neatly coiffed gamine who could work in an office, I had to agree. But I wanted out of Thea’s artsy salon and turned down her offer to sit under a dryer again. Instead, I removed the flowered smock she had me put on and reached into my tote bag to pay her.

The bag had been searched and my wallet was missing. So was an extra billfold. And I couldn’t find my car keys. Suddenly I felt fear worse than what was visited on me by the brutal man I had been forced to kill. This businesswoman had drugged and rolled me as I slept like a common thief. Revulsed, I stood up and tried not to wretch on her rugs.

“OK, lady, you did a good job with my hair, but you’ve got my money and my keys,” I said, glaring at her as she stood amid her plant life behind the cash register. “Hand them both over or I’ll call the police.”

Thea laughed heartily at my bluff. “I think we both know you are in no position to call the police,” she said and held up a transistor radio.

“I’ve been listening to news reports about the cops looking for a red headed gal seen at a motel where the owner was murdered,” she continued, a taunting tone in her voice. “It seems one of the victim’s employees told police that the boss had talked about going to see this hot babe who had driven by for gas in a light blue Mercury sedan with California plates. She checked out without paying. Now if I were you, I’d want my car painted another color and I’d also want a new set of plates. As it turns out, I’m in a position to assist you on both counts, one sister to another, as the feminists might say.”

“Exactly what do you want from me in return for all this generosity?” I asked, fury mixing with despair.

“Just your money, honey,” Thea replied. “That and gratitude for fixing your hair and helping you out.”

I reached for Max’s gun but Thea had confiscated that too and pointed it at me playfully. “I’m a fair-minded woman,” she said. “You’ve got $2200 in cash and travelers checks. You can keep the travelers checks, which amount to about $500. That’s enough to get to Washington D.C. and a few nights in New York. May I suggest the Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street? It’s famous for putting up artists, writers and musicians who don’t have much money.”

“$500 won’t last me long,” I said. ” So you might as well shoot me. How can you live with yourself?”

“How can you?” Thea replied. “Look, I’ve had bad luck with men too, but I’ve always supported myself and I want to open a natural foods restaurant here. Consider yourself an investor in Thea’s Enterprises. In return, I’ll drive your car into my garage behind this building and get it painted for you by one of my independent contractors and throw in Tennessee plates free of charge. You’ll be out of here a new woman. If you get short on money, grow. Rob a convenience store if you have to. This is America, land of opportunity. OK?”

“OK,” I said finally. “You win.”

© 2014 Mary Reinholz

CHAPTER THREE 

Back on the road in the Mercury, now maroon, I considered myself lucky. I had managed to wrest back Max’s little gun from Thea by temporarily blinding her with a shot of her salon’s best hair spray right between the eyes.

Thea wouldn’t tell me where she had stashed my cash, but I couldn’t bring myself to rough up an older shorter woman–especially after she began blubbering about how she had a disabled daughter to support in Manhattan. She apparently was also a sugar mama for the long haired handyman who had painted the Mercury, affixed Tennessee plates and then vanished mysteriously. He might come back at any minute.

So I decided to hell with it and barreled out of Thea’s many splendored clip joint, taking a couple of her antique dresses and cleaning out her cash register of about $350 in greenbacks. Like she said, it was the American way. And I doubted if she would call the police and report another highway robbery at her place.

It was now 2 pm on a cloudless autumn afternoon. I headed straight for Washington, D.C. and to the Mercury’s flamboyant owner: Zenia R. Smiththe headline grabber I had interviewed for the Los Angeles Free Pressmonth before. Zenia had decided to relocate her law practice to the nation’s capitol and to leave her husband, a white poet she had described as “worthless” and “a crazy drunken Irishman.”

Zenia had given me instructions to leave her car in the building’s subterranean garage, but that seemed much too risky now.

What if somebody at Jed’s gas station had scribbled down the Mercury’s license plate? Zenia could be arrested as an accomplice in a homicide. I considered the possibilities while driving into Virginia and again after reaching Washington. What if the law in Arkansas had traced the Mercury Marquis sedan back to Zenia’s former residence in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles and then to her new home not far from Richard Nixon’s White House on Pennsylvania Avenue?

Guilt began to overwhelm me for putting Zenia’s life and career in jeopardy. At 40, she was a blazing success, a prominent mouthpiece for high profile clients like famous jazz musicians jailed on drug charges, Black Panthers accused of violent crimes against police and call girls who belonged to prostitute rights groups.

“Nobody ever died of a blow job!” she would shout at noisy sex workers’ demonstrations. “We live in a whorehouse society!”

Now one of the Left’s loudest and most quoted mouths could be at risk for losing her license or worse because of my indiscretions. On the off-chance that Zenia was under surveillance, I parked her reborn Mercury in a commercial garage  several blocks from her apartment building and took a bus to Howard University, often referred to as the black Harvard, where Zenia was teaching a course on criminal law.

She was in class when I arrived at her  office at the law school, the only white face in the corridor of a bureaucratic building. Students wearing Afros and t-shirts with images of Malcolm X passed me as I stood waiting for Zenia in my jeans and military surplus jacket. Several of them turned back and shot me suspicious looks as if to say: “What is this honky doing here? Is she a cop?” I certainly didn’t blend in with the crowd.

But then neither did Zenia who finally showed up wearing English Jodphurs, riding boots, a black turbin decorated with fake leopard skin and a royal blue cape that seemed to send her flying across the hall with her brief case.

“Sweet Pea!” she exclaimed joyously as I extended my hand. “I hardly recognized you with your hair like that! And how come you look so banged up?” she inquired, noticing right off the bruise on my jaw. “Are you alright? Is the car alright?”

Apparently the Arkansas authorities hadn’t reached her yet. But I figured she was entitled to a full explanation in case they did.

“Zenia, I’m in trouble,” I told her in a near whisper. “Can we talk somewhere other than your office?”

An empty space was not easy to find in the maze of corridors at Howard University. Grim faced, Zenia and I checked out the possibilities, running into a couple of exuberant black male students outside a locked classroom who cracked jokes about the Oreo Sisters as we passed. One of them shouted to Zenia: ”Hey mama, where did you find that sexy piece of white trash?”

The name calling was jovial but unappreciated. Still, white trash seemed an apt label considering the fact that I had  killed a man at an Arkansas motel and then used Zenia’s newly painted sedan as getaway wheels. And Zenia herself was quick to tell me what a bad gal I was when we finally found a vacant lecture hall and started talking about my road trip taking an unexpected deadly turn.

“Of course you know that failing to report a death is a crime,” she said sternly. “You could do three years for that. Minimum. It doesn’t matter that this redneck raped and tried to strangle you. Theoretically, if you were acting in self defense, you should have called the police. Now it will look like you’re a killer. So I don’t have to tell you that it is you, peaches–and not me–who is in deep and serious shit.”

By now it was late afternoon. I could see bare autumn trees and a pale half-moon through the lecture hall windows. Zenia and I sat side by side in the front row, facing a stage and speaking in low secretive voices. She had removed her royal blue cape, revealing a hint of cleavage in the white man-tailored shirt she wore, open deep at her throat. The cleavage only accentuated her regal bearing. So did her shiny boots, which she tapped occasionally on the floor.

“I figured the deck was stacked against me in that tiny Bible Belt town,” I explained. “Before I left the motel, I tried to wipe off my fingerprints from everything, but maybe I left a print.

“Maybe I should have stayed. I’ll probably get busted eventually and convicted. I’ll get the electric chair. They’ll dust off old Sparky just for me.”

Zenia shook her head. “I can understand why you didn’t think you’d have a chance with the white man’s justice in Arkansas,” she said, her tone softening.”They probably wouldn’t lynch you for killing a local good ole boy, but you might have gotten raped again in jail. Obviously,you left under duress. Well, don’t worry about my car.The cops haven’t contacted me yet, so maybe nobody from that pit stop wrote down my California license plate. I’ll keep the car for awhile with my brother in law. He runs a private cab service here. He can drive it out of the garage where you put it. Give me the ticket.”

Wordlessly, I passed her the garage ticket.”If the police question me, I’ll tell them the car must have been stolen in California,” she continued. ”Even if word gets out in the press and people think I’m the accomplice of a woman who is on the run for killing a sexist dog who raped her, how can that possibly hurt me? That kind of publicity will only get me more high profile clients, you dig, sweetheart?”

She had a point. I remembered how Zenia had entered a amicus curiae brief in the notorious case of Valerie Solanes, a panhandling actress and writer of a radical feminist tract who had shot and nearly killed Andy Warhol at his downtown Manhattan star “factory” in 1968. Did Zenia think of me mainly as fodder for her media machine? It was hard to tell.

She appeared to be sympathetic to my situation, but her comments offered little comfort. It seemed to me that my life was over. Even if I never became a murder suspect in Jed’s violent death, guilt would haunt me forever.

“Maybe you should help me turn myself in, Zenia,” I told her. “This man Jed Scott was choking me and I could have died. I defended myself but feel guilty just the same. I knew he was interested when we first met. He was a good looking dude and I was kind of interested myself. I didn’t have to open the door when he came calling. I’m not a virgin, for chrissakes. I wanted some action.”

Zenia sighed heavily in mock sorrow and rolled her eyes towards the ceiling. “No point wasting time on the woulda, coulda, and shoulda bull,” she counseled. “Nobody is completely innocent in these situations, but you’re blaming the victim. What you really need to do now is get to New York ASAP and see a doctor. You look beat up and that invites more trouble. You could stay here, but it’s risky. The Black Panthers are having a convention at Howard University next month and FBI agents are all over the place.”

“Maybe I’ll come back and cover the convention,” I said, perking up at the prospect of working again. “My editor at the Los Angeles Free Press would want a story like that.”

Zenia rolled her eyes again. “You are crazy,” she said. “But you got guts, honey. I think you’ll get by on sheer guts.”

It seemed time to buy a ticket for a one-way Greyhound Bus trip into Manhattan’s Port Authority station, my passport to a new life. But Zenia, in a burst of generosity, suggested I spend the night at her law office and leave in the morning with new ID: a social security card belonging to one of her recently deceased clients,a woman from the West Indies named Cassandra Ryder who had taken off her husband’s head with a machete in Los Angeles more than a decade ago. Zenia had gotten her a short sentence, claiming temporary insanity resulting from years of domestic violence.

“Her husband once doused her with gasoline and tried to set her on fire,” Zenia said as we walked briskly down a stairwell to the street. “So she finally severed the relationship. Lots of nice white women kill their husbands and they often get away with it. How? Well, since men still do most of the fighting and women mostly do the cooking, I have to assume that it’s not just the cholesterol in the food that kills the husbands first.”

This flamboyant lady lawyer always surprised me with her black humor. “Zenia,” I inquired, “Are you saying that these nice suburban ladies are deliberately poisoning their husbands?”

“Poisoning the mother fucker,”she said firmly. “Poisoning the sonofabitch.”

******

It was nearly pitch black outside as Zenia and I left a candle lit East Indian restaurant around 6:30 pm and headed for her office in a cab. As we rode by the placid waters of the Potomac, Washington D.C. seemed as desolate as a ghost town with its glowing monuments to the dead, its streets quiet and practically deserted.

Resting in my rucksack suck were the contact numbers Zenia had given me from her address book over a bowl of curried chicken and rice. She also handed me business cards for a couple of Manhattan leftwing lawyers, a feminist media group called Women Ink and a radical Harlem priest who had a registered hand gun and probably access to fake drivers’ licenses.  After she wrote down my temporary address in New York, Zenia told me to leave my gun with the pistol packing holy man.

“But I need something to protect myself!” I argued in the cab. “New York’s a rough town, ungovernable people say. I’ll be staying with an artist friend in the East Village, which is swarming with drug addicts and street crime. I don’t want to walk around feeling naked without my gun.”

“That gun doesn’t belong to you and will just get you into more trouble,” Zenia predicted in ominous tones. ”You could get yourself arrested and charged with illegal possession of a weapon. And even if that doesn’t happen, some nut could grab your piece and blow you away.”

nodded and dropped the subject. I was looking forward to becoming a resurrected variation of the deceased Cassandra Ryder, another killer on the loose. “C.S. Ryder,” I mused, smiling for the first time since Jed’s death.”That will be my new name. It has a certain dignified ring to it, don’t you think?

“Now you’re talking sense,” Zenia replied. ”And you’ll fit in fine with the people in the women’s movement. The movement is a refuge for women who have had bad relationships. Try not to get involved romantically with any men,” she warned. “Romance is a luxury few women can afford and you in particular are too vulnerable right now to even consider it. Get a job, any kind of job. And try to conceal your disappointment with the bosses. Don’t bring attention to yourself.”

“You’re beginning to sound like my mom,” I told her.

“Be sure and write your mother and let her know you’re OK when you get to New York,”Zenia said. ” You can call her later from a pay phone. I’ll be your mother here.”

We passed the Lincoln Memorial, its fluted Doric columns shining in a blaze of lights to remind tourists of the white marble statue inside of the brooding 16th president of the United States who had officially freed the slaves. But as we approached Zenia’s building, there was a less inspiring kind of light shining in the darkness: the whirling red dome of a police car. Instinctively, I ducked down in the taxi’s back seat.

“Drive on!” told the young cabbie who had slowed down behind the squad car. He jerked the cab forward, confusion clouding his bland baby face.

“No, stop here, driver!” ordered Zenia, and she whipped out a five spot for him, then turned

to me.”‘ll take care of this. You,baby,get to the bus. I’ll write you and send you your new ID. Now go, C.S. Ryder.”

She was out of the cab in seconds, striding with her briefcase towards a couple of uniformed men in blue. I could hear her addressing them loudly and with great authority, “What seems to be the problem, officers?” Zenia, I told myself, could handle those boys.

“Where to now, lady?” asked the cabbie, looking back at me with a quizzical smile as his motor idled.

“Greyhound Bus terminal behind Union Station,” I said. ”And step on it.” I was in New York within four hours.

© 2014 Mary Reinholz

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