Chapter 21, The Latest Exciting Chapter From Mary Reinholz’s “Exit from Eden”
the author back in the day
Around 2 am I drifted into a fitful sleep. Sargeant Battaglia and Doria Nune appeared in my dreams wearing clown costumes in a mirrored funhouse, their privates exposed like overripe fruit. Battaglia advanced with his night stick raised, about to arrest me for killing a rapist in Arkansas.
It was around 7 o’clock when I woke up, convinced that Doria had given her pot-smoking cop lover the number of my room which was only two floors down from hers at the Chelsea Hotel. It was time to get out of this pitstop in my fugitive’s life before Battaglia came banging on my door —maybe with a search warrant and his other gun drawn.
Frantically I rummaged through my wallet and found Dr. Grobnik’s card with the name of Danny Schultz on the back. During the business hours, I would call Schultz about the apartment Grobnik said he wanted to sublet. I needed to get out of The Chelsea—away from Doria and her scene, away from the junkies leaving blood and vomit in the communal toilet outside my fourth floor room, away from the squalid horror of Battaglia who was more dangerous than any addict in this boho hotel.
At least the sun was shining brightly in the early winter morning. I slipped into jeans and a thick sweater and walked out into the nearly vacant street. A half block east towards 7th Avenue, I bought a copy of The Daily Bugle at a newsstand and read it over my first cup of coffee at the nearby Horn & Hardart automat.
The double murder of Vinnie DeQuattro and his still unidentified mob associate was front page news with my pictures of the two slain wise guys splattered across the cover, the headline in red ink. Ted Katz and I shared a byline just as Katz had promised. There, on page three where our story continued, was an artist’s sketch of the burly hit man with a pullout description of how he strode military style towards his targets wearing gray sweat pants and holding a .38 revolver. And there was my pen name—C.J. Ryder—standing alone for the photo credits.
It was classic tabloid sensationalism. I knew that Jason Slade would be pleased with my work on a fast breaking news story that I had called in to him from the mob operated warehouse only yesterday. I made a note to call him about getting a decent stipend for the job. It would be my passport out of The Chelsea.
Richard, my desk clerk confidante, was sipping his coffee from the next door deli and reading The Bugle when I came back to the hotel. He beckoned to me from his spot in front of the mail slots, looking conspiratorial. “I have a tip for you,” he whispered excitedly. “I’m pretty sure the hit man in your story came here a week or so ago. He asked about you. ”
“Did he now, Richard?” I peered at him, wondering if he was nursing another hangover. “Why in God’s name would he do that?”
“He said he saw you in the East Village going into some kind of social service agency for runaway kids,” Richard said, his genteel British voice rising. “This man told me that he owns a bar in Queens and has a missing 15-year-old daughter. He’s an Italian fellow, devout Roman Catholic, a fanatic really. I told him you were a reporter when he asked about you. He seemed to think you were a nice girl who could help him find his daughter. Why don’t you look into this? It could be another big story for you. Just keep me out of it.”
At first I said nothing. Richard seemed a little tipsy but he was making sense. I recalled how the assassin I had encountered at the porn distribution center had told me to get another line of work minutes before he blew away two gangsters. Yes, I mused, maybe this killer was an aggrieved father—on a holy mission to destroy the men he believed had sullied his daughter’s soul by getting her to work in the smut business.
Then it hit me: Maybe the killer’s daughter was Daniela, the late Vinnie deQuattro’s underage receptionist with the blood red fingernails and beehive hairdo. She had run out of his warehouse in the meat packing district the instant the hit man arrived.
“Richard,” I said,” Did this man show you any pictures of his daughter?”
He nodded. “Yes, but don’t tell the police. It was bad enough having that Sargeant Battaglia pester me about you yesterday. He even asked me if Cassandra Ryder was your real name. I told him writers use pseudonyms all the time, but he still gave me the evil eye.”
The body of Nancy Spungen, girlfriend of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, is carried
from the Chelsea Hotel, 1978. ~ image copyright © Allan Tannenbaum
“Battaglia is an idiot, Richard,” I said. “Don’t worry about him. This is between you and me. Please tell me what the girl looked like in the pictures you saw.”
“They were black and white pictures and I only remember her hair,” he said, his voice now mournful. “She had beautiful dark hair swept up like Audrey Hepburn’s in the film, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’ This girl looked like a high school prom queen. Her father was very crude. I can see why she ran away from him.”
I kissed him on the check and started running up the stairs. The hotel’s two decrepit elevators had broken down again.
It was nearly dark when several runaw ay girls showed up for weekly counseling at The New Way near St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. Denise, the tall blonde I had first met in Tompkins Square Park, spoke to me in the women’s rest room.
Denise was thinner than she was the last time we met, almost gaunt with dark shadows beneath her eyes. I watched her put on some blush to bring color to her cheek bones.
“I’m kinda wasted right now,” she said. “I’ve been doing a lot of drugs lately—heroin, cocaine, speed. My new pimp got me into this shit. It’s how he keeps me running and doing tricks for him. I’d like to cut his nuts off.”
“Why don’t you just leave him?”I asked her, running a comb through my hair and trying to sound casual.
“Believe it or not, he makes me feel safe around here. Yes, it’s pathetic. What else do you want to know?” She smeared on dark lipstick. Her mouth looked like an open wound.
We chatted some more about her life. Then I asked her about Daniela. Denise said she didn’t know anyone by that name, but she had met a girl recently at a drug dealer’s place who called herself Donna and looked about 15. She had dark hair.
“Did she wear it in a beehive?” I asked.
“No, she wore it short, in a pixie style,” Denise replied. “She said she had just cut her hair because it was too long and getting too messy. She was with a biker, a mean bad ass dude.”
“Does her boyfriend’s dealer live around here?” I inquired, remembering how Harvey Jewell had said that Daniela hung out with outlaw bikers.
“Yeah, he does,” Denise said. “He’s in a burned out apartment on Third Street. Somebody set fire to it a few weeks ago and he’s still cleaning up the place. He comes here sometimes to see a lawyer. His name is Sean something. He’s a speed freak himself.”
She had to be talking about Sean Collins, the handsome ex-con who had claimed he was once arrested for assaulting 14 police officers while drunk. Sean had also told me he was a handyman when we first met in Tompkins Square Park. At that time, he had mentioned the fire, saying his wife and child were staying with his mother-in-law. Sean had seemed like a kindred spirit, especially when he recited lines from the poem “The Highway Man,” by Alfred Noyes when we met again at The New Way. “And the highwayman came riding, riding….”
I was beginning to feel high myself. Denise didn’t have the address of Sean’s apartment, but she said it was close to the Hells Angels’ clubhouse.
“Be careful while you’re looking for this girl,” she warned me. “The biker she was with is from a rival motorcycle gang and he’s got enough heat on him to blow up the block.”
There was a pay phone in the vestibule of The New Way and I made a call from there to Jason Slade, catching him at his desk around 6 pm. I told him about Sargeant Battaglia’s come-on in the Chelsea Hotel and repeated his claim that the NYPD knew who the hit man was in the Mafia double homicide. I also explained my theory that the hit man was the father of a runaway girl who had been working as a receptionist for Vinnie DeQuattro, the slain capo decina who ran the Galaxy News Center for porn that distributed Harvey Jewell’s F.U. sex review.
Slade took all this in. Finally he grunted,“You’ve got some interesting stuff but it not hard enough news for the city desk. Why don’t do something on what you’ve already got for your column this Sunday? You can’t reveal the cop’s name right now because you didn’t get a picture of him toking up, so it’s just a she said, he said thing and his girlfriend at The Chelsea would probably back him up and deny asking you for a three-way. Write it nice and bitchy like a gossip columnist would and I’ll take a look at it.”
There was a pause on Slade’s end and now he sounded grimly serious: “A word of advice, Ryder: I’ve said this to you before and I’m going to say it again: Try not to get yourself killed. I know you like to do dangerous things for some reason, but you’re dealing with a corrupt cop who has a gun. He’s capable of doing anything to keep his job on the taxpayer’s dime.”
His words sent a chill up my spine. But I thanked Slade for showing some concern. Then I asked him if he could prod the metropolitan editor into getting me a check for my photos and the story I had worked on with Ted Katz that was published today. Slade promised to do that “asap.” He added: “And I’m giving you a raise on your stuff as of today.”
By now it was pitch black outside and I headed to East Third Street below a harvest moon, feeling a surge of confidence. Sean Collins was nowhere in sight but I’d return to the neighborhood in the morning. Maybe he’d be out walking his dog.
A dive bar loomed ahead as I circled back to Second Avenue. The dingy spot had a pay phone and I placed another call, this one to Danny Schultz to ask about his sublet. He said to come on over after dinner, and gave me the address on W. 21st Street. His apartment was much too close to The Chelsea but it was better than remaining there as an easy target for Battaglia.
Walking up a half dozen blocks, I found a Ukrainian restaurant and sat down at the counter, ordering a bowl of borscht and challah bread. The server was friendly, the food delicious and I left a nice tip. Besides cash, I had my checkbook with me, figuring there was enough money in my account to make a security deposit on Schultz’ pad.
As it turned out, Schultz was sweet middle aged anthropologist in a hurry to get to West Africa on his sabbatical. Security money was not the main issue on his mind. A bachelor like Dr. Grobnik, he just wanted a good tenant to look after his apartment and deliver the monthly rent checks to the landlord who lived next door with his wife. He had seen several other candidates for his space but I seemed to fill the bill for him.
And I felt the same about Schultz’ little nest, a second floor walkup with brick walls and a fireplace in the living room. There was also an alcove with a loft bed, plenty of closet space and a working kitchen and bathroom. The space was filled with plants and African masks, which lifted my mood. Schultz said I could move in at the end of the week.
We shook hands. I left his place and walked briskly towards the Chelsea Hotel. Only a few more nights in hell, I hummed to myself on 8th Avenue. Then I turned right at West 23rd Street and saw fire engines blazing with lights and an ambulance parked right outside the Victorian house of horrors where I had laid my head for the last few weeks. A crowd of tenants and curiosity seekers had gathered to watch the show.
As I drew closer to the hotel, I spotted medics in white uniforms carrying someone out on a stretcher. I knew who it was before I even caught a glimpse of Doria Nune naked under a she et, coughing up blood.
“Smoke inhalation,” I could hear a fireman say. “She was smoking a joint in her bed and must have fallen sleep after having sex with some day tripper who left the scene. We put out the mattress fire quickly enough, but this little lady is lucky to be alive.”
That night, I slept with my unregistered .22 caliber pistol on the stand next to my bed. I had loaded my little gun. If Battaglia broke in, I wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger and kill again.