Chapter 20, The Latest Exciting Chapter From Mary Reinholz’s “Exit from Eden”
A glimpse of the Chelsea’s Inner Sanctum
By Mary Reinholz
The Chelsea Hotel’s house shrink was an uptown psychiatrist named Murray Grobnik who held fourth in a penthouse suite a few blocks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue. His was a world away from my grubby little room at the boho hotel where I had recently considered a swan dive from the fourth floor balcony after learning that an undercover cop from the NYPD’s anti-crime street unit was looking for me.
Richard, the hotel’s desk clerk, said that Grobnik could prescribe something more effective than aspirin to relieve my headache and “obvious anxiety attack.” He made the appointment for me from his phone in the lobby, whispering that the good doctor was a patron of the arts who grew marijuana on his terrace and sometimes forgot to charge patients for treatment.
“He’s overextended and absentminded and some of his patients here really take advantage of him,” Richard confided. “They steal his prescription pads and one of them took his opiates when he wasn’t looking and threw a party on the 7th floor that lasted all night.”
This Grobnik sounded like a kindly soul but not a particularly competent medicine man. Still, I agreed to see him because my headache felt like a time bomb about to go off. The pain in my skull had been coming on well before the recent visit of Sargeant Steve Battaglia, the same roving plainclothes policeman who had interviewed me earlier in the day at the scene of a double homicide. He had also caught me shoplifting shortly before I landed my gig as a columnist and freelance reporter for the Daily Bugle.
Battaglia hadn’t arrested me back then, so what did he want now? Perhaps he had discovered that I had lifted evidence from the mafia run warehouse where two wise guys had been blown away by a solitary hit man in sweat pants. Or maybe he had figured out that that I had killed a rapist in Arkansas and then fled to New York on the lam and resurrected myself as a journalist for a major daily newspaper. Stranger things had happened in the annals of crime. My paranoia was running rampant but at least I had some place reasonably safe to go.
The heavy rain had turned to a cold drizzle when I took two subway trains to East 86th Street near Grobnik’s largely residential building, dressed in black and carrying a dime store umbrella. A uniformed doorman tipped his hat and waved me to an elevator. I rode alone up to the top floor overlooking Central Park. It was like entering neutral territory after being in a war zone.
At close to 7 pm, there was only one other patient in Grobnik’s waiting room, a feisty Frenchman seated in a wheelchair who was reading a copy of William Borroughs’ novel, “The Ticket that Exploded.” He looked up when I sat down next to him and started talking to me in a conspiratorial manner, calling Grobnik “an idiot but a useful idiot.”
He introduced himself only as Jacques and let it be known that the psychiatrist spoke fluent French and also played the piano. Jacques said that Grobnik was a friend of the beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg and an admirer of Leon Trotsky, the breakaway leader of the Russian Revolution who was assassinated in Mexico on the orders of Joseph Stalin.
“Grobnik is helping me with my book about the Stern gang that blew up the Hotel Jerusalem,” the Frenchman said. I felt an instant connection to this volatile writer.
Suddenly, Grobnik popped out of a sliding door, smiling serenely. He was wearing jeans and a white turtle neck sweater and struck me as a cute teddy bear of a guy close to 40, clean shaven and very peppy with bright blue eyes and a mop of curly blond hair.
“I’ll be with you shortly, Miss Ryder,” Grobnik said briskly and then proceeded to wheel Jacques behind the sliding doors. I could hear them arguing in French. A tall lissome blonde
appeared around 7:30 and wheeled Jacques out to the elevator bank.
Grobnik beckoned me into his office. It was a vast space dominated by an oil painting of a medieval pope. There was a grand piano in one corner and two frayed velvet sofas facing each other. The psychiatrist let his answering service pick up an incoming telephone call. He took a seat on one of the sofas and gestured me to the other without suggesting I lie down. That was reassuring. My headache eased a bit.
“Richard tells me you’re a new columnist for the Daily Bugle who’ll be writing about about the women’s movement,” Grobnik said as an opener. “I once met Gloria Steinem at a party. Have you interviewed her?”
“Not yet,” I said. “But I’ve been told she used to run a CIA front in the 1950s that recruited college students to attend world youth gatherings in Europe. They never knew who was behind her group.”
Grobnik looked fascinated. “Really? Well, I’ve always thought of reporters as spies.”
We tripped the light fantastic for a few more minutes. Grobnik was a smart and soothing fellow with a sense of humor. He wasn’t coming on or treating me like a bad girl. And he seemed genuinely interested in my work. Abruptly I told him how my “tension headache” had gotten worse when Richard announced that a NYPD cop was asking about me today, the very same day that I had witnessed a hit man about to kill two men, one of them a mafia capo decina named Vinnie deQuattro, aka JdeQ, who distributed porn king Harvey’s Jewell’s F.U. sex review.
Grobnik listened carefully. He didn’t seem shocked or repelled by the information I was unloading on him. He even called F.U. “a crude but honest publication.”
“You’re onto a big story for The Bugle,” he said. “This is just a guess, but you seem to be afraid of getting punished.”
His words hit a nerve and I found myself spilling out the saga of my road trip from Los Angeles to New York, recalling the red earth of New Mexico and the tornados sweeping through the Bible Belt. I babbled on about taking refuge in a Arkansas motel where I stabbed Jed Scott, the owner, with my mother’s pocket knife after he raped and tried to strangle me. I told him about hitting the road soon after killing Jed and assuming the ID of a dead black woman named Cassandra Ryder whose social security card was the ticket that could explode in my wallet at any moment.
“I don’t deserve this good thing I got at The Bugle under my pen name, C.J. Ryder,” I said mournfully. “I killed a man.”
Grobnik shook his head. “You defended yourself. Yes, you let him into your room at his motel and wanted to have sex with him. But not the way he wanted it. He brought this on himself.”
“I was wrong not to call the local cops and tell them what happened,” I wailed. “Jed’s ex-wife was arrested later for something I did and she died in a jail cell. I’m responsible for her death. I should go back to Arkansas and face the music.”
Grobnik chuckled softly. ‘”And create a worse set of problems for yourself? You need to get your show back on the road with the Daily Bugle, stop obsessing about the crimes of history and aim your eros higher. Are there any decent men in your life right now?”
I said there were two men who were causing me grief, especially Steve Battaglia, the swarthily handsome NYPD sargeant who had come calling about an hour and a half ago at the Chelsea Hotel. I even related the part about my aborted shoplifting caper and how Battaglia had let me off.
“The man of your dreams and the man of your nightmares,” Grobnik observed. The man was pithy.
When I described my brief sexual exchange in a yellow cab with Ted Katz, The Bugle’s chief investigative reporter, he remarked, “I can’t tell if he’s madly in love with you or just thinks of you as a boat he wants to bump into in the night. Maybe you’d find better men if you moved out of the Chelsea Hotel. I happen to know someone who used to live at the Chelsea and is subletting his apartment close by. Would you be interested?”
I was definitely interested. Grobnik wrote down the telephone number of a man named Danny Schultz on the back of his business card and suggested I call him tomorrow. The rain had cleared by the time I left Grobnik’s office and so had my headache.
It was around 9 pm when I got back to my room at the Chelsea Hotel. I was curled up with my well-thumbed copy of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and other poems when I got a call from Doria Nune on the sixth floor. Doria sounded whoozy like she had been drinking or doing drugs.
“I hear you’ve been looking for me, Cassie,” she said, her voice slurred but seductive. “Wanna come up to my room and have some champagne? I have a couple of friends here. We’re having a little party. I left my cats with a buddy so maybe we can dance the night away.”
This is a photo of Charlotte Rampling in “Night Porter,” but it reminds the author a bit of her Doria character in her cop getup.
It wasn’t the right time to tell her about the events earlier in the day. But I wanted to return her camera and ask her some questions. “Sure, Doria,” I said. “Thanks for the invite.”
Before heading up to her room, I showered quickly and changed into a blue velvet granny dress with a scoop neckline from my California days. I left Doria’s blonde wig behind. It might come in handy tomorrow in case Sargeant Battaglia was still lurking around the neighborhood. Tonight maybe I could relax for an hour.
Doria seemed to be feeling no pain when she answered my knock on her door, standing before me with a loopy grin. She was practically naked except for a pair of black bikini briefs and a thick navy jacket that barely covered her breasts. A brimmed NYPD police hat tilted on her head at a jaunty angle like she was about to perform in a cabaret act.
“That’s a sweet dress, Cassie,” she murmured and began stroking my cleavage. “It shows your beautiful boobies.”
Horrified by her cop getup and sexual advance, I pulled back from her wandering hand, momentarily speechless. Doria was blocking the doorway which was only half open and at first I couldn’t see who was in the room with her. But I could hear a recording of Donovan softly singing, “Season of the Witch” on her stereo. And I could smell marijuana.
Then I heard a man’s voice say with a suave tone of authority, “Come in, Miss Ryder. I’ve been hoping all day that we could meet again.”
As Doria stepped away from the door, I could see Sargeant Steve Battaglia smoking a joint on her immense day bed. He was wearing skin tight jeans and a white t-shirt that accentuated his well cultivated muscles. His jet black hair, which must have been held back in a bun during my two other encounters with him, flowed down around his shoulders. He could have passed for a rock musician or any number of hip drug dealers in the Chelsea neighborhood, his old stomping grounds.
At first I went into a panic at the sight of him. But my fear rapidly turned into a killing rage at his hypocrisy and double dealing. I pointed Doria’s Cannon flash at him, not mentioning that there wasn’t any film in it.
. “Sargeant, this will make a fabulous photo for the Daily Bugle,” I said. “An ex-narc taking a toke. Smile for the camera.”
“Do that, Miss Ryder or whatever your name is, and I’ll get you, “ Battaglia drawled, his eyes alert, dangerous. “If it takes me 30 years, I’ll get you.”
Doria slammed the door shut and grabbed the camera from me, her mellow mood gone. “Cut it out, you two. No fighting, just fucking. ”
She gazed at me earnestly. “Cassie, Steve called this afternoon and asked if I knew you. All I said was yes. We’ve been seeing each other. He just wants a three-way. I figured you’d like that. I always considered you a swinger from the first time we talked. We’ve had such a rapport.”
Now I felt anger rising towards this strange woman I had thought could be my friend. “I don’t know what I am at the moment, Doria,” I said. “But who the hell are you? A police informant? A snitch? Somebody who rats on people she knows? ”
“I’m just somebody who thinks you’ve got to go along to get along,” Doria said, her voice plaintive now. She seemed close to tears.
Battaglia interrupted. “Doria’s no snitch. I did her a favor a few months ago after she bought some cocaine from a dealer I busted in this hotel. Just like I did you a favor, Miss Ryder, when you were trying to steal cheap hamburger meat a few blocks from here, looking like you were down on your luck. I’ve always thought of sex as an exchange of favors. What do you think?”
“I think you’re full of shit,” I snapped. “And I don’t owe you a damn thing. You should be trying to find out who murdered two men this morning. Remember? Or are you too busy chasing women you can bully into spreading their legs? Somebody ought to arrest you. You’re just a rapist with a badge.”
“Who got murdered, Steve?” asked Doria, taking off his cop hat. She looked frightened now.
“Just a couple of mafia scum who employ underage girls in the porn industry,” grunted Battaglia. He stood up and put his arm around Doria. “Don’t worry about it, baby. We think we know who the perp is.”
He turned to me. “You can put that in your sleazy little newspaper, Miss Ryder, and you can quote an anonymous source in the NYPD.” He smiled sardonically. “A source who could make you snap like a rubber band.”
Battaglia didn’t scare me anymore. “The only newspaper where I’d quote is in F.U.–with a picture of you, your cock and your badge number.” I childishly fake spat and gave him the finger while storming out of Doria’s room. It felt good. For about 20 seconds.