Chapter 19/ Exit from Eden by Mary Reinholz

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January 1, 2015 · 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

 

 

Storm clouds had gathered in a slate gray sky at noon as the yellow cab barreled out of the meatpacking district, spitting up gravel on the rutted streets. Ted Katz sat beside me in the back seat. I could smell his shaving cologne and the acrid scent of tobacco. He told the driver to take us to the Daily Bugle.

“I forget where that rag is— so many newspapers in this town, all of them tell lies,” the driver said. He was a hard bitten Chinese guy about 35, wearing a black sock cap pulled down past his forehead. He radiated fury at his circumstances.

Katz rattled off the midtown address of The Bugle. He winked at me, confiding in a stage whisper that we’d be sharing a byline on the crime story I had witnessed. It would be a hot and heavy write up, he predicted, all about two wise guys getting whacked in the mob warehouse filled with pornographic books and magazines that we had just left. Police were still questioning Harvey Jewell, publisher of the notorious sex tabloid F.U. who was present during the mob rob-out. This would be a cover story with screaming headlines. There would be plenty of red blood and black ink.

Amazing how Katz, the Bugle’s chief investigative reporter, had taken over my story in the same self-assured way that he had gotten me out of trouble with an FBI agent who had nearly blown my cover at the mafia run warehouse that served as Jewell’s distribution center. Katz said nothing else as the driver headed up the West Side Highway. In the silence, he seemed like a different man than the brash dude who had come on to me at The Bugle, acting like a star reporter asserting male privilege. There was something almost comforting about his firm jawline in profile and his domed forehead with the receding hairline. I felt a brief moment of peace listening to the whooshing sounds of the cab’s windshield wipers and Katz breathing next to me as a light rain began to fall..

He seemed to sense that I was looking at him. He turned and suddenly we were tearing at each other’s clothes, melding into each other on the floor of the speeding yellow cab, our mouths in each other’s private places, our bodies riding and then convulsing with the rhythms of the wheels beneath us. We didn’t say a word. It was over in minutes and we acted as if nothing had happened. At least five more minutes passed before we started talking.

“You okay?” asked Katz, eying me with a quizzical look. He straightened his tie and untangled his press pass. Then he lit up a cigarette from a pack of Marlboros he took out of his shirt pocket. “The FBI agent Jack Donovan gave you a hard time about your name back there.”

He inhaled deeply and blew out a cloud of smoke. Katz repeated the fake name I had assumed as a fugitive after killing the rapist Jed Scott in Arkansas on my road trip to New York. Cassandra Ryder. It was the exotic name of a dead Jamaican woman whose social security card I now carried, thanks to my black feminist lawyer friend Zenia Smith who had acted as the late Ms. Ryder’s attorney. The name Cassandra Ryder had drawn the suspicions of Jack Donovan back at the warehouse and now Katz, a cop without a badge, seemed to be skeptical about my true ID as well.

“Cassandra Ryder,” he said again, savoring the words with no small amount of irony. “What’s in a name? Plenty, I’ve learned, being Jewish. But I like the one you’ve taken for your women’s lib column in the Sunday magazine: C.J. Ryder. It has a nice ring to it.”

He offered me a cigarette, but I declined, suddenly wary about his two-edged line of chat.

“Thanks, Katz, but I stopped smoking,” I said. “And thanks for getting me off the hook with Donovan. He seems like a particularly nasty prick.”
“Oh, he’s just a working stiff out in the field, doing his job.” Katz blew out more smoke. “What’s the story with you and the NYPD’s Sargeant Battaglia? I heard him say at the warehouse that he knows you from the neighborhood. Are you two an item?”

“I hardly know him,” I said.

The cab pulled to a stop at a red light on 34th Street. I noticed the driver checking out a group of aging prostitutes in mini-skirts and fake furs lined up along the highway, hoping to hustle truck drivers for a $10 trick.

Then, as the light turned green and the cabbie turned right, I remembered where I had run into Battaglia. It was in a discount grocer’s on 8th Avenue near the Chelsea Hotel, a rundown sort of place crowded with senior shoppers wearily pushing carts. I had lifted half a pound of chuck beef and slipped it into my handbag. I was broke, hungry and mad at the world in the days before landing my gig with The Bugle.

Battaglia was off duty at the time and apparently moonlighting as security at the store. He caught up with me on the street just after I left and flashed his badge, his wide set brown eyes boring into me. “Excuse me, Miss, but I think you forgot to pay for that item in your bag,” he said. He looked concerned, like he wanted to give me the benefit of the doubt.

At first I was stricken with fear, and couldn’t speak. Then the panic eased and I apologized profusely, offering a lame excuse: something about being a writer under deadline stress and increasingly absentminded. Then I whipped out the last five dollar bill in my wallet. Battaglia nodded and told me to go back into the store, stand in line and pay the cashier. He gave me a break, and then I pushed the incident out of my mind.<br><br>
“Battaglia is a good looking guy,” Katz said blandly, stubbing out his cigarette. “I bet you like Italian men. Maybe you think he’s like Serpico,” he went on, alluding to the NYPD undercover cop who had rammed through the blue wall of silence shielding New York’s Finest, blowing the whistle on widespread police corruption. “Well, Battaglia is not that fearless. But I’ll say this for him: he once made a record number of narcotics arrests in the Chelsea neighborhood. If he found drugs in your handbag there, he’d bust you in a heartbeat.”

Wearily, I put my right hand up to my right temple. Katz was getting on my nerves with his insinuations.

“Look, Katz,” I said. “You know very well I already phoned in the jist of this story to Jason Slade, the magazine editor I work for at your newspaper. I also gave him a description of the killer. He turned this information over to the city desk, and then it went to you. Now you’re coming at me like the Spanish Inquisition. I’m the source for this story, so why the hell are you treating me like a suspect?”

“Why? Because I’ll be doing some more reporting and writing the story,” Katz said. “And I like to play the angles.”

“Play the angles with somebody else. I’m having a bad day and getting a worse headache, so I’ll let you work on the story by yourself.” I leaned forward and asked the cab driver to drop me off at 7th Avenue. There were some angles in this story that I wanted to explore on my own.

Katz shifted from hard charging journalist to solicitous Jewish prince. “Oh I’m sorry. You need a couple of aspirin? I’ve got them right here.”

He produced a tiny packet of Bayer’s aspirin from a pocket inside his jacket. “This should help,” he said. “Did you know that the astronauts on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon used Bayer Aspirin to reduce their headaches?”

“No, but I understand the problems of cramped spaces in New York, so thank you again, Dr. Katz.” I managed a wan smile.”

“Don’t mention it.” Katz produced a beatific smile. “You remind me of my older sister. She’s a doctor and a woman with spirit.” He coughed a bit. “I’m sorry you can’t work with me on the story in the city room. Did you happen to take any pictures?”

Quickly I fished out Doria Nune’s Cannon Flash camera from my bag, removed a roll of 35 MM film and handed it to him. “Your photo department will like these shots,” I said. “Vinnie deQuattro was a mobster who enjoyed the finer things in life—a black satin bathrobe, lithographs of male nudes in his office. I also took a picture of an orchid one of his men friends sent him. I even photographed the card. It was so romantic.”

Katz’s baby blue eyes blinked rapidly. He lifted his eyebrows like two aloof question marks. “Oh man, that’s rich—you think this dead capo was gay?”

“Could be—but I don’t know if his orientation is related to the two murders. Who knows? Maybe you can check your police sources.” I decided to tease him a little. “Why don’t you talk to Harvey Jewell? He should be back at his office soon.”

Katz raised his eyebrows again. “Oh, Miss Ryder,” he said. “You have a much better relationship with that porn king than I do. I can see why you might like him. He has money.”

I controlled myself from hitting him. He planted a brotherly peck on my cheek as the cabbie pulled up behind a bus to let me out. Then he cupped my face in his hands and gave me a French kiss that lingered so long that the cabbie honked his horn. I was stunned, pushed him off me and nearly fell out into the street making my getaway.

Katz was no one to trust, but I guess sex has a life of its own.

****
Back at the Chelsea Hotel, Doria Nune wasn’t answering her telephone. And she didn’t answer my knock on the door of her room on the sixth floor. I stood outside in a shadowy corridor wondering if she had caught wind of VdeQ’s abrupt demise.

After I knocked on three more doors, a gaunt brunette in a floral house dress finally responded, holding a half-smoked cigarette. “Are you talking about that designer who thinks she’s hot shit? I think she took her fancy Persian cats to the vet. I saw her heading towards the elevator with a big carrying case a couple of hours ago.” She blew out smoke in my direction and shut her door in my face.

It was now 5 pm and I had already checked out the McBurney YMCA across the street, asking the desk clerk there if he knew of anyone answering the description of the hit man. The desk clerk said there were plenty of guys who wore gray sweat pants when they worked out, “And one of them with a buzz cut moved out about an hour ago.” I called that tidbit in to Katz and he put it in “our” story about the killing of two mobsters, one a mafia lieutenant who seemed to be fascinated by other boys. The Bugle, he said, would also be running my photos.

These photos were taken with Doria’s camera and I wanted to return it to her. Two days before, when I told her I needed to borrow her Cannon Flash to take pictures of Harvey Jewell and his distributors for The Bugle’s magazine, she had been accommodating, even congratulating me on landing the assignment. “That sounds like fun,” she had said. “Just be careful with this camera, Cassie. It was given to me by a very nice man, someone I really can’t imagine shark fishing with wise guys. He’s thin and sensitive. He likes the arts. We’ve been to the opera together.”

Maybe Doria’s camera was a gift from VdeQ whose thin body was now in cold storage at the city’s morgue. Maybe she wanted a souvenir. Or maybe she wanted to set him up. I recalled how blasé she was about my meeting him. She flashed a sly smile as she reclined on her huge day bed, sipping Remy Martin and stroking one of her Persian cats. Her cats had looked healthy at the time. Maybe after hearing of VdeQ’s murder, she was taking them to The Baroness, her Austrian madame friend who ran a ritzy brothel on the Upper East Side. Maybe Doria feared someone would be coming after her and she had decided to skip town. There were all kinds of possibilities.

Suddenly a great longing came over me to clear out of the Chelsea Hotel, leave my new job with The Bugle and get the hell out of a dirty business and a dirty city. I wanted to ditch my fugitive’s name, Cassandra Ryder, and become Joanna Willowby again, a carefree California girl tooling around the Hollywood Hills in my little convertible, top down, listening to the Beach Boys.
Back in my room, I was almost relieved when the phone rang. It was Richard, the Chelsea’s British desk clerk. He had heart stopping news.

“A Sergeant Battaglia with the NYPD is downstairs and wants to talk to you,” he said, his voice pitched low. I figured the plainclothes cop who had interviewed me at the mob warehouse earlier today and had caught me shoplifting a few weeks before was probably standing not far away from him in the hotel lobby.

“Oh Jesus, Richard,” I groaned. “I talked to this cop today about a crime story that’s going to be published tomorrow in The Bugle. I can’t talk to him now. I’ve got a splitting headache. Please get rid of him. Tell him I’m washing my hair or something. Tell him my cat is sick. Whatever works. Please.”

“Okay,” Richard murmured and hung up.

That’s when I ran into the bathroom, filled a plastic cup with water and swallowed the two aspirin from the packet Katz given me. My head felt like it was going to explode. #

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