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 © 1993 Jerome Charyn
All rights reserved.
He was descended from the Pierced Noses, or Nez Percé, a tribe that never mutilated prisoners or abandoned its own people. Its most celebrated warrior, Chief Joseph, guarded women, children, and old men during the Nez Percé uprising of 1877, after gold miners and speculators seized tribal lands in Idaho and Oregon. Joe Barbarossa was named after this noncombatant chief of the Nez Percé. He'd had five or six grandmas; his papa was a bigamist who kept losing wives.
One of the grandmas was the daughter of an Indian girl who fled into the mountains with Chief Joseph. But he couldn't remember her. He'd been shopped around as a kid, because of the many wives. Joe was Irish, Italian, Nez Percé, with a pinch of African blood.
He'd grown up in Oregon and California and the shanty towns of Illinois. He didn't have a native state. He was born in Oklahoma, but his papa was only passing through. He'd had a little brother, Lem, and a crop of half sisters. Lem drowned when he was nine. And one of the half sisters, Rosalind, had raised Joe. She'd never had a childhood, this Roz, and she was constantly trying to kill herself. All the other half sisters had disappeared on Joe. His blood mother, whom he'd hardly ever seen, was dead. His papa had abandoned Joe between his sixth or seventh marriage. Roz was the only kin he had.
It was Roz who got him through high school, who found his birth certificate when Joe decided to join the marines. She invented a past for him, a continuous line he couldn't have had without her. Joe went to Vietnam. It was 1972. He was assigned to the American Embassy in Saigon. He started to peddle drugs. He became familiar with the spooks working out of the Embassy's second floor. He played pingpong with them, supplied them with "pharmaceuticals." But there were rival gangs of dealers, soldiers like himself. He had to kill a couple, or get killed. He was one of the last Americans to leave Vietnam alive.
He became a cop in New York City, but he seemed to have little in common with other cops, or soldiers who'd served in Nam. He'd never seen "Charlie" in the bush. Saigon was like a mixture of Times Square and downtown El Paso. It was his own Little United States.
He tolerated Manhattan. He sold drugs. He was shot several times by dealers who were the same drug soldiers from Nam. But they didn't have a gold shield, like Joe. He captured muggers and bandits on the F train and was banging up people all over the place. But the PC, Isaac Sidel, banished him to squirrel land, the Central Park Precinct, because Joe was getting a little too careless, knocking off dealers who were close to the FBI.
Joe lived in the back room of a pingpong parlor on Columbus Avenue. That was his only address other than his sister's old apartment, which he used as a mail drop. Joe never slept there. All his clothes were at the pingpong parlor. It reminded him of the gambling clubs in Saigon. Joe used the pingpong parlor's last table as his desk. The table had been retired. Isaac's own blue-eyed boy, Manfred Coen, had been killed at this table, zapped by a Chinese-Cuban bandit. And Schiller, who owned the club on Columbus, had adored Coen, but he let Joe conduct his business from the table. He made no comparisons between Blue Eyes and Joe Barbarossa. Joe didn't have that crazy passion for pingpong.
He wore a white glove on his playing hand. He'd burned the hand while he was in Saigon. He'd fallen on a hot stove, fighting with a dealer. The hand never healed. The skin was always peeling and had a permanent gray color. And Joe would wear a fresh glove every day.
He was sitting behind the pingpong table, going over his accounts, when Schiller hollered to him from the spectators' gallery. "Phone call."
Barbarossa hollered back. "If it's police business, I'm not at home."
"It's your sister, Joey."
He picked up the wireless phone from its berth under the table and said, "Hello, Roz." His hand was shaking. He could hear the clack of balls from the other tables. But the club turned quiet. Players and kibitzers respected his privacy, and they didn't even know about his suicidal sister.
"I'm getting married, Joe."
"Where and when?"
"I'm not fooling. If I have a husband, he can sign me out of here."
"He wouldn't live long enough," Joe said.
"You're a fucking evil little prick ... you lock me up because you can't stand the idea that I might be with a man. I hate you, Joe, with all my heart."
"Roz," he said, "I'll be right there."
He returned the phone to its crib. His ears were ringing. His hand twitched under the glove. All action had stopped at the other tables. There was a maddening burn in his eyes.
"Joey," Schiller shouted, "when will you be back?"
"Soon," he said. "Maybe never."
"If somebody calls, what should I tell them?"
"That I'm lost, out of commission. Say I'm dead."
"God forbid, Joey. God forbid."
He got into a cab outside the club. The driver didn't want to take him to Riverdale. "I'm going to Brooklyn, bub."
"No you're not. It's police business."
"Yeah," the driver said, "everybody's a cop."
Barbarossa shoved his gold badge into the driver's face.
"I eat badges," the driver said.
Barbarossa had to take out his Glock. It was an Austrian handgun with a plastic shell that made it look like a fancy toy.
"Fucking cap pistol," the driver said, and then he searched Barbarossa's eyes. "Riverdale. All right."
He drove west onto the highway, crossed the Henry Hudson Bridge, went up Kappock Avenue, and started to cry. Barbarossa looked at the name on his hack license: Leonard F. Furie.
"What's the matter, Leonard?"
"You're gonna kill me, aint you? You'll pick a deserted spot. And then you'll whack me. You're the Bronx Bandit."
"I'm a cop. I work out of Sherwood Forest ... the precinct in Central Park."
"Sherwood Forest," said the driver, Leonard Furie, and almost crashed into a tree. "I can't go on. I'm too scared."
"Move over, Leonard. I'll drive."
And Barbarossa had to hop out of the car, climb into the front, and displace Leonard Furie. He bumped along Palisade Avenue, watching Leonard in the mirror. "If you try something stupid, I'll break your back."
They arrived at a walled mansion near the Hebrew Home for the Aged. The mansion had no letter box, not even a simple signpost. Barbarossa got out and handed Leonard two twenty-dollar bills, but Leonard wouldn't take them.
"You are the Bandit, aint you?"
"Yeah, Leonard. It's my passion. Killing cab drivers."
And Barbarossa marched through a tiny opening in the mansion's front wall. He'd entered the grounds of a sanitarium that was very discreet. It was called Macabee's. But you couldn't find it in the phone book. Macabee's never advertised itself. It cared for alcoholic senators and movie stars, manic-depressive millionaires, and suicidal sisters. Barbarossa wasn't part of the usual aristocracy. But he had a contact at the Justice Department, Frederic LeComte. And LeComte had gotten him through Macabee's door.
Barbarossa was a detective who earned fifty thousand a year. And he paid over a hundred thousand to the sanitarium. He sold drugs. But he was almost as poor as Isaac Sidel. He had to buy clothes for Roz, pay for all the champagne she drank at Macabee's.
He went upstairs to her room, knocked twice. "Roz, it's me."
"Wait," she said. "I'm not ready for you, Joe."
His hand was twitching again under the glove. "Come in," she said.
And his heart made a crazy hop when he saw her sitting in bed, her blond hair turning white at the roots. Roz was forty-one, but she looked like a little aging girl who was shut inside Macabee's walls.
"Joey, I shouldn't have made a fuss. I'm not marrying anybody. Who would marry me? I live in a jail without jailers ... I'd like to get a job, Joe."
"What would you do?"
"Attack people. Scratch out their eyes."
He had to hold his gloved hand to keep it from twitching.
She smiled at him. "I could be your accomplice, Joe."
"Roz," he said, "whose eyes have I scratched lately?"
"It was just an idea. When I tell the other patients that my brother is a policeman, they scream, 'That's impossible, dear. Macabee's is much too expensive.'"
"I moonlight a little," he said.
She laughed. "Would you kill for me, Joey?"
"If I had to."
"I wasn't a very good mother," she said.
"You're not my mother. You took care of me, Sis. You didn't have a choice."
"I could have stuck your head in the bathtub and drowned my baby brother."
"You never even spanked me, Sis."
"But I did think of drowning you. Only what kind of freedom would I have had? I was attractive. Lots of men wanted to give me money if I'd live with them ... I could have drowned you, Joey."
"Yeah," he said. "And I could have played pingpong with the man in the moon ... or become the emperor of Saigon."
"You were the emperor. You sold hashish to the ambassador's wife."
"I did not," he said.
"You're still dealing, Joe. They'll kill you like a dog one day. They'll shoot you down and I'll have to bury you. I don't want to bury my brother."
"I'm still here, Sis."
"How many times have you been wounded?"
"It's not the same as being dead."
"Of course. A bullet in the shoulder. A bullet under the heart. It adds up. I won't be your widow, Joey. I've worked too hard."
She started to scratch her own palm, which was already scarred from previous scratchings.
"Sis, I'll get you out of Macabee's. We'll live together."
"You have your own little cave in a pingpong hotel. I'm a burden, Joey. I belong here."
He grabbed her palm with his gloved hand so she couldn't scratch. She fell asleep on his shoulder. He rocked her and stroked the roots of her hair. He placed her head on the pillow, sat with her, and watched the tiny wet motions of her lip.
He went downstairs. He knew there were nurses around. They kept sharp objects out of Roz's reach and wouldn't even let her have shoelaces. They seemed to float out of the woodwork in times of crisis. But he couldn't find a doctor or a nurse. No one ever bothered him about the bills. He would knock on the bursar's door once a month and pay her in cash. He never asked for a receipt.
There was a cab waiting for him outside the walls. Macabee's could anticipate all his gestures, all his moves. Barbarossa got into the cab. Christ. It was the same fucking driver.
"I was cruising the neighborhood," Leonard Furie said. "I got the call on my radio. It's a nursing home. Macabee's. It caters to the best people ... I'm sorry. I shouldn't have freaked. You're not the Bronx Bandit."
"And what if I am?" Joe asked, thinking of Roz in her jail without jailers.
And Leonard F. Furie started to laugh.CHAPTER 2
He couldn't stop thinking of the Nez Percé. Chief Joseph had died on a reservation, a teepee Indian who sat for days and wouldn't utter a word. Joe was partial to the same long silences. Schiller left him alone. The kibitzers didn't intrude upon his territories. Schiller's back room had become his mattress. He had a few mementos from the years he'd spent with Roz. An ancient beebee gun. A hunting knife. A stamp album with pages devoted to big and little countries. But he'd been a poor collector. He had stamps from Costa Rica, but not Portugal or Argentina or Poland and Japan. He'd had no sense of the world. His world had been Roz.
He was inside the Sheraton Centre, with a mask in his pocket, waiting to rip off a dealer called Frannie, who'd been an MP in Saigon, who'd shot Barbarossa twice, who'd carved his own kingdom out of midtown hotels, cashing in on conventions and trade fairs. Frannie kept a mistress at the Sheraton Centre, a fashion model who also put out for strangers and carried drugs. Her name was Charlotta. Joe was sleeping with her, and he'd learned Frannie's schedule from Charlotta. And Frannie's secrets. Frannie couldn't make love unless Charlotta told him stories about all the men she'd ever had. Charlotta was his personal Scheherazade.
Joe couldn't afford to kill Frannie right now. Frannie was working underground for the FBI, and his death would fall back on Joe. They'd been feuding for years. Joe's burnt hand was a present from Frannie. He had two bullet holes. And Frannie had lost a piece of his ear.
It was Charlotta who let Joe into her suite. She wanted to frighten Frannie, who'd acquired another mistress and was keeping her at the Pierre.
"Shhh, Joe. He's in bed."
"He wouldn't dare. I don't like those drug babies of his. He knows it. He has a couple hundred thou in his coat."
Frannie used his coat as a cash register. He had pockets all over the place.
"The coat's yours, Charlotta."
"You have to take it, or he'll smell something fishy. Where's your mask?"
"In my pocket."
"Put it on," she whispered, but Charlotta's whispers were as loud as a horse. She was all coked up. But Barbarossa had to depend on her.
He put on the mask. Charlotta walked across the carpets in her dressing gown. Barbarossa couldn't get excited. He wasn't jealous of Frannie, and he didn't covet Scheherazade. He looked at himself in the mirror. He was menacing enough in his mask. It was a black stocking with eye holes. He didn't bother changing cannons, because most bandidos loved the Glock. It was lightweight, but had the wallop of an iron fist.
He could hear Charlotta from the next room. "Fran," she purred. And she started to tell her story.
"It was last year. At the Mark Hopkins."
"You were in Frisco, since when?"
"You took me, you dope. It was the cement salesmen's convention. And I met this old man with an eye patch."
"Fifty, at least. And he had nothing downstairs, just a little wienie. It was like a belly button with a knot at the end."
"And what did you do?"
"I gave him a bath, I scrubbed his thing and it started to grow."
"You scrubbed him like that, without fixing a price?"
"Come on. I never made it with a man who wore an eye patch. It excited me."
"I bring you to Frisco and you betray me with the first eye-patch man you meet?"
There was a pause. "It wasn't the first," Charlotta said. "I lied." Barbarossa could hear a slap. He barged into the bedroom. Frannie was lying in a silk gown. He covered his genitals when he saw the mask. His anger shot up to his eyes. He'd been a farm boy until Vietnam. Now he owned half the Bronx as a civilian drug soldier.
He started to rock on the bed.
Barbarossa discovered a huge tear on Frannie's face. He didn't like it.
"Don't shoot," Frannie said. "Are you with the Purple Gang?"
The Purples operated out of Harlem and Detroit and the broken cantons of the Bronx. They didn't have a single white soldier.
Barbarossa didn't like it at all. Charlotta had set him up. He'd been worrying about Roz, and Frannie's whore had shoved steel wool into his eyes. But why would Frannie make himself vulnerable to Joe, listen to Scheherazade with his prick out, and let Barbarossa come waltzing into the room? Barbarossa didn't have a choice. He had to go along with the game, or risk ruining his own cover.
He locked Frannie and Charlotta in the closet and seized the money coat. He didn't examine the pockets. He walked out of the suite and into the arms of two fucking Mormons, FBI men. It was LeComte's show.
The Mormons took the money coat. They marched Barbarossa into a room at the far end of the hall. Frederic LeComte was sitting on a couch, dressed in blue like he always was, the cultural commissar and little boy blue of the Justice Department, who had his pick of FBI agents. LeComte wouldn't roost in D.C. He'd pounced on Manhattan with his own narrow chest. He was on a crusade against the Mafia. He'd involved himself in the war between Sal Rubino and Jerry DiAngelis for control of the Rubino family. He'd taken Sal's side. But Sal was in a wheelchair and Jerry DiAngelis walked the street.
"You're a bad boy, Joe."
"Yeah, you didn't have to suck me into this hotel."
"But how else could I have found you? You break all our appointments."
"Leave a message for me at Schiller's club."
"I left sixteen messages. You didn't answer one ... you belong to us, Joe."
"I never took a dime from the Bureau. I'm not a fucking paid informant."
"Dimes aren't everything."
Barbarossa had killed an undercover agent in a dumb duel. LeComte got the Feds off Joe's back, and now Joe had to do him little favors from time to time.
"Isaac's in trouble."
"Frederic, why the fuck should you care?"
"Because he's going to be the next mayor of this town, and a dead mayor does me no good."
"You could be wrong. He might not run for mayor."
Excerpted from Montezuma's Man by Jerome Charyn. Copyright © 1993 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.