Exit From Eden, Chapter 16 of Mary Reinholz’s Wonderful New Novel

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October 1, 2014 · Posted in Exit From Eden -Mary Reinholz 
Mary Reinholz (left) with grandneice in New York cafe.

Mary Reinholz (left) with grandneice in New York cafe.

By Mary Reinholz

Jason Slade’s corporate cubicle at The Daily Bugle had a bay window with an expansive view of The East River. I could see tugboats through that window towing freight cars on barges heading to the Hunters Point section of Queens on the other side of the river. There the cars were lifted by giant float bridges on the water’s edge and connected to railroad tracks bound for Long Island.

For a few seconds, I was transfixed by the scene. After all, I was carrying my own heavy boatload of information, hoping for an uplift, a big picture of it all from the mind of Slade, my editor. But he looked frazzled and not especially organized in his blue jeans and work shirt.

“I’m moving into a larger office,” he explained, greeting me with an apologetic smile. “Everything is a shambles right now.” His voice conveyed both amusement and despair. He was somebody who didn’t like messy personal situations.

But Slade perked up when I mentioned my lunch with porn king Harvey Jewell from the day before, noting Jewell’s proposal that I join him and two of his Mafia distributors for a shark fishing voyage on Long Island Sound.

“Oh that’s fantastic! Do you think you can take a picture of them on their yacht?” Slade quickly removed a pile of books from a chair and told me to sit down. We faced each other warily across his cluttered desk. Slade’s half-smoked cigar was still burning on a glass ash tray. He took a puff and put his feet up on the edge of his desk. He had on his snakeskin shoes, a nice reptile ready to strike.

“I can try to take a picture, but those two wise guys may throw me overboard,” I said, only half joking. “And Jewell might say no. He wants me to be his bodyguard on this so called business outing. He seems to think my connection with the Daily Bugle will protect him from getting offed at sea. He’s offered to pay me $200 for the day.”

Slade’s excited smile vanished. “Ryder, of course you said, no, yes? His hands aren’t clean. He gives money to the mob.”
“He works with them because nobody else will distribute his porn,” I said, suddenly feeling perversely protective of Jewell and his much vaunted advocacy of First Amendment rights. “I said I’d discuss the matter with you. And by the way, you once told me I should get a job at F.U. and then write an expose.”

“Did I? Well, this is different,” Slade said, stubbing out his cigar. “You’ve already written about Jewell and the death threats, so you’re working now for the Daily Bugle. Your first column on the women’s liberation movement appears this Sunday. You can’t work for Jewell and report on him. It’s an obvious conflict of interest.”

His piercing brown eyes raked me over. He was spouting journalistic ethics like pious brethren of the Fourth Estate did from time to time, and he seemed to believe it wholeheartedly. I agreed with him, while at the same time realizing that Jewell’s offer of $200 a day was a bartering point. A girl on the run like me had to make a living as a freelance.

“Yes, I told Jewell it was a conflict of interest, Mr. Slade, “I said softly. “But you’d like me to write something on this shark fishing expedition, wouldn’t you?”

He nodded and withdrew a fresh cigar from a case in his desk drawer.

“Can you match his fee?” I inquired, crossing my legs. I was wearing a black leather mini-skirt over black tights and figured he’d notice. He did.

Slade seemed in conflict. He frowned and tapped the unlit cigar on his desk, eying my getup. I also had on a blonde wig and a pair of large tinted reading glasses that Doria Nune had lent me for my photo shoot at The Bugle to promote the column. I was hoping the finished result would suggest a Garboesque woman of mystery, perhaps a spy.

But in fact, I was beginning to feel like a prostitute working for a people-eating tabloid like The Bugle, which had yet to pay me for my story on Jewell. My rent was due at the Chelsea Hotel. I repeated my question about fees to Slade, hoping I didn’t sound too hungry.

Finally, he growled, “Yes, Ryder, I can pay you $200 if you get a story out of this. And I’ll pay you $100 more if you take a picture we can use. I’ll even pay you $100 as a kill fee if they refuse to comment or won’t let you take photographs. You can always write about this after Jewell or one of his distributors gets whacked.” He paused. “Frankly, that would make for a better piece.”

****

 

The photo shoot took place on the same floor as Slade’s office. It was a quick mechanical experience with a lens man who barely talked and took only a head shot. But at least he allowed me to keep my tinted reading glasses on, muttering darkly and accurately that I looked like a gangster’s gun moll. I was no woman of mystery to him; just another product for his cold camera eye.

 

By now it was late afternoon. I walked briskly through the city room, oblivious to the sea of newsmen talking on the phones and looking intensely self- important. I was waiting for a down elevator to open its doors when a low pitched male voice behind me suddenly asked, “Aren’t you C.J. Ryder, the new women’s lib columnist for the magazine?”

I whirled around, and there was this short squarely built guy, about 30, with immense blue eyes that seemed to swallow me in his gaze. He had a receding hairline and a dark blond mustache. He was in shirt sleeves but wore neatly pressed tan trousers and carried a tweed jacket.

Very preppy, he was. I had seen him before hard at work behind a typewriter in the city room, drawing heavily on a cigarette, but didn’t know his name. He seemed like a mild mannered reporter trying to play Clark Kent to disguise his predatory nature, so he put me on guard immediately.

“Yeah, you got the right name. What’s yours? “ I inquired, not about to mention to this agile dude sidling up to me that C.J. Ryder was a pseudonym I had assumed after killing a man in self-defense who was much larger and stronger than he was.
“I’m Ted Katz,” he said, maintaining his disingenuous smile. “I really liked that story you did on Harvey Jewell and the feminist death threats. I once tried to interview him but couldn’t get past his secretary. How did you get to him?”
“Just lucky, I guess.”

I pressed the elevator button again, hoping Katz would go away. I had heard of him and read some of his stories, exposes on so-called “love” therapists in the city who seduced female patients by saying sex would be a healing experience for them. I had also scanned his profile of a mob-connected operator who ran one of Times Square’s peep shows. Katz had won a couple of awards and clearly considered himself tabloid royalty.

An elevator door opened and I quickly stepped in. Katz followed me.

“Whatcha working on now, ace?” he inquired in a jazzy basso profundo, his eyebrows lifting up and down rapidly as he tried to inject humor into his question.

“That’s for me to know and for you not to find out,” I said, forcing a small smile.

“Maybe you’d like to have dinner tonight? Freelancing is hard. Maybe I can help you do more than bits and pieces for the Bugle.”

The man had gall. “Not tonight, Katz. I’m putting together my bits and pieces.” This nosey dude didn’t have to know about my unregistered piece, a hot .22 caliber pistol which I intended to bring me with on the upcoming shark fishing venture.

“Maybe later?”

“Sorry, but I don’t think you’re my type.”

“You don’t like Jewish men, is that it, Ms. Ryder?”

“Oh spare me the bullshit.” I shot back. “I’m just not interested.”

Katz was beginning to make me nervous. For the price of a cheap dinner for two, he was probably hoping I’d spread like a Middle Eastern sandwich and also coax me out of my contacts. Once outside The Bugle, I hailed a cab and pretty much told him to buzz off, pleased I had enough money to get away from this brash newsboy. At least for the moment.

***********

There was mail waiting for me behind the Chelsea Hotel’s front desk when I arrived around 5 pm.—it was my long overdue check from The Bugle. ‘Thank you, sweet Jesus,” I murmured in gratitude, also thanking Richard, the desk clerk, who handed it to me. I quickly slipped the missive into my handbag.

Once inside my room, I made a long distance call to the Washington D.C. law office of Zenith Smith, hoping my black feminist partner in crime had more information from her sources about the investigations into the demise of Jed Scott, the handsome redneck I had stabbed to death with my mom’s pocket knife in Arkansas while he was choking me in the motel he owned. I still had that little killer knife, and considered taking it with me, along with my little gun, when meeting up with Harvey Jewell and his mobster pals in a few days. A girl needed to have many forms of protection in a dangerous world.

I said as much to Zenia, who didn’t waste any time in telling me that she considered me a crazy woman. “Baby doll, I’m beginning to think you want to get caught or killed or both,” she said. “The feds track these Mafia guys. They tap their phones. They photograph them. Keep this up, and they’ll ID you—just at a time when things could work out of you.”
Zenia had my attention. She told me that the local police in Jed Scott’s home town had arrested his former wife, a waitress, and charged her with murder, noting that they had found her fingerprints all over the motel room where I had left his body on the floor, covered with a blanket.

This was stunning news. I was too shocked to say much while Zenia rattled on about how the police had records of visiting Jed and Stella Scott when they were living together, called to their home by neighbors complaining about noise from fierce domestic disputes. Their fights apparently continued after they divorced and at one point Stella obtained a court order of protection against Jed, claiming he had beaten and nearly strangled her. So yes, he was a repeat offender.

But now, according to Zenia, the local cops were claiming that Stella Scott was still obsessed with Jed and theorized she had been following him, going into a killing rage upon realizing he had sex at his motel with a red-headed girl from California who had fled without paying.“That’s you, sweet pea,” Zenia concluded. “You are now officially off the hook.”

Off the hook? I was writhing with guilt that an innocent woman was taking the blame for my stupidity in hooking up with her brutal former husband during a stop on my road trip from California to New York.

“I can’t let Jed’s ex-wife take the rap for me,” I said, speaking slowly as if in a sleep walking trance. “I’ll have to turn myself in.”
“You don’t have to do that, peaches,” Zenia said. “Stella Scott is dead. She had a heart attack in police custody. She was five years older than Jed Scott and at least 30 pounds overweight. And of course men will divorce a woman like that if she gains 30 pounds or forgets to take a bath. The case will be closed. You can count on it, unless you fuck up again and shoot your mouth off.”

Feeling weak, I lay down on my bed with the phone. Two people were dead because of me. “Did Scott and Stella have kids?” I asked Zenia, hoping she’d say no.

“A boy and a girl, 10 and 12 years old,” she said. “They’re with children’s protective services right now but will probably live with Stella’s parents in another part of Arkansas. They’ll be better off now that their own pathological parents are gone. Those kids are lucky to be alive after living with those two losers constantly at each other’s throat.”

Me, I considered falling in front of a subway train during the rush hour. In the meantime, a stiff drink would do. #

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