Mary Reinholz’s Fantastic Journey, “Exit From Eden,” Continues

Hits: 244
September 1, 2014 · Posted in Exit From Eden -Mary Reinholz 
Author Mary Reinholz in New York during the 1970s at The Blue Angel, a renowned nightclub

Author Mary Reinholz in New York during the 1970s at The Blue Angel, a renowned nightclub

 

CHAPTER 15

 

Richard, the Chelsea Hotel’s British desk clerk, had told me recently of his suspicions that my upstairs neighbor Doria Nune was behind the death threat against Harvey Jewell, notorious publisher of the F.U. sex tabloid.

So it was no surprise that  he looked skeptical when I told him that Doria  didn’t strike me as the kind of radical feminist who could pull off the job.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” I said. “Doria is a starting a sexy new magazine for women. She used to work for Jewell. Why would she risk everything before it even hit the newsstands by threatening to kill a man who gave her job when she needed one?”

Richard sighed heavily. “Well, I didn’t know about her magazine, or her deal with Jewell and maybe I was wrong about Doria,” he said, looking haggard as he spoke. “But she still  strikes me as dangerous beneath her hipper than thou exterior. I think she could be violent. I can see her going after Jewell, one way or another.”

“Oh Richard, she’s a delicate girl with health problems, “ I said, patting him on the shoulder. “She just talks tough.”

It was close to 1 pm, close to my lunch time interview with Jewell, and I noticed dark shadows under Richard’s rheumy blue eyes. I figured he was in a melancholy mood, recovering from a hangover.

“OK, Cassie,” he murmured. “Let’s suspend judgment on Doria. But Harvey Jewell is obviously a disgusting male chauvinist who’s repulsive to most decent women.  I can’t  believe you’re having lunch with him today. I’ve always thought of you as a nice girl from the coast. One of the sweetest girls in the hotel. Why would you agree to a date with this man? He’s somebody who could ruin your reputation.”

“I’m a reporter, Richard, and reporters can’t worry too much about reputation or we wouldn’t get any stories published,” I said. “Jewell’s secretary called me the other day, remember? She said Jewell liked my story about him and the feminists and the death threats, and he wants to talk to me again. I might get another story out of this character. I know he’s gross, but I have to make a living.”

“If you must have lunch with him,  keep it strictly  business,” Richard counseled. “And don’t drink any liquor.”

He sounded like my mom. A phone rang and I took a seat a yard away from him, pondering the irony of the situation. Here was the Chelsea Hotel’s refined desk clerk  thinking of me as a nice California girl when in fact I had become a fugitive after fatally stabbing a rapist who tried to strangle me in the Bible Belt and fleeing the death scene in a borrowed car heading East. This time the pen was not as mighty as my mom’s pocket knife.

Not long after this bloody incident forced me to assume fake ID as Cassandra (C.J.) Ryder, I get lucky in New York. The Daily Bugle hires me as a columnist to cover the women’s liberation movement. My recent real life story was pretty ugly, but it was also a belly laugh on conventional wisdom that would have consigned me to jail by now–or the morgue.

Instead, I’d be getting a chauffeured ride in a few minutes to have a meal at a fancy restaurant with a wealthy smut slinger– just for writing a funny little newspaper story about a so-called feminist group threatening to assassinate him. Somewhere, an imp of the perverse was laughing maniacally.

For the occasion, I was wearing a  white long sleeved satin blouse bought at a thrift shop and  a pair of  black velvet bellbottoms,  a gift from Genia Jeffries, one of the Chelsea’s resident poets who had hired me as her part-time secretary before I got my Daily Bugle gig.

Genia also offered her sleek leather jacket  to help ward off the early winter chill—“but only for the afternoon,” she insisted. “ I feel sentimental about that jacket. My third husband gave it to me a few weeks before he died. Maybe it will have the same effect on that degenerate Harvey Jewell and send him to the lowest, smelliest circle of hell.”

Waiting for my ride, I looked over the questions in my notebook that Jewell might answer. Had he heard anything further from the purported radical group, Feminist International Revolutionaries in Exile (or F.I.R.E.) seemingly bent on executing  him? Did he think the group’s  death threat was an “inside job?” And if not, who in his estimation was a likely candidate  to have written the missive targeting him for death as a “pig exploiter” of women?

I glanced at my watch. It was nearly 1:15 pm.  Suddenly, a tall muscular man in a dark suit burst through the hotel’s glass doors and approached the desk, not  noticing me on the sidelines beneath a sculpture of a dangling paper mache angel. Richard said something to him and he whirled around and strode over to my spot.

“If you’ll come with me, Mizz Ryder, I’ll drive you uptown to meet Mr. Jewell,” he said in a deep husky voice.

I looked back at Richard on my way out of The Chelsea. He flashed a wan smile and gave me a thumbs up.

 

****

 

Harvey Jewell’s chauffeur was an Irishman named Mike Sullivan

who also served as his bodyguard. He helped me into the back of a four-door  Rolls Royce, a powder blue Silver Shadow with parchment leather seats. I was willing to bet that this ostentatious set of wheels was Jewell’s way of saying to polite society: I’ve made it by selling sex, you  hypocritical bastards, and I’m gonna roll right over you.

At first his driver, Mike Sullivan, maintained a stoic silence as he peeled away from the Chelsea  and steered the limo into east bound traffic on 23rd Street.  I figured he was probably a former porn star grown too old for  service in the x-rated films that Jewell regularly reviewed for F.U.

But by the time  the time he had hooked a left on Third Avenue and headed uptown, Sullivan made it known that he used to be a vice cop at the NYPD’s Midtown North station house chasing  hookers in Times Square.

“It was a stupid job and pretty embarrassing too,” he said, occasionally turning his head to look me in the eye when the light turned. “The girls used to shout , ‘Hey, Mick, I wanna sit on your dick,’ but I never paid any attention except to cuff them. I’d run into cops at the precinct who would oblige certain pros  and get blow jobs as a tradeoff for not arresting them. Well, that didn’t sit right with me. I’d bust the girls and they’d spend a night in jail before their pimps’ lawyers would bail them out, and then they’d be back on the streets within the hour.”

As he related his experiences tracking the city’s flesh pots,   I noticed Sullivan  had started chewing gum. Rapidly. Memories of the old police beat put him back to his days in a blue uniform. Then came his fateful meeting with Harvey Jewell. He considered it luck of the Irish.

“I kept running into Mr. Jewell, who writes about Times Square. I spoke to him personally after we shut down a peep show with underage girls. We talked about guns. He likes guns and was really sore he couldn’t get a license because of his line of work. After I retired a year ago, he offered me  this job and told me to bring along my old  Colt .38 revolver. He gets lots of crank calls.

“Anyway, It’s a nice job I got from him. It pays thirty grand a year and Jewell also provides health insurance in addition to what I already have from the NYPD. I’m saving my money and pretty soon the missus  and I will be able to open our own restaurant in Queens, Mike & Tess, fish and chips. Irish music. Maybe a rock band from the old sod. Then I’ll say goodbye to all the lights on Broadway.”

The American Dream could become a reality for this garrulous former  flatfoot and I felt happy for him. At the same time, I knew there had to be a downside to his story.  “You’ve gotten lucky, Mike,” I said. “But how do you feel about Harvey Jewell’s distributors? These are big time Mafia guys. Some of them are hit men.”

He seemed prepared for my question. “Those guys are everywhere. Think of  the  truck drivers who deliver  the Daily Bugle newspaper you work for, think of members of the Carpenters Union who help build skyscrapers. Who do you think controls the unions? There are cops who work for the mob on the side. How do you think so many made mafia guys get away with murder? It’s all a racket and they run the show.”

The subject was making me nervous, but I let Sullivan  rattle on. Jewell had told him I was a reporter and he seemed to have a need to confess his sins to me “but off the record.” When we reached East 60th Street, a block or so from Bloomingdale’s, he dropped me off at the restaurant–Serendipity 3. He said he’d be waiting at the same location by 2:30 in Jewell’s limo.

Serendipity, a  general store and restaurant, had been billed to me at the Chelsea Hotel as mainly a sweets emporium for kids. I was surprised that Jewell would be drawn to the joint. It  struck me as a cutesy tourist trap with its collection of overpriced teddy bears and New York City souvenirs.  An assortment of old Tiffany lamps hung from the ceilings in the hall beyond. I could see mothers with children seated at white circular tables with chairs that looked like lawn furniture.

I mentioned Jewell’s name to the head waiter and he whispered, “He’s upstairs on the second floor waiting for you at a table for six.”

“Six?” I inquired, instantly suspicious.”I thought it would be lunch for two.”

“Mr. Jewell always asks for a table for six.”

And  so I followed a second waiter upstairs and spotted the quirky porn king  at the far end of the room, already chomping on one of Serendipity’s foot long hotdogs. He had a bib around his neck and a striped orange and black shirt that barely covered his massive girth.

“Ryder—you came! And in the best way—for food,” he said, standing as I approached him. “I’ve never met a freelance writer who would turn down a free lunch.”

“Mr. Jewell, I’m just having coffee,” I said. “You wanted to talk, so let’s get to it—if you can tear yourself away from your weenie.”

“Call me Harvey, and get off your high horse, Ryder,” Jewell said. “I was just joking. I know you want another story. That means a few more  dollars  from the Daily Bugle so you can pay the rent at the Chelsea Hotel, am I right?  It’s really a glorified flophouse for artsy losers hoping to make it one day  and  not the funky urban commune you thought it might be, right?”

This obese bad boy had flashes of insight. I managed a small smile and asked him if he had heard anything further from the alleged feminists at F.I.R.E who had sent him the death threat.

“No, and here’s a little bone for you and your  editors at The Bugle to gnaw on,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of my imitators, editors at rags like Hump and Schtup, and they say they’ve gotten similar anti-porn messages. So the forces of censorship are at work here. Mark my words, Ryder, your feminist friends are going to try and put us all out of business.  I predict they’ll partner up with right wing fanatics and religious nuts and they’ll  burn our newspapers. They’ll have a bon fire in Times Square and they’ll be singing glory hallelujah with the bible thumpers who want to deny them the right to have their abortions. But in the meantime, fuck’em.”

I had to admit that Jewell’s chutzpah was impressive. I could see why he had a cult following along with a horde of enemies.

The waiter returned with a large menu. Jewell swiftly ordered for me: a chicken salad sandwich that he said  had once been a favorite of Marilyn Monroe, followed by Serendipity’s famous frozen hot chocolate, a dessert so sublime, he said, that Jackie Kennedy once tried to get the restaurant’s exclusive  recipe for a White House event.

“But they turned her down!” he exclaimed. “That’s one of the reasons I love this place. They have integrity. Standards.”

It was hard for me to keep a straight face. “I get the impression you also like the food,” I said. “Especially the desserts. That won’t sit well at your meetings of  Weight Watchers.”

“You’ve done your homework, Ryder,” Jewell said. “But I had another argument with my wife this morning, so I went off my diet and ordered the banana split for dessert. Seeing those three scoops of ice cream with syrup and whip cream and  cherries is better than being in a topless club. It doesn’t take a testicle. It doesn’t tell me my penis is too small.  I love Haagen-Daz ice cream so much I’m considering relocating my business to Denmark where the name comes from. Danes were good to Jews during World War II—and Danes today are probably nicer than my wife and the feminist Nazis in New York.”

He smiled. “I like the fact you’re from California, Ryder. People are  much friendlier there, although you don’t seem  particularly mellow.  You’re seem like one of these driven career women who occasionally fucks up. Tell me,  did you leave L.A. for a better job in New York?”

“No,” I said. “It just seemed time to move on.”

“You just picked up and left?”

“I was in a hurry.”

Jewell took a swig of diet Coke in an Art Deco glass.  “I bet a romance went on the rocks,” he said. “Ryder, you did a dumb thing to leave your native California and put yourself at the mercy of the cosmos without anything lined up here. But I give you credit for having guts. You’re boyfriend was probably a WASP hippie, yes? ”

The man seemed like a mind reader and I could help smiling again.

“Stick with the Jews, Ryder,” Jewell went on.”Stick with the Jews.”

He took another gulp of Coke. “I get the impression you’re unattached and not getting any. When was the last time you got laid and by whom? Male, female, group sex? Do you masturbate often? Several of our advertisers at F.U. sell top of the line vibrators. I can get you a good deal.”

I resisted an impulse to throw his glass of Coke at him. “My sex life is none of your business, Mr. Jewell, and I don’t have time for  personal questions. They’re totally irrelevant.” I placed my pen and notebook on the table. “What did you want to talk to me about? Your driver is coming by in an hour, so there’s not a lot of time for chit chat.”

“I’m glad you mentioned Mike, my driver and armed bodyguard,” Jewell said.  “He’s going on vacation in two weeks. As it happens,  I will be having a business meeting with a couple of my distributors while he’s away. How would you like to fill in for him? I’m guessing you’ll be interested in macho Mafia guys after your wimpy WASP boyfriend. We’ll be shark fishing on Long Island Sound. I’ll pay you $200 for the day. I bet that’s more than what you’ll get for writing another little news story about me for the Daily Bugle.”

He was right about low freelance rates for the daily paper. But I couldn’t see myself shielding a pornographer from Mafia thugs who might decide to outfit him and me with  cement shoes and drop us both into the East River if they didn’t like something we said. I wouldn’t have minded  getting a job at F.U. and writing an expose, but hanging out with wise guys was too risky. The feds could be tailing those boys and then they might come after me. Then there was another matter.

“I couldn’t take money from you, Mr. Jewell,” I said after a long pause. “The Daily Bugle has retained me as a weekly columnist. Working for you would be a conflict of interest. I could lose this assignment.” I sipped my water. “Why don’t you take your wife? Or one of your staff at F.U.? It might be fun for them.”

The waiter showed up with my sandwich and Jewell’s second foot-long hot dog. He didn’t devour it like a shark as I imagined he would, but mustard spurted up on his bib as he chewed reflectively.

“Food is like a sedative for me, Ryder,” he explained. “I play the macho role because it’s expected of me but I not always comfortable with it. But to answer your questions: First of all, my wife Sophia is scared to death of my distributors. And so are the people on my staff.  Except for Mike Sullivan, they’re all a bunch of losers.   I need someone more confident and adventurous—like you. As for a conflict of interest, how can it be that? You’d be coming along with me as a friendly reporter.”

The man amazed me. “I don’t feel friendly towards you or your distributors,” I said. “And I can’t accept money from someone I’m writing about. It would be like a bribe. Why you don’t get someone more involved with your line of work? Like Doria Nune, your former assistant art director. I met with her yesterday. She seems adventurous.”

It just a shot in the dark.

Jewell  spit out the remainder of his hot dog into its plate. “She’s a psycho!” he sputtered. “This is a woman I was kind enough to hire after she got canned at Harper’s Bazaar, and she paid me back by coming to work drunk most of time or stoned on drugs, and then she wound up stealing my idea for a women’s sex tabloid! I was planning on calling it “Udderly Yours,” or maybe just plain “Tits,” but no, little Miss  Fancy Pants from New Jersey said she wanted something ‘more sophisticated’ to appeal to JAPS like her . I think she stole my former art director’s rolodex! That bitch doesn’t  want to have anything to do with me! She’s afraid I might take out a contract on her.”I said nothing and let him rant on. He calmed down considerably when his banana split arrived and resumed his pitch.

 

 

“You, Ryder, seem level headed, somebody who likes to live dangerously from time to time and then you draw back and want to do the conventional thing, right? But you can’t get anywhere in this world unless you take risks and so I’m asking you to take a risk with me in a working relationship. You’re a tough girl but probably not a bull dyke like my circulation manager Georgia. Or a castrating bitch like my wife Sophie. Or a devious one like Doria. My distributors will like you. If you come with me on this outing, it  could lead to something regular. So I’m asking you again: How does $200 for one day sound to you? You’re a free lancer. You ought to be able to work for anyone you want to, yes? You might get a story out of it and for a publication better than the Daily Bugle. And I’ll get protection just by your presence because you have the power of the press behind you.”

His was a clever seduction speech. Last year, in California, I had read Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel “The Godfather,” and Jewell, like the fictional Don Vito Corleone, was making me an offer I couldn’t refuse given my shaky finances.  Maybe I could spend one day away from my stories and column for the Daily Bugle acting as body guard of sorts for a pornographer worried about getting offed on the high seas by his criminal business partners. At this point, what did I have to lose?

“I’ll have to run this by my editor,” I told Jewell. “Maybe we can work something out.”

******

Like clockwork, Mike Sullivan was waiting  for me at 2:30 pm outside Serendipity. Neither of us talked much as he  drove downtown. Maybe he didn’t want to hear how I just made a faustian deal with his boss. He had  put a plastic replica of Jesus on the dashboard of Jewell’s limo, and I broke the silence by asking him if he  believed praying to  the little statue helped him get through the long starless night of his Irish Catholic soul.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “The story of Jesus reminds me that money is the root of all evil—remember how he chased the money changers from the Temple? But Jesus also turned  five loaves of bread and two fish into food for  a multitude. He knows people have to eat and feed their families.  I know Jesus forgives me for working for a pornographer. I know my wife does. She knows I don’t fool around with all those bimbos coming to F.U. to get their pictures taken buck naked and giving Jewell blow jobs so they can eat. I  don’t agree with him on everything he does. I sure don’t eat like he does. I could be big as a house if I gave in and ate cheesecake all the time. He’s digging his own grave with his mouth.”

He switched the subject and asked if I’d like him to  drive along the “scenic route by the Hudson” before taking me back to the Chelsea Hotel.

“Fine by me,” I said, settling into the leather upholstery of Jewell’s limo. I could see how a girl could get used to this kind of transportation and forget how it was paid for. I began to worry about my mother and her rich new boyfriend. Would she sell her soul for a little financial security as I had just done? Or would she even think of it as an ethical problem?

I remembered  taking a job as a movie extra one summer during college and feeling demeaned by little men wearing sunglasses barking at me and telling me I was stupid, and when I told mom about it, all she said was: “Dear, they paid you, didn’t they? You have to learn how to suffer in silence.”

Overhead the sky was slate blue as Mike drove along 57th Street to the West Side Highway that ran alongside the brackish waters of the Hudson. As he headed south, I could see parked trucks and factories along the roadway and beyond the Statue of Liberty rising from the river. I remembered my parents taking my sister Valerie and me to visit there when we were small children. Now it seemed like just another tourist attraction, an image to be bought, reproduced and sold.

Mike Sullivan turned Jewell’s limo on to West 23rd Street and I caught a glimpse of loading docks in the meat market district and other desolate places for queer sex. Soon enough the Chelsea Hotel came into view.

As I stepped out of the Jewell’s limo and onto the sidewalk, Mike began talking to me like a benevolent big daddy to a rambunctious child.

“How come a nice girl like you lives in a place like this?” he said. “I know a cop from the Midtown North precinct who now works at the station house in this neighborhood and he tells me the Chelsea Hotel is a cesspool for drugs, prostitution, you name it. What’s the attraction for you, Mizz Ryder?”

“It also has plenty of artists, musicians, writers and people with big dreams, Mike,” I said, suddenly feeling defensive. “Some of them get lucky.”

“Do you have a boyfriend there?”

“No,” I said.

“You’ll never get a decent boyfriend if this is your address,” he grunted. “Why don’t you move uptown?”

My  mother would agree with him. As Mike drove off, I suddenly wanted to catch a Greyhound bus and go back to California and start all over again, even if it meant holding up a deli with my little gun to get the cash for a one way trip back home.

But I knew it wasn’t possible. I had left home and was stuck in a bad girl’s limbo, far east of Eden.

****

 

Richard was still working the day shift at the Chelsea Hotel when I came in around 3:15 pm. “How did it go with the porn king?” he asked. “Did you lose your lunch?”

“I kept it all down, Richard,” I said, giving him a breezy smile and deciding not to tell this sweet desk clerk that I had agreed to work for the porn king as a bodyguard for a day. “Harvey Jewell is a very funny man. But I may wake up tonight screaming.”

As I headed to the elevator, Richard called out and said a package had arrived for me. He produced a slim missive carefully wrapped in brown paper and addressed to Cassandra Ryder, care of the Chelsea Hotel. It was from my father William H. Willowby in La Jolla, California. I told Richard the sender was my uncle.

Up in my fourth room room, I tore open the package. Dad had sent me a red book  lettered in gold  and  decorated with a starry eyed damsel in an evening dress with a plunging neckline. Its title: “The Cosmo Girl’s Guide to the New Etiquette.”

Even my dear dad, now looking for a second wife in San Diego county, knew about Helen Gurley Brown and her strategies in Cosmopolitan magazine to help single women trap elusive bachelors. He had enclosed a hard-written card. “Dearest daughter Johanna, Your mother told me you were staying at the Chelsea Hotel with a woman named Cassandra Ryder so I addressed this package to her. I hope you are doing well in your work and meeting nice fellows in New York. Always look for a man with high ideals. All my love, Dad.”

His note brought tears to my eyes. I knew Dad would be aghast at the idea of his younger unmarried daughter associating with someone like Harvey Jewell and what he called “May-fia gangsters.” He was convinced his wily Italian brother-in-law belonged to the mob.

I leafed through the table of contents of the book Dad had given me. There were chapters taken from Cosmopolitan magazine on “How to be a Virgin with Style and Grace,” “A Philosophy of Considerate Adultery,” and “Co-Existing with Women’s Lib.”

There wasn’t a thing on how to coexist with porn kings and wise guys.

#

Comments

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.