Chapter 25 Of Mary Reinholz’s Novel “Exit From Eden”
NEW YORK was an amazing place in the ’70s, which is the period Mary Reinholz is writing about in “Exit From Eden.” Xaviera Hollander, the so-called “Happy Hooker” was a figure in the NYPD’s corruption scandals of the 1970s.
Corrupt NYPD patrolman Bill Phillips, charged with murder back in the day
Frank Serpico (testifying above) seemed like the one honest cop in the corrupt 1970s NYPD.
It felt lonely that New York night after I left Ted Katz and went prowling for pimps to question for my upcoming cover story on runaway girls.
All I found in the East Village was a wiry black apprentice in the trade, a mere boy of about 19 wearing a baggy three piece suit too big for him as he bought sodas for himself and a little flower child in a deli near St. Mark’s Place. She couldn’t have been more than 14.
“You look so fine tonight, mama,” the kid murmured, the pimp talk platitudes rolling out of his mouth like molasses. “You need money? I can help.”
“I’m in need of information, my good man,” I said coldly, a prudish tone creeping into my voice. “I’m a reporter assigned to write about your profession.”
He jumped back and grabbed his girl. “Hey,” he said, “You need Jesus more than you need me.”
It was my mistake to have announced myself to a junior pimp. Maybe I’d have better luck with the older and more prosperous gents of leisure who sometimes showed up at my stomping grounds near the Chelsea Hotel, some of them riding in stretch limos.
Heading west back to my own turf, I was glad to have on Doria Nune’s blonde wig to ward off a head cold. As I reached 8th Avenue and began walking north, obedient to the traffic lights, I caught a glimpse of an attractive dark haired male driving a late model Chevy past the Elgin Theater.
For a few seconds, I stopped walking. The man looked like Sergeant Steve Battaglia back at his old beat chasing drug dealers not far from the discount grocery where he had caught me shoplifting. He’d be hard to run from in my high heels. But maybe my mind was playing tricks on me. Fear can do that when you’re a fugitive, always looking over your shoulder.
Before moving on, I checked out the displays of coming attractions at The Elgin, which mostly screened cult art movies. One was a controversial new Ken Russell film , “The Devils,” with Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed, based partly on a novel by Aldous Huxley. Doria had said she wanted to see it. She described it as a story about a libertine priest Roman Catholic priest in a 17th Century French city who gets falsely accused of practicing witchcraft and causing chaste nuns to experience demonic sexual frenzy. He’s tortured and burned at the stake.
Maybe Doria, a nice Jewish girl, was thinking of Battaglia as the devil incarnate in her life as a part-time call girl and hoping that I, a lapsed Roman Catholic girl, would stick a crucifix up his tush.
At 8th Avenue and West 20th Street, I stopped at a red light. A tall black man in jeans, long leather coat and a cowboy hat approached me from behind, asking softly, “You working tonight, sister?” He spoke respectfully.
“The pickings are slim,” I told him, managing a smile. “Do you have any suggestions?”
“Try El Quixote near the Chelsea Hotel,” he drawled, naming the restaurant and bar selling Spanish cuisine and stiff drinks that I had patronized earlier in the week for the first time. “I’ll be around there later tonight in case you need protection.” Then he disappeared down the side street.
El Quixote was only about half full of patrons when I strolled in around 9 pm, taking a seat at the end of the bar. A gaunt man in a wheel chair was ordering a beer at a booth nearby. I recognized him as Jacques something, the volatile French writer I had met while waiting to see Murray Grobnik, the Chelsea Hotel’s house shrink at his penthouse suite on the Upper East Side.
Cautiously I approached him and introduced myself. Jacques seemed genuinely pleased to see me. “Join me for a drink,” he said, motioning to a seat beside him. “And please explain why you are wearing that idiotic blonde wig. Uncle Murray will be upset when I’ll tell him you showed up at this dive looking like a high priced hooker.”
“I’m trying to interview some pimps for this story I doing on runaway girls,” I said, feeling relieved to have found somebody who seemed safe to talk to openly. “I thought it would help playing the part of a streetwalker.”
“You look more like the whore of Mensa,” Jacques chuckled, referring to a Woody Allen short story about a ring of intellectual call girls that he said would soon be published in The New Yorker. “But that won’t stop the vice cops from busting you. Have any of them tried?”
“There’s one undercover cop who’s giving me grief.”
Maybe because this strange man seemed genuinely interested, I found myself telling him about Battaglia’s efforts to get me into a three way with a former tenant at the Chelsea he had blackmailed into having sex with him.
“He’s one reason I left the Chelsea Hotel and also my reason for seeing Grobnik,” I told him. “This cop is vindictive and maybe psychotic. He may try to get back at me for giving him unfavorable coverage about his failure thus far to nab a suspect in two recent murders of Mafia soldiers at a mob run warehouse that distributes smut. I didn’t use his name, but I’m pretty sure people in the NYPD know who my source, a pornographer, was talking about. He called him ‘corrupt and incompetent, a pretty boy who’s dumber than a Keystone cop.’”
Jacques looked amused. “You’re having trouble with a cop like that? Listen, I’m connected. If he gives you any more problems, just let me know. I’ll be living at the Chelsea for a couple of months and I can call a mob guy who’ll put this little shit straight. He’ll break one of his pinkies. If that doesn’t get results, he’ll break another one.”
The server put down another beer for him. Jacques ordered red wine for me and proceeded to offer advice about my search for pimps, claiming I’d be better off contacting a photographer friend of his who had recently completed a picture book on the subject.
“This guy is sinfully successful and he’s spent a year taking pictures of this one very wealthy pimp who has a stable girls who love him and bring him clothes and presents. This is a pimp who claims to make more money off his ladies of the evening than rich investment bankers on Wall Street.” Jacques scribbled a name and telephone number of the photographer on a cocktail napkin and handed it to me. “Call him,” he said. “Mention my name.”
By now I was feeling a pleasant buzz from the wine and chat. I thanked Jacques for his referral and we talked about other subjects for about an hour. He said he was staying at the Chelsea because of a gas leak in his building in the West Village. “The utility people are trying to fix it but they’re bumbling fools,” he grumbled. “We’re all at their mercy.”
At around 10 pm, I left El Quixote and returned to my sublet on West 21st Street, still smiling from my conversation with Jacques. I wasn’t drunk but definitely feeling no pain. That changed in an instant as someone grabbed me from behind and slammed me against the mail boxes in the entry hall of my building. I could hear the sound of metal clicking and then the feel of cold metal as the attacker cuffed my hands from the back.
I couldn’t see who it was but Sergeant Steve Battaglia’s voice was unmistakable. “Well, well, well,” he drawled. “So the virtuous little reporter from The Bugle has a French connection who recently left his apartment in Greenwich Village with a stash of heroin. Let’s see if you got any on you. I really don’t think you’re a nun. Just the opposite.”
His hands roved under my skirt and explored my privates, laughing when he checked out Collin’s purple nylon shorts that I was wearing over black tights. “Jesus, I always figured you were probably a dyke who wanted to have a dick permanently. Let’s see what else you’ve got on you.”
He began searching my tote back. “No drugs here, but what’s this?” Battaglia exclaimed, his eyes gleaming as he fished out my mom’s pocket knife. “Now here’s a weapon probably used in the fatal stabbing of one Jed Scott in Arkansas. You are in very serious trouble, C.J. Ryder.”
He was right about that, and his knowledge about Jed Scott made it clear that this rogue cop had been doing his homework. Fear turned my stomach into knots. But I knew Scott’s late wife Stella had been charged with knifing him in the motel room where he had raped and then attempted to strangle me before mom’s pocket knife finished him.
“You’ve got nothing on me, Battaglia,” I said, faking confidence once again. “You’re just another criminal in an ongoing tabloid story about a double mafia hit. My editor has all the juicy details.”
Battaglia whirled me around and slapped me across the face. Twice. Then he yanked off Doria’s blonde wig from my head. His sneer and patronizing tone were gone.
“You don’t understand what I’ve got on you, little Miss Ryder,” he said, his voice low now but seething with rage. “You’re a fugitive and a fraud. Your real name is Johanna Willowby, and you’re a red-headed writer from Los Angeles who drove East in a car belonging to Zenia Smith, a black lawyer living in Washington. D.C. A beautician in Nashville, Tennessee. named Thea Resnikoff dyed your hair brown after you stabbed Jed Scott at his motel in Arkansas. She heard about it on the radio and contacted the State police and the FBI after you stole money from her. She gave them the numbers of Zenia Smith’s license plates. Yeah, Jed Scott ex-wife, now dead, has taken the rap for his murder. But by God, I know you did it. You’re a real killer and you’re under arrest.”
Of course, he was just bluffing, I told myself as he hustled me into his unmarked Chevy parked up the block on West 21st Street. I was in the front seat, my hands still cuffed behind me. The man was a maniac and he probably was going to kill me.
Battaglia had stuffed Doria’s blonde wig into my tote bag, apparently as evidence of my status as a fugitive she-devil operating under an assumed name after killing a motel owner in the Bible Belt. But it was plain he wasn’t taking me to a police station or any other government agency. Instead, he sent his car speeding to the FDR Drive alongside the East River and turned into a desolate lot off the main road. The Queensboro Bridge loomed in front us in the night sky, a majestic arc of light across the water. I could see Hunters Point glittering on this stretch of the Gold Coast of Queens.
Battaglia turned off the engine of his car and pulled mom’s pocketknife out of my tote bag again, pointing it close to my neck. “I want you to answer a few questions,” he said. “You don’t have to talk much. Just say yes or no, is that clear?”
“You mentioned in your last story about the Mafia killings that the father of Vinnie de Quattro’s teenage receptionist owns a mob bar in Hunter’s Point. You didn’t name the bar. Is it Dino’s?”
“I’ve had my eye on that spot,” Battaglia said. “There’s more than one owner. Is the girl’s father named Freddy Filiaci?”
“Why thank you, Miss Ryder or should I say Miss Willowby?” Battaglia’s sneer was back. “Now maybe we can work out a deal. I won’t mention your past criminal history to anyone, not even your editor, if you will forget what happened between us tonight.”
“Before I answer, you’ll have to take off my cuffs, Sergeant,” I said. “They’re really killing me.”
“You know something?” he said, “I could kill you right now and leave your body in this lot. It wouldn’t be discovered for days. Nobody would know who you are. Cassandra Ryder is the name of a dead Jamaican woman whose social security card you’re using. Technically, you’re are already dead.”
“Yes, you have a point, Sergeant,” I said. “But I gave you my word that I wouldn’t talk, so you might as well spare yourself from feeling guilty about murdering me. You’re Roman Catholic, aren’t you? You don’t want murder on your conscience, do you? You don’t want to have to confess to some priest and feel ashamed?”
He seemed relieved. “I’m really a nice guy despite what that ungrateful bitch Doria told you. She escaped a jail sentence for cocaine possession because I was nice to her.”
“Doria sometimes gets paranoid, “ I said, suddenly tactful, as he removed the cuffs. I shook my hands to get the circulation moving, murmuring, “Thank you, Sergeant.”
“Will you promise to keep your mouth shut, lady?” Battaglia pressed.“Do I have your word?”
“Sergeant, you have my word,” I said. “Now please drive me back to my apartment and make your arrest in Hunters Point. You’ll get a medal.”
Two days later, I got a phone call from Ted Katz wondering how Battaglia suddenly got lucky and was now covered in glory in the rival Daily Buzz for arresting John Mozio, an owner of Dino’s bar in Hunters Point, as the prime suspect in the double homicide at Vinnie DeQuattro’s mob warehouse in the meatpacking district.
“Well, Battaglia is ambitious and persistent,” I said. “But I have some dirt on him that could get him busted for blackmail, rape and attempted murder. For starters. Are you interested?
“Are you kidding? Of course I am,” Katz said. “Who’s your source?”
“My source is a designer named Doria Nune. I think she’ll talk you to about Battaglia’s darker side. But let me see if she’ll agree to an interview. She’s moved to Jersey to escape him. Of course, these are just her accusations. I’m sure you’ll be fair.”
Doria said she would be happy to talk to Ted Katz. “Battaglia has to be stopped one way or another,” she said. “By the way, I took a picture of him naked while he was stoned and was thinking of using it as centerfold in my new magazine. Do you think Ted Katz could get that photo published in The Bugle?”
“Yes, I certainly do, Doria.” I hung up the phone and started typing the last paragraph in my revised story about runaways and the predators who stalk them. It looked like this older runaway could go all the way back home. ###