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An Isaac Sidel Novel
By Jerome Charyn
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1999 Jerome Charyn
All rights reserved.
He was the Democrats' darling, Isaac Sidel, mayor of New York and ex–police commissioner, about to be picked as the Party's vice-presidential candidate. He was going to run with J. Michael Storm, the baseball czar, who'd defeated senators and billionaires in the primaries. J. Michael had settled the worst strike in the history of baseball. He was a ferocious candidate ... and a former student radical, whom Isaac himself had kept out of jail. The country had fallen in love with them. They were their own kind of comedy team: Laurel and Hardy had come back to life as a pair of mischievous commandoes. But Isaac didn't have time for comedy. The town was swollen with Democrats, and Isaac was the babysitter and sheriff of the Democratic Convention.
The Party had captured Madison Square Garden in the middle of a heat wave; Isaac had to worry about mad bombers, demonstrators, and air-conditioning ducts. He also had to sit with the New York delegation, act like a pol, shake the hands of Democrats who wanted to feel the future vice-president. He'd been on the cover of Time magazine with J. Michael. He'd sat with journalists from India, Hong Kong, Spain ... he had ten or twenty interviews each hour. Reporters couldn't stop pestering him.
Isaac had his own Secret Service man, who would officially belong to him once J. Michael received the nomination and declared his running mate to the whole convention. Isaac couldn't get rid of his federal shadow, Martin Boyle, a thirty-two-year-old marksman from Oklahoma City who liked to talk guns and horses and girls with Sidel. Boyle was six foot two and had been trained to step in front of a bullet, give his own life for whatever candidate he had to protect.
"Mr. President ..."
"Damn you, Boyle," Isaac said. "Are you dreaming me into the White House? A vice-president is always the Party's forgotten man, and what if J. and me lose the election?"
"Sir," said Martin Boyle, "look all around you ... you're the real meat on the Democratic ticket."
"Don't say that, Boyle. You'll jinx J. Michael."
"He's already jinxed ... haven't you read his file, sir? He's so fucking compromised, he won't last six months on Pennsylvania Avenue."
"Then why haven't the Republicans torn his teeth out?"
"They'd rather battle J. Michael than 'The Citizen' ... that's your code name with the Service. It's a sign of deep respect."
"And what do you call J. Michael?"
"Will you call him that once he's elected?"
"Among ourselves? Yes."
"Would you like a change of scenery, Boyle? Would you like to watch the whole fucking Secret Service get flopped?"
"Then close your mouth, and quit dogging me. Michael could still change his mind and pick another vice-president. I'm only Citizen Sidel."
He ran away from Boyle and left Madison Square Garden. The metal detectors went berserk. Isaac was wearing his Glock. That was one of his attractions to the American people: a possible vice-president who packed a gun inside his pants, like a highwayman or a police chief, and Isaac had been both.
He wasn't thinking about security at the Garden, or the delegates that J. Michael still had to win ... it was a captain who'd worked with Isaac at One Police Plaza, an exemplary cop close to retirement; Douglas Knight was accused of killing his own son, also a cop, decorated like his dad with medals for bravery. There'd been some talk before the shooting, that Internal Affairs was investigating father and son, that Doug and Doug Jr. had gone into business for themselves, were moonlighting as hitmen. Isaac couldn't believe it. He'd watched Doug Jr. grow up, saw his devotion to the NYPD.
The captain was in a cell at the Criminal Courts Building. Wouldn't even talk to his wife. He was sitting there in the dark, like a man without a country. Isaac should have been pumping hands at the convention, conferring with Tim Seligman, Party strategist, the kingmaker who would stand behind J. Michael's throne, whisper in his ear. Tim had been paging Isaac, had wanted him to mingle with hardnosed delegates from the South, who weren't so happy with the thought of "a Hebrew vice-president." But Isaac couldn't mingle right now. And he could barely get away from the Garden. Democratic wives, out on a shopping spree, trapped Isaac as he was crossing Seventh Avenue.
"Mr. President," they said, and Isaac began to wonder if Tim Seligman was hatching some dirty plot to get rid of J. at the last moment and thrust Citizen Sidel upon the convention.
"Important business," he told the wives and hopped into a cab. The driver demanded Isaac's autograph. "Your Honor, you'd make a better president than that bum. Let him stick to baseball."
Isaac rushed out of the cab, beeped his chauffeur, and arrived at Criminal Courts in the mayor's official wagon. He went into the basement, asked for Captain Knight. The jailor insisted Knight wouldn't see him.
"That's fine," Isaac said, and walked with the jailor into the little compound of cells. The captain groaned when he saw Isaac.
"Are you the devil, Mr. Mayor?"
"Not all the time."
"Then will you leave me to rot in peace?"
"Can't do that, Doug. You'll have to talk to me."
The captain's bitter smile broke through the black bars of his cell.
"I can wait you out, Isaac. You're in the thick of a convention, with all the hurlyburly. You're the Democrats' man."
"Fuck the convention, and fuck the hurlyburly. I'll be with you, Doug. Night and day. I like long vigils."
The captain nodded to his jailor, who unlocked the cell, and they all marched out of the cellblock. Isaac rode upstairs with Captain Knight to a judge who let him borrow his chambers; they sat among a mountain of law books.
"I killed him," the captain said. "Isn't that enough?"
"You're a cop," Isaac whispered, "one of the best I ever had, and cops don't kill their sons ... there had to be a reason."
"Haven't you heard the rumors? Jr. and I had our own little assassination bureau. We were doing hits for the Maf. We had a falling-out. Over the millions we made, of course. He wanted to whack me, and I whacked him first."
The captain started to cry.
"Now what the fuck happened?" Isaac said.
"He was taking money ... doing favors he shouldn't have done. He was up to his ass in debt."
"Loan sharks?" Isaac asked.
"Loan sharks. Other cops. Girlfriends, grocers, anybody he could grab from."
"And what sort of favors did he do?"
"He'd ride shotgun for a couple of bad guys."
"Okay, but that's not a capital crime. You didn't kill Jr. for babysitting Mafia money. It's the number-one job for retired cops ... babysitting."
"But Jr. wasn't retired. He was thirty-three. I finished him. It would only have gotten worse. Mr. Mayor, can I go back to my cell, please ..."
Seligman kept paging him. The Democrats needed Sidel. But the captain's story didn't make sense. Isaac rode across the Brooklyn Bridge and paid a visit to the captain's wife on Pineapple Street. He solved half the mystery before Sandra Knight uttered a word. She had bruises under both her eyes. Her mouth was swollen. She still kept the chain-guard on, and Isaac had to peek at her through the crack in the door that the chain allowed.
"Sandra," he said. "I'm not a robber. Let me in."
She slid the chain off its clasp, and Isaac squeezed past Sandra Knight.
"Isaac, forgive me," she said. "There were reporters ... and cops in plain clothes."
"Internal," Isaac said. "They're nosing around. That's their job."
"My boy isn't even buried yet ... and my husband is already far away. He blames me," Sandra said.
"You were lending Jr. money behind Doug's back, weren't you? Lots of money."
"I had to ... he said they would kill him."
"Gangsters. Other cops. I'm not sure. He got crazier and crazier."
"Then it wasn't the first time Jr. hit you."
"I had no more money to give him."
"And Doug warned him, that if he ever ..."
"It wasn't a warning," Sandra said. "Nothing like that. But Doug came home, saw the marks on my face, found Jr.... and shot him dead."
Isaac stood outside Poplar Street, the home of Internal Affairs. He didn't dare meddle. He was only the mayor. He waited, shuffled his feet, until a detective he knew waltzed out of the building. Isaac couldn't have used the telephone. All the lines at Internal were tapped. He followed the detective a couple of blocks, caught up with him, grabbed his arm. "Hello, Herman."
The detective blinked. "Your Honor?"
"Walk a little way with me, Herm."
Herman Broadman had once played center field on the Delancey Giants, Isaac's team at the Police Athletic League. And Broadman had graduated from PAL to the NYPD and a detective's slot at Internal Affairs.
"I need a big fucking favor," Isaac said.
"Boss, don't compromise me ... I'd have to handcuff you in the middle of the street."
"I don't want to tilt the evidence, nothing like that. But I need to know about Doug Jr."
"I won't unlock information."
"Herm, please. Just a hint. Did he have a particular sweetheart?"
"Come on, Isaac, tell me what you'll do for me once you're President of the United States ... a cabinet post, huh?"
"I'm not practicing for the presidency, Herm. And I have nothing to give. I just hope Captain Knight doesn't die like a dog."
"Was I your best center fielder, Isaac?"
"No, Herm. You didn't have the moves, and you didn't have the stick. But you were a hell of a hustler."
"I love you, Isaac. You never bullshitted me ... wait here."
Isaac licked his thumbs for half an hour, had to hide his nervousness. His chauffeur found him with a finger in his mouth. "Mr. Mayor, Tim Seligman's been calling on the car phone ... there's a crisis. Something about Southern delegates you'll have to woo."
"Mullins," he said to his chauffeur, a retired cop with heart problems and a hernia (Isaac loved to hire invalids). "You tell Tim that Isaac Sidel is invisible, that you can't get him on the horn."
"He'll cripple me, Isaac. He's boss of all the Democrats."
"In two days I'll be on the ticket. I'll eat Tim Seligman alive. Just play dumb."
"But I can't lie," Mullins said. "I met you, face to face ..."
"Mullins, you can't meet an invisible man ... good-bye."
The chauffeur disappeared, and Isaac continued to lick his thumbs until Broadman arrived.
"Well, Herm, who's the Mata Hari?"
"It's not that simple, boss."
"Ah, then tell me there's no bimbo involved ... that Doug Jr. was only searching for pocket money."
"I didn't say there wasn't a woman, but she's not a bimbo."
"Are you an Indian giver, Herm? You promised me ... what's her name?"
"Daniella? Daniella what?"
"Daniella Grossvogel, a college professor ... teaches comparative lit at NYU."
"Stop romancing me, Herm. Is she related to—"
"Yes. She's Captain Grossvogel's daughter."
"Grand," Isaac said. "Doug Jr. happens to be in love with his own captain's daughter. Or did Barton Grossvogel get bumped upstairs?"
"He's still captain of the oh-four."
"The prince of Elizabeth Street," Isaac said.
"He runs the tightest ship in Manhattan. All his detectives deliver."
"And IAD isn't investigating him, I suppose?"
"Isaac, that's none of your business ... Daniella's teaching in the summer session. You can find her at NYU."
He was ashamed of himself. He used his popularity, his appeal as mayor and potential candidate, to barge into Daniella Grossvogel's class. He got her schedule from the registrar's office. Mata Hari, he muttered to himself, and took a seat. She was in her thirties, a short woman with a slight hump on her back ... and a lovely face. Daniella's students recognized Sidel and the Glock he carried. Daniella had to pause in her lecture, quiet the classroom. She was talking about another Isaac, a scribbler named Isaac Babel, and the Maldavanka district in Odessa, where Babel's hero, Benya Krik, was born. Isaac began to cry. His own sweetheart, Margaret Tolstoy, aka Anastasia, had spent part of her childhood in Odessa. She'd lived like a cannibal during World War II, had swallowed the flesh of young boys from the local insane asylum to keep from starving.
"The Maldavanka was where anything could happen," said Daniella Grossvogel. "Babel used it as his own magic lantern ... to invent Benya Krik, a most improbable gangster in orange pants."
She lost her concentration, stared at Isaac, and dismissed the class. Isaac slouched toward her like a penitent. She was no Mata Hari. Herm had been right.
"You're just like my father," she said. "A policeman who thinks he can go anywhere, enter any room."
"Professor Grossvogel, I didn't ..."
"We were going to get married. A hunchback like me, a certified old maid. But we were lovers. Are you laughing, Mr. Mayor?"
"No, no. I understand your grief. I didn't mean to interrupt. But ..."
"I couldn't even have a proper mourning period. The summer session is so short."
"But how did it happen? How did it reach a point where Captain Knight had to kill his own son?"
"Didn't you talk to my dad?"
"I couldn't. I didn't even learn about you until a little while ago. But why did young Doug need cash? He stole from his mom, beat her up. What was going down on Elizabeth Street?"
"Ask my father."
"Please," Isaac said. "I'm asking you."
"Greed," said Daniella. "My father runs the stationhouse like his own little corporation. I begged Doug to transfer, to get out, but he went deeper and deeper into the business of Elizabeth Street."
"Did he fight with his old man about it?"
"I'm not sure, but his father did talk to my father ... a meeting of captains. There was a lot of shouting."
"Young Doug told you that?"
"He didn't have to tell. I was there ... doing volunteer work. I would help a lot of policemen with their writing skills, prepare them for the sergeant's test. That's how I met Doug. I was always a groupie at my father's different precincts. The captain's ugly duckling. I coached Doug. We fell in love ..."
"Thanks, Professor Grossvogel."
"I'm not a professor. I haven't finished my Ph.D. I'm working on Isaac Babel, comparing him to Hemingway. They were both incredible stylists, don't you think? 'A period in the right place is like a hammer in the heart.' That's what Babel said ..."
She was sobbing, and Isaac held her in his arms, rocked her gently, kissed her on the forehead.
He called Tim Seligman from a pay phone in the corridor.
"Hello, Tim. Hold the fort. I have one more errand to do."
"Isaac, come home. The Southern boys are rebelling. We can't wrap up the convention. They'll stick to their favorite sons on the first ballot. And J. Michael will look like a fool."
"Then why don't you guarantee them that J. will choose another vice-president, that they don't have to live with a Hebe on the ticket?"
"We're not caving in," Tim said. "The convention will call J. a chicken-shit. If he appears weak now, what will happen in November? I need you to charm Texas and Georgia and Mississippi."
"One more errand, Tim."
Isaac hung up the phone and hopped down to Elizabeth Street. There was a hush when he entered the main hall. He could have been Mr. Death, a walking skeleton with a Glock in his pants. No one acknowledged him, not the young cops or the band of prostitutes they'd brought in. Finally the desk sergeant told him, "Mr. Mayor, you'll have to park that pistol."
"I have a carry permit," Isaac said, like a sour little boy.
"But you're not a peace officer, and you can't wear a gun in this house."
Isaac deposited his Glock with the desk sergeant. "I'd like to see the captain. It's a courtesy call. Ring him for me, will ya?"
The sergeant telephoned upstairs. "Captain, the mayor's here ... yes, sir. I will." He smiled with the phone in his hand. "You'll have to wait. The captain's very busy."
Isaac could have twisted the sergeant's nose and rushed upstairs, but he wasn't going to fight an entire precinct. Detectives stared at him, stood among themselves. And then Captain Grossvogel appeared at the top of the stairwell, with a Glock strapped to his chest, and waved to Isaac. He was a huge man, a former college wrestler and weight lifting champion of the NYPD. Isaac couldn't imagine him with a humpbacked daughter.
"Good to see you, Mr. Mayor. Come on up."
Isaac started to climb, but Grossvogel's detectives were in his way. The mayor had to march around them.
There'll be a reckoning, lads, he muttered to himself. A lot of asses will get kicked on Elizabeth Street.
He followed Grossvogel into his office, saw the captain's trophies.
"I was at NYU, Bart."
"Is that a fact?" Grossvogel said.
"I attended one of your daughter's lectures ... she has the gift, a real gift."
"For literature, you mean. She's a bookish girl."
"Why did you rob her of a husband?"
Excerpted from Citizen Sidel by Jerome Charyn. Copyright © 1999 Jerome Charyn. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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