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.
Read an Excerpt
An Isaac Sidel Novel
By Jerome Charyn
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1992 Jerome Charyn
All rights reserved.
His name was Caroll Brent. He was a detective on loan from Sherwood Forest, the precinct in Central Park. The police commissioner had copped Caroll Brent. His own squad was afraid of him. He'd become a man without a country at the NYPD, a floater who belonged to Isaac Sidel.
The PC had a bug up his ass about the Board of Ed. He avoided the schools chancellor, Alejo Tomás, and stepped outside Alejo's own inspector general. Caroll lived in some fucking fourth dimension, where he had to police the schools of New York City behind Alejo Tomás' back. He was on his own. He had no official function. Caroll knew he was going to die, just like Manfred Coen, the PC's former blue-eyed angel.
He could have quit. He was married to the second-richest woman in New York. His wife, Diana, came from the Cassidys, a tribe of Catholics that was close to Cardinal O'Bannon, prince of St. Patrick's Cathedral. The cardinal took pity on Caroll. Somehow he'd uncovered Caroll's fourth dimension, and he marched to Isaac Sidel. Isaac pleaded ignorance.
"I swear to God, Jim. I'm not sure what you're talking about. Detective Brent does small favors for me from time to time."
"Small favors?" the cardinal said, with a cigarette in his mouth. "He's off the fuckin' chart. He hasn't been to Sherwood Forest in a month. Isaac, you're turning him into a ghost."
"Aint that the truth," Isaac said, adopting a policeman's brogue for Cardinal Jim. "And I suppose this visit has nothing to do with the fact that he's married to the goddess Diana."
"Don't blaspheme, Isaac. You'll rot in hell."
"There are no hells where I come from. It's all one big purgatory."
The cardinal socked Isaac Sidel. And Isaac fell to the floor. He sat on his ass in the purgatory of his own office at One Police Plaza.
"I'm sorry," the cardinal muttered, between bites of the cigarette, and helped Isaac to his feet. "You shouldn't taunt me. I have a temper. I don't want Caroll at One PP."
"Jim," Isaac said. "Have you ever seen him in my office?"
"You know damn well what I mean."
And he walked out of One PP in his cardinal's cape. But it didn't help Caroll. He was doomed to patrolling school yards for Isaac Sidel. He didn't want to work for the Cassidys. He was a cop. He had none of Diana's ambition. He didn't like to mix and mingle. He just wanted to get back to Sherwood Forest.
But he was in the middle of Harlem on a Saturday night. It scared the shit out of him. He had no back-up. He was a one-man task force. A human android in the service of Isaac Sidel. A Martian on Jupiter's twelfth moon. He could have made a couple of collars on the street. But he had nothing to do with conventional burglars and drug salesmen. He was staking out a school near St. Nicholas Terrace, drinking coffee out of a thermos bottle. His feet were cold. He didn't miss the Park Avenue duplex Papa Cassidy had bought for Diana and him as a wedding present. Caroll missed the broken pipes and leaky roofs of Sherwood Forest. The precinct was a former stable, a goddamn firetrap that sucked up wind, rain, and snow. But Caroll had loved it in there until his own squad turned on him, called him the pet of One PP. Blue Eyes Brent.
And now he saw a great big ass coming out of the second-story window at the school, along with the legs of a piano. It was a baby grand. Jesus. Caroll continued to drink his coffee. The PC had told him about this heist. Sidel seemed to know everything that was going down at Alejo's schools. He could have told the Inspector General's office. And Alejo's cops would have come waltzing into Harlem on this same Saturday night. But Alejo's cops were clowns, according to Sidel. Caroll was here, and he wasn't supposed to make a collar but act like some avenging angel.
He didn't even wave his gun. He called up to the window. "Denzel, is that you?"
The piano legs rocked in the window, without the great big ass. Two heads appeared. They looked very angry, as much as Caroll could tell in the dark.
"Hey motherfucker, what you want with us?"
"I'm Detective Brent of Manhattan North."
The two heads started to laugh.
"You Isaac's little sister."
"Yeah, Denzel. That's me. And if you don't get away from that piano, I'm going to break all four of your legs."
"You got no business here. We borrowing the piano from the school board."
"Well, borrow it back to where you got it, Denzel. And come on down."
He could hear a metallic click and then something that sounded like the popping of a lightbulb. Caroll's pants were wet. Denzel had shot the thermos bottle out of his hand. The ground was sprinkled with silver and glass. A marksman, Caroll muttered. A marksman with a Saturday Night Special. He still hadn't taken out his gun.
"Denzel, I'm getting pissed off."
And then he saw a figure in the shadows behind the school-house wall, and Caroll cursed himself and Sidel and the ghost of Blue Eyes. He'd been set up. He ducked into a very narrow gutter when a shotgun angled at him started to explode. Caroll lost the heel of his shoe. His foot was bleeding. He took a flare out of his pocket. He always carried flares on these suicide missions for Isaac. He lit the flare and hurled it at Denzel's window. The whole of Harlem looked like a Christmas tree. St. Nicholas Terrace could have been Jupiter's thirteenth moon. The sky seemed to break into molten pieces of red and blue.
The piano fell out the window.
Caroll escaped into his fourth dimension, a crazy cover of light.CHAPTER 2
He couldn't run with the Cassidys on a policeman's pay. He had to borrow. He used a Mafia shylock. No one knocked on Caroll's door. He was close to the Commish. Blue Eyes Brent, with the brown eyes.
He had to keep borrowing to pay off the vig. The vigorish alone was a thousand dollars a week. Diana might have cleared his debts, but how could he ask her for the money? He didn't go shopping for an heiress. He met his future wife on the job. Dee had been threatened by a slasher. The slasher had seen her jogging in Central Park. He'd cut her sweatshirt with a hunting knife. He began calling her on the phone. She had all the connections of a Cassidy. Caroll was put on the case, the brown-eyed detective from Sherwood Forest.
She was twenty-nine and had never been married. He escorted her to the opera, the opening of art shows, the New York Film Festival. The department paid for his rented tux. It was a glory assignment, but Caroll didn't like it. He tried to duck out on Diana, invent some crime that would keep him away from her, but she always asked for him. She'd become Caroll's case.
He couldn't bear parties, operas, charity balls. He wouldn't flirt. But her friends began to notice him. He was Dee's escort. He absorbed whatever she absorbed. He met Stewart Hines, the junk-bond king. "That female you're with is worth half a billion dollars. She could buy the Chrysler Building if she wants. All it would take is her signature."
"I wouldn't know, Mr. Hines."
The junk-bond king chuckled to himself. "Who's going to be the lucky boy that bags Diana?"
"I guess one of her suitors."
"Have you seen any, son?"
Caroll couldn't say. He was guarding her six or seven times a week. He'd never even kissed her good night. She was Ms. Cassidy and he was Detective Brent. And once, while they were returning to her apartment after some ballet or ball, the slasher appeared from behind a tree with his hunting knife. He was shorter than Caroll. He had the grim face of a poor urban farmer. Caroll recognized him. He was a gardener from the Department of Parks who often cut the shrubbery around Sherwood Forest. His name was Fred.
Caroll stood in front of Diana and moved toward the knife. "Come on, Freddy, you aren't going to use that thing."
"I proposed to her," he said. "She wouldn't have me."
"That's a lie," Diana said. "Detective, I—"
Caroll frowned at her and she shut up.
"Come on, Fred."
The gardener tried to lunge at Diana, and Caroll had to slap him with the butt of his off-duty gun. He handcuffed the gardener and read him his rights. The case never even went to trial. Fred the gardener was still sitting in the psycho ward at Bellevue. Caroll received a five-thousand-dollar check in the mail from Diana Cassidy. And a note. I miss you.
He made an appointment with Diana through her social secretary. He returned the check. "I can't take this."
"It's part of my job. I'm paid to protect you."
"Then call it conscience money, Detective Brent."
"I don't get it."
"You can visit Fred once in a while. Bring him flowers."
"I've already visited him."
"Don't argue," she said. "And why haven't you visited me?"
"Because my tour is over. We found Fred. Or I should say, Fred found us. But tell me one thing. Did you ever talk to him before that night?"
"What do you mean, Detective?"
"He jumped out from behind that tree and said he'd proposed to you but you wouldn't have him."
"I don't recall that piece of conversation."
"But did you talk to him?"
"No, Detective. I didn't talk to him. He's a maniac ... oh, I might have seen him at the Reservoir. He did work for the park. I might have laughed with him."
"And he might have proposed."
"Detective, things like that happen a thousand times a day."
"But it might not have been a joke to Fred. What if he was serious? He proposed. You rejected him and—"
"He came after me with a knife."
"But you're safe now, Ms. Cassidy. And I have to go."
"What if I wanted you to stay?"
"I'd still go back to my precinct."
"But I could always produce another Fred. I'm spoiled. I'm rich. And I'm rotten ... take off your clothes."
He made love to Diana while her social secretary sat in the next room. Diana had purple eyes. Her ass didn't have a single flaw. Her body tasted of nectarines ripening on a tree.
He had a visit from her lawyer. The lawyer handed him a document that was seven pages long. It was a prenuptial agreement.
"I don't get it."
"Detective Brent, didn't you ever hear the expression about a 'gift horse'? Just sign the document. Dee wants to marry you."
"She's confusing me with that gardener, Fred. I never proposed."
"Forgive me, sir, but you don't propose to half a billion dollars. She's the only heir to the Cassidy fortune. And she's a hell of a looking lady."
"She's still confusing me with Fred. Good-bye."
Caroll got drunk. He wandered into Sherwood Forest. He didn't have his handcuffs or his gun. His captain sent him home. "Go on, kid. You need a rest." Caroll had a hook at Police Plaza. He was the PC's favorite boy.
Diana was waiting for him when he got home. She sat curled up outside his door, smelling of nectarines. "Do you know how much it cost me to have my lawyer prepare that agreement?"
"You can afford it. You're an heiress. I'm from the Rockaways. I grew up with ten dollars in the bank."
"That's why I need a lawyer. A lot of people want to get into my pants. How could I really tell if a man was in love with me or my father's fortune?"
"Ms. Cassidy, we're not even acquainted."
"We're acquainted enough. You've been seeing me every night for sixteen weeks."
Caroll made love to her again. He signed the prenuptial agreement. His potential sons and daughters would be much richer than Caroll, but he'd get some kind of "dowry" if he stayed with Diana for ten years. They were married in St. Patrick's Cathedral, although Caroll wasn't a Catholic. It was Cardinal Jim who recited the Mass. Caroll's picture was on the society page. He thought the Cassidys wouldn't accept a cop like him, but they were relieved to have a husband for Diana. There was a banquet at the Pierre. Caroll's mom and dad were dead. He came from a line of fishermen. His great-great-grandfather had been very rich, while the Cassidys shoveled pigshit in Sligo or some other Irish county. But the Brents suffered a decline. Each new generation was poorer than the last. Caroll's father was also a fisherman. He died at forty, a shriveled man.
Papa Cassidy was a capitalist. He helped start up companies. He was a bottler, a builder, a grower of grapes and figs. He'd had no sons. And his only daughter couldn't seem to get engaged ... until she met this cop. He welcomed Caroll into the tribe, wanted to make a venture capitalist out of him, but Caroll was tied to a precinct in Central Park. Papa didn't complain, as long as the boy held to his daughter.
Caroll began to like the Cassidys. They floated with the rich, but they weren't snobs. And he realized he'd been crazy about Diana all the while he guarded her from the slasher. Freddy was the psychopathic Cupid in Caroll's life. He'd never have known Dee without that gardener.
And so he borrowed and borrowed to pay off the vig. He could have gone to one of the Cassidys, but he didn't want them involved in his affairs. He went into the streets and found his own shylock, Fabiano Rice, who was attached to the Rubino "crime family." Fabiano's boss, Sal Rubino, had been murdered in New Orleans. By one of the Rubino captains, Jerry DiAngelis ... and Isaac Sidel. That was the word out on the street. Isaac was thick with Jerry's father-in-law, Izzy Wasser, the brains behind Jerry's side of the clan. Izzy Wasser had suffered a stroke. And now the Rubinos were in the toilet. But that didn't help Caroll with the vig.
Isaac had gone to jail for being chummy with DiAngelis and his father-in-law. But no jail could hold the Commish. He beat the rap and got rid of Sal Rubino. Only in New York could you have a police commissioner who was also a hitman. Isaac never took a dime, but he was obsessed with the children of Alejo Tomás' schools. He felt that every school board was riddled with thieves. He had to root them out. And Caroll was the gardener he picked. Caroll joined school boards under ficticious names. He chased after the superintendents of several districts. He stopped school boards from lending out pianos. He was shot at, pissed upon, run after with a razor, and all the while he had this vig.
He was in a bad mood. He met with Isaac in a bumpy corner under the Williamsburg Bridge. The sky was black over Caroll's head. There was nothing but walls. Isaac needed a shave. And Caroll had to wonder if Sidel also lived in some fourth dimension. The Commish had a daughter. But she'd disowned her dad. Her name was Marilyn. She'd loved Manfred Coen. Caroll had never seen the lady. But he sympathized with her.
"Montalbán," Isaac said. "I want that motherfucker."
His face was dark blue. He looked like Captain Ahab. But Caroll couldn't tell what kind of whale Isaac had in his ass. He was outside human territory, under the Williamsburg Bridge.
"But you don't have to ruin a poor assistant principal."
"Rosen was on the take. He's going down with Montalbán."
"Come on, Isaac. He's months away from retirement. Jesus, will you leave the little guy alone?"
"He took food from the mouths of second-graders. He robbed fucking pencils. He's part of Montalbán's gang."
Carlos Maria Montalbán was superintendent of School District One B in Manhattan. One B encompassed the Lower East Side. And Montalbán ran the district like a warlord, dispensing favors, hiring, firing, bullying local school-board members. He was a cousin of the chancellor, Alejo Tomás. He'd served in Nam, but no one could find Montalbán's war record. Isaac believed that Montalbán was a pirate left over from the Green Berets. But the PC couldn't prove a thing.
"I'm tired of protecting pianos, Isaac. I want my old nut back."
"Ah, you've been talking to Cardinal Jim," Isaac said, with his policeman's brogue.
"I never talked to Jim. I wouldn't betray you."
"Well, he knows your whereabouts."
"Isaac, the man married Diana and me. He's not blind. He can tell I'm out fishing for you. And he wonders to himself why he can never catch me at my precinct."
"Your precinct is where I say it is."
"I want my old nut."
"I'm not giving you Sherwood Forest, and that is fucking final. I won't waste my best man. You can talk to horses and trees on your own time. Montalbán is a thief."
"Then arrest him, Isaac."
"I can't," the PC said in the gloom of all the stones around him. "No one believes me. The D.A. won't move to indict. He says I have no case against Montalbán. It's clubhouse politics. Montalbán and his cousin are Party men. Alejo owns the Bronx, and Montalbán is captain of the Lower East Side. Let him steal from the Democrats. But this is my neighborhood, Caroll. And those are my children he's hurting. I want him stopped."
"Then oust the fuck. Run for president of the local board."
Excerpted from Maria's Girls by Jerome Charyn. Copyright © 1992 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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