After he stops killing for money, Sidney Holden tries to live discreetly. He takes a Manhattan apartment in the Copenhagen building, a few blocks from where John Lennon died, and attempts to make a new life with his fiancée, Fay, former daughter-in-law of the district attorney. But as the quiet months pass, Fay grows distant and suicidal, and finally disappears, removed by the district attorney to a mental hospital where Holden cannot reach her. Hungry for a last taste of action, a billionaire ex-gangster named Phipps offers to help Holden get her back. The ninety-two-year-old Phipps hires Holden to run a counterfeiting scheme, using Fay’s whereabouts as bait. But the closer Holden gets to Phipps’ operation, the less he trusts the old man. And with the DA and the mafia closing on him, Holden may not stay alive long enough to rescue his darling from her prison.
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About the Author
Jerome Charyn (b. 1937) is the critically acclaimed author of nearly fifty books. Born in the Bronx, he attended Columbia College. After graduating, he took a job as a playground director and wrote in his spare time, producing his first novel, a Lower East Side fairytale called Once Upon a Droshky, in 1964. In 1974, Charyn published Blue Eyes, his first Isaac Sidel mystery. This first in the so-called Sidel quartet introduced the eccentric, near-mythic Sidel, and his bizarre cast of sidekicks. Although he completed the quartet with Secret Isaac (1978), Charyn followed the character through Under the Eye of God. Charyn, who divides his time between New York and Paris, is also accomplished at table tennis, and once ranked amongst France’s top 10 percent of ping-pong players.
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By Jerome Charyn
A MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1991 Jerome Charyn
All rights reserved.
He lived at the Copenhagen, a few blocks north of the Dakota, where John Lennon had been killed. From his tower Holden could see Lennon's memorial in the woods, Strawberry Fields, a dark mosaic of rocks, grass, and trees. He was a boy in the heartland of Queens when John had come riding out of Liverpool with Ringo, George, and Paul. Holden's education began with Sgt Pepper. Each time he entered a new war zone in Atlanta or L.A., Holden couldn't stop thinking of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Murder seemed to follow Holden. Killings were his neighborhood ... and his vocabulary. Columnists and reporters wouldn't leave his life alone. A short profile appeared in some Manhattan rag.
There's something fabricated about Sidney Holden. He wears secondhand clothes. But Holden doesn't shop at Salvation Army counters. His jackets and ties once belonged to the late Duke of Windsor.
Do clothes make the man? Then Sidney Holden is a new kind of Manhattan prince. Does he keep a chair at the Four Seasons, next to Henry Kissinger's table? No. He dines at Mansions, where celebrities prefer not to be noticed. Was Jackie O. in attendance last week? Count Josephus, Mansions' owner and maître d', would never tell on his clients.
Holden is fond of ratatouille.
It was in Mansions' dining room that Don Edmundo Carpentier, high priest of the Cuban Mafia, was murdered several months ago, surrounded by bodyguards and other lords of the realm. A lone man dispatched Don Edmundo, one of the most feared bandits in town. That man walked into the restaurant and shot Edmundo Carpentier while he was finishing his soup. No witnesses ever came forth to identify the assassin. And no one's been indicted for the crime.
Yet all we ever hear about is Holden's name.
The woman he lives with is the daughter-in-law of the Queens district attorney, a powerhouse in all five boroughs. But there's bad blood between Holden and the D.A., Paul Abruzzi, who'd like his daughter-in-law returned to his Pulitzer Prize–winning son, playwright Rex Abruzzi.
What's the secret of Sidney Holden?
Other reports began to surface. In Vanity Fair, People, Manhattan, inc. Photographers snapped his portrait out on the street. He had to use a private exit at the Copenhagen. It was difficult for his darling, Fay. When her children visited, Holden would go downstairs in dark glasses and shop for toys. He liked the little girls, blond creatures who had more composure than Holden ever had. They swallowed the stickiest cakes without dirtying their fingers. They would pat the corners of their mouths with huge napkins that Fay provided. The girls wanted his autograph for their classmates. He was much more exotic than their dad. What was a Pulitzer Prize compared to their mama's boyfriend?
Holden could have tolerated dark glasses for an eternity. He couldn't go to Mansions anymore and sit with Count Josephus and his little gallery of kings. But Holden didn't care. He had his darling ... and visits from the girls. Fay developed a stutter during her sixth month with Holden. She'd start to sweat. She'd return from the supermarket minus her hat. She'd leave her gloves in the elevator. She'd forget to button her blouse. And when he'd talk to her, she could barely pronounce his name.
"S-s-s-sidney," she said.
They no longer made love.
She'd cry whenever Holden would touch her. He learned to live without fondling Fay. He hardly went anywhere with her. He had a ping-pong table lugged up to his tower and put in the living room, hoping he'd get to bat around a little white ball with his darling and her daughters. But the girls were studying ballet at school. Ping-pong was beneath them. And his darling couldn't seem to concentrate on the ball. Holden got rid of the table, lent it to August, captain of the doormen at the Copenhagen.
August was concerned about his darling. And Holden realized that nothing happened inside the building without the doormen's knowledge. The Copenhagen was like a high-class penitentiary. And Holden was a prisoner with money in his pocket. But he was still fond of Captain August.
The captain's origins were as obscure as his own. August had come from Germany after World War II. He had the look of a starved child, though he was fifty and carried a load of flesh. He was a pilgrim in America, like Holden himself.
In the old days, when he was bumping people for Aladdin Furs, Holden would have recruited August as a spy. He'd had a network of spies, run by his father's former mistress, but the woman had become a casualty of Holden's wars.
"Mr. Sidney," the captain said, "there's a ruckus downstairs."
"August, I'm not a referee. Call the cops."
"We'd rather keep it in the building, sir. One of the porters has gone berserk."
"I can't help that," Holden said.
"He's locked himself in the basement, Mr. Sidney. Beaten up two of our best boys. He says he knows you."
"What's his name?"
"Matthew, sir. Matthew Greene."
"I never met a Matthew Greene."
But Holden capitulated to Captain August. He rode down the back elevator into the basement He'd never been to the basement before. It didn't have hammered-steel designs on the walls. It didn't have mirrors. But it had rooms filled with storage trunks from the time when Copenhageners of sixty years ago traveled by sea. The trunks were in beautiful condition. Holden had never seen this much burnished leather.
There were five rooms of trunks, and Holden had to wonder if sea voyages were coming back into style. He could have stored everything he owned in one of the trunks and still had room for himself. It was a marvelous way to travel.
Holden could have sworn he'd walked to the Bowery under the Copenhagen. His knees ached. He hadn't expected to join the infantry with Captain August. And then they arrived at a door. Nothing dramatic. A narrow door in the middle of a dark gray wall. And August knocked.
"Matt, he's here ... I brought Sidney Holden."
But there wasn't any answer, and Holden had gone on a hike while his darling suffered upstairs.
"Please, Mr. Sidney ... you talk to him."
Holden felt ridiculous, keening to a dumb door. "Matthew," he said. "It's me."
The door opened, and Holden ducked inside. He couldn't stand up straight in this room. It was some kind of utility closet. And Matthew Greene sat on a bench looking like a gnome. He was a short, wiry man with a shaved head. He had the aura of prison yards in his eyes, the taste of white bread and beans. Holden couldn't remember him.
"What is it you want, Greene?"
The little yardbird was holding a potato peeler in his fist, and Holden didn't have to guess how sharp the peeler was. He was at the mercy of this little man.
"Did I bump your sweetheart?" Holden asked.
"Shut your fucking mouth," the porter said.
"And then what will we do? Eyeball each other until we starve to death?"
"Jesus, I was one of your rats."
"That's impossible," Holden said. "There were no Matthew Greenes on my payroll."
"I'm Kit Shea."
"I don't believe it," Holden said. "Shea had a full head of hair. He ran with the Westies. Shea wouldn't have been a porter, hiding in a closet."
The Westies had owned Manhattan as harbor pirates for a hundred years. But the unions had chased them off the docks. They couldn't compete with the twentieth century. They'd never organized. They sat in bars near the Hudson, murderous men who loaned themselves out occasionally. But they were too idiosyncratic to form strict family lines. They bumped and disappeared. Bumped and disappeared, and sat in their own graveyard. Kit was a little younger and more enterprising than the other Westies. He sold information. Much of it was no good, but having lived around such sad and doomed murderers, he could always tell if some Westie had been hired to take Holden's life.
"Kit, how'd you end up here?"
"It's a better cover than yours, Holden. I don't eat pickled carrots near the roof. And. I didn't steal Paul Abruzzi's daughter-in-law."
"But I've never seen you in the building. And I've been at the Copenhagen nine, ten months."
"I make it my business to avoid the lobby ... I've heard the other porters. Sidney Holden, that's all they talk about. And his piece of ass."
"Don't say that. We're getting married."
"The minute she divorces her husband. She'll get around to it. She hasn't been feeling well. What happened to you, Kit?"
"I had to punch out a couple of porters."
"Did they insult your mama?"
Holden saw the Hudson's bleakest water in Shea's eyes. "My mama's dead ... They were crowding me, Holden, coming into my shop."
"You have a shop at the Copenhagen?"
"Yeah. I make brooms in the closet. I do the handles. I tie the straw. I had my own lathe at Sing Sing. I made every fucking broom in the joint. I had citations on my wall, letters from the warden. They used to call me Michelangelo. And I caught two of the monkeys in the basement pissing on my straw."
"Couldn't you have told Captain August?
"I didn't have the time. I'm a Westie. I don't believe in arbitration."
"Where are those porters?"
"Captain sent them home to convalesce."
"Then why don't you come out of the closet?"
"Because Captain also sent for the cops. They're sitting in the lobby, Holden. And I have too much of a reputation, too much of a past. I'm not going back to the joint. This is Kitty's closet. Kitty don't budge."
"August didn't send for the cops."
"I don't believe you," the broommaker said, clutching his peeler. And Holden understood that little Shea was waltzing at some kind of edge. He needed the Hudson. All Westies were river rats.
"Come upstairs, Kit."
"Make me, paradise man. Go for your gun."
"I'm not carrying a gun."
"That's a laugh," Kit said.
"My picture's all over the place. I took early retirement."
"The government's paying you not to slap people. Wish I could afford social security like that.... Holden, leave my country, huh? Leave my house."
But Holden felt responsible for his rat. He didn't duck out the door. And Shea drove the potato peeler toward Holden's neck. Holden couldn't swing his arm in that narrow closet. But he could make a fist. He didn't worry about perimeters. His fist moved six or seven inches until it struck the underside of Kit's jaw. Little Shea rose up to the roof of the closet and fell into Holden's arms. He was still clutching the potato peeler, but he cut his own hand on the sharp edges.
Holden brought him out of the closet, took the potato peeler, and wrapped Shea's bloody fingers in a handkerchief that cost a hundred dollars.
He didn't reveal Shea's identity to Captain August. "Here's your Matthew Greene. But he thinks you have cops waiting for him in the lobby."
"He's insane. I wouldn't bring cops into the building."
Holden found a taxi for Kit Shea and went upstairs to his darling. She could have been another Shea, taller, blonder, with tits, but she had the Hudson in her eyes, depths of water where Holden couldn't reach.
"I'll fix you some ratatouille," she said, like a sleepwalker.
Holden chopped the onions, soaked the greens.
His darling had talked about supper and then wandered into the bedroom and closed the door.
Holden found little Shea's peeler in his hand. He struck at a carrot and almost started to cry. He was like a child in his father's house, bewildered by the world. But his father was dead. Holden prepared the vegetables and made ratatouille in a pot.
He lit a candle and called his darling in to eat.
"I'm not hungry," she said. She sat curled on the windowsill, with Strawberry Fields behind her back. And Holden was left to eat with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.CHAPTER 2
He had an office, a great big room at the Aladdin Fur Company that had once served as his living quarters. He would walk down to the fur district, but there was nothing to do. The market was filled with Greeks. They were frightened of Sidney Holden, but they liked to pat his sleeve, touch Holden, feel his fame. Aladdin employed no Greeks. The cutters and nailers were from a lost generation, before the Greeks monopolized the market. They knew how to dress a mink. They were masters in a trade that had no stability at all. Half the coats they cut were already out of fashion. Holden had no instinct for dark skins on a board. He would pick up his check, nibble on a sandwich, and run.
He couldn't threaten people who owed Aladdin money. It would have been like the bark and bite of a tin man. He was too famous. The people he threatened would only ask him for his autograph. So he went to his office once a week, for half an hour. He didn't talk on the telephone. He sat and considered whatever future he might have.
He was in the middle of a reverie when the phone rang. No one called him at the office anymore, not Fay or his senior partner, Bruno Schatz, the Swiss, who controlled the Paris end of Aladdin's operation. Swiss was a wise man ... and a thief. He swindled half the world and hid inside Aladdin's label. Aladdin was the cover for all his mischief and mayhem. Schatz was eighty-one. And the lines of his future were much more clear than Sidney Holden's. Schatz was married to Holden's wife, Andrushka. Andrushka was a bigamist. She'd never bothered to divorce her little Sid.
The phone stopped ringing, then started again. Somebody wanted Holden. He picked up the phone, but he didn't hear that familiar static of a Paris call. It couldn't have been Schatz.
"Am I talking to Mr. Sidney Holden?"
A woman's voice, cultured and sweet. She didn't sound like the candy stores of Queens, where Holden spent his boyhood chewing chocolate sundaes.
"Yes, this is Holden."
"I'm Mrs. Vanderwelle, Gloria Vanderwelle. I represent Mr. Phipps of the Phipps Foundation."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Vanderwelle. I'm not familiar with foundations."
But it was a lie. He'd heard of Phipps, the billionaire philanthropist who was much older than Bruno Schatz. Ninety and he walked to work. Holden had read that in Manhattan, inc.
"We finance social projects, Mr. Holden ... hospices for people dying of AIDS, apartments for the homeless, clinics for battered wives, and music classes for gifted children who can't afford a violoncello...."
"But I'm not a philanthropist, Mrs. Vanderwelle. I mean, I could contribute to one of the causes."
"This is no solicitation, Mr. Holden. Mr. Phipps would like to meet you."
"Are you his secretary?" Holden asked.
"I'm his lawyer," she said. "And I direct the foundation."
"I still don't understand."
"We would like to hire you, Mr. Holden."
Ah, they wanted him to bump another philanthropist.
"Mrs. Vanderwelle, I can't afford to auction my services, understand? My fiancée is sick. I appreciate the phone call, but ..."
"Shall we say ten o'clock tomorrow morning, Mr. Holden? A late breakfast at the foundation ... or an early lunch."
And before he could tell her no, the bitch had hung up on him. How did she get Holden's line? It wasn't listed.
He walked out and locked the door.
He didn't find much comfort at the Copenhagen.
Fay was gone.
The building was cluttered with shooflies from the Queens district attorney's office, detectives in pink socks who carried Fay's wardrobe in their arms, skirts, dresses, underwear. They smiled, and they had the key to his apartment. He wrestled with the shooflies in front of the elevator door. There were five of them, and they had blackjacks. But Holden had one advantage. The vestibule was small. They couldn't clutch Fay's wardrobe and also swing their arms. He leapt into the five of them, and they landed on the floor in a bundle of clothes, like some great cotton ball.
The elevator opened and Paul Abruzzi stepped onto the landing. The Queens D.A. had to mince about in his black shoes until his men extricated themselves and stood with their shoulders squeezed against the wall. He didn't seem angry at Holden. He was a man of sixty-one who wore baggy suits and had silky white hair. Paul didn't have Holden's tailor. Holden's tailor had swiped the patterns of kings and several dukes.
"Morons," the D.A. said to his shooflies. "I didn't ask you to feel her underpants. Get out of here."
They boarded the elevator and Paul Abruzzi let himself into Holden's apartment. Holden had to follow him inside. There were no introductions from Paul, no polite talk about Holden's sudden fame in the republic of Manhattan.
Excerpted from Elsinore by Jerome Charyn. Copyright © 1991 Jerome Charyn. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Pinkerton Man,
The Kronstadt Case,
A Cantor's Lullaby,